Archive for the ‘Joanne’ Category

Dove, November 2013

Click on Dove’s photo to Donate

As I write this we’re counting down 17 hours to donate to Dove’s fundraiser! At midnight tonight, it’s all over. Let’s begin the new year right. Let’s send some love Dove’s way and keep her hope alive for the coming year. Let’s keep Dove’s smile on!

We have to take advantage of our matching donor … we’ve added only $100 since he made his pledge. Surely we can do better. Let’s make him dig deep!

Everyone’s busy this time of year: visiting friends and relatives; going to parties; making special foods; or maybe just taking this time to rest and rejuvenate a little. Many of us make resolutions and contemplate doing better in the new year.

Well, here is a great opportunity to put your resolutions to work and help out a beautiful young woman in need.

If you’ve already given, the main thing you can do is to pass along Dove’s fundraiser address to everyone you know. Even if you’ve done it in the past, do it again. Maybe write a little note about why you think they should consider donating. Do you know Dove personally; do you know someone in a similar situation; do you feel strongly about Dove’s needs? Tell them why you’re passing along Dove’s story and encourage them to donate. This is our last chance, the hours are ticking away.

Let’s begin 2014 with a bang! Let’s push this thing over the top!

“A life lived for others, is the only life worth living.” Albert Einstein

Click on Dove’s photo to Donate


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How about some holiday giving?

Dove, November 2013I have a lovely family living next door to me who needs some help … your help. When you have the time and would like to raise your spirits high, please visit our “Keep Dove Home” website. Theirs is such an amazing story. If you browse through the updates you’ll read their entire story: the heartache and the triumphs, the joy and the gratitude, the everyday ups and downs of raising a child with paralysis from the neck down.This is a truly inspiring Christmas story for all of us.

I hope, after reading Dove’s story, you’ll be inspired to give in what ever way you can: a note of encouragement, a prayer, and/or a monetary donation of any size to help the family through this crisis. Just let them know you care and you’re out there thinking of them.

And one more thing … a very important one … please forward Dove’s story to friends and relatives and help us make it a very blessed Christmas morning for the family. We have only 2 weeks of fundraising to meet our goal of $10,000 and the more people we tell about Dove and her exceptional attitude of joy and gratitude in the worst circumstances a 21-year-old can be in, the better chance we have of reaching that goal.

Henry James, the author, once said,“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” Most things we spend our money on will disappear one day. But when you show kindness to a family in need, the goodwill and joy it produces will live on forever.

Please read Dove’s story, share what you can, and know that your efforts are received with utmost gratitude.

Thanks for listening. A very merry Christmas to you and yours and a New Year filled with all good things.



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ImageOn June 5, our mother Anne suffered a major stroke at 7 pm, at St. Andrew’s Village, where she had been living for the past 2 1/2 years. She never recovered and, while they kept her comfortable and pain-free, she died peacefully about 9 am, Saturday, June 8, at Indiana Regional Medical Center. She was 96-years-old. All six of her children stayed at her bedside through her final journey.

While she never wrote an entry for our blog, she was intricately involved in many aspects of it. She not only eagerly looked forward to reading each entry but if you scroll back through from the beginning you’ll see that she was the subject of many of our reminiscences and a reference for much of what we wrote.

The following, written by Kathy, Linda, and me, is a memorial to our mother. After a busy life we wish her an eternity of peaceful sleep.


From Black Shanty to “Easy Living”

by Joanne

 Our mother Anne lived her entire life within 1-square-mile of the home in which she was born. And while this diminution influenced the person she became and the provincial life she lived for 96 years, she found many ways to escape the boundaries of her geography.

She began life in 1916, in Rose Valley, in the Black Shanty, a sort of boarding house for new immigrants, who lived there until they could find more permanent housing. The Dorazio’s lived in the Black Shanty from 1915, when my grandmother arrived in this country from Italy, until they moved into an empty company house on The Hill in Yatesboro shortly after Anne was born. The Black Shanty was crude, basic living; it truly was a shanty covered with black tar paper and was furnished with the barest living necessities. The house on The Hill was a short step up as it had four rooms, gas lights, no indoor plumbing, and meals were prepared on a coal-fired kitchen range. Anne would share this house with four siblings, her parents, and several boarders until she left at eighteen to marry our father.


My mother Anne and I when we lived in Tipple Alley.

When Anne and Joe married in 1935, they moved into an upstairs apartment on The Flat, a short distance from her home on The Hill. When their first baby, my brother Joe, was born they moved to a newly renovated apartment in Tipple Alley, just down the hill and up the road from her mother’s home. The buildings had been offices of the mining company that she described as having beautiful hardwood flooring and trim. I, their second child, was born in Tipple Alley and have several first memories of the simple life she and Joe shared there with their neighbors and friends.

Our little family lived in Tipple Alley until 1942 when we moved to House #9 in Yatesboro PA, shortly before my sister Kathy was born. This was a duplex and we lived in one-half: 2 rooms downstairs and 2 up. No bathroom, no central heating, no hot water. When the residents of the other half of our duplex left, our parents bought the entire house and then the fun began. One summer our dad dug out the clay basement, then one-by-one he installed central heating, hot water, and a bathroom, all firsts on The Hill. We lived in our luxurious castle with a large back porch and yard and surrounding woodlands to explore. Three more children would be born in this house: Ron, Linda and Dave.

In 1965, with most of their family out of the house, our parents built a nice ranch home in Rural Valley, just about one mile from our mother’s birth home in Rose Valley. And here she would live until at the age of 94 she moved to “easy living” at St. Andrew’s Village, a nursing home in Indiana PA. While she began life there in Assisted Living, she called it “easy living.”

Why am I going on and on about where our mother spent her life. Well, because she never wanted more. She was happy where she lived and where she was in life. She truly bloomed where she was planted. She loved keeping house, doing all the tasks required of a wife and mother of six, and taking on much more than just what that required. She baked, she canned and she froze fresh produce from the garden, she sewed, she did all kinds of needlework, she read voraciously, and raced through the house as though it was on fire going from one thing to another. I must say we often got in her way as she furiously busied herself with the work at hand. But in the process she taught us many things.

You may think our mother was a simple person. But let me reassure she was not. She was as complex as one can be. Although she completed her formal education with the 11th grade, she continued to learn her entire life by reading anything and everything she could get her hands on. Books arrived regularly in the mail because of the book clubs she belonged to. Magazine subscriptions were countless. And we always received a daily newspaper. So we all learned to read early, and by association, learned to write. To this day every one of her six children read books and magazines and write as easily as we talk. It just came naturally to us because of the availability and the immersion in reading material while we were growing up.

Anne also continued to learn from other women in our small coal mining town. When someone came up with a new idea, a new way to make something, or a new way to decorate, she always had to “get the directions” and try it. She was a visual person and noticed everything. If she visited someone’s home and liked something she saw, she would come home and low and behold! there would be a new way to display a doily, or pictures on the wall, or ivy across the kitchen cabinets. She would try anything she liked and most often succeeded or even bettered what she had seen. She constantly changed the furniture arrangements (much to Dad’s consternation) and tried new recipes in the kitchen. When anyone complained she would say, “Life is change. Get used to it!” A saying that still serves us to this day.

She was a strong-minded women who, it seemed to us, believed in a “my way or the highway” philosophy. She and our dad expected no less than perfection from us. Doing a good job was primary to them and that meant chores, school, or even what we did with our leisure time. And that lesson was well-learned and carried into our adult lives as attested to by the high-achievers that we have become. Nothing is ever finished. There’s always room for improvement. This can be a curse as well as a blessing but we are learning when it’s time to stop and let it be.

1962 and Dave's 10th birthday.

1962 and Dave’s 10th birthday.

Anne lived her beliefs. While she believed in hard work she didn’t preach it. She just showed us. We all had chores to do from an early age and she taught us girls homemaking skills by letting us help her in the kitchen and with cleaning the house. When I was six-years-old she taught me to crochet lace around handkerchiefs one summer to give me something to do. I was also six or seven when I began to help her with the ironing. She layered the clothes in the bushel basket with handkerchiefs and pillow cases on the bottom, blouses and dresses next, and on top were the boys shirts and pants, and finally Dad’s work clothes. She would begin with the larger, heavier pieces, and I would finish with the pillow cases and handkerchiefs, gradually graduating up the layers until I did the entire basket by the time I was eight or nine. For someone who loved ironing she seemed more than willing to turn it over to me. When I was in high school I would mix a large recipe of bread dough before going to school in the morning and she would bake it so that when we got home the house smelled delicious and, as a special treat, a bowl of Johnny Bulls was waiting for us on the table.

When I was twelve or so, the kitchen became mine after the supper dishes were done. I would pull out the Betty Crocker cookbook and bake cakes, pies, or cookies. A couple evenings a week I would whip up something delectable for my brothers and sisters and Dad’s lunch bucket. I never got a compliment but everything sure disappeared. I still use the Betty Crocker cookbook for cakes and pies from scratch and enjoy that time in the kitchen knowing the enjoyment my efforts will bring.

And it wasn’t until after Dad died that we discovered Anne, our mother, had a sense of humor. Joe loved talking and visiting with just about anyone and everyone while Anne stayed in the background, serving drinks, a meal or snacks. She’d sit at the table and listen but didn’t say much. Once Dad was gone, she came into her own and we could talk to her about anything under the sun: family, emotional crisis, books, poetry, world happenings, or politics. And she saw the humor in things, often cracking her own jokes to break the tension of a situation. Even near the end of her life, she had pet names for the aides that cared for her daily and when she talked to them she made them laugh. One day she told me, “If I can lighten the burden of taking care of us, I will.” While it had to be hard for her to let them help her with the most intimate things, she did it with grace and they left her room feeling better about themselves.

Serving one of her delicious spaghetti dinners in 1957 in the "house on The Hill.

Serving one of her delicious spaghetti dinners in 1957 in the “house on The Hill”.

Anne was an enigma in many ways, a study in contradictions. She either loved something or hated it, she loved you or hated you. And when it was the later she didn’t hesitate to let her opinion be known. You didn’t want to make her mad; the sting of her backhand or tongue lashing could last forever. She didn’t show affection (except to our dad) but she would buy you a new dress for the school concert or prepare your favorite supper for your birthday. She didn’t make a big deal out of it, she just did it. It wasn’t until near the end of her life that she would tell us that she loved us. While it sometimes seemed she didn’t have time for us when we were young and at home, in later years she was always there and eager to stop what she was doing to have a good conversation over something good to eat. When you stopped in for a spur-of-the-moment visit, she was always there.

In fact, now that I think about it in those terms, throughout our lives she was always there. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, she was always there. She is, and always will be, missed.


Memories of Mum

by Kathy

Mum at clothesline

Here’s mum doing what she loved to do.

As I was contemplating what memory I wanted to share about Mum, I got an e-mail from Joan and she said I think this will bring back a lot of good memories….in the e-mail was this poem about clotheslines.

 A clothesline poem

by Marilyn K. Walker

A clothesline was a news forecast
To neighbors passing by,
There were no secrets you could keep
When clothes were hung to dry.

It also was a friendly link
For neighbors always knew
If company had stopped on by
To spend a night or two.

For then you’d see the “fancy sheets”
And towels upon the line;
You’d see the “company table cloths”
With intricate designs.

The line announced a baby’s birth
From folks who lived inside –
As brand new infant clothes were hung,
So carefully with pride!

The ages of the children could
So readily be known
By watching how the sizes changed,
You’d know how much they’d grown!

It also told when illness struck,
As extra sheets were hung;
Then nightclothes, and a bathrobe, too,
Haphazardly were strung.

It also said, “Gone on vacation now”
When lines hung limp and bare.
It told, “We’re back!” when full lines sagged
With not an inch to spare!

New folks in town were scorned upon
If wash was dingy and gray,
As neighbors carefully raised their brows,
And looked the other way .. . .

But clotheslines now are of the past,
For dryers make work much less.
Now what goes on inside a home
Is anybody’s guess!

I really miss that way of life.
It was a friendly sign
When neighbors knew each other best
By what hung on the line.

As I read this poem, I thought this is a wonderful memory to share.  Mum loved using her clotheslines.

Living in Tipple Alley and washing those work clothes by hand.

Living in Tipple Alley and washing those work clothes by hand.


  1. You had to wash the clotheslines(s) before hanging clothes.
  2. You had to hang clothes in a certain order and always hang “whites” with “whites” and “darks” with “darks”.
  3. You never hang a shirt by the shoulders — always by the tail!
  4. Never hang clothes on the weekend.
  5. Hang the sheets and towels on the outside lines so you could hide your “unmentionables” in the middle (perverts & busybodies, y’know).
  6. Never leave clothes pins on the line……very tacky!
  7. If you were efficient, you could line the clothes up so that each item did not need two clothespins but shared one of the clothespins with the next washed item.
  8. Clothes off the line before dinner time, neatly folded in the clothes basket and ready to be ironed.

Mum would hang clothes the length of the yard, I believe there were four lines.  Dad used old railroad tracks and made them into a  “T” shape.  He cemented them far into the ground so they would never lean.  He made Mum several clothes props to hold the lines up when they were heavy from sheets or rugs.  I am safe in saying, we had the best lines on the hill!  They lasted as long as we lived at the old house in Yatesboro.  When we moved to Rural Valley, the first thing Dad did was make Mum new lines.  They weren’t as long as the old ones but they were just as sturdy.  They are still there to this day.  Mum got great joy from hanging clothes on the lines.

Mum and clotheslineWhen we lived at the old house the trains would go past our house on their way to NuMine and sometimes the engineer would blow out a huge puff of black smoke and the soot would end up on Mum’s clothes.  She would shake her fist at the train and rattle off  an Italian saying that would make anybody shake……the train would just keep on going.

She had a certain way of hanging her clothes on the line.  All the whites were together, all the darks and it seemed she hung our clothes in birth order.  The clothes were always neatly hung to dry.  When it came time to take the clothes off the line, she had a way of taking each piece off and carefully folding it and putting it in the basket.  She would always tell us when she put fresh sheets on the bed.  Crawling into bed with those fresh sheets was just about as close to heaven as you could get.  The way they smelled and felt you knew that it would be a good night’s sleep that night.

Mum and Kathy on a windy perfect for hanging clothes out.

Mum and Kathy on a windy day perfect for hanging clothes out … but the lines are empty!

Mum would be the first in town to have a dark sun tan and that came from hanging clothes on the line.  It would fade in the fall but come the next spring, she would be a beautiful tan again.

When Mum was learning how to drive, we would take the country roads for her to practice her driving.  She would always notice when people had clothes on the line.  She loved to see the clothes blowing in the wind!

Today, people don’t seem to have time to hang their clothes out to dry.  It is sad because they don’t know what they are missing.  I plan to hang my clothes out to dry as long as my arms will reach my two little lines.

Rest peacefully, Mum………..kathy




My Mother; My Teacher

by Linda

Although the umbilical cord is cut at birth, we’re tethered to our moms forever. Now that Mum has passed, I feel unmoored, temporarily adrift…still attached to the mother ship, but floating aimlessly. I haven’t quite accepted the fact that I won’t be able to ask her about recipes, tell her about the book I’m currently reading, catch up on family news, or make her laugh just to hear the sound. As much as I will always love Mum, she certainly could confound me; but, always, there was a lesson I gleaned from her words or actions, sometimes years later upon reflection!

When I was little (okay, younger), I never understood her practice of group punishment. I’d be minding my own business, swinging outside on a beautiful summer day. The next thing I knew Mum was summoning us all to the porch–now. I knew I was going to get a smack as I walked passed her, but I had no idea why. One day I remember asking her why I was getting punished when I didn’t do anything, which prompted her to give me an extra whack. I learned to accept my fate after that. Another thing that confused me was the group laxative. If one of us was constipated, we were all lined up for that awful tasting medicine, Castor Oil! To this day, I’m very, very reluctant to take any laxative despite the need. I learned much later to rely on the more natural approach.

Mum will never be known for her hair dressing skills as evidenced by most of my school pictures. She never missed an

Dave, Mum and me dressed for the first day of school.

Dave, Mum and me dressed for the first day of school. I was in 4th grade.

opportunity to put a braid somewhere in my hair and only one braid never two. The worst, though, was when I was in seventh grade and Mum decided to give me a perm. Granted I was a pretty homely kid, and I’m sure Mum thought a perm would be an improvement; however, I had naturally curly hair already. I can still remember looking in the mirror after Mum styled (I use that word very loosely) my hair. That’s the first time the expression “oh shit” entered my lexicon. Not only did my hair look horrendous, the residual odor from the perm clung to me like…well, I’m sure you know an appropriate expression. Let’s just say that for almost two months at school the kids called me a very pejorative, unflattering racist name. After that incident, I took my hair into my own hands, so to speak. I may not have looked any better, but at least there was no one to blame but myself.

While still in the hospital Mum showed me how to pick up stitches while recovering from a broken hip.

Showing me how to pick up stitches while recovering from a broken hip.

The one thing that frustrated both Mum and me was her inability to teach me to knit. As a lefty, I was hopelessly confused when Mum had me sit across from her to mimic her movements. I just could not translate what she was doing to my fingers. We would end our knitting sessions both of us upset with me. Finally, one wintery evening I decided that sitting across from Mum just wasn’t working. I sat beside her, took up my working needle in my right hand, and copied her movements. Success! The rest is my knitting history.

Mum taught me to value so much—the pleasure found in a good book, the beauty in nature,

1990, Mum and I enjoying each others company on a regular visit.

1990, Mum and I enjoying each others company on a regular visit.

the pride in a job well done, the satisfaction of cooking or baking to please others, the rewards of curiosity and persistence, a good laugh, a good cry, and knitting something warm and cozy for someone you love. The hardest lessons, though, came near the end of her life. When her eyesight was failing and she could no longer walk, without saying a word, Mum taught me patience. Her determination to accept the limitations imposed on her and yet move beyond them was a true testament to her grace and dignity.

Throughout my life I sought to understand Mum and to be understood by her; but I’m grateful to have grown enough that in the end the little things didn’t matter so much anymore. It was enough to accept each other, to love each other, and to laugh together.

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We’re prone to think of marriage as the sole province of humans. As such, it’s a state that’s frequently riddled with discord in today’s world. It seems harder and harder to find a marital union where both partners mutually benefit from the relationship and plan to make it a lifetime commitment.

However, the dictionary defines marriage as “any close union,” thus, if we broaden our view of marriage to encompass the animal and plant kingdoms our perspective changes and we find many happy marriages that have endured for centuries. Wandering into the realm of nature, we secure a closer look at a few of these unlikely relationships and at what makes them work.

Many stories are told about members of the same species that work together for one reason or another. Birds come together to feed or migrate; bee colonies work for the good of the group; monkeys live together in large bands mostly for protection; and many fish live and work together in well-developed communities. Although monarch butterflies usually migrate singly, they come together to rest at night covering whole trees, giving off an unpleasant odor that singly would be undetectable but as a group it is strong enough to repel enemies. Thus, there is safety in numbers. Similar community relationships exist in many species.

Even more interesting than community living is the sociability between different species. The interrelated dependence among plants and animals is probably one of the most important factors in their continued existence. Again, the reasons for these unions are many: protection, getting food, mating or possibly just for fun.

Scientists refer to the close relationship in which plants, mammals, insects or birds live together and depend on each other as symbiosis, taken from the Greek syn, “together” and bios, “live”. Most agree it must also be a mutually beneficial arrangement, called “mutualism.” But there are also examples of “commensalism,” in which only one organism benefits and the other is unaffected; and “parasitism,” where one is benefited and the other is harmed. We are all aware of these different relationships existing in human relations including marriage, friendships, social and work interactions.

To the casual observer one of the most obvious examples of mutual symbiosis is between flowers and their insect pollinators, one that holds significant consequences for our world. If it weren’t for insects, flowers would not be pollinated, there would be no fruit and much of our plant life would die away. Insects, of course, need blossoming plants rich in nectar for food. Thus, we have a mutually beneficial symbiotic union that takes place in front of our eyes.

Example of “mutualism” symbiosis.

Bees, butterflies and moths all distribute pollen while searching for precious nectar. Many flowers accommodate only one specific pollinator using an assortment of wiles to attract the would-be partner, while others accept any insect interested in doing the job. Many specialties have developed in flowers to attract insects including color, fragrance, and arrangement of blossoms.

Certain long-throated flowers depend on hummingbirds for pollination, as only they are capable of reaching the nectar deep in the trumpet-shaped blossoms. Many of these flowers are bright red, a color that especially attracts the ruby-throated hummingbird. Another interesting example of specialization is the lady slipper orchid. The slipper-shaped blossom traps visiting insects that accidentally pollinate the flower while trying to escape through the one tiny hole at the top of the flower.

Some flowers even stoop to mimicry to attract attention such as the orchid that not only looks like, but smells like, the female counterpart of its specific pollinator. Drawn to the pseudo-mate the insect copulates with the blossom, distributing pollen in the process then moves on to the next blossom, never the wiser. All is fair in the battle to survive.

Symbiotic relationships abound in nature and it would require a lengthy book indeed to describe all of them. Some are as simple as the squirrel and the oak. The tree provides food for the squirrel while the sometimes-forgetful rodent plants many an acorn insuring a steady supply of food for future generations. However, the squirrel will survive without the oak because their food choices are wide ranging: nuts, seeds, fruits, lichens, buds, mushrooms, roots, pine cones, leaves, twigs, bark, black walnuts, oranges, avocados, apples, apricots, corn and flower bulbs! And the oak would survive without the squirrel as well. So although they are helpful to one another it would not be life-threatening if the relationship did not exist.

On the other hand, a very specialized arrangement exists between the yucca moth and the yucca flower or Joshua tree. If their relationship did not exist, neither would either of them. There is no other insect that can pollinate this flower although many visit it, and the moth larvae are dependent on the yucca seeds for food, no other will do. Theirs is most certainly a mutually beneficial arrangement.

The female moth, an inch-long silvery-white insect, visits several flowers before choosing one in which to lay her eggs. She makes a tiny hole in the pistil of the flower, inserts her ovipositor and lays four or five eggs inside. She then places a ball of pollen, which she has collected from several other yucca flowers, on top of the eggs. This pollen insures there will be food for the larvae once they hatch. Her job completed on one blossom, she’s off to collect more pollen and lay more eggs.

Soon the Yucca blossoms turn to seedpods, the larvae hatch and begin eating the seeds that were thoughtfully provided by mother and flower. Each yucca pod contains more than enough seeds for the larvae so there are plenty left for the plant’s propagation. Once the larvae are old enough to leave the pod, they crawl out the hole made in the pistil by their mother and drop to the ground. There they spin a cocoon and develop into adult moths to begin the cycle once again.

A plant doesn’t need to be large or complicated to contribute to a symbiotic relationship. One of the most common examples involves an alga so small that singly it can be seen only under a fairly powerful microscope but en masse it makes a colorful showing. Fungi, another simple plant, have no leaves, stems or flowers and are unable to produce their own food so they team up with the algae that can produce enough food for both of them. The result of this union is called lichen. The fungi support the algae and provide water for both plants. It was once thought that the fungi acted as parasites on the algae, but closer studies showed the algae. to be too healthy to be parasitized.

Some lichens like reindeer moss, are used as food by wildlife and man. Icelanders use lichens in their weaving industry and the manufacture of paper. Lichens also contain rich dyes and have been greatly valued for this reason. Here is one symbiotic relationship among many that is useful to man. Both algae and fungi exist in many other relationships. Most of the antibiotics used today are derived from fungi and their allies. The future possibilities of helpful fungi and algae seem endless as more research is taking place.

Another marriage beneficial to man is one between a bacterium and certain plants of the bean family. Bacteria exist everywhere and although some are harmful to man many are useful and this particular bacterium is one of these. Unable to produce their own food, bacteria must find a partner to feed them. Thus the courtship begins.

Green plants need nitrogen to grow and although plenty is available in the atmosphere they are not able to use it until it undergoes a chemical change. If you were to dig up a clump of clover, peas, beans, or vetch, you would find little nodules on the roots. This is where the bacteria live and convert nitrogen into nitrates usable by the plants. These laboratories benefit the whole plant world because as the plants are harvested and the ground turned over for a new crop, the roots decay dispelling the nitrates through the soil to be used by the next crop.

So the bean plants provide food for the bacteria and in return the bacteria make it possible for these plants to exist; a very important relationship for each and one important to the world food supply.

However, not all symbiotic partnerships are applauded by man. One of nature’s most destructive insects, causing millions of dollars in crop damage, is the aphid. Abhorred by man it is coddled and protected by the ant … strange bedfellows indeed. Aphids get their food by sucking juice from plants. During digestion, part of the juice is changed into a sweet liquid. Ants love this “honeydew” and lovingly care for the aphids in order to ensure a steady supply of the juice.

The ant carries aphid eggs to its nest and when the young are hatched, the ants transport them to a nice juicy plant. They “milk” the aphids by stroking them until they are rewarded with honeydew. The ant is satisfied with his favorite food and in return protects the aphid. This relationship is beneficial to the ant and the aphid but not necessarily to man as many plants can be destroyed in this process.

Successful natural-world partnerships occur in all eco-systems. One of the many symbiotic relationships of the sea is that between the moray eel and the red and white shrimp, another unlikely pair. (Let’s face it, anything except another eel is an unlikely partner for the moray.) Most animals steer clear of the dangerous moray but the shrimp will swim right into the eel’s mouth to glean bits of food from its teeth and what is even more surprising is that the moray lets it. The shrimp is fed and the eel gets free dental care.

The clown fish and anemone live in harmony.

The clown fish and the anemone are another interesting relationship of the sea. The clown fish brings scraps of food to feed the immobile anemone that will not attack its benefactor with its poisonous sting. Hiding among the anemone’s dangerous tentacles, the clown fish is also protected from its enemies. Sustenance and protection make this a working partnership.

A successful union of the desert is that of the saguaro cactus and the Gila woodpecker. Cactus moths are very destructive to the saguaro. The Gila woodpecker, by feeding on the moths, plays a very important role in helping to preserve the vanishing tree. Planning a whole season ahead, the woodpecker chooses a site for its nest, pecks out a hole in the cactus and as scar tissue forms over the soft, wet inner cells of the tree a suitable nest, hard and dry, is prepared for the woodpecker’s breeding season. The woodpecker is provided with food and convenient housing and the saguaro is protected from a destructive pest, the cactus moth. All woodpeckers around the world are effective symbiotic partners.

In all fairness it must be said that all natural-world relationships are not a bed of roses. Relationships in which only one partner benefits and possibly brings harm to the other are known as “parasitic.” Examples are lice and fleas, something most of us have experienced at one time or another. Plants have their parasitic partners, too.

Dodder is a parasitic plant that lacks chlorophyll and is unable to manufacture its own food. The seeds of dodder germinate in the ground but as the young shoots twine around a suitable host plant, these roots die and the plant then sinks parasitic roots into the host plant and begins drawing its nourishment through them. It is now completely dependent on, and survives at the expense of the host plant which often dies. Dodder gives nothing in return for what it takes from the host plant. We can all identify one-sided relationships of this kind.

However, in symbiosis if the other partner is not harmed but merely puts up with the situation, it is called “commensalism.” Such a relationship is the shark and the remora, the hitchhiking fish. The shark doesn’t seem to gain anything from this relationship and it certainly isn’t harmed but it seems to do all the providing. Possibly it enjoys the company of the remora. In any event it makes no attempt to get rid of the small fish while the remora gets a free ride and feeds on scraps of the shark’s dinner.

We can certainly gain new insight into our relationships by listening to the subtle voice of nature. Much cooperation from the largest to the smallest is necessary as plants and animals provide each other with homes, food, transportation and protection. Each living thing makes its contribution to the whole. Each has something to contribute, something needed by another. Symbiotic relationships make sense and make living easier and even possible for many.

And what about the most important symbiotic relationship of all … man’s to nature? Isn’t it the responsibility of each of us to do our share in helping to preserve the fine balance of nature from which we reap so much? Unless we take this partnership seriously and begin to understand and appreciate the benefits we reap and our responsibility to keep it healthy, we could end up in a divorce court where there is no community settlement and everyone ends up a loser.

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2011 January snowfall

Blow, blow, thou winter wind
Thou art not so unkind,
As man’s ingratitude.

—William Shakespeare

I’m one of those weird people that loves Winter. From Christmas Eve on I anticipate the first full-blown snowfall when everything in sight is covered with downy white; if January proceeds and we still don’t have a substantial snowpack I begin to feel cheated. Well, last night we finally got some snow, not a truckload, but enough so that everything is covered with a soft layer of white down. I feel encouraged. Maybe there’s still time to to enjoy the wonders of a snow-covered earth for maybe six weeks, until the end of February at least.

Snow is one of the most dominant forces in the natural world; both a blessing and a burden to all living things. The symmetrical crystalline beauty of individual flakes is cause for wonder, and the melded softness of innumerable six-sided flakes shrouding the surface of the earth reveals a beauty of form that remains hidden during the rest of the year.

It’s a frigid night. The moon casts purple shadows of tangled, naked branches in a wonderful abstract pattern across the freshly laid mantle of blue snow. An owl hoots in the distance. The sound hangs, suspended indefinitely in the frozen air. A cottontail appears from under a blue spruce, hops a few feet, stops, looks around tentatively, then ducks back into the protection of the snow-burdened tree. It leaves an after-image like a frozen shadow on the snow.

The clock on the courthouse a mile away is chiming ten. So clear and sharp, it slices through the crystal air: pure unfettered sound. It had to be a night such as this when Tennyson wrote, “Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky . . . . Ring, happy bells, across the snow . . . ” and began to emerge from his grief for his friend.

The stars appear so close one could reach out and grab a fistful. A gazillion more are revealed sparkling in the chaste snow. This fundamental beauty makes one think of a timeless universe in which all things converge, and all things are possible.

Deer in the backyard

Rabbits still nibble perennials in the herb garden and gray squirrels spiral up tree trunks and jump from bare branch to bare branch, euphoric in their mating rites. Each day they join cardinals and blue jays feasting with chickadees and sparrows at the many neighborhood feeding stations. All are stalked by the neighbor’s cats looking for their desert. Deer wander through our backyard in the middle of town desperate for food. Each creature leaves its signature on the tabula rasa, soft, subtle brush strokes like a Japanese painting, that reveal the mystery of winter survival.

In the morning it’s possible to read the calligraphy written in the early hours. What creatures ventured out for the paltry provisions they could glean from nature’s lean larder. A brisk morning walk, accompanied by the raucous blue jay’s harsh warning call and the moan of trees responding to arctic temperatures and the rising sun, lays bare a unique story.

While snow covers and shelters, it also reveals and exposes.

Those who live with snow a major portion of the year perceive even the most subtle differences characterized by the type of crystal involved. All snow crystals are colorless. The whiteness we perceive is produced by the reflection and refraction of light from the many minute surfaces of the crystals. Large fluffy flakes, each one different they tell me, descend at about three and a half miles an hour, roughly six times slower than a raindrop. Imagine, lazily drifting like a butterfly wing, oblivious to gravity, transported by the wind, simply giving oneself up to the forces of nature, chance alone deciding where and when to land. Imagine!

Emily enjoys the snow

When we were kids, poor as church mice, we made snowshoes out of evergreen branches and tied them to our feet with anything we could find, from an old piece of rawhide to a discarded scarf. Then we trudged into the woods to explore a frosty, pristine world. Out of the magical white crystals we moulded whatever our imaginations conjured: snow men, snow dogs, snow dragons and knights. Often we played fox and geese with a large, meandering circle that went in and out of bare trees, around snow-softened rocks, over frozen streams.

Sometimes we chose sides and built forts, then pelted each other from our store of snowballs until it got too dark to see, or until we got too cold to continue. As we headed for home, our overwrought snowshoes, with “laces” broken and too frozen to tie anymore, lost their usefulness and tripped us mercilessly. So cold we could hardly feel our fingers and toes, our progress home slowed considerably as we spent precious moments laughing in snowdrifts, coming up with mouthfuls of the cold stuff that froze our lips, teeth, and cheeks.

Finally we’d toss the snowshoes aside and stumble home on numb feet, perhaps helped by a bright moon, and gathering a final batch of snow as we went for Mom’s special maple syrup bedtime treat.

Adult experiences in the snow are regretfully more sedate, though not necessarily less adventuresome. Feeding birds, shoveling walks, stoking the fire. Leisurely cross country skiing over deer paths, through golf courses, down tame enough snow-covered hills, and only occasionally, time to build a snow sculpture with a visiting grandchild. There is more time now to study the path of the wind in snowdrifts, intricate frost patterns on windows, and all manner of wildlife exerting their fundamental instincts of survival.

But I wonder if today’s sheltered and chauffeured youth get to experience Winter and a glorious snowfall as we did when we were children. And what memories are they storing for their golden years? Snow is an adventure that many in the world never get to experience: the touch, the smell, the navigation, the play, the quiet beauty of the landscape.

Snow blankets the earth

Winter is a time of keen awareness that even when the earth seems most lifeless and barren, there is still a vibrancy, an urgency that sifts and strains, that clarifies all life forms and leaves the earth better, stronger, purified for the spring to come.

A fresh snowfall heals the earth’s scars and reflects in its infinite crystals Winter’s cleansing rites.


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A modern-day Christmas tree

I wrote the following in 1994 and it was published in one of our local newspaper’s magazine sections the week before Christmas. Each year I pull it out and read it again, more for the poem included than anything else. But I also love to be reminded of the long history and tradition of some of our most cherished symbols, the Christmas tree being one we all relate to. It connects us to many eras and many generations of our own families. It allows us to meditate on life, on how things change, and on what our contributions are to the long traditions we keep and pass on to our children and grandchildren. I’ve made a few changes to update the article but it retains its original flavor.

In 1916 Robert Frost wrote the delightful story-poem interspersed throughout this piece. In the poem the owner of the young fir balsams decides he’d rather give away his trees to friends than sell them to someone from the city who only sees Christmas trees as money in his pocket. Frost called the poem “Christmas Trees: A circular Christmas letter.” And it begins ….

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out,
A-buttoning coats, to ask him who he was.

Charles Dickens referred to the Christmas tree as “that pretty German toy,” while Clement Miles wrote, it “is a kind of sacrament linking mankind to the mysteries of the forest.” The Christmas tree has been part of human celebrations and rituals since the 14th or 15th century, but humans have venerated the evergreen since time immemorial. And it is an honor well-deserved.

The pines, spruces, balsams, firs, and hemlocks used in Christmas celebrations are descendents of the first seed-producing plants, which appeared on earth millions of years ago and represented a true revolution in the plant world. A seed is self-contained and maintained; it contains an embryo plant, fully equipped with root, trunk, leaves, and its own food supply for nourishment until conditions are favorable, allowing the plant to germinate and grow.

He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas trees.

Generat Grant in Kings Canyon National Park

The first ancient seed producers were soon replaced by cone-bearing trees, whose descendents include some of our tallest trees and oldest living plants which have survived centuries and geologic catastrophes because of their ability to adapt. Evergreens were already millions of years old when humans first appeared. When we looked around for a symbol of enduring life it’s easy to see how we chose the evergreen. Ancient cultures looked favorably on all evergreens believing that they contained magical powers. Spruce forests are capable of producing thousands of tons of wind-dispersed pollen each year sprinkling land and water with a gold-like powder. The cones, which contain many seeds, were often used as symbols of fertility. Evergreens figured prominently in many pagan rituals, especially those connected with winter solstice celebrations and vegetation deities—like Attis.

Attis, an Asiatic god of vegetation, was born of a virgin who conceived by putting a ripe almond in her bosom. Although stories of Attis’ death differ, they agree on two counts: it was a bloody death, and after his death under a pine tree, Attis changed into a pine tree, which figured prominently thereafter in vegetation rituals to the god.

I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.

Most ancient European and Asian civilizations had some form of tree worship according to Sir James Frazer, author of The Golden Bough. The evergreen symbolized immortal life for the Druids of England who are credited with being the first to hang undecorated evergreens in their homes, more than two centuries before the birth of Christ. Fresh boughs dispelled the gloom of winter and lent their fresh fragrance to the stale winter air inside. They were a reminder that even in the dead of winter, life abounds.

The first Christmas tree, one legend states, was adopted from medieval morality plays in which the evergreen played a major role. Decorated with apples, it represented the tree of life in the story of Adam and Eve. When December 25 became universally accepted as the time to celebrate Christ’s birth, the evergreen tree took on a central role in Christian celebrations of the event. And to some it represented the life-giving tree of the cross. Early decorations included roses (symbol of Mary) and wafers (symbol of last supper).

Eventually all manner of household items were used to decorate the tree. From silver spoons and knives; to cuff links, earrings, bracelets and brightly-colored gloves; cookies, fruit, toys, egg and sea shells, and garlands of cranberries and popcorn.

Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees, except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth—
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine,
I said, “There aren’t enough to be worth while.”

The Germans are generally given credit for introducing the modern Christmas tree in the 17th century with their beautifully and imaginatively decorated table-top trees. The first candles were added by Martin Luther, goes one legend, when, after observing the clear, star-studded sky one Christmas Eve, he wanted to impress his children with the importance of the birth of the Light of the World, and he added candles to his family’s tree.

Folklore credits Hessian soldiers with introducing the Christmas tree to American colonists during the Revolutionary War. The earliest recorded use of Christmas trees in America was in 1742, in a German Moravian settlement in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; however, widespread use of the Christmas tree in America did not come about until over a hundred years later, around 1850. Taller, ceiling-high trees replaced the European table-top models and became a tradition in American homes.

“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”
“You could look
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”

National Christmas tree, Washington D.C.

President Pierce put up the first White House Christmas tree in 1856 but it wasn’t until 1923, with President Coolidge that the White House tree became a lasting tradition. It was also Coolidge who declared the gigantic sequoia General Grant, in Kings Canyon National Park, California, the National Christmas Tree. Since 1926, an annual Yuletide service is held at the foot of the nearly 2000-year-old tree on the second Sunday of December. On March 29, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared the tree a “National Shrine”, a memorial to those who died in war. It is the only living object to be so declared.

Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
And paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
He climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
and came down on the north.

In 1882, the world’s first electrically lighted Christmas tree was installed in the New York home of Thomas Edison’s associate Edward Johnson, replacing the hazardous candle-lit trees.

By the early 1900s the Christmas tree in the United States was so popular that shortages began to occur, especially around the cities. In response, the first Christmas tree farm was planted around 1905, and many abandoned farms were brought back into service with crops of conifers as the multi-million dollar industry took root. More recently balled and burlaped trees are used by many for the holiday then planted in backyards to give back to the environment for many years to come.

He said, “A thousand.”
“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”
He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

I happen to live in Indiana County PA, proudly proclaimed The Christmas Tree Capital of the World. Our local Christmas tree farms provide holiday trees for homes and businesses around the world. The National Christmas Tree Grower’s Association was founded here; and this year the NCTGA has provided a 19-foot balsam fir as the official White House Christmas tree. Indiana County tree growers are proud supporters of the Christmas Spirit Foundation. Since 2005 the CSF has provided 84,000 fresh-cut trees to military families and servicemen and women stationed around the world.

When our sons were young, we enjoyed going out to a local Christmas tree farm and tramping around to choose our tree, cut it down, and drag it back to the car. It never looked as good in the house as it had looked outside and we’d turn it and turn it trying to find the best side. Everyone had a different opinion. But we enjoyed decorating it with strings of popcorn and cranberries … and we each picked out a new ornament to hang each year from Lumley’s Christmas Shop. When we were finished we’d exclaimed this tree the most beautiful tree to date.

Finding a bird’s nest in the chosen tree has long been considered good luck for the new year. A Scandinavian tradition observed by farmers was to bundle a sheaf of wheat and attach it to a pole outside for the birds and animals on Christmas Eve as a show of good faith for a plentiful harvest the following year. Perhaps from these old traditions comes a more recent one of setting out the used Christmas tree and decorating it for the birds.

Many of our used trees served up a royal avian banquet with strings of popcorn and cranberries, slices of apple and peanut butter, suet balls dipped in birdseed, pinecones filled with peanut butter and birdseed, and pieces of stale donuts and bread. Then we would sit by the window and watch all the action. It extended our enjoyment of the rich tradition of the Christmas tree and giving.

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, Three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece)—
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.

Modern family traditions and festivities will continue to include a Christmas tree and greens decorated with bright lights and baubles for generations to come. It doesn’t matter whether we think of the tree as a delightful toy hung with the handiwork of our creativity, or consider its rich tradition and sacred symbolism of life eternal connecting us with those many generations who have gone before—and those yet to come. We are part of this  long tradition of bringing in the greens.

The Christmas tree will always be an object of priceless memories of Christmas past, a stirring delight of Christmas present, and joyful anticipation of Christmas future.

A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

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Since the holidays are soon upon us I thought maybe we could share some recipes that have been our family favorites over the years, especially in the cookie category. In years past, we made dozens and dozens of cookies for Christmas. We’d begin shortly after Thanksgiving and continue up until, and sometimes including the week of Christmas. We stored the cookies in the coolest part of the house, which for me was the garage. I’d clean off a shelf or two, line them with tablecloths, and begin loading them with cookies stored in their air-tight containers.

Plenty of flour flew, chocolate dripped, fruit caramelized, nuts were chopped, sugar was everywhere, and for weeks before Christmas the house smelled so good everyone was in a constant state of hunger. When the boys became teenagers, sometimes, rarely, a container would become lighter as Christmas approached. Nobody would “fess up” but it soon became apparent what everyone’s favorite cookie was and it was easy to guess who the culprit might be.

Now that I live alone, I make far fewer cookies than I once did. I focus on just the favorites while wistfully remembering the hustle and bustle of making all the others. Of course, the grandchildren have their favorites so we still end up with plenty of cookies for everyone, and have enough after the holidays to store a box in the freezer for a 4th of July treat.

With all this talk about cookies, I’ve decided to first share my recipe for Pecan Pie, a Thanksgiving favorite in our family. Of course we also have the traditional Pumpkin and Apple, but the Pecan Pie was the one that disappeared first. Today, with the price of pecans, it’s almost cheaper to go to Eat ‘N’ Park and buy one of their delicious pecan pies, but for those with the means here’s the famous Henry Pecan Pie recipe.

Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie
Preheat oven to 375°

Prepare your favorite pie crust. Mine is as follows. This recipe makes 2 crusts but you need only one for the Pecan Pie.

Mix together
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
Cut in
2/3 cup lard (or 2/3 + 2 tablespoons shortening)
Sprinkle with
¼ cup water and mix with fork
Roll out and place in 2 pie tins, fluting the edges.

For the Pecan filling (for one pie)
Beat together
3 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon of rum
1/3 cup honey
2/3 cup dark corn syrup
Mix in
1 ½ cup pecan halves.
Bake 40-50 minutes or until crust is nicely browned and center set.

1963 Betty Crocker Cooky Book

Now for the cookies … I always begin my Christmas cookie baking with the same recipe every year. In fact I follow the same sequence of recipes year-after-year, for some unknown, but probably obsessive compulsive reason.

Here’s one family favorite and the one that kicks off my baking season. This recipe is taken from Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book, copyright 1963, and the book from which most of my cookie recipes come from. It is tattered and torn, splashed and spilled on, but it gets dragged out anytime I need a good cookie. A facsimile of this book is available from amazon.com for $15.96. I don’t know what I’d do without mine. I’ve included the recipe here exactly as it appears in the Cooky Book.

Russian Teacakes (Sometimes called Mexican Wedding Cakes)

Russian Teacakes

1 cup butter or margarine
½ cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ¼ cup Gold Medal Flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cups finely chopped nuts

Mix butter, sugar, and vanilla thoroughly. Measure flour by dipping method … or by sifting. Stir flour and salt together; blend in. Mix in nuts. Chill dough.
Heat oven to 400 degrees (mod.hot). Roll dough in 1″ balls. Place on ungreased baking sheet. (Cookies do not spread.) Bake 10 to 12 min., or until st but not brown. While still warm, roll in confectioners’ sugar. Cool. Roll in sugar again. Makes about 4 doz. 1″ cookies.
Note: Do not use Gold Medal Self-Rising Flour in this recipe.

I sometimes roll the cookies in confectioners’ sugar one more time, in other words 3 times all together. They just look so delicious and ready to be eaten that way.

I’ll leave it up to my sisters to keep the ball rolling and add their families’ favorite recipes to the list. Other family members … daughters, granddaughters, sons and husbands, etc. are welcome to join the fray. Happy Thanksgiving to all …. and happy baking.

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