The Raspberry Bush, The Hawk, Moscow, Family, and Other Things

I took my grateful walk this morning; as usual, I stopped at the end of the driveway to contemplate my blessings. The breeze was blowing gently and the palms responded, swaying with gentle precision to the commands of the breeze. The shadows appeared and disappeared as expected. I was struck with the beauty of it all and the calm and natural way the things happened.

I looked through the gate at the mammoth blackberry bush just outside, sprawling and spreading itself at will. This volunteer blackberry plant, the gift of my bird family, apparently knows more about itself than I do. You see, I planted several blackberry vines in another “appropriate place” only to find them never quite happy there. But this vine, now eight or ten feet in diameter, has carved out its own destiny. The berries are almost ready.

I have told you about my red-tailed hawk that has made its home in the palm at the end of the driveway. It comes to visit occasionally. The most amazing visit was a few nights ago when I was sitting on my patio with a friend having a wonderful chat. All of a sudden we were both silent, staring at each other with a look that comes only with special wonderment about an event, sight, or sound.

A red-tailed hawk swooped down to the top of the umbrella pole at the table where we were sitting, picked up its prey and was gone with unimaginable swiftness. What poor rodent, at least my friend said it had a tail like a rat, made the mistake of hiding in the top of the umbrella, we’re not certain.   But the stunning silence of the approach and the quickness of the snatch completely astonished us. It came and went with its prey clutched tightly and we never heard a sound. We both agreed we had never experienced such an amazingly successful hunting expedition. I am stunned daily as I watch them  hunt, soar, and glide across my sky, But as I thought about it at the end of my driveway this morning, I was hoping the hawk would do a fly-over so I could thank it for the untold joy it brings. My friend and I will always be saying to each other,  “Remember the evening that the hawk…”

About Moscow. While I was sitting at the end of the driveway, my mind wandered back to the discussion on the news about where Mr. Snowden, the young man who absconded with three computers filled with our top secret stuff, is. I smiled as I thought about the news I heard. “Mr. Snowden is in the transient lounge in Moscow; he’s not officially in Russia,” is the report from the authorities.  I think he knows he’s in Russia. I can tell you I knew I was in the Soviet Union (when I visited many years ago) long before I was in the lounge. You know before you ever get off the plane. Mr. Snowden knows he is in Russia, believe me. I wonder how he is enjoying his travels.

Then I looked a little to the left at the home of my son and his family. I had dinner with them last night. We sat in the cool of the evening on their patio and talked of many things. The report cards of my two amazing granddaughters, Hailey and Cassidy, had just come in the mail. Totally amazing girls, these two. But the report was not news to them; they live in he digital age. They are very good friends with the computer and smart phones.

And then came the vote; who’s going to do the dishes? Bob lost. That meant Hailey would take me home. Seemed like an opportunity to spend a little time with this wonderful, busy young lady. A senior in high school next year, makes the choice of college a frequent topic of conversation in her world. She will have choice because she has worked hard to have choice. I think she understands that the best way to be free is to have the power to choose. We talked about several colleges; I shared some of the things that I learned over the many years I spent in universities as a student and as an employee. You would have enjoyed the conversation as much as I did, and I hope she did. This young woman is my granddaughter, but I wish you could know her as I do. Some university will be really lucky if she chooses it. Go Hailey!

            And there are so many more things at the end of my driveway besides the blackberry bush, the hawk, and Moscow. The most important things that are always in my gratitude walk are my family, especially my incredible four grandchildren, (Colin, Kera, Hailey, and Cassidy), my faith, my friends, and my love of my country that I fight every day to preserve for those I love.

My Mother, Canning, and Tomatoes

“Time to get up; it’s tomatoes today. It’s going to be a hot one.”

That was quite a familiar happening in the summer at our house. No sleeping in. Mother wanted to beat the heat of the day. The canning pot was ready with the water heated on the wood stove; the size of the pot depended on how many quarts of tomatoes we were going to do. One canner held seven jars, one three, and the boiler had a rack for more. But we knew mother would not get us up just to do three quarts. She would do that small amount when she was cooking a meal or baking or anytime the stove was already being used. When it was barely light out when the call came, we knew we were in for some serious canning.

“Come on girls; I’ve got the buckets ready. I checked the tomatoes this morning, and we have enough for at least two or three batches.” That meant prepare, pack, cook, wait, prepare, pack, cook, wait, as many times as we could before the heat in the kitchen would almost be intolerable.

I always loved the smell of the tomato vines. The brilliant red of the tomatoes against the green of the vines created one of nature’s finest pictures; however, it never seemed quite as pretty in those early, early morning encounters. The beauty was much more evident when I could take my salt shaker and leisurely walk the patch to find the finest looking tomato I could find to eat on the spot, or take to a cool shady place for a snack away from the hot sun of the garden. . My mouth is watering now; a tomato from the garden, ripened to perfection in the hot, Iowa sun, certainly seems like a delicacy to my palate now.

After we picked what mother thought we could handle for the day’s work, we returned to the kitchen. The tomatoes were thoroughly washed and put in a very hot water bath. Mother taught us that this part of the process was not to cook the tomato but just  to make it possible to remove the skins easily.The tomatoes were taken out of the hot bath and placed on a rack or in a bowl to cool enough to be peeled. We could just peel the skin off with our hands if the water bath was just right. The tomatoes were cut up, packed in sterilized jars, lids placed on the jars and tightened to the proper amount and the jars placed in the canner. The cooking time for each vegetable was precise, and mother was the timekeeper.

While the first batch was cooking, we would prepare the tomatoes for the next batch, and the third or whatever the number. Sometimes there would be some left after we packed the 21 quarts for the canner. No problem. Mother taught us how to open-kettle those. It was not unusual at all to see mother use the open-kettle method if she had small quantities of something. Nothing was wasted. That jar might be the one that would get us to the next season, she would say.

Mother never had anything spoil that she canned. We learned why. Cleanliness was the first lesson. The spaces in which we worked, the utensils, the sterilization of the jars and the lids, cleanliness of our hands or any towels we used, the clean vegetables–we were constantly reminded of the need for cleanliness in all of these area. Remember that all of this was done in the early days without running water or electricity. Yes, I learned in those “primitive” days.”

We were released from the heat of the kitchen when we finished all the vegetables; mother was left in the heat until the job was done and the jars of beautiful tomatoes were all finished and proudly displayed on a board to cool. Next stop, the cellar to join the array of jars that would supply the family all winter long. Jars of tomatoes were especially pretty. They added color to he tapestry created by a wall of shelves of jars filled with canned fruits and vegetables.

Memories of the Garden

. A better title might be: Questions my Granddaughter Asks.

When my granddaughter asked me during birthday greetings a week ago whether or not I had helped my mother can, I was surprised. But not nearly as surprised as I was with the  next question. Did I know how to make watermelon pickles?

“I have been reading some material written by a lady who went through the depression,” she said, “and she talked about canning and making watermelon pickles.” Kera is starting graduate school this fall and she wants to plant a garden in her first “home.” The house that she is renting has plenty of space. She plans to plant and can.

I told her that I canned a lot of fruit and vegetables myself for many years, and of course, I helped my mother can from the time I could remember. The queries started  a flood of memories. Most of what we canned came from our garden.

The Farmer’s Almanac was a family friend in most Midwest households. And when the apple blossoms came in the spring, they were so welcome; a bouquet of apple blossoms brightened every home. The first pink signs were signals; maybe the weather would change, but you knew that it was time–time to start thinking about the early plantings. It was time to get the seeds out that you had ordered during the winter months. I loved those seed catalogs. They were almost like a travelogue.

The Almanac, although consulted all year, in the spring it was always left in a handy place for quick reference; it just stayed on the kitchen table. The suggestions for planting were carefully checked. And of course, some seeds were planted during the winter so plants would be ready to “set out” when the weather was warm enough. Tomato, cabbage, parsley, and kale seeds were planted and carefully monitored during the winter months. They occupied an honored place by a sunny window.

When the time was right and the garden soil was carefully prepared, the planting started. Peas and lettuce were an early planting soon followed by carrots, beets, beans of several varieties, another planting of lettuce and peas, and hills of cucumbers, squash, watermelons, cantaloupes, and a first planting of corn. Several plantings of some vegetables were made throughout the summer to make certain they could be harvested all summer long. Mother and Dad were particular about how the garden looked. The rows were straight and the seeds were carefully sown. This was serious business. These crops were not only for fresh produce during the summer, but also to be canned and stored for the winter months.

Now the plants that were grown in the house during the winter were planted. The tomatoes were planted with sufficient space so they had room to grow, and so the sun could reach all sides of the plant as needed to produce the amazing red, luscious vegetables to eat fresh all summer and the boxes and boxes that would be canned during the summer. In the fall when the frost was due, the green ones would be kept to ripen or made into relish. The memory of taking a salt shaker and visiting the tomato patch, picking a warm red tomato, and eating it in the garden was wonderful. A tomato never tasted better. I guess they were as organic and fresh as anything can be.

Potatoes were stored for the winter, and it was from that supply that the plantings for the next year were taken. The potatoes were cut making certain that there was an “eye” on every piece; it was from that eye that the growth would start. The potato vines were faithfully watched during the summer; as soon as they matured sufficiently, we would dig a hill or two to harvest those “new potatoes” to have with fresh peas in a cream sauce or to put with all the other fresh vegetables in soup.

And of course, my mother had to have her flower gardens and her flowers in the garden. There were packages of mixed flower sees, larkspur, zinnias, and any others that she could afford to buy. Neighbors shared seeds that had been kept from the year before. The dahlia bulbs were dug, separated in the fall and stored for the winter and planted in the spring. These beautiful flowers were shared in huge bouquets at church services in the summer. These bouquets often were the source of varieties shared with those present. People shared because often they could not afford to buy them. Mother always took ”slips” (cuttings) of geraniums from the plants grown inside and outside to share and to make new plants. Iris, glads, tulips, peonies, and anything that was admired and could be propagated was shared. The depression did not mean that beauty could not be available because you were poor. Our Creator made it easy to share.  Even the fields and hills were full of free plants and shrubs.

The garden was a place of family pride. When I was a little girl, I tagged along as mother or daddy took friends and family to show what was new, how to deal with bugs, or talk about planting tips, and to share the bounty of a beautiful garden.

Kera, I would love to help you plant your garden. As we plant, I will share with you “what it was like when I was a little girl.” That’s the question you always ask me.



Ninety-two and counting is a great place to be.

There are so many beautiful memories, so many lessons learned, such opportunity to grow, and the accumulated treasure of family, friends, and faith. What a privilege to watch my America for 92 years. And at 92 what is a birthday like? Do you have pictures of a granny sitting in a rocking chair, rocking the hours away or worse yet, not even able to sit in a rocking chair? Or of a grey-haired figure just staring into space? If so, you really sell us short?

The sun is up early on these days, these long, beautiful days in June. I imagine my mother was up early in her last days of pregnancy hoping that this would be the day when she would be able to “see her feet again,” and when she would know whether  her daughter, Esther, would have a sister or a brother. And it was June 13, 1921, when Peter and Alvina Boltz welcomed their little girl into this world. It was a beautiful, not-quite-yet-summer day in Iowa.

And 92 years later? What was it like on June 13, 2013, in Bonsall, California? The sun was true to form–it was up early. It was a bright day when the flowers showed their true colors with not even a little distortion from a cloud. The birds were in fine fettle; their songs filled the air with the joyous harmony of the many in the bird choir. I took my usual walk to the end of the driveway. The gratefulness of the scene was overwhelming. My prayers were those of gratitude. The good fortune of where I have the privilege of living, the quick parade of memories of 92 years, and the day before me that would end in a School Board meeting in the evening were all things to be viewed with an attitude of gratitude.

The day was filled with calls, cards, flowers, e-mail greetings and ice-cream cake.

Getting an electronic greeting card from my multi-faceted diamond friend brought the technology advances over the years into sharp images. The  notes and cards were much as they have been through the years. The telephone calls much the same in content, but the instruments and technology were vastly different.

As I was finishing the e-card, I received a call from my oldest granddaughter, Kera. She is the one in the family who is always asking me what it was like when I was a little girl. After singing Happy Birthday and giving all the well wishes, the conversation turned to canning. She is getting ready to start graduate school and plans to have a garden at the home she is renting. Did I help my mother can, she queried? She wanted to can the excess fresh vegetables, and she wanted to know how to make watermelon pickles; sounded strange, she said  That may have been the last question in the world that I expected in 2013 on my 92nd birthday.

Flowers are always welcome visitors in my home. The bouquet from Britt and Diane in Oregon  is beautiful–filled with flowers that I love. Fewer things and more flowers are appreciated at 92, particularly when your home is filled with beautiful things they have given you over the years.

And the dinner of my choice for my birthday from Bob, Kim, Hailey and Cassidy who live next door, had to be delayed until Saturday since the School Board meeting was scheduled for the same day as my birthday.

The School Board meeting was  filled with issues, concerns and the joy that comes with the end of the school year. The normal concern that comes while dealing with important issues was mitigated by the gratitude that I felt that my community just elected me to serve a fifth four-year term. It doesn’t get better than that. The fact that I have been given the privilege of serving on three boards at 92, one corporate, one church, one education, deserves my utmost gratitude to my Creator. The love of family and friends continues to fill my days with joy.

My day ended with a call from my grandson, Colin, who is in Oregon for the summer working at a golf club in Bend, Oregon. It was late when I got home from the Board meeting; Colin’s sunny voice on the recording machine brought a smile to my face. It was too late to call him back. When I call him back tomorrow, the sunny voice will just extend my birthday greetings to another day.

Ninety-two and counting is a great place to be.


A Walk with the President–The Capitol–Stop 4

We leave the magic of the Tidal Basin in cherry blossom time and head for the Capitol. The significance of the three “greats” we have just visited in our walk, Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson, will be even greater as we see the home of the Legislative Branch of our government. This branch was created to make certain that we remained “We the People.” The President and I discuss the arguments that were present as our Founders struggled and argued passionately about creating a government that would ensure a legacy of freedom. What was needed to insure the continuation of this great experiment in self-government? They had no pattern; this was not a cookie-cutter government. They had no former path to follow. They knew that power had to always rest with the people; they knew that they had to have checks and balances. They also had to have a branch that adjudicated when differences could be settle no other way. They created our republic. They created this “shining city on a hill.”

They fought; they struggled; they died to create a new birth of freedom under God with justice for all, with the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. They declared their independence from tyranny and abused power. Yes, Mr. President, they created this government that you are one leg of, but only one leg of three.  The building we see ahead, Mr. President, houses another one of the legs, but also only one leg of the three. The arguments about this branch were vigorous and passionate. Some wanted a strong central government and others wanted the power to be decentralized. The Founders finally decided on having two groups: to create equality between the small and large states, each state would have two senators; the second group would be based on the population of the state, the representatives..

We enter the rotunda of the Capitol. One of the great moments in American History paintings is of Reverend John Robinson’s prayer meeting aboard the Mayflower before the ship sailed for America. Another is De Soto and the discovery of the Mississippi River with a monk beside him in prayer placing a crucifix in the ground. And there are others such as Columbus and the baptism of Pocahontas. In the chapel is a stained glass window depicting George Washington in prayer with the inscription of in God We Trust above it. The Christian influences are all about. Our Founders were certain about their Divine Guidance and the need for it.

Mr. President, when you stand in the Chamber to deliver your State of the Union addresses, above and just behind you are the words, In God We Trust. They are there as a reminder to every Senator, Representative, and all the others present. Above the gallery door is a relief statue of Moses. The east entrance to the Senate Chamber has the Latin inscription meaning, God has favored our understanding. And you will find more times when we reiterate In God We Trust.

As we exit the grand edifice that graces the east end of the capital mall, we stop a moment on the steps.  And it is here, Mr. President, that you have placed your hand on the Bible, the Christian Bible, the Bible of our God in whom we place our trust, and pledged to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and to serve this nation.

We are what we are: we are a nation that was founded to attain religious freedom. a nation that recognized the role of Divine Guidance in its creation, and the need to trust in that Divine Guidance.

We walk toward the White House, where we started our walk together. Mr. President, when we reach your temporary home, the people’s house, our footprints will have made a Christian cross We have just walked the talk; now you need to talk the walk.