Life Isn’t Always Without Thorns


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Today I’m writing what is on my mind and in my heart.  The personality I ‘use’ to greet the world on a general basis, is cordial, friendly and polite, as a general rule I enjoy people.  Like most people I am complicated, not more  so than others, all people are such a mix of qualities; I’m not certain all of us have public and personal personas, that we are able to call upon for different situations, I do have those ‘people’ that I can become, for a little while; come back to my real self when ‘that person’ is no longer needed.

Today I’m introspective Trudy.  Events beyond my control (as events often are) have taken place and are going to take place and I’ve found myself going back in time, remembering, digesting over again my life and history. The people who I’ve loved,  wondering if the memories I have are correct (sometimes memories need confirmation). I’m finding through conversations with my mother that most of my memories are correct.

My mother has been critically ill for several years.  She has been an extremely physically healthy woman, partly due to taking excellent care of herself and she is a strong woman, a survivor in a world that wasn’t always kind.  The very fact that she is living with this illness and it hasn’t yet taken her is because she is/was so healthy and strong.  Now her time is closing in, end stage cancer doesn’t leave survivors.  Needless to say all the memories of my life with my mother and my father are in my thoughts much of the time.

My cousin Ed Oas, who I was very close to as child,  and I was able to renew our friendship in recent years,  died last week.  He wasn’t expected to die, his sister Carol Jean and I thought he’d die a very old man like we all hope to.  Ed’s life, like my mother’s wasn’t always easy.  Carol Jean and Ed’s parents were killed in a horrible car accident on their way to a new home.  That is when our separation began, across a great country, which then seemed so large and so far and difficult for me to comprehend the real distance.  The pain for the remaining families and the little orphaned children was by some, almost unbearable, including my mother.  Her beloved little sister Marion (Pee Wee) was dead along with her equally loved husband Billy Oas.

My mother wasn’t well at this time (in the 1950’s this was described as having ‘nerve problems’), losing her sister only added to the abyss I know she felt she was in, she has explained it to me.  It would take her many years to recover.  But there were whispers, Carol Jean and Ed, where would they live, I thought I remembered my parents discussing taking them, adding  to their only child two more children that they both loved.  I’ve recently been able to confirm this muddled memory with my mother, it wasn’t something I dreamed it was correct.  Many other people were involved in the decision, and my mother, I believe now, bravely knew she wasn’t able to care for more children, not with her state of mind.  Carol and Ed (Peanut) were to live with their Oas grandparents in the state of Washington.  That didn’t make it easy for a family in Michigan with modest means to see or build relationships, the distance seemed to far, or maybe there were other reasons, I don’t know. The other side of that is that the children did have family in Washington.

Eddy will have a memorial June 2nd in the town he called home, Monroe Washington.  Carol has planned his formal memorial, and adding to this his friends want to celebrate his life with Carol Jean and the rest of the Oas family that still live in that part of Washington area.  I will be there, I will celebrate with his friends whom I do not know, and with Carol Jean who has become across the miles, visits and memories like the sister I almost had. Almost, at least in the mind of an eight year old who heard whispers and tremendous grief.  Children are always listening, a lesson for us all, children can understand to a degree depending on their age,  if not told they develop their own memory,  and it may take 50 years to find the truth.

This entry is about two people, my thoughts and feelings of loss for the unexpected  death of my cousin Ed, the impending death of my mother. Knowing that my mother is dying, does not make it less difficult, we’ve had a complicated relationship,  her life has been full, she made her life what it is through her own strength and determination, many obstacles in her way, she always regrouped and went forward with great pride and dignity.  That is what she has given me, strength, one goes on, pick up your pieces and get on with it, no one will do it for you.  At least that is her mind-set, and I’m guessing she hasn’t ever thought about that, she just forged on!

Our life takes us on many journeys, life happens, we control what we can and we learn to accept and live with what we can’t, and we never stop learning.  Life is a wonderful journey, I have lived in places I’ve not considered, visited places (even a reluctant traveler does travel) I would have only read about.  I’ve met people I’d never have had the privilege of knowing or loving, if life wasn’t so unpredictable.  Even with its unwanted surprises, and unexpected joys, life most days just goes along, a mixture of whatever we make it, and well worth living.  Who knows what’s around the corner?

From My Back Door to Yours, the Beauty of Texas Wildflowers


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The last few weeks have been  a mixture of one unhappy event after another, today I’m putting all the serious thoughts aside, and enjoying the sunnier side of life.  At times taking a breath, stepping back and letting life happen is the right approach.  I intend to discuss all my thoughts of the last weeks but today, I’m heading to the wildflowers in my ‘back 40‘.

My ‘back 40’ is definitely not 40 acres by any stretch of imagination, we have 3 and a half acres and our house and formal (make that somewhat planned) gardens take up the rest.  We do have a large field behind our house.  It could use more tending and if I was a younger woman, oh the delights I could create.  One must have either wealth, youth or be realistic. Making do with what I have and my energy level seems to suit me.

We did take the steps of having the ‘back 40’ seeded when we moved here, not knowing what we really should have done and hiring a man flying by the seat of his pants to do the work, we reaped the not so beautiful results of our mistake.  We were growing every weed seed known to Texas, churned up and brought to fruition;  that was not the plan.  When you tell people your plan and you are a landscape gardener, well, some ‘taking it back’ on my part did take place.  A little humility is not a bad thing, but it’s still not fun!

Texas (Lupinus texensis).

Texas (Lupinus texensis). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The wild flowers in Texas start if it  is a good season with the outstanding burst of bluebonnets, I had never seen anything like them, they are spectacular and Mother Nature is in control, let me repeat that, Mother Nature (or just nature if you prefer) is controlling this show. Other wild flowers follow, not blue and soft in color but bright and joyous. I haven’t counted the several varieties in our field this year, I’m so grateful that the seeds we did sow years ago have found their way to bloom and give us the best  show to date.  We can’t count on this show for next year, it might bloom but may just as well not.  Depends on ‘Mother’ and it also depends on weed seeds, biannual plants and a wing and a prayer 🙂 So I don’t sound like I’m the only one able to pull off such a riot of color, the roads and ditches of our part of Texas look like a painters palate of color!

Yesterday started as a day of stress in a few areas, my solution is to head to the field, bring the camera, dress for the occasion.  Living in Texas you know that walking in fields with shoulder deep flowering plants you don’t wear your cutest shoes and shorts.  It’s boots, it’s bib overalls, long sleeves and a stick wouldn’t hurt.  Although I arm myself with my camera and I walk carefully.  I’m not afraid of what I might find, I’m hoping I do find something!  Our land isn’t flat so I’m up and down and avoid pot holes (no need to have Hal hopefully searching for me hours later while I languish at the bottom of a sink hole)!  He’s accustomed to me wandering off,  it might take some time for him to realize I was missing:-)  I think a neighbor or two may have seen me poking around back in the field, camera in hand.  I enjoy having just enough land for me to ‘wander’; if I sat down (heaven forbid) I wouldn’t be seen by anyone.  Just think what may go on in that field when we are not looking!  All manner of animal activity, that pleases me.

There are deer paths that I try to follow, even a bedding down place or two.   Not sure why that should make me feel pleasure other than a critter had a nice soft place to sleep and was relatively safe for the night.

Many of the plants grow tall,  over my head!  I’m only 5’4″ so that’s not gigantic but it’s a pretty nice size for a plant.  To photograph these lovelies I need to duck down, hide myself, not from critters but from the unrelenting winds.  If I used better camera equipment like I did years ago I’d perhaps have less problem with the wind, maybe better photos; but my time for fiddling with equipment has passed so I use a simple Panasonic Lumix HD and it serves my needs very well.

I hope that a peek into the wildflowers that have given us pleasure this year also give you a glimpse at how beautiful Central Texas (Cedar Creek) is in the spring, Isn’t it pleasing with all nature can do, good and bad,  it does also entertain us with such beauty?  It pleases me, especially in stressful times.

The East Channel Lighthouse, My Babysitter


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The light on the East Channel of Grand Island ...

The light on the East Channel of Grand Island near Munising Michigan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Times they are a changing, in fact they already have and I suspect the process will continue as long as there are people; we continue to evolve.  Seems at a certain age we look back on the ‘good old days’, time has often softened our memories, which is why they are now good!

When I look back at my childhood growing up in Munising Michigan, a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula it’s always with fondness, even the snow is not so overwhelming; most likely because I no longer have any need to contend with it; even the snow had magical moments.

Munising Bay (Lake Superior) has an extremely beautiful island called Grand Island.  This island for me and for many others holds many special memories.  Families lived on the island, I’m certain they felt it was their own personal piece of heaven and the burial markers that stay in the small cemetery remind us they were there, spent their life, pioneering a heavily wooded, harsh, sometimes icebound island and at that time it was theirs.

Like most islands in large bodies of navigable water this one does have lighthouses to protect ships with their light in the darkest of night.   When I was a child the East Channel Lighthouse felt like it was my own personal structure, it’s light had long gone out.  I knew little of its history, just that my neighbor lady’s father had at one time manned the lighthouse; it hadn’t been used in many years.  It was in terrible condition in the early 1950’s and there were no plans to save or restore it, it was there in my case as a baby sitter.

Ah, a baby sitter?  How can a lighthouse be a baby sitter?  I am here to tell you how that happened to take place.  My mother and her friend Irene VanLandschoot worked during the summer and they had children that needed caring for, we weren’t little girls but we still needed to be occupied during the time of the day our mother’s were working.

When you grow up in Munising you learn to do many things, I don’t even remember how I learned some of my skills, seems they came naturally and many skills did come by trial and error seeing we had much more freedom to explore, and as I’ve mentioned, those times have changed.  One of our abilities was rowing a boat, doesn’t every 10 or 12 year old know how to row a boat on Lake Superior (having learned on smaller lakes I hope).

The VanLandschoot family in Munising, to this day are fisherman, and fisherman set nets way out in Lake Superior (at least they did back then), I believe those laws have changed along with the many other changes that were to come.  Irene, mother’s friend was part of the VanLandschoot fishing family and her daughter Paula Rae was two years younger than me.  Paula had a little brother (his name is Paul but he was called ‘Brother’ at that time) I assume he went with the men on the boat.  It must have seemed a great idea to get these two little girls together for the day and they would be out of trouble and our parents would know exactly where we were!  Problem solved and adventures for Paula and me.  Soon we would be teenagers and most likely wouldn’t have been a way they could have even tempted us to spend the day on the island alone, boring! I don’t remember how many of these trips we took, but enough to give me fond memories and amazement how free we actually were.

On a day that nets were to be set or maybe lifted, I’m not certain, it was a long time ago, it wasn’t one of the fisherman’s longer days, Paula and I would be on the fishing boat, dropped off with a boat to row ourselves onto the beach of Grand Island, pull up our boat and make it safe so the waves wouldn’t blow it away (a real problem) and we settled in right in front of the old lighthouse.   I’m amazed that we even knew how to beach our boat well enough and then to know when we would see the fishing boat returning to get back in our rowboat and meet the boat!  Amazing!  No wonder I won’t leave home without a watch!

We were armed with a bag lunch, some ‘pop’, chips, and cookies or something tasty, our mothers were excellent bakers.  My sandwich was most likely liver sausage and mustard on good old white Bunny Bread.  A great meal for growing girls and as I remember it tasted pretty darn good.   There is something delicious about eating outside!

The freedom to explore an island, walk along the shores of icy Lake Superior, inspect the caves, stand under water dripping from above and to go inside the very ‘spooky’ old East Lighthouse took a lot of time and occupied for the hours we were there. Surrounding the lighthouse  the field was filled with Sweet Williams, still one of my favorite flowers.  My grandmother had them in her garden and at one time someone must have had a flower garden around the old lighthouse.  Have you ever had the pleasure to enjoy the scent of an old-fashioned Sweet William?  I was born a gardener; if there were flowers I would be sure to find them.

Flowers from my garden. Common name: Sweet Wil...

Flowers from my garden. Common name: Sweet William Dwarf. Scientific Classification: Class: Magnoliopsida, Order: Caryophyllales, Family: Caryophyllaceae, Genus: Dianthus, Species: Dianthus barbatus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do remember a thunderstorm coming up one day,  if you’ve ever seen a storm whip it’s self up on Lake Superior you would know why Paula and I were a little nervous. We simple got ready and waited watching for the fishing boat and knowing we had to row to meet it.  We always knew that Paula’s father knew where we were and he’d make sure we were safe.  I doubt anyone told us that we were safe, it  was unsaid but understood that Mr.VanLandschoot would let nothing happen to us.

These are wonderful memories; the lighthouse has remained with me always, as special to me today as it is to so many others.  Caring citizens seeing it was going to slowly erode into Lake Superior and of course there are vandals’ even at such pristine and peaceful places have restored it.  It was not long after this time that all Pictured Rocks, which had been free for us to roam, was taken under the protection and preservation of the parks system.  Some of the residents didn’t like this, some did, it is progress and times really do change.

As I write and think about this time in my life all the possible worrisome things that Paula and I could have met left to spend the day on Grand Island with our babysitter the East Lighthouse it’s not with any thought why we were allowed to do such things, It’s how wonderful it was that we could.  Do any of you think that a child today would be allowed to take this venture?  Would parents be considered neglecting their child’s safety?

Pictured Rocks National Park, Miners Castle Ph...

Pictured Rocks National Park, Miners Castle Photo taken on summer vacation, wonderful weather hot and sunny! hike to misquote bay was wonderful except for of course the misquotes! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Reluctant Traveler Enjoys the Journey


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As many of you know I am a ‘reluctant’ traveler.  Give me a reason and I’ll stay home, it’s safe  ( baring fires, hurricanes or tornadoes).  My house will not smell like a farm when I come home after ten days of enjoying myself, having seven animals does have drawbacks.  Not many people want to clean up cat hairballs, lost dinners or mounds of fur while you are away so when you arrive you do know what will await you, it’s enough to ask to have the cats fed and litter robots cleaned, thank you Tracy.  The dog greets us as if we’ve been gone for months, but then she does that when we buy groceries!

Hal and I went on a cruise to the Panama Canal. Seeing travel plans are most often made in advance I had plenty of time to conjure up all sorts of dreadful things that could befall me or our home while we were away. All for no good reason, you would think I would learn!  Panama was a good draw for me, it’s historical and I like  big ships and I enjoyed the locks in Sault St. Marie Michigan. (A bit smaller scale)  The other ports of call were tropical and of more interest to Hal, he’s a beach guy, me, not so much other than photo opportunities, you never know when an intriguing window or door may pop up (one of my favorite subjects) or an especially interesting critter wandering the beach (sometimes human). Costa Rica and the Veragua Rainforest were the last stop on this cruise, with my love for nature both plant and animal, I did want to take the trip. 

There is a 12-section zip line available in the forest, that was Hal’s aim and to see the forest and some of what lives there.  I was there to absorb the air, the smells, sounds and amazing sights; for those who enjoy houseplants, it would be heaven on earth.  If you want to see a sloth at home, you will and it will stay that way until you come by once again.  They really don’t move very often, tend to look like a large gray basketball high up in a tree.

Like many people in the 1960’s and 70’s I tried to grow suffering  houseplants at every window in my house, until  I discovered growing plants outside was much more rewarding and stopped torturing jungle plants. I still enjoy seeing where the plants I tried to confine to containers, dry houses, lack of sun, too much sun, all manners of plant torture, do grow and what they look like happy, and at home. Before going into the forest and a tram ride  we were given an informative tour of what we might expect to find if we were to wander  in this forest, who and what live there.  I can’t imagine who would want to set out wandering in this mass of gigantic trees, wet, dripping, lush, solid foliage and intriguing sounds, certainly not me. I’ve been told a  machete  is usual  equipment if you are going to find your way through a jungle, and I can easily believe that is true.

The rainforest has a pulse; I could feel life all around me, I could smell and hear it, for me it was a very emotional experience.  At times I wasn’t certain if it was raining or just amazingly humid. The tour and information of what to expect in the forest  was a good beginning,  much of what was explained to us before we took our tram and walking tour  we did see, these critters do indeed live in there and aren’t hiding!  Don’t touch anything, rule number one, rule number two, DO NOT touch anything, no hugging trees!

The family we were taking our tour with and Hal were all going to zip line high above all this beauty; I was to meet them at the end point.  Our trusty and entertaining guide and his driver drove me to the ‘end of the line’; there were a couple of times I thought I might literally be ‘at the end of my line’!  Many men speaking a language I didn’t understand, in the middle of a Costa Rica rain forest, laughing and joking, me wishing I had learned to speak Spanish instead of Latin and French!  They were gracious, I had no reason for concern, and in fact everyone we met was so pleased to show us their remarkable forest.

When the men understood I wanted to take photos they were more than helpful showing me the treasures that could be found right next to and around me.  Including an adorable red (poisonous) frog.  The guide told me I would probably not die if I touched it, I’d get mucho ‘high’ for a pretty long time.  Well, all right then, more information than I needed right then, I’d wait until I was back on the ship and have a glass of wine. I took his picture instead!   All around their cabin, any piece of fruit they tossed out that had a seed remaining, was a growing plant, bananas, mangos and pineapples, for a plant woman, I had a great time.  I could hear the whooping of the zip liners and had no wish to be zipping above the forest, wandering on the ground was excellent for me.  The zip liners did have a wonderful time with little to no mishaps.  The zip line guides are remarkably skilled.

The Veragua Rainforest is not in a prosperous part of Costa Rica; the trips into this forest have only been taking place for about eight years.  The people are proud of the forest, they want it preserved, the gigantic trees with valuable lumber left alone, to be enjoyed and to continue to grow, the reptiles and animals, butterflies left to live without intruders unless guided by the people who love and live in the country.

The cruise lines bringing travelers to see these beautiful places are a good source of income for many of the residents.  The cruise lines do invest in the countries they take people to visit,  just the docking area it’s self employs and improves the area.  There are open air markets enabling visitors to buy products, some made by hand, often the artists are selling their own creations.   Poverty in this part of Costa Rica was clear away from where the ships dock. All the people we met were friendly, proud and industrious Costa Ricans.  I hope they are able to keep more and more of their beautiful country protected from people whose interests are in harvesting trees, plants, taking animals, it is a pristine area and should stay as it is.

I survived another trip, nothing fell off my body, my house did smell funny (it doesn’t now), but like the houseplants that grow so well in the Veragua Rain Forest, I do well in Cedar Creek Texas, although my life is now richer having seen an amazing structure (the Panama Canal) and a beautiful work of nature, the Vergua Rainforest.

A Ride With Grandpa Joe

Downtown (Elm Ave.) Munising, Michigan, USA.

In my mind there were few things I learned to do that equaled the sheer pleasure of driving a car!  I learned to drive when I was young, fourteen as I recall.  I learned on country roads, places I couldn’t hurt anyone other than ruining my boyfriend at that times car!  And I was young to have a boyfriend but I was strong-willed young woman and there I was on my sixteenth birthday (and having passed drivers training in school) ready for my license.  Hooray!  I passed with flying colors.  Passing with flying colors in Munising Michigan isn’t saying much seeing there wasn’t even a street light, no merging highways, the hardest thing for me is I did need to learn driving ‘a stick shift’.  So at one time I could drive with the best of the guys, at least I thought so.  The good thing was my mother drove an automatic shift and so the family car was automatic.  The test would be a piece of cake!

I think the day I got my license I was off running errands or making up errands as soon as my mother got home from work.  The car was so freeing and fun to drive, a whole world opened up for me. My mother and dad’s car was never so clean once I could drive it!  I could hardly wait to buy my own!  Which I did within a very short time.

My parents were very free allowing me to use their car, and I was pretty useful driving off to the grocery store to buy something my mother had forgotten.  Of course each trip took far longer then it needed seeing I had to drive all the streets of Munising hoping I might see someone I knew to wave at, maybe even an ‘older’ boy.  One summer day my dad asked me if I’d take the car and  give his father,  Grandpa Joe a ride to the doctor’s office.  Grandma and grandpa lived in Shingleton, about 12 miles from Munising, a nice ride.   I would be able to show  grandpa how well, and fast I could drive, how grown up I was.

Can you imagine how comfortable he must have been?  I wasn’t a very big young woman, most likely 100 pounds wringing wet and I didn’t look old for my age.   Although I was chatty and I really did enjoy my grandpa.  He was I thought very ‘old-fashioned’, he didn’t drive, he didn’t write and I’m not certain he could read, he spoke English rather well, I think he preferred his native Croatian.   He walked everywhere he went, many miles through the woods to go hunting or fishing, he was a competent man. He had been a lumberjack earning his land by helping to log the forests of  his part of Upper Michigan.   He built his and grandma’s house, all the out buildings and an extra house to rent.  That included two out houses, one for the little house and a rather deluxe one with three openings and I do think I remember one was smaller for the children.  One of his out buildings was a work shop, from the time I was small I loved to go in there to see just what mysterious thing I might find or see.  He had all sorts of tools and sharpeners, warned to not go near the scythes because they were really very sharp.  He sharpened them on a grinding wheel and that was how the lawn got mowed.  It wasn’t cut until the daisies stopped blooming.  Grandma and grandpa’s house and property was one of my favorite places to spend time.  I believe my love of gardens started right there in Shingleton Michigan on grandma and grandpa Dolaski’s piece of America.

Back to our summer day and grandpa’s exciting ride with his grand-daughter, Trudy Lee.  I drove the top end of the speed limit all the way, passing cars if needed; I was out to impress grandpa.  I don’t think I did, but I felt special taking him to town for his appointment.  He was most likely very happy to reach the doctor’s office in one piece.

When I picked grandpa up  at home he was carrying a brown paper bag with him.  The time was late morning; I asked him what was in the bag.  Well, he was pretty sure he was going to miss lunch while he was waiting to see the doctor so he brought it with him.  I knew grandpa always planned ahead, usually anticipating anything that might happen but bring his lunch to the doctor was a new one and I knew better than to giggle on the outside like I was in the inside

We made it to the doctor’s office in record time, I assume that was because I felt the high-end of the speed limit was the proper  way  to drive.   We found a seat in the waiting room; I helped him get checked in and found us a place to sit, the office did have other patients waiting.  Grandpa must have decided either due to his stomach or his pocket watch it was time for his lunch.  He took out his ever-present pocket knife, opened his brown bag, cut a nice piece of onion, a chunk of bologna and began to eat.  I’m sure he offered me a bite and I can’t say I remember having any but I know I didn’t have any onion.  To someone else this may have been an embarrassing moment, for me it was not.  People knew one another in Munising, I’m certain everyone in the waiting room understood this was grandpa’s ‘way’ and I was smiling on the inside at how comfortable he was.  He had no false ‘airs’ about him, he was who he was all the time.   I was proud of him.

Our ride home was uneventful, I didn’t even know why he was seeing the doctor.  I expect it was serious otherwise he’d not have been there.  I must not have given the why much thought then seeing I remember being quite happy on my ride back ‘to town’.  I was ready for another adventure driving!

A Cottage Garden in Texas?


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One of the last things that would come to mind when thinking about my favorite cottage gardens would be Texas.  A cottage garden usually brings gardeners thoughts to England and the Texas climate hardly resembles England by any stretch of the imagination. Texas does have multiples of gardening zones, the state is huge and the climate varies drastically from region to region.  Still, cottage garden and Cedar Creek Texas don’t go together.   The heat in the summer turns the water in the hose to what feels like boiling water, cook your veggies right on the spot!  And the winds can howl for days decimating any growing thing that hasn’t adapted it’s self to our environment.

Gardeners are tenacious, we try, fail and try again, burned or baked plants, soil so hot a root couldn’t survive no matter how much you water we don’t give up.   The upside for me is I don’t live where the soil is solid rock and blasting caps might be my best option!  The high hills in Texas look like mountains and they are rock, we live in rolling hill country on the edge of the piney forests, which is relatively close to black land soil.  We do not miss out on the heat and the winds, they  come with the territory, and we live on top of a hill, howling wind is often my companion, it’s howling as I write.  The rocks found in our neighborhood are typical Texas rocks,  very large, a tractor bucket is usually needed to move them, the rocks found on our property have all been put to good use in our gardens or other places in our landscape.

Let me explain what a cottage garden was and is today.  Manor houses in England employed gardeners and the gardener’s family usually lived with him in a cottage on the property.  Very often the wife and the children worked at the manor also.  In the process of maintaining the gardens of these gigantic homes and the structures themselves much of the debris, be it plant material or hard scape material was given to the cottagers to use in any way they wanted.  Old roses being replaced by newer varieties, seeds from the cutting back of flower heads, vegetable seeds, pieces of brick, wood, chimney pots, just about anything not being used  was taken home and used for another purpose or in the case of plants, its original purpose.  Desirable seeds were often saved in these gardens over the years,  they come back into fashion again.  As in most things garden ideas come and go in fashion, what’s new once was old changed a bit and once again is desirable.  Most gardeners do like heirloom  vegetable seeds and roses.

Vegetable plants  among the flowers, planting closely,  allowing herbs to  grow in paths, paths built from the cast away bricks, millstones and other solid materials, even a thick piece of wood could find it’s way into the path.  Chimney pots made great containers.     After many years these gardens were given a ‘name’ and  became a  garden design and not a need to feed a cottage family.   They are beautiful, utilitarian and they are a great deal of work.  From what looks to some like chaos is actually rather well thought out, and right outside your door for easy access; herbs, vegetables for cooking and flowers for a quick bouquet.

I am able to use two of my gardens to make my version of a Cottage Garden.   Both of my gardens are close to the house, one  fenced, and has a small amount of grass, it’s a bit more formal, but not much seeing I’m not exactly a formal person or gardener!  I lean toward overgrown, it’s a matter of choice, what looks good to the gardener;  in the case of roses I wouldn’t want visitors  attacked by over zealous bushes!

I use many roses, they are the backbone of my gardens, all Texas tough roses from a supplier that specializes in roses that it reclaims from old homesteads, and various other places where nothing seems to survive but the rose-bush.  It is surprising how many old varieties, many with beautiful scents, colors and multiples of petals .  There are some newer roses that are grown at the Rose Emporium to see if they will take our weather.  The only rose that won’t be found is a long-stemmed tea rose.  Tea roses are often a great deal of work as they are almost always dependent on chemicals for bugs, needs for food and many diseases that attack the leaves.  So I don’t miss them, the roses I grow I do pick, they look as lovely as long-stemmed teas.  One ‘new’ rose that does grow well is Knockout in all its varieties;  I allow it to grow large to suit my cottage garden look.  The most daunting challenge I face with my roses is keeping them pruned; they grow like Jack’s bean stock!   Like most things I undertake I overdo my cottage look but there is order, my order 🙂

In my cottage garden you will find roses, lavender, laurel, sunflowers, sweet potato vines, native hibiscus, native mist flowers, cosmos,  tomatoes, eggplant, chard, Thai and ‘regular’ basil, thyme, rosemary (grows as a shrub here) all go into my gardens, one garden by our kitchen the other the front door and courtyard.  Vegetable plants need planting early in the season to escape the heat of summer; once summer is upon us it becomes my ‘winter’ and the gardens become somewhat dormant.  Our other gardens are  Texas Tough gardens, native plants that are tolerant of drought, wind and heat.  They have their own kind of beauty, I still get carried away and try to turn them into cottage gardens and Mother Nature takes care of that for me, plants die!  Slowly I am giving up my ambitious plans and remember where I live!

Today if I sit in the courtyard I can pretend I’m in a beautiful English garden having tea (in Texas, sweet tea) and a scone with clotted cream.  We must remember to blend all the good things life, a bit of England in a Texas courtyard; sounds like a plan to me.

March, In Like a Lamb, Out Like a Lion


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As the March winds howl outside my window I’m reminded of a March in 1995,  many years ago.  That year March came in like a lamb (in Wisconsin). It was to go out like an angry lion.  I had completed the cleaning  my spring garden required, spring bulbs were popping, starting their early show, the weather had been agreeable, even the lawn was ready for an April shower. And we all know April showers bring May flowers.  In my mind life was good, nature in its usual order, one thing after the next,  a comfortable pattern.  On occasion I had troubling thoughts, but had come to accept a hiccup here and there.  One carries on and I rarely thought of Mike dying, although both his parents and his sister had died young.  Maybe we do whistle in the dark?

As a child growing up in Munising, Michigan one of my neighbor hood friends, Mike Kennedy, would later in 1966, become my husband.  He was two years older than me so we didn’t talk that often, our ages being so far apart:-)  He was shy, handsome and had a lot of friends, very cool friends in my mind.  I was a skinny girl who didn’t attract a lot of attention from cool boys.  However, I would grow up and become an acceptable young woman.  Evidently we eventually talked to each other, we loved one another and intended to spend our lives together, we wanted children, we were friends.

We married when he was 22; I was 20, without a penny to our names. Between us we had two new cars (foolish young people), a little furniture and a few household supplies.  One U Haul trailer and we left Munising immediately after our marriage and headed to Green Bay, Wisconsin, on the day of a Packer Bear game, there was no room to be found. We did find a rather humble place to stay and set out the next day to find an apartment.  We found one, the best apartment in the world for our last $90. There we would seek our fortune.  We had many adventures and there are many stories, but this is about March 1995, 28 years later.

While playing racquet ball with a friend late one Friday afternoon Mike had a mild heart attack.  He drove himself to the hospital, he was an EMT, understood what was happening and that was his usual behavior, get it done fast, take care of it, stay calm.  He stayed at the hospital until the following Thursday, released given a clean bill of health, no damage due to quick action on his part, and eat a diet low in fat. We felt he had dodged a bullet.

Thursday evening came around, we went to bed happy dad was home and he was going to continue working as always, life was good, off to work in the morning.  He was a stockbroker and his clothes were laid out before he went to bed that night, wingtips in place, suit and tie ready for the day.  I woke at the usual 6:30 to find the house somewhat quiet seeing Mike was always up early and ahead of me.  I called him, looked around, and found him.  Sometime in the night he had silently died along side the bed.  My reaction was as anyone would expect, I didn’t panic, I was in total shock and moved like a robot.  I knew he wasn’t alive.  I felt like a character in a very bad movie.

Mike had been a member of our village rescue squad and I immediately called and told them who I was and what had happened, please come without any lights and sirens please, he was already gone. They did just that, were there quickly and confirmed what I and the youngest of my three children already were trying to comprehend; Dad was gone. The rescue staff called my friends, my oldest son Mike had to be told  and brought home. My husbands youngest brother Dennis on his way to work, was found by the Michigan State Police and appeared in what seemed a very short time.  In the blink of an eye our lives had changed and each of us had a path ahead of sorrow, pain and eventually growth.   Memories would be searched, anger would surface, sadness would be overwhelming, and many months fear and loneliness  were my constant companion along with decisions that were at times overwhelming.  I had a lot of growth ahead of me; I wasn’t aware. Amazingly enough during this time we also found moments to laugh, remember a story, or poke fun at something we thought was silly about one process or another that needed doing.

In the span of a week my husband and childhood friend died, a funeral  was planned,  my daughter Christina turned a sad seventeen, Conor had a senior ball to attend, and I found myself at the end of that week, alone.  Listening to Emmylou Harris’s newest CD, Wrecking Ball, how right for my mood and emotions.

Anyone reading this may wonder why in the world would I go over all this, death happens daily to so many people, it’s a condition of life that we live so we must also die. My family and I are not unique.  The musings that I have are that death of a loved family member is only one of the extremely painful events in life that people must face. Life does resume, and you discover it has never stopped, around you in your sorrow and grief people are living and loving and enjoying.  I would like others to know that life does get better; you slowly go forward, taking baby steps and look to the future. Sometimes the future is only a day, or a week, eventually you return to normal, at least what does become normal.  Time does heal and friends  the rocks of our life, but one goes on alone forging a different future.  I made mistakes by the dozens; I also got the help (professional) I needed to  figure out who Trudy Lee Dolaski Kennedy was.  What I had done right, what had I done wrong; for some of us it’s  difficult to look at our own behavior, our own history.  My first husband’s (notice I write first) death was among the most traumatic events in my life,  not the most traumatic others may face, these are only my observations.

The  March wind is still howling outside my window today, my  current window in  Cedar Creek, Texas.  My husband Hal is working on a lecture. New gardens are growing.  My animals are sleeping in the sunshine, my children are grown and I am a stronger, smarter woman than I was in 1995.  And Michael Richard Kennedy is still missed by those who knew and loved him. I do not write this without a tear nearing the anniversary of his death.  Our hearts are large with a great capacity for love.  Loving once and losing doesn’t mean not loving or being loved again.  And the April showers will bring May flowers, if not this year, than the next.

The Art of Catching Bumblebees

Growing up was a bit different in the 1950’s then it is today. Most of my days I spent outside playing. There was very little organized time and if there was, I wasn’t part of it. I do think there may have been a tap dancing class, some things like that but I wasn’t coordinated and shoes for tap dancing were expensive.

There must have been a lot to do seeing I was always outside with the neighbor kids, exploring, making tents from our bikes and old blankets, playing cars in the dirt, making hollyhock dolls, all creative and exciting 🙂 The adventure I’m writing about today I loved doing. Didn’t take anything much to do it and I had an ulterior motive (a pet).

Catching bees, bumblebees, the big fluffy ones (there are over 250 species of bees and I’m not going to try to find the exact variety I liked to catch). It wasn’t a skinny variety, it had to be fluffy, yellow and black, and a look like it wanted to become my friend. As I think back I assume that ‘look’ was determined by me!

Hollyhocks were the best! You could even pick a hollyhock bloom fully open and trap the bee inside! It took bravery and evidently that had not been one of the times I planned on a new pet! There was no way out for that bee but to drop the flower or peek and open and release. It was exciting too feel the buzzing, vibrating bumblebee and the threat it was going to sting me! Yes! Bees did sting me many times but so what, no one ever worried that you might swell up into a balloon and die. I ran home for some ice and carried on with my mission.

To prepare properly for catching bees you need a few things. First up, a nice big jar with a tight fitting cover. A mayonnaise jar worked very well, peanut butter too, it had a wider top. Next an ice pick, always warned that you are going to stab yourself or something dreadful with that pick, never a warning you’re going to get stung, or don’t drop that glass jar! Puncture wounds were bad, stings not so much. The cover needed many well poked holes so the bumblebee could breathe after it was captive. If one does the job well, maybe more than one bee can live on and on in the rarefied environment I’d create. I made the jar nice inside, put some sugar on the bottom, bees must like sugar because they do make honey. Right? Than add a few flowers, preferably the same kind the bees were enjoying at the moment. Often the flower was a hollyhock but there were other shrubs and flowers with swarms of buzzing bees. A stick was a good addition; bees need something to sit on when resting. Ah, a perfect home for a bee! At least perfect in the mind of a child who believed in fairies and who’s imagination was unending.

The art came in getting your jar very close to the back of the bee and the flower it was using. Slip the bee and flower into your jar and wham! A bee and an extra flower. Often the bees were dusted with yellow pollen seeing they had been busy all morning. Even better I was certain then it (the bee) could make honey right there in my jar. A pet and honey! Be still my naive little girl heart.

I was pretty good at this art and often had two or three bees in a jar. I suppose someone should have told me what I was doing was not nice. I was going to kill the bees and a bee would not make a very good pet. Seems I didn’t learn that lesson until many bees went to the beehive in the sky. Plus, all the other kids did it too!

When I found them in the morning (always put them next to my bed, we were going to bond), they didn’t look good. Jar was usually rather moist, droplets running down the side somewhat like a steam bath, and the bees a bit soggy and not moving much. Of course the flowers wilted and there weren’t any bees happily singing a tune on the stick I provided.

Didn’t take long to realize that the one or more bees were dying or already dead. Well, when a person dies they get buried, I knew that much. A child’s mind is practical. I did have a proper amount of sadness, I didn’t cry over the death of the bees (a bird or fish I would have). At that time in my life I didn’t understand my catching of the bees and their certain death. A funeral would be planned and under the porch I would go.

Under the porch was cool, moist soil, a few weeds on the edges, worms, many other burial plots, an old push mower and a supply of broken glass and stones I had stashed for just this purpose. Bee funerals happened often, even toad or frog funerals. I’d dig a nice neat hole, wrap the now dead bee in a fresh flower, place it in it’s grave (each bee a separate grave) and then bury it. The marker would consist of one of the lovely pieces of glass I had stored or a stone. Broken green glass from a pop bottle was always nice. Most likely a few words were said to the bee. Next came the flowers to decorate the stone. Small ones, like a forget me not, worked really well and just think of the sentiment!

When I think back on the entertainment I found as a child it is amusing and sometimes bittersweet. I very much wanted a pet (the bittersweet), I did like the bees and the flowers and had no idea I was killing what I wanted for a friend. There were lessons learned: I could get hurt (a little sting), things die when you mess with them, and that dead requires a mourning or celebration. Lessons we learn on our own often stay with us, experience is a good teacher. I’m sure there are other former bee catchers out there:-)

Now I simply enjoy the bees, especially the big fluffy ones and smile when they buzz and bumble around my garden. FREE TOO BE A BEE !

Spring in the Courtyard



Spring has sprung in Cedar Creek!  I was in the courtyard with my trusty Calla Lily; she is forever looking for toads, maybe trolls, who truly knows what lurks under the boardwalk.  Toads are certainly there, size of baseballs and don’t care much for dogs.  Even after she’s been slimed by a toad, bit by a snake, Callie still thinks she’s a hunting dog, it’s not going to happen.  She does have a good time and is a good garden companion.

I talk to Callie, and yesterday wasn’t an exception.  I pointed out  bees by the hundreds,  buzzing of bees was everywhere, as it is most days with spring trees and roses in bloom.  The red bud tree is outstanding smothered in its vibrant pink blooms. Redbuds are beautiful.  The trees literally cover themselves with blooms, bringing to mind a woman going to a ball, all decked out in her finest.

One of the spring delights I miss from my life in the Midwest are the lilacs.  To me there is nothing that matches the scent of a lilac in bloom, the mountain laurel scent is grape, seems a perfect match with it’s vibrant blue color with dashes of white; a very acceptable replacement for the lilacs.

One plant I haven’t been able to find a replacement for is the peony, my daughter Christina’s favorite flower and one of my favorites.  Picking huge bouquets to bring in was a spring tradition.  In Upper Michigan a July tradition, just a bit on the cooler side next to Lake Superior.  Gardeners here do try to grow peonies but after loving the ‘real thing’, I’ll find something to plant that likes Texas.

I’ve been picking the irises as soon as they begin to open.  I’m finding they continue to bloom, buds opening as large and beautiful as if I’d left them in the garden.  I like to bring as much of the garden in as I possibly can.  When the roses see me coming they know it’s either pruning time or I’m in search of a bloom or two, it’s still early for them to be covered with open blooms, I’ve still managed to cut a few.

My grandchildren, Riley Ann and Jack like to ‘pick’ the roses that are about to fall, and drop the petals into the bird bath, they claim It’s a special petal bath for the birds.  After a few days it does get a bit slimy, they don’t notice I do clean it; they simply fill it up again, the birds don’t seem to mind at all.

One of the roses by our front door is gigantic; it reaches to the roofline and has few thorns.  I like to prune roses and this one allowed me to prune a hiding spot inside of it.  The kids & I can get inside the rose and watch the world from the inside out.  It’s an interesting perspective and I often wonder what it looks like through their eyes.  At times I feel like the old woman from Hansel & Gretel!

Games in a garden are never-ending.  The ‘reward’ (if you call it one) is a hug and kiss if you win!  We ask Riley and Jack to search for things in the garden, something blue, a frog, a pine cone, a hummingbird, a bird’s nest, ribbons swaying in the wind, the list goes on.  They get very involved and most often Hal and I tire before they do.  Our courtyard is special to me; it’s always lovely, the grass always green, it is serene.  It is a microclimate, so if it’s chilly outside (that does happen even in Texas), the courtyard is usually perfect. Perfect for morning coffee, or late afternoon wine.  It’s a haven for birds, I find birds nests everywhere when the plants thin in the fall, or when I am pruning.

A garden in our environment does have its dangers, not a surprise something so beautiful would have some dark side (in addition to the trolls).  We occasionally have snakes, after a rain fire ants often appear in swirling mounds and my most irritating invaders are wasps.  They build a very nice looking nest. After they are not so politely asked to leave I do ‘pick’ the hive, clean it (they have larva inside the combs, this requires a toothpick and an anal personality) and it becomes fine material for decorating, bringing outside in, the same with the birds nests.  I’m an inveterate collector of outside treasures.

This time of the year the birds nests are left alone seeing they are already singing their mating songs in the early morning.  It’s surprising how flimsy some of the nests are and that they don’t blow away tossing babies and all to the danger of the ground, they never do.  Always interesting to see just what the birds (we have a lot of cardinals) put in their nests.  Sometimes things I recognize, like fur from brushed cats, maybe a dropped string.  The cats are happy being useful to the birds that tempt them from the windows, maybe not, but I’d like to think they would enjoy being  useful.

Spring is fleeting, just beginning and I hope to miss none of the beauty.  The wild flowers will begin in a few weeks and they are exquisite, if we have rain, they put on an extraordinary show.  And, yes, people do put their children, their dog, horse, whatever in the fields of  blue bonnets  to take pictures!