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.


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.

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.

Original Oriental poppy from Dad
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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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


                                              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.





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.


Original version


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 ($).



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.


Old Glory-like “. . . spacious skies”


“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.


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.



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?


My Snowy Day Warm-up

What do you do when you’ve shoveled the walks front and back and you aren’t expecting anyone but the mail carrier? You won’t be driving anywhere today. You going to just sit there and read?

Not today. Write? Maybe. But first I’ll make an inordinate number of trips between the best window and door views–taking photos again–repeating myself in awe-filled tones on how light and easy the frozen raindrop pebbles were scraped and tossed. “Just like granulated sugar,” I’ll say. Again.

Then as predictably as snowfalls beautify our northeastern landscape in January, I’ll start to bake. Or cook. But no Chef–like The Ranting Amateur whose postings I admire — I may try something I fancied on a recent magazine cover. I’m thinking I’ll make Anadama bread in all its molasses glory another snowy day before spring. That Betty Crocker Cookbook (first edition–1950) recipe, brown finger smudges and all, isn’t going anywhere.


Yes. On the first snowfall of the weekend I’m thinking soup. I set oven temp at 425 degrees and start cutting into 1-inch cubes the butternut squash I brought home weeks ago with good intentions. Softer now, cutting 1/2 to 1-inch discs across the solid end is a snap for paring.   NOTE: Select butternut squash with smallest bulbous end for fewer seeds and fiber to discard.


A half dozen nice-sized carrots (thinly scraped with a peeler) get cut to 1-inch pieces and tossed in a big bowl with a half dozen (if small) whole garlic cloves and a sliced medium onion. 2 tbsp of olive oil and a scant shake of salt and pepper (to taste) will coat the tossed vegetables. On a cookie sheet, turn all with spatula halfway through 30 minutes in oven.
I set timer for two 15-minute segments so I can’t forget.


In 3-4 batches (depending on food processor capacity, puree vegetables along with the 4 cups of chicken stock. Mine was pretty and more textured (just the way I like it) with bits and pieces of the two shades of orange. Rather than sweeten with the whole TBSP of brown sugar, as in the original recipe, I pared and microwaved 2 smallish Gala apples in 1 tsp water  4-5 minutes while vegetables were baking, pureeing together.


When bringing soup to simmer for serving, add 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar and 1/4 tsp nutmeg to the pot. (panini croutons optional)

I have two lovely Pfaltzgraff tureens–one gray, one blue. But my smaller ceramic pumpkin was the perfect size for about 9 one-cup servings. Perfect color to warm up my snowy day!


Sled Days’ Memories (a personal poem)

December 24, 2000 saw this poem and a photo in the old newspaper style GRIT. I received a check for my submission, but it is still my poem–my property–so with our second 4-inch snowfall of the season in north-central PA–pretty much within the space of a week, here’s a glimpse of days when the whole winter was a kid’s wonderland. This sled has decorated the kitchen entry for  more years than the poem has existed, but I offer full disclosure here even tho it makes me sound a tad daffy. When my late husband, at my request, hauled the sled down from storage in the garage rafters, I actually asked him if it was the sled my sister Barb and I had shared as kids. “No, it’s my old sled,” is what he said. Ha!  I should have known when I saw how very precisely and neatly the rope had been wrapped for storing. So like my Frank. The Flyer style had fooled me into hoping it could have been something saved from my own youth. It did, however, inspire the poem:

Mariam Davis Pineno

I fear to ride or slide for spills,

but well remember when

we’d glide on Flyers down slick hills

and drag them up again.

I mostly sat, a scaredy-cat,

for fear I’d smash my face.

But others belly-flopped (kersplat!)

and won most every race.

In half an hour with dripping nose,

while sobbing I fought the pain

of frostbit fingers and tingly toes

that forced me home again.

Big sister walked me to the door.

Hers was a heart of gold.

I never understood, for sure,

how she withstood such cold.

Our old Heatrola’s coal and wood

fired off an awesome heat.

I pulled as close as ever I could

with my bunny-slippered feet.

Then, just as soon as clothes were dry

I’d beg to go again.

And Mom, ‘tho patient, wondered why?

Well, I felt fine by then.

Now if I rode that sled today,

no telling where I’d land.

But fair to say, I’d rue the day

but for a helping hand.

SledDaytime                  SledNightime

10X Snowfall and Christmas Crescent Cookies

Our first snowfall of the central PA season was earlier than usual–November 27 in 2012. To my eyes it was lovely to look at blanketing the whole property. That included the unsuspecting tables and chairs on the patio and the pouf of clematis vine still loaded with seeds and not yet dried enough to prune. The snow made no exception to my vehicle parked in the driveway.


As luck would have it, I needed to escape the 2-inch accumulation for an early doctor’s appointment five miles over the river. And lo and behold with a half hour to take-off time, I was met at the exit by my daughter all bundled up in heavy coat, hood, scarf, mittens, and boots. In no time she had uncovered my Ford Escape with a long-handled brush, warmed up the motor and interior, and reminded me where on instrument panel to find defroster and heater controls. Lucky me for 4-wheel drive on steep inclines to my destination. Double lucky to have a thoughtful daughter who finished all the shovelling in my absence.

Having recorded Mother Nature’s introduction to winter here, I’ll segue to a children’s poem–heretofor unpublished–describing a subtle snowfall. One I didn’t have to conquer on wheels.

A 10x Snowfall

by Mariam Davis Pineno

If every house were gingerbread,

a dark molasses brown,

I’d say THE SIFTER overhead

has topped our tiny town.

So powd’ry–snow drifts down

to decorate each tree,

someone must soon sweep sugared walks.

I hope that someone’s me!

Now for the Christmas Crescent Cookies, formerly served as Conewago Crescents in my younger daughter’s coffee house. Sift a bowlful of 10x sugar, then roll cookies in it twice–once when warm from the oven and a final coat when cool. That makes them sweet enough, in case you’re thinking the amount of granulated sugar in the recipe sounds skimpy. Caution: baked, the cookies are fragile, but still need to be handled hot–carefully.


Preheat oven to 325 degrees

CREAM 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter

Add 5 tbs granulated sugar, 2 tsp vanilla, 1 tbsp water

Sift 2 cups unbleached flour with 1/2 tsp salt and stir into butter mixture

Add in 2 cups finely chopped walnuts or pecans and mix thoroughly. May need to use your nice clean hands to incorporate all

     Using portion about the size of a small walnut, form a ball, then roll in your palm till smooth, thinning out ends slightly to bend and form into crescent shape.         BAKE about 20 minutes–just to starting to brown.

     Roll in powdered (10x) sugar while warm. To protect countertops I spread paper towels first, then cover with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Roll in sugar again when cool. The crescent shape (if you keep size uniform) makes storing in round tins ideal. Can’t slide around when hugging each other, hm? I double the recipe and get about 9 1/2 dozen cookies. A Tupperware pie taker holds 7 1/2 dozen with circles of waxed paper between layers. The cookie freezes well. Who knows? You might find a small plastic bagful a year later. It has happened!