A New Twist on Cole Slaw

You can never be quite sure what’s going to do well in the garden. Last year I had cucumbers galore, this year not so many. Last year the beets were few and far between, this year lots. I planted both red and green cabbage this year. The reds were so pitiful, I didn’t bother even trying to salvage anything from them. But the greens!

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It’s hard to tell size from this picture, but that head is almost as big as a volleyball.  They don’t come one at a time. I had six at once in June. What do you do with six large heads of green cabbage?

I shredded one head and sautéed it with sliced onion and a little bacon for flavor. A little salt and pepper and 45 minutes on a low flame (covered) makes a very fine side dish. I wrapped three heads carefully and put them in the fridge downstairs. That left two. Cole slaw is nice, I thought, but I am not as wild about using mayonnaise in dressings, and I don’t buy bottled dressings. Vinegar and oil would work, but I wondered about lemon, so I experimented.

I chopped up two heads very fine, added chopped red onion and shredded carrot and made a lemon dressing. Yum! Two heads of cabbage make a lot of cole slaw, so after the meal I packed the remainder in wide-mouth quart-sized mason jars and refrigerated it. I found that the flavors got even better the next day and the next. I gave one jar to my neighbors Jen and Quin, and one to Lincoln and Julia, and they loved it too.

A few weeks later I made more, using the last of the garden heads, and we enjoyed it just the same. That was in August. Today I got a hankering for Lemon Cole Slaw again.

Get yourself a nice head of green cabbage. (It’s very cheap!) Chop it fine. I use my 10-inch chef’s knife, preferring to do it by hand because 1. I control the size of the chop and 2. I get a bit of a workout which makes me feel better about dessert 😊

Start by quartering the head and cutting out the core. Slice like this first:

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Then crossways until it looks like this.

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Certainly you may use a food processor or some other chopping device. I like to add red onion and carrot for both color and flavor. To the one head of cabbage I bought and chopped finely today, I added two finely chopped red onions (each onion was the size of a golf ball) and four small carrots from my garden. Use however much of each as seems reasonable to you. Use a big bowl. The biggest one you have is probably best.

For the dressing, I adapted the sweet-sour dressing I use for Carrot-Raisin Salad from a favorite old (1976) cookbook called Bakery Lane Soup Bowl.

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For the lemon dressing I used 1/3 cup sugar, ½ cup lemon juice, ¼ cup olive oil and salt and pepper to taste (for me that’s about 1 ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper). The salad looks pretty once you mix it all up with the dressing and it tastes light and refreshing.

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We had some for dinner and I put the leftover in one small jar and one large jar. Pack it in tightly! It keeps well stored in the fridge. I can’t say how long, but am guessing a week or so. Mine doesn’t last that long!

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The smaller jar here is special to me because Claudia’s dad makes his own honey on their farm in Betzigau in southern Germany and packs it in these jars. I save the jar of course because it reminds me of him and his wonderful gift to me. This jar is from the honey Claudia brought last year. One time when I was returning from a trip there and had forgotten that even creamed honey is considered a liquid and put it in my carry-on so that I could be more careful with the glass jar (do you see where I’m going!?), I had to watch the airline security official throw it in the trash (!!!!) because it was a “liquid.” “It’s honey!” I told the woman, “It’s like gold to me!” She just threw it in the trash… Moral of this story: Put honey in your checked bag!

If you want to make Carrot-Raisin Salad, peel and shred 2 pounds of carrots and mix with this same dressing only using cider vinegar instead of the lemon juice (same quantity). Mix in a cup of raisins (golden or regular) just before serving. Some people don’t like the raisins, so I usually divide it in half and add raisins to only one of the bowls. If you have leftover of the one with the raisins and you store it in the fridge, the raisins will absorb some of the dressing and be soft and all puffed up the next day. I don’t mind this at all, and it doesn’t hurt anything, just know it will happen.

These salads-in-a-jar are so nice to have on hand. No last-minute salad prep when it’s time for dinner. Oh, look, here’s salad!

 

Inflatables, Ibises and a Swiss Cheese Plant

There are many things in this life that I will never understand. Blow-up lawn ornaments are one of them. Last week while in Lowe’s I could not help but see the selection for sale on the very high upper shelf in the – you got it – lawn care department.

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They have two dragons, one black cat looking evil (as evil as plastic can look), orange-rimmed eyes and something next to the purple dragon on the end that I cannot figure out. On another shelf they have a pumpkin carriage, a black spider (widow, no doubt), a haunted house and a green ghoula monster.

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The one that greets you – just imagine this in your neighbor’s front yard! – is this:

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Every town in America, sometimes every neighborhood, has at least one house with a variety of such “decorations.” It seems that Halloween is strongly vying for the #2 spot behind Christmas, when all manner of inflatable Santas, reindeer, snowmen, grinches, polar bears, nutcrackers, penguins and even nativity sets adorn front yards.

I have decided that I don’t have to understand or even appreciate everything. People have different eyes, different sensitivities, different preferences. Sometimes I go into a store and think: Who buys this stuff? But people do! And it’s not only what people buy. It’s the music they listen to, the foods they eat, the things that strike them as beautiful. It’s what they see, what they like, what they remember, what they want more of.

Some people will not look at Louisa’s gourds and think How beautiful! as I did when I saw them in August still hanging on their vine. Isn’t the shape magnificent? Traditionally, because a gourd’s shell will become as hard as wood, they have been used for bottles, dippers and musical instruments. People paint them, carve into them, display them. I am content and delighted to look at them hanging from a vine.

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Some people will think Coco, the little black pug I get to laugh at every day, is ugly. I did. For a long time. Curiously, I also thought she was cute. I’d say How can a dog be ugly and cute at the same time? But now I don’t think she’s ugly. She wiggled her way into my heart and now I think she’s beautiful. Yes, beautiful! And still cute. I call her Cutie Pie.

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You can put a bunch of pillows on top of her and she will still just look at you like What? Is there a problem here?

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See her in there? She doesn’t care!

You can put her on the rooftop of the chicken coop’s brooding box and she will not care!

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There are a lot of things that strike me that someone else might walk right by. I am drawn to form, pattern, color, character, authenticity and uniqueness with a curiosity that I suspect will never quite be satisfied. Last week this MO was confirmed in Galveston, Texas, at a place called Moody Gardens. Their “rainforest” is a bit imposing from the outside – a tall, glass pyramid amid lots of palm trees (this is not Virginia!).

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Inside I marveled at the patterning on this fish’s back. Do you think every one of its species has a different “fingerprint”? It’s like a maze, like the corn mazes people walk through or the ones in activity books that challenge you to get from Point A to Point B. Do you suppose there’s a way through this one?

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I don’t know what these birds are called, but there they were, right in front of us, looking as perfect as if they had been manufactured in a factory according to detailed specs.

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The shape of the one that sat so still, its distinct all-black and all-white sections so crisply divided, its unblinking eye with no shadowing, no lash, no imperfections – she’s amazing, but she doesn’t know it.

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The gorgeous color of these scarlet ibises is like something off an artist’s palette. What do you even call that color? To me, scarlet isn’t the word you want. But the birds don’t care what you call them.

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They freely walk around, seemingly oblivious to the humans observing their skinny legs, their outstanding posture, their disproportionate beaks. Why do those beaks have to be so long? Perhaps their food lives deep in the mud at the bottom of the pond?

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I have to admit that the color of the palm viper is extraordinary, but I did not stare at it for long. The coils, the gleam, the idea of what it is capable of sent me on my way even though it is behind glass. I think people must be innately repulsed for good reason!

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Onward!

I do not want to be the one who feeds the mantas, but it was quite something to watch! The man who does this has been feeding them for five years! His hand is inside the glass.

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How amazing is the patterning of this branch of the “rain tree”? It grows that way without any help from a computer program! Notice though that it’s not perfect. Some leaves are missing. If a person made this, or a program constructed it, you can bet that all the leaves would be there.

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Seen from below, with the sunlight framing it, this branch is to me even more amazing.

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The Split Leaf Philodendron or “Swiss Cheese Plant” is just plain funny! What reason could there be for the naturally-occurring holes in the leaves? To get more light to the leaves below it?

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On the sign in the lobby at Moody Gardens is a Kenyan proverb that says: Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children.

To me this says more broadly: Keep your perspective. Be careful. Pay attention.

It gets me thinking about what an incredibly diverse and fascinating world we live in. All too often we get caught up in the everyday issues – bills to pay, things that break down, people who disappoint us. We forget to take notice of the miracles all around us all the time. Without our usually noticing it, there’s beauty: someone’s smile, the color of flowers, the rays of sun making speckled shadows. There’s growth: we don’t struggle quite as much with something as we used to, our work yields more satisfaction, our cooking is more delicious than ever! And there are simple and complex systems in every corner of our world that actually, consistently work! The lights go on when we flip the switch, fresh and wonderful food from around the globe is available in our stores, the mail arrives! Much as I will never understand it, even the inflatables in people’s front yards at Halloween and Christmas give (some) people something to smile about.

Besides all this and a thousand other things, there are plants in the world that look like swiss cheese! Just for fun maybe?

Take a moment today to look around and think about what you normally take for granted. You don’t need to make a list (though mine is very long!) but I think if we all spent a bit more time being grateful for what we have instead of lamenting what we don’t have, if we celebrated the good instead of bemoaning the bad, if we channeled our energies toward gratitude and service instead of anger and greed, think what the world would be.

Home is Home Because

When you have been away from home for an afternoon, you don’t necessarily think about how wonderful it is to return to your own space. But when it’s been sixteen days, that’s a different story. It’s wonderful! Maybe it’s even more wonderful when you are away much longer than that, but for now I can speak only to the sixteen-day effect.

I have always felt that your own space – the place you call home – should be a place of peace (as much as is in your power to make it so) and a place of sanctuary, where you can be safe and you can be yourself. It should reflect your personality and preferences, and you should be able to move about easily and be (let’s hope) happy there. I want to think that everyone is kind and welcoming to guests.

It’s fun to see other people’s homes. The ones I was in while away have much in common with mine. They have a place for street shoes just inside the door as I do, well-equipped kitchens, comfortable beds and chairs, a large table for eating together, some soft furniture, a good deal of bright lighting, images of family members on the walls or shelves, overlooked smudges and scuffs and selective disorder (or shall we say less-than-optimal order in certain areas? Just like mine!).

Yet they are all different than mine. Most profoundly, my children’s homes all felt like their homes, not mine. This made me think about what it is about your own home that sets it apart from others. Some things are practical, some harder to pin down.

In your own home, you know where things are. We all have our patterns, our routines. We keep certain things front and center and other things in their designated places because our patterns and routines run more smoothly if we know where things are. You know where the outlets are for plugging in your phone charger. You know where extra soap is to replace the empty one that’s perched at the back of the sink. When my children were little, I had a thing about my scissors. If you need scissors, you need scissors, and nothing else serves. If you need to use my scissors, put them back where you found them.

Yesterday I needed a crowbar at one point. (We all need a crowbar sometimes, right??) Naturally I went to the shed to get one. There are a couple of screws for hanging the crowbars in there. See them, under the blue box?

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Do you see crowbars hanging from them? Neither did I. Being deep (sometimes literally) into the Big Dig (my foundation repair project) as we were yesterday, I groaned, thinking I might have to waste time looking. There are only so many hours of daylight in October, so dammit, where’s the crowbar? Thankfully, when I glanced in the other direction, I found one in the five-gallon bucket that holds a dozen or so random tools like the big loppers. It was the second most logical place to put it if you forgot the right place. Whew! I was spared the frustration.

In your own home, your stuff is familiar. You know what to expect. Fewer surprises are more relaxing. In each household I visited they all drink coffee and/or tea and therefore have something for boiling water. I saw two electric kettles, one stovetop kettle and one Keurig. All of them work, though I am not convinced that the water coming from the Keurig is as hot as it should be. That aside, my own kettle is familiar to me. I can be a bit more on auto-pilot with mine. My muscles know when the weight of it indicates enough water for one cup, two cups or a whole pot of tea. My ears know the sound of it as it gets close to the boiling point. My hands remember how hot the handle can get depending on how much water is in it.

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It is NOT the end of the world to use different water-boiling equipment. It just doesn’t feel like home.

When it comes to tea (and presumably coffee), there is also something about the water itself. Your own water in your own home, whether it comes from a municipal system or straight out of the earth from your well, has its own taste, and you get used to that. When my friend Fred stayed here, he drank tea more than he usually does, and decided he would drink more once he got home. The day before he left, he bought some of the same loose black tea as I have in my house. It tasted different at his house, and the only explanation for that is that his water is different. To get closer to the tea he wanted, he decided to use bottled water. That made it better, though still not quite the same.

In your own home, it smells right. I don’t mean to suggest that other homes smell bad. They don’t. They just smell different. Houses take on smells of the foods prepared there recently (or frequently), of the cleaning products applied there, of the people themselves and the shampoo or cologne they use, of the animals that share the spaces.

Not everyone bakes (imagine!). Not everyone even cooks! But there’s a reason they tell you to have just made a batch of cookies when you are trying to sell your house and have potential buyers coming soon. When there are onions sautéing in butter or fresh bread becoming golden in the oven, or whenever the smells that seem warm and homey and yummy to you are wafting from the kitchen, it’s a kind of embrace that you are drawn into, one that’s hard to resist, one that feels like home.

In your own home, you know the paces and the peculiarities. You know how to navigate regardless of the lighting, how far it is to the bathroom, what flooring is under your feet at what point, what obstacles you might possibly encounter (dog? toys? edge of table?). You know the flow of traffic, where the choke points are and how to avoid them and what’s the best way from Point A to Point B.

The top step of Bradley’s basement staircase has a wider tread than the others. Don’t forget that when you go up or down; it’s a slight adjustment of your footing. The lights in Marie’s living room get turned on by way of a small remote; the first morning when I got up early (still on east coast time), for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to turn the lights on! Drew’s kitchen sink is the oddest shape I’ve ever seen, like a pac-man in the corner, and it doesn’t fit a large pot, so you find another way to clean that pot.

In my house the screen door gets out of whack sometimes. You have to lift it gently but firmly into place every time you go in and out until a good friend (thank you, Sandy!) fixes it. My kitchen countertop is old and white and gets stained, and it sags just a bit over near the stove. The condensation caused by a thawing container of anything sends a slow, predictable ribbon of water toward one corner. It’s better to put thawing things in my sink (until I get a new countertop!).

In your own home, you remember the way it used to be. You have a history with the property, inside and out. You know what was there before. You see changes incrementally. Marie just got new windows in several rooms. They are very nice, but I don’t remember the old ones. She does and is so happy they are gone. Bradley gutted his house before they moved in, moved all the rooms around, creating a new floor plan. Beth did all the electrical work. If you knew the house before, you wouldn’t know it’s the same house. They have vivid images in their minds of what it looked like when they bought it. I needed photos to show me. Drew has a fabulous new rug, adding warmth to his place in a way that he says is much better than what he had before, which I never saw. I’ll take his word.

If they came to my house right now and saw this mum (yes, that’s my chrysanthemum!),

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they wouldn’t know, unless I told them, how three weeks ago it looked like this:

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And three months ago, you could barely see it in front of the beets.

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I loved seeing my children in their own homes, seeing them comfortable, making their spaces their own. But it is always good to come home. This time, it was good to find a beautiful plant in the garden because there was a big hole in front of my house! More on the Big Dig soon!

Having Eyes, and Seeing Beauty

In downtown Boise (Idaho) is a lovely rose garden. I explored a small part of it today with my daughter and her two little darlings, and I learned something about myself: I’ve changed. There was a time when I would have said Those are pretty flowers, and left it at that. I did not “have time” for such things. I had other things to do. I had seen pretty flowers before.

No more. I could have spent all afternoon admiring the blooms. There were so many! They were every color imaginable. They were so perfect.

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Clearly someone (or probably a team) spends a lot of time tending them and does it very well. As we approached on this picture-perfect day, I realized this was no ordinary rose garden. There are over 2000 rose bushes in this special place named after Julia Davis, Boise’s “city mother.”

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You can’t rush through a rose garden because roses are such extraordinary flowers up close. In my case, however, you also can’t take too much time when you have a three-year-old with you and another who’s almost one because the zoo is right next to the rose garden, and that is the actual destination – and guess where they would rather go! Roses do not compete with giraffes when you are three, especially since they have a baby giraffe!

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But Marie graciously gave me some time to use my eyes and see the beauty of the roses. It’s impossible to decide which is the prettiest color. I have always loved the yellow ones.

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This one decided to be both pink and yellow.

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Coincidentally, one of the books I brought along to read on this trip is the engaging story of a little girl growing up in pre-WWII Japan (Totto-chan, The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, a longstanding bestseller describing the early school days of a woman who went on to become one of Japan’s most popular television personalities).

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Beginning when she is about five – having been expelled from her previous school because her intense curiosity was disruptive to other students – Totto-chan attends an extraordinary school led by a schoolmaster who becomes a hero to her. This man listens carefully, allows for individual differences, advocates for the unsung, celebrates a fresh look on almost anything and creates an environment intent on giving every child the best way to grow, to learn, to shine. How ironic that I come to an extraordinary rose garden the very day after reading these words:

“Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear, said the headmaster.”

I did have eyes and I did see beauty, and for the beauty I saw I am very grateful. But I did not see only beautiful roses in the rose garden. In the middle of the path leading to the gazebo sits this fountain. I don’t like the blue water because it looks artificial to me, but I soon saw past that. Look carefully around the edge and you will see imbedded plaques.

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The etched words were mostly in memory of loved ones, such as this one.

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But this is the one that moved me nearly to tears:

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At first I thought maybe Linda’s Uncle Fred was one of the gardeners, and maybe he was. But it could also be that they strolled this garden together and it was all the better for having done it together. In the end, for these two people, together was best. And I thought: Would the zoo today have been as wonderful if I had not been able to listen to Ellie’s gasp when she saw the lion?

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Would I have enjoyed watching the anteater look for his own lunch in the dirt if we had not been together on benches next to him eating ours?

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Being together today, I stood next to my daughter holding her daughter who’s feeding the llama – most definitely a sight more beautiful than any rose – and the roses are very beautiful! I am so blessed to have eyes to see it all, to enjoy their sweet company, to spend this week together.

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“Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear, said the headmaster.”

And By September…

The geese are calling to each other in their southward journey. The chill in the air made me put on a long-sleeved shirt this morning. My toes are asking for booties. Claudia is making amazing apple strudel. It must be September!

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Yesterday the sun shone and the sky was blue-blue for the first time in a while – all grave danger of hurricane Florence seeming to have stayed distant and now passed. Maybe the rain we did get helped my property look especially splendorous to me recently, or maybe it’s that I’m going away to visit my children and grandbabies and therefore am imprinting images with especial effort. In any case, I am struck with awe not only at the beauty around me, but also at how things have grown by September.

First and foremost, I have never seen coleus get so huge, let alone in my own planter boxes! Planted in April (the ones toward the back with the multi-colored leaves), by June my show-offs looked like this:

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By July:

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Relocated because of the upcoming Big Dig, and placed next to each other, they now look like this:

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Happy plants, to be sure! Perhaps the chrysanthemum is in competition with the coleus. It is a holdover from last year, having survived not only the winter but also being transplanted to a new box. It is close to bursting into color, though I will miss the peak I expect.

This was in May. You can hardly see it, but just in front of the beets, closest to the seat on the end of the box, that’s the mum.

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By last week, Mums Gigantus!

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And today. The bursting of color begins!

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The scarlet flame caladium doesn’t get as much sun and has not even trebled in size, but its colors are glorious.

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Speaking of glorious, this butterfly has a most amazingly delicate transition from blue to black on its wings.

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Fall seems a good time for spots of color. The marigolds were also gigantic this year, as is clear in this photo with Rise about six weeks ago:

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But their splendor is perhaps best appreciated up close.

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The lemon grass also went crazy, but no crazier than usual. I gave it its own bed this year.

Here it is in May, just planted (foreground bed).


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And in June.

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And today. You can’t even see its bed!

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You almost wonder what’s lurking inside there!

What’s lurking is the same thing that’s lurking inside them all – life! Here we are, every one of us, with life and beauty all around us, a gazillion different examples, we and they all enjoying moments, catch as catch can, in the sun, in the rain, no matter the situation. If we have open hearts, beauty will make itself clear at almost every turn.

Mess… Mess… Neat!

Do you remember playing Duck Duck Goose as a child? A random number of children formed a sitting circle. One got up and walked slowly around the circle, tapping the head of each sitting child as she (or he) walked, saying “Duck” with each tap. Then – and this was entirely the choice of the walking/tapping child – the tapper said “Goose!” with a tap on one chosen head. Both tapper and goose sprung into action in that moment – the goose jumped up and the tapper then ran like mad around the circle, trying to get back to the goose’s now-empty spot and into a sit before getting tagged by the chasing goose. If you made it to that spot, you were safe and the goose became the tapper. If you got caught, you were the tapper again. And Duck Duck Goose (!) started all over again.

Eppie’s shirt made me think of this game, only in her case it’s Duck Duck Moose. (How cute is this t-shirt!? They live in Vermont where you very well might see a moose stroll through your yard. How cute is this sweet country girl?!)

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Funny how one Instagram photo can spark a parallel thought. Yesterday I saw that picture and realized that Duck Duck Goose or Duck Duck Moose is the way it is around my house – only it’s Mess, Mess, Neat!

I am very nonchalant about most of the messes around here – I can ignore them for years! – until I get into my head that one of them has to be addressed. Then I spring into action.

There are lots of messes. Generally I don’t take pictures of them, but here’s one.

A big tree fell over in the forest while Rise and Eppie were here in early August. See those very large clusters of leaves on and near the ground? Those had been high up in the sky the day before. Or maybe a few days before. I don’t know when it fell. But some of the leaves were still green.

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A little closer in, you can see the vertical remains of the trunk. It just snapped. The girls and Coco are completely unconcerned. Nor should they be. The tree’s not going anywhere.

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We’re not going to get to this mess any time soon, especially if the last fallen tree is any example.

The one you see below fell at least five years ago, i.e. it occupied that bit of the hillside for at least five years. Its core was rotten when it fell (which is why it fell). See it lying there, practically buried by years of fallen leaves?

In March I had compost delivered. You see it spread on the ground to the left. Compost was the promise of real grass in that area, not just whatever could survive, but a real yard maybe. That eyesore (Mess) of a rotten log had to go.

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First clear the uphill side. The advantage of living on a hillside with only forest down below is that you can rake those leaves and then deposit them as far down the hill as you can. Out of sight. The earth will take care of them.

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Then more raking to expose the downhill side. It was a lot of raking. I remember being tired at the end of the day(s).

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But the guys with their chain saws (bless them!), and some more raking, made all the difference. That tree in front of the log had to come down too. Quite a difference for that hillside.

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Not bad, eh?

But “Mess… Mess… Neat!” (per se) didn’t come into my head until Eppie’s shirt came up on my phone yesterday AND I was deep into it with the liriope.

In March I had made up my mind that once and for all, the front garden was going to be nice (Goose! Neat!). I cleared it out, put stone along the foundation, planted hellaboris, gave the liriope room to grow. You can see them if you look carefully – the green stuff that looks like bunches of grass among the mulch. At the far corner is an azalea bush.

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It was a bad idea. All that work, and then Hank Browne made me a drawing of what a new front porch could look like, and it was all over. I’ll come back to Hank’s drawing another day, but the bottom line was that if the old porch was going to be replaced in any way, that front foundation wall – a Duck I have been nonchalantly walking past, a Mess I have successfully ignored for years – must be fixed first. Thus the upcoming Big Dig. As in Big Digging Machine Coming Soon.

Liriope multiply rapidly, like rabbits. A month or so ago I moved a bunch of them, along with the hellaboris, to the curve of the driveway. No point not saving them.

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But there were more. Lots more. On Friday, because of Hurricane Florence’s very slow track, it was not raining here yet, but still we had postponed the Big Dig. Over the weekend it rained only intermittently, so I decided to take the opportunity to relocate the remaining liriope that would be in the way of (and possibly not survive) the excavator when it finally gets going.

Having neglected this garden for months now (because why bother?), that corner looked like this. Mess. Embarrassing. Really quite unacceptable. You can’t even see the remaining liriope, there are so many weeds.

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But I wanted to move them, save as many as I could. The tapper tapped me on the head and I got going! I chose to move them along the front of the garden, which looked like this pre-liriope.

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The deer fencing makes it impossible to weed-whack along the edge, so it tends to start looking, you guessed it, Messy!

But time + no rain + a shovel resulted in first a trench.

liriope first pass.jpg

Then a trench with manure by the end of Friday. The distance between posts is 8′, FYI. You can do the math as to how long the trench is. And that’s clay I’m digging into, Play-Doh-like clay, mixed with rocks.

liriope with manure.jpg

The liriope were in by the end of Saturday,

liriope in.jpg

which means a dug out front garden bed, much more ready for the excavator (who will move the azalea with the machine, thank God!). I didn’t save all of them, but we can’t save them all, can we? (I’ll let you think of parallels for that truth.)

front garden dug out.jpg

And finally mulch on either side of these happy plants, mulch which covers the buried plastic weed barrier that went in yesterday, Sunday, with Sandy’s help. Thank you, Sandy.

liriope mulched.jpg

Mess, Mess, Neat!

It’s entirely the choice of the tapper in the game as to which child to gets designated the Goose. It’s entirely my choice around the house as to which area next becomes Neat (acts of God and nature excepted, and time and means considered, of course). In the meantime all the other children (the Ducks) sit and wait. In the meantime all the other areas in need (the Messes) sit and wait. But sooner or later, I’ll get a bug in my bonnet as they used to say, and there will be action!

Botanical Beauties

I never want to see all there is to see or do all there is to do. (Not that I could if I wanted to, but that is another story.) Don’t get me wrong, I want to see a lot, do a lot, fill my world with fun, challenging, delightful, worthwhile, interesting amazing and beautiful things and activities. I want to use every moment I can wisely because you never know what’s around the next bend.

But if I could see it all and do it all, what would be left? In my world, there’s something new every day. The reason for this seems clear: Otherwise I might cease to be astounded at the diversity and majesty of the natural world around me as well as the artistry and cleverness of my fellow humans. Standing in awe at the wonder of creation or the ingenuity of people keeps me on my toes, which is one way to keep things unboring.

Yesterday, for instance, a quick walk through the botanical gardens here in Washington, D.C., included lots of green, lots of spikes, lots of color. None of that is what struck me first though. As you walk in the door, the very air embraces you, tells you a story, encourages you to keep moving forward. It both feels and smells fresh, sweet and in its own way intoxicating. I kept going.

Maybe you have seen how coffee grows, how shiny green its leaves are, but I hadn’t. They might be plastic for as perfect as they looked to me. The staff added those few broken brown edges just to make it look real, right?

coffee plastic.jpg

 

The beans seem to like to hide. Shy maybe? Hoping to escape detection? See them in there?

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Some of these plants have a very effective way of protecting themselves. Don’t even think of touching me! says the cactus to anyone or anything that comes by. We get the message!

cactus up close.jpg

 

Some plants are aptly named. Botanists sometimes get the fun of assigning a name. Do you think this name works? It’s the “devil’s dagger.” The little heart-shaped green parts looking remarkably like harmless leaves are a bit misleading. They say You know you want to touch me, while the spikes are waiting patiently, in just as plain sight, for you to try it. Just try it!

devil's dagger2.jpg

 

Whoever named these little babies clearly did not have a sense of humor, so I am choosing to call them “sausage cactus.” What would you call them?

sausage cactus.jpg

I did not see a name for these beauties, but a fairy who is bent on housekeeping would surely carry one around as she goes flitting from crystal to crystal on your undoubtedly gorgeous but unfortunately dusty chandelier, happily revealing the splendor under the dust with her “fairy duster.”

fairy dusters.jpg

And who could look at the Cabbage on a Stick without wondering who had the fun of naming it?

cabbage on a stick.jpg

Here’s another great name: parodia warasii. It looks healthy, wispy – don’t those hair-like things look wispy? soft even? It’s very interesting and, yeah… don’t come any closer.

parodia warasii.jpg

It’s great to see where fruits come from. My education today included papayas. Who knew they look like this when they’re growing on a tree? I admit I didn’t.

papaya2.jpg

This handful of plants is but a drop in the bucket (or a drop in the ocean!) of what’s out there in this marvelous world of ours. Knowing that, taking a moment to grasp the enormity of that, makes me happy to be a part of it, even if my part is just looking and not touching!

One more — bougainvillea. How beautiful is this?? And who can’t love a plant with a name that rolls off the tongue like boo-gan-viya?

bougainvillea

 

The First Step is One of Many

It seems like there are all kinds of first steps taking place in my world. Some first steps are literal. My oldest granddaughter and my youngest son both had their orientation for school this week – Rise for kindergarten and Samuel for an intensive online course. Both of them took the first step into a new world that will stretch their minds, their skills and their futures.

Are these the ponytails of a kindergartener or what?

3 ponytails.jpg

Some first steps are a long time coming. Yesterday I put eight concrete cinder blocks in place in front of my house. This is when I was partway there, with four in place and four to go.

cinderblocks3 (2).jpg

See those large planter boxes off to the side? They need to move to make way for the “big dig” coming up soon – excavation work at the front foundation to fix an issue I’ve known about for seven years. By the time all eight blocks were in place, the sun had made shadows across the boxes so you can’t see them as well in the photo below. But they are still there. Soon they will be on the blocks. Here are all eight blocks in place, just waiting.

cinderblocks1 (2).jpg

Seven years! Ever since I moved into this house, I knew there was something funny about the outside wall as you go down the circular stairs toward the basement. It’s definitely bowed inward. No, I have not been watching too much of Stranger Things, the Netflix series Samuel has me hooked on. Okay, I take that back, I’ve been watching it every night all week. But I do not think a monster will be pushing through it any time soon! The earth though, surely, has been pushing against that outside wall for some time now, about 45 years actually. It’s time to fix it.

Some first steps are unexpected. I wonder if the silkies that laid these first eggs knew what was going to be happening when they sat down that day last week.

first silkie eggs.jpg

First steps can be exciting. They take you back. Oh, this thing is really happening! Look at that! Even if you are a chicken, first steps mean that a thing that has previously been just a vague unknown is finally a reality.

First steps can be scary. The situations at school that Rise will face will mostly be fun and good, but some will take her into new territory socially, academically, emotionally. She’s ready for it, but we all know how other kids can be. She’ll have her moments. She’ll grow. She’ll get stronger. She’ll face the next day slightly less unsure. Then, hopefully, the next first step will be slightly less scary.

Most first steps are not as freestanding as we think. They might feel like a first step, but there are usually steps toward the first step. There are connecting steps, prior steps, prep work that came before. The first step toward actual walking is actual, confident standing up, the first step toward which was actual, confident sitting up. My grandson Nelson hardly needs a prop anymore and will very soon be off and running.

Nelson standing.jpeg

My granddaughter Piper is two. She is not a kindergartener yet, but this week she played as if she was going to school with Rise.

Piper getting ready for school (2).jpg

First steps often start with an idea or a hope. We build up to them. A few weeks ago on the way to Vermont I bought a book at the airport. It might have been the first time I ever bought a book at an airport. But I wanted something light and interesting, and found The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It got my attention on several points. Isn’t there a guernsey cow? What could that have to do with a literary society? And what could potato peels have to do with a pie?

I finished the book yesterday when I had had enough of digging holes, fetching cinder blocks and hauling them into place, leveling, squaring, backfilling, etc. and needed to sit on the couch for a bit. (Funny how your body tells you That’s enough! You are done for today!) It turns out that the Guernsey is indeed a breed of dairy cattle from the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands off the coast of Normandy (the other major island of which is Jersey, thus Jersey cows are a real thing too – who knew!?). On Guernsey, which was occupied by the Germans during the second world war, was (fictitiously) a literary society. The shortage of food led to making pie crusts with potato peels.

The author notes at the end explain that the book was many years in the making, many years vague, unformed, unsubstantive. The book was in fact a collaboration between a woman and her niece, health issues necessitating the help the younger woman gave toward the finished product. For all of us, every project, every meal, every trip, every class contains many steps, many of which are steps toward the next thing, which can sometimes feel like the first thing.

I remember in my house in Vermont there was a shabby bathroom next to the family room. It was functional when we moved in, but partly unfinished (visible studs even), nowhere close to as nice as I wished it was. For one reason or other, it took five years to get around to redoing that bathroom. I cringed at the bathroom, wished its remodeling came sooner, but it didn’t. And because it didn’t, I had five years to think about it and play with ideas, rejecting some, holding onto others. There’s no doubt in my mind that that bathroom was better in the end because I had five years to think about it.

Reading the notes at the end of the book about Guernsey felt like a step for me toward writing one of the books that have been in my head for many years. I was inspired by the author having made an impulsive decision to visit Guernsey, bought a book at an airport (!) and then (unbeknownst even to her) developed the spark of an idea for her own book over the course of the next few decades. Impulse can be good, books can be good, and letting ideas brew for a time is definitely good.

Hank Browne, who wrote the Ruins in Virginia book I referred to yesterday, was an architect for 50+ years, working often on projects that involved some sort of historic preservation. It was an idea of his for a long time to draw attention to the crumbling ruins he saw here and there. At some point he decided It’s time to make this real. He has already sold hundreds of copies and is working on a book about ruins in Maryland. Hank is 86. My hat is off to him in a very big way!

What’s brewing for you? What new project do you have in mind? What recipe do you want to try for the first time? What trip do you want to take to a place you’ve never seen before except in photos? You know you’ve already taken some of the steps toward making that thing a reality. You’ve thought about it. Maybe you’ve even rejected it. But then you think about it again.

Rise and Samuel and even Piper took important steps this week in their journey of lifelong learning. Nelson is one step closer to walking on his own. The silkies are laying eggs! I took a concrete (using literal concrete) step yesterday toward my big dig project.

Sparks. Brewing. Steps forward. Movement forward. Doing the next thing. Thinking about what that will lead to. Time goes by. More sparks. More brewing. More time. Real steps. “First” steps. Next steps.

I wonder what steps today will bring.

 

Mom’s Tomato Soup

It’s that time of year. Gardens, farm stands and farmers’ markets are loaded with gorgeous red tomatoes. There is absolutely nothing under the sun to compare with the taste of a sun-ripened garden tomato. How beautiful is this?

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My favorite way to eat them fresh is cut up in a bowl with olive oil, cider vinegar, fresh basil (cut up) and salt and pepper. My dad’s favorite was to make a sandwich of toasted white bread, sliced tomatoes, mayo and salt and pepper – a BLT minus the B and the L. But when tomatoes are in abundance, when you can’t possibly eat that much salad or that many sandwiches, the best solution is fresh tomato soup. To be specific, the tomato soup my mom always made, and still does. It’s easy and freezes well, so you can have the taste of summer when the snow flies.

I am under strict instruction from [you know who you are!] to be EXACT in this recipe, so I will do my best to not say “a little of this” or “until it looks right.” 😊

I’ve been gathering the tomatoes from my garden, eating some and saving some. For the soup, I cut up the saved ones as shown above, stems, green-part-under-the-stem and any bad parts cut off, and had enough to fill my 3-quart bowl to overflowing. Meaning I could not possibly put one more piece in or it would have fallen out. Note that skin and seeds are not removed at this point.

For this amount of tomatoes I started with 6 tablespoons of butter. Put it in a large cooking pot – my Dutch oven was perfect. Melt the butter on a medium heat.

melting butter

 

Add the same amount of flour (6TB) and whisk it in.

flour to butter

Let this get bubbly over the heat.

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Turn the temp down to low and cook it for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it looks light brown, like this. You have now browned the butter.

browned butter.jpg

On top of the browned butter, dump your 3+ quarts of cut-up tomatoes.

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You should not need any other liquid. The tomatoes have their own juice. Leave the heat on low and cover. I love my silicone lids! This one is particularly nice because the edges let a little steam out.

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Peek at it now and then. Oops, that wasn’t EXACT. Peek after 10-15 minutes. It should start to cook down, first like this:

pot2.jpg

A good stir would be good at this point. Then let it cook some more (10-15 minutes more? doing my best to be EXACT here, really I am!!) until it looks like this:

pot1.jpg

When it looks like this, give it another good stir and turn off the heat. I let it cool for a while, say half an hour or even an hour, while I do something else. You can think of something else to do.

The next step is separating soup from skin and seeds. A strainer works well. This is my set-up.

strainer in bowl.jpg

The holes in my strainer are not overly small meaning two things: One, the soup will go through easily, which is good, and two, some seeds will get through, which may or may not be ok with you. It’s ok with me, but I am one of those people who likes raspberry jam with the seeds still in it, so decide for yourself. Some seeds, or use a strainer with smaller holes and do a little more work.

The work is in the pushing through. First, use a ladle to put enough of the tomato mixture in the strainer to almost fill it, like this:

seeds4.jpg

You see that some went through already. Your job is to get the rest of the soup to go through but leave the seeds (most of them) and the skins in the strainer. With a large spoon, stir it up and some more soup will go through.

seeds3.jpg

Then with the back of the spoon, push against the side of the strainer.

seeds2.jpg

More and more soup goes through, and more and more seeds and skins don’t, until it looks like this:

seeds1.jpg

Use your spoon to scrape off – into the soup – any bits that are stuck to the bottom of the strainer. Set the strainer aside. Now depending on how big your bowl is, you have two choices. Either remove the seeds and skins to a separate bowl (and later feed it to the chickens) and start over with putting the rest of what’s in the pot through the strainer OR season what’s in the bowl with salt and pepper, transfer it your freezer containers and then put the rest through the strainer.

seasoning.jpg

This is the first half of my soup. I added the salt and pepper (to taste – I can’t be more EXACT about that), stirred it up, then transferred it to old quart-size yogurt containers which work beautifully for freezing this or any soup. I then pushed the second half through, and seasoned it just the same (or about the same because, you know, seasoning to taste is not an EXACT science 😊).

See if you can put it away without preparing a bowl for yourself. I’ve topped mine with Backerbsen, a German specialty I discovered years ago. This past April, my friend Anett brought me some when she came from Karlsruhe to visit. (If you want to try them, you can get them on amazon — maybe not the brand below, but Leimer is a good brand too.) The translation is “baked peas” but they are just perfect little croutons for tomato soup. Oh yum!

in bowl.jpg

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Passing This Way

When you are in someone else’s car, you listen to whatever music they have going. It’s great to let someone else do the choosing sometimes. Not being musically inclined except for liking to listen to it and sometimes sing along, I am continually astounded at the incredible talent and creativity of musicians. It’s amazing to me how they manage to stir up feelings and longings and memories and hopes from deep within you. And they do it in a way that is soooo pleasant!

Among the many songs I heard in the past few weeks, two struck me and have played over and over again in my head (parts of them anyway). From the Notting Hill soundtrack is Elvis Costello’s “She” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ttj0Kd6BWQU). It’s one of those songs that builds on itself as it goes along, with the strength of his voice adding increasingly more weight to the words*. This song reminds me that this kind of love – this deep, abiding, heartfelt love – is real, even if it is rare, even if most people don’t ever find the words to express what’s in their hearts.

A few days ago I heard Seals & Croft sing “We May Never Pass This Way Again” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vd6zYQPCgsc) and that one hit me hard. Here’s why.

I asked Eppie to stand in front of the elephant ear so that I could record how big it is in relation to how big she is. These plants just keep getting bigger and bigger. But as she stood in front of it, the leaves of the plant looked like angel wings to me, with the sun shining behind and through them and her sweet face radiating all that is good and fresh and wholesome. The photo captures a moment, as all our photos do, yet we know as we look at the photo that the moment is past. Less than a week later, the moment is past.

eppie elephant ear (2).jpg

When I heard the song, I thought: It’s not We May Never Pass This Way Again, it’s We Will Never Pass This Way Again. I hope that face looking up at me will look up at me again many times in the future (and I will cherish it just the same), but never again will it be Eppie’s just-turned-four face. She’s a little angel in this picture. She’ll be a bigger angel next time.

My son Bradley said to me recently that the harshest reality of adult life is how fast time goes. His own daughter Piper is now two and another (P2, he calls her!) is coming soon. How is this possible?! Here is Piper between Eppie and Rise during my visit to Vermont a couple weeks ago.

Eppie Piper Rise 1.jpg

 

Precious moments, these are. Precious little ones. Every now and then, or as often as you wish, it’s good to think about what you consider precious. Maybe the voice or touch of someone you love, or the way they say your name. Maybe the view you see when the sun rises in the morning. Maybe a person you have contact with every day who is remarkable without knowing it. Maybe your good health (or the aspects of your health that are still good!). Maybe the music that uplifts you. Maybe the bounty of your garden – these are the cantaloupes I harvested today from mine. Maybe the funny face of a little dog who has found a special place in your heart!

coco cantaloupes.jpg

 

My neighbor Jennifer asked Eppie the other day if she missed her parents. Eppie said, “When I am with Oma, I miss my mom and dad. When I am with my mom and dad, I miss Oma. I wish I could be with them both.” For my ears, those were the most perfect words she could have said in reply.

It’s a rather reflective day for me, perhaps you can tell. My darling granddaughters and I had two and a half weeks together, starting at their home in Vermont and ending at my home in Virginia – marvelous, precious weeks. But it’s the middle of August and they will be going to kindergarten and preschool very soon. As I think about how we will never pass this way again, I am less sad because of the certainty that we will pass another way someday (someday soon I hope!), and it will be equally wonderful to walk through those days together.

 

*She (lyrics)

She may be the face I can’t forget
The trace of pleasure or regret
May be my treasure or the price I have to pay
She may be the song that summer sings
May be the chill that autumn brings
May be a hundred different things
Within the measure of a day

She may be the beauty or the beast
May be the famine or the feast
May turn each day into a Heaven or a Hell
She may be the mirror of my dreams
A smile reflected in a stream
She may not be what she may seem
Inside her shell

She, who always seems so happy in a crowd
Whose eyes can be so private and so proud
No one’s allowed to see them when they cry
She may be the love that cannot hope to last
May come to me from shadows in the past
That I remember ’till the day I die

She maybe the reason I survive
The why and wherefore I’m alive
The one I’ll care for through the rough in many years*

Me, I’ll take her laughter her tears
And make them all my souvenirs
And where she goes I’ve got to be
The meaning of my life is
She, she
Oh, she

 

*Somehow I always thought this was “the rough and ready years” (“rough in many years” doesn’t make any sense to me!).