Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Little Garden

 The Little Garden


I come from a long line of farmers, so I usually plant a garden. On occasion it has been fairly large and produced enough to round out our meals with fresh veggies through the summer and supply us with canned or frozen veggies in the winter. Other times, when we lived in places where there was little room for a true garden, we planted a few tomatoes in our flowerbeds.


The year I returned from Kosovo, my mother had tomatoes planted near my deck for me to enjoy all summer. And I did. I picked a handful of those little “tommy toe” tomatoes every time I made a salad.


Because the new house where I live didn’t have good soil, my cousin found a couple of old bales of hay for me the next year and I planted my small garden in them. 


During the pandemic, I planted a few tomato plants from seed inside and put them out in my makeshift garden when the weather was nice. I cut up some potatoes that had started to sprout, planted those and enjoyed several meals featuring potato dishes that summer and fall.


My garden hasn’t always been big, but it always brings me joy and a bit of good food.


Then 2022 came. I had a very busy summer planned. I was attending a major writing conference in Illinois in June. I wanted to finish the book I started crafting before the conference. A garden would have to wait. I wrote furiously during those early spring days. 


I made a stir fry meal one night and saved the seeds I cleaned out from the peppers.


I came across a few tomato plants on sale at Jungle Jim’s so I scratched out a small area and planted them. It was a start. Of course some critter bit one off. I’ve never had that happen before, but I babied the stem sticking out so I have three small surviving plants. Out of the four I planted.


The conference was at hand. Gardening was low on my priority list. I packed everything I needed and set about making sure my house was clean. I had a few potatoes starting to sprout in the pantry so I quartered them and planted them near the tomatoes. I didn’t have time to plant the peppers. I know I could have frozen the seeds, but instead, I took the dried seeds and put them in a planter I fully intended to host colorful annuals in front of my house. 


By the time I returned from the conference I had what looked like a million pepper plants sprouting and a flourishing row of potato plants pushing through the earth. My tomatoes looked a bit sad but after a good watering, they bounced back.


My mother enjoys gardening as well, but didn’t put one out this year. She had a few cucumber seeds she planted in pots and I took her some peppers. We put them in a variety of flowerpots and set them on her patio table. We can almost literally watch the cucumbers and peppers grow as we look out the window. A little sun, a little water, and the plants grow a bit more each day. 


The cucumbers are leafing out now. The peppers are getting taller and stronger. 


My mom and I sit in her family room and watch. We joke about our “farm.” We look forward to getting the plants into the ground. 


It is a “little garden.” But even a little garden grows hope.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Unpacking Experience

Do you remember your first day of school? You get home and someone asks, “How was kindergarten?” 


“What did you do?”

“Uh…I dunno.”


Remember those conversations? You may have experienced them with your own children. 


As a former teacher, I know those first days are packed with activity, new friends, and great stories. As a mom, I know it takes a while to unpack any of it.


I came to fully understand the child’s side of this conversation this past week. Following a visit with my family in Wisconsin, I attended the Write-to-Publish conference in Wheaton, Illinois.


“How was the conference?” my own sweet mama asked.


“What did you do?”

“I dunno.”


 I loved the conference. I met authors, publishers, agents, podcasters, and bloggers. There were new writers and those who have over a million books in print. We had music. We had food. We attended workshops and enjoyed great main speakers and programs. 


I enrolled in a multi-day workshop with one of my favorite authors, Angela Hunt. And yes, she and I enjoyed good conversation over lunch.

Angela Hunt and Moi


I took a ton of notes. Some of them are even legible.


In the evening, I headed back to my friend’s house to crash in my comfy bed and prepare for another day.


Now I am home. Somewhat rested. Unpacked. Ready to write.

Now you can ask me.


“How was the conference?”


“Incredible. I met so many great people and learned so much more about my craft. I returned home inspired and ready to write. The food was good and I had a great time with my friend, Cindy Huff and her hubby, Charlie. They certainly made me feel welcome.” 


Favorite Love Inspired
Author and my
Weeklong Go-To: Allie Pleiter
It all comes out in a rush.


“So what did you do?”


“I dunno.”









Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Perseverance, Character, and Hope 

COVID interrupted everyone’s life. That’s a given. However, during the pandemic, my daughter, son-in-law, and four grandchildren moved from their small Cape Cod house seated on a postage stamp yard in Kenosha to a spacious home situated on a sprawling park-like two acre lot further north in Wisconsin. This summer I finally had the opportunity to visit. 


It is always good to wrap my arms around my family. It was particularly comforting to be a part of the day-to-day life of my daughter and her tribe. I celebrated the end of school with them on Friday. We explored “The Domes” botanical gardens on Saturday. On Sunday I attended church with my sweet ones and met some of their friends.


We talked, played, visited, and walked. The grandkids took me on a tour of their backyard and we roasted marshmallows over the fire pit. Time together is a treasure. As my youngest daughter says, “It fills your tank.”


While visiting, Matthias, my eleven-year-old grandson was to try out for an elite soccer team. He’s played summer soccer a few years. The tryouts for this travel team were held the week of my visit. Many of the kids in the select soccer program play all year long. Many have played together for years. Matthias headed out anyway, committed to do his best. 


A few hours later his dad brought him home from the first night of trials. “It was brutal,” Tim told us. 


This Guy. He Inspires Me.



I ached for my grandson. At first. Then I recognized the power of the experience. I told Matthias how one year, his Aunt Kendall decided to try out for the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra (CSYO). The program was demanding and accepted only the best musicians. 


Kendall secured the audition piece and took it to her violin teacher. 


“You will fall flat on your face!” the teacher told her. She then turned to me. “Those kids she’ll be up against have been playing violin since they were three years old. She’ll fall flat on her face! Then what?”


“Then I’ll be there to pick her up,” I said.


Kendall was heading to a music camp that summer. She took the audition piece with her. In addition to the music the campers practiced and performed, Kendall’s camp instructor helped her learn the audition piece. 


She came home and put her name in the CSYO hat. The audition came and although Kendall did her best, she did not make the roster. 


But…because of her hard work and determination to improve her skills as a violinist, she auditioned for the Middletown Youth Orchestra and made first chair.


What a good reminder to me. 


I leave my kiddos in Wisconsin soon. From here I head to a major writing conference near Chicago. Like my grandson, I’m not in the same league with many of the writers I’ll be rubbing elbows with at this conference. I’ll be sitting at the feet of masters of the craft of writing. 


I needed this reminder of who I am. I need to remember to humble myself to the teaching I’ll receive. I need to remind myself to practice my craft if I want to score those goals. 


Romans 5:3-5 is a good reminder for us all…okay, me in particular:


…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.






Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Old Shoes

Shoes Tell the Story of Our Lives


One of my favorite scenes in the book Breathing on Her Own is when Molly holds a pair of her injured daughter’s shoes. She hugs them close to her heart with the thought:  Shoes tell the story of our lives. 


There is truth in that. I went out to my garden this morning wearing a pair of Clarks leather shoes I’ve owned for close to twenty years. I thought about that line in the book and considered the stories these old shoes might share.


They would tell how they climbed the steps and walked the

campus of Cincinnati Christian University. 


They would recount the days of waiting in the hospital for grandbabies to arrive or for the heart surgeon to come out and tell me all was well with my husband.


These shoes would surely speak of the wanderings around airports as my husband and I traveled to places such as France or Finland. Or perhaps as we walked the markets of Cairo. 


These shoes have been on my feet at fast food establishments near home as well as fancy restaurants in Italy and Spain. 


They were on my feet when I moved to Kosovo for a year.


They, like me, have slowed down a bit. We’re both a bit worn and frayed. But we’re both still useful. Neither of us travel much anymore. A drivable trip here and there, but nothing more since COVID. 


So I slip into these black leather shoes to water my garden or weed the flowerbed. They may not be as beautiful or stylish as they once were, but they are like an old friend. And they keep my feet warm and dry.  


I know there will come a day when one of us gives out. If they go before I do, I’ll miss them. These old shoes have served me well. 


But the one memory I hold is that day in late October over seven years ago. 


It is a well-known fact among my family and friends that I tend to lose my shoes. It was not uncommon for me to get ready for church but by the time the family was ready to go out the door, I had lost my shoes.


That October afternoon in 2014, I settled into my desk chair. I was working on a new novel when the phone rang. My husband’s bicycle had run off the road. Tom had been thrown into a tree. 


These old leather Clarks were under my desk in plain sight. I slipped into them even as I grabbed my car keys and made it to the scene of Tom’s accident. I wore them as I drove to the hospital and paced the waiting room. They were on my feet as I held his hand, praying as he took his last breath.


I didn’t start this post with that memory in mind. I started it because this morning I pulled out those old leather Clarks so I could go outside and water my garden.  


I think Molly was right. Shoes do tell the story of our lives.


Breathing on Her Own


Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Finish the Course

 Finish the Course


I am not a runner. I walk quite a bit. I even have a step counter to prove it. I recently completed the annual Hunger Walk and 5K Run event in my neck of the woods. The goal was to raise money for a local food bank in Cincinnati. 


I was in. I like to walk and I LOVE to know the money raised will feed hungry people in my community. 


Yep, I can walk. 

But run? No. 

If I were in that well-known race captured in children’s literature, I would be the tortoise, not the hare. That’s not all that bad. If you remember the story, the tortoise wins. Not because he’s fast but because he stays the course.


Many people offer advice on winning a race. They train to win. They hire coaches and spend hours timing their runs. 


Since you already know I’m not a runner, you know not to expect a post coaching you on how to win. This is a post coaching you to stay the course. It’s about crossing the finish line. 


Because in most of life Finishing is Winning.


Staying the course earns you a certificate, diploma, or degree in educational circles.

Staying the course helps you finish a difficult task or pay off your debt.

We know staying the course, even when it is an uphill battle in any relationship has its own rewards.


Sometimes the rewards for finishing the course are delayed. 


Consider parenting. Finish the course. Yes, there are perks along the way, but watching your children grow to be fine adults is wonderful. And grandkids are a bonus!


Work. Finish the course. Okay, you get a paycheck, but you plod along and do your best. One day, you wake up to retirement and say, “Is this Monday or Tuesday?” before you fall back into your pillow for and extra hour of sleep.


In the Bible, Paul talks about staying the course, running the good race. He writes to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” He doesn’t speak of “winning.” He speaks of “finishing.” (2 Timothy 4:7) In Hebrews 12, he writes, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”


Run the race. Finish the course. Fight the good fight.


So how do you do that?One step at a time. One day at a time. One small objective leading to a larger goal. 


Losing weight? One pound at a time.

Get a diploma? One course at a time.

Learn a new skill? One day at a time.


It’s kind of like the old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

What course are you traveling? Leave a comment and I’ll offer you a word of encouragement!

Here are a few pics from the event:

We started with the Star-Spangled Banner...

We walked from Ohio to Kentucky! (Not as far as it sounds.)



Yes we had a celebration with hot dogs and everything! (I told you there are rewards for finishing the course!)

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Death by Honeysuckle

 Death by Honeysuckle


Sounds like a book title, doesn’t it? Death by Honeysuckle by Wynott Garden?


I live in a community known as Cinnamon Woods in Ohio. I’ve been wondering since I  moved here in 2017 if a more accurate name would be Honeysuckle Hollow. The vegetation gets its name from the fragrant white flower it produces. Bees love it. It serves a purpose. I think.


The massive bushes are everywhere. I’m not sure there is one homestead in my neighborhood completely free of the invasive brush. 


I’ve cut, pulled, sprayed, and dug as much as I can. The brush and I seem to have reached an impasse. 


Don’t misunderstand. Honeysuckle is actually pretty and could make a nice hedge. That is, IF it stayed where it was planted and didn’t have a mind of its own. 

The Honeysuckle Flower
has a sweet fragrance
bees love.

However, the new growth twists and turns. It has wound itself around sections of my fence, threatening to pull the entire fence apart. My grandson, Spencer, dug several roots of the miserable plant out from a flowerbed in my back yard. We chopped and dug as much as we could. I thought I had the monster licked. But when spring arrived, a couple of small, noticeably “dead” stumps started sprouting new growth. I sprayed a brush killer on them to remind them who’s the boss.

New growth from
 a dead, woody, 
honeysuckle stump.

I hired someone to clear the honeysuckle from around the woodpile at the back of my property. Only then did I discover I owned a good fifteen feet more land than I thought!


My ongoing battle with honeysuckle is akin to a low budget horror film: Invasion of the Honeysuckle. 


And believe it or not, people buy and plant honeysuckle! I’m not kidding. Google it if you don’t believe me. You can buy seeds for eight bucks on Amazon or purchase one of the little monsters in a pot for twenty dollars. 


Hmm…now that I think about it…I have some lovely little plants for sale. Beautiful honeysuckle bushes to create your fragrant, private, backyard haven. If I dig them and plop them into an old coffee can, I’ll give you a great deal…$10 each if you live out of state and sign a promise to never plant them in Ohio. EVER.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Welcome to the Jungle

 Welcome to the Jungle


“Welcome to the jungle.” I know that is a line from the Cincinnati Bengals as fans walk into the stadium. It is also the phrase I use when I visit a local specialty food market called Jungle Jim’s.


There is no other market like Jungle Jim’s around. I remember when my brother-in-law and sister-in-law visited us. They have lived all over the world. They assured us they “had seen it all.” They were prepared to be unimpressed. It didn’t happen. Hours later, we finally emerged from the store and they agreed they had never seen anything like the Jungle.

I love to go to Jungle Jim’s. So much so, I included it in my novella, Courtesy Turn, which was published in an Ohio anthology called From the Lake to the River.


But here is what I love most. The store isn’t about selling stuff to different people. It’s about sharing food with all people. Even the entrance is marked in numerous languages. 


If you read last week’s post, you know my grandson surprised me with a little “tour of Japan” through a season of snack foods on Mother’s Day. The real surprise was the fact that my twenty-year-old grandson stepped out of his comfort zone and tried foods he couldn’t pronounce coming from packages he couldn’t read…and he loved it!


(If you missed that post on being adventurous, you can click HERE to read it for yourself.)


One cracker-type snack filled with a red bean paste was particularly delicious. I decided to buy more of those and surprise Joshua. Where do you go for that? Jungle Jims.

A few of the
Japanese Snacks
at  the Jungle!

The Jungle is unique. It is both a grocery store and an international market. And more. Jungle Jim’s is so much a part of Cincinnati I sometimes take it for granted. So I here is an abbreviated tour of the Jungle this week. 


Let’s start with the “more.” It may be for foodies, but there is certainly an entertainment vibe. Jungle animals and sounds greet you. Inside, animated characters entertain passersby. There is a cooking school where you can learn to prepare a wide variety of foods.


Even the bathrooms won an award. Seriously. 

The port-a-potty is a ruse.
It opens to an award winning bathroom.

All  displays are colorful and the inventory ranges from greenhouse plants and floral arrangements to housewares, pet supplies, groceries, bakery items, a meat market, vegetables and fruits from around the world, fresh seafood and fish (actually swimming in the tanks), toiletries, toys, books, “as seen on TV” items, candy, health food (Notice how I put those next to each other?) frozen foods…everything. 


There are aisles and aisles of spices, canned goods, candies, and baking supplies from nations I've never visited.


This post was never intended as an advertisement for a great local market in Fairfield, Ohio. 

It is simply this: 


Each time I visit the store, I am reminded of how diverse the United States is in terms of ethnicity and how alike we are when we come together for a meal.


Gathering around a banquet table set for the world…welcome to the Jungle.

Want to know more? Here's a link to a YouTube video with Jungle Jim himself:

And a few more pics.

Yes, this is Jungle Jim, himself.


Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Chasing and Embracing Adventure

 Adventure: Chasing or Embracing?


I’ve often been told I am an adventurous person. Curious. I don’t think of myself that way. I don’t back away from new experiences. Mostly. But I don’t constantly seek them out, either. 


I decided there are two types of people in the adventurous category: Chasers and Embracers. We won’t talk about the third category of people whose idea of adventure is trying mustard instead of ketchup on a hamburger once. Just once.


To my way of thinking, Chasers are those who climb a mountain then seek one that is higher. They go on to find and climb another one more treacherous to challenge them. They need to increase the challenge and up the danger levels to get that euphoric reaction they desire. It’s akin to an emotional “high.”


I am not a “Chaser.”


I enjoy trying new things even though I may not have been looking for them. Meeting new people, traveling, eating new foods, and trying new activities. Those may challenge me. Stretch me. Cause me to see the world differently. Even when I have to be coaxed to “jump in the deep end,” so to speak, I do it. Generally, I find those experiences gratifying.


I am an “Embracer.” 


Tom and I raised three Embracers. Allison, Danielle, and Kendall learned early on to take on new challenges as opportunities. They all three enjoy meeting new people, trying new experiences, and tasting new foods. They love people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and languages. 


This week we celebrated Mother’s Day. Flowers and candy were displayed in all the stores. I went to church with my mom and cooked our midday meal. My daughter in Wisconsin had given me a pot of flowers to plant. I took a walk with my youngest to recognize the day…and get some exercise.


Then, my oldest daughter showed up with her family. My son-in-law planted a blackberry bush in my back yard. It was a sweet day. But the real surprise came from my oldest grandson, Joshua.


Joshua ordered a box of Japanese snacks on the internet. 


First you need to understand one important fact. When I am talking about food and Joshua, I am usually (probably nine times out of ten) making a reference to mac and cheese. I have never known this man-child to be adventurous in the food department. Never.


Yet here we were, sitting out on the deck sampling snacks from halfway around the world. The box he ordered was called the “Seasons of Japan.” Fortunately, it came with a guidebook because we couldn’t read the labels.


We tried everything. Like anything else, we liked some better than others. But the most important piece was WE TRIED IT ALL. 

Becoming an adventurous person? Maybe that “Embracer” thing isn’t something you learn. Maybe it is in the genes after all. 

A few of the snacks we enjoyed.
Check out BOKKSU for more.


What have you done that others consider adventurous?


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Down and Dirty

Getting Down and Dirty


Probably not what you think. 


Here in southwestern Ohio we’ve had a most unusual spring season. It will be sunny and warm one day and cloudy and rainy the next. We’ve had several days in a row of what I call “short sleeve” weather followed by a blast of cold complete with a smattering of snow or frost. 

The man who mows my lawn has to sandwich the trimmings between continually shifting wet and dry weather patterns.  It’s crazy.


I’m a warm weather kind of girl, so I wake up to sunshine smiling and singing. I set about weeding the flowerbeds and browsing the plants at my local Lowes store. I spray the honeysuckle… a never-ending battle…and trim the bushes.


Then it turns cold or rainy (or both) again and I’m stuck inside staring at the calendar. 

I shouldn’t be surprised. Rarely in the past have I planted a garden before the first of May.  I do, however, usually have the ground ready and seedlings growing and waiting inside the house to be transplanted. Not this year. But I keep trying.


I’ve always loved playing in the dirt. When my best friend, Nicky, and I were young we attempted to dig a hole to China. Nick’s brother told us we could do it so we tried. 


On the farm, I played with toy trucks and tractors, making roads to travel and fields to cultivate in the dirt beside the driveway. I sifted through dirt by the creek, certain I would one day find gold.


Dirt is good stuff. It’s the kind of stuff fully equipped to grow vegetables or dreams. Take your pick.


This past weekend, my middle daughter and two of her kiddos came for a visit. The weather was beautiful. We headed outside so the children could play. My mom, daughter, and I surveyed the flowerbeds and fencerow. My youngest grandson tagged along.


As we talked we pulled a weed or two. I showed Danielle some rotting logs in the back I hoped to reposition. “Once these are cleared,” I said as a kicked one of the logs, “I’ll be able to plant a garden here.”


The log was soft. The ever-changing weather had managed to further the decay of the logs and stumps in my path. I retrieved a shovel from the shed and started chipping away at the rotting wood.


Soon, my daughter and mother were caught up in the “mostly-fun but actually, work” mode of whittling down the remaining woodpile.


“What rich soil,” my mother said. “This will make a wonderful garden!”


As we worked, my youngest grandson hopped into the thick of it all. He dug in the dirt with his hands, unearthing worms and centipedes and what he described as “the biggest beetle ever.”


Soon…when the rain stops…I’ll be planting my garden. I’ll likely plant tomatoes and peppers. I may plant potatoes and onions. I like beans and cucumbers. I don’t know for sure what all I’ll plant, but as I watched Nathanael play in the dirt, I was reminded of this simple truth: 


Every Living Thing Needs Dirt, Water, and Sunshine to Grow...

So Do Dreams



Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Researcher, Educator, Writer, Survivor

 Researcher, Educator, Writer, Survivor

I am beginning this post with my Author’s Note. 

I am not a physician by training nor trade. I am a researcher, an educator, and a writer.


The Researcher in Me:

Last week I wrote how my own experience with what may be called COVID “Brain Fog” offered me new insight on how people experiencing dementia may feel. (If you missed that one you can read it HERE.)


My inexplicable memory loss troubled me. Why was it I couldn’t remember days and months? I started a bit of research. Because I am no longer at the university, my initial research took the form of reading numerous articles on-line. I know enough to not trust everything everyone claims, so I checked the credentials of the authors, the reliability of the sources, and scrutinized the method for collecting the data. 


What did my cursory research reveal? There is substantial evidence that some medications alone can cause the mind to muddle. Put a few of them together and you have the ingredients for a perfect storm…or in this case, a perfect “fog” to roll in. Some of the meds are prescribed while others are available over the counter at the local pharmacy.


I’m not on any prescription drugs, but when COVID hit my system, I took both an antihistamine and ibuprofen. I also took cold and flu medicine at night to help me sleep. Some of the literature suggests any of these alone can cause a temporary confused state of mind. 


The Educator in Me

 Yeah, well, that’s why I’m offering this post. I am not saying this is true for everyone, but it is worth considering. And researching.


The Writer in Me

I am in the throes of crafting a novel where the main character’s mother is experiencing moments of forgetfulness.  I used my own illness and research experience to help Katharine (“Kat”) demonstrate empathy for her mom. Here’s a brief (read “condensed”) excerpt from my latest manuscript. In this scene my main character and her mother, Margaret, known as Mimi in the family, are working on a jigsaw puzzle together. Kat broaches the subject of forgetfulness with her mom. 


“Mimi, remember when I had COVID?”

“Oh, do I ever! That was the longest two weeks of my life. I thought we’d all dodged the bullet but here I was sitting at home and not able to come take care of you. You’re a mom, so you know how hard that was for me.”

Kat smiled and scooted closer to her mother. “I do. But mom, remember the other day, how you were talking about sometimes getting a little muddled in your thinking? I was thinking about that on my way home.

“Do you remember when Matt drove you over to the house the week or so after my quarantine ended and I was deemed ‘safe’?”

Margaret took her daughter’s hand and patted it. “I remember. It filled my heart to lay eyes on you. To know you were okay.”

“Mom, I honestly didn’t remember what day or even what month it was right then and there. I was struggling. I tried to figure it out. 

“You had been sick, honey.”

“I’d been declared well for more than a week.” 

Mimi leaned back in her chair. “What are you saying?”

Kat drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I think that day I had a glimpse of what grandma felt when she knew something but couldn’t remember exactly what it was.”

Mimi studied her daughter. “You think I have dementia like my mother?”

Kat laughed. “Not at all. Unless I do, too. All I know is that the mind is a curious organ. I think different things can play tricks on us.” 

Kat turned in her chair to face her mother.     “Maybe sometimes we decide what is going on based on a person’s age. We blame COVID for me getting rattled and dementia for grandma. Who knows? Maybe there was something else going on in her body.”

“So you think when I forget things it may not be my age?”

“Or maybe a little bit of your age and a whole lot of something else. I mean, we do know other parts of our bodies slow a bit as we age. Why not our brains?

“I don’t have the answers, Mom. I just think it’s worth mulling over, though. Oh, look, here’s that missing part of the edge.”

“Finally!” Mimi exclaimed as Kat fitted the piece in to complete the outside frame of the puzzle. “Once you have the straight edges everything else will fall into place.”


Now isn’t that true? Maybe if we can get a handle on the straight edges, we’ll all be a bit healthier and happier.