How the Good Times Rolled!

Steamboatin (2)
Rollin’ on the Mississippi Queen

This would have been my love of a lifetime’s 89th birthday: July 16. Didn’t happen, sorry to say. But his being seven years deceased in no way dims the good memories—vibrant as ever and worth the telling. He made his musician/teaching mark professionally, but for me, all the best days of our fifty-eight married years—and the five years leading up to that momentous occasion—made a personal mark. I can picture Frank up front on the H.S. band’s lead bus headed for Disney World announcing ,“Let the good times roll!” And did they ever! Time after time.

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Bird’s eye viewers

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When we had reached retirement age and opportunity and had saved enough of what we’d earned, travelling became one of our favorite things to do. Besides enjoying the Maritime Provinces twice, a Rocky Mt. Railway cross-Canada plus two Australia/New Zealand treks made indelible photos-in-the-mind. And then we fell under the spell of several escorted Discovery tours with Grand Circle Travel—on River Boats of such names as M.S. Harmony and M.S. Melody. We basked in delight on all of the major European rivers

But in between, we fancied (“cottoned to,” in the vernacular) Steamboatin’. I’m thinking we didn’t miss a navigable river in all of the USA. We loved the onshore excursions, too, anticipating the two black ladies sitting on the side hill whenever we tied up at Natchez. We knew they’d be set up and waiting for passengers who couldn’t pass up buying a bag of their yummy pralines. We always did.

Of our ten Steamboatin’ jaunts –some just prior to Christmas—some from three days to a week—the good times rolled for us aboard The Mississippi Queen.

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Teddy’s not alone; I still wear T-shirts from places we loved

I’m thinking 2008 may have been our last such trip on the paddle wheeler. We took everything in stride including the Captain’s Welcome Reception and his fresh bouquet for our stateroom. We tolerated twin beds. Barely. On the last night aboard, we accepted the resident photographer’s photo-op on our way to first seating dinner.

Both sporting earlier trip’s SteamBoatique purchases —mine a satin scarf and Frank’s, a tie—keepers.

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Dinner Time

After dinner, on impulse, I pulled the bright red carnation from our bouquet and secured it in my hair—just for fun. Proceeding into the Grand Saloon for the always grand and memorable musical show, I got a lot of attention from ladies who claimed they wished they’d thought of it, themselves. Post second show time we relaxed in posh chairs while the in-house band played for dancing. My talented husband was welcomed by the band guys, as always, and invited to sit in when they (and the bassist) took a break. Our table mates were impressed. So was I.

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Then came the moment when I almost regretted all the married years when my spouse was out there playing for other folks to dance the night away. I had never really learned to dance because I never would have said yes to anyone else who might have asked from age 18 on.

“Come on, Skeet, this is the last slow one in their last set,” my trusting mate whispers and offers his signature engaging smile. And his warm loving hand.

“Well, you know I’ll probably step all over your feet. And embarrass you,” I say, letting him lead me onto the dance floor.

“You won’t.”

“Won’t what? Step on your feet?”

“You won’t embarrass me.”

What a sweetheart!

And what a life of good times all rolled together. The phrase “Happy Birthday!” seems to me a meaningless phrase to offer the dear deceased. But I’m still living; the memories are forever here and now. I’ll happily roll with that.

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Last photo of Frank taken two weeks before his unexpected demise in 2009

Measuring Up For Dad

Measuring Up For Dad

This  question recently surfaced among tablets full of scribbled writing exercises: “What did you sincerely learn from your father?” My response follows and couldn’t be more appropriate to the season and Father’s Day.

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Sisters

Along with a treasure trove of life lessons, I learned that precision matters. Training one’s eyes  and following specifics can mean the difference between success–the expected outcome–and failure. When my sister Barb and I were–say–ten and twelve and into our teens, we were expected to help with such tasks as were (in those days) assigned to boys. But Daddy had girls, only: Mom, Barb, me and our toddler sister, Carol. And when planting annual gardens, we did our level best to measure up to the same precision Dad practised in his carpenter’s trade.

Always, our dad set the stakes and secured the twine so he could personally drag a hoe or rake handle through the seed-ready plot.  This having taken place seventy-seven years ago, I’m not sure if the rows had to  be 18″ or 2 feet apart, but no question, Daddy’s vegetable rows met his specifications–precisely straight and unwaveringly spaced from end to end.

Next we were instructed exactly how far apart to drop seeds in the 1/4″ to 1/2″ deep trough he’d scratched out with a wooden hoe handle. Naturally he didn’t just Tell, he Showed. I’m thinking he could have been a writer. And with sensitive fingers–his mouth fixed just so–he’d start dropping beet seeds to get us started. The small rough seeds did lend themselves to the feel of how many to roll between  thumb and index finger into the soil. Just like Dad did.

Carrots took a different feel for taking a pinch of fine seeds and allowing a sparse distribution along designated rows. Cucumbers were to be poked into five evenly-spaced holes (one seed each) in a mounded-up pile of soil, each mound a certain distance from another.

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Herbs with old rake and hoe

By example we were taught how to rake the dirt back over planted rows, maintaining a 1/4″ cover. Then we tamped it firmly with the sturdy teeth, handle straight up. Taller by feet than we were. And taller to this day.

When  beets–and carrots with green-feathered tops appeared about an inch   above ground, we girls were encouraged to “thin” them. And again, we were shown how to select the biggest and best (survival of the fittest) specimens while discarding the others like weeds, leaving viable seedlings  1 1/2″ to 2″ apart. Dad said this allowed each beet or carrot to reach its desirable size and length at harvest time.

I learned this law of  natural selection but I never grew comfortable yanking out and tossing living plants. The 15 cents per row for thinning (and later, weeding) was barely enough incentive for me. Gardening in summer’s heat did not seem worth it. My contribution (labor-wise) was minimal; I did not amass a fortune, no surprise. And in the early 40s a dollar was a fortune.

Now I look back and realize the show-&-tell of gardening must have made an indelible impression on this carpenter’s daughter. I am a compulsive straightener from placemats at table’s edge to whatever’s hanging on a wall. Anybody’s wall. To tease, my dear deceased husband used to say, “Here; you check it, Bubble Eyes,” a pointed reference to my fairly accurate measuring sense sans leveling tool with built-in encased bubble.

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Original Oriental poppy from Dad
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Original old fashioned iris from the homestead

Daddy taught me to love the earth and gardening–the pleasure of getting it right, the reward. My present gardens are all about flowers–a variety in abundance on all sides of my home, often requiring my sweating labor till dark. Among useful herbs (Rosemary, Basil, Oregano, Mint, & Parsley) my sole vegetable crop is two green pepper plants in a big patio pot. And I didn’t even plant the seeds!

In my heart–in fond remembrance of my dad–my lovely garden grows.

 

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An Over-the-top Day

It didn’t start out as planned. Last night I had set out what I’d wear to appointments today. But sleep came late–or  should I say early? 6 A.M. was both since my dental appointment was for 9:40 and my eyes never opened till 9:20 when my bladder said “GO!”  I went. I flew.  I pulled on black pants. Oops! I pulled them back off and switched to the navy blue  that was to go with my green and navy top. A minute wasted. Short version: I power-walked and was in  the waiting area two minutes  early. Good!  After a 10-minute wait, my little cavity was filled–no dreaded conflict over maybe having to refuse a numbing swab. I was only $96 poorer and home by  10:10. Good!

Off to the Primary Care facility in the rain, dreading traffic tie-ups for bridge repair work which began yesterday and will continue into August. I ‘ve been getting finger-stick blood tests often since lately hit with Atrial Fibrillation.  With careful monitoring, inching toward the right dosage of blood thinner. Well, today’s technician was faster, caused less pain, and admired my “Forever Love” ring with it’s yellow gold, rose gold edges, sterling silver and rosy stylized hearts. Today’s results? “Doing fine,” said the doctor, “See you in 4 weeks.” Good! By driving the long way around through a neighboring town, not one traffic hitch. Good!

Having eaten no breakfast, lunch in town seemed diabetic-wise. Chicken ‘n’ waffles, the day’s special. Silky smooth gravy salted sparingly, tender chicken, tasty green peas, fluffy mashed potatoes and  thick fresh waffles. The yummiest ever. Good!

With a sense of apprehension, I stopped off at the mall, Reward Coupon in hand and two receipts from a shopping-gift spree two days ago. I kind of expected a “no.” As cheerfully as could be, the customer service woman went through the long list, handed me back new receipts with the 15% off on my department store credit card. Good! I was so elated I shopped and shopped. For myself. Found exactly the shirt and tank tops I was looking for to compliment the lovely lavender-stone bracelet, mother’s day gift from my older daughter. I saved lots with that same 15% off coupon. Good!   Exiting the store, I held the door  from shutting on  a youngish man and he politely said “Thanks.” Good!

0513151443aOne last stop: the pharmacy drop-off. As a reminder to pick it up later, I marked my desk calendar with a colorful little pill bottle sticker, Mothers’ Day gift from my younger daughter. Good!  Never really got wet in today’s spritzy walking and driving. Discovered several  spring flowers had bloomed overnight in my gardens with more than one making a bright splash. Good!

And the sun came out.

 

 

 

LIFE’S COLORFUL REWARDS

A visitor with time on my hands for a week, pondering how to start in words, my attention is drawn to the back yard. A  gray and white cat just sauntered past the atrium, apparently seeing nothing of particular interest–not even squirrels and birds.Dozens and dozens of North American songbirds fly on and off ignoring the feline passer-by and I look up from my tablet in time to catch the brilliant male cardinal decorating one of several glass-domed bird feeders, He has come not to eat, but  to be seen. I am reminded of a special moment last week in my own back yard–minus bird feeders–when the neighborhood/resident redbird freshened up briefly in my mock-orange-sheltered birdbath. I never catch him or his mate on camera, ‘tho I’ve tried. My cooperative, surprising and amusing substitute for the real thing popped into my view from the window over my kitchen sink like “Yoo hoo! Look at me!”  One late-blooming cardinal-red gladiola peeked between mounds of snow-white clematis vines. This photo’s sure to grace my 2014 Flower Photo book

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                                              Surprise!                      .

 Some of my garden beauties provide perpetual pleasure for me year after year for having found friendly soil. My younger son, Michael, birthed my patio garden in the same years as my older daughter, Elizabeth (Beth) birthed her girl-child, Laura. So now, twenty-seven years in October, Candytuft, Nicotiana, and Cleome have flourished wherever their dried brown seeds have fallen. And guests with envelopes of take-home seeds will propogate the pleasure. Hopefully, they too, will enjoy perfect evenings when subtle breezes at dusk will carry the spicy-sweet perfume to other happy, non-allergic noses.

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Nicotiana

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Cleome

Always the lavender Fall Crocus shoots up when I’ve given up staring at its location in anticipation. I planted the original–a resident squirrel relocated a bulb to make twin bouquets. I have yet to see the newer white ones, Maybe a critter had them for a treat. I can’t ever anticipate either color like the early spring lovlies, for the unique, huge Fall Crocuses have no leaves.

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Original version

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Squirrel twin version

One of my favorite seasons, fall, is definitely in the air, but my patio pots have not yet felt the message. And already, while still watering and admiring the riotous blossoms, I pluck the drying seeds, tuck them back into the pots, and THINK SPRING! Works for me. Yes, my mantra’s HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL, but I’m not averse to helping HOPE while saving the green ($).

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The dainty contrast to petunias–name does not trip lightly over my tongue. I found Calibrachoa typed on a plastic pick in last summer’s pot.

In spite of feeling another major family loss this fall, life goes on. I’m thinking if we fail to “stop and smell the roses,” we will lose out on the life we have. And miss its simple, colorful day-to-day rewards. Catching Tuesday’s colorful farewell in these 65-mile-per-hour smart phone shots put a song in my heart. Carpe diem!  It’s all we can count on.

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Old Glory-like “. . . spacious skies”

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“Three cheers for the red,white, & blue. . .”

No Limit to Weeds and Wonders

It’s no wonder I can’t scrub the stain from under my nails. I’ve improved the soil here over the years till its almost dark as coffee—black, no cream. And every spring/summer day I’m in awe of how the weeds just eat it up. Somehow weed-pulling in earnest feels easiest when done with bare hands—no thought for lady-like nails.
Yesterday I pulled the mother-of-wild-onions. No intent toward competition like mine’s bigger than yours, I actually measured it: thirty-six inches from about-to-flower top to bulbous root and strings. Wild onions are easiest rooted out when ignored till tall and tough. I couldn’t ignore handfuls of healthy almost-seeded others where weeds had been snatched only a day earlier—and days and months before. I wonder what possessed me to glance Heavenward and think “Thank you for watering my gardens.” Had I forgotten? Weeds flourish among the flowers– especially when well-watered.

Still, the daily eye-popping surprises are wondrous–many old faithful friends (some passed down through generations of care) and some, 2013 fall’s new plantings. My lavender clematis (proper name of which escapes me)—way clingier and climbing than last year, flaunted several blossoms instead of only one. Then another clematis crept in under the bank of vines sprawling the length of the patio railing and there it lay—in single-blossom purple glory on the concrete floor! Pretty as a picture.

 

Sneaky Clematis
Sneaky Clematis

The old rose we planted twenty-three years ago (in honor of our 40th wedding anniversary) surprised me in June as I had thought it a goner. One perfect hot-pink blossom, when full out, defied the support of its spindly stem. So I cut it for indoor display, stuck it in a skinny crystal bud vase and supported it with Mock Orange sprigs from the old faithful bush my dad (Thanks, Pop!) had rooted for my yard—a heritage from my childhood home. Setting the fragrant bouquet down, I could not refrain from bursting forth a snatch of the tune my husband always sang to me when I could not, for the life of me, recall the rose’s name: “Unforgettable . . . that’s what you are . . .” I’ve wondered how that stuck in the mind of a man who admittedly didn’t know begonia from verbena. But my music-man, wonder-of-wonders, always had it on the tip of his baritone tongue.

Unforgettable Rose
Unforgettable Rose
Unforgettable Bouquet
Unforgettable Bouquet

Today I took him a small pot with two—almost three—red Gerbera Daisies in bloom. Minus a few weeds, a temporary enhancement to his red/white/ & blue mini garden. Mini red and white roses already in full bloom grace our memorial site—perfect timing to honor the dear deceased patriot—lovable/loving/UNFORGETTABLE father of my children. Bless us one and all!

Memorial Garden
Memorial Garden
Daisies For Dad
Daisies For Dad

 

 

Spring? My word! It’s here!

Yes, I start my welcome to spring mentality well ahead of the calendar date. Fall of 2012 saw me planting a whole lot of anticipation for the debut of the current season. It’s a wonder I haven’t looked the new bulb shoots right into the ground. Initially it appeared as if all I had to show for my backbreaking labor were HOLES. The ones I had dug in preparation for new tulips, crocuses, and dozen of other newbies from the Dutch collections. I could just picture the year-round resident rodents eating fresh green dollar bills. A BIG pile of them. To my delight, and despite the feasting–free to the squirrels–green shoots continue to poke up between the snows–a couple in the past three days.

It was not a harsh winter, but no matter, my patience had taken leave early. Imagine my shock and awe at seeing a cluster of purple blossoms–weeks ahead of March.  A new variety to me, blossoms daintier in size and resembling a bouquet.

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Even with the snows melting–again–the giant crocus alongside my driveway have not yet surfaced. But as the inspiration for my first, ever, nationally published work for pre-school/kindergarten children, here I share my 6-line ACTION TIME featured poem which appeared in the March 1998 Turtle magazine as a 2-page spread whimsically illustrated in full color.

SPRING SECRETS

by

Mariam Davis Pineno

______________

Whoever would know

That buried in snow

Lie secrets to make a heart sing?

Yellow, purple, and white–

My, oh, my, what a sight

Are the pop-up flowers of spring.

I never get tired of unearthing that issue of Turtle and seeing how beautifully the poem and the artist’s illustration worked together. Over 300,000 subscribers read my work, I received ten “contributor copies” (at $1.25, each) and a $45 check which I copied to frame and hang beside my computer desk. When shortly afterward I happened onto a teapot with matching cup and saucer, you can see why I couldn’t resist that $60 permanent porcelain reminder of my arrival as a children’s author.

I’ll save my second Turtle poem for a blog in April, the month (same year) in which it was published. What’s not to love about ducklings and puddles–JUST for FUN?

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A Tasty Cake Topper

If you were expecting an old-time cake recipe, stop reading now. What I want to show you is a bit of history and the end result of a few hours work back in the 40s when folks had no choice but to bake and take church-affair offerings made from scratch. My mother was expected–every time–to show up with this tantalizing beauty–as tasty as it looked.
So she did.

I found a cookbook photo so like her finished cake–missing only Mom’s signature “flower” on top for decoration. Edible, of course. The fresh orange segment photo’s mine, the fruit from CA available year ’round, unlike when I still lived at home and oranges were a luxury.

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Here I’m including only the two recipes which made a plain two-layer cake a standout: The filling and the icing. I’m guessing a box mix of either white or yellow cake would be a fair substitute for the original which called for sifted cake flour.

CLEAR ORANGE FILLING

Mix together in saucepan . . .
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. grated orange rind
1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. butter
Bring to a rolling boil and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Chill before using as a filling between cooled cake layers.

DOUBLE BOILER FROSTING (7-minute)

Combine in top of double boiler . . .
2 egg whites (1/3 cup)
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/3 cup of water
Place over boiling water and beat with rotary beater until mixture holds its shape.
Fold in . . .
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

When cool enough, spread over sides and top of cake which has orange filling between layers. Gently press flaked or regular coconut into icing all over. Arrange fresh orange slices on top for garnish/decoration.

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