Lillia’s 15th Birthday

I can hardly believe it, but Lillia turned 15 this year! In just three short years she’ll be an adult. By this time next year she’ll probably have her driver’s license. The older my children get, the faster the time passes or seems to pass. It’s fascinating to watch Lillia’s life eclipse my most vivid memories from my own childhood—those of my teenage years.

Fifteen is a wonderful age. Lillia makes me laugh every day—really laugh, sometimes until I’m practically in tears. She is boisterous and full of life when she’s at her best. She has a compassionate heart and loves animals. She worries a lot about the state of the world and she struggles, like many of us do, to find her place in it. Whatever path she takes in life, it will certainly be an interesting, offbeat, absolutely unique one. We love you, Lillia! Happy Birthday!

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Angels Among Us

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. . . each soul is both a kingdom in itself
And part of some incorporating whole that
Feels and has a face and lets it live forever . . .
. . . an unseen presence
Tracing out the contours of a world erased . . .


—from “Falling Water” by John Koethe

The New England Aster is a lovely wildflower. Its scientific name, Aster novae-angliae, employs the latin root aster or star to gesture toward the frame of delicate petals that radiate from each golden face. Asters are blooming right now where I live, and probably inherited their common name—Michaelmas daisy—from a cousin that grows in Europe and blooms around the same time—that is, the Michaelmas season.

The Michaelmas daisy is startlingly beautiful to behold and yet its splendor so often goes unseen. Its colors are striking, and range from deep purple, to pink, to a glorious pale lavender. And, still, as often as not we walk—or drive—right past them. They flourish in thickets of weeds that gird disused industrial buildings, in clumps of foliage that spring up in abandoned lots, along the sunlit edges of highways and byways, concealed in out-of-the-way places where no one thinks to look for beauty. There they wait in the shadows of showier blooms, patiently growing taller as the summer months tick along, before they suddenly burst into color just as the growing year comes to an end. They are stars on Earth, the last glorious rays of warmth and light in a darkening world.

As the name suggests, the Michaelmas daisy blooms simultaneously with the Church’s annual celebration of angels. Today is the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels (or St. Michael and All Angels), also known as Michaelmas (pron. Mick-el-mas). It is one of my favorite feast days of the Church year. We are so often preoccupied with human endeavors, and it’s wonderful to take a whole day and remember that we’re not alone down here. More than ever, we need the angels’ guidance and protection—St. Michael, ora pro nobis (pray for us)!

Like the Michaelmas daisy hiding in plain sight the angels also are hidden from us, though their work is visible in our lives if we look for it. St. Jerome, in his commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew, wrote, ” . . . How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.” It is reassuring to know that despite the strife, devastating loneliness, frustration, disappointment, and anguish that seems to accompany modern life, there are heavenly beings watching over us and aiding us in our struggles.

Even if we can’t see something, can we be sure it doesn’t exist? Does the Michaelmas daisy not bloom in spite of our disregard for it? We might someday catch a glimpse of an angel—perhaps in the same way we might see the flash of purple petals on a hillside in early autumn as we drive by—but not be quite sure just exactly what it was that we saw. Once I learned to see the Michaelmas daisy, I could see them everywhere. Perhaps the same is true of angels; we simply need to learn how to see them.

Yes, I believe that angels are among us—do you?

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Rosh Hashanah

For it is customary on the first day of Rosh Ha’shanah
to cast a stone into the depths of the sea,
to weep and pray to weep no more.


—from “For I Will Consider Your Dog Molly” by David Lehman

Lillia has Jewish ancestors on her father’s side of the family, and for the past few years she has been learning about both the religion and culture her forbears. She has come to strongly identify with this facet of her heritage and this year she wanted to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Since I’m not Jewish, this is all new territory for me, but I’ve never met a holiday or family celebration I didn’t like so I was totally on board. I let Lillia take the lead and offered my assistance where needed.

I had previously given Lillia a copy of The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays, written by Malka Drucker and illustrated by Nancy Patz. This is a beautiful book that offers stories, recipes, and ideas for celebrating the feasts, festivals, and holy days of the Jewish year, much like books of the same type that I use when preparing to celebrate throughout the Christian year. Based on ideas from Drucker’s book, as well as suggestions we found online, we developed a feast menu consisting of challah, apples dipped in honey, a chickpea tagine, and honey cake. Sweet foods, especially those made with honey, traditionally are eaten at Rosh Hashanah in the hopes that the coming year will be sweet and happy.

The best part of the day (for me) was making the challah with Lillia (recipe follows photos). Because I’m not a world-class baker, we used the bread machine to make the dough, and then Lillia shaped it into a beautiful braided loaf. She was really proud of herself, and it was a special mother-daughter bonding moment for us. I know sometimes Lillia probably wishes we shared the same religion, and I do wish I could be more of a mentor for her in that regard. But, at the end of the day I think the important thing is that we are finding ways to celebrate together and to bridge the gaps—in our faith traditions and our relationship—with family, food, and love.

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Bread Machine Challah Bread

Ingredients:

1 c warm water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c honey
1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk, beaten
2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
4 2/3 c bread flour
1 1/4 tsp bread machine yeast
1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)

Directions:

1. Add ingredients to bread machine pan in the following order: Water, salt, oil, honey, whole egg, and egg yolk. Add flour on top, but do not stir. Make a small well in the flour and add yeast.

2. Place pan in bread machine, select “dough” cycle, and start machine.

3. When cycle is finished, remove dough from machine and place on floured surface. Divide into three equal parts and roll into ropes approximately 12-15 inches long.

4. Arrange ropes in three parallel lines—close but not touching—and pinch the ropes together on one end to secure. Braid ropes together as you would hair and pinch the other end to close. Tuck the ends under to finish the loaf.

5. Place loaf on greased pan and cover with greased plastic wrap or tinfoil. Allow to rise until doubled in size (time varies). When doubled, brush top of loaf with egg wash.

6. Bake at 350 degrees until bread is cooked through and top is a chestnut brown color, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!

Zane’s 7th Birthday

Little Zane is seven years-old! This kid has an imagination that knows no bounds, and he had a tall order for his cake this year—a 3D panda. My mother-in-law and I worked together to create this panda cake, which came out pretty well considering neither of us had ever made something so elaborate before. I think Zane’s expression in response to the cake says it all, really. Happy Birthday, Zane! You are a wonderful little light in the lives of so many people. Being your mom and watching you grow up is one of the deepest, greatest joys of my life. Love you, always.

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(Above: A special birthday message for Zane from his big sister, Lillia.)

Garden 2018

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This summer came and went in the blink of an eye. Between working, driving my kids all over creation, and it just being insufferably hot for much of the season, I didn’t get to spend as much time as I wish I had working in the garden. Here’s a rundown on what we did accomplish:

Raised beds

Our wheat-growing experiment was a success, but required me to sacrifice one whole 4′ x 8′ raised bed, limiting my options for planting. After the wheat was harvested, I decided to give the soil a rest and just left that bed empty for the rest of the growing season.

Despite being sorely neglected, everything we planted seemed to be successful. This year I inherited started kale and tomatoes from my mom, and late in the season I planted the seeds I saved from last year’s bean harvest—they actually grew and produced more beans, which I harvested to save for next year! I got absolutely nowhere with the partial-shade raised beds behind the house. I envision them being great spaces for shade tolerant herbs and fresh greens—maybe next year!

Child’s garden

In his child’s garden, Zane chose to put in eggplant (as usual), and also some Jarrahdale pumpkins which, when ripe, are a beautiful seafoam green color. They really are stunning. In the winter we will feed them to the squirrels. On St. John’s Day we also dug up some St. John’s wort we found growing close to our house and planted a bit of it in Zane’s little garden—St. John the Baptist is his patron saint, after all!

Fruit trees and berries

Elsewhere in the yard we had fantastic good luck with the blackberries I planted last year. They didn’t do much last summer, so I wasn’t sure what their growth would look like this year. Boy, was I shocked when they shot up huge trailing vines. I read online that you should tip the canes at around 3 – 4 feet about midsummer, which will encourage the growth of the lateral shoots (where the berries will grow the following summer). I did that, and now the lateral shoots are basically huge trailing vines, too. In the winter I will prune them back to about 18 inches and remove the spent canes from this summer. We did get a few berries on last year’s canes, but not a whole lot. I expect we’ll be inundated next summer.

Zane bought two blueberry bushes at the very start of the growing season, which did well when we planted them. They even produced quite a few berries but, unfortunately, the birds got all of them. I am going to work on creating some sort of enclosure for them this winter so that poor little Zane can enjoy the fruit of his labors. The raspberries are really taking off and growing maybe a little too well—shoots are starting to pop up everywhere, even in the child’s garden where they most certainly do not belong!

Sadly, our two pear trees did not produce any mature pears this year. There were some blossoms and a few baby pears at the start of the season, but they all fell off at some point. I’m not sure why, though I think it would be unusual to have pears on trees as small as ours. Maybe next year! We also planted a green gage plum tree that I drove over an hour to buy. Unfortunately, it died back to the roots. Since I don’t know what root stock the graft is on, I will probably dig it up next spring and try something else in that space. I’m looking at Nanking cherry bushes, maybe?

The wild crabapple tree in the town forest just over our fence produced almost no fruit this year. It’s really a mystery!

Hop trellis

Our hops did really well this year, though they are still not growing the “25 feet per year” that I have read about. However, when we were on vacation in Lubec I had a conversation with a local brewer there, and he said that we shouldn’t expect too much from first or second year hops. I feel reassured that next year we will be pleasantly surprised.

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