Do you see it?
No, not a bird.
No, not a plane.
It's a leaf! Leaves, actually.
Ash and you shall receive! Yes, that's our backyard ash tree. It has been the prettiest tree by far on our property for years. I planted it with two others not long after we moved here in 1998. They say you plant trees not for the present but for the future.
I didn't know that our future would include the emerald ash borer beetle. But then, who did? That green insect and his buddies have taken quite a toll. Just look out along highways and into woodlands and you'll see the skeletons of once-beautiful trees such as this one.
I thought the beetle family had found us last summer. We had two huge limbs on the left side of the tree that were dead. Brian said we should just take the tree down if death is its destiny. There were other trees in our backyard that could use a good pruning. What to do?
I said if the tree would live a few more years, let's keep it.
We made a deal. We would ask our tree man, Rob Tuttle. If Rob said our tree still had some life left in it, we'd keep it and let him trim out those dead limbs, as well as prune our other trees.
Rob said leaf it alone. No he didn't. But he did say keep the tree.
On a gorgeous November day, with autumn-hued leaves still on the ash, Rob and crew showed up and did their thing.
During the rest of the fall, winter, and early spring, I kept watch over our backyard, wondering what all six backyard trees would look like when the leaves appeared.
So this spring the other trees gradually turned green as the ash remained utterly barren of signs of life. I watched that ash as though it were a spectator sport.
Finally, I saw what appeared to be buds of things to come, and then it turned quite cold. Would the chill nip things in the bud?
And then ... this past week, I noticed the tiniest of leaves. Now they are filling out a little more each day. It appears that Rob was right! I don't see any new dead limbs, even.
Those who know our story know that this has been a difficult period around our homestead with Brian's illness. We had company this past week, three days' worth, even, filling the house with chatter and laughter and stories and life and some of our very favorite people on the planet! We loved every moment. They made our home feel something like normal.
These leaves on our trees make our lawn feel something like normal, too. Sometimes "normal" is the best word in the English language. You don't know that until you do.
And this is why you have no idea how happy I am that Rob Tuttle was right.
Brian and I have gotten some lovely greetings and well wishes in recent months pertaining to his health battle and my career retirement. But recently, a one-of-a-kind affirmation hit the mailbox.
It was a beautiful card and sweet letter from Geneva, a lifelong mentor, Sunday school teacher, Sunday school superintendent, and all-around reigning queen of my little hometown church!
You may recall a post I did way back decades ago--I mean October--when we attended the Geneva's 100th-birthday celebration.
I want to thank my little church in the wildwood, better known as Brownsville United Methodist, and those who reach out to us weekly with prayer and cards and care. Special thanks to Pastor Shelley, to card maven Marie, to friend Lois, and to the incomparable Geneva for the special attention. Thank you also to Geneva's sweet granddaughter, Evelyn, for her part.
It's not every day you hear from a centenarian, and certainly not every day that the First Lady of Brownsville sends her best.
Whenever the calendar turns to March, it's as though a switch has flipped in my brain: SPRING! I'm fully aware, after being a Hoosier for more than six decades, that we still can, and probably will, get more snow. Even if we don't, the temperatures will still be ridiculously cold. But still. I'm ready to wear sandals even though snow boots might be in order.
But I also know that good things will happen this month. We will spring forward. That means more daylight at day's end. And yes, spring will arrive.
March came in if not like a lamb yesterday, at least with promise. Billy Bowman of New Castle arrived with his Screenmobile business and installed several new window screens and frames. This had been a chore we've needed done for a few years now, and we're happy to have this finished and off our to-do list. Shout out to Screenmobile! We're happy to recommend them.
Then word came that our new rider lawn mower would be here today. It's funny how the men in the family have been excited about this new vehicle and yes, I was in the garage watching as it was unloaded and rolled into its new digs. We're ready for green grass. Grow baby, grow. We'll mow! In fact, I think there will be several takers for the chance to do this chore for a while.
All six trees in our back yard were trimmed by Tuttle Tree Service last November. I'm looking forward to see these barren limbs fill with leaves in the weeks ahead.
Today I had my third Zoom in four days. That's the story of our lives for about a year now.
It's time to put away the winter decorations, iron my rabbit-themed tablecloth, and get out the Easter decorations. If I'm early to the "Spring has sprung" party, so be it.
We can use a little spring in our step. How about you?
His mercies are new every morning ... that message from Lamentations 3:22-23 comes to mind when I see a sunrise. The one today, while not jaw-dropping, is nonetheless beautiful as I started my day in my writing chair. I probably had just missed more colorful moments that only the earlier risers see. But I'll take this one.
I was asked yesterday if time slows down when you're retired. That is one of those "it's complicated" answers. This winter is layered with not only my new season of retirement, but three other seasons: winter, COVID, and cancer.
Winter comes every year in Indiana--nothing to see here about that--but life is harder during this period when it's cold, there's less light, and the complexities of both. The season of COVID is certainly getting old because we have a vaccine and we're still wondering how much longer we need to mask up to go anywhere, when will it be safe to return to our usual activities, and will those even be there going forward (I'm thinking of a pool-exercise class I adore, and a return of a local Weight Watchers class that isn't offered on site locally right now). When can we trade in the Zoom for seeing our people in real time in the same rooms? When will we be safe?
Then in my life, there's my husband's illness, and the process of getting through that.
I realized last week just how much I miss people, and quite specifically, missed being INVITED TO DO SOMETHING SPECIFIC! Cathy, a writing acquaintance, delighted me last Thursday by inviting me to join her at a library Zoom event on the topic of home organization.
I was in the grocery store when the invite came, and I jumped on my answer: YES!
In fact, I looked so forward to that Zoom session of viewing something totally non-essential and frivolous that I fixed my hair and wore makeup. I even put on perfume. The best part was that she thought of ME. It wasn't an impersonal group invite. It wasn't an opportunity to sell me something. It was a simple, This is happening. Wanna come?
Man, we should all do that more! Invite people into our world! Whatever it takes!
I asked Cathy the next day WHY she invited ME? She mentioned my interest in home organization that is conveyed online, but beyond that, she said she really didn't know why she invited me. I maintain that it was a Holy Spirit whisper because He knew I needed a little something-something perk. (And I do love home organization, although please don't open too many drawers or doors in my home. You'll be disappointed.)
We're so grateful that Brian is finished with his treatments, feeling stronger and more himself every day, and the sunshine this week has spurred us to address some nagging to-do list items. For example, what do you do if you have small holes in your window screens? (Not computer screens; I'm talking about old-fashioned house-window screens).
Last year Brian found these little patches that you put on the holes and he went wild with them. Well, they did the trick of closing the Pearly Gates for the bugs, but -- I'm sorry -- they look too much like Aunt Bee has patched Opie's worn-out jeans.
So he found a mobile business (God love small businesses!) where they show up and replace your screens. Bonus: For just $10 more a pop, they will build a new frame if you have bent ones. Yes, we have those, too. So Brian figured up what we need, and we have ourselves an appointment. Woo, hoo!
Now the clever and talented among you might suggest that we do this ourselves with bulk screening and a special tool. So easy, they say. So affordable, they say. People: If you can do this quickly, easily and do it well, good for you. But for some of us, there's a reason that God selected Noah to build an ark and not us.
You might even suggest using some matching thread and sewing up the unsightly screens. (See above paragraph.) We're just happy to have this little thing about to be done. I was so happy that I went around and cleaned the insides of the windows and the window panes. You don't see that every day!
I guess you could call it a little spring-cleaning preview! With that, I'm going to close this puppy down and sweep the kitchen and master bath. After all, we might actually have some company by the time we turn 85.
Happy Hump Day and onward to one of my favorite days of the year -- Spring Forward Day.
Through the years, I've weeded out my extensive collection of cookbooks, but there were two I planned to always keep, one a hardcover, the other soft, Farm Journal's Timesaving Country Cookbook (Nell B. Nichols, Editor / Doubleday). I would keep them for no other reason than they were on my mother's shelves before they came to mine.
Besides church cookbooks that I also have, Mom didn't have any other cookbooks besides these two. She had a large collection of recipes cards, and clippings from magazines and newspapers, and I have all those, but other published cookbooks, no.
Yet here's how time gets away from us. The hardcover volume, for example, was published in 1961. So I've had since then to crack it open--and haven't . Until last week.
I wasn't even looking for a recipe or seeking a trip down memory lane. No, it was about staging. I wanted to redo the contents of the tiered shelving alongside our kitchen cabinets. So I was looking for some cookbook props whose size would fit the narrow shelf space.
I took the sun-faded dust jacket off Mom's book and what do you know? It suddenly looked as though it could have been published yesterday. Pristine, crisp, and with an attractive red spine that would go well on the shelf.
Okay! I liked the results. But before placing it, what I liked even more, was inside inside the cookbook.
It was a gift from my mother: An envelope taped to the inside blank cover page, holding clipped recipes from magazines for Hungarian Fruit Squares and Snappy Beef Stew. The outside of the envelope contains Mom's own personal table of contents for recipes that stood out to her.
Interesting. Ha, there's one for Lard Crust. You don't see that anymore, do you?
Inside, Mom paperclipped a section of pages together. There's no comment, so I don't know what that means, but I'm leaving the clip there.
I've found it to be true when it comes to old family Bibles--be sure to look inside them for all manner of information about births and deaths, clipped obituaries and other little surprises of clippings and poems and stories that your ancestors thought enough of to store what turns out to be securely, inside the family Bibles.
But I hadn't even thought about the cookbooks. Hungarian Fruit Squares don't float my boat (not a fan of apricots) and putting cheese in beef stew doesn't quite work for me either. But I'll check out the Porcupine Meat and the Salmon Scallop. Maybe.
When I need a Mom fix, I'll look inside the cover and see my mother's handwriting. My mother, who passed at 92, would be 108 this year; almost now beyond the possibility of anyone her age still being around.
She'll forever be in my heart.
As for the second cookbook, oddly enough, it was the paperback version of the hardcover. I'm wondering if one of these books belonged to my Grandma Jobe and was so well liked, they both had a copy. I didn't keep the softcover.
Who knew? Guess it turns out I can't keep everything.
A most-generous newspaper reader, Carrie C., sent to me a gorgeous houseplant as a retirement gift. Not just a houseplant, but a floor plant, a Spathiphyllum. I've had her a month now, and managed to keep her not only alive, but fully content.
She rewarded me a few days ago with a special treat: Blooms! Lovely white leaves surrounding these sturdy, hobnail-type centers.
,Isn't this bloom exquisite?
The plant, (she lets me call her Phylly), seems not to be fussy about her needs: Make sure she has a nice drink, low-light, and no direct sun, a warm spot in the house. I keep wanting to ask her if she's OK, being that while she's not in direct light, and generally warm enough, there is that door next to her where Reggie goes out several times day, but she answers with tolerance and kindness as she presents me with now a bouquet's worth of these white flowers (although I don't pick them. They are perfect accessories for Phylly).
I have another location in mind in our living room. I'm hesitant to rock the boat with a move since she seems pretty comfortable where she is. Hmm, we'll see.
I also gave her a lift this week! When "grand-dog" Jax comes to visit, I have been moving Phylly to the top of the dining-room table for safe-keeping. I noticed one leaf had a "nibble" out of it, and while I'm not mentioning anyone by name, I did see a suspicious bulldog looking over the leaves the first time he met Phylly.
So now she's off the floor a ways, nestled inside the plant stand. I picked it up at my favorite hardware / home-supply store, Ace Hardware in New Castle.
When Brian and I were first married, and on for a few years, when we were too poor for many household doo-dads, I bought grocery-store houseplants. I had a beautiful corn plant that grew from a sprout to at least my height. But as time went on, I moved on to other pursuits.
I did winter-over a foxtail fern a few years ago, but that's about the full-extent of my time as an indoor-plant mama. The pressure is on, Phylly! Let's work together to not let Carrie down!
Snow has been the buzzword around these parts for a couple days. Predictions have varied widely, and one estimate predicted "between .5 and eight inches." Really? They need a meteorologist for that? Half-an-inch to eight full ones? Quite a range.
I confessed to a friend that for whatever reason, I felt excited about the pending snowfall. I also had to chuckle to myself: Isn't that what we've all had for approaching a year now, to one degree or another? A continuous snow day without end?
So what was there about an actual prediction of snow that brought out the kid hoping for a snow day in many of us? One pal posted on Facebook that she hopes "we get every flake." I think it has something to do with that primal idea of being comfortable, cozy, safe, and warm while something a little exciting and a little uncertain is happening nearby, such as out our front door.
Where I live in central Indiana, we have had only skiffs of the white stuff; and maybe only a couple of those. Ever since fall, when I started making plans for my first winter of not being gainfully employed since 1982 (and back then, fighting a rough winter driving a distance to finish my journalism degree).
This past fall, I had envisioned a January from the comfort of my writing chair, working on a personal writing project, and watching the snow fly beyond my window. It looks like January will pass without that image. The snow didn't start until dark last night, so I couldn't see it fall, but heard the slush of it hit the window during the evening hours.
This morning I awakened to a winter wonderland of maybe two inches. But the temperature is just high enough that it's melting, dripping from our porch roof.
We rural kids grew up anticipating snow days with deep excitement. In fact, the idea of sleeping in was so enticing, we couldn't do it when the call came that it was, indeed a snow day; the possibilities of sudden leisure palpable.
Even though e-learning and homeschooling during this pandemic have elements of snow days, I imagine a lot of kids are enjoying this one all the same—be it .5 or 8 inches worth of winter fun. And for the more mature former kids, even though it feels in some ways like another day of pandemic pandering, the snow is pretty, and a nap might be in order.
As a young girl in the 1960s, I was fascinated by the older girls on the school bus. I noticed everything about them. Lois had a "flip" hairdo that held in perfect place. She also went steady, as evidenced by a boy's class ring bound up in angora yarn so that it would fit on her finger.
Susan and Connie sat together wearing pantyhose and miniskirts. They carried purses, which intrigued me to no end. I am still a handbag girl over any other item of clothing or accessory. Can you believe it? I was bold enough to ask if I could go through their purses! AND THEY LET ME!
Another thing I noticed about the teenage girls is that they carried, then balanced on their laps, these massive stacks of textbooks and notebooks! Day in, and day out, they carried them to and from school. I was intrigued with the way they kept them stacked, often with other things on top of the stack, such as lunch sacks and specialty projects with their purses on the side.
Are book bags and totes that new? I do not think any teenage girl in that era carried their books and other supplies in anything other than a stack on their laps. Am I wrong?
I remember our son Ben telling me when he was a small kid that he would be happy to be an adult because adults don't have homework!
I told him that we do, indeed, it's just that our homework amounts to thinks such as cleaning the house, seeing to repairs and appointments, paying bills and cooking meals.
And while all of that is still true, I am now channeling my 1960s Wanna-Be Girl. Oh, how I wanted to be like those "big girls." I wanted a trendy flip hairdo for my limp brown mop. I wanted to wear a boy's class ring with fluffy yarn around it in different colors to match my outfits. I wanted to wear miniskirts so short that I was amazed they covered what they were supposed to. I wanted to wear hose! And heels. And have cosmetics in my handbags. I wanted to balance a big old stack of books on my lap and do it gracefully with none hitting the floor on those bumpy gravel roads.
Here's my current stack of homework.
1. On top is friend and former boss Tina West's new devotional, "Stillness." There's a beautiful devotion a day to last this whole year--or any year. She includes the days of the month, but wisely didn't limit them to a given year so the book will be fresh no matter what year you read or gift it. If you'd like to get hold of Tina for a copy, send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll connect you.
2, For the pure relaxation and joy of it, I'm reading my mother's copy of "The Land, The People," by Rachel Peden. Rachel was a columnist for The Indianapolis Star and the Muncie Evening Press back in the 1940s through the '60s. Her first book was "Rural Free," which Indiana University Press reprinted a few years ago. After reading the review copy, I went to my bookshelves where Mom's copy of the sequel, "The Land, The People," has stood tall on hers or my shelves for most of my life. It was published nationally by KNOPF. A sequel to that is "Speak to the Earth: Pages from a farmwife's journal,." As soon as I finish "The Land" I will delve into this one, also from KNOPF.
Purely delightful reading of another time, but with values, sayings, and familiar moments from farm life from my youth, and before I was born. Yummy treats while nestled with a dog and an afghan on a winter's eve.
3. Also for pure fun is the new copy of Southern Living magazine, compliments of my friend Gay's mother, Betty Greenwood, who thought of me when she was offered to treat a friend to a free subscription. Thank you Betty. I don't currently subscribe to any magazines, and am treated to hand-me-downs of others from Gay.
4. Next is "Jesus in Me," by Anne Graham Lotz. Our church small group is studying this book together so I need to get my homework done for our next Zoom.
5. Then my worksheets are folded in my Bible as I have daily homework for my Bible Study Fellowship, an international, non-denominational Bible study that meets via Zoom on Monday nights. I have plenty of work to get to there.
6. And lastly, an ongoing project in the white binder that will eventually bear fruit. Details down the road...
Just as those high school girls with their homework to complete, I've got mine too. Whatever age we are at, there are things to be done, lessons to be completed, and learned.
What are you working on in the heart of winter? What are you reading, writing, planning and seeing to?
In the past year, with so much leisure time at home, I've found things that I didn't think of as missing. About 30 years ago, I started taking a newsletter, The Tightwad Gazette, an ingenious guide to techniques an average person could use to save money.
Founder, brains, practitioner, and even illustrator, writer, editor and distributor of this master's class in thrift, Amy Dacyczyn explained the drive behind her wealth of knowledge: She wanted a big family, a New England house (with attached barn), and a lifestyle with enough money and stuff to support both. Her concept and tagline were perfect: Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle.
She became a media darling in the 1990s, the subject of lifestyle articles in major newspapers and magazines reaching far beyond her small town of Leeds, Maine. Her newsletters transformed into even more success with books by the same name. I imagine you can still find them, dog-eared I would guess, in libraries throughout the land, if they haven't been placed in Friends of the Library sale rooms and snapped up by now.
I found the binder filled with newsletters, including the premiere issue. I've been reading through these, and I'm here to say that her observations about building a life, not just a bank account, and enjoying one's personal choices in thrift and sacrifices to meet greater goals, hold up over time.
I've been trying to find out what Amy's up to today, in likely her grandmother years now, rather than the young-family era when she was on the country's collective radar. There is a Facebook group I've joined for fans of hers, The Tightwad Gazette Fan Club.
New to the site, I've already picked up tips about the very question I've had on a way that WORKS in cleaning the grease, smudges and collective grime from honey-oak cabinets. (Recs came for Scott's Liquid Gold, Awesome Cleaner and -- a surprise -- Goo Gone.) Disclaimer: If you try any of those, start with a SMALL area. I don't want you ruining your oak-cabinet finish with products not actually meant for the task. Just saying. I can't endorse any of them yet.
I hope to find "the rest of the story" about Amy and her life today. An update on her "grandmother wisdom" would be a must-read in lifestyle journalism.
Meanwhile, being a new retiree (I haven't gotten to try that word out in real social settings yet, just on here), I have a renewed interest in thrift. Something I've anticipated about retirement is finding a day other than Friday or the weekend to do the grocery shopping.
If you have an opinion on this, advice on the optimum day to go where the crowds are down but the inventory up, please share!
Son Ben and I recently visited the Aldi grocery store in Carmel, where he lives. I had not been in an Aldi for at least a couple years, more than that for using a quarter-cart (refundable after loading groceries in the car and returning cart to its stall). I was pleasantly surprised by the new products and fresh produce.
Wanting to see if this was just the Carmel store, I visited the Anderson version a week later and found everything as it was in Carmel. A few products particularly impressed me: the single-serve moist-canned dog food; the bottled pesto sauce and this, Root Vegetable Fries. YUM.
We also like their sliced, packaged cheese with a nifty resealable overlay -- better than the zip-style I've bought in much more expensive cheeses elsewhere, and their packaged bread.
Do tell. If you are an Aldi shopper, what are your favorite products?
I also enjoy clothing-consignment shopping. I love our Pendleton store, The Sister Exchange Consignment, as well as New Castle's Classic Collections. Soon I hope to try out a friend's favorite consignment shop, Clothes Mentor in Fishers, and her other favorite, Simply Chic, also in Fishers.
I've always found secondhand clothing and accessories that I actually like more than paying full price in the malls or online.. There's everything good about consignment shopping: recycling, easy on the budget, unique clothes, an armload of finds for the price of a single item new.
What recommendations do you have for cool consignment shops?
We're still filling our home with light, and enjoying candles. I have some tiny candles in our stash and decided to drop one into a Ball canning jar. It seems safer than a small candle, and it hides the label and adds a little country-farmhouse-Midwestern cred, if that's a style you like. I do.
I wanted to change up the centerpiece on our kitchen table with found-objects from around the house. First I looked for and found the stoneware snowman I've had for decades, then added the red pot (I have no memory of where it came from but I would say a yard sale); and some "summer" floral fakery that I wouldn't typically think to put with a snowman.
The tablecloth is courtesy of Cleo Winters! Cleo was a staple in my growing-up years. My sister-in-law Jeannie bought this tablecloth at the auction of her belongings after she died. I bet it's been 30 years, Maybe 40. I love this tablecloth and think of Cleo. She'd be 120 if she's a day. Now a resident of heaven.
Shop your own shelves first!
I got these pretty folders several years ago when there was still a Hallmark store in New Castle. Thought they'd add cheer to my desk at work. Now that I'm retired, they will get new labels and be used for new projects, new ideas, new fun. And oh yes, I have a few ideas brewing.
For now though, daily life is centered on getting Brian through his illness and doing all I can as his support staff. He's feeling so much better today, and for that my day is made. He even had some special requests for foods that sound good today.
That is big news as he's had little to no appetite for over a week now. He just polished off a Chunky Sirloin Soup (a favorite of his that he hasn't asked for in a long time). Last night he said Wendy's chicken sandwich sounded good. That worked. Coming up on the Cronk menu in the days to come will be a vegetable and cheese omelette and toast; also chicken and noodles and a chicken pot pie!
While I picked up these supplies in the grocery store, I felt my spirits dance when I spotted this display of primroses. I told the floral employee that I simply had to have a photo. They are SO cheery!
And, a quick run to CVS, which Brian and I prefer calling by its oldie name, Hooks, just because we are nerds and think we're funny. I snagged these lights for Christmas 2021. We always need replacements and I prefer the smaller count than the massive strings. They were 90 percent-off, people. That's 49 cents a box in cash-register tape!
Have you been like me on a cleaning-out binge for months now? No? If you were, you might find interesting things lurking in the back of your Seller's Cabinet too. How about a stack of 16-year-old high school open house napkins? Why do moms keep such things?
Decided we may as well use them up. Brian said Sam might want them. I doubt that, but I did save back a short stack. Just in case.
What have you been up to on this SUNNY day? In the car driving home I found myself singing "Heavenly Sunshine." Anyone remember that old hymn? It's quite lovely. Miss the old church songs. That's why I have my own Methodist Hymnal.