It’s almost Valentine’s Day, therefore it’s perfectly acceptable to get obsessed with chocolate! We recently discovered a new and exciting offering at our favorite grocer, Ranch Foods (they specialize in grass fed/pasture raised/non-antibiotic/non-hormone treated/non gmo-fed meat and eggs and also have other goodies – local honey, organic fruits and vegetables, jams, breads, and more). Anyway, this chocolate was in the freezer, in adorable, small packages, two pieces for $4.50. Yes, pricey, but it was locally made, all organic, raw, soy free, no sugar added, etc. The brand is Radiantly Raw (you can check out their website here) and the chocolates were in the freezer as they are, indeed, raw, and the ingredients will soften at room temperature. I chose “Hot Chicks”—cute molded baby chickens—to try as a sample. The ingredient list, all organic, in its entirety: cacao (cocoa), coconut oil, honey, vanilla extract, cinnamon, cayenne.
Now that’s what an ingredient list should be—comprehensive to non-chemists!
We were impressed! I thought the heat of the cayenne interesting, and although Zora didn’t like it as as much (which is odd, because she actually has a salt shaker filled with cayenne to sprinkle on many foods), she still thought the candy was excellent.
I was happy to make this discovery because these last years I have found it hard to find chocolates of quality for Valentine’s Day. Sadly, most stores, including our local chocolatiers, seem to now use corn syrup, sugar beet (gmo) sugar, soy lecithin (gmo), artificial vanilla and flavorings, and other stuff that I refuse to buy. Last Valentine’s Day I waited with a line of people at a local shop to buy a chocolate filled heart for my sweetie. When I went in, I saw that the prepackaged offerings were made in some big factory, filled with artificial ingredients, and the only thing that was local was the label! I walked right back out. This year we will buy a few chocolates from Radiantly Raw to savor. We may also try our hand at crafting our own molded chocolates. I think it might be fun! If you’re interested in joining me, I found this link with recipes for raw chocolate candy. I haven’t tried them yet, but the ingredients are similar to what is used in the Radiantly Raw chocolates—and they look delicious.
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For my second cupid’s offering, several weeks ago my daughter (and Greenwoman Publishing’s Deputy Editor) Zora suggested, well, practically insisted, that I share this personal story. It appeared in the last issue of the magazine. Like the chocolate we sampled, it contains “real” and sometimes spicy, ingredients. I hope you enjoy it.
Finally, I hope that your holiday is filled with nutritious sweetness and lots of LOVE.
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Love & Roses
(Dedicated to Andy)
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said as I cleared the breakfast dishes, “you can’t work again this weekend.”
“I have to. I have to finish this job.”
“But you worked last Saturday, and the Saturday before. I can’t remember the last time you spent a whole weekend at home! Come on, don’t leave me with the kids again.”
He poured another cup of coffee. “Do you think I like working all the time? I’d rather be home with you.”
It doesn’t feel that way. Hurt blooms in me, and escapes in the form of anger. “Maybe you shouldn’t work for yourself. I know plenty of people who don’t and they have weekends off, vacations, even, if you can imagine that.”
“I’ll never work for someone else again. I like working for myself.”
“And I’m left with the kids, constantly.” I glared at him. “I feel like a single mom.”
“Maybe you should get an outside job.”
“Yeah, and you could hire a bookkeeper, and we could put the girls in day care—and you could do half the work around here too, cook the meals, take care of the yard, the pets, the bills. Sounds pretty sweet to me.”
The situation deteriorated. We smacked each other around verbally on the issues of parenting, money-spending habits, neglected chores. My mind was a red fog of betrayal—all I could think was: He’s abandoning me again. A beautiful Saturday in May, and I’m going to be alone with the kids.
The fight ended with a hissed, “I fucking hate you!” from me as I stormed out the back door, slamming it.
It was good the girls were still asleep or they would have witnessed another fine display of parental maturity; a thought that brought shame. Contrary to my hateful words, I did not hate my husband, and I knew he wasn’t trying to hurt me. We were just stressed-out parents with a lot of responsibilities, trying to keep a roof over our heads, fighting to swim in that upstream river of life, and to not give in to the more than occasional emotions of suffocation and isolation.
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I walk into the garden and the dewy yet crisp Colorado air envelopes me like a balm. I don’t notice. What I do notice is that there are a million chores outside too. My irritation surges again before the escape, the changed atmosphere, begins to sink in and slowly soothe.
I look around and decide to work on the rustic arch I’m building, a project that came about after my husband took down four small too-close-to-the-house weed trees. While I wasn’t happy to see the trees go, I knew just what to do with them, how they’d fit into the scheme of our cottage garden. The day before I had dug the post holes, two foot deep into our clay soil, and set the branchless trunks as posts. Today I’d work on connecting it all with the branches I’d removed.
After almost an hour of sawing, nailing, and wiring, enjoying the exertion and creation, my tension and hurts have mostly, but not totally, melted. I step back and admire my incomplete handiwork. How I love rustic garden structures. The imperfection, asymmetry, and the roughness all appeal to me because those qualities mirror my own untamed gardening style. The arch also works well with our DIY budget and, I think, with the style of our 1920s bungalow. I study the sturdy arch, my first. It’s pleasant to the eye, and I am surprised. I’ve never been mechanically inclined, yet . . . I did it! I’m happier now, partially cleansed of bad feelings. I consider going in and trying to make amends. I’ll finish the arch later, after I’ve had time to reflect on its developing form.
As I gather up tools and head toward the house, I notice the tall rose canes covering the side of my husband’s workshop, our old one-car garage. Eyeing the brambles, I think, with no small shame, how the dead wood outnumbers the living. Three years of intense drought and neglect on my part has taken its toll. The shrubs, a hardy antique variety planted decades earlier by another, nearly scream, “Over here, help us!” I have handsaw and pruners in hand, but I am gloveless and sleeveless. I look at the house and push away the thought of going inside. I’m not ready. Not yet.
I begin cautiously, with some dead canes, the ones I can safely saw without actually entering the briars. It goes well. This isn’t difficult, I think, you just have to pay close attention—I probably don’t even need gloves. The thorned old wood begins to pile up in a heap. I take a deep breath and smile to myself. I move in closer.
I soon earn a couple of scratches, but I’m engaged in my work and reluctant to stop. After a few more, I begin to wonder if I have a not-so-latent masochistic aspect to my personality. The scratches on my arm sting slightly, softly singing in agreement (“You’re a little weird . . . oh, yes, you are.”) My mind wanders to those souls who
actually enjoy pain. I imagine the Marquis de Sade would relish the thought of bare-skinned rose pruning. He’d dispense with all the clothing. But I’m not the Marquis. I’m just impulsive and have a higher pain threshold than most, and besides, I’m making such progress. The truth is I’m still not ready to face my husband. If I go inside now, to a house full of family and demands, it will be hard to return to these canes—and I am so enjoying this solitude and productivity.
Gingerly, I squeeze in deeper, past a gentle honeysuckle who will do me no harm. I am in the thicket. I find myself wedged between the garage and the roses, with only a couple of feet in which to maneuver. It’s darker here, like a medieval forest. The morning, still young, is cool in these shadows, the air fresh. The canes are beginning to leaf out, the birds are singing. It’s lovely, and I begin to forget about the scratches. I discover the dead wood here is especially hard and thick and the thorns menacing. After another ten minutes of exertion and yet another bloody scratch, I begin to imagine that they are consciously vicious. The thorns resemble sharp, curved talons. Dragon’s claws.
That image, wed with the romantic dappled light, conjures fairy stories. I think about the briars that held Sleeping Beauty’s kingdom captive for one hundred years. They too were treacherous, all enclosing. I start at a sharp pain and draw back—a large thorn is impaled on the tip of my index finger. Could this be Nature’s retribution for the lover’s quarrel? Wincing, I pull the thorn out and the garnet blood makes a jewel drop on my skin. I stick the injured finger into my mouth and immediately think of Aurora, Sleeping Beauty. Surely this is how she must have felt when pricked by the spinning wheel. The almost-premonition of a stab, then, too late, it is done. The deep sleep begins. Only after a century, and numerous bloody, failed attempts by velvet-cloaked suitors, is the true prince able to enter and awaken her. The protective brambles part for him, he is blessed.
I move thoughtfully now, wielding my slender saw like a sword, my mind now focused on consideration and good thoughts for the roses—these exquisite sentinels. This is how the prince of kisses would think, I am sure of it.
I do not get scratched now.
Soon these canes will be covered with soft baby buds, pale pinkish-cream, cradled by endearing dark green sepals. These symbols of youth (gather ye rosebuds) will grow, swell, and open into almost luminescent-white blossoms with a spicy, lemony scent. Full blown, hardy, irresistible roses, so much like blossoming young women. Soon they’ll be wide awake and ready for pollination. I think of how, in years with rain, these canes have exploded. I have laughed out loud at the sight of greedy squirrels stuffing whole blooms into their mouths. Snow-white flowers, rose-red blood. As I prune and saw, my mind begins to make more associations between love and roses. Do roses really mean love?
Well, new love is heady, and like attar of roses, bears no comparison. Like perfume, like a dream, it can engulf us, make us unaware of the outside world, to everything but itself. New love reminds me of a selfish, pampered, hot house tea rose, a Miss America bouquet, stripped of its thorns, nestled in tissue paper, put in a box and wrapped with a big bow. I remember how my husband and I, so young, once bloomed as hot and perfect as those tea roses. In our springtime, those years together before becoming parents, we had few cares and fewer thoughts of the future. We were content to revel in one another. Now I know that early type of love is fleeting, too precious for the rigors of time, too fragile for hardship to last. I’ve seen those pampered rose bouquets. Sometimes the blossoms die before they even open.
I recall my horrible words. The thorns. The flip side of love. The opposite of those velvety, color-soaked, petals strewn on beds of love. The slashings of reality, the smothering trials of everyday life. I think of how all love has thorns, and how some can scar for life. I have seen love as destroyer in my own family and with friends. Roses of Delusion. Delusions of who we are, who our lovers are. I have seen the thorns that destroyed Aurora’s other suitors for a hundred years destroy others; I have felt thorns that, a few times, have come close to destroying my own love.
“You’ve made quite a pile there.”
Frowning at the difficulties of love, I didn’t notice that my husband had walked up and was watching me.
I peer through the greenery, smiling awkwardly at the handsome king, and wipe the sweat from my brow. “Yeah, I kind of went crazy. I’m pretty scratched up, but I’ve just about finished. It looks a lot better, don’t you think?”
“It looks great. I’ll help you get those canes in the Dumpster.”
“Really?” I wiggle out. “Thanks.”
We’ve apologized the way we always do, without words. As he walks away, hauling a bundle of dead canes, I contemplate the roses I’ve pruned. The antique roses, hardy, with ancient, wild parentage, are built to last, so unlike the pampered hybrid teas. In fact, there are antique roses in Europe, still living, that bloomed during the time of the Brothers Grimm, and in France, Josephine’s rose garden survives. While there are never guarantees that love will survive, I feel that through the stings and scrapes of life, the love I share with this man has proved to be a variety that through drought and hardship, will insist on living and blooming, year after year, rooted deeply, tenaciously, into the soil.