f Morning Rose Prayer Gardens: 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Plants, Growing Them On, 12/29 Column

This column that appeared in The Jackson Citizen Patriot Newspaper and on MLive.com was to have been run with pictures. Because of another delightful story that ran the same day, mine was significantly cut down to fit in a column and a lot of the growing information was lost. So, here I have given you the full version. Enjoy!

     Houseplants are popular at Christmas. They bring interest to our counters and tables, adding color to our seasonally decorated homes. There are several plants traditionally given during the Christmas season. Knowing how to care for these living gifts can be a challenge. Following are the five most popular plants purchased during the holidays and information on how to care for them.
     Poinsettia:  This is the most frequently purchased plant for Christmas. It ranges from tones of red to white. The colored leafy bracts, which we think of as flowers, can be smooth, deeply lobed or tightly crinkled as with ‘Winter Rose’. 
     This plant is touchy to extremes in moisture, temperature and drafts. To keep it looking good takes some skill. It likes a lot of sun, so if it is next to a window rotate the plant daily to allow light on all leaf surfaces. Keep it in a warm room of 70-75 degrees, away from heat vents and cool drafts. Water when soil is dry. Too much water and a chill cause the leaves and bracts to drop. By late winter this plant wants to take a rest and its leaves will begin to fade. Lay it on its side in a cool dark basement. In May, prune it to about 4”, water well and plant in the garden.
     Extensive research, including studies by Ohio State University, has shown that the poinsettia is quite safe and not toxic to animals or children; if consumed it will cause digestive expulsion.
     Christmas Cactus: First of all, this is not a true cactus and requires regular watering. It is one of my favorite house plants.
     When grown in greenhouses they are regulated to bloom for December sales. In my home they bloom twice a year; in early November and again if not pinched back in late winter. To set buds, these plants like it cool, around 60-65 degrees. Once buds are formed keep them at about 70 degrees and away from heat vents.
     Grow in bright indirect sunlight, rotating plant by one quarter each time you water. Keep soil evenly moist but not soggy while blooming. When done flowering, water sparingly and cut back at a leaf node to encourage new branching (and more buds!). When new growth appears in the spring, use fertilizer every other watering.
     Norfolk Pine: This plant is often decorated like a living Christmas tree. Easy to care for, it can grow quite large.
     It likes it cool, around 62-68 degrees. Grow in bright indirect light, but never in full sun. It does best about 4’ from a bright South facing window. Place closer to windows with sheers or awnings. Rotate by a quarter turn each time you water with a standard fertilizer. Allow soil to dry almost completely between watering but mist the needles with cool water 2-3 times a week if your house has low humidity.
     Rosemary: A common household herb during Jesus’ life, it was used to repel insects and would have been placed under the straw of the manger.
     Grow rosemary in a clay pot to allow the soil to dry completely between watering, place in bright full sun with good air movement but away from cold drafts and heat vents. Fertilize once a month with diluted solution.
     Cyclamen: This plant is commercially forced to bloom at specific times of the year. Outdoors in mild climates it has a dormant period and then comes to life flowering in late winter to early spring.
     Grow your plant in bright indirect sunlight, rotate by ¼ turn each time you water. Water at the side of the pot when soil feels dry to touch, keeping the crown dry. Mist 2-3 times a week or place on gravel in a tray partially filled with water.     
     Snip off old flowering stalks near crown. Eventually the plant will start to decline, needing a dormant period. Place it in cool dark basement until spring and plant in the garden when soil temperature is above 50 degrees.
     Bulbs that usually come as a gift kit are the Amaryllis and Paperwhite Narcissus. Following the packaging instructions will bring beautiful flowers in mid-winter.

Monday, December 26, 2011

C. S. Lewis Quote

He dwells, all of Him, within the seed of the smallest flower and is not cramped: deep heaven is inside Him who is inside the seed...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Composting Misconceptions Column 12/8/11

                I must admit that when it came to composting, I was a reluctant participant for many years. In several gardening circles I would hear others talk about their compost piles like a special pet; feeding it greens, keeping it warm and never adding junk food to its microbial digestion. My eyes would glaze over as temperatures and techniques were debated.
There were several misconceptions I had to resolve before I could really embrace this activity.
Composting is complicate. Those who are into composting are, well, into it. They have read articles and books gleaning information. Good for them. You really don’t need to worry about all that. Pile whatever composting materials you have and it will decompose. Adding water now and then and turning it over will speed the process. If you tend to forget about your pile, as I often do, nature will still run its course.
The yard is too small for compost pile. Think of it this way; if you have a large yard your compost pile is usually larger; with a small yard the pile will be smaller in proportion. If you have a garden apartment or condo, use a 36 gal. black plastic garbage can with tight fitting lid. Drill ½ inch holes around sides and bottom for air movement. To ‘stir’ the compost, lay the container on its side, with lid secured, and roll it around.
Compost piles stink and attract rodents. Most people have this misconception. Compost piles do not attract rodents or have a bad odor unless the wrong stuff is added. The rule here is no animal products: meats/bones, oils, dairy, poo. Do not add sugary materials either. Add only vegetative materials from the kitchen or yard. Healthy compost smells like spring soil.
Compost piles are ugly. Location is everything. Placing it in the middle of the yard or driveway will certainly create an eyesore. Locate it in an out of the way place where it will receive sunlight. You can hide the pile by using fence panels to surround it, or, again, black garbage cans. There are commercial composting containers and bins available on the market ranging from $60 to over $1000 for free-standing tumblers.
Composting costs too much money.  Sure, you can spend a lot on a compost thermometer, tumbler or fancy fencing but there is no need.  To get started make a walled bin from whatever you have lying around—wooden skids, chicken wire and metal posts, even doubled black garbage bags filled and set in the sun work perfectly fine.
I don’t have the time to compost. This was a favorite myth of mine. I believed I was far too busy attending to my and others’ gardens to focus on creating the healthy compost pile that gardeners bragged about. Once my compost pile was started I discovered it took about 30 minutes a month to maintain.
That’s all there is to it. For more information on the perfect pile, contact the County Extension Office or go to the library.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gifts for the Gardener: Tools 12/1/11 Column

     Gardeners, like most people who work with their hands, appreciate good, reliable tools. Some of my friends show me a tool their grandfather used, and others share with me something new that works like a charm.
     I am one who likes to try the new stuff that comes to the market. I look for products that will ease my gardening tasks. Here are a few that might interest you:
     Not too long ago the St. Francis Garden Society was given a gift of several collapsible 40-gallon containers, sometimes called Spring Buckets or Kangaroo Containers. We have used them almost daily and have had several people stop and ask where to buy them. The collapsible buckets have a circling spring enclosed in a sleeve sewn to the UV resistant tarpaulin. The hard plastic bottom that has drain holes holds the container in place as it is filled with debris. When collapsed it is 3 inches thick and can be hung by the large nylon handles sewn to the sides.
     Containers are popular. However, moving them for winter storage can be a challenge, especially when they are large and heavy. The glazed ceramic containers are difficult to move because it is hard to get a grip on their slippery surface. Lifting these pots is a two-person job and can be made safer by using a Potlifter Strap. This simple and ingenious device is an adjustable nylon strap that fits around the circumference of a container and is designed with handles for gripping.
     I’m not sure there is a more practical tool than the bulb planter that can be attached to a drill. I remember my first attempt at power-drilling holes for bulbs. I noticed the paint stirrer attached to my grandfather’s hand drill and thought it would work in the gardens for making holes. The concept was good even if the paint stirrer didn’t function well as an auger.
     Several years later the proper tool came to market. Bulb augers can be long enough to stand while drilling, or shorter and more easily controlled. There is also a device called a Bulb Bopper that is a tube instead of a spiral auger. If you have physical challenges planting bulbs, or have a lot of bulbs to put in, this tool is essential to your gardening hardware.

Protecting Trees and Shrubs 11/10/11 Column

     Now that it is early November I find myself preparing to nestle in for the winter. My gardening frenzy shifts to calmer activities, such as writing and cooking, and I gratefully look forward to time for reading garden magazines set aside throughout the summer months.
     There are a few more tasks that need attending to before winter enfolds the gardens.
     For shrubs exposed to winter winds and prone to its desiccating effects on their leaves, such as rhododendrons and dwarf Alberta spruce, protect them with a burlap barrier. Place the barrier 4 to 6 inches away from the plant’s limbs on the south, southwest and windward sides. If a plant in a previous winter has shown injury on all sides, surround it with a barrier and leave the top open for air and light penetration. Never fill the space between the plant and the burlap with leaves. The burlap also protects plants from deer browsing.
Photo by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp of Hoosier Gardener
Another way to protect evergreens is to prop pine boughs or Christmas tree greens against or over them. This helps catch more snow for natural protection and offers additional protection from wind and sun.
     Young trees and those with a thin bark are often damaged by sun scald. Sun scald is characterized by a long sunken or cracked area of bark found on the south or southwest side of the trunk. On a cold winter’s day the sun can warm the bark to the point where it becomes active. When the sun is blocked, bark temperatures drop rapidly, killing the active tissue. Sun scald can be prevented by wrapping the trunk in late autumn with white plastic tree guards or commercial tree wrap. This also protects the trunk from deer rubs when the bucks grow antlers. Be sure to remove wrappings in late spring.
     Protect the lower trunk portion of young trees from mice and rabbits. Use mesh hardware cloth rolled and fastened into a tube around the base of the trunk, leaving about a half-inch space and buried about two inches into the soil. Be careful not to damage the tree’s roots. I often cut a notch into the wire as wide as the root so the mesh tube will set deep enough into the ground.
     Mulch is great as a weed barrier and it helps retain moisture. It also protects plant roots from freeze-thaw damage. This damage is caused by the sun warming the soil surface and ‘waking-up’ the root system. Like sun scald, when temperatures drop suddenly the activated tissue is killed. Pile on extra leaves at the base of shrubs and trees to keep soil at an even temperature. For newly planted plants, the mulch will also help protect against heaving from freezing soil.

For the Birds 10/28/11 Column

     Feeding the birds during the winter is an activity a lot of people delight in. Through the years, I’ve picked up several feeder tips on how to attend to the needs of birds and deter marauding squirrels. Here are just a few.

Artwork by Charlie Harper
      Large bird feeders are a convenience because you don’t have to fill them as often as the smaller ones. One issue with their size is that the seeds don’t always flow out to the edges where the birds can reach. A trick I picked up years ago uses a clear disposable 5-ounce cup (or a 7-ounce cup cut in half around the circumference). Before filling the feeder, turn the cup upside-down and center it in the bottom. Add seed, initially holding the cup in place, until feeder is filled. The seed will slide away from the plastic cup and toward the edges of the feeder.
     Filling a finch feeder with thistle seeds can be a bit messy, especially if you use a mesh sock feeder. Here is a way to make that task easier by repurposing a watering can that leaks. Remove the rose head on the spout; it might twist off or you might need to cut it off. Then, add seed and pour it out the spout into the sock feeder.
     Peanut butter-coated pine cones covered in seeds is a favorite winter food of many birds. Creating these feeders often has been a messy and time-consuming activity until I read this tip that makes the project less of a challenge. Select cones that will easily fit into the wide mouth of a peanut butter jar. Tie a string around the top of the cone. Remove the label from the jar of peanut butter and with a permanent marker write “birds” on the jar and lid. Place the jar in a pan of boiling water until peanut butter is melted. Using a microwave will often melt and warp the plastic jar; for this method place peanut butter into a glass bowl and then microwave. When the peanut butter is melted, swirl the cone into the peanut butter until coated, and then roll it in a bowl of bird seed. Set the cone on wax paper to harden. I usually cut the wax paper to fit around each cone and use it to wrap the one for storage.
     We’ve all experienced the challenges of squirrels at our bird feeders. If you use a pole feeder, buying a baffle for it can be costly. Repurpose a metal Slinky instead. Secure one end of the Slinky to the bottom of an empty bird feeder around the flange that attaches to the pole. When you reattach the feeder the Slinky will slide down the pole. The moving wire of the Slinky confuses squirrels and keeps them from climbing up to the feeder.
     The squirrels also like to devour suet blocks and can consume a small block in two days. To prevent this, purchase a large suet feeder with a mesh space about an inch in size. Center and attach a smaller suet feeder with suet inside the larger one. The birds and woodpeckers can still reach inside to feed but the larger “cage” keeps the squirrels at bay.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Saints in the Garden

St. Adam the Patriarch
First human, husband of Eve
0-930 BC, Eden
Memorial, December 24th
Patron of Gardeners
Adam lived in Eden, was married to Eve and had one son that was a bad apple. Adam’s first son, Cain, was also a gardener, well actually a ploughman who tilled the earth and while doing so apparently tilled greed. Adam was the second gardener on this earth; God of course being the first.  
The name of Adam is said to be connected with the Hebrew word ha-adamah (the ground) in a similar manner that in Latin homo is related to humus.  Both refer to him as being of the earth.[1] Adam was created not only of the earth but initially to attend to it in joy and recreation. The necessity of labor became apparent only after he and Eve had made a very serious mistake when it came to the Tree of Paradise.
This tree has its own familiar presence in our lives. In the tradition of the Eastern Church the feast day of Adam and Eve, whom they consider saints, is December 24th.  It was on this date that a Paradise Tree was decorated with red apples that represented the forbidden fruit. At some point during the 1500’s communion wafers were added to represent the Eucharist, the fruit of life. Shortly thereafter the Roman Church discontinued the Feast of Adam and Eve and eliminated the practice of the Paradise Tree, which then had been renamed the Christbaum or Christ Tree in Germany, which we now call a Christmas tree.
The tradition of a Christ Tree would not fade away from Catholic families, though some concessions were made to meet the directives of the pope. With the removal of communion wafers, the Germans created angels, hearts and stars from white pastry dough with humans and animals made from brown dough. Eventually fruits and vegetables honoring the Creator’s creations were made from marzipan and added to the tree. In the 17th century the Christ tree was nick named the sugar tree, and it is no wonder that children waited in eager anticipation for disassembling it on January 6th.
Artist Dianne Cherr, Pomegranite Tree
There is also a story from The Golden Legend, a medieval book of the lives of saints, which tells of seeds taken from the Paradise Tree, that in this story is called the Tree of Mercy. A very aged Adam knew that it wouldn’t be long before he died. Wanting to be forgiven by God, he sent his son Seth to the Garden of Eden to find an oil of Mercy. Well, the garden had been closed by God immediately after they were expelled and only the angles that guarded the entrance were permitted to enter. One of these angels apparently recognized from the words of Seth the hunger of Adam for forgiveness, and fetched a few grains of seeds from the fruit of the Tree of Mercy…apparently no oil had been pressed.
Upon his return home, Seth found his father still alive and shared with him the story of the angel and the seeds.
And then Adam laughed first and then died. And then Seth laid the grains or kernels under his father’s tongue and buried him in the vale of Hebron; and out of Adam’s mouth grew three trees of the three grains, of which trees the cross that our Lord suffered his passion on was made.
      We all know as Christians that it is through our Lords passion that mercy was granted to us all, and Adam too was granted the mercy he sought so many centuries ago.

[1] Catholic Encyclopedia, p.39.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Autumn 2011

Tendrils of Faith
“As we extend the tendrils of our faith above and through the walls of our resistance, our lives become green, verdant, affirming... As we cling to our conscious optimism, finding footholds of faith despite opposition, our lives become rooted in the soil of grace. We are nurtured, prospered, and blessed.”
Julia Cameron, Blessings, p. xii

Monday, August 29, 2011

Saints in the Garden

St. Fiacre
Fiacra, Fiachrach, Fiaker, Fiacrius, Fiakrius, Fiacrio, Fevre
?-670, Ireland
Memorial, August 30th (August 11th, 18th Anglican, 31st, September 1st)
Patron of Vegetable Gardens

St. Fiacre is the patron saint of gardeners, especially of those who grow vegetable and herbs. He was a loving 7th century Benedictine monk who was filled with that unique joy and humor so often seen in the Irish. He is becoming a very popular saint in the 21st century as more community gardens are created to serve neighborhoods and the poor.
While at the monastery in Ireland he learned a great deal about horticulture becoming very skilled in the use of healing herbs, and because of this doctoring skill he had many followers. With so many people seeking his help, he was unable to practice the sacred solitude he desired. With the hope to once again live in solitude, he went to France and for a while lived in a cave near a spring.
Eventually he went to the Bishop of Meaux, St. Faro, and asked for land to establish a hermitage and grow healing herbs and vegetables for himself and those in need. From his own inheritance in nearby Breuil, the bishop gave Fiacre a dwelling place in the forest. St. Faro also told Fiacre he could have as much land as he could fallow in one day. Legend has it that the next morning after Fiacre prayed, he walked around the perimeter of the land dragging his spade (or as one story claims the tip of his staff) behind him. Wherever the spade touched, trees were toppled, bushes uprooted, and the soil was entrenched.
Witnessing the event was one of the ever watchful ‘church ladies’ who adored St. Faro and felt it was her duty to protect the bishop’s holdings. She immediately scurried off to tell Faro that this hermit he was so overly fond of was betraying him with witchcraft. What she did not realize was that the bishop had developed a friendship with the monk and recognized the occurrence for what it was…an act of God.
This garden, miraculously obtained, became a place of pilgrimage over the centuries for those seeking healing. It was said that animals never ate from this garden. “It was as if his unwalled garden was spiritually enclosed.”[1]
There are legends about Fiacre’s garden that relate to an odd patronage to this saint…that of hemorrhoids. This unfortunate condition, called ‘Saint Fiacre's Illness’ during the Middle Ages, may be due to the following (unconfirmed) story: One day after St. Fiacre had worked long in the gardens, he too was suffering with this affliction. Sorrowfully he sat upon a large cold stone and prayed to God for a cure, and that stone softened, curing the hermit and apparently leaving a very specific imprint! People still journey to his garden to sit upon this healing stone and pray that their ailment will also be rectified.
Another tale tells that after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, Henry V allowed his soldiers to pillage Fiacre's shrine. No matter the size of the beast or the efforts of the men, the cart bearing his relics could not be moved beyond the boundary of St. Fiacre's land. It is said that after this incident Henry V developed and eventually died seven years later of hemorrhoids on August 31st, the Feast of St. Fiacre.
And on that note, this posting will end.

[1] Mike Hales, Monastic Gardens, page 11.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Saints in the Garden

The Four Waters

St. Teresa of Avila
Theresa, of Jesus, The Roving Nun, The Teacher of Prayer
1515-1582, Spain
Memorial, October 15th
Patronage is extensive
A doctor of the church; she is one of the Incorrupt whose body remains intact.

St. Teresa of Avila was a Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic who was an affectionate extrovert of great joy and determination. Often sick in her early years she did not labor in gardens as required of the other Sisters, but she did convalesce in them and found them a source of meditation and insight.  It wasn’t until she was around forty and having regained her health that her spiritual development really began to take root and at forty-seven she began writing about the practice of prayer.
Part of her early writings on spiritual doctrine depicts different stages or grades of a life in prayer in metaphorical terms taken from watering a garden, known as the “four waters.” The water being how God reaches the soul and our soul is the garden to be grown for his delight. A very simple description of prayer is that God plants the garden that we grow through prayer which is equated with different ways of irrigation:
·         We draw the water from a well using a rope and then carry the water to our garden; this is an active form of praying, using one’s faculties and reaping what benefits one can through ones own efforts.
·         Next, to simplify the flow a water-wheel is used which has dippers. As the wheel turns the water is poured into a trough that hydrates our garden. St. Teresa describes this stage as a point when the faculties of the soul begin to recollect itself, bordering on the supernatural, and this enjoyment brings greater delight.
·         The flow of irrigation is then expanded by means of a stream. This form of prayer is more mystical, requiring little human effort with all the faculties focused on God. 
·         In the final method of watering our garden we accept the rain God sends without our own effort. This is called the Prayer of Union and is totally infused by God, a mystical action taking place in varying degrees.
In her book, The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa gives a much more expansive and beautiful explanation of the gardens of our souls. The book also tells, by her own admission, her exploits as a teenager with a great attraction to fashion, perfume and boys! Her poor widowed father in exasperation and fear for her virtue sent her to an Augustinian nunnery, and once there her life found a different kind of fertile soil.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011



This week and next my time is focused on the Catholic Writers' Conference in PA. So this posting is quick, short and will remain until August 9th.

I've been harvesting from my little garden in the backyard and love the small bounty I receive each summer. I've added a few new veggies like lemon cucumbers and sweet million tomatoes, but for the most part I grow my favorites like zucchini, beans, roma tomatoes and potatoes. And always oodles of basil!

The recipe I've included, though not part of my recent cookbook, is a wonderful summer salad and goes well with anything grilled. The trick is to slice the zucchini paper thin.

Zucchini Ribbon Salad
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbl. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
2 pounds medium zucchini, very thinly sliced
1/2 c. coarsely chopped basil
1/4 c.  minced almonds, pecans or pine nuts
Parmesean cheese to taste

Whisk together first five ingredients, set aside. Using a vegetable peeler or mandoline slicer, slice zucchini into bowl, add chopped basil and nuts, toss, add dressing, toss again. Refridgerate. Consume within two days.

Sending you all God's choicest blessings!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011



It’s been a week of sowing seeds and of being sown. I feel the seeding within myself as God’s small hard fruits land and take hold in the soil of my soul. This sowing is not new. He has repeatedly scattered seeds with reckless abandon upon the landscape of my heart. On all the different terrains with deep or shallow soils, among my weeds and along his path, often divergent to my own, he has broadcasted his grain. And then he waited. God can afford to be extravagant with sowing seeds.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Portion of New Book

Winter Roots Beef Soup

I’m a gardener and have often kept a root cellar, or something similar for storing harvested produce. In one house it was literally a hand dug portion of the basements exposed to tree roots and in another a fieldstone ‘Michigan’ basement. Putting food by just seems like a natural progression for those of us who celebrate life with soil between our hands.
At one time I lived in an old farm house on a double lot. My vegetable patch wasn’t very big, although it sure felt like twenty acres come harvest time. Many of my homegrown root vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, garlic and onions would be set in a cool dark corner underground.
In this old farm house, I’d head down the back kitchen stairs into the Michigan basement, and from inside the cellar unlock the bulk-head doors over the cement steps that lead outside. I could then carry into the basement directly from the gardens bins and bags of barely cleaned root vegetables for storage.
A lot of these old fieldstone basements were formed with a ledge about four feet up. I’m not sure why, but thank the Good Lord for a perfect place to set the produce. The overhead beams were old and as hard as the stones, so twine was threaded between them and the up-stairs floor-boards to hang the garlic…the herbs went into the attic. Once everything was hauled into place, the mouse traps would be set. Michigan basements are known for harboring the neighborhood mouse population.
There was also a fair amount of tomato canning that took place. That is until I got the upright freezer and stopped the boiling-pots-in-August insanity. I never made sauces with the tomatoes after that, preferring to freezer-pack them fresh and often unpeeled. When they thawed out, the skins just slipped off and the added flavor from them was worth the mess.
Feeling a bit out of sorts as the dark days of winter wore on, I would often look through cookbooks and old magazines for meal options. The publications from the Christmas season always showed fancy foods and fabulous families, neither of which were part of my world. The days were dark, and I was feeling much like the produce in the basement waiting for purposefulness.

Thank you Marcia Butterfield for this wonderful picture of my soup.

I needed to do something, I needed to share. I had no idea who would be the recipient of the food I was fixing to cook, but I knew the Holy Spirit would make a suggestion.
I had a fair amount of pot roast left from the previous night’s dinner. To this day, I still haven’t figured out how to make a small roast! I decided that this would be the protein I needed in a soup. I grabbed a stock pot from under the sink and headed to the basement with my old yellow lab slowly following me down the stairs.
Loaded with the produce I would need, back up to the kitchen I went. The pot was so heavy that I plopped it down every other step until I got to the linoleum. Up and onto the counter it went, and out the veggies came into the sink that I now started to fill with cold water.
I had a sweet potato in the fridge; one of the magazine recipes had used sweet potatoes instead of white ones in a stew. It sounded like a nice note to add, so I pulled that out along with the meat, celery and seasonings.
With the wooden handled veggie brush, a Fuller Brush housewarming gift from long ago, I scrubbed the skins of the potatoes and carrots. Peeling the parsnips and store bought rutabaga; I set them all together on the oversized walnut cutting board next to the cabbage.
Having already rinsed the kettle and set it on the stove to dry, I dumped in the stock and lit the burner and donning my apron, albeit a little late, I set about combining the soup.

Winter Roots Beef Soup
6 cups beef broth (avoid bouillon, it gives the root veggies an
             odd saltiness)
½ to 1 lb. leftover beef roast, diced
1 large potato diced, peeled if the skin is tough
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
½ rutabaga, peeled and diced
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
¼ head red cabbage (or green) shredded
14-16 oz. diced tomatoes
2 large cloves garlic, minced
¼ sweet onion, finely sliced and then cut slices in half
¼ tsp. celery seed
¼ tsp. thyme
1 tbl. parsley flakes, or ¼ c. fresh parsley, diced
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Literally, dump all of it together into a stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until potatoes are tender. Serve.

This is a hearty soup with a rich beefy flavor. You can use leftover turkey by switch the broth to 3 c. vegetable and 3 c. beef. Realize that using chicken or turkey stock changes the taste significantly. Leftover pork does not work well at all.
I often freeze leftover roasts in anticipation of making this soup knowing that I can easily double or triple the ingredients. But be mindful of the herbs and seasoning if tripling. Double them first, and then after simmering a while, taste to see if want to add more.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Illuminating Moth

     One night about 15 or so years ago, I saw a moth the size of my hand. Because it was dark, I couldn’t get a clear look at its markings, but knew it was the largest moth I had ever encountered.
     I shared my experience with someone who knew about these sorts of things, and I was told it was a Luna moth. And that was the end of that.
     Until last week.
     While watering at the retreat center, I stopped dead in my tracks and slowly turned off the hose. There, on the curb, not ten inches from where I stood, was another of the same large moths I had seen ages ago. I assumed it had just hatched because its wings were not fully spread and its fuzzy head was still smooth and flat. It was ever so slowly moving its wings…to which a five inch spread would be realized.
     In my excitement I called to another gardening volunteer who came scurrying over to view my discovery. Then I called over the priests from the retirement community next door, who were out for their morning walks.
     I couldn’t contain myself and wanted to share this experience with everyone I could. I called people out of their offices, pulled them from their chores, stopped them as the drove by. We all looked and exclaimed and marveled at the beauty and size of this winged creature.
     I knew, from what I had been told years earlier, that seeing one of these moths was amazing in itself. To see one in broad daylight and freshly hatched was truly miraculous! And I said so to all who came to see, and told them how privileged we were for the experience.
     Eventually we all returned to our tasks, slightly richer for having seen another of the Creator’s amazing creations.
     About two hours later I learned that it was not a Luna moth at all, but a Saturn moth. I felt a deep sense of bewilderment and almost shame for the error I had made. I blindly believed what I was told by someone I thought was an expert.  I had spread this false information to others and it felt like I had deceived them into experiencing something that was not true.
     What should have remained an awesome experience was now tainted. I was saddened by what should have remained a joy.
     To those whom I could, I corrected myself and apologized for misleading them. In my heart I knew I had innocently shared misinformation as “truth,” naively perpetuating a falsehood. Graciously, and with minimal disappointment, they each expressed delight in having shared a moment of wonder.
Image by endlessforest.org

     My lesson in all this is that truth bears out. The truth is that the moth was an amazing creation given to delight us by our God, and that my ostentatious expletives (to elevate my character?) did not add to the beauty of the gift.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Held Aloft

I was at Mass and, looking at the crucifix, told the Lord that I was sorry for my lack of gratitude and focus. My body hurt, my depression was picking up speed, and hopelessness was circling like a vulture.

I was not the only one dealing with extended unemployment. I was older, educated and with far too much experience for most businesses during these times of economic uncertainty. No one wanted to hire me and I had tried to not take it personally, but it was getting hard not to.

As I searched for work, I’d exhausted all the benefits I could acquire as a healthy single woman without children, too young for Medicare. I was humiliated to be a charity case relying on friends to support me. I was also humbled by their willingness to share what little they had. I tried to remember that it is just as Christian to allow others to give a gift as it is to give one.

Still, I was tired of trying and tired of hoping. I didn’t care how far I fell; I simply knew I was falling into darkness.

iPhone, screen image
 Sitting there surrounded by others in the congregation, I had an image of a leaf falling from the branch of a very tall tree. Initially I thought of falling away from the tree of my life, tumbling hopelessly detached from all that I knew.

But as I sat there in the quite, I remembered how a leaf falls; swishing back and forth upon the breeze. It is lifted and carried aloft by the wind, as I too am carried aloft by the breath of God…to eventually be gently grounded.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


A Hidden Scar

     Working the grounds as a volunteer at St. Francis Retreat Center, I take great joy in making outdoor prayer spaces. There is really nothing elaborate about the gardens on the ninety-five acre site. After all, we were inundated with deer, rabbits, squirrels, and a host of other animals. All of which love to eat the flowers and shrubs suitable to their nutritional needs. I love the challenge of finding just the right plant for the right place that is resistant to their browsing.
     As I walked to another meditative garden, I looked at all the trees and grasses that our gardening group had installed. I was gratified to see how well everything was growing and that we were able to bring people to a space where they could draw closer to God.
     I noticed as I came around the drive that one of the trees had its trunk wrapped. I did not recall any of us performing the task and wandered over to have a look.  We had planted this tree, a Chinese Elm, because of its resistance to disease and insects, and I was surprised to see its lower trunk covered.
     From a distance I did not realize that the tree was wound in black plastic; a very bad product to be tied around any tree. I knew the Groundskeeper would never do this and assumed someone unfamiliar with proper tree care may have tried to help. I was less curious about who had done this than why.
     My heart sank as I removed the plastic and saw a three foot length of bark had been mechanically stripped from the trunk. The force of whatever had happened had even gone into the wood. The beautiful young Elm was deeply and forever scarred.
     I thanked God that whoever had tried to hide the damage had not compounded the problem by slopping paint or tar on the wound. I was also grateful that the wounding had happened fairly recently and that diseases had not begun to grow under the plastic. Walking over to the spigot, I turned on the water and with the hose began washing the area and leaving it to heal in the sunlight.
     It was a few days later when I returned to the tree that I realized how its wounding led me into a deeper understanding of sin. When our souls have been wounded and deeply scarred we try to hide it, often times making the situation worse through other wrong choices. Once we accept what has happened and expose the mistake to the Light, we too will be able to heal.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


A Divine Poem

A fish cannot drown in water.
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of creation
Gold doesn't vanish,
Fire brightens.
Each creature God made
Must live in its own true nature.
How can I resist my nature
That lives for oneness with God?

Mechthild von Magdeburg

Sunday, June 5, 2011


A Wee Bit Much

     There has been an over abundance of rain this spring.  Storms, some severe, have scoured the gardens with record amounts of rainfall. And the gardens have not responded well. 
     The numerous weeds have become massive in record time. With my inability to remove them between storms, they have thrived with all the moisture. They, and the desired garden plants, are floppy and weak stemmed from all the water and lack of sun. As for the opportunistic mushrooms, well, they have multiplied exponentially in both number and size.

Artist: MichaelaJoy

        Other things have grown in the garden besides the herbaceous plants…diseases of all kinds. The molds and mildews, fungus and rots have begun their insidious creeping. Their black pus or white fuzz coatings are appearing on stems and leaves faster than I can remove infected material.
     While trying to clean-up the border beds I found myself praying for sunlight and soft breezes to heal the gardens, but what came was also in excess. The temperatures went from 50-60’s and rainy to 85 and 90 with a scorching sun. The flowers that had managed to open between downpours now melted, further multiplying the molds and mildews. Then the gusting winds came, blowing so hard that softened stems and weakened branches collapsed and fell to the ground.
     It has been a springtime of disproportions, of extremes and excessiveness. This season I have come to appreciate even more the teachings of moderation, the virtue of temperance. I am reminded how an over abundance of any thing perceived as good…like rain and sun and air… will cause damage and disease if taken beyond a reasonable balance.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


One Fine and Good Irishman
     Many of you who read my blog already know I volunteer on the grounds of St. Francis Retreat Center in DeWitt, Michigan. I love the opportunity it provides me to contemplate the Creator in his creation, to offer His beauty to those coming on retreat, and to bless and be blessed by the priests who come to the facility.

Fr. Larry P. Delaney
St. Francis Retreat Center
703 E. Main St., DeWitt, MI 48820
      Today, and for the next several weeks, I ask you to offer up special prayers for the director of the retreat house, Fr. Larry Delaney, one fine and good Irishman. He has had a heart attack; he will need surgery and time to heal.
     A friend once said of him that he is  “Everybody’s sweetheart.” This may have added to his illness…his inability to say no and push himself beyond what is humanly possible…all in the name of Our Lord. He loves his ‘flock’ which includes, not a single parish, but a whole diocese and more. He is loved in return by his flock of, literally, tens of thousands.
     I ask that you storm the heavens with prayers for his healing. Not so he may recover and continue his frantic care of us, but that he may recover enough to enjoy a retirement basking in the charity of the peace he so deserves.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Fragrant Memories

Red Lilac, howfinds.co.cc

     Each spring when the air is rich with fragrance I am taken back to days of wonder when I ambled alone through my childhood neighborhood in Detroit. It seemed every street had a lilac bush in lavender, white or dark reddish-purple. I remember one yard had a lovely and strongly perfumed white flowering shrub, which as an adult I learned was a Viburnum  ‘burkwoodii’. There are other scents that evoke childhood moments of delight. There was the heady odor from wasteland ponds coming back to life, the tickling smell of grass being mowed, and the rich musty scent of blackcurrant bushes.

Blackcurrant, sagebud.com

     With my head tipped back I would often follow my nose, deeply drawing in a scent as I tried to find its source.
     There are other smells that stir my heart. The smell of fresh dill still carries me back to my grandmother’s kitchen and when we would pickle hot green tomatoes. She and I would also make hundreds of jars of jellies and jams for Christmas giving. The aroma from black raspberries reducing for jelly would cling to my clothes for hours after we had finished waxing the jars.
     Scent is a wondrous thing, a curious gift from God. It cannot be dreamed or imagined. Yet it can carry us adrift into the past and at the same moment startle us into the present.

Saturday, May 14, 2011



The big Eastern White Pine tree that grew at the south-west corner of the house was recently removed by the local power company. When it was planted several decades ago little thought was given to its potential size, and its expansive limbs grew gracefully between the electrical wires. During storms, and there are many of them here, the branches would hit the wires as well as the sides of the house. During one particularly nasty winter, three massive limbs broke off due to the snow loads. The blessing was that they brushed against and then fell free of the power lines, and completely missed the house and wooden stockade fence.
I had prayed many times about that tree. It needed to be removed and I could not pay to have that done. It was ruining the siding of the house. It was a threat to my neighbors during the winter because of its potential of creating a power outage. It grew only feet from my bedroom wall and I feared a wind shear or tornado would drive it through the roof. I loved that tree. I was also frightened by it.
A reminder of attentiveness.
My prayers were answered this spring when a representative from a tree trimming service hired by the power company came to my door. The young man who stood there very respectfully explained about the pruning that would take place in a few weeks. As I walked outside with him, he carefully tried to describe to me what this stately pine would look like if they trimmed it back the required distance to free the power lines. While he spoke I was secretly hoping that the Holy Spirit had moved someone somewhere to answer my earlier prayers. When he asked permission to completely remove the tree I nearly squealed. He looked at me startled and a little relieved as I exuberantly answered “Oh yes, please”!
Having an overgrown tree removed may not seem like suitable stuff for prayers, especially when I think about a friend dying of cancer or the violence in the world. Yet, there it is once again, God’s attentiveness to the smallest details in my life. I sometimes think God just wants to see me wriggling with delight.