Friday, August 31, 2012

Bridge to Autumn

Ocean breezes
under the second bridge
fishing for fluke

Drawbridge opens
letting summer go
sea gulls cry

The above haiku are a response to a challenge to write haiku with drawbridge as the subject.  The challenge is offered at Haiku Heights September Challenge.  I had no  picture of a drawbridge so I found another photo to post with the poems. This is the first time I have linked to this site.  Join the party!

A Last Look at August

   The first sign that August is over , if I am paying attention, is the change in the  slant of the sun.  The garden seems lit in new and mysterious ways.

   The green is somehow calmer, greener yet resigned to the  coming change.

   Next I may notice the air, a coolness contained within the heat of a grand summer day.

  The monarchs arrive sucking all the nectar they can find. In a kind of butterfly frenzy, they splash pollen everywhere.  Imagine the fate of the world may be in their delicate wings!

  As I wander through my lovely little piece of this multicolored earth, I imitate the butterflies and suck up the beauty, the mystery and the peace of this moment in the life of my garden.  All is gift.

Green Beans for dinner tonight

The early morning sun lights up the anemones, making them dance in the spotlight

Luscious Lemon Verbena ready for harvest

The butterflies will come later, when the sun is higher

Live-Forevers ready for their show with spent coneflowers in the back round,  soon to be seed for the goldfinches

Goldenrod ready to give us the gold

Anise Hyssop captures sunbeams for the bees

Autumn bloomers ready to go

There are fewer blooms on the roses but they are no less beautiful

Toad Lily hugs a shady corner

  Time to say a sweet, sad goodbye to August. 

  The good news:  HELLO SEPTEMBER!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dear Ruby-Throat

Insistent drummer 
 wings flash
summer-speckled green,
late summer,
late summer,
please linger,
 all I have to give you 
is planted outside my window,
raucous red and vivid violet,
to get your attention,
so take and drink sweet nectar, 
sustenance for  flight
to another summer
a thousand miles away.

My heart skips
tiny hummer, 
tiny hummer,
when I recall
 the whisper 
of your beating wings,
late summer,
late summer,
my bread for the journey
 to next summer,
a thousand years away.

Thought for today - I love everything about late summer, even the bittersweet good-byes.

   The nature of my writing has changed . In the past,  free-lance work  kept me busy with  non-fiction and I am most comfortable in that mode.      
Recently, I have noticed that my muse is insisting on more  poetic forms.   I have no formal training in the art of writing poetry, but I'm willing to give it a try. The muse has spoken, so to speak.
  I've noticed many blogs where poets share prompts and poems with one another for feedback and support. I am a bit tentative about this, but would love to have feedback from folks who know what it's like when  every thought, every word, every emotion, every encounter twists and turns itself into some strange animal that begs to be a poem!
 This week, I am taking the plunge.  I used the prompt, which was to write s poem in the form of a letter or about a letter,  and now I'm  linking my poem to  Poetry Jam .   I am looking forward to reading the other poems on this site. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bottled Summer

  Making herbal vinegars and thus preserving some of the best but most elusive flavors of summer, is one of my favorite activities.  Late August into early September is the best time for this.

Favorite books for vinegar recipes:

Herbal Treasures by Phyllis Saudys

Flavored Oils and Vinegars by Ann Kleinberg

The Good Herb byJudith Benn Hurley

     After  buying several bottles of vinegar, ( mostly white wine vinegar ) and gathering  my favorite recipes from years past and a few new ones to try out, I'm ready to pick my herbs and prepare some herbal vinegars for use throughout the winter months.

     I usually use my old Mason jars to extract the flavors from the leaves, washing them first thing in the morning in the dishwasher so they will be dry when I'm ready to use them.

Herb gathering is best done mid-morning

 A trip to the garden to get handfuls of the healthiest looking leaves for each recipe and I'm ready to go.  I wash the leaves and dry them well with paper towels, then leave them under a ceiling fan for an hour  or so.

  Next I chop the herbs  and place them in the jar, heat the vinegar( in stainless steel) just until it starts to bubble, cool it slightly,  then pour it over the herbs.  Once cool, I put some plastic wrap over the top and cover with the lids, find a cool, dark place and let the vinegar work its alchemy.  I leave the jars for a few days to a few weeks, shaking them every day or so, making sure the herbs stay below the level of the vinegar.

Each vinegar turns a slightly different color, depending on the herbs.

    Once I am happy with the flavor, I strain out the herbs and pour the vinegar into bottles,(often I wash and thoroughly dry the bottles the vinegar came in and use them,)  label them and I'm ready for a splash of summer whenever I need it!

   Some books recommend putting a fresh snippet of herb into the bottle, mostly for looks, but I don't do that because I don't like fishing it out when the vinegar level gets lower than the sprig of herb.

   Here are my favorite herbal combinations, all are with white wine vinegar unless otherwise noted:

  ** Basil, garlic, cayenne peppers.
      This has lots of kick and works well with a good olive oil to perk up a winter salad or when a soup recipe calls for vinegar.

  ** Garlic chives  and nasturtium flowers and leaves.
       More delicate than the vinegar above but with some kick.  Garlic flavor is subtle.
  ** Cilantro, jalapeno peppers, garlic, lime peel.
       This is a new one I concocted this year and I'm planning to use it to add some zip to a  black bean salad or black bean soup during the winter, when cilantro and jalapenos are scarce.

  ** Raspberries - delicious, especially on fruit salads.

  **  Lemon peel, lemon verbena, lemon balm, lemon basil, lemon thyme.
       This is my go-to vinegar when I need lemon and there is no lemon in my refrigerator!  It always works for me.

  **  Fennel, mint.
      This smells wonderful.  It's the first time I've made this but I think it will be wonderful on a Waldorf salad or a carrot salad.

  **  Balsamic vinegar, rosemary, garlic.
       Add some olive oil, some more garlic, black pepper and more rosemary to this vinegar and marinate chicken breasts in it for a few hours, then grill.  Delicious.

  **  Red wine vinegar, oregano and garlic.
       Good with any Italian dish, especially antipasto.

  ** Bonus medicinal cider vinegar : Hyssop, thyme, sage and  lavender.
       I also  made a medicinal honey with the same herbs in it and am planning to mix the cider vinegar with the honey when I get a sore throat during the winter, which is often. (I remember my mother giving us honey and lemon by the teaspoon when we had sore throats.) These herbs are soothing to the throat  and said to be expectorant. Cider vinegar is full of minerals and said to be healthful on its own, so adding herbs can only improve its medicinal qualities!

  Although I store the vinegars at room temperature, I am planning to keep the honey in the refrigerator since it doesn't have the acidity of vinegar.  I use all my vinegars within 8 to 10 months.

Thought for today :  Making herbal vinegars in August can bring a splash of summer flavor to a cold winter night.


Saturday, August 25, 2012



Your breath,
 laden with humidity,
presses into my soul.
 Patiently you wait
for me to inhale.

How can I not,
now that I sense 
what the trees have always known?

I wrote this after my recent trip to an arboretum, described  here:
 Tree-Hugger Runs Amok
 and I linked with Saturday Snapshots here:
 At Home With Books

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Tree-Hugger Runs Amok

   Imagine living on an estate like the one pictured below.

   There are many such places on Long Island, complete with mansions (summer homes) built and landscaped for the wealthy tycoons of the late 19th century. Some of these fabulous estates, once owned by people with names like Vanderbilt, Marshall Field and August Belmont, have been  donated to the state of New York  and have become state parks, open to the public.

   One such place is the Bayard Cutting Arboretum on the South Shore of Long Island. The estate was built by William Bayard Cutting,  an avid horticulturist and collector of plants and trees, in 1887.   The landscape design for 'Westbrook,' as the  property was called,   was done  by  Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect for New York City's Central Park.

   We spent a day there last weekend and it was a most peaceful and enjoyable experience.

   My favorite part of the day was walking underneath a massive weeping beech,  through a tunnel to a secret cave within the old tree's branches.   It was cool, dark and quiet and I felt a keen sense of kinship with the old tree.   The weeping hemlock was similar and seemed to welcome me into its embrace for a view of ancient gnarled trunk and branches.  The experience was a singular moment and I felt the presence of God.


Paths wind through about 300 acres

This old specimen has character

Idyllic places perfect for wandering 

A close-up of one of many evergreens in the Pinetum

This fading hydrangea is still lovely

A young egret poses for a photographer

Under the ancient weeping hemlock

The trunk of the weeping hemlock

Gingko leaves  

Butterfly garden

A stunning weeping beech

Under the branches of the beech

Path through the rhododendron garden

A place for quiet reflection

One of the old trees I wanted to hug!

Ferns decorate the floor of the woods

Mrs. Cutting's tea house stood on this site at one time

A bit of bird-house whimsy near the farm

The front lawn looks out onto the Connetquot  River


 Let's see, we had   perfect weather, a long walk with many   photo-ops,  lots of trees and flowers,  and a few truly sacred moments during the day.   What more could one ask for on a summer Sunday?


Monday, August 20, 2012

Still Alice

     I read 'Still Alice' a few weeks ago and  am still feeling its impact.  It was a book club choice for August's meeting and I have not yet been able to put this book to sleep and move on to another story.
    'Still Alice'  is a novel about a fifty year old Harvard professor who is diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease.  She is in the prime of her life, at the peak of her academic career, happily married, with three grown children.

   An avid runner, she finds herself in the middle of Harvard Square on a run one afternoon, confused and unable to recall the way home from a place she has known for 25 years.  That is the beginning of her story, a tale of her rather rapid descent into forgetfulness.

  The author, Lisa Genova, herself a Harvard professor, takes a calculated risk in choosing to tell this heart-breaking story from Alice's point of view, but it pays off in dividends for the reader.

  I both loved and hated this book.

  During my nursing career I cared for many people with Alzheimer's but never fully understood what might be going on inside their minds.  This story, in presented from Alice's perspective, gives insight into what it may be like for the person losing her ability to speak, her memory , indeed, her very self.

  As someone who is watching a parent lose large parts of her memory to dementia, I felt this story keenly from the point of view of the spouse and children.  It is truly a painful thing to witness and often there seems to be no way to comfort.

  But....I also loved the book and here is why.  Ultimately, Alice lives only in the present moment, her past is gone and she doesn't understand the future.  Her family, especially her children, have an opportunity to  make each day calm, comfortable and ultimately joyful for Alice.

   Since reading this book,  I look at my own situation in a slightly different way.  I have let go of the sadness that my mother is forgetting things that seem unthinkable for her to forget.

    Instead,  I hold on to the thought that only this day, this moment, filled with laughter or quiet conversation about the family or a new photo of her beloved great grandson, or the anticipation of trying a new recipe, is all that matters.  She doesn't have to recall today ever, because tomorrow will bring it's own moments.

  My book club, with members from thirty-four to seventy-one, agreed this was a terrific read and we gave it one of our higher ratings. The story is compelling and,  at the same time, provides so much information about a little understood illness, without hitting the reader over the head.  It is a gripping page-turner, guaranteed to  give a reader much food for thought.  

  Take-Away for Today -  'Still Alice' is a provocative read. 


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Raindrops and Roses

Thought For Today :  

    "People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us." 
                                                                           Iris Murdoch

Shared  with Saturday Snapshots at   At Home With Books

Friday, August 17, 2012

Black Bean Salad Tweaked! And A Dessert to Placate the Carnivore

Black Bean  Quinoa Salad with Tomato Salsa

                                                                  THE MAIN EVENT

  I had a delicious Black Bean Salad recently, made by The Teacher (AKA the Third Daughter.).  It had corn in it, a vegetable I love, but which does not return my affection.  I decided to tweak the recipe and turn it into a main course, to eat on  a hot August evening.  I wanted  to use some of the wildly juicy and delicious tomatoes, some sweet onion and green peppers I am getting in my CSA box every week. We  also have a bumper crop of jalapeno peppers in the  herb garden this year and there was even  handful of cilantro ready to be picked.   Perfect!

Here's my recipe, adapted from the Teacher's recipe.  (Quinoa, an ancient nut-like grain, added to  black beans becomes a complete protein.)

*Cook  3/4 cup of quinoa, letting it cool completely.

*Mix 2 cans of drained black beans with 2 tbs of red wine vinegar, some chopped onion, chopped jalapenos (I used 2)  and 3 chopped green peppers.

* Add cooled quinoa.  Mix in the following dressing:  1/3 c olive oil and the juice of 2 limes, 1 tsp. of ground cumin,  salt and  pepper to taste. Chill.

*  Make this  salsa just before serving:  Chop fresh red and yellow tomatoes, garlic, some onion, a jalapeno pepper, cilantro and salt and pepper to taste.  Squeeze on lots of lime juice and mix well.  Serve black bean salad topped with salsa.

                                                            AND FOR DESSERT

Peach Cobbler

               What do you do with 3 pounds of peaches all ripening on the same day?   Make Peach Cobbler, of course!

**Melt 1 stick of butter in a 9x13 oven pan.

** Combine 1 cup of flour(I use 1/2 white and 1/2 whole wheat flour) with 1 tablespoon of baking powder, 1 cup of brown sugar  and a pinch of salt. Add 1 cup of milk (I use soy milk) and stir until moistened. Add to the melted butter in the 9x13 pan but do not stir.

** Slice 4-6 large peaches and place in a sauce pan with 1/2 to 3/4 cup of  agave and a squeeze or two of lemon juice.  Bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes.

** Pour peach mixture onto batter, without stirring.  Sprinkle generously with cinnamon and bake in a 375 oven for 40 -50 minutes. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

  I am experimenting with using agave as a substitute for some of the sugar in recipes.  It is purported to be lower glycemic than sugar and since it is sweeter, you can use less.  If you don't have it you can use 1 cup of sugar instead.



Monday, August 13, 2012

Sunday Service

 Quiet hovers around the edges of morning,
no cicada howls its urge to procreate,
no human sounds emanate 
from teenage radios,
 trees keep their own peace.

A gardener ventures outside to work,
immediately enveloped in stillness,
 breathing in a silence more church-like
 than church.

Anemones are weeks early,
their smiling faces 
held midair by a magician
who lives in the garden
along with the chelone,
shadow nymphs that nod

and smile at nearby lobelia,
still fired up, waiting 
for ruby-throats to return,
willing to give up nectar for a kiss.

The gardener toils
slipping out of stiffness
into a girlish body,
bending and pulling,
bending and pulling,
she finds the weeds don't resist
preferring shallow roots
they hit and run
 setting a billion seeds.

She spies a shy trumpet flower
wrapped in voluptuous shade 
behind the garden trellis,
a brilliant orange cup,
in search of a butterfly.

 High in the cloudless blue
flies a single hawk,
wings like sails, aloft on a breeze.
She stops to watch,
 and  silent grace flows,
the hawk and the woman.

At last she bends again,
 engulfed in the sweetness
rising from the herb patch
on humid air.
Hyssop bites, mint invites,
basil calms, sage invigorates.

Pausing for a lemonade
when the sweat trickles and tickles,
she notices a green crickety fellow
sunning itself on the window.
It lingers long enough
for the obligatory photos,
and the gardener holds her breath,

studies his underside
through skin transparent as glass,
watching his body perform
the samba of life,
 six legs stretched to the limit,
antennae ever vigilant,
eyes popping,
respirations steady and strong.
This marvelous green creature,
the gardener's air.

Linking up with :Spiritual Sundays

Thought for Today:  Sensing 'The Near One' (Karl Rahner) during a morning of garden work. 

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