Saturday, April 28, 2012

Intaglios-Learning to Read Road Sign Etchings

 “Intaglio are techniques in art in which an image is created by cutting, carving or engraving into a flat surface and may also refer to objects made using these techniques.”  Wikipedia

"Mythological symbols touch and exhilarate centers of life beyond the reach of reason and coercion.... The first function of mythology is to reconcile waking consciousness to the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of this universe as it is." Joseph Campbell

Whenever I see the Hermit, I think of all the “ah ha” moments that I’ve been alerted to turn right now, cautioned to look more closely and grow here, or warned to make a U turn on my spiritual journey.  As I glance at the picture, the Hermit is holding up a lantern and to me is lighting my way back to Motherfather Spirit. But, there is something deeper going on. The Hermit is not only exposing the familiar stop signs, but also the ancient mythological symbols that many cultures and belief systems have left for us. Joseph Campbell would say the Hermit is shining a light into our collective human subconscious revealing myths and symbols that help us to understand how life works.

I studied tarot with Marti Sinclair in Columbus in the late 1980s. I liked how she compared what’s going on in the tarot cards by observing children’s movies. For example, understanding the differences in what an 8 year old sees in Mary Poppins versus an adult. To that 8 year old self, the movie is an entertaining and has many catchy tunes: Chim Chim Cheree or Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  However, there is another layer that is revealed in that film as the adult. The eight year old surely didn’t catch political messages regarding women’s suffragette and working class versus wealthy class during the Edwardian era. Same is true with the tarot deck. There are other signs and symbols appearing in the pictures that are overlooked by the novice. Yes, it’s easy to memorize the traditional card meanings, but adding the other nuances brings with it other layers in meaning.

Gotland Rune Stone
Marti’s class has led me on an adventure to read and understand signs and symbols the ancient ones left. On vacation, I feel a lot like Dan Brown character or Indian Jones who’s interest lies in understanding religious iconology and symbology. Last summer my adventure put me in front of Denmark’s Jelling Stones and Gotland’s Rune Stones.

Triangle and Triquetra
“Three – two get together and give birth to three, a new circle or Universal egg of Maiden, Mother and Crone.”  Shekhina Mountainwater (Stein, Diane The Women’s Book of Spirituality. Llewellyn Publication, St. Paul Minnesota. 1989. 205)

The triangle is one of those symbols for me.  It alerts me to: coorperation and harmony.  It asks am I disconnected from creation or Motherfather spirit? 

Look closely at the Hermit’s lamp light you see a six pointed star. The star is made of two triangles. Some would say that the star represents a balance between male and female energy. Meaning the triangle with its point at the top represents male energy and the triangle pointing down female energy. In many traditions, the triangle symbolizes a balance between mind, body and spirit; past, present and future; or aspects of a triune God or Goddess. The triangle pattern is seen in the pyramids of ancient Egypt or etched in a symbol pattern to awake the Celtic dragon. The ancients (i.e., Sematic people, Greek, Phoenician, Early Christian Church) believed the triangle to be the symbol of a doorway between earth and the heavens.

So going into a church and seeing the dove (i.e., Goddess aspect) within a triangle puts a whole new spin on things.

In the Celtic tradition, the trinity knot is another form of the triangle.  It is a design that is unending.  The design can be found on ancient crosses and stones throughout Ireland.  It can also be found in the Book of Kells. 

The Celtic triquetra knot reminds me that we are all interconnected.  That there is an unending love between Motherfather Spirit and creation.  It reminds me I need to do my part to keep the circle strong. 

Sew your own triquetra

Copyright BEM
Materials needed:
6” x 55” piece of fleece
Sewing Machine

Fold over right sides together and pin.
Sew ¼” seam.
Turn tube so that the right sides are out.
Stuff (I used a ruler to help with the stuffing)
Fold into triquetra knot and sew ends together.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Moonville Tunnel
The October day is sunny. “A perfect fall day,” we’d say in Columbus. The Sugar Maples are scarlet, burnt orange and lemon yellow. They vibrate against the cloudless sky. T and I pull our two teens away from the Xbox-360 to hike in Zaleski State Park down in Vinton County. The hiking trail snakes around Raccoon Creek towards Moonville Tunnel and its numerous ghost stories.

The boys complain: “There aren’t any ghosts. I could be doing better things,” then toss the football back and forth along the path.

I ignore them and enjoy the time outside and kick up the big-as-my-face Sycamore leaves. My stomach tightens and twists like when I ride on rollercoasters as we climb up the hill towards the tunnel. My inner critic asks: “What possessed you to actively seek out ghosts? Are you out of your fucking mind?”

We approach the tunnel’s west side entrance. I sniff. No hints of the legendry lavender lady, only the smell of human urine. The tunnel’s entrance also lacks the skull shape mist and the shadow of Frank Lawless the headless brakeman carrying a lamp, both images can be found on countless internet sites. I’d read many witness accounts claiming to have seen them during the daylight hours and on moonless nights. I sigh in relief, and begin walking through the cool tunnel.

The tunnel walls are spray-painted with past visitor’s initials, cartoon cats and various skulls. I reach the center. It’s much cooler and darker than outside. There’s burnt firewood scattered within a stone circle. My father-in-law, W.S., a regional rail historian had ridden the last passenger train through this tunnel. He didn’t remember seeing any ghosts, but he did explain how the tunnels were hand-dug to fit the width of the train. “It [tunnel] was made before dynamite – before 1867.” He went on to talk about how people would use the tunnel as a short cut rather than going over the hill. If you were in a tunnel like Moonville when a train was coming at 55 miles per hour - you had nowhere to go. “A lot of people were killed taking a chance,” W.S. said.

I get to the other side of the tunnel the critic mocks: “And you were afraid after watching that crap on Youtube?”

 I e-mail Michelle Duke, co-founder of Southeast OhioParanormal Investigators (SEOPI) when I get home. I ask about her experience at Moonville Tunnel. She writes back: “We were not able to capture anything on film. As far as EVP (electronic voice phenomena) I did catch one thing that sounded like a scream but I had to discount it since there were other hikers out that day.”  SEOPI wasn’t able to show “conclusive evidence of paranormal” activity that day.  Michelle writes that this didn’t mean it, Moonville Tunnel, wasn’t haunted.


In 2005, steely sheets blanketed the sky barely letting in any sun for me. I’d kissed death and survived an ectopic pregnancy. But for what? My feelings sent me searching for answers, but, I was met with roadblocks. The women in my office who were pregnant or trying to be quarantined me to my cubicle as if I carried a miscarriage virus. Some of my family minimized my experience, cutting me off saying: “It happens all the time – it’s no big deal.” Forlorn, Dante words spoke to me: “I went astray/from the straight road and woke to find myself/alone in a dark woods.”   I’d felt alone with no idea how to integrate this experience into my life. Rather than face it; I buried it and stopped writing and doing anything creative. But it was there like a banshee wailing not to be forgotten.   Telling me: “See I told you.  You aren’t a writer.”


Nettie Morse taught a creativity circle that used Julia Cameron the Artist’s Way. In her grandmotherly way, she prodded me to get back up on my feet and to pick up the pen again. Her weekly assignments modeled Cameron’s: three journal pages of longhand, a daily walk and a trip to a gallery. The first week’s assignment is still imprinted on my memories.  It was a Cameron exercise.  We were to write a whole journal page filled with: “I_____(name) am a brilliant and prolific poet.”   Nettie asked us to jot down on the other side of the journal what happened as we wrote that sentence.

The blank page of twenty-four lines stared back at me. I wrote up to the word brilliant. From within me, I heard a voice snort: “Yea, Right” sounding a lot like Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining. I tentatively finished the sentence. I wrote the sentence again. The voice repeated its nasty remark and added: “You can’t spell… Your ideas are weird… Write? Didn’t you have to take English summer school because of a D+ in 7th grade?” Cameron calls this voice the inner critic. I called it a ghost who appeared every time I wrote that sentence; it ceaselessly recited the same comments unbroken.  It was ceaseless in trying to stop me from completing my homework assignment.

The next meeting we each described our experiences of the inner critic. She says these ghostly voices are sent to disempower us from our creativity – all writers have them.  She listed them off: Ann Lamott, Joyce Carol Oats and Stephan King… They were gremlins with sharp pointy teeth whose job are to stop writers from reaching their full potential. I groaned at the following week’s assignment. She asked us to face these ghouls by triggering them with that same sentence in order to find out where they came from. She reminded us of Luke Skywalker in Empire Strikes Back when he entered the cave. He managed to tame his fear, fight the shadow figure and come out unscathed. For me, I discovered these hauntings were old recordings from the people around me: teachers, friends, family and several old boy friends.


I met Michelle, Tom Robson and Wesley Shook at Papa Chuck’s (Historic Guthrie Granger House) in Zanesville for the SEOPI monthly supper meeting. We sit around a table drinking soda and coffee afterwards. The rain pounds against the window, occasionally the sky lights up. Michelle tells me Papa Chuck’s is haunted. The night has a Poe like feel, perhaps mourning the fifty-six exotic animals that law enforcement officers were forced to kill the day before. Their owner had set them free to roam in a residential area; then abruptly committed suicide. I’d overheard one of SEOPI‟s new candidates; a deputy sheriff described her sadness for having to kill two lions, “two beautiful creatures.”

“Have you ever been afraid?” I ask Michelle.

“Yes, I have.” The table creaks as she leans forward. “It doesn’t happen often, because we’ve done it so much.” She describes investigating a bedroom closet at a Newark home. “I was sitting there and something came from behind me. What it felt like was a razor blade going down my neck. I was basically out of the room in two steps.” Michelle points to her neck where the reddened scratches had been. Tom indicates that he too had been scratched in another room simultaneously.

“Did I go back and face it – yeah, after I got myself recomposed. It just scared me for the moment.” She smiles and touches her charmed necklace.

“Has anyone else been touched?”

“Yeah.” Wesley says looking up from the computer screen. “The Licking County Jail.”

“It’s on our website.” Michelle says.

“We were walking on an EVP session.” He continues. “There were three of us. Two who work as corrections officers in real life and me an agent from the “Geek Squad,” (Best Buy) I’m the one who’s getting scratched versus the officers.”

Michelle and Tom had met at the police department where they work. They found out each had an interest in the paranormal. SEOPI was founded and they began to investigate. Tom tells me that Wesley “brings the tech” to SEOPI with his background in electrical engineering. They describe how they collect evidence and document their investigation. It reminds me of crime scene investigative protocols. Michelle assures me that the team does its best to “provide the evidence” to clients who are “seeking validation.”

“They contact us out of desperation,” Tom says. “They can’t tell their claims to other people. Because they’re afraid their family will think they’re crazy or something like that.” He smiles and folds his arms across his big chest. “Most the time, I think they’re looking for somebody to understand and feel their experience.”

“Our job is to help people.” Michelle says.

“My main task is to make is to make a family feel more comfortable and better in their home...”

"And not feel afraid anymore.” Michelle interrupts Tom. “Because, a lot of families contact us are afraid.”

“The last one,” Tom says. “Nobody was sleeping in their bedrooms except the parents. They were all sleeping in one room. You got a nice big house you’re living in…”

“A brand new house there’s no excuse.” Michelle adds. “It isn’t one of those old rickety one, the one you picture as a haunted house. This was a brand new house, five years old. We brought in Christy, a psychic who can actually clear a room or a house – which is to get rid of the spirits or have them move on.” Michelle pushes up her glasses. “Allegedly, we can’t prove it. We can’t say that she’s the one. But it’s working. Even if it’s psychological it works for them. As long as we can get the family to feel better then…”

“Gives them a piece of mind then,” Tom pauses. “then I don’t really much care.”

I ask what they thought of ghosts and spirits.

Tom stands and stretches and begins telling me about two types of hauntings. “There’s a residual haunting - basically what it is - is imprinted energy on the structure or the land. It plays over and over again. The residual haunting knows that you’re there and it just repeats itself.”

“It’s like your tape recorder and pushing play, and [it’s] playing what we just said.” Michelle says.

“You’re playing recorded voices over and over again.”

“The other one is the intelligent hauntings.” Tom says. “It hears you and sees you. If you ask it to make the EMF (electromagnetic field) detector light up, it does.”

“It interacts with you.” Wesley pipes in.

“We use trigger objects.” Michelle says. “Like when we went to the Captain’s House.” Michelle explains that they had a picture of Captain Jones and they were walking around room to room asking: “Is this you Captain Jones? Is this your picture?” They got an EMF reaction.

“Is there a good and bad intelligent hauntings?”

“Yeah.” Tom says, “It’s no difference in death than from life. There’s people out there to cause you harm. There’s people out there that are not that personable or not that nice. To someone that’s sad. Like the one Wes and I were – well Michelle was there too. We were investigating the Zanesville Theater. And, Wes asked the question.” He looks over to Wes and cues him.

“Is there someone you love still here?”

“And we get a female response back that says, "yes.‟ Tom says. “Now that doesn’t portray emotion, but to me when I hear it. It’s almost like we can hear her in a half whimper. Kinda like she is sad – longs for this person. So yea, there are all kind of different people associated with like in life and in death.”


I drive back to Columbus. It’s raining hard enough to keep my speed down to 50 mph on I-70 west. I’ve that rollercoaster feeling in my stomach after talking two hours about ghosts and spirits. The critic perks up asking: “What the fuck are you going to do with this.”

I take a breath and say nicely: “I guess I’m going to have to take it bird by bird and write a shitty first draft.”

“How Anne Lamott of you.” It replies.

 "I guess you might say that."



Julia’s exercise:

I am (fill in the blank).  Write it 10 times.  Example:  I am a poet.  I am a hiker of the Appalachian Trail.

Journal: Do you hear any voice within?  Where does it come from?  How does the voice stop you from going after your dreams?

Below are additional resources that I have been using to help work with my inner ghost.  I tend to really like how the Buddhists approach ghosts.  Rather than fighting or arguing, they use a ritual of giving the ghost an offering.  They do this with an open heart and with love.  For me this approach seems to work better than my old ways. 

Rituals to feed the hauntings: 
Verbally acknowledge this piece of yourself by:
  • Lighting a candle
  • Lighting incense
  • Deep cleansing breath and saying “all is good.”
  • Create a symbol or word and say it out loud before you begin.  I pull and Angle Card (Findhorn) and offer that word to my inner critic.
Before you buy - 1) see if your library has a copy.  2) If you do buy use an independent book seller first.

Levitt, Peter. Fingerpainting the Moon: Writing andCreativity as a Path to Freedom.  Harmony Books, New York. 2003.

Maisel, Eric. Deep Writing: Seven Principles the BringWriting to Life. Putnam Books. New York. 1999.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

More on Silver Spoons

Very interesting - decided to look up the color meaning of silver 


Moon-goddesses, female energy, cycles, rebirth, reincarnation, healing of hormonal imbalances, 

emotional stability, remove or neutralize negativity, intuition, dreams, psychic abilities and psychic 


Brings a new meaning of using silver spoons at tea time.  

Hospitality and the Sterling Spoons

BEM Copyright
“I saw a stranger last night. I put food in the eating place, drink in the drinking place, music in the listening place, and in the sacred name of the Triune, he blessed myself and my house and my cattle and my dear ones. And the lark said in her song, ‘Often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.’  ~ A Celtic rune of hospitality used by the Iona Community

“God bless the corners of this house and be the lintel blessed: and bless the hearth and bless the board and bless each place of rest; bless each door that opens wide to stranger and to kin; and bless each crystal windowpane that lets the sunshine in.  And bless the rooftree overhead and every sturdy wall.  The peace of man, the peace of God and the Peace of Love to all.” ~ Irish house blessing

For me, the notion of hospitality has been taught to me by friends as an adult.  When I have reflected back on my childhood there seems to be a lot of mixed messages as to what hospitality means.  I’d go to church and hear one message and at home there was another.  Kin were welcomed, but strangers no.  I had this impression that non-family members had to be watched because they may steal something.  Thus, I never really felt comfortable inviting friends over.  I felt like they were being watched and someone was ready to jump out and zap them if they made one false move.

When my Grandma M died my sister and I divided up her silverware.  I chose the assortment of teaspoons and ice teaspoons; my sister took the set.  We both thought it was funny that Grandma had a rather extensive collection of mismatched spoons.

It took over three years to find knives and forks for six of the spoons.  The dealer told me how old those spoons were.  He said they weren’t my Grandma’s but my Great-Grandmother’s.  I told him about how I had this odd assortment of spoons.  He then told my why: 

Sunday’s afternoons were spent going to neighbor’s homes for tea.  There wasn’t TV or Radio back then, people visited, tell stories and have conversations.  I remember him saying: if we were to do one of “the good old days thing” it would be to visit more with neighbors.  Perhaps we wouldn’t live behind a closed doors and empty porches filled with outdoor furniture.

His words seemed to stick.


There are many stories of hospitality that have clung to my heart growing up.  In the Bible, Abraham shares his table with three traveling strangers that turn out to be angels (Gen. 18).  Then there are the Biblical stories about women at the wells.  Rebecca gave Isaac’s servant water at the well (Gen 24); Rachel giving Jacob a cup of water at the well (Gen 29);  Zipporah and her sisters gave the stranger Moses water from the well (Exodus 2); and the Samaritan woman gives Jesus water from the well (John 4).  Then there is the French fairy tale of Diamonds and Toads.

The basic gist of the story, the step daughter who isn’t liked goes to the well and is met by an older beggar woman.  The older woman asks for a cup of water.  The girl treats the woman with kindness and gives her a cup before finishing up her chore.  The woman is actually a fairy disguised and rewards the girl with a blessing: every time she speaks a flower or jewel with fall from her mouth. 

When the girl arrives back home, her step mom is outraged.  She was late.  The girl explains what happened and the flowers and jewels fall from her mouth.  The woman’s outraged because this gift should be for her daughter. 

The woman sends her daughter to the well and tells her to be nice to the stranger.  But, this isn’t in the girls character and her blessing: frogs and lizards.  The step mom is outraged again and banishes the step daughter.  But, not to worry there is a prince in the picture.

(Note: There is a dark side to this story which I won’t dissect.  Meaning the traditional roles of women and what makes a good wife based on French Court)

My liking of this story is based on the principle of hospitality and how we should treat strangers.


I have spent a lot of time studying Celtic Spirituality and is the foundation of how I practice as a CCWWW.  There has been a lot written about the Celtics and Druids’ virtue of welcoming a stranger and hospitality.  It challenges me to open my doors without pre-judgment and without fear that things will be stolen or being taken advantage of.  It’s buying a sandwich or a cup of coffee for the person begging on the street.  It has not been an easy thing to do for me, because it challenges how I was raised.

Thanksgiving has been my opportunity to share this kind of hospitality.  My family has moved away from the sacred grounds of Ohio and I missed the long crowded table of 19 at the farm.  I discovered how many of my friends and acquaintances were eating this meal alone.  When I got married, T and I decided that our Thanksgiving table would be opened to all not just kin.  The meal is an orchestrated pot luck so that not too many carbolicious foods arrive.  The meal is about gratitude and sharing the joys and sorrows of the year.  And Grandma’s spoons are all used.



Afternoon Tea Party for a Circle of Friends

Pepperidge Farm Cookies
Sage bread
Jam cake

Mint tea
Earl Grey

Invite 12 friends, co-workers or aquaintainces and ask them to bring a guest. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Grandparents and Teachers: The wise ones who shaped up part II

Copyright BEM
Honoring My Grandmother – An Essay about her and the farmhouse kitchen

My cousin Liz* instant messaged me: “Are you going to the farm for Thanksgiving?

I type back: “Yes.  We’re coming over Friday.”  I hadn’t talked to her since the Virginia earthquake back in August.

“Would you like to make candy?”

“Sure.  I’ll ask Aunt Shelly if she doesn’t mind and find out what is left in Grandma’s kitchen.”

I called my Aunt between the news and Dancing with the Stars. Aunt Shelly told me that we’d have to bring the cookie sheets and a candy thermometer.  There are only the ‘Air Bake’ pizza pie pans at the farm, which all have holes in them and therefore wouldn’t be too good for pouring the hard candy onto.    Aunt Shelly said we’d need to bring the ingredients.  She then went into the story about the time she and my mom made the candy.  They didn’t use “pure cane sugar” and the candy never got hard.  Apparently, my Grandpap lectured the both of them on the chemical properties of sugar and how not all sugar is sugar.  Bottom line, you must use “pure cane sugar.”  (I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this story.) 


Last Thanksgiving Saturday, I was up early before the remaining fourteen people and two dogs were up.  It’s my favorite time; everything is quiet in this packed two bedroom ranch.  I sat at the kitchen table looking out at the window feeder, waiting for the Mr. Coffee to brew.  The Goldfinches sporting their new gray tweed coats and blacked capped chickadees feasted on the sunflower mixture Uncle Larry had left for them.  Then Tufted Titmouse dive bombed the feeder, scaring away the other birds into the nearby bush.  He came to a halt after skating across the feeder dumping a lot of the seed to the ground with his shenanigans. He looks at me directly then turns his head, modeling a gelled Mohawk look.  The cool royal cardinal holds back, perched on a large flagstone surrounded by dried Echinacea, Salvia and Asters.  He has a stuffy attitude towards the other birds.

I look through the binoculars.  Four white-tailed does begin to cross Mrs. C’s field heading into the wooded border of our property.  The forest is now a patchwork of brown, black and evergreen.  Most of the trees now bare their exposed arms, multiple like Kali.  They wave steadily reaching up into the gray blue skies.  The oak is the last in the forest to cling to its nutmeg leaves.  Something startles the gleaning does.  They look towards the road then gracefully jump to take cover.  I believe they know that hunting season starts Monday.  Those that will survive will have to be persistent hiders.

The birds are back dining when the Mr. Coffee gurgles and sputters.  It sounds more like a person with pneumonia coughing.  I get up to pour myself a cup.


By the time I was thirteen I was an avid reader.  I found that the best time to read at the farm was very early in the morning.  I used to get out of my sleeping bag and go and sit at the kitchen table.  The whole house of seventeen people and two dogs slept away while I read in quiet.  The only sound was the cuckoo clock ticking off the swings of the pendulum.

My Grandma was always the first up.  I could hear her coming.  The pocket doors would roll open and close behind her as she walked through the house.  When she reached the kitchen she would place her hand on my shoulder.  “Beth, dear, you’ll ruin your eyes.”  She’d reach over and turn the light on.  Her slippers would scuff across the floor as she went to plug in the electric percolator.   Then Grandma would sit in the chair next to me and ask what I was reading.  I’d show her.  She’d ask me what it was about.

Grandma was also a book lover.  The L Public Library had her name on the rolodex.  She’d be first in town to read the new books.  Historical novels were her favorites: Jakes, Santmyer, and Herriot.  Thickness of the book didn’t intimidate her.  She liked Mitchener with his long winded descriptions about the history of a place.     

We’d hold hands and I’d trace the veins on the back of her hands.  They were wrinkled, dry and smelling of Jerkins lotion; and she used transparent scotch tape to seal the cracks from washing the dishes, canning apple sauce and flower gardening.  Her thumb was always stained from iodine and a bandage hiding the nail.   She’d tell me she’d split it to the quick again.  And, I should stop biting mine because I was growing into a lady.

Grandma would pour me a glass of milk into a blue aluminum cup and cup of coffee for herself.  She’d bring over toasted slices of her homemade bread with cinnamon apple butter.  Together we’d sit at the table looking out the window until everyone starts getting up.  Mrs. C’ rolling fields are plowed under for the winter.   


Aunt Shelly and my cousin Steve also rise early.    Steve passes by me at the kitchen table watching the birds.  He’s in a hurry to get the dogs out.  Aunt Shelly asks if I want oatmeal for breakfast.  I decline, saying there’s leftover Thanksgiving pie.   She puts the water on for tea and begins cutting up apples telling me about Mary and RJ’s new apartment and Robert driving over from D.C. this afternoon.  I go and cut myself a wedge of Elderberry pie and give it a healthy splash of milk over the top of it.

I’d changed Grandma’s Elderberry pie recipe.  For today’s standards, her filling recipe called for an ungodly amount of sugar, flour, butter and a splash of vinegar.  Whenever I’ve made this pie, my results have been a soggy purple crust mixed with sugared elderberries.  For my next attempt, I read several blogs throughout the fall about cooking with elderberries.  I decided to cut back the amount of sugar and add apples to her recipe.  The apples had acted as a natural pectin, jelling the berry liquid.  Finally, the bottom of the crust was crisp.

Elderberries grow along the tree line of the farm and Mrs. C’s field.  I’d picked them Labor Day weekend, making my way through the tall grass and poison ivy trees.  They’re easy to spot in the spring, but you need a keener eye in the late summer.  In the spring they have large clusters of small white flowers.  Their delicate flowers remind me of Queen Anne’s Lace.  By the late summer they’re hidden by the other trees.  This year the purple berries heavily pulled the tree branches down.  I’d carefully cut only the berries cluster off and put them in a plastic grocery bag.  Grandma would say: “It’s bad luck to cut the elder down” and “take only what you need.”  I never asked her what kind of bad luck.

I eat my new pie mixture sopping the crust up in the milk.  It’s both tart and sweet.  The little berry seeds are crunchy and a little bitter.  They always get stuck in my back teeth.  I pry them out with my fingernail


I used to watch Grandma make pies and loaves of bread.  If we arrived in the early afternoon at the farm, I’d be there to watch her knead the bread dough.  She’d scoop the newly mixed dough onto a flour dusted Tupperware plastic sheet.  Then she’d press her heels into it, letting it fold in half then turn the dough to the right a quarter.  The kitchen table would squeak and groan with her body’s rocking motion.   Grandma would knead it until it was silky and smooth.  She’d gently put the dough into a buttered mixing bowl, butter its top and “put it to sleep for a while” by tenderly covering it with a dampened dish towel on top of the stove.  The whole house became warm and yeasty smelling from the bread baking.  She’d let them cool and then hide the loaves around the kitchen.  This was to ensure there was enough bread in the morning.  She was well aware that certain unnamed family members would sneak into the kitchen to get slices of buttered bread while others were sleeping. 

Grandma was a baker but not a chef.  This was one of the sources of family tension, because she wouldn’t let anyone else cook in her kitchen.  Nor would she consider delegation of chef duties.  When Grandma went to nursing school she learned about trichinosis and e-coli, a fact that heavily influenced her cooking techniques.  Vegetables were overcooked and meat became a form of carefully preserved jerky.  The evening my Dad met my grandparents, he made a great first impression.   In an attempt to cut his meat, he caused the very well done hockey puck to fly across the dining room, thudding into the wall.   I’d try to rehydrate my meat by encapsulating it in mash potatoes and gravy.  Supper would end and I’d still chew a lump like a piece of gum that had long lost its flavor.  Grandma would ask how dinner was, I’d smile.  Then, joining the rest of her eight grandchildren by automatically shaking our heads and in chorus saying: “hmm good.”


My Uncle Jim died in the spring of ’88.  My mother called me at work detailing the funeral arrangements.  They’d meet me at the farm.  That evening I drove from Marion, Ohio to L, PA, arriving after midnight, but the lights were on in the farmhouse kitchen.  Grandma was there to meet me, swinging open the screen door.  She took my bag of groceries: a gallon of milk, cereal and several berry-filled Entenmann’s coffee cakes.  Grandma began hiding the coffee cakes.  I asked why she was doing this.  She replied: “To stop the thieves from coming and taking it during the night.”    I kissed her goodnight and rolled out my sleeping bag in living room.

I woke up hearing a commotion in the kitchen.  Grandma and my Mom were whispering harshly behind the pocket door.  The door rolled open and my Mom came over and shook me.  “Do you know what happened to the coffee cakes?  Your Grandmother thinks they were stolen.”  I got up, tiptoeing around sleeping cousins and went directly to the cabinets to retrieved them.  “Grandma, they weren’t taken.”  I said.    She was sitting at the kitchen table rolling her hands in her lap.    “You hid them.  Remember, because you thought they’d be eaten.”  She came over and took my hand.  Shook her head saying she’d forgotten.  “I’d forget too.  It was late last night.”  It was an excuse covering up the hushed issue discussed by my Mom and her siblings.  Grandma was forgetting a lot lately.  That summer she’d be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.


Back in July, my family and I were at the farm for Aunt Shelly’s outside Americana feast.  The kitchen table was loaded with salads, cut up watermelon and several desserts.  Two pots were on the stove boiling corn-on-the-cob.  Aunt Shelly says: “Your Grandmother would have been 100 this year.  She always liked when the family got together.”

A breeze stirs the curtains from the open window.  I look up from cutting brownies.  Outside my husband is sitting having a beer with my cousins and Uncles, my son plays soccer with his generation and in Mrs. C’s field a Red Tailed hawk circles.

Note: The names have been changed except mine. 


Grandma’s Elderberry Pie Remix

Pie Crust:

Sift together 2 ¼ cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt.  Remove ¼ cup of flour and add to 1/3 cup of water.  Mix until smooth. 

In a food processor add remaining flour mixture and ¾ cups of Crisco.  Pulse until mixture looks like peas.  Add flour water mixture.  Gather together and roll out.  Put one dough sheet in pie pan and the other drape over it and put in refrigerator while you make the filling.


Into a mixing bowl

2/3 cup Elderberries
4-5 peeled, cored and chopped up apples
2 ½ cups Sugar
1 Tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tablespoons of flour
A shake of cinnamon and salt (yes this is what my Grandma says)

Preheat oven 400.  Dump filling into bottom shell.  Dot with pieces of 1 Tablespoon of butter.  Cover with top of pie crust – cut vents.  Bake for 50 minutes.  Put something under the pie – pie will spill over.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday - CCWWW

I always think of this day as both a festive and thoughtful day.  Within a week, people turned against their beloved teacher.  They were willing to nail him to the cross - kill him.  Someone who was a peacemaker and used nonviolence to go against the establishment.  The crowd chose the one who was willing to overthrow Rome with violence. 

Standing back away from the children waving their palms and choirs singing, the day makes me think of how little we have changed as a people. 

I can only pray that we will change.  I can only pray that I wouldn't do the same.  I can only pray - I would stand for peace and have the courage to help turn this ship around.