No More Tinsel

1940s family with their tinsel-decorated tree.

1940s family with their tinsel-decorated tree. Image published with permission from Kari, from her EphemeraObscura store on Etsy. (Thank, Kari!) Here’s the link!

 

 

A couple of weeks ago I asked my newsletter subscribers about their Christmas traditions. (I had shared mine of paper snowflakes, real tree, mistletoe, Christmas cards, baking, etc.) Imagine my delight when Pat Nolan shared this treat. It reminded me of a vintage Christmas film, embodying everything we treasure during the holidays: magic and wonder, and, most importantly, our connection to family.

My confession: I, too, LOVE tinsel! And I’m a stickler for a “perfect tree.”

– Sandra

  No More Tinsel

When I was growing up as an only child during the 1940s and 1950s, Christmas was a quiet time of year. Our special events consisted of my Mom and I taking the “L” down to the Loop in Chicago to see the magnificent store window displays. It was one thrilling diorama after another. Another trip downtown took us to see the annual holiday performance of “The Nutcracker.” These festive events always involved dressing up – ‘white gloves and party manners.’

About a week before Christmas, my Dad and I pulled my sled to the normally vacant corner lot where Christmas trees appeared for sale. As an artist, my Dad was very particular about the size and shape of a tree. It had to be nearly perfect and of course, fresh. He pulled several branches to make sure no needles fell off. We carried the chosen tree home on my sled. Seems there was always snow for Christmas in those days.

My Dad’s job was to secure the tree in the stand and string the lights. Then my Mom and I were allowed to hang the ornaments, those small glass, wood, and metal memories from years past. No plastic Disney characters then. When all the ornaments were hung with care, it was time to hang silver tinsel. I hated tinsel. It was ugly, full of static that made it cling to my hair, and my Dad required it to be hung one string at a time with only the short end laid over the tip of each and every branch. One year, I became so frustrated with the whole thing, I threw a handful at the tree and stomped out of the room. I won’t tell you what happened to me. You can only imagine my father’s anger. I ruined the tree that year!

Many years later after I was married with my own children, each winter our family drove to northern Wisconsin, where my parents had retired. They lived in the north woods on a lake. There was a channel that stayed mostly open water all winter. Swans congregated right outside the living room window. They owned five acres filled with birch trees, poplars, maples, white pine, white spruce, and balsam fir. It was our very own piece of earth from which to choose a Christmas tree every year. My Dad, my children and I would bundle up for a long outdoor trek around in circles, until we found “the perfect tree.” Amid shouts from each child, “here’s one, what about this one?” we probably considered fifty trees during the morning. Finally, my Dad said, “OK, here are three possible trees. Pick one. Now.” We chose and Dad sawed it down. Little did we know until years later, that Dad had already picked the three final best choices from which we were to choose. He could not risk one of us insisting on a “Charlie Brown tree.” Dad and my husband did the heavy lifting and secured the tree in its stand. Mom had finished baking the last batch of cookies and made hot cocoa for us to enjoy while we sat down, warmed up, and began stringing cranberries and popcorn. Trimming was much more joyful those years since my Dad had given up on tinsel. NO MORE TINSEL.

Patricia K. Nolan

December, 2014

 

Patricia Nolan

 

Patricia K. Nolan says, “I’ve long imagined retiring someday as Miss Rumphius and living in a meadow full of lupine. Until then, my ‘urban farm’ grows in containers on my townhouse patio,
while I wait for the wisteria to bloom.”

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Battling the Bittersweet

 Oriental_bittersweet (2)

Sometimes we meet the most interesting people through correspondence. Of course, I’m a little partial to artists and writers who garden, and I meet those individuals most often through this blog and other material I publish. I met Monica when she shared a couple of her poems; poems, she wrote, which “sprung up in between my many other writing projects, most of them unabashed fantasy and science fiction for children and adults.” She grew up in North Carolina, went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and got a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. She lives and works in the Boston, Massachusetts area as a medical writer, and has two young sons, and she gardens. Now you may rightly think, like I did, where does she have time to write or publish at all?

 She makes time because she loves it. I liked her work (I especially delighted at the mention of a triffid!) and asked if I might share a poem with you. She said yes.

 I think you’ll find it sweet.

(Note: Please forgive the extra space after the second line in the poem–Wordpress has some formatting “kinks.”)

– Sandra Knauf

 

 

Celastrus orbiculatus from Wikipedia

Celastrus orbiculatus from Wikipedia

Battling the Bittersweet
by

Monica M. Eiland

When we bought the house
We saw the vines, it’s true

They looked so innocent and sweet
Who knew they’d be so hard to control
Soon we were battling the bittersweet.

The clear signs of this ornamental vine:
Tender tendrils twisting, turning
Up every fence along the street
Climbing, straining, ever hopeful
Like ourselves, the bittersweet.

Growing into a dreadful triffid
Like something from a manga
Never enough for it to eat
Strangling, mangling all in sight
This oriental ornamental, this bittersweet.

Baby swinging, sleeping in his blissful seat
Alone, while we whacked away at vines
We’d rather admire his chubby, fragrant hands and feet
Than stand out in the blazing sun
‘Cause we were battling the bittersweet.

Come the patter of his little feet
The next season, the vines were back
Trailing tendrils, clearly difficult to defeat
We’d rather have a riot of raspberries
Than this freaking bittersweet.

Another year, a new baby at the teat
Who has the time to fight these vines?
Why’s it taken us three years, and still not beat?
We’d rather enjoy the water park
Than keep battling this bittersweet.

Years later, still battling, why fight
While life goes by us
Why not simply admit defeat
So we can watch our boys grow up in peace
Instead of battling the bittersweet?

But we cannot stop, we cannot rest
We won’t give up like tenants past
We know the price of cowardly retreat:
Life slowly mired in this suffocating vine
Drowned to death by bittersweet.

* * *

Monic

Monica

 

My relationship with my garden is chiefly one of benign neglect. As a working mother with two active boys, all of those normal things that one is supposed to do in a healthy garden – the weeding and cleanup, the watering, the fertilizing – often aren’t in the cards for me.

My husband and I didn’t start with benign neglect, of course. When we first moved into the house –  with just one boy small enough to take his first steps in the kitchen – our first order of business in the garden was to remove the bittersweet. For the former owner, the bittersweet must have seemed a low maintenance way of generating a privacy screen between herself and the neighbors. And it’s an attractive plant: elegant, unusually shaped three-lobed leaves, delicate tendrils (when it’s young, anyway!), and berries of green, red, and a dark purple black. It was one of several species we found in the yard that are, these days, considered Plantae non grata: non-native invasive species with no respect for limits. Its sisters-in-crime were a diseased hemlock that had grown over a story high right next to the foundation, some aged rhododendrons more suited to a roomy hillside in the Azores, and several other rapidly overgrowing bushes of ill repute.

Unlike in the poem, we hired help with the garden, to do the heavy lifting of removing these plants. That allowed us to plant, first of all, the raspberries, the blueberries, and the apple tree, knowing that all things that bear fruit require time. Given that neither my husband nor I are from New England, we also hired experts to help in choosing and installing some other species that play well with others: lavender and flowering mint, tall grasses, the Pasque flower, sedums, hellebore, mountain laurel, and rhododendrons (the kind that want to leave other plants some elbow room) to name a few. Over the years, I filled in with other intriguing varieties: the eccentric euphorbia, an energetic and healthy dead nettle, the family of hens and chicks, grape hyacinths, bleeding hearts, and an army of bulbs that never seem to be as numerous after a winter onslaught of hungry squirrels.

In the late spring, I find just enough time to dash to a garden store and procure some greenhouse-fostered tomato plants and squashes and Neptune [organic fertilizer] for the raspberries. So, by midsummer, there are mini-tomatoes more delicious that the ones you can buy in any store, along with plentiful zucchinis for the grill. Then, all fall, there are raspberries, and perhaps, if we were lucky that year, some blueberries and apples. If there were any justice in the world, I suppose, my lack of diligent watering, weeding, and regular fertilizing would leave me with a poor crop, but so far, the yard has been all too kind in the face of benign neglect. And sometimes, when I stay my hand for long enough and do not pluck those weedy herbs that crop up on their own, I find, instead of bittersweet, a gift from God: plentiful dill and mint and marigolds from prior years; bluebells in the front garden; Queen Anne’s lace; a profusion of wild violets; a bush with oddly shaped leaves that suddenly flowers; or, every other year, a fuzzy-leafed verbascum that matures and sends up a five-foot high stalk topped by a foot-high show of yellow flowers. It is not a tidy space, as you can imagine, but one filled, increasingly, with pleasant species that I have chosen, or that have fortuitously and unexpectedly, chosen me.

– Monica M. Eiland

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Stove Love – Part II

Stove Love II

Last week I wrote about our family’s old stove, a stove I used while our children were young, while we were all growing up. It was a charming 1930s model, and we loved her, but as time went by things changed. As we approach the holiday season with the accompanying cooking and family gatherings, a tale of kitchen friends, past and present, seems appropriate. This is the second half of “Stove Love,” written four years ago.

* * *

Stove Love – Part II

It’s spring again, almost a decade since my first ode to the other stove. She’s just been moved to the front porch, newly (but by no means perfectly) scrubbed, awaiting the next chapter of her life. We’re not sure what that will be, if we’ll sell or keep her, as quick decisions are not a hallmark of our household. Andy and I are pokey, often impractical, romantics. At first I thought I couldn’t bear to part with her. Maybe I’d use her as a potting table, fill the oven and storage drawers with planters and supplies. Then I thought of the economy; with two girls headed for college sometimes it’s not such a great idea to hang on to the past. I scouted, briefly, for possible buyers on the internet, then became sidetracked with other concerns.

For a few days after we moved her from the kitchen I sulked and even resented my new used stove. Its plain-Jane practicality and efficiency mocked me. Less glamorous, less fun. I saw it as a mirror held up to my life—you are getting old and boring, practical; you’re selling out romance.

The 1930s stove, like me, was showing her wear. After twenty-some years in our family the chips in her pretty green-marbled and yellow enamel had grown bigger, dings now dime-sized, quarter-sized pits enlarged to silver dollars, the rusty front drawer rustier, cast iron burners more clogged, the porcelain drawer pull showing more hairline cracks. Several years ago the oven door went sloppy, opening on its own at inopportune times. Baking meant adding a cardboard shim. The cardboard in the door became a temptation for Chancho, our wiry, naughty, Chihuahua-terrier mix. He would run off with the cardboard, requiring a repeat (grab a Celestial Seasoning box, tear off a piece, fold) every time we baked. Andy attempted a repair of the door with some wire; it worked for a time, then didn’t, and we blew off dealing with it. When you are using a seventy, eighty-year-old appliance, it’s easy to go with the “why bother” mentality.

So, while I was bonded with this stove, I had been growing impatient. There’s a certain charm (you’re oblivious to at the time) when you’re young—in driving beat up cars, dealing with the quirks of aging appliances. They’re only minor irritations, and it’s easy to not give too much of a damn because you’ve got your whole life ahead of you and things will get better, you’re sure of that. But then the years fly by and when life doesn’t produce that voila! magic transformation that you’ve dreamed of (though life is still good), there comes a drop in tolerance. Eighty-year-old stoves with crap doors aren’t so charming. The sour thought that a new stove would be nice starts to occur to you; that it’d be real damn nice not to have to put this freaking cardboard in the door every time you bake muffins. But you look at hubby and he, God knows, has enough to deal with, too—so you check the nagging.

When I was a teenager my five younger siblings and I would come home from school, scavenge a snack, and gather around the TV for after-school-recovery-time, right before get-the-chores-done-before-Mom-comes-home time. Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch were our usual fare, but sometimes we’d zone out to the materialistic antics of the contestants on The Price is Right. We didn’t really like the show, and I wondered at the lame displays some of the winners made regarding, to my mind, hopelessly boring prizes, like appliances. They’d jump up and down, some quaking, or even, if you can imagine, crying, at the glorious sight of a new refrigerator or washer/dryer combo, previously fondled by one of Bob Barker’s beatific bimbos. “What the f?” wasn’t in my vocab in the late 70s, but that was my reaction. Then I grew up, became a homeowner, and learned that reliable appliances were pretty nice indeed. Especially after you’ve spent some time in a laundromat with a baby, or, even more fun, pregnant, with a toddler running around the laundromat as you fold clothes. If you’ve experienced the joys of defrosting a non-frost-free freezer with a hair dryer you will know whereof I speak.

So it was just the natural progression of life and not really old-fogey-ism when a rush of excitement came upon me when Andy, working on a home remodel in our wealthiest part of town, told me that there might be a great stove up for grabs.

“What kind?” I asked, although a very precise picture had formed in my mind. With money came quality. I flashed on stoves I’d coveted over the years in decorating magazines . . . stainless steel, definitely . . . with badass names like Viking and Wolf. Stoves that could withstand the lightning bolts of Thor, that could cook Grandma whole.

“It’s stainless steel, a four burner, with an electric convection oven.”

My pulse quickened. “Is it a . . . ” I stammered, dared to hope, “a Viking?”

“No, some other brand.” Andy told me that not all the best stoves were Viking, never mind the advertising campaigns.

I didn’t know exactly what a convection oven was, but I knew this might be my dream stove. I didn’t get my hopes up, though. Several weeks went by. Andy negotiated with the contractor. He researched the brand on the Internet (a damned fine stove, indeed!). I held my breath. It looked like we’d probably get it and then, no, the contractor’s son wanted it. That was that. No new used stove for me.

I was disappointed but not crushed. It didn’t surprise me that they wanted to keep it. Yet it did make it more difficult to fry my eggs on the old one.

Then, two years later, another turn of events (I told you things don’t happen fast around here). The contractor’s son decided to sell the stove. Andy could buy it, for a pretty penny but still a fraction of its value, and less than an ordinary stove. He would pick it up in Boulder, ninety miles away.

It was weird, changing them out. Next to the 1930’s beauty, this stove looked as tough as a womens’ prison guard. No nonsense. Boxy. Bulky. Black and silver. Her label was DCS—Dynamic Cooking Systems.

It took three of us to get her up the front stairs and into the kitchen. My shoulder hurt for days. She was ungodly heavy. Her oven door, with its glass window, was massive and it closed up tight as a safe.

Our two daughters weren’t exactly thrilled with the new stove, either, at first. One of Lily’s friends, Shelby, was especially disappointed. She loved the quirks—having to light the burners and oven with a lighter, the cardboard shim thing. She had known that stove since kindergarten, it had played a role in tea parties, and pancake breakfasts after sleepovers.

Our new stove had one broken knob, an injury during the first move (a replacement’s on order), and one of the burner sensors needed cleaning. Otherwise, she was in tip-top shape. Low mileage, as her previous owners were away most of the time. The streamlined ease with which she’s designed is admirable. A row of five tiny rubber buttons to push for: Off, Bake, Conv, Broil, Light. Four big black burner knobs which go from high flame to the tiniest simmer flame I have ever seen, a light (a light, what will they think of next!) in the oven. Three tiny red lights to indicate: Oven On, Heating, and Door Locked. Not super fancy, not slick, but so practical. We’ve tried her out, and it is a magnificent experience to cook with someone of her abilities.

She suits me pretty well and I’m gradually looking past the hard-edged exterior into the inner possibilities. The other night, after hours of shoveling dirt in our new community garden, I drifted off to sleep at about 7 p.m., in front of the TV with my work clothes on. When I awoke, Ruth Reichl (food writer extraordinaire) was on some PBS show talking about gardening and food. She was showing how to oven dry tomatoes—drying them to the point where they can be powdered, and then using this wonderful tasty ingredient on pasta, deviled eggs, etc. Although I am secretly scheming to get Andy to build a solar food dehydrator this year, I thought, excitedly, half-asleep, the possibilities bringing me to consciousness—I can do this this summer with home-grown tomatoes. This would be perfect in my new oven!

Zora, our oldest daughter, immediately came around to loving the new stove. “The rice cooks better,” she announced after preparing a dinner of Indian food, a once-a-week ritual she’s adopted this year. She was the first to bake with the new stove, making cupcakes for her classmates on her eighteenth birthday. They, too, were perfect. I’ve played with the convention aspect and marveled at the speediness, the evenness, the crispness it brings to bread crusts. This new girl can cook.

I know now that what really bothered me about the stoves, the whole out-with-the-old in-with-the-new, is that they symbolized the change in our home this year. While we’ll have a child at home for several more years, our family is growing up, getting older, and, like all transformations, all growth, it has not been easy or painless. Zora will leave this fall to college. While I always thought I would not be one of “those moms,” those overly-sentimental women falling apart when fledglings fly the nest (because, I imagined, they probably didn’t have enough going on in their life) I’ll be damned if I’m not one of those moms, when I let myself be. An era is ending, and I try not to dwell on it, because when I do I cannot help but to mourn. At the same time, I know I should be joyful that I have reared a perfect young woman, and I am, and yet . . . This will be a year of work for me, getting my mind and heart around it all, moving toward acceptance. This stove-change has reflected it all. A very pretty, albeit impractical and outrageous era draws to a close, yet I have grown, too, into a competent, secure, happy-with-her-life middle aged woman. I like who I am now. I am not as young and pretty, but I’m not as flakey, inexperienced, and filled with high drama either.

This new chapter in my life is one to look forward to—delicious new recipes, new experiments, and discoveries. Soon I know I will have a feeling—that I can’t wait to start cooking.

—Sandra Knauf

 

 

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Stove Love – Part I

Not my stove, but the same style and color. Mine's in much better shape; has the burners and burner cover.

Not my stove, but the same style and color.  (Mine has the burners and front cover.)

 

I thought I’d go this week with the theme of “nourishment.” It’s a writing theme I came upon when deciding a long time ago that I wanted to publish a love letter to my 1930s stove. I used this stove for twenty years; my girls grew up with it. My mom once laughed at how, as small children, Zora and Lily were amazed at her stove, which required only the turning of a knob to light! No match or lighter necessary!

How times have changed. I wrote another essay about our comparatively high tech/much newer stove about five years ago.

This week I am putting the vintage stove up for sale.

It’s time. This stove, which has been on our front porch since its retirement, has served our family well, but it’s a new era. I need to let go, pare down, move forward.

It seemed fitting, too, in this season of thankfulness, harvest, and family, to revisit my “stove love” essay. Just this week a friend wrote about cast iron cookware; last week my sister Rhonda and I joked about cleaning our stoves. The world turns and yet it stays the same.

—Sandra Knauf

Stove Love 

(First self-published  2004, reprinted in MaryJanesFarm, Oct.-Nov. 2010)

It’s spring cleaning time and today I’m tackling the grease, the grime, the soot; in other words, my stove. She’s from the 1930s. There’s a metal plate located inside, just below the burners, that declares her a product of The Eureka Steel Range Company, made in O’Fallon, Illinois. She was obviously top-of-the-line then, as the plate informs me she “Complies With National Safety Requirements,” but her ability is lacking by 21st century standards. She does the basics. Most of the gas holes in the top four burners, set too close together for cooking with more than large pot at a time, aren’t clogged, and the oven does a fair job, though it’s not insulated very well. The temperature regulation is, well, just a little flaky.

Her porcelain enamel finish is far from perfect. A dozen or so chips, from dime to quarter size, mar her surface. But she’s beautiful to me. In fact, I’ve loved her since the first time I laid eyes on her. She stands on four, nine-inch tall, curvy, porcelain enamel-plated, buttercream yellow legs. That color also graces her doors, sides, and the four-inch tall curved back panel. The secondary colors are two tones of sage green, a darker background with lighter streaks, in a faux marble pattern. The trim around the edges and Bakelite burner knobs are black, and fancy white porcelain pulls that dangle like earrings from chrome plates open the oven, broiler, and drawers. Not only is she colorful and curvy, but I love her design. She’s divided into two parts. One side has the four top burners with a faux-marbled cover and storage drawers below, on the other, above the oven and broiler, is a flat surface. There you can place a mason jar full of wooden spoons and whisks, spatulas, or an interesting trivet or two, or nothing, if you’re one of those minimalist types. But a minimalist would never own this stove.

The most wonderful aspect, though, is not her art deco looks. She holds memories. I first saw her when I was about eighteen, visiting my future brother-and sister-in-law’s house for Christmas. It was the early 1980s but Danny and Vicky were children of the sixties. They lived in a Victorian-era house filled with groovy thrift shop finds: fringed throws on their worn velvet sofa, faded Oriental carpets, shelves full of mismatched floral dishes, and assorted curiosities such as a brass perpetual calendar hanging on the kitchen wall and a racy early 1900s nutcracker in the shape of a set of bare, booted female legs sitting in the coffee table’s nut bowl. As I watched Vicky pull the roast duck from the oven, I admired the stove. Vicky told me it came from Goodwill. They’d paid twenty dollars for her.

A few years later, my husband and I bought our first home, an early 1900s two-story so dilapidated that my mother cried after her first visit. At the same time, Danny and Vicky were moving from their shabby chic home to a 1920s bungalow. They now had a young son, Vicky had a college degree, and they were moving closer to the mainstream. I learned that the person who bought their house was going to turn the half-acre lot into a scrap yard. I felt sickened that the beautiful cottage-style garden Vicky spent years creating was going to be destroyed, but I nearly panicked when I heard they were leaving the stove. “You have to get that stove,” I said to Andy. Fortunately, he felt the same. He contacted the new owner, who was happy to trade the treasure for our boring white Magic Chef. I felt like I had rescued a piece of family history.

I get to work, scrubbing the stove with the soapy steel wool, listening to Elvis, our rescued canary, twitter and trill to the chickadees outside the living room window. Cleaning the front surfaces, I see skinny light green streaks that mar the marbled finish between the oven on the right and the storage drawers on the left. Andy had the best of intentions. About a year after he brought her home, he wanted to do a thorough cleaning job. He’d just finished remodeling the kitchen, and wanted to surprise me when I came home from work. He had no idea the cleaner would bleach the porcelain finish as it dripped down its surface. That was over a decade ago and I still remember the look of remorse as he told me about it.

I lift the stove cover to get to the burners and notice a warning stenciled in small red print: “Caution. Turn off gas cocks before placing this cover over burners.” It takes me back to the time my sister Renea, then fifteen, pointed it out to me while bursting into laughter. That was well over a decade ago too. Renea was experiencing some serious teenage rebellion and my dad asked if she could come stay with me and Andy in Colorado for awhile. We welcomed her that spring and although there was an eleven year age distance, we became good friends. More than once, to her amazement, I left work in the middle of the day to go to her when she called me about some crisis she was having at her new school. By that summer, we were both older and wiser, and she was very homesick. She promised she would behave and went back to Missouri. I was left with memories of her ribald humor, the humor that made her crack up at the stenciled warning on the stove.

I scrub around the porcelain pulls, hanging from their decorative chrome plates (one pull, its chrome attachment piece missing, is still in a drawer, has been for years) and think of the many Christmas dinners I’ve prepared with the stove’s help. Many of my firsts were cooked in this stove–first duck, first goose, first leg of lamb. The stove has helped me prepare many holiday sweets, hundreds of sugar cookies baked with my young girls, dozens of loaves of sweet breads and many pans of baklava have emerged warm and fragrant from her womb.

As I clean out the compartment that holds cast iron cookware, I study embossed maker marks on pots and pans. The cornbread mold, touting rows of ears of corn, reads No. 273 Griswold Crispy Corn Stick Pan, Erie PA USA. Warner Ware skillets hail from Sidney (I assume Sidney, Nebraska) and a very small, and, I think, very old, skillet reads Martin Stove and Range Co Florence ALA. They hold memories of flea-marketing, searching for bargains to stock the kitchen, this stove, my life. I wonder who used these utensils, seasoned the skillets, before me.

I think of the life I’ve lived during two decades of cupcakes and gumbos. We cook now with two young daughters who love the magic of turning wet batter into golden cakes, tossing and pouring ingredients into pans, and stirring pots while they bubble and steam. One of their specialties is pizzas. Lily, now in first grade, helps me mix the dough while her sister, Zora, three years older, makes the sauce. Her recipe never varies: one can of tomato sauce mixed with minced garlic, basil from our garden, and freshly milled pepper. We grate and chop and sprinkle together. So much has changed. Andy and I have stayed together, though there have been plenty of times when I wasn’t sure we would. Danny and Vicky weren’t so lucky. It’s hard to believe that their son will graduate from high school this year, and that their daughter is almost a teenager. Danny didn’t live to see them finish middle school. My sister Renae grew up, moved to Tennessee, and is helping rear two stepchildren who adore her. She still entertains all who know her with her bawdy humor.

I finish my task and the stove stands cleaner, waiting to serve, to bake the next loaf of bread, fry the next egg, or boil the next kettle of water for the next pot of tea, a slightly-battered but loyal helpmate on this ever-revolving world, a world where everything changes yet somehow stays the same. She’ll become grimy again, yet she’ll also help nourish us through our tragedies and celebrations, a piece of the heart in the art of living.

* * *

Postscript: Oh, how my life was graced with the sweet vibe of young children during that time. Girls helping me cook, and all of us teaching, sharing.

Until next week, INTERMISSION. Then I’ll share what happened when a new, very different used stove came into our lives.

 

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How is Gardening Like . . . Voting?

hyacinth bulb 123rf

 

Today I “dug out” an older essay (from 2006!)—because it fits for all election seasons. This year my garden was not challenged by drought, but in each year (and each election season) we have unique challenges and decisions.  Here’s hoping that we sort through them, educate ourselves, and do what is best.

—Sandra Knauf

 

Born Again

Though an avid gardener for the last decade, this year, this drier-than-dust spring, I replaced my perennial optimism with a screw-it attitude. “I’m not pouring water on the landscape this year,” I vowed. “I just won’t do it.” I wouldn’t plant thirsty heirloom tomatoes, wouldn’t go nuts with exotic annual beauties that died with the frost. I wouldn’t plant new shrubs and worry over their establishment. This year my resources—time, money, and precious water—would not be wasted. Feeding my soul with green beauty seemed foolish anyway. If Colorado Springs was going desert, if we’d soon be up to our asses in cactus, why fight it?

I had to admit the bad attitude came partly from the political climate. Colorado’s drought-baked earth seemed to mirror our country’s hardened heart; why should I continue to worry, and to care? Why should I bother with cultivating, or voting?

I watched grass, weeds and less-loved plants struggle, crinkle, and turn brown. And I let them. Silently I judged the neighbors naive, keeping theirs on life support. Didn’t they know it wasn’t worth it? June eclipsed May. More dry sleep, sepia death. I watered only once a week, a front garden that contained special darlings I could not bear to let suffer.

Then it rained. And rained. I saw plants with stamina flourish, and new ones born. In mid-July we returned from vacation to grass tall enough to mow. A crop of healthy weeds everywhere, but more than that. Tomato plants sprung from seeds, squash too, all robust. While they would not grow to maturity, they testified life went on—without my blessing. I found dill and parsley to clip for summertime meals, marigolds, calendula, sweet bronze fennel babies, Hopi red dye plants. I discovered that honeybees had made a hive out back, in an old iron stove.

One day, I saw that an elderly neighbor had placed bricks around a lone corn plant growing in his front yard. He sat in an aluminum lawn chair next to it.

“Nice corn you have there,” I said.

He chuckled, looked up at me from under his sun hat. “You know, the squirrels, they plant these kernels around, and then they just forget about them.”

I gestured at a single, silk-tasseled swelling. “Looks like you’re getting an ear.”

“We’ll see what happens.” He smiled contentedly and settled back into his front row seat.

I had learned my lesson. Gardeners aren’t quitters. By the end of September, my own drought had been replaced by that pesky optimism.

I would believe again, in my garden, and in my country. This fall, I would vote, and I would buy bulbs. Tulips, daffodils, lilies, hyacinths, and more, secret treasures in plain brown wrappers. Years ago I learned that if you cut a tulip bulb in half, you can see it all—tightly packed embryonic leaves, minuscule stem and flower. All there in pale perfection, waiting for the right time to grow.

 * * *

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Fifty Shades of Green Blog Tour

We start the tour with a post by Janine Ashbless on her hauntingly sexy tale "Love Lies Bleeding."

We start the tour with a post by the incomparable Janine Ashbless.

Our 20-blog tour starts today! Five days a week, Monday through Friday, for four weeks. Most of the host sites for this one are in Britain so it’ll be fun to see the response from our friends there.

Will they like our collection of naughty gardening stories? Will we make the connections we’re hoping for? We certainly hope so!

All of our Fifty Shades of Green authors are participating. Each has written a fascinating post on what inspired their sexy Fifty Shades of Green story.

I loved reading these posts on the story-behind-the-story. What fun to peek behind the narrative at the history, the spark that began the creative process, the personal experience that launched an erotic garden tale. Oh, I am a sucker for it all.

If you are, too, check it out. You’ll see:

—how Jean Ashbless  (“Love Lies Bleeding”) originally wanted to write about a ghost in a garden.

—how Slave Nano’s Edwardian BDSM story (“Lady Sally Rudston-Chichester and the Walled Garden”) is really all about class warfare.

—how America’s Spanish Colonial history inspired the setting for the tender eroticism of Evey Brett’s “The Pulse of the Earth.”

—how (like me!) T. C. Mill, inspired by her negative reaction to Fifty Shades of Grey was actually beginning the process of putting together her own anthology of feminist erotica, emphasizing mutual consent and communication in sexual relationships, called, at that time, 50 Shades of Negotiation* when she came across the call for submissions for Fifty Shades of Green. Although Mill’s not a gardener it inspired her to write the enchanting “Rosewitch.” (*Her collection’s name changed to Between The Shores and is coming out this fall.)

There are also some slightly silly (but I hope humorous) posts by me on plant sex, insect sex, all kinds of sex in the garden. Because, you know, the garden is a sexy place. And it certainly was a big inspiration for me in creating the book’s concept.

Below is the tour schedule. I hope you’ll follow us on the tour and tell your friends.

Best to you all this Monday morning.

—Sandra

P. S. For this tour Fifty Shades of Green has been discounted on Amazon. It’s at the lowest price it will ever be—and just in time for early holiday shopping!

We're having a great "Tour Sale" right now on Amazon.

We’re having a “Tour Sale” right now on Amazon.

Our Tour Dates

20th Oct.         http://elizabethcoldwell.wordpress.com/

Post: Janine Ashbless, “The Gardener and the Vampire” & excerpt from “Love Lies Bleeding”

21st Oct.          http://ReneaMason.com

Post: T. C. Mill, “Now Underway: Fifty Shades of Revolution” & excerpt from “Rosewitch”

22nd Oct.        http://sallyannerogers0112.wordpress.com/

Post: Sandra Knauf, “How Fifty Shades of Grey Inspired Fifty Shades of Green” & excerpt from “The Pulse of the Earth” by Evey Brett

23rd Oct.         http://jacquelinebrocker.net/

Post: Rebekah, “A Horned God in Her Garden—‘Phallus Impudicus’” & excerpt from “Phallus Impudicus”

24th Oct.         http://InThePagesofaGoodBook.com

Spotlight (no post). Excerpt from “Sunlight and Water” by Colleen Chen

27th Oct.         http://alliwantandmorebooks.wordpress.com/

Post: Gloria Holden, “Hot for (Native Plant) Teacher” & excerpt from “Exploding Alfalfa”

28th Oct.         http://houstonhavens.wordpress.com/

Post: Simone Martel, “Teaching a Techie Gardening . . . and More” & excerpt from “First, Take Off the Hoodie”

29th Oct.         http://lucyfelthouse.co.uk

Post: Evey Brett, “Padre Kino and ‘The Pulse of the Earth'” & excerpt from “The Pulse of the Earth”

30th Oct.         http://eroticaforall.co.uk

Post: Sandra Knauf, “Dirty Hands, Dirty Minds/Naughty Things to Say in the Garden’”& excerpt from “Seed” by Michael Bracken

31st Oct.          http://hawt-reads.com/

Post: Becky Trachsel, “Love’s First Bloom” & excerpt from “The Education of a French Gardener”

3rd Nov.          http://kdgrace.co.uk

Post: Slave Nano “Lady Sally Rudston-Chichester: A Story of Power in Class in the Edwardian Country Home” & excerpt from “Lady Sally Rudston-Chichester and the Walled Garden”

4th Nov.           http://www.myeroticnotions.blogspot.com/

Post: Sandra Knauf, “Ten Places to Have Sex in the Garden” & excerpt from “Seed” by Michael Bracken

5th Nov.           http://locglin.blogspot.com/

Sandra Knauf Interview & excerpt from “Love Lies Bleeding” by Janine Ashbless

6th Nov.          http://galestanley.blogspot.com/

Post: Andrew Peters, “The Gods Screw Around” & excerpt from “The Judgment of Eric”

7th Nov.           http://lcwilkinson.com/

Post: R. R. S. “Sex Among the Rationalists” & excerpt from “Lavished”

10th Nov.        http://belindasbookshelf.com/

Post: Sandra Knauf, “Other Kinds of Kinky Sex in the Garden” & excerpt from “First, Take Off the Hoodie” by Simone Martel

11th Nov.         http://erzabetsenchantments.blogspot.com/

Post: Sandra Knauf “Plant Sex 101″ & excerpt from “Exploding Alfalfa” by Gloria Holden

12th Nov.         https://choward2614.wordpress.com/

Post: Michael Bracken, “The Seeds of ‘Seed'” & excerpt from “Seed”

13th Nov.         http://www.kaceyhammell.com/

Post: Colleen Chen, “The Cultivation of Love” & excerpt from “Sunlight and Water”

14th Nov.         http://afterdark-online.com/

Post: Sandra Knauf, “Flowers That Look Like . . .” & excerpt from “Rosewitch” by T. C. Mill
We end the tour with the sexy sorcery of "Rosewitch."

Ending the tour with the sexy feminist sorcery of “Rosewitch.”

Don’t forget: the book is on sale now on Amazon. You can read one free story on the Garden Shorts website and sign up for a second free story.

See what the writers are talking about!

 

 

 

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Zera and the Green Man Interview with Sandra Knauf

Now on sale (over 25% off!) at Amazon.com.

Now on sale (over 25% off!) at Amazon.com.

 

This week I decided to make a new press kit for Zera and the Green Man. GMO labeling is on the Colorado ballot this November, and, as some of you know, this book’s all about GMOs. It’s a hot topic and I’m hoping there are journalists and bloggers (and readers!) who will be interested in learning more about the book.

I’ve also put Zera and the Green Man on sale for the soon-to-be-upon-us holidays.

Let me know what you think of the interview. I’d love to hear from you!

—Sandra

 

GMOs Gone Wrong: An Interview with Sandra Knauf, Author of Zera and the Green Man

By Cheri Colburn on September 21, 2014

 

Sandra Knauf’s Zera and the Green Man is a sci-fi fantasy for the YA market, but I and many other adults have reveled in it. It is “right on time” with current events—plenty of GMO Franken-creatures—and it features the timeless themes of love for nature and family. I recently spent an afternoon interviewing the author, and this is what I learned.

In your young adult novel, Zera and the Green Man, biotechnology has gone awry, and nature is in jeopardy. Fifteen-year-old Zera Green is called to save the world from genetically-modified creations designed by her own uncle. How did you come up with that plot line?

The spark for the story came over a decade ago when I started reading about GMOs. At the same time, I became interested in the mythology surrounding the green man. To me, GMOs seemed like a bad idea from the start, and the more I read about them the more I was convinced that we were playing with something that had repercussions beyond our understanding. At the same time I was reading about how the green man was an ancient symbol of humankind’s oneness with nature. It seemed like two sides of the same coin, and those ideas merged into a story.

How does the green man mythology figure into the story?

The protagonist, Zera Green, discovers her family’s centuries’ old ties to this ancient god. He returns to modern times because the plant world’s in trouble. And when plants are in trouble, so are we.

A Zera and the Green Man Pinterest pin by Lisa Repka. Green Man drawing by Mike Beenenga.

A Zera and the Green Man Pinterest pin by Lisa Repka. Green man drawing by Mike Beenenga.

Can you tell me a little about the green man?

The idea of the green man, a man who is one with the plant world, is thousands of years old and takes many forms. His image is all over Europe, in centuries’ old churches, but he goes back further than that. For example, the Egyptian god Osiris is a green man. He has green skin; he’s known as the god of the underworld, yet he is also the granter of all life, including vegetation. The green man is also a symbol of resurrection. Robin Hood, fighting for the underdog and living in the forest, is said to be another incarnation, and so is the modern day Jolly Green Giant. In the story, Zera discovers this history and begins to see how her family is connected with it.

This story is a rollicking ride. It takes place in various places in Colorado, in L.A., in a secret laboratory in the desert, and even on Colorado’s famous Pikes Peak. How did you choose the settings?

I’ve spent most of my life in Colorado, and my children were born here. So I wrote about what I know. Both of my daughters went to elementary school in Manitou Springs, which appears in the book as Ute Springs. The chapter with Zera’s vision quest takes place on Pikes Peak, which is called by its Ute name in the book, Tava. The biotech firm that creates the genetic monstrosities is in L.A. because L.A.’s a big money/commercial center where people can afford to make their own realities, realities that are often contrary to nature.

Even though the book’s about GMOs and our connection with nature, the heart of the story is really Zera’s relationship with her scientist uncle and her grandmother.

That’s true. This family’s relationships, with all its problems and secrets, are at the heart of the story. As in life, regardless of what else is going on, it’s the connections with those we love that matter most and give us the most trouble.

Zera rings true as an angst-filled teen. She’s struggling with the issues of losing her parents and having to live with her uncle, but also typical teen problems about boys, fitting in, etc. How did you model Zera?

Some of Zera’s personal struggles were based on struggles I experienced as a teen, such as having other adults besides my mother and father involved in my upbringing. Writing about those feelings through a character was cathartic. As my own girls were teens during the writing process it was easy to create a strong and smart teenage protagonist—I had excellent real-life examples at home.

Why this book now?

It has taken many years for GMOs to get into the spotlight of public concern in this country. Because of GMO labeling initiatives on ballots in several states, many previously oblivious consumers are finally learning what GMOs are. Once they learn the science they have questions. While my story is a sci-fi fantasy, it accurately shows the science and some of the real concerns behind GMOs. It’s kind of like how Jurassic Park dealt with cloning. I hope my book will help readers understand the science and the dangers of GMOs and the bigger picture of nature.

What are you working on now?

I have my own publishing company, so there are several projects in the works, but I am making notes for the next Zera Green novel. It’s going to be set in the British Isles, where Zera learns about her family history and, of course, runs into more trouble. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that Zera’s powers increase dramatically. She is, in fact, well on her way to becoming an American superhero.

Cheri Colburn

    Author Information: Cheri Colburn is editor of Six Years in Mozambique and Fifty Shades of Green.

Cheri’s previous projects are many and varied. You can see a business- and education-skewed sample of her work at her website, TheFinishedBook.com.

 

 

P. S. For those of you who don’t know what a GMO is, I highly recommend this video by Jeffrey Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology.

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