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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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.

SpringCrocus

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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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.

ChickenBroth

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.

SquashBroth

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.

VeggiesOven

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.
GalaApples

CookedApples

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!

Tureen