When you are weak, stand with me. I’ll lend you strength.

I’ll hand you a crumpled paper bag.

You’ll open it to find a scrap of heart, still beating.

I’ll reveal the scars that criss cross a back.

They will not diminish us.

I’ll offer you a photograph.

Allow the images to speak.

You’ll sense a glance, familiar. A posture, strong. A smile so endearing, your heart cracks. Turn the photo. A penciled notation is fashioned in perfect script. Evidence of loss and struggle amidst beauty.

I’ll reach for your hand.

You’ll reach back.

It’s impossible to separate our souls, our stories.

Our ancestors do not leave us, rather, they gather to bear witness, to stand alongside.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

~Long ago I learned to make friends with silence.

” We must have pie. Stress can’t exist in the presence of pie.”

David Mamet, Boston Marriage

I close the book. Summer rain falls. A breeze slips through the screen on the open door. Autumn is a patient friend. One who waits for leaves to fly. A resident squirrel, cheeks full with acorns, scoots between the tall evergreen and fence. The world’s metronome taps a steady beat.

Some things remain uncertain, even in their certainty. I miss my mother. She waits for the seasons to turn and the pandemic to leave.

“It will leave.”

Her voice sounds less certain, more guarded.

“I don’t know. The world’s a mess,” she says.

These are not the words I wish to hear. I want her to rally, offer up sage advice, to have an answer.

“Hold to hope, Mom. The world is changing, perhaps, for the better.”

The world is slowing down.

Every sunrise, hope returns. Built to heal, I find comfort in words, friends, mornings and increasingly, time spent in the kitchen. There is something sacred about standing in silence, in front of a stove, while flipping through the pages of a cookbook. If I can’t help you, I can nourish you.

I will bake a pie. Pie is a reminder of a simpler, slower time. The act of baking something as lovely as pie, soothes.

Pie is a memory.

‘Julie London’ croons from the speaker. My mother hums ‘Black Coffee,’ off- key. She stands in the kitchen, notices the large mixing bowl, her rolling pin, the one I kept. Flour dusts the floor. Pie is messy. Fruit stains like a bruise. She adjusts her apron.

I watch her turn. She pours herself a cup of Joe from the espresso machine. Tucking a lock of hair behind one ear, she pivots and smiles. “A looker,” with her symmetrical features, fairy- tale widow’s peak, a grid mark leading to a crown of raven hair. Red lips. She favoured red lipstick.

I remember. Standing in the doorway of the tiny bathroom, I’d watch as she opened the tube and etched colour to her lips.

She had said, ” The trick is to blot with Kleenex.”

As children, we’d find ruby lip stained tissues carelessly left upon the bathroom counter, accidentally dropped onto the floor or peeking from her opened purse. Sometimes, I would scoop one up like a specimen, tuck it into a book, all to preserve a tangible piece of her.

Those days, I’d sit at the table and exchange knowing glances with my sister. Our mother’s style is now lost, other era, a nod to a fancier time where dresses ruled the kitchen and sling backs waited at the front door. Her ‘French look’ and clothing cut from Vogue, tailored by Singer, was soon to be another lost art. We thought her beautiful.

I watch as she lifts a teaspoon from the drawer and samples the filling. She closes her eyes, pleased.

Turning around, she has gone.

It’s certain. The world spins, seasons change, people come and go. What’s new is old. Some people enter our lives to teach us. Others, so precious we never forget their presence, and then there is pie.

Once considered old fashioned, pies are having a moment. Boutique bakeries offer pies “to go” because “made from scratch” pies are thieves of time. There are steps to follow: use cold butter, cut it into the flour (use two knives). Slightly beat the eggs. Add sugar by the teaspoon. Squeeze the lemon. There is timing in the mix. Chill the dough. There are tools to assemble. Find a four inch cutter. Shhh. I use a marimekko sugar bowl. Find a pastry brush (a small, clean paint brush does the trick). Prep the fruit.

As children, we picked our fruit from backyard trees. Sometimes apple, other times, pear or plum and once in awhile, at the end of a particularly long school day, we’d arrive home and spy a freshly baked pie on the counter. Cinnamon whispered stories of far away lands.

Our family rarely ate pie. When the spirit moved our mother to make a pie (and it was usually in autumn), she’d save the left over pastry bits, kneading and patting the dough to form a ball. If she was short of filling, she’d substitute jam.

I sense my mother’s return.

Gently, she rolls the dough out onto the counter. Dipping a spoon into the saucepan, she tops each round with filling. A brush stroke dips into a saucer of milk, coats the edges of pastry. Overlapping and pressing, she lifts a fork, touching the tines to the dough. With a sharp knife she fashions a top cut.

“Hand Pies.” The semilunar fit was perfect for our small hands. Silently, we’d nibble along the pressed edge, allowing crumbs to fall into a dish of vanilla ice cream, every bite of steamed fruit, richer, tastier. In this moment, we understood. Mom had loved us enough to create a magical delight at the sweet end of the scale.

I place three Hand Pies into a tin. For her.

A text appears.

You bake pies?

I smile. Say it like it’s a bad thing.

You can’t.

Quote: David Mamet: Boston Marriage

COVID19 Moment

she bakes pies

Lavender Oil Skin Serum

“There are some things, after all, that Sally Owens knows for certain: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.” 
― Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic

I planted roses and lavender. Over the years, the vines climbed higher, blooms evermore fragrant. I lined the beds with lavender. Drowsy bees slept, deep within the stalks. Sally’s wisdom: “always add pepper to your mashed potatoes,” is a ‘must.’ And Sally- harvest your lavender. Strip the flowers from the stalks. Create practical magic in the kitchen.

Lavender or Lavandula Angustifolia, is a species in the mint family, commonly used in aromatherapy. The fragrance is believed to promote calmness and wellness. Pure Lavender Oil contains certain antibacterial and anti fungal effects. When lavender is combined with a carrier- virgin olive oil, it is in ‘pure’ form- a serum to soften and soothe skin. Serums penetrate deeply into the skin, therefore, one need only apply one to two drops.

In many specialty markets, lavender is sold in bunches. It’s easy to grow. Over time, one small plant will yield plenty of flowers. Snip the stalks to encourage new growth.

Harvest your lavender. Cut it, dry. Separate the flower from the stalk. A Suggestion: Use your finger tips (pointer and thumb) to slide the flower down the stalk. Place the flowers in a bowl. Some people suggest leaving the bowl in the sun to further dry the flowers. I skipped this suggestion. A spell of sunny, hot weather has left the lavender in my garden beds, dry. Note the lavender is beginning to grey. It’s perfect!

To make Pure Lavender Oil Serum, follow a two part ratio: Two cups of Virgin Olive Oil to one part lavender flowers. You can reduce the receipe amount to one cup virgin olive oil to half a cup of lavender flowers. Following a two to one ratio, makes a gentle, lightly scented, topical skin serum. Olive oil is the carrier. It reduces the potency of the dried lavender flowers. It’s important to read up on the chemistry of plants and oils. The photo shows my lavender yield- more than enough dried flowers for two cups of serum. Make small batches. You only need apply a drop or two of serum to skin. Store dried flowers in a clean, glass jar.

Materials

One sterilized* glass jar with lid

*To Sterilize Glass and Lid: Place jar and lid in a pot of boiling water for 15 mins. Cool before removing from the water. Set jar aside.

A measuring cup

Virgin Olive Oil- two cups

Lavender Flowers- one cup

A suitable, safe stove top pot

A strainer or muslin cloth

Heat Method:

Following the two to one ratio: Measure one cup of the lavender flowers and pour into the pot. Measure two cups of Virgin Olive Oil. Pour the olive oil over the lavender flowers. Turn on the stove element to the lowest heat setting. Let the lavender and oil warm for two hours. The element should be warm, never hot.

Always supervise and remain in the kitchen area while the element is on.

Turn off the element. Allow the lavender and oil to cool.

Strain the cooled lavender and oil into the sterilized glass jar. Using a spoon, press the bits that remain in the strainer. This helps to squeeze out all of the lavender’s oil from the flowers. Strain twice for a ‘clear’ serum without bits. It helps to place a pump spout on your jar, allowing for easy distribution of serum to smaller amber glass containers. Less fuss. Store Pure Lavender Oil in a cool, dark place.

• Always pre test a small area of skin and check for any allergic reaction to the serum. If a reaction occurs- STOP.

Label serum. Date it. Keep serum out of reach from little hands.

Strained Lavender Oil Serum: You can see from this photo that the above recipe makes close to two cups of serum. You only apply a drop or two to skin. I’ll pump this batch into smaller, sterilized amber glass jars with droppers.

Pat a drop or two of serum onto skin.

• You Tube has many ‘DIY’ videos on the topic: ‘Lavender Oil Serum’ for skin. Sof McVeigh has created a fabulous site.

• WebMD- http://www.webmd.com has articles on the safe use of lavender and other natural remedies, salves

https://www.thezoereport.com/p/oils-vs-essential-oils-the-biggest-differences-the-most-popular-uses-more-19442788

https://www.thezoereport.com/p/oils-vs-essential-oils-the-biggest-differences-the-most-popular-uses-more-19442788

Beautiful Souls

‘Sara’

“I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.” 
― Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo was a woman of staggering beauty. Read her back story. You’ll find her even more so: Mexican Indigenous Woman, a life lived in La Casa Azul, as a child, touched by Polio, a promising medical student, disabled by a bus accident. A woman left holding a shattered dream of becoming a physician, a family facing financial ruin, a daughter whose parents referred to her as, “a dove.”

“I paint because I need to.” To escape her pain, Frida Kahlo returned to a childhood love of art. Critics suggest she was a “surrealist,” others, a “magical realist.” ‘The Frame,’ a 1938, self portrait, made her the first Mexican Indigenous artist to be featured in the Louvre. As a teacher, she directed her students to form art from the street. As a woman, she painted in order to escape residual pain and a diminished sense of self- worth. She needed to find beauty amidst tatter.

https://arthive.com/fridakahlo/works/202520~Self_Portrait_The_Frame

There is much written of the relationship between Frida and Diego Rivera, their marriage, sadly described by her parents, as “a union between an elephant and a dove.” It is told Diego was wealthy and could afford to pay her on- going medical expenses. It was certain, she could not. Viewed as a liability, Frida fought to assert her worth. Themes of pain and loss surface in her art. One is rarely born with such unique vision. It is often not a choice. It is a gift to find beauty in struggle.

Pictured above is my nod to fictitious ‘Sara’: gentle soul, brave woman. Her eyes. One look tells you enough. Eye wide open. Be cautious, Sara. The mind plays tricks. The world tempts dreamers into believing ideas are worthy, that we are all worthy, of more.

The other eye appears flat and holds a look of dark resignation. Who do you think you are, Sara?

I love ‘Sara’ for all that she is: loving mother, courageous woman, and gentle dove. I love that she dreams, quits, and restarts. I love that she doubts. You’re a bomb, Sarah. I whisper, Doves are beautiful. They make me cry. Stroking her feathers, I unlock her cage, allowing the breeze to kiss her. I tell her to fly.

My mother was a painter. She painted her stories to canvas. It was a way to bring beauty to her world. Art is made by ‘real’ artists and who can afford it, anyways? It’s a frivolous way to pass time. This was once the thought. Her wings were clipped.

I’m certainly not a painter. Should I write, aspiring painter ? This isn’t completely true. I’m not aspiring to be and I don’t like the term, ‘aspiring’ anything except a ‘better human’. It’s been years since I’ve considered painting beyond a classroom. I had told myself I could not paint, convincing myself to dismiss any thought of painting. Instead, I stood in the room and studied her. I forgot to dream. I forgot to play.

I do aspire to be a better writer. A writer who doesn’t waste a reader’s time, rather an author who gently gut punches for authenticity. This is why I acquiesce and use the term ‘aspiring’ on several spots. To remind myself to keep putting thoughts down, word by word, to improve my craft. To remain humble. To dream.

I am a teacher and a woman. Some days, I have no idea. Pandemic times have pushed me to evolve, reflect, to sit with stories in progress, to read the words of others. These times, touch me, too. I see images, feel pain, worry. I hold to hope. Should I dare to dream?

We should be a bit ‘Frida’. We should dream and do. Instead, we question worth. We judge the worth of others. We should stop. If you write, you’re a writer. If you paint, be a painter. If you can’t sing, hum. Do it because you need to.

The finest writers and artists, especially those who have suffered mountainous loss, have received a gift. They have an ability to touch us, to leave us speechless and frozen in our tracks. The great ones bring us to our knees. Art should elicit powerful emotion. We cry lyrics, bleed words, slip along the stroke of a brush on canvas. Later, we wonder. We relate. We atone. We are silenced by beauty in any form.

Frida Kahlo is a beautiful woman, not solely based upon her exotic looks. Rather, she was brave. A candle whose wick of pain lit up, producing epic art. A soul of self- forged steel. More than a dependant dove, she reflected back as a woman of worth, separate from cultural norms, soldiering pain. She dared to dream. A brave act during a time in history when a woman’s artistic passion was viewed as a, ‘hobby,’ supported mainly by men of financial worth. An era, whereby, a woman with physical disabilities was viewed as less attractive, even burdensome. Frida Kahlo dared to dream because life handed her a gift she didn’t ask for. She fought the establishment. This is a courageous stand to take at any time in history.

Art in any form, teaches us about the resiliency and beauty of the human spirit. It can sprout from pain with shoots of tender, fierce resolve.

She’s in us.

•https://www.fridakahlo.org

Pandemic Painting #7

folkart

‘Sara’

Paeonia

Bees dance. If the sun is hot, you’ll swear they talk.

“Walk barefoot through the garden until you find her,” they say.

Paeonia. The bees have held back her stories and claimed her as one of their own. They beckon to follow beyond the fence of rose canes, thorns sharp. An ornate bird bath stands in the distance. You wonder who placed it there and the story behind it.

You follow to a clearing carpeted by moss. Beneath your feet is hidden evidence of another world- a black tunnelled darkness where drowsy beetles sleep and artifacts are buried: the torso of a child’s broken toy soldier, the bones of a bunny, lovingly set to rest in a cloth lined, cardboard box.

A completely different map. Where you stand, a river once flowed. Boulders line the now dusty bank. Ancient time seeps into your bones.

The bee’s drone reminds you: she waits, green fists tight amidst the darkest of foliage. Wild yet tame. Her head bows under the weight of a heavy crown.

Paeonia.

You sense a rustle, feel a breeze. Soft petals drop at your feet.

And suddenly, you’re in love again.

The world is a mysterious place, so much of what exists is hidden. This truth magnifies the allure. It is the dance of bees, the forgotten bird bath and mossy life. It is layer upon layer. Such is the peony seed that drops from the swallow’s beak to bury between the crack in the paver. Humble yet proud, it fights to bloom another spring.

~ Draft

Simple Goodness

heaven is a rhubarb crisp

If you had climbed the high fence that surrounded our back yard, and peeked over, you’d have noticed a garden. Tomato plants stood, tall and staked, ruby orbs shadowing the sunniest wall. Lazy bees slept in lavender bushes. A clump of chives grew in one corner of the plot. As children, we snipped the verdant tips to bring to the kitchen, a garnish for new potatoes. There was rhubarb, its crimson stalks ranging from rich, deep red to shy, speckled pink.

It is satisfying to pull something from the ground. We’d snip, our tiny fingers fumbling with scissors. We’d pick the fattest tomatoes from the vine and pluck the firmest stalks of rhubarb. A quick rinse and a slow dip into the sugar bowl, when our mother’s back was turned. Rhubarb was our garden candy: tart and sweet.

Rhubarb is an old fashioned slice of heaven- any time. Imagine my ‘Oh Joy’ moment when I opened the front door and saw the unexpected paper bag, a gift from a friend. Inside, was half a banana cake (vanilla iced), delicious chilled with a cup of dark roast coffee. She could spin this cake to gold. Tucked alongside the cake, three stalks of rhubarb, perfect for my second favourite dessert: crisp.

There are many reasons to bake: to nourish, create, perfect, and comfort. We bake to love: ourselves and others. When we bake something and offer a slice, we shrug, knowing to bake is a form of love. Crisp is simple. There is absolutely nothing fanciful about oats. I chop, bag and freeze the rhubarb for the perfect moment.

Today, this morning, is the moment I’ve waited for. Cloudy mornings and another day of COVID19 isolation, feel ‘lighter’ with a plate of warm crisp. There is comfort, knowing the clouds will disappear and the oven holds promise.

Open the freezer. Rhubarb compliments dark berries and strawberries. Use whatever is on hand. Modify. There are better recipes than mine, on line. I ‘wing’ it, reducing the sugar content, eliminating cornstarch. If the finished product appears too runny, drain the excess juice. You won’t be disappointed. Add slightly more oats (for the heart), cut back the butter.

There isn’t a crisp I haven’t devoured, best served with a scoop of ice cream or a ring of fresh cream. Heaven! Acknowledge these times. Be still. Be grateful. Savour each bite.

BEWARE: Recently I read: Fresh rhubarb damaged by severe cold should not be eaten, as it may be high in oxalic acid which migrates from the leaves and can cause illness. Who knew?

~ bake barefoot, little thoughts, COVID19, keepitsimple, simplegoodness

Lilacs and lost time. This is what I recall, whenever, I think of her. Lilacs and lost time.

The Lilacs are blooming. A favourite blossom, reminding me of lost time and dusty roads, elderly Aunties, climbing roses, and picnics on the lawn.

Lilacs are lovely. Their stems hate to be indoors. You can expect about a week of bloom if you follow these suggestions.

First thing in the morning, cut some long stems. Immediately, place your stems into cold water. These tips will help to preserve the tightness of flower.

I prefer tin buckets or tall glass cylinders to ‘house’ the lilacs. Let the heavenly scent fill a room.

Leave a bouquet on a doorstep.

“May: the lilacs are in bloom. Forget yourself.” 
― Marty Rubin