One Man’s Weeds

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The dandelions are popping up all over a field near my house as spring finally makes an appearance here in the Midwest. On the less tended lawns of my neighborhood, the profusion of cheerful yellow gladdens me.

Why are dandelions considered weeds, plants that need to be eradicated with toxic chemicals? They look so lovely, at least until they go to seed. Even then, the fuzzy grey tops are fun to blow on and scatter.  And you can even make wine out of dandelions!

Walking around our yard with an expert in horticulture, my husband and I will point to plants and ask, “Is that a weed?” I sometimes feel that if you have to ask, maybe you should just leave it be.

As in other areas of culture, deciding what makes a beautiful or desirable plant is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. For instance, we have a Japanese maple in our front yard that my hubby despises. But one would hardly call it a weed. I realize that some plants take over and kill grass or other plants. So I understand why you might want to get rid of such weeds. And truth be told, the foliage of the lowly dandelion is nothing to write home about.

Still, after a long hard winter, I am ready to welcome just about any growing thing around my yard and my neighborhood. Even the cheeky dandelions.

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Phat Tuesday

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koJYM-1.So.79The crowd inside my favorite neighborhood bakery this morning could only mean one thing: suburbanites stocking up on paczki – those over-the-top Polish doughnuts filled with all kinds of sweet things – and king cakes, the traditional rings of pastry favored by New Orleans residents to celebrate Mardi Gras. I, of course, had to pick up my share of these delicacies for one last hurrah before giving up sweets for Lent.

Tomorrow begins a six-week season of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. While our meatless Fridays and traditions of giving up something we enjoy for Lent feel painful, other Christians, particularly Orthodox and Eastern Rite faiths, have much more stringent rules for fasting during Lent. Many eschew all dairy products and meat for the duration of Lent. Some fast every morning until noon. Compared to these dedicated believers, I’m a piker.

I also must confess to the somewhat selfish motivations behind my abstinence from sweets. I’m hoping it will make me slimmer, healthier, and less addicted to sugar come Easter Sunday. Still, I find it important to mark the season with some sort of sacrifice.

So “Fat Tuesday” has become a fun day of indulgence for me and my family. Around the world revelers will be celebrating in grand style. There is, of course, the legendary decadence of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where the streets are littered with beads and partiers drink too many hurricanes. And the granddaddy of all festivities is Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, where millions of people parade through the streets in outlandish costumes and the party lasts 5 days.

Compared to those festivities, my plan of pigging out on king cake and staying up late to read the latest John Grisham thriller seems a little tame. Still, I plan to indulge myself, enjoy myself, and laissez les bons temps rouler!

 

Under the Weather

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chiberia-7-1050x700-7244You’d have thought the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were riding into town the way weather reports heralded the arrival of a devastating Ice Storm that was projected to halt life as we know it. In what is becoming all too frequent an occurrence, the schools put out a message that early morning activities would be canceled and school possibly opened a couple of hours late to avoid the treachery of streets and sidewalks coated in ice. It did rain last night, but the predicted life-threatening conditions never arrived. My daughter disappointedly headed to school at her usual time, and life went on.

The drama of this late winter season has gotten to me. Last week’s dumping of snow followed by record low temperatures across the Midwest – a situation that meant 3 days of school closures – made an ordinary week an ordeal. Then an unseasonable thaw gives way to a new storm with potentially dangerous icy conditions. I am so over Winter 2019.

Each time we dig out and take the time for a sip of hot cocoa, another storm system starts heading our way. Or the polar vortex comes swooping down and forces us to wrap ourselves up in cocoons. Last week I kept seeing that Chicago was colder than Siberia, Antarctica, and probably Uranus. (Cue the sophomoric jokes.)

It does not help that meteorologists have taken to giving these storms names. Back in the day, only hurricanes were named, and in less enlightened times, those names were all female. Nowadays, though, we need high drama with everything, including our weather reports. I appreciate being apprised of conditions that might affect travel and safety. But either weather prognosticators need to get better at their predictions or reporters need to become more measured in their response to potential weather events. This “The sky is falling” approach to weather reporting has got to end. We have enough drama with our politics these days. And the doomsday scenarios only give my kid false hope for another canceled school day. With the way this winter is going, she will be making up snow days in July!

Meanwhile that famous rodent Punxsutawney Phil has supposedly predicted an early spring. If only, Phil. If only.

 

Thankful for a Break from Politics

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Thanksgiving dawned in Michigan in the usual way: cloudy, barren skies and chilly temps. Michigan is the home of my husband’s family and the destination of my family’s Thanksgiving travels every year. Besides looking forward to the delicious turkey and fixings my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law were up early to prepare, we were anticipating the happy chaos that is always a part of our visits to the Motor City.

True to form, the buffet table groaned with an assortment of dishes and later, far too many desserts even for us and for my husband’s six siblings and their families to consume. And while there were a few minor dramas, for the most part Thanksgiving held a convivial air.

What I appreciated most about the many conversations in which I took part was the complete absence of political dialogue. At least to my hearing, there was no talk about Trump, immigration, foreign policy, or the recent November elections. Instead, Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions football dominated the scene in the family room where the cousins congregated in front of the giant TV and good-naturedly trash-talked each other’s teams.

Other than a comment made about a movement to eliminate the Thanksgiving holiday because of white settlers’ mistreatment of Native Americans, there was nothing to ruffle any feathers, and no one “talked turkey” about their political beliefs. This fact, coupled with my avoidance of Facebook all day, made for a blissfully nonpolitical and mostly unstressful holiday.

Instead, we took turns holding our nephew’s adorable baby and playing “store” with her older sister. We helped ourselves to another slice of apple pie and enjoyed the camaraderie of family members. We drew names for the annual Christmas grab bag we hold each year. By the time we were ready to bundle up and head home, we were all ensconced in the happy glow of full bellies and family togetherness.

This morning the sun is out. The brief reprieve from November gloom is a welcome sight, and it is prolonging my feeling of happiness and peace. Now the Christmas holiday season is upon us. All the shopping, baking, decorating and bustle begin. I’m so glad I had the chance to spend a day in thankfulness for the bounty in my life: family, friends, and food.

Maybe I’ll keep up my fast from politics for the entire holiday season.

Snow Shower

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IMG_3163This past Saturday I hosted a baby shower for my godson and his wife, who are expecting their first child in February. About 30 well wishers were to descend on my home, all of them bearing gifts for the lucky couple and some of them bearing food and decorations for the party.

The forecast the day before had called for snow in the wee hours of the morning. Although I was annoyed at the early season snow, which didn’t have the good grace to wait until after Thanksgiving, I figured an inch or two falling overnight would be an easy obstacle to take care of before the festivities began.

The snow front, however, meandered a bit more slowly than meteorologists had predicted. When I awoke around 8 am Saturday morning, snow was gently falling. There wasn’t much on the ground yet, but I was worried. My main worry was for travelers coming from significant distances to make it to the shower. I had hoped they would have smooth sailing on their way. I also wondered how I would manage 30 people tramping into the house in their snowy boots. I put down some floor mats and hoped for the best.

My nephew’s aunt and cousins from their other side were the first to arrive. They seemed unfazed as they bustled around the kitchen setting up pots of delicious food. Then my nephew (brother of the dad-to-be) showed up with his girlfriend, who set about adorning the house with “baby chic” decorations. Before long, guests began to arrive and the house took on that delightful chaos only a happy occasion can bring.

Throughout the party, numerous guests commented on how lovely the snow looked from my kitchen and family room windows. I had to admit it was a pretty backdrop, much more lovely than the bare trees and brittle grass that had been in evidence the day before.

The shower was a big success. Everyone was well fed, and the “Baby Bellinis” flowed. Guests got to write words of advice for the happy parents-to-be and to print messages on paper diapers. My favorites were: “This too shall pass” and “Fill it up!” We all enjoyed coffee and buttercream cake while oohing and aahing over the adorable onesies and other tiny baby clothes. And not one person was prevented from coming by the unseasonal weather.

The vicissitudes of life will sometimes throw us for a loop. They can also shower us with unexpected blessings. That’s a great lesson for that baby on the way – and for all of us.

Thankful Tree

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With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’ve been reminiscing about a little tradition I tried with my children when they were younger. I’d find a leafless branch in my backyard, stick it in a small terra cotta pot filled with pebbles, and voila! We’d have a thankful tree.

I didn’t make up the idea of the thankful tree. I’d read about it and thought it would be a nice way to make the holiday a little more meaningful and encourage gratitude in my children. Before Thanksgiving, I fashioned colorful paper leaves out of construction paper, punched a small hole in each one, and tied a ribbon through the hole. Then on Thanksgiving, I encouraged family members to write something they were thankful for that year on a leaf and hang it on the tree.

The thankful tree made a cute centerpiece for the Thanksgiving table. Its starkness fit into the season when fall was giving way to winter. Its leaves gave it color and made it a conversation piece as family guests read about the things their loved ones were thankful for.

Thanksgiving can be an overwhelming holiday. There’s so much food and the endless preparation that goes with it. Family members who haven’t seen each other in a while are suddenly in close quarters. Forward-thinking types are plotting their Black Friday shopping for the next day.

The thankful tree gives people a chance to pause and take stock of their blessings and to realize how many things there are to be truly grateful for. I’d encourage families to give it a try and hopefully establish a tradition of gratitude and togetherness for their many Thanksgiving holidays in the future.

Summer’s Lease Up

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Labor Day is a bittersweet holiday. The day is meant to celebrate working men and women all over America and, for most, to provide a day of rest and relaxation. But it also marks the symbolic end of summer. Kids not already in school will go back tomorrow. Morning commuters will once again have to share the crowded roads with back-to-schoolers. And summer vacations are over for families.

It’s still hot outside, of course. Today on my walk, I saw people out on their front porches enjoying the relative cool of early morning. Later on, the neighborhoods will be filled with the sounds of kids playing and the smells of burgers cooking on outdoor grills. A last hurrah of summer.

Soon in my part of the world, the evening air will have a slight chill in it. Then the trees will deck themselves out in glorious colors for one last celebration before the cold winter sets in. Before we know it, we will be huddled inside by the fireplace eating leftover Halloween candy and feeling wistful about our always too brief summer.

I’m not complaining, exactly. I do love the change of seasons in the Midwest – the way nature marks the passing of time. I did miss it when I lived on the West Coast. But I will also miss the free and easy feeling of summertime: sandals on my feet, an easy summer dress, an ice cream cone, and a fun, frivolous book to read.

Farewell, summer. See you next year.