What is a Windshadow?

Over the next few days, I will post information about each of the four books I have available. All of them will be part of the Christmasland Event with Writers of the Wheat December 3, 4:00 pm until 9:00, at the Sunflower Plaza in Wichita. Writers of the Wheat is a loosely organized group of Kansas authors who support each other in writing, as well as marketing, their work. Join us at the Sunflower Plaza, 417 East Gilbert in Wichita,  December 3. There will be something for every reader’s taste.

Today, I feature my first published book, a memoir titled In the Shadow of the Wind. Though I have aspired to write books as long as I can remember, it was this one that had to come first. It uncorked the bottle of my creativity, so to speak. Released in 2014, I continue to be amazed at the response of new readers. It seems to connect with new folks scattered from coast to coast, and I am humbly grateful to the Winds of the Spirit for making the story known to those who struggle with their own personal grief and need encouragement.

What is it about?

Following a series of tragic losses, at age thirty I found myself in a strange world, anticipating a lonely future.  Widowed, and grieving the loss of two infants, I retreated to the wilderness for comfort and healing. Planning to stay forty days, I set up a solitary camp on the Neosho River bank of my family’s abandoned farm homestead. Marooned by rising flood water after only a few days, I had to face my own mortality.

I discovered that there is life after loss. Through a sequence of extraordinary events, In the Shadow of the Wind tells my story: how an ordinary woman learned to dance on the threshold of fear, to cherish every moment of life, and to believe in my inner resources to conquer adversity.

Prologue from the Book

“It’s okay, Daisy Pup,” I said. The small spaniel whined. I drew her to my chest and we cuddled together. Thunder exploded in the air above our little tent. The after-rumbles faded. Seconds later rain pelted the nylon roof of my fair-weather shelter. Daisy shivered in my arms. “It’ll be okay.” I tried to convince myself.

I felt foolish. How could I have thought this was a good idea? How could I have dreamed that I would be able to withstand forty days in the wilderness? The rain turned my plan into a futile effort that bordered on the edge of insanity.

A drop of water stabbed my forehead. In the gray afternoon light, I saw hundreds of droplets hang heavily from the inside of the tent roof. The threat of a cold shower hovered  inches away.

“Good Lord, Daisy—it’s going to rain inside the tent.”

There was no escape from the chill in the air. No escape from the fingers of cold that crept up from below. No escape from—“Oh, my God, the sleeping bag is wet.”

I shifted sideways in the orange tent and discovered we huddled in a growing pool of water, now about an inch deep. “Oh, God, this is crazy.”

My canine companion stood and shook.

“You need to go out?”

She wagged her stubby tail and shook again. I unzipped the door and she jumped into the deluge. I grabbed my boots and began to pull one over a damp sock. On second thought, I tied the laces together, removed my socks, and backed out of the low-slung tent. I pulled my backpack into the soggy afternoon, zipped the tent door shut, and stood barefoot in black ooze.

Daisy splashed through standing water. She located a slight rise, squatted, and relieved herself. I glanced at the sodden landscape. Water stood everywhere, and I was already soaked in the downpour. What were we to do? I turned in a circle and searched for shelter. An old wooden railroad boxcar, the only structure that remained on the abandoned farm, stood right behind the tent.

I stooped to look under the boxcar. We could wiggle under it. I quickly discarded that idea. The prospect of lying in muck was no better than sitting in a wet tent. Padlocks secured the sliding doors of the boxcar. Even if I had a key, I doubted I could budge them enough to allow entrance. The aged wooden sides looked weathered and soft. One ragged gap at the leading edge of the north door panel appeared almost large enough for me to wiggle inside.

I slogged to the side of the boxcar and grasped the lower edge of one ragged slat. I tugged on the worn end. With my entire weight behind my efforts, I ripped off inches at a time until the opening had grown twice as large.

“Come here, Daisy. Let’s check this out.” She was instantly at my mud-covered heels. I patted the dark floor of the boxcar, standing forty inches off the ground. Daisy leaped. With an assist from me, she scrambled into the dark interior. I stuffed my backpack behind her, slogged to the tent and pulled my boots and the bedding into the storm. I struggled to maintain balance as I slipped back to the hole in the door and crammed the bundle of blankets inside. Then I leaned into the darkness of the abandoned car and jumped. On my stomach, legs dangling out the opening, I snaked forward a few inches. With flailing arms, I reached into the darkness in search of something to grab.

There. Something metallic. Perhaps an old piece of farm equipment. I didn’t know. I could see very little. But it didn’t budge, so I was able to pull myself into the relatively dry interior of the old boxcar. Across the car, Daisy snuffled and sneezed a couple times. I stood and felt my way around the area. After locating a pile of old shingles along the south wall, I propped the backpack on the floor beside them. I shook the damp bedding. My clothing was soaked through, so I wrapped the blankets and sleeping bag around my shoulders. I sat on the shingles and leaned against the wall of the boxcar.

Daisy bounded onto my lap. We shared each other’s warmth as the deluge continued outside. Moments after we both settled down, I heard scratching noises inside the boxcar. Light-footed creatures scampered about the interior. I hugged Daisy a little tighter. I could see pinpoints of light here and there, small eyes that reflected the afternoon light filtering in through holes in the wall. Oh, my God.

Rats. Lots of them.

 I screamed. “I am such a fool, Daisy. Why do you put up with me?”

She licked my chin.

I spoke to my late husband Craig. “What am I going to do? I don’t think I can do this. I can’t live without you.”

He, of course, didn’t answer. I was on my own.

Daisy whined softly and licked my chin as if she understood. The storm mirrored the anguish in my heart. The entire universe wept with me. “What are we going to do, girl? I don’t know where we’re heading. I only know where we’ve been.”

When I met Craig, we thought we had all the time in the world. A decade was hard to visualize. Had we known that all our joys, our plans, and dreams, would have to be packed into one decade, would we have spent our days differently? Would our choices have been laced with more love and wisdom, or with desperate lunacy? Based on the law of averages, we had every reason to expect several decades together.

Yet there was barely one.

“It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” I railed against the universe.

 

 

From Alpha . . . to Omega Part 2

Since I was young, I found peace and unconditional acceptance in the natural world, even in difficult times. Especially in difficult times. During a traumatic adolescence, I surrounded myself with nature in my hideaway room at home. There was a fifty-gallon aquarium, and shelves in the windows filled with houseplants. Some even vined across the ceiling. My own private forest.

In Nature, I found evidence of a supreme being beyond what our senses show. Through countless moments filled with awe and wonder at the mystery of life, of connections with other beings, I grew to love the Earth, its life, and its mysteries. As we approach a precipice of no-return in the global crisis brought on by our industrial and consumer-oriented lifestyle, I feel great sadness, along with deep gratitude for the gift of life itself, and for all the moments when I sense the Beyond through simple contacts with other living things. Climate grief is a true thing.

I wonder what awe-filled moments do you recall that you wish your grandchildren—and theirs—could experience?

Have you ever . . .

Watched an eagle soar and listened to its distant call?

Sat on a trailside boulder and watched an aspen seed float to the ground?

Had a hummingbird check your red bandanna for nectar?

Watched a glacier calve an iceberg?

Heard a rush of wings in the stillness of a heavy mist?

Watched a loggerheaded shrike hang a field mouse on a locust thorn?

Risen before dawn to visit booming grounds of lesser prairie chickens?

 

Watched a lone prairie dog scamper away from its village into the sunset?

Surprised a family of deer on a winter walk?

Watched a flock of robins sip melting snow from your house gutters?

Walked with a flashlight after dark in September to watch orb spiders at work?

Witnessed a black bear check out the milo fields on the high plains of Kansas?

Heard the scream of a cougar outside your tent in the middle of the night?

Watched autumn leaves dance with hundreds of migrating monarch butterflies at dusk?

Held a newly metamorphosed moth in your hand and watched its virgin flight?

Heard barking sea lions as they congregated on the shore below the seaside cliff where you stood?

Through six decades, travels from Oregon and California to Maryland and Florida, Minnesota to Arizona, as well as journeys to Japan, India, Hawaii, Canada, Alaska, Cuba, and Mexico—not to mention my own backyard—the wonderments of Earth have held me spellbound in every little nook. With deep gratitude for all I have been fortunate to witness, and with fervent hope that we can stop our catapult into disaster at COP26, I offer Part 2 of the slide show from my younger days. Let humanity not be responsible for the Omega curtain on our gem of a planet.

Music: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, “Chorale Symphony.”

 

From Alpha . . . to Omega

A week from today in Glasgow, Scotland, COP26 is set to begin. The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the 1994 United Nations treaty on Climate Change has been called the planet’s last best chance to establish commitments around the globe that will mitigate the worst consequences of human blundering and greed. Glasgow, a Global Green City with plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, is an appropriate location for the conference. Like Greta Thunberg, I have grave doubts that anything pertinent will come from the proceedings.

But, it’s crucial that we take drastic steps to reverse the damage humanity has done to this gem of a planet. Every culture and faith tradition that I know of dictates great honor and respect for the forces that created the living biosphere we call home and rely on for our very existence. My background is the Christian tradition, where in earliest stories, God the divine, the Creator, brought into being the systems on Earth—and saw that it was very good.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

The greatest crime against the universe is human arrogance and greed that ignores the rest of our brother and sister species to bring about catastrophic change and ultimately destruction of the Earth systems that support all life forms.

I fell in love with nature in my childhood. My parents took us traveling to wonderful places every year and we camped in the wilderness before RV-ing became a “thing.” The church were I learned “God is Love” used beautiful scenic photos on the weekly bulletins, and I wanted to take photos like them.

In college, my best friend (who later became my husband) and I bonded over escapades in natural settings. We reveled in outings where we traipsed joyfully through hills and meadows with our 35mm SLR cameras slung over our shoulders.

The first church we attended as newlyweds was a country Mennonite church in southwestern Kansas. Though neither of us had a Mennonite background, the love, the service, and the music of this congregation provided a perfect support for beginning our married life. For these people, we put together a slide show of our own scenic shots, accompanied by scripture from the Bible. The original show was held in 1978 in a local auditorium, using a Kodak carousel projector and reading scripture at a microphone as we advanced the slides. At the time we thought how nice it would have been to include musical background, but lacked technological skills to accomplish that.

I lost my first soul mate to cancer. A lifetime later, with advancing digital products and home computers, I was able to convert the original 35mm slides to digital format, set it all to music with the help of a tech-savvy stepson, and post to a YouTube video channel.

I offer the show here, for love of the Earth, of Creation, of our gem of a planet which unquestionably deserves better than we’ve allotted to it. As COP26 approaches, can we all agree that Earth is unique in the universe? Can we, out of respect for its Creator and Creation itself, and for love of generations to come—generations of all species that make up our Earth family—commit to protecting and preserving this unique planet which holds mystery and miracles and wondrous splendor?

See Part 1 of the slide show we called “In the Beginning” here, set to Beethoven’s Egmont Overture in F minor op. 84:

Part 2 to come.

What’s a Grandma to do?

With the preponderance of plastic items everywhere you turn, it’s a real challenge to figure out how to reduce my use. Take, for instance, the celebratory picnic of grandson’s swim team season two weeks ago. Hotdogs and hamburgers would be furnished, but each family was to bring along “prepackaged” sides to make the meal complete. Prepackaged? I visualized single serving chip bags, plastic containers of fruit or pudding, industrial cookies and brownies, wrapped and sealed in plastic before packaging in paperboard boxes.

How to reduce my family’s plastic contribution?

Here’s what I decided to do. I baked a batch of home-made oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips, and put one cookie each inside a single paper sleeve.

I had found a supply of these online when preparing a promotion of Grandma Georgia’s Recipe File at an old-time crafts festival.

Then I cleaned and sanitized 24 small plastic cups that included plastic lids, which came with the free USDA summer lunches provided during COVID for the grandson. I selected ripe and attractive grapes, chunks of melon, and a bing cherry, and made two dozen fresh fruit cups. I sealed them with the cleaned lids. Okay, I know. This was still in plastic, but at least it was re-used plastic before it was tossed into the trash bins.

(Fruit cups similar to the picnic items. I forgot to take a picture of those.)

This reducing plastic thing is hard. It’s everywhere, and we’re so used to it, we don’t even think about it anymore.

Moving Toward Zero Plastic One Step at a Time

After watching the documentary The Story of Plastic with several friends and neighbors last month, and reading Beth Terry’s Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too,  I am convinced we need to move toward a plastic free world sooner, rather than later. Like maybe, yesterday. Or last year.

It’s not going to be easy. Look around. Nearly everything we do, everything we have, everything we shop for at the local stores is–if not made of plastic itself–wrapped up in it, sealed with it, packaged, bottled, bagged in it. We are so used to plastic in our lives, where do we even begin?

Beth Terry has some really good ideas about that. Her book is chock-full of tips, personal stories (mostly from her experiences), and suggestions for alternatives. I highly recommend it for everyone. It’s written so engagingly, that I was trying some of her ideas with each chapter, without waiting to finish the book. For quick starters, she also blogs at https://myplasticfreelife.com/

For instance, take plastic bags. These nuisances are very bad for the environment, totally unnecessary, but so hard to avoid. I am old enough to recall the days before plastic bags when everything was bagged in paper bags. And of course, we were urged to change our habits then to save the trees! What about the days before paper bag convenience? What about a hundred years ago? What, even, do some other countries do today (or at least in the more recent past, before the bag-pushers got to them)?

People once were responsible for providing their own take-out crates, bags, or boxes. And in some places, that custom still exists. Here at home, it seems that every worthy organization offers free re-usable shopping bags. Some are more road-worthy than others, but at least they aren’t hard to find. I have a dozen in my car, ready for toting new purchases. The good thing about cloth bags is that they can be tossed into the laundry and cleaned for reuse. We just have to remember to take a few into the store when we get the week’s provisions.

If you are a little short on bags, Beth Terry offered good ideas for making your own. How many of us have a drawer-full of old t-shirts we’ve collected at various events? I know I do. They serve a purpose for a day or two, and then gradually get buried under other shirts. Try digging out some t-shirts you haven’t worn for years and make them into shopping bags.

It’s easy–

  1. Trim the sleeves off, just outside the seams. Trim the neckline to make the top opening bigger. This need not be hemmed, just leave it raw cut.
  2. Turn the shirt inside out and sew two seams across the bottom. Two seams adds strength.
  3. Turn it right-side out, and you’ve got a bag.

If you happen to have a tank top that hasn’t been worn for a long time, it’s even easier. No sleeves to trim! Just double-seam the bottom edge and it’s a ready-made bag.

If you have no sewing machine, just cut a fringe and tie knots along the bottom. For a festive look, add beads, or other bits of things.

You can express yourself with the shirts you choose, and have a Uniquely You collection of reusable shopping bags. Or make some to give away each time you shop.

One other homemade  bag suggested in the book is one crocheted out of plarn. I had never heard of plarn, but it’s a thing. Google it and you’ll find all kinds of video instructions on how to make a ball of “plarn” (that is, plastic yarn) from shopping bags. There are detailed instructions on the crocheting process, and even patterns for other items, like bedrolls for homeless people. (Really!) Talk about re-using something. A bedroll would take lots of bags from landfills already overflowing with once-used plastic stuff, or re-purpose hundreds that otherwise might blow into the trees in your hometown or the pond in your park, and might even provide a bit of comfort for those with precious little of that commodity.

My experimental plarn bag, still light-weight, but with the strength of 50 single-use bags:

Show and tell reusable homemade bags at the screening of The Story of Plastic:

Zero Plastic, Step One: Carry (and use!) reusable shopping bags.

Plastics and Me

Trash in the forest

Sometimes I am so overwhelmed by a glut of information on a topic, the immensity of a problem or a challenge, that I quite literally don’t know where to begin. Plastic pollution is such a topic. Plastics and me have had a decades-long feud. Though I grew up in the early days of the plastic boom, love for the natural world and wilderness led me to associate plastics with everything cheap and shoddy. The preponderance of the growing available products—from cheap tourist souvenirs to Tupperware (remember the parties??!)—helped me associate the word “plastic” with things that lacked authenticity: cheap imitations, counterfeit, false, fake, superficial, synthetic, and MAN-MADE.

As I moved from my parents’ home, my older sister gave me a set of dinnerware; four each of plates, bowls, and cups—a generous gift to start my adult life. But I was horrified because they were PLASTIC! I’m sure she felt conflicted and confused by my reaction, but the plastic set was returned to the store and traded for a couple pieces of cast iron cookware. (I later settled on a set of ceramic dinnerware.)

Shortly after that, I discovered No More Plastic Jesus by Adam Daniel Finnerty that became a guide book for life. Once again here, plastic meant fake, artificial, and superficial. It has been my lifelong passion to seek genuine things. Some of those are indeed crafted by human hands (take pianos, for example, or the handcrafted furniture in my office made in my father’s woodworking shop), but they use what Nature provides, not what chemists can create by manipulating petroleum into indestructible other stuff.

Having studied a science discipline in my undergraduate curriculum, (geology, a “natural science”) I get testy when people sneer at science and scientists in general. I recall a class I took in preparation for a secondary teaching certificate in the physical sciences. It was called “Science, Technology, and Society” and was a forum to examine ethical questions behind scientific exploitation of Nature’s gifts. Just because we CAN do something, doesn’t mean we SHOULD.

Chemists are scientists too. Just because we know how to re-form the molecules in petroleum and natural gas into long, indestructible polymers, doesn’t necessarily mean we should. Discarded plastic products pile up in waste streams and emit the toxins added somewhat secretly by petro-chemical companies to enhance product qualities, clog waterways and swirl in our oceans. It’s becoming clear that even though we humans discovered how to make cheap single-use plastic products, we should not be inundating our planet with the stuff.

Environmental writers around the world note that some plastic products are very beneficial. In the medical field, plastics save lives. In transportation, they help make our vehicles more fuel efficient. On a piano keyboard, plastic saves the lives of elephants whose tusks formerly were used to cover wooden keysticks.

Piano keys

Most of the beneficial plastics are meant to endure for decades. Those we encounter on grocery shopping trips are meant to be thrown away. Single-use plastic products, packaging, and shopping bags have become a huge global problem. And that’s got lots of people riled up, justifiably.

This month of July has become the month of plastic trash awareness in my house. YES! Magazine issued an invitation to join their team for a “Plastic Free Ecochallenge” through July. On the website are hundreds of ideas to cut or eliminate personal plastic consumption in areas of food, personal care, life style, pets, family, and community action. There are campaigns against single-use plastic around the globe. Break Free From Plastic lists campaigns by the groups Beyond Plastic, City to Sea, GAIA, Greenpeace, People Over Petro, Plastic Free Seas, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Plastic Soup Foundation, Recycling Network, Friends of the Earth, Surfrider Foundation, and others. GAIA offers a “Zero Waste World Masterplan.”

I’ve been reading Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage by Heather Rogers, Turning the Tide on Plastic by Lucy Siegle, and Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry. In addition, there are numerous blogs addressing plastic pollution with ideas for each of us to make a statement–and a difference–in various ways.

The pictures painted by each of these authors show a global emergency. If we don’t curtail the production and use of single-use disposable plastics before the plastics industry is a century old, there will be more plastic items in the Earth’s oceans than ocean life. No form of animal life –not even humans—will be free from synthetic polymers in the organs of their bodies. (Discover Magazine, “Microplastics are Everywhere, But Their Health Effects on Humans are Still Unclear”, Jillian Mock, January 11, 2020)

Plastic pollution is a global crisis and it’s driven by the petro-chemical industry. In my hometown, every year a group of volunteers cleans our beautiful park of plastic trash as an April, Earth Day project. How disheartening to see the confounded stuff return before May 1! Some trash blows in, other items are carelessly littered, still more is “harvested” from appropriate trash receptacles by roaming nocturnal wildlife.

Our homes are filled with the indestructible polymers. With daunting names like low density polyethylene, (LDPE), high density polyethylene (HDPE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene, (PS), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), polychlorotrifluoroethylene (PCTFE), nylon, or thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), these “poly-mers” are found in items from children’s toys to floor coverings, to toothbrushes, to water pipes, to cookware and grocery packaging to nearly everything else.

The Story of Stuff organization has produced a documentary, The Story of Plastic. This film takes a sweeping look at the man-made crisis of plastic pollution and the worldwide effect it has on the health of our planet and the people who inhabit it. Spanning three continents, the film illustrates the ongoing catastrophe: fields full of garbage, veritable mountains of trash, rivers and seas clogged with waste, and skies choked with the poisonous emissions from plastic production and processing. With engaging original animation, archival industry footage beginning in the 1930s, and first-person accounts of the unfolding emergency, the film distills a complex problem that is increasingly affecting the well-being of the planet and its residents.

Locally, we’ve been given a chance to view this highly acclaimed film as part of Marquee’s Green Screen summer film series, Saturday July 24, 7:00 pm in the lobby of the theater. Local residents are invited to come to the screening. There is no admission charge. To view the film’s trailer, check https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37PDwW0c1so. Bring questions and ideas about combatting the local glut of plastic trash. Be sure to RSVP on Marquee’s Facebook event page so organizers can plan accordingly.  For a five-minute animated condensation of the documentary, see https://www.storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-plastic-animation/

Landfill trash

A Glimpse of Grace for Earth Day 2021

I was invited to share a few thoughts for Earth Sunday at my church this year. The presentation received enthusiastic endorsements and is worth passing along. I share it below.

A year and a half ago, I headed to Nebraska for an “Elders for the Earth” retreat with the Hunters and Aurora from GUMC. I found it exhilarating to be with a roomful of folks attuned to the ballooning climate crisis, and respectful of the leadership offered by the world’s indigenous peoples.

There were seminars by experts in various fields, including a biology professor, a Catholic sister who shared how the global climate crisis affects our immigration issues, a panel of farmers who advocated for regenerative agriculture, and the Nebraska Sierra Club. Most important for me was the connection with others who share my anxiety about the future of life on Earth and who want to do something about it.

The weekend concluded with a native American smudging ceremony and we returned to our homes pledging actions to effect change that fit our own situations.

Little did I know how much that retreat would change my life. I returned home with ideas for action and a reading list. In the process of working through the books, COVID hit and our old “normal” world changed overnight.

None of us have escaped the COVID months unscathed. If we didn’t contract the virus ourselves, we certainly knew those who did. We all know people who suffered severe symptoms, and even some who succumbed to the virus. Yet in spite of the dire consequences, COVID months provided opportunities to stretch in different directions. I found myself zooming into conference calls with literally hundreds of people around the world, enrolling in online classes that focused on our climate challenges, as well as social justice, and economic systems. Through leadership of indigenous peoples around the world, I expanded my horizons and my hopes for our common future supported by an expanding awareness of our Earth community.

A couple of people and their ideas kept showing up in my varied explorations.

One was Robin Wall Kimmerer, a mother, a scientist, a writer and a member of the Citizen Potawatomie nation. Her book Braiding Sweetgrass helped change my life during COVID. The first time I ever read about Robin was in the run-up to last year’s 50th anniversary of Earth day in the Sierra magazine. She was a featured contributor and her description of a conversation with a student echoes in my mind yet today. “I’m sorry,” she said to this student, “that you have to still fight these environmental battles.” The student responded, “Don’t you see that this is the best possible time to be alive?” (What?! Climate chaos? Extinction crisis?) The student looked her in the eyes and said, “We are on the precipice. When everything hangs in the balance, it matters where I stand. How wonderful to live in a time when everything that I do matters.”

I actually had never thought of it quite like that. But that one idea opened lots of doors. The Elders Retreat helped me realize how complex the crisis we face really is.

Every part of our lives is impacted, from the food we eat to our economy, transportation, government, justice.

Everything on planet Earth is interconnected in ways we are just beginning to understand and no part of my life is immune to change.

Situations highlighting inequities in every area of our lives exploded over the last year. I could easily give in to hopelessness about our children’s future.

But I can’t allow myself that luxury. Those who can least afford to do anything about our climate are the neighbors we are to love and care for. One of my remote friends shared a gift that COVID presented her, the realization that families are made not by birth but by intention. COVID made our family grow to 7.9 billion people.

I can’t afford a moment of despair. But how do I find hope? There are hundreds of thousands of groups working toward a viable future around the world, representing millions of people. That gives me hope.

Another resource that the retreat introduced that I encountered over and over was the Drawdown project.

Through it I learned that we have at least 80 different ways to bring about a Drawdown of the warming gasses in our atmosphere. As COVID loosens its grip on our hometown, and our planet, we have a chance to return cautiously to a new “normal”—certainly not the old one—

that will put us on the path toward restoration of a healthy and viable planet for all of God’s creation. I find that exciting news, and I hope you do too. No one person can do it all, but I can do my part.

As one human family, with each of us doing our part, that will make the difference we need.

Favorite Apple Coffeecake

It was tradition. When it came time to depart a visit to my parents, Mother faithfully packed us out with goodies from my dad’s garden and her kitchen. We could count on serving her favorite coffeecake at the next day’s breakfast. And over the years, we all grew to love that coffeecake. Today, not as faithfully, but still often, I bake one to share with my now-grown kiddos. They love it too. Family traditions and comfort cooking bring happy memories and warm smiles.

Apple Coffeecake

Mother has been gone nearly 18 years now, but she lives on in our hearts and our lives. With her in mind, I baked up a coffeecake to take along on my Easter visit to our daughter and granddaughter a state away. In keeping with Mother’s trademark “simple and delicious” recipes, this Apple Coffeecake is a winner. It is also a great way to use up milk that has gone sour. But you can make it even with sweet milk, altering the ingredients just a tiny bit. If you plan to use 1 cup sweet milk instead of the sour milk, omit the soda in the recipe and add one more teaspoon of baking powder. Alternatively, you could add 1 T lemon juice to the sweet milk to sour it.

To bake this delicious cake, first mix together:

2 ½ cups flour

2 cups brown sugar

½ tsp salt

2/3 cup butter or margarine

Once it’s mixed so that the butter crumbs spread evenly throughout, the next step is very important. Remember: reserve ½ cup of this sugar mixture for later.

To the rest of the mixture add:

½ tsp soda

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

2 tsp baking powder

(Here’s where you determine if you need to change the 1/2 tsp soda to another tsp of baking powder–making 3 tsp baking powder total–or add a souring agent to 1 cup of sweet milk.)

In a small bowl, combine:

2 beaten eggs

1 cup sour milk

Mix well with the sugar/flour mixture.

Peel, core, and finely dice one apple of your choice.

Granny Smith apples bake well in this recipe but others varieties can be used.

Add the apple to the batter. Stir well.

Spread in a greased and floured 9” x 13” cake pan.

Sprinkle the reserved topping over the batter.

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.

Simple. Delicious. And ready to eat in only an hour, fresh out of the oven.

French Bread Pizza-zz

Favorite dishes in our family originate in many places. Grandmother kitchens, as well as mother kitchens, mother-in-law kitchens, and those of friends have produced satisfying and tasty concoctions that remain favorites through generations. It’s surprising how often friends will exchange recipes that work their way onto the list of favorites.

I thumbed through the cards in my file and noted several that have achieved staying power. One was a main dish that has a name begging creative upgrade: “Hamburger on French Bread.” Through the years we have referred to this as “Topped French Bread,” or “French Bread Pizza.” Nothing seems to stick with permanence.

The recipe card was written in my mother’s handwriting, noting that its source was the mother of our good childhood friends, Fredia. Sixty years ago, my sisters and I belonged to a 4-H club and enjoyed getting together for learning projects with friends that we still keep in touch with today. I recall Fredia as an active 4-H project leader, sharing several recipes that had staying power, just like the friendship between our families.

On my latest trip to the grocery store, a display just inside the door offered French bread loaves at a special price. I took it as a sign that the “French Bread Pizza-zz” was next on the Comfort Food list. For many years, French bread loaves were offered in foil wrappers that could be used in the oven. No longer. But I discovered that the long narrow loaves fit nicely, in a diagonal orientation, in 13” x 9” cake pans, which is what I used to prepare this favorite main dish.

Here’s what you need to make this satisfying dish:

  1. Cut a loaf of French bread in half, long ways.
  2. Mix a pound of lean ground beef with 1/3 cup evaporated milk, 1/4 cup of crushed crackers, 1 egg, 1/4 cup chopped onion, 1 1/2 tsp prepared mustard, 1 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. A handy tool is a potato masher.
  3. Spread ½ of the meat mixture on each half of the bread.
  4. Wrap in foil, or place in a 13 x 9 pan and cover with a tight-fitting lid.
  5. Bake 20 minutes at 350 F.
  6. Sprinkle ½ cup grated cheese on each half of the loaf. Bake 5 minutes longer.
  7. Slice into desired servings and enjoy.

This recipe is a keeper. My grandson’s comment at dinnertime: “We need to make this more often!”

 

Brown Sugar Raisin Cookies

Perhaps every grandmother bakes cookies. Mine sure did. And there was this one recipe that in my mind was unique to Grandma Georgia. Her recipe for Brown Sugar Raisin Cookies wouldn’t have stood out as special to me, just looking through recipes. Though I am fond of brown sugar concoctions, I have never really taken to raisins. But this cookie wouldn’t be the same without them. In her recipe file, she labeled them “Ola’s Cookies”. Her youngest sister was named Ola. She must have thought fondly of Ola whenever she baked a batch of these cookies. I think of Grandma Georgia. To me, the flavor speaks of delicious odors filling her simple house, her hearty laughter, and her ready hugs. These cookies say “Grandma” as clearly as anything ever could.

I must tell you that the mix of flavors–lemon, brown sugar, and stewed raisins– grows on you and it’s nearly impossible to eat just one. I will also let you know that for years after Grandma Georgia shared this prize recipe with my mother, we could not figure out her secret. Ours never quite ended up the same as Grandma’s cookies. However once upon a time she divulged her little secret (a bit resentfully, as if everyone should just know how to do this.) She always baked a test cookie before she put a sheet of them into the oven. After baking one, if it didn’t turn out light and fluffy, she added more flour. So we learned that recipes aren’t cut in stone. They are meant to be adjusted to preferences and current conditions.

Suffice it to say  that the cookies turn out much better (more like Grandma’s) if the dough is very stiff to start with. You don’t want them spreading out too much during the baking process.

Grandma Georgia’s Brown Sugar Raisin Cookies

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Measure a cup of raisin into a saucepan. Cover them with water and simmer them gently while you prepare the rest of the cookie dough.
  3. Cream together 1 cup Crisco and 2 cups brown sugar. Note: I learned a few months ago that genuine Crisco has a component of palm oil in it, which is not environmentally friendly, given that much land in tropical countries is altered to produce the palm trees to meet palm oil demand. I used 1 cup of real butter instead with no detriment to the finished product.
  4. Add 2 well-beaten eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 1 tsp lemon extract. Beat well.
  5. Measure 3 1/2 cups sifted flour and sift with 2 tsp soda and 2 tsp cream of tartar. Mix the dry ingredients into the dough.
  6. Drain the raisins after they are soft and plump. Add them to the cookie dough, and add 1 cup nutmeats, if desired.
  7. Mix well with your hands. “Makes them soft,” wrote Grandma Georgia.
  8. Drop by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet.
  9. Bake 10 – 15 minutes in the pre-heated oven.

This recipe makes 4 to 5 dozen delicious cookies that provide a taste into the past, a simple, wholesome life filled with love and laughter.

A bit of Grandma’s life wisdom:

“When I was younger and my feelings got hurt or a problem was hard to solve, I would get my hoe, and I would hoe and hoe, as hard as I could, until the problem didn’t seem so big. I used to have a wonderful garden!”

Georgia Wells Harris, November 1983

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B08T85DXDQ/