Sunday, June 26, 2011

Take Time To Daydream

Summer in S. California is always greeted by the purple clouds of jacaranda blossoms. Once the flowers fall, they form a purple carpet beneath the tree that is nearly as lovely as the tree itself.

 Summer has finally settled into San Diego. The purple clad jacaranda trees are a sure sign, as are the thousands of hot pink bougainvilleas that grace about every other property as well as a few canyons where discarded cuttings have managed to root and grow. The summer flowers are now in full bloom and while the spring grasses are brown and dying, the agapanthas and day lilies and desert primrose and geraniums are valiantly trying to camouflage last season's remains.

As I was out and around the city today, taking in its new look, a hint of wanderlust invaded my heart. I so want to go camping. I want to inhale the scent of pine trees, catch a waft of campground woodsmoke, and inhale that dusty aroma the earth has as it cools down from a day filled with summer sun. Yet I know I won't go. Not alone. I'm not ready yet to travel without the man who loved me so unconditionally for 53 years. I'm not strong enough yet.

So I daydream. How grateful I am that for all of my life, I've been able to bring forth images of places I've been and things I've seen. I don't know if that's normal, but once I store an image in in my brain, it never leaves. I've always been like that. Some have questioned if  I have a photographic memory. I don't know. I only know the pictures in my mind are always there and I can pull them up in the twinkling of an eye.

The California redwods are the tallest trees on earth and nearly the oldest, many reaching more than 760 feet high and spanning more than 2,000 years.

So it is that as wanderlust takes over, I take to my trusty recliner, intent on daydreaming. I already know where I'm going. It has always been my family's favorite destination, ever since the kids were 3 and 5. I'm off to the California redwoods and the many camping spots we  haunted so many years past. We began in a used tent, then a used tent trailer, then finally a small used trailer. We never had the funds to travel in champagne style. None of us cared. Truth be told, it was the tenting I loved the most, for it forced us to live outside, eat outside, and play outside. And all under the striking beauty of the coast redwoods-where winds whisper of coolness and footsteps are drowned upon the deep sponge of earth.

When morning chores were finished, we'd find a trail and follow it. This is the land of the ever-living sequoia sempervirens, the tallest trees on earth, and every step taken along their forest aisles only enhances our appetite for more. The light is muted; the undergrowth luxuriant. For thousands of years, cloud-sweeping branches have filtered both fog and sun, turning the grove into either a mysterious "other world" or sprinkling it with pinholes of light that momentarily outline a sword-fern or halo the bracken.

The earth beneath these auburn giants is a painter's palette of greens gone mad. Moss filigrees downed trees, maiden-hair fern decorates decaying stumps. Trillium and oxalis carpet forest duff while the vine-like poison oak, in a seeming attempt to atone for its toxicity, spirals numberless redwood trunks--and in the process, graces unimaginable heights.

Few wild things populate this climax forest and the stillness here seems eerily unreal. It is an intense quiet broken only by the groan of branch rubbing against branch or the crack of a stepped-on-twig or the intermittent scolding of the forest policeman, the bright-eyed Steller's Jay. This is God's own cathedral--far nobler and loftier than any ever built with human hands; and the silence here is such that even man speaks in whispers. For these are ancient sentinels, connecting you by a hand touch to the sunrise of all the centuries they have known.

This is a forest with a mood uniquely its own. Of peace. And strength. Of things content with their yesterdays and secure in the knowledge that for them, tomorrow is still a man's lifetime away. As a race, these ionic columns have survived the dinosaurs, the great Ice Age, and the forces that thrust the mighty Rockies skyward. Many standing today were young when Christ walked the earth--and still they will outlive us by a thousand years.

But be warned. This is a land that will steal your vanity and expose your soul. These ponderous colonnade's appear to hide the powers of the universe and the answers to infinity. Their ambiance is powerful, invading the very marrow of our bones. And whether we wish it or not, their spell will be cast. These trees will beckon and we will find ourselves returning again and again. It is a call triggered at odd moments. And sometimes, half a world away. It may begin with a scent. Or a sound. Or the way a lazy breeze brushes the back of my neck.

And suddenly I am there--locked deep within the redwood aura.  Reveling in the awesome beauty of its dense, pure groves. Touching a patriarch. Inhaling pungent air. Craning my neck, trying to glimpse that special spot where treetops meld with heaven. Understanding a bit more of patience. And tenacity. The flashback may only consume a moment. The spell lasts a lifetime. There is no escape. Not even in my dreams.

The coast redwood campgrounds are set outside of the old-growth forests. Finding a trail into the land of the patriarchs is easy. The camping areas are cool and shaded, many set beneath second and third growth redwoods--too young to have reached gargantuan size and height.

"One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts. I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty and on Your awesome acts." Psalm 145: 4,5

Copyright 2011 by Sandra L Keith, All rights reserved

Saturday, June 18, 2011

True Confessions About Zucchini

Woe to our family when my mother discovered zucchini.  After eating it for nearly a year, I talked my boyfriend into eloping, just so I could get away from having to swallow it steamed, mashed, fried, sauced, grated or any other way mom could think to use it up.

It's time to confess. But first, a bit of history. When my family moved from the Minnesota farmlands to southern California, I was under the impression that my sixteen-year-old self knew the name of every vegetable grown on our nation's soil. I was wrong. We had been relocated only a few months when a neighbor brought us something he called zucchini. It was unlike anything any of us had ever seen. And even though mom thanked the neighbor with her usual grace, none of knew what it was or what to do with it so she sent dad across the street to get the particulars.

A vegetable? No way, I says to myself. It looked more like a big green gourd rather than something to eat. Since my family never wasted anything edible, mom cut the squash up and boiled it. I'll spare you the details of what I thought of it. I was the only one who greatly disliked it's taste and mouth feel. But at dad's house, we always had to eat what we were served so there was no getting away from that reprehensible vegetable. As fate would have it, my dad told our neighbor how much we'd enjoyed the zucchini, so once-again he came home with his arms loaded. I cringe even now thinking back on those days and months of imbibing that mushy vegetable.

To mom's credit, she tried everything to make it tasty enough so that I'd eat it without complaining. To no avail. There wasn't enough cheese sauce or butter or pan frying or grating that made me like zucchini. I finally figured out that the reason it wasn't grown in Minnesota was because it was such a tasteless vegetable no one in their right mind would plant it. That made perfect sense to me, considering that every farm wife I'd ever known spent untold hours putting  up their vegetables for the winter, canning everything from the garden in order to put a healthy meal on winter-time plates. If any of those farmer's knew about zucchini, none had planted it. I thought that spoke volumes.

In the meantime, that gift-bearing neighbor told dad how easy it was to grow zucchini. You just don't tell something like that to a farmer with his love for dirt and growing things. Before I realized what was happening, dad had dug up more than half of our huge backyard,  ripped out mom's new flower plantings, and pushed hundreds of vegetable seeds into the soil. Including zucchini. Nooooooo, I screamed in my mind. I had some solace though. Dad had planted the seeds on the shady side of the house. I felt pretty secure knowing they would never grow. Boy, was I wrong.

I could accurately say that for the last 53 years, I've never served zucchini. Then one day my sister-in-law was telling me about this zucchini recipe she had and how delicious it was. Of course you know what I told her. Then she asked me how I prepared it. By now you know that story too. To my amazement, she told me it was likely that mom had cooked it to death and no wonder I found it disgusting. I was stunned. Perhaps if I prepared it differently, she said, I would like it. So I gave it a try and doggone if it wasn't edible after all. So here's my true confession: Even though I thought I knew everything there was to know about vegetables, I was wrong. It feels so good to get that off my chest. I feel so much better now. Thanks.


I did the dumbest thing preparing this recipe. Unfortunately, the photo documents that I may be brain dead. These zucchini boats are supposed to be floating in a sea of red sauce. Pretend that's what you see and we'll both be happy.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees for use later in the recipe.

In a medium-sized saucepan put:
1 medium onion, chopped,
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs. olive oil.
Cook together until the onions are translucent. Do not burn the garlic or you'll have to start over.

To that mixture add:
1/2 cup millet
1/2 tsp. each of rosemary, thyme, marjoram, basil, and salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. paprika
Saute until the spices are blended into the mixture.

Now add to the same pan:
1  22 oz. can diced tomatoes with their juice
2 cups vegetable stock
Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the millet is soft.

In the meantime, cut off both ends of 4 medium zucchini and then cut each in half lengthwise. Place in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. Don't overcook. Remove them from the water and set aside to cool. Once the vegetable cools, scoop out the pulp and add it to the millet mixture on the stove along with:

1/4 cup capers
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
Let simmer another 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, combine 1 pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, 2 tsp. sugar, 1 1/2  cups jarred marinara and 1 cup of dry red wine. I used Burgundy. Mix together and pour the sauce into oven-safe pan. Stuff the zucchini boats and set them adrift over the red sauce. Top with vegan Parmesan or mozzarella--optional. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes.

Allow the dish to set about 5 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley for a hint of freshness. I used this dish as a main meal with no sides other than seedless grapes. The next day I chopped the remaining zucchini boats into pieces and stuffed them into a pita pocket and poured the remaining red sauce over the top. It was nearly better than the original dish--which rocked all by itself.

Copyright 2011 by Sandra L Keith, All rights reserved

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A King James Virgin For Father's Day

Christie was our second child, and while my husband Jim loved our son and daughter equally, it was his daughter that had him wrapped around her little finger--practically from the moment she was born.
When my daughter was in the fourth grade, her Sunday School teacher announced that the class would be having a contest and the winners would receive a Bible with their name on the cover. All they had to do was memorize the books of the Bible and be able to recite them in order and without coaching. Christie took the contest to heart and much to my surprise, was determined to win one of those Bibles.

The contest would be six months long. Thus giving each contestant time to recite the books already memorized and to let the teacher know which child was actively participating. Christie and her dad worked each week on memorization, building her knowledge bit by bit. And while many in the class had undertaken the challenge, in the end, only a few could recite every book without faltering. Christie was one of them.

Then came the day the contest ended and the teacher asked the six winners whether they wanted a black, red, or blue Bible. Christie ordered the blue one because that was her father's favorite color. I wouldn't have known any of this had my daughter's teacher not sought me out after church, purposely wanting me to tell me what had transpired in class that day.

Seems that Christie insisted her dad's name should be on the Bible and when the teacher tried talking her out of it because she had worked so hard to win it, my daughter told the teacher that during their months of practicing together, Jim had happened to mention that of all the translations he had, he didn't have a King James Version--which Christie misinterpreted as King James Virgin. Understandable,  considering kids are taught from the beginning of Sunday School that Jesus was born of a virgin.

When the Bibles arrived at church with names imprinted, Christie brought home the gaudy blue Bible with my husband's name printed in gold. She hid it under her bed (along with everything else in her room she didn't wish to put away) and waited a couple of weeks to surprise him with it. The Bible was to be Jim's Father's Day gift--not something I'd purchased, but something just from her.

In all my years as a parent, I've never seen a child present a gift with such joy as my daughter exhibited that day. Nor the surprise on my husband's face as he unwrapped it and saw what it was. He grabbed our daughter and hugged her so hard I thought she might break--little thing that she was. Then she climbed into her dad's lap and said, "Well, daddy, now you have a King James Virgin. I bet you're happy, huh?"

Because both Jim and I were Sunday School teachers for 30  years or more, our Bibles were well-used. Jim's King James Virgin was his favorite. Can't you tell?

"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them." Psalm 127: 3-5

Copyright 2011 by Sandra L Keith, All rights reserved
Photos are the property of the author and may not be reproduced

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Lesson Of The Lilies

I thought the Easter Lilies would bloom and die back. But God had a different plan.
The day my husband graduated to heaven started out just like every other day. Because of his advanced Parkinson's Disease, he generally slept late and somewhere around mid-morning I'd check to see if he was awake and wanting to get up. That particular day he looked up at me, gave a small smile and said, "yup."  I asked, "Are you sure?" and he replied with another "yup." I had no way of knowing those would be the last words he'd ever say.

I called for our live-in nurse to do the necessary tasks to get Jim washed, dressed, and ready for breakfast. Meanwhile, I set out to do my own work. No more than a minute had passed than I heard her call for me to get a bucket as Jim was throwing up. I ran into the bedroom, saw him sitting on the edge of the bed vomiting, and handed the nurse the small bucket I always kept handy. To no avail. I watched in horror as Jim first passed out and then died--despite the nurse giving him mouth to mouth resuscitation and my being on the phone with 911--telling them to hurry.

Within a day, friends and neighbors began dropping by to share their condolences, bringing all manner of food and flowers with them. We rejoiced over Jim's life and talked together over his love for Christ and his unwavering belief that heaven was his true home. We thanked the Lord for taking Jim so quickly that he felt no pain and for the fact that he was now with the Lord he loved so much. I was so grateful that his feet no longer shuffled when he walked or that he was horribly stooped because of poor muscle control. I thanked the Lord that Jim was now whole. And I sobbed the whole time I was doing so.

Unknown to me, I had gone into shock. Days were fuzzy and even now, a little over a year later, I still can't remember much of those first few months. My daughter and grand-daughters took care of every thing that needed to be done. All I did was sign the checks. And even though friends and family took turns staying with me, much of my time was spent sniffling, sobbing and participating in a meltdown or two.

Those who watched interpreted my actions as needing to see a counselor pronto. For some reason, there is a strange myth that hangs around the edges of a Christian's death. It states that those who know the Lord and are left to grieve should be happy and content, for they know where their loved one is. Yet I grieved--fully and wretchedly, even though I knew the Lord was beside me, encouraging me to let out my grief so that I be healed of the trauma and the devastation of being so suddenly left alone.

Since Jim was a Korean War veteran, I chose to have a military funeral. I wanted a family graveside service; my kids wanted a church memorial. We did both. I wanted closure as fast as possible and even though I knew Jim was with the Lord, I couldn't stand the thought of his body laying in wait while all the family made plans to get together.
Jim joined the Navy at 17, with parental permission, knowing he would likely end up in the Korean War. He served aboard the USS Whiteside AKA 90, an Androma class attack cargo carrier that earned 4 battlestars during the Korean conflict.

After the graveside service, I came home to grieve until there were no tears left. Between breakdowns, I found things to do. The two beautiful Easter Lily plants that had been given to me were still showing off their blooms so I set the pots in an outside planter for all to see. I figured I'd plant the bulbs when the flowers and stems died. But that never happened.

Without my even noticing, the shaggy, forelorn stems began putting out new leaves atop the old ones. How odd, I thought. I've never seen that happen before. The next time the lilies caught my eye, each old stem had new leaves sprouting from the stem top. Intrigued, I asked a flower-seller friend of mine is this was usual and the reply was "no."

Every lily stem had dead leaves, which I'd left attached so I could photograph their strange appearance. My good neighbor across the street, thinking she was doing me a favor, stopped by one afternoon and removed nearly all the brown leaves, trying to make it more presentable. I caught her just in time.

Intrigued, I now kept a close eye on those lilies, watching how healthy they were, sitting there atop what still looked like dead stems. Then came the day I saw miniscule buds begin to appear. I watched them grow bigger and longer, then swell so large they began opening their inner beauty to the sun. What a glorious sight. What had once been two small potted lilies was now at least a dozen, and nearly all in gorgeous bloom.

One day as I was coming home from the grocery store, I passed by the plants and marveled at what they had become. I told the Lord how lovely they were and thanked him that they still lived, even though the original stems appeared so dead. "It's like they never died but just kept on living," I said to God as a passing comment.

As I opened the front door to bring in the grocery bags, a thought came so strongly to mind, I knew it was the Lord. I looked back at the lilies and marveled. God had used them as an illustration to give me joy and help me further heal. My heart swelled with praise to God. The lilies had appeared to be dead and yet they lived. Just like Jim.

Jim was the love of my life for more than fifty years. I will miss him everyday that I live and wait anxiously till I see him again in heaven.

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." Psalm 116:15

Copyright 2011 by Sandra L Keith, All rights reserved
Top photo courtesy of MS Clip Art
All other photos are the property of the author and may not be reproduced