A Secret Garden

I found a secret garden.  It was there all along, hiding in plain sight beneath the brambles and waist-high grasses.

I felt like Mary Lennox as I pulled aside weeds to discover living treasures emerging from a moist earth.  Each new find brought a fresh wave of joy – an antique rose bush here, feathery fronds of fennel there, a tiny lavender sighing in relief.

The picket fence surrounding Peter Burr Farm‘s colonial garden was almost obscured by wild brier and useful weeds commonly found in hedgerows or alongside foundation stone – ground ivy, cat mint, greater celendine, chickweed, cleavers – all tangled together in between grasses nearly three feet high.

The inside of the garden was equally overgrown, except for a small area by the entrance gate.  I learned this progress was due to the valiant effort of just one person in a single-handed attempt to bring order back into the historic garden.

Quite the daunting task.

So I did what any self-respecting herbalist and veteran gardener would do.  I volunteered.

Donning my battle gear against ticks and poison ivy, I sprayed myself liberally with a home-made, anti-creepy-crawly, bug repellent and got to work.

As did my husband, Doug.  Who is only too happy (translation: minor grumbling) to join me in whatever current scheme I have devised for the day.

We make a pretty good team.

First I harvested some of the “weeds” that would have to be tamed, namely ground ivy and greater celendine.  I’ve been wanting to experiment with the medicinal qualities of these two herbs for a while.

And then it was time to do some serious weeding.

While Doug concentrated on weed-wacking the outside fence, I went to work pulling weeds from the gravel walkways and border edges of the raised beds.  We worked steadily for nearly two hours until the humidity and heat reached a whopping 95 degrees.


I would have liked to keep going, but Doug took one look at my reddened face and wisely called it, lest I drop of heat stroke.

Still, I’m pretty happy with the progress we made.

Since then, I’ve set my herbs to dry and brew — all destined to become tea, ointment, and tincture.

The temperatures have now dropped to a cool seventy degrees – but the forecast calls for almost a week of rain.

Again I feel like Mary Lennox, glumly looking out my window and wishing myself back to the secret garden.



Mother’s Day Reality Check

Happy Mother’s Day to one and all.

It’s amazing to think that this U.S. holiday has only been around for the last three plus generations.  That’s little more than a hundred years.

And Europe?  Even less.  They didn’t follow suit until the 1930’s and 1940’s, when they merged their annual church tradition of “Mothering Sunday” into a secular holiday like ours.

Also amazing is the fact that millions of people celebrate this relatively new holiday tradition thanks to the persistent efforts of just one American woman.

In 1908 Anna Jarvis began an exhaustive campaign to create a national Mother’s Day as a way to honor the sacrifices mothers made for their children and in 1914, it became official.  Then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Commercialization soon followed and Mother’s Day turned into a profitable enterprise for florists, card-makers, and chocolatiers the world over.

To which – horrified Anna Jarvis.  At one point, she actually lobbied to have the holiday removed from the American calendar.

I can understand Anna’s point of view, especially given today’s social climate.

Which do you think is better?  To spend time with one’s own mother in celebration of the sheer fact that she tendered her own body to give you life – or – buy some flowers, a cheap card, and call it day.

Disrespect for mother (and father) is rampant in our so-called modern society.  As is the breakdown of traditional family values.

Does this generation respect their elders?  How about our ‘beloved’, narcissistic Millennial’s?

And what values do the media and movie industries cram down our throats at every turn?  Mom is pathetic and Dad is stupid.  Or more recently, you’re a bad person to assume Mom is female – courtesy of the political Left’s gender war against all those who aren’t LGBT.  These folks would have us think that the world majority is populated by a people that are neither female nor male.

How about all those who feel their mother’s failed them in some way?

The list of transgressions launched against ‘mother’ is not only endless, it’s subjective.  Is perception reality?  I think not.  There’s a lot of folks that need to take a good, hard look at themselves in the mirror.

No matter what one’s own mother has done or not done, we can all agree on one thing.  Every single human being on this planet has been born via ‘woman’.

For this reason alone, we should at the very least give thanks to the person who carried us within her womb, sacrificing all to give someone else the ultimate gift – life.

And if you were blessed with a mother who loved you?

Then thank your lucky stars and do something nice for your Mom.  She more than deserves your loyalty, kindness, respect, honor, and general regard – trust me.  She’s earned it.  Moms sacrifice plenty, all out of love for you.

And what is this love I talk about?  It applies to mothers and children alike.  For it’s easy to say you love your Mom, or a mother her child, but what does that really mean?

I think this quote by Robert A. Heinlein sums it up nicely:

“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own…”


A Penny for My Thoughts – life transformed through landscaping

I have so much on my mind it’s hard to sleep.

I awoke much too early for the second morning in a row, courtesy of my overactive brain trying “to take over the world” like a bad episode of Pinky and the Brain.

It’s not only the extravagant landscape project, with it’s myriad of decisions, design details, and growing costs that’s keeping me awake, but also all the other plans I’m formulating.  My mind is in a perpetual loop, vacillating between “need to do” and “want to do”, if-then-else statements, budgets, time constraints, and more.

It’s like an incessant mind-meld of plotting, planning, and strategy – with a little crystal ball gazing thrown in for good measure.  I’m not complaining, mind you.  In fact it’s the exact opposite.

The world is my oyster!

I am an extremely lucky duck to have these kinds of non-issues robbing my sleep instead of woe.

Which reminds me of a Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme, and how it relates to all of us at different stages of our life – regardless of the actual day of our birth.

Right now?  I’m Monday’s Child, fair of face, dancing beneath the lovely Moon in all her splendid guises.  A bright blessing indeed.

Perhaps this carefree joy is a well-earned reward for my time served as Wednesday’s Child, full of woe.

I’ve certainly paid more than my fair share, carrying the weight of the world and selflessly caring for others whether they deserved my compassion or not.

I do feel a little guilty though, my fiction writing has been taking a back seat to all the upheaval around my house.  And I do mean that in the most literal of sense.

Bulldozers, hydraulic tampers, masonry saws, sound all throughout the day as workmen cut stone, mix concrete, pound in new earth, 360 degrees around my house –  this has been my constant companion for well over two months and counting.

Large construction projects are always stressful to a certain degree, so it really helps to hire the right crew.  By all means, do your homework upfront and choose a company wisely.  They will be your partner for the duration and the vehicle for making your idea a reality — on time and under budget if possible.

By these standards, our contractor has exceeded all expectations and we couldn’t be happier.  They have proven themselves to be extremely professional and highly skilled artisans.  There’s never a problem that can’t be fixed or detail too small to discuss.

It makes a world of difference.

Piece by piece, day by day, my vision of landscape nirvana has slowly been taking shape.  A long awaited dream is coming to fruition, more beautiful than I had even imagined.

That’s when I decided to go for the brass ring.  I just couldn’t stop myself.

As a former IT Project Manager, I’m well aware of things like scope, requirements, and mission creep.  But I’m wearing ‘two hats’ now.  I’m the customer too and I want what I want.

In other words, I just doubled the original project – multilevel patios, outside fireplace, connecting terraces, yada yada yada – all currently in the design process.  Decisions, decisions, decisions.

It doesn’t look like we’ll be finished any time soon.

But what a paradise it will be! My sanctuary, my home.  I am so happy, I may never travel to distant places again.  Well, never say never but a stay-cation is looking pretty high on my list.

I’m hoping to have everything done by Midsummer so hubby and I can host a big party to celebrate.  Not because the disruption ends, or that the project is completed and ready to be enjoyed — although that does call for a certain degree of celebration — but to commemorate a turning point in our life.

This massive landscaping job marks the beginning of our Golden Years.  Age-wise we’re getting a very early start, but these next years are destined to be golden nonetheless.

My husband and I turned the page and found an exciting new chapter.  So many adventures await!  And our journey begins now.








Easter Day and the Glory of Springtime

Happy Easter Day!  Millions of children eagerly awoke this morning in search of candied treats, sent in secret to households the world o’er during the pre-dawn hours.

Afterwards, they will attend church services dressed in their Sunday finest, hunt for Easter eggs, and watch the annual Easter parade.  At mid-day, families will share a meal of traditional foods such as ham, hard-boiled eggs, and various sweet breads like hot cross buns.

It is twenty-seven days past the Vernal equinox and the Earth’s return to life is now in full swing.  Seemingly overnight, the world outside my window donned a robe of flowers and birdsong.

This time of year, this day, is magical for many reasons.  But for me?  It is all about transition and rebirth.

Truly, is there anything more glorious than an apple orchard in full bloom?  Or an air perfumed by clusters of purple and white lilacs?

Of baby chicks chirping beneath grow lights and Peter Rabbit’s arrival in the form of our very own Easter Bunny, delivering sweet treats in pastel-colored baskets of cellophane grass.

Okay, I can think of many other equally glorious things too — but, the fullness of spring holds a divinity all its own, a unique pleasure gifted to us by Mother Nature herself.

There’s a freshness, an invigorating energy that permeates everything around me.  My soul remembers, and a swell of gratitude rises.  My senses come alive in the crisp cool air and vibrant landscape set out before me.  I realize, I’m smiling.

Then Spirit sends me a blessing.  It comes as a burst of thought, a moment of insight.  I suddenly become aware of an incredibly simple truth.

I’m happy.

I look across the expanse of yard and can’t imagine a prettier lawn.  The grass smells sweet.  And even though it’s been recently mowed, it is studded with bits of yellow sunshine and dots of purple twilight – dandelions and violets arrayed in all their glory.  Robins hop hither and yon, sometimes taking flight.  I invite them to eat their fill of grubs, but kindly leave behind some worms to aerate the soil.

By now, all of the migratory birds have returned ‘home to roost’.  Each year I anxiously listen for my feathered friends.  Catbird arrives and jealously guards a certain cherry tree until it produces its ripe, ruby fruit while the mocking bird sets up camp in the jasmine.  Our house wrens boldly sing, so loud, I fear they may have swallowed megaphones.  And so many more, too numerous to list here.

It’s a pleasure to hear their cheery voices greet the day and ride the gentle breezes, singing to their loved ones as they work hard building nests and laying fertile eggs.

Is it any wonder that Easter Day is adorned with colored eggs?  It’s the age old symbol for new life and new beginnings.

On that note, I must leave you here – for it’s time to set out tea for an Easter brunch.

May you enjoy the love of family and friends; and may the gift of life be cherished by us all.




Writing Prompts

I love writing prompts.

It’s just one – of many ways – to get the creative juices flowing but more so, they are an excellent tool to use when you have no current project in the works.

If you are like me, then writing prompts may serve you as well.

For I – way too often – neglect to “write” until I have a pretty good idea of its shape, tone, plot, etc. already fixed in my head.  I don’t necessarily have to have it fully formed; there’s plenty that works its way out once the actual writing begins, but still – I need it rooted.  Until that happens, I find that I read a whole lot of books and journal aplenty, waiting for that moment of magic when inspiration strikes.

It’s pretty silly, I know.  And unproductive.  This I know too.

So writing prompts are a sort of bridge.  And if I’m very lucky?  I can sometimes find the seed for a longer story — bonus!

Types of Writing Prompts

The simplest form of writing prompt requires no forethought – just a quick sentence or two to place atop the blank page sitting before you.  This type of writing prompt is more of an adventure than an exercise, because you as the writer have no idea where the story will take you, until it does.

Here are some examples:

  • You, a grown adult, are afraid of the dark.  Explain why this is a legitimate concern, so friends won’t laugh at you.
  • Rewrite the Gettysburg Address for today’s audience.
  • A soldier is about to embark upon a mission that she knows will kill her.

These prompts came from the book:  “642 Things to Write About” by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.  However, there are many other books and resources from which to choose.  A simple Internet search should net you plenty.

The next type of writing prompt is more of an exercise since it targets specific areas of the actual craft of writing in which to practice.

For example:  Scene.  Pull all elements of fiction into the event of a scene – POV, dialogue, character, setting, plot.

“Write a persecution scene.  Is your character being followed?  Keep suspense building.  Use scary images if character is scared.  Work a basic nightmare that most readers can relate to.”

This prompt came from a creative writing workshop.  At the end of each class, we would be given a writing prompt and about 15 minutes to write.  It didn’t take long for my initial fear of the empty page to quickly disappear.

Sometimes, you can get lucky too.  In one such class we were instructed to write a scene using a cemetery as its setting.  I ended up turning the results of that exercise into a ghost story.

I wrote about a widowed woman, clinging so tightly to the memory of her beloved that his spirit was bound, haunting her, until she ultimately found the strength to say goodbye.

Lastly, this type of writing prompt is best illustrated by Sarah Addison Allen.

Although I’m partial since #1 – magical realism is my favorite genre, and #2 – I love all her works, especially Sarah’s “Garden Spells”, which remains at the top of my list.

Every Sunday, Sarah posts a Facebook writing prompt and encourages folks to continue the tale in the comment section of her posts.  She calls it “Short Short Story Sunday”.

Each post is also accompanied by a picture, which in and of itself can be a writing prompt too.  Sometimes her prompt is so wonderful, I wish she would turn it into another book herself, like the one she posted on March 19th:

“The Help Wanted sign in the window of The Imaginary Gift Shoppe read: “Apply within if you remember the name of your first imaginary playmate.”

All of Brinley’s friends had gotten jobs at clothing stores in the mall that summer — at Abercrombie & Fitch and J.Crew and American Eagle. Well, all except Leo, who was working at Cinnabon. He was going to smell like vanilla icing constantly now, which he rather liked, though his girlfriend Reagan had sneered and said bees were going to chase him all summer.

The gift shoppe was an unassuming storefront in an otherwise abandoned Art Deco building across from the downtown library. Brinley would eye it curiously every week she checked out books, sometimes twice a week if she’d hit a good reading stride. If she could get this job, her parents would get off her back about doing something constructive this summer, plus she would be near the sanctuary of the library, which wasn’t taking applications (she’d asked).

She walked into the gift shoppe, which smelled like strawberry licorice and incense, and had carved shelves piled high with pottery face jugs, crystals, retro toys and colorful gossamer scarves tied to every available hook. There was solid wooden door behind the desk with a gold plaque that read: Tea Room Courtyard. Membership Required.

The woman behind the desk had hair so stiff and blond it looked like pulled sugar artwork on top of a cake. Her gooseberry eyes were keen and blue, surrounded by a roadmap of fine wrinkles.

“I’m here about the job,” Brinley said, hugging her library books to her chest.

The woman looked her over carefully. “And the name of your first imaginary playmate?” She asked, like she was asking for a reference.

Brinley felt a little foolish bringing him up. Truth be told, she hadn’t even liked him that much. “His name was Limp-Along Louie.”

“I’ll be right back,” the woman said. She opened the door to the courtyard and Brinley could have sworn she saw cups and teapots and plates of cookies floating in the air above dark Moroccon tables before the door closed. Brinley frowned and looked around the shop more carefully, wondering exactly what this place was.

“Good news!” The woman appeared behind the desk again. “He remembers you. Can you start today?”

Brinley suddenly wondered what she’d gotten herself into.


Some Sundays I post a short, short story about a random photo. Feel free to continue the tale in the comments!

I don’t know about you, but this short-short story simply whets my appetite to know more!

Happy writing, my friends.

Spring Equinox Celebration

Monday is the Vernal equinox, when night and day become equal.  Or more commonly known as the first *official* day of spring!

And oh how welcome it is, especially after the dark bitter months of winter.  My soul cries to hear birdsong once again and greet the returning robins to my yard.  As the light increases and the temperatures warm, I await the arrival of our titmouse who long ago claimed “my” trees as his domain, and my husband as his favorite buddy who keeps the feeders filled with seed.  I long to see the daffodils and forsythias dot the landscape in yellow splendour, and cherry trees erupt in a froth of flowery plumes.

But the Vernal equinox didn’t mean much to my younger self because in upstate New York, Easter was synonymous with spring.

So the equinox would come and go with nary but a fleeting thought.  Why?  Because most likely, there was still four feet of snow outside our windows.  In fact, even a month later, when the Easter Bunny arrived with colorful eggs and bright baskets filled with delectable treats, there could still be snow in the forecast.

I remember one year, we had an ice storm on Easter Sunday itself and afterwards, the whole countryside sparkled like jewels in the sunlight.  I can still see my young self, enchanted by the ice coated leaves of the mountain laurel blanketing the hillside next to our house.  I crunched through the crusted snow and gingerly detached the ice from a glossy green leaf, careful to keep it whole, marveling at the ice-leaf before plopping it into my mouth and relishing its clean, icy goodness melting against the roof of mouth.

I loved Easter.

I loved it so much, my Dad continued to *surprise* me with an Easter basket every year, all the way up to the age of sixteen.

It’s only now as adult that I realize it wasn’t so much about the trimmings of Easter that sparked my young heart into joyous fire.  It was the fact that it meant the return of spring.  The return of life to all of nature.  It was baby chicks and bunny rabbits, flowers and sunshine.  There was nothing more wonderful then spending an afternoon dyeing hard-boiled eggs into an array of pastel colors and fanciful design.

For what can be more symbolic of rebirth, than an egg?

But I now live in the mid-Atlantic.  And the return of spring does arrive on the Vernal equinox.

So today, I’ll be hosting my annual Spring celebration with a few close friends, and include all of the symbolic goodness Easter.

Happy Vernal Equinox!  Blessed Ostara! Welcome spring.


Snow Heralds in the Spring





“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.'”

~Lewis Carroll



There’s a full moon tonight, and a weather advisory for the Northeast and Midatlantic.

Snow will start falling tomorrow, and keep falling through early this week until it lays a thick quilt across our land – up to 12 inches thick – so say the weather soothsayers.

It’s been an unusual winter for the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.

February is usually our coldest month and sports the heaviest of our snowfall.  But this year?  We saw nary but a few spartan flakes.  Temperatures rose to 70 degrees, warming the land and softening the earth, then cooled again, on and off, just like we would expect it to, had it actually been Spring.

Museum of Shenandoah Valley

But the Spring Equinox doesn’t occur until next week, March 20th to be precise.

Yet the wild Cherry trees and Bradford Pears are in full bloom.  Blue-violet crocus’ and buttered daffodils cheerfully raised their showy heads, while the forsythias donned golden yellow dresses enticing trees, everywhere, to cast forth buds.  Robins once again dot the lawns and song birds are caroling with glee.

So I guess it’s not just me.  Nature must have been fooled too.

Silly us — thinking that Persephone had returned early from the dark underworld.  For how else does the earth awaken into leaf and bloom, but from Persephone’s joyous reunion with Demeter, goddess of the harvest.

But Mother Nature roared, as she is sometimes wont to do.  “Not so quick, my darlings.”

And thus, nearly one week prior to the Vernal Equinox, we will have the first snows of winter arriving enforce, to herald in our Spring.

So as is custom – stores are packed to capacity with last minute shoppers buying milk and bread.  Snow shovels and rock salt are being brought back out from early storage.  And seed catalogs perch next to armchairs as firewood gets stacked next to the hearth.

It was hard to shake off the lethargy of winter.  I felt like a hothouse bulb forced into bloom, out of sequence of natural time.  But I had rallied and began spring-time activities, awakening in due course.  And BAM!

Now I must put all the frenetic energy I spooled into being, back on hold.

The hearth has been laid.  The house is prepared.  Hatches have been battened down.  Let it snow, let it snow, let snow.

Charles Town, WV


The delights of making homemade BUTTER

Ever since I first spied an old butter churn in my parent’s antique shop, I’ve wanted to make my own butter.

I remember that churn distinctly.  I was perhaps 12 years old, and I would gingerly turn the crank handle and imagine the metal paddles spinning through waves of thick cream.  From where does such desire spring?

Antique Butter Churn
Antique Butter Churn

My young eyes saw magic.

Whereupon my parents scratched their heads, bewildered that I would be interested in such things.  In the end, the churn got sold – and here I am, 40 years later still remembering that churn with a sense of loss.

And yet in all that time, after living a life devoted to the old ways, and growing a steady repertoire of ye ole home arts, I find it remarkable that butter-making has eluded my grasp — until now!

In searching for the perfect birthday present, my husband – unaware of my childhood whimsy – remembered my delight last summer, when we visited The Peter Burr House and not only witnessed a butter-making exhibition but got to taste it, spread across a piece of freshly baked, heritage bread, still warm from the brick, outdoor oven.

Voila!  My husband devised the perfect birthday present.  Yet again.  He has a special knack for finding me the PERFECT birthday present every year.  Yes, indeedy.  I’m a lucky woman.

Kilner Butter kit: Churn, paddles, and glass dish

Thus to my utmost delight, my husband bought me everything I would need to make my own homemade butter – including the cream!

Knowing my predilection for pure ingredients, he had arranged for “home-delivery” (just like the good ole’ days) and ordered one gallon of of fresh, non-homogenized, whole milk from a local farm that raises only the happiest of happy Guernsey cows.  These cows can often be seen lazily grazing in sun-drenched fields, sporting glossy black & white coats, with never a need for things like hormone injections or antibiotics.

The kit came with simple instructions.  However I felt they cheated just a bit by calling for a carton of heavy whipping cream … which my husband supplied too.  “Just in case,” he said.

“Just in case?” I slowly turned the carton of cream, my nose puckering a teeny, tiny bit.  “But this cream won’t be from HAPPY cows.”  My hubby, long accustomed to my idiosyncrasies, merely shrugged his shoulders.

The instructions stated that it would take 10 oz of cream (regardless of source) to yield about 4 oz of butter – basically, the equivalent of one stick of butter.  I had no idea how much cream could be extracted from one gallon of whole milk but I was willing to find out.

Separating Cream from Milk
Separate Cream from Milk
Happy Cow Cream
Room Temp. Cream

Eagerly anticipating the delivery of happy-cow milk, I searched the windows until I saw an unfamiliar car turn into our drive.

The milk had arrived!  Neither snow nor rain nor heat ….

I ran out into the rain and greeted our friendly, neighborhood milk-lady, grinning madly and chattering about my birthday butter churn.

I had everything I needed.  BUT first things first.  I had to separate the cream from the milk.

I poured the 2 half gallon containers of whole milk into a glass gallon-jar with a spigot and left it to sit still so the cream could rise to the top.

Twenty-four hours later, I carefully ladled the cream into another jar — barely amounting to 10 oz worth of cream.  Hmmmm.  It didn’t seem like much, given all that milk.  Maybe I shouldn’t have refrigerated the milk?

Luckily, my husband is a smart man – and I invoked the “just in case” clause of my gift, regarding a certain carton of heavy whipping cream.

So I added 10 oz of store-bought cream to the 10 oz of happy-cow cream already waiting in the glass butter-churn and let it rest on my counter until it reached room temperature – which in my case, lasted for about two hours, because I went shopping at Aldi’s for a large, round loaf of Pane Turano Italian Bread.  Its mission?  To serve as the perfect showcase for my highly anticipated, soon-to-be, newly formed, fresh churned butter.

*Important Note*  The cream must be brought to room temperature before you start churning, otherwise, it won’t properly form into butter and you’ll end up churning for a LOT longer than necessary, all the while wondering why the cream isn’t magically turning into butter.  Ask me how I know this…

Churn, Churn, Churn
Churn, Churn, Churn


Returning home, bread in hand, I duly turned my attention back to the room temperature cream sitting idle in my butter churn.  It was “time to make the donuts” — ahem, butter.

I had always envisioned butter churning as a chore, requiring long hours of hard labor.  Of course, my only prior knowledge had been via pictures in books or film that most often showed pre-Victorian era women-folk sitting beside a large wooden, barrel-like urn continuously working a plunger that paddled its way through gallons of cream.

But come to find out?  Churning was easy!  And surprisingly fast too.

10 minute Butter!
10 minute Butter!

I turned 20 oz of cream into 8.5 oz of butter in less than 10 minutes of actual churning.

But I didn’t know what to expect at first go, so I brought the whole apparatus into the comforts of my living room and – unlike the days of old – there I sat in cushioned splendor, churning to the tune of a favorite T.V. episode of Supernatural.

In a span of only 3 – 5 minutes, the cream became frothy.

I giggled with glee, just like a little kid who wakes up on Christmas morning.  I continued to crank the handle, admittedly a bit faster than was necessary, but I couldn’t contain my excitement.  Magic was unfolding.

A couple minutes later, the churn paddles glugged as liquid began to turn solid.  They spun stiffly, pressing bits of butter en masse against the glass walls.  I continued to churn.  Within a few short moments, the whole glob of butter released its grip against the glass and clung to the paddles, now spinning freely in the remaining milk -which incidentally, is called “butter milk”.

Pour off buttermilk into separate jar
Pour off the buttermilk into separate jar

With the churning done, I poured off the butter milk into a quart-sized canning jar — I’ll use that later for making scrumptious buttermilk pancakes, biscuits, scones, etc. — and scooped the butter into a large ceramic dish.

Before shaping the butter into a stick, bar, or other form, it’s important to “wash” any remaining buttermilk from the butter – otherwise, it will turn the flavor bitter and reduce shelf-life.

It’s takes three washing’s, and I found that using ice water worked best.

I poured water over the butter, about 1/2 – 2/3 cup each time, and used the two wooden paddles to work the butter, squeezing and pushing out any remaining butter milk until the water became milky in color.  I then poured off/discarded the water, and repeated the whole rinsing process two more times.

Rinse the Butter
Rinse the Butter with cold water

And presto.  A perfect ball of fresh butter!

At this point, I could have flavored the butter in a variety of ways but I chose to keep my first batch simple and mixed in just a pinch of salt (I used canning salt due to its fine texture, but I could have used any salt).

Mix in a pinch of salt
Mix in a pinch of salt

The last step is shaping.

Again the choices are many, but since my kit included a perfectly sized glass butter dish, I molded the butter into a rectangular shape.  I also found that refrigerating the molded butter made it easier to later move to its final resting place – the table top, butter dish.

Shape the Butter
Shape the Butter
 Shape the Butter
Transfer to Butter Dish




The whole process from beginning to end – including cleanup – took less than half an hour.  Not bad for a first timer.  Hereafter I’m sure I’ll find ways to streamline the process, becoming more efficient – and adventurous too.

I have dreams of elegantly shaped butter pats wrapped as gifts to friends, or delicately flavored butters in pretty jars encircled with colorful ribbons.  My herb garden sings with possibilities – try me, taste this.   The choices are limitless.

But for now?  I’m quite content with my first 8.5 oz. of freshly, churned butter.

With that said, I must bid you adieu.  There is a large, crusty slice of Pane Turano that is waiting to be buttered – and I call first dibs.

 Look 'Ma. It's Butter!
Look ‘Ma. It’s Butter!

17th Century Wisdom

dr-seussAccording to Dr. Seuss – love is defined when one person’s weirdness is compatible with that of another’s.

That’s one way of putting it…but how do we define weirdness?

Is Aunt Tilly’s predilection for hosting tea parties with garden gnomes as guests – weird?  Maybe so.

But Uncle Walter doesn’t care one way or the other.  He only sees that it makes Aunt Tilly happy, and so, works extra hard to make their garden a beautiful spot for her to enjoy her tea.

I would argue it’s more about matching someone’s perception of reality.

My perception of someone else’s weirdness is colored through the lense of my own experience, thoughts, feelings in the same way that ten different witnesses to the same crime can report conflicting observations.   Our perceptions, the things we “see”, are unique to each of us.

This fact is further complicated by those folks who fool themselves into creating a reality that doesn’t really exist – refusing to see anything other than what they want to see.

It is no small wonder why the human race is at such odds with one another.  So many opinions…and each thinks the other is wrong – haters hate, lovers love – blinded by a perceived reality of their own design.


Maybe we should take a page out of some 17th century wisdom.

In 1623, John Donne wrote Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (Meditation XVII) in which he is famous for two quotes:


“For whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…No man is an island, entire of itself”

But what do these phrases actually mean and how does it apply to us today?

John Donne is referring to the human condition.

For whom the bell tolls – signifies an individual’s death.

News flash – we all die, every single one us.  But Donne tells us that each death offers valuable lessons, if only we can properly understand, if we have eyes that can “see”.   He speaks about hardships as blessings.  Because it is mostly through tribulation that people grow as individuals, expanding their consciousness, learning and gaining new insight.  According to Donne, these are the things in life that are more valuable than gold.

No man is an island – refers to the fact that each of us are pieces to the whole of mankind.  Thus every death holds meaning because we all share the human condition.  In other words, whatever happens to our neighbor – can happen to us too.  Does the bell toll for you?  Or for someone else?

Take a moment and endeavor to see reality through someone else’s eyes.  Who knows?  Maybe, just maybe, your perception will expand and possibly change.

And if not?  No matter.  You will, at the very least, have gained insight into another’s definition of “weird”.




Film-Noir Inspired Fiction

Humphrey Bogart…  What can I say?  He makes me want to swoon.

Humphrey Bogart - Casablanca, 1942
Humphrey Bogart – Casablanca, 1942

As such, I’m a big fan of 1940’s movies, particularly those labelled (after the fact) “Film Noir”, described on Google as:

“a style or genre of cinematographic film marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace. The term was originally applied (by a group of French critics) to American thriller or detective films made in the period 1944–54 and to the work of directors such as Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, and Billy Wilder.”

The past can always be romanticized, and for me – the 1940’s films exemplify a bygone era of style and class, when men wore fedoras and women silk stockings.  It was a time when polite society dictated manners, grace, and etiquette.  There were no computers or cell phones.  Detectives had to call for back up from pay phones and information gathering was done the old-fashioned way – questioning people face to face.

However, lest anyone misunderstand my ‘wistful’ tone, I wouldn’t want to actually live in the 1940’s – no more than I would the 1840’s.  To enjoy ‘historical’ fiction, one must temporarily put aside the reality of the times (like social injustice) in the spirit of entertainment — just like we do when attending a Renaissance Festival (let’s face it, the reality of medieval Europe was no picnic, but it sure is fun to dress up as a wench or knight, drink mead, eat turkey legs, and watch ye ‘ole jousting tournament).

It was while watching TCM movies one day… ok, gorging myself on a marathon of 1940 black & white oldies, when inspiration struck.

Months earlier, I had been invited to participate in a new writing project, in collaboration with a group of fellow writers, to write a book with “short-story” chapters that shared a common theme and set of circumstances.  YET — maddeningly — my creative muse had fled the building and remained missing in action.  I had only a general idea for my story, missing key details like plot line, point of view, tone, and voice.

But thanks to Humphrey Bogart, my germ of an idea sparked into flame, and within a few short days, I had a completed story.  My muse had returned in full glory…

The book is about to enter its editing phase next month, so the following is subject to change.  Here’s the opening scene to my “chapter”:

Evelyn Smythe

          Retired detective Sean Malone absently sipped the seltzer brought to him by Nurse Flechette and watched the stormy procession of Ravenwood’s newest inductee from his perch beside the parlor room windows.  The boorish tittering of the old ladies having their afternoon tea faded as his attention was drawn to the tallish woman marching up the Manor’s stone walkway.  He maneuvered his wheel chair for a closer view, feigning nonchalance lest he betray his interest to the resident gossips, and took note of the woman’s clenched teeth, tilted chin, and stiff back.  She was accompanied on one side by a long-haired woman whose pinched face looked as if she was sucking on lemons and on the other by a well-dressed man scurrying to keep pace and talking non-stop like a lawyer arguing a case.

As the troupe drew closer, Sean’s pulse quickened.  This was no common resident.  She wore a tailored suit that accentuated a trim figure, in the same tawny shade of her loose, shoulder length hair.  The woman moved with such grace that it was like watching a gazelle in stride.  But it was the sharp intelligence in her honey brown eyes that captivated him.  This was a lady that could rule kingdoms.  What on earth did she need an old folks home for, he wondered.  True, Ravenwood was as classy a place as they came, a marvel that he found himself spending his last days in such a place, but still, she seemed much too young.  In fact, she didn’t look a day over fifty.  And given her vigorous parade up the flagstone steps, she looked to be in the peak of health.

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine…”.  Humphrey Bogart’s voice echoed in Sean’s memory.  A warning perhaps?  Or was something awakening.  He felt the dull shroud of medicine bottles, patronizing nurses, and murky sunshine begin to lift, it was like a brisk autumn wind stirring layers of dust from his dormant senses.  Call it professional intuition if you will, or the by-product of experience gained from a life-long career, but the street-smarts he thought long since dead were making a grand return entrance.  He couldn’t deny his immediate gut response to this striking, self-possessed woman approaching the house.  Sean’s lips absently sought the ghost of his time-honored cigar.

More to follow once the book is published.  Suffice it to say for now, I borrowed on the Film Noir genre’s “mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace” to tell a very modern story.