Author Archives: Gini Athey

A Bounty of Food, of Flowers, of Friends

Food

If you have read about my ongoing challenge this summer with the weeds in my garden I’m going to concede that the weeds have won. Don’t get me wrong, I was willing to spend the time to pull the weeds, but Mother Nature didn’t cooperate. We have had unseasonable rains this year, heavy downpours of three to four inches that have turned the garden into a muck hole. With the hot temperatures the weeds have excelled with growth. Some days I think it would be easier to go barefoot to pick the vegetables, but with the abundant thistles, no thank you. I’ll wear boots or wait for another day. I’ve learned that gardens also require patience. The tomatoes have grown to full size and are turning the softest shades of yellow, but not the bright red I’m waiting for. The local weekly Farmers’ Market will fill in for what isn’t ready in my garden.

But I have to tell you that I couldn’t wait any longer to see if potatoes were growing under the still-green vines. I must confess the potatoes are a new adventure for me so I took some store bought potatoes (not seed potatoes) that were beginning to sprout and planted them. Guess what? They grew into plants with blossoms. I was careful with the shovel not to cut the potatoes when I dug under the plants. From two plants (hills) I got one medium-sized potato and about a dozen the size of golf balls. They tasted better than the store bought ones, but I think that’s because they were from my garden. We’ll see the bounty in a month when it’s time to dig the rest of the row.

Flowers

I love the colorful rows of zinnias in the garden. For years I planted a couple of packages of seeds by the house to give a boost of color to the entryway. And each fall I gathered the blossom heads when the seeds formed. Friends laughed when I told them that I’ve been hoarding the seeds for a special time. This was the year. I raked the soil, planted the seeds and waited. And waited. When the small leaves emerged from the ground I was delighted. When the second set of leaves formed I jumped for joy. My garden has become a bounty of color along with the vegetables. I treat myself and cut a fresh bouquet every three days. And the rain? They love it.

Friends

Last night (I’m writing this the middle of August) a “small” tornado touched down no more than a mile from our house. I wasn’t aware that any tornado activity could be labeled as “minor” or “small.” The sky to ground lightening erupted close by and was followed with loud cracks of thunder, shaking the house like we’ve never felt it before. The storm quickly moved to the east leaving us with a light breeze and heavy rain.

Then the phone rang. One friend after another called to see if we were okay or if we needed help. Did we have electricity? Were any trees down? Did we need food, water, a place to stay? Friends called from thirty miles away after seeing the local weather reports. Some worried when they received a busy signal on the phone and kept calling until we answered. We figured we were talking to other friends at the time they were calling. Our bounty of friends and their concern for us is humbling. We are ever so grateful they are in our lives.

Special friends were married the end of August and I have kept their gift – a quilt, of course – a surprise. They are a young, vibrant couple so I chose a rainbow of bright colors to use in the quilt to match their personalities. Have a look.

    Enjoy the day and its bounty; food, flowers, friends, and even the storms.

    Believing in tomorrow,

    Gini

Too Comfortable In My Comfort Zone

Comfort is, from Webster’s Dictionary, a state of ease and quiet enjoyment. Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful place to be? Finding a place surrounded by nature with limited interruptions would be heavenly. What would you do with unlimited time and no responsibilities? And, for how long would you be content?

Over a year ago when the stay-home policy was put in place, Hubby and I looked at each other and he said, “That won’t be hard on us.” I agreed. In general, we live a routine life when we are alone, but we had lots of company before the pandemic changed that. Our friends would stop in for an afternoon of conversation or we would have overnight guests. Fortunately for us, we found our daily routine served us well when everyone had to stay home. The phone became our means of connecting with people.

My trips to town for essentials, like food, post office (I started sending ‘thinking of you’ cards), and sundries dropped from weekly to biweekly. I had planned fourteen days of menus which made grocery shopping easier and I spent less time in the store. Even with masks required, I didn’t want to linger. Our local small town grocery store didn’t offer online ordering or curbside pickup. I’m still doing the fourteen days’ worth of menus because I’m comfortable using the same grocery list and eating quality meals over and over.

With lockdown at the local library, my short breaks wandering between the shelves to find an intriguing book were no longer part of my routine. But I couldn’t think of not having books to read. People more technically advanced ordered their books online for curb-side pickup. Not knowing how to use this system, I relied on the library staff to find books for me. They did a wonderful job which added to my comfort zone.

Now that it’s summer and we’ve been unable to enter Canada, we have entered into the current interest of gardening. I am finding it relaxing to spend time checking the plants and weeding in the morning. There are always more weeds than vegetable or flower plants. (See July’s Blog for more on my game with weeds.) Our area of Wisconsin has seen an extended time of hot, humid days followed by heavy, hard rains. Both plants and weeds are having prime growing conditions. I’m finding joy in the quiet and solitude of the garden.

For a good laugh, read on. Remember those routines I talked about earlier? I/we (Hubby’s in this, too) have daily tasks because there are times when we can’t remember which day of the week it is. Most days our “tasks” are done in the morning, leaving afternoon and evenings for hobbies or phone visits. Here is how our week unfolds:

Sunday – wash bed linens, pay bills

Monday – wash towels, take dumpster out for garbage pickup

Tuesday – wash rugs, bring in dumpster

Wednesday – wash dog blankets, wind antique clocks

Thursday – wash shirts and tops, iron as needed

Friday – wash undies, clean toilets

Saturday – let washing machine rest (smile here), water indoor plants

Our lives have become simple routines that we are comfortable living within.

With many of the restrictions lifted, I feel it is time to break out of that comfort zone. I need to call a friend so we can meet for coffee, or walk the aisles in the grocery store to see if they’ve added new items, or take an afternoon to browse the library shelves.

But, sadly, I find myself changing my mind and staying home in my comfort zone. I know it’s time to connect with the world, find a new book, try a challenging hobby, and make coffee with a friend a priority.

The adage of knowing and doing are two very different things applies to me. I really need a new comfort zone.

Believing in tomorrow.

Gini

Weeds vs. Seeds

The fight is on, and the gauntlet has been tossed into the arena, or I should say, the garden. It will be a fight to the first frost to see whether the weeds or the seeds win.

This story began more than a year ago when Hubby and I couldn’t cross the border into Canada because of the pandemic. We go there every summer to spend time at our seasonal camp. We, and thousands of other tourists, were considered non-essential and weren’t allowed into the country. Since we couldn’t proceed with our usual plans for summer, we had to come up with something else to keep us busy.

We haven’t had a garden for many years so by the time we decided to put one in, seeds and starter plants were gone. The greenhouse owner told us there had been a run on plants soon after the stay-home policy was implemented. Last year, the weeds had full run of the garden area.

I’ve come to understand that the plants I call weeds have a role in the eco-system of the land. Two weeds predominate in our garden area. The tall plant with prickly leaves and white or purple flowers is known as THISTLE. We have the purple variety that grows to be about three feet high, creeping in very close together and leaving no area bare. In late summer, the blossoms mature into seed pods that attract flocks of the North American Goldfinch. This plant also provides the thistle seed that bird enthusiasts use to fill their bird feeders. It’s amazing to watch a flock of birds arrive and perch on the plant stem supporting the blossom. They pick at the seeds for a few minutes and then move onto another stem.

Intermixed with the thistle plants are MILKWEED plants. Equal in height to the thistles, this plant produces large seed pods on the end of a central woody stem. The sap of this plant is white in color—therefore the name—and sticky. When the pods mature and burst open, thousands of seeds are released and travel on wind currents with the help of downy fibers attached to the individual seeds. Once all the seeds have dispersed, the empty pods can be used in floral arrangements. Creative designers often spray paint the pods various colors and use them in their projects.

This summer, with the U.S.-Canada border still banning non-essential travel, we decided early on to plant a garden – a small garden. Until…

The June/July 2021 issue of Mary Jane’s Farm magazine arrived. Whenever it comes in the mail, I start at the first page and read every article to the last page. One of the feature articles in that issue showcased various cut flower growers favor from across the U.S. I love flowers and while I’m too frugal to buy them for myself, I frequently send them to friends for special occasions. But the pictures with the article were so bright and colorful that I thought I should try a row or two of easy-to-grow flowers. Helpful suggestions as to varieties for beginners were included. For people like me—a beginner.

Hubby tilled the garden in the spring before the weeds appeared. We planted lots of green and wax beans, tomatoes, and zucchini plants. Friends brought us two kohlrabi plants. This vegetable is new to us, but we thought, “Why not be adventurous and give it a try?”

I rubbed my hands together and smiled. The rest of the garden area was left for flowers…or so I thought. Hubby, bless him, wanted an area for pumpkins. I’m really grateful he did. Within days, baby thistle plants and milkweed shoots began to immerge, even before the vegetable and flower seeds sprouted.

The game of weeds vs. seeds had begun.

Mostly thistle mixed with the pumpkin plants.

Both varieties of weeds grow through an extensive root system. Small sections of root will rapidly establish a plant, and neither variety pulls easily from the dirt. I’ve taken on the daily job of removing as much of the weeds as time allows. The vegetables are done first, then the flowers.

The flowers in this small bed will be supported with a horizontal mesh when the plants are about 12 inches high.

So far, the weeds have the advantage of warm temperatures and lots of sunshine… oh, yes, and Hubby giving them plenty of water. But I’m determined. There are a lot of summer days ahead, and I want to have flowers in the house when they bloom.

Do you garden? What is your favorite thing to grow? How about your best tip for winning the battle between the weeds and the seeds? You comment with your suggestions and comments.

Believing in tomorrow (and the power of my green thumb),

Gini

I Do, I Do, I Do and Scrappy Quilts

This June, Hubby and I will be attending three weddings that were cancelled last year due to the pandemic. Fortunately, each wedding is a different weekend in the month and in a different city, so we won’t be rushing between ceremonies and receptions. We will be able to enjoy each event to the fullest, seeing family and friends that have isolated themselves for safety.

I love making gifts for special occasions, and, to continue my reputation in the family as a quiltmaker, I decided to gift each couple with a “couch” quilt, bigger than a lap robe but smaller than a twin-bed size.

I started in January. New Year’s resolutions and those never done goals aside, it was a combination of the stay-home pandemic order and winter in Wisconsin that had me opening my many totes of fabric to spark an idea for the designs for the quilts. To my dismay, none of the fabric was large enough to complete a single design.

I was telling Hubby my dilemma, and he said, “Use what you have and put smaller pieces together.” Oh, the man is so smart.

Quilts made with numerous small fabric pieces are called “scrappy.” The term brings to mind a pioneer woman cutting up worn clothing to create bedcovers for her family. But scrap quilting didn’t become commonplace until the Great Depression when hard-pressed quiltmakers were forced to use every bit of fabric they had on hand. Along with feed sacks, quilters used bits of old clothing, worn-out bed linens, and even men’s old denim work clothes.

So, I drew a design for each quilt to determine the number of scrappy squares I’d need for each. I multiply that number by three so the quilts would be similar but not identical. I calculated twice, not believing that I’d need almost 400 fabric squares for one quilt, 1,200 for the three.

I almost dropped over at the number. But time was passing, and I needed to get busy. Using my experience with making quilts, I knew there was not going to be much wiggle room to get the quilts done in time for the weddings.

Cutting the squares was going to be time and labor intensive so I gave myself the entire month of January to get the job done. I limited myself to no more than four squares from each section of fabric. When February started, I began to sew the pieces together on the sewing machine. By the end of the month, each quilt top, including sashing and borders, was done. March came into Wisconsin like a lamb, and I wanted to give the lady doing the quilting plenty of time. She is a professional and was done by the end of the month. The final step in making any quilt is to finish the outer edge with the binding. I attached the binding using the sewing machine and hand-sewed it to the backside. I put the last stitch in on April 30th.

Three quilts done in four months. I was ready to party with the happy couples. We wish all of them joy and happiness in the years ahead.

Believing in Tomorrow,

Gini

Chocolate Delights

Do you like chocolate? If yes, then you know that sometimes nothing can satisfy a chocolate craving but chocolate. It could be a chocolate candy bar, a piece from a gift box, or as simple as a glass of chocolate milk. It would be hard to list all the varieties of chocolate or all the products that include chocolate (cocoa) or cacao in their ingredient list. As the saying goes, America runs on chocolate.

Chocolate is made from the fruit of cacao trees which are native to Central and South America. The fruits are called pods and each pod contains around 40 cacao beans. The beans are dried and roasted to create cocoa beans.

Many historians agree that the ancient Olmecs of Sothern Mexico used cacao to create a ceremonial drink. This civilization passed their knowledge onto the Central American Mayans. Their written history includes the drink was used in celebrations as well as with every meal in many households. The Aztecs believed cacao was given to them by their gods. They also used cacao beans as currency to buy food and supplies. This culture considered the beans more valuable than gold.

Historians agree that when chocolate first arrived in Europe, it was brought by Spanish explorers returning from Mexico. By the late 1500s, it was often served in the Spanish court. Chocolate houses for the wealthy rapidly spread throughout European cities.

Ship ledgers confirm that chocolate arrived in Florida on a Spanish vessel in 1641. By 1773, cocoas beans became a staple import for the American colonies. During the Revolutionary War, as well as WWI and WWII, chocolate was provided as part of the soldier’s ration packs.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, chocolatiers created bars and confectionaries, and major chocolate companies began to mass market a variety of chocolate treats. Do you know that M&M’s are the number one chocolate item sold in the USA?

Today, cocoa from the cacao bean is used in new varieties of food products from beverages to spaghetti sauce.

If you are having a craving for chocolate, I have two recipes that I find quick and easy to make and are satisfying to eat.

Chocolate  – Applesauce Brownie

2 TBS Brownie Mix (any brand)

2 TBS Applesauce (any brand)

Mix together in small microwave dish. Cook on high for about a minute. Check for doneness using a toothpick. Serve warm. Add a dollop of ice cream for a truly decadent treat.

Chocolate Brownie Muffins

1 box devil’s food cake mix

1 15 oz. can pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line 12 muffin cups with foil liners.

In large bowl, combine cake mix and pumpkin until smooth and uniform.

Fill muffin cups.

Bake about 20 minutes, until toothpick comes out mostly clean.

Just to be sure I can satisfy my chocolate craving when it happens I keep a box of the brownie mix in my pantry next a jar of applesauce.

Enjoy.

Believing in tomorrow (and chocolate),

Gini

TREASURE BOXES

Do you have a treasure box? Or maybe more than one?

When I ask my friends this question, boy, do I get a myriad of answers. Some don’t know what I talking about so I go on to explain that it is not a box of gold coins lost by a pirate on the high seas. It is a box of cherished mementos – treasures – that are important enough to you that the box has traveled with you wherever you live.

I have a friend who is extremely creative. She made a cloth-covered box with lace and jewels to keep her treasures in. She laughed when I called it her pirate box. She lives a full, rich life so maybe by now she has more than one box.

I keep my treasures in a plan banker’s box that is almost full. I’ve been adding to my box since high school, and every now and then I go through my box when a memory crosses my mind. I have drawings from grade school (thank you, Mom, for saving them), graduation certificates, a silk kimono from my brother when he was in Viet Nam, and pressed flowers from proms and family funerals. The most coveted treasure is a book of poems and reflections I’ve written over the years – the highs and the lows of my life.

I also have a smaller box of treasures. This one is filled with newspaper clippings, ideas written on the back of used envelopes, pictures from magazines, and photographs. All are ideas for books I planned to write. Let me tell you, I will never live long enough to write all the books that go with each idea in the box. The funny part about this box is that for some of the ideas, I can no longer remember the story that I thought would be of interest to readers or fun for me to write. But I don’t throw them away. Maybe, just maybe, they will trigger a block-buster story, and I will become the next Nora Roberts. Smile here. I can dream big.

So take some time to go through your treasure box and remember those troughs and peaks in your life. Then go live the kind of life that will add more treasures to your box.

If you haven’t started a box, maybe this is the time to find a unique looking one for those moments you want to keep of piece of.

Believing in Tomorrow,

Gini

5 Ways to Celebrate National Quilting Day

The third Saturday in March is National Quilting Day. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the tradition of quilting, its significance, and the ways it connects people. The Kentucky Heritage Quilt Society’s 1989 Quilter’s Day Out was the inspiration for this annual event, which the National Quilting Association approved as a national event in 1991.

You can participate by hanging a quilt outside your house and sharing a photo with the tag #nationalquiltingday.

Here are 5 more ways to celebrate:

  1. Download a free quilt pattern. Click here and scroll down the page.
  2. Contribute a quilt to a special cause such as Happy Birth Day, Baby!
  3. Share your skill by teaching a class or mentoring a new quilter.
  4. Start a new quilting project. The holidays are only nine months away.
  5. Patronize your local quilt shop.

My 2020 Covid Project

My friend, Kendra, owns The Stitching Bee, a shop that specializes in counted cross-stitch handwork, as well as other needle and thread techniques. Whenever I’m in town and have a few minutes to spare, I stop in for a visit.

Such was the case in the fall of 2019. My time was limited, but it had been a while since my last visit, so I stopped. Kendra changes the samples on the walls and display cases regularly. The shop was filled with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas samples. The holidays, by design, are reason enough to entice the stitchers to buy a pattern and the necessary supplies.

The day I stopped she had a non-holiday sample of a pattern called “Baskets,” designed by Karen Kluba from Rosewood Manor, hanging by the register. I couldn’t look away. I liked everything about the piece; the colors, the symmetry, the use of space.

Kendra and I talked for a bit catching up on families and friends. But I kept looking at the sample on the wall. Kendra smiled. She knew she had a sale.

“Get everything I need – pattern, floss and fabric. I’ll pick it up when you call that it’s ready,” I told her. I didn’t remember much of the drive home. I kept thinking about the “Baskets” and how much I would enjoy stitching the piece.

I wasn’t able to begin stitching when I got the supplies home. Life has a way of changing plans in our house. Often, it seems. The holidays came and went, then the pandemic arrived. When the scientists recommended limiting gatherings and celebrations and suggested a stay-home policy I knew it was time to start my “Baskets” project.

This was a large piece to do, not one that could be finished in a weekend. So I read the directions, threaded my needle and made the first cross-stitch. After finishing the top row of baskets, I realized that there was no place in our house that was open enough to hang the finished piece. Then I knew that an antique picture from my Grandmother’s house would be the perfect frame and place for it to hang. For many years the picture had hung in my office, but now was the time for a change.

I needed to rearrange some of the design elements to make the stitched piece fit the frame. So I photocopied the pattern, cut it apart and put it back together so the dimensions matched the frame.

Now I was really excited to stitch. I worked on it every day, more hours some days than others, until it was done.

Kendra’s husband framed my hand-stitched piece using Grandma’s frame. When I step into my office my handwork reminds me that I was able to successfully complete my 2020 COVID project. I get to enjoy it every day.

Believing in tomorrow.

Gini

Happy Ever After

According to the Webster dictionary, the word February is from the Latin Februarius, followed by mensis, meaning month. The original definition then becomes “the month of expiation.” That sent me to the dictionary again. Expiation means to make amends for wrongdoing or guilt.

So how do these definitions move us from wrongdoing or guilt to romance and Happy Ever After?

No romance or lifelong commitment, in my opinion, can endure without some drama. The arguments, the compromises, the commitment make for a great life and equally great entertainment.

As a romance reader and writer, I want to enjoy the journey two characters travel believing in each other, with all their rights and wrongs, to live a Happy Ever After life.

I have favorite authors – Sherryl Woods, Nora Roberts, Virginia McCullough – to name only three of many that surprise me time and again on the unpredictable journeys their characters travel before finding a Happy Ever After. We know the ending of the story, but, for me, the joy is seeing how they get there.

The Hallmark Channel movies send their couples through three difficulties before the man or woman realizes neither of them want to live without the other person. These are not wrongdoings or guilt as suggested in the original definition, more along the line of poor choices. I’ll admit the one to two-hour time frame limits the degree and the complexity of the choices.

I believe in Happy Ever After. Yes, I’ve made poor/wrong choices in relationships, but I’ve also learned from them and have earned my Happy Ever After. Just ask the guy I live with and spoil.

There are days in February that we connect with, which include Ground Hog Day when the length of winter is predicted by the sun and a furry animal.

Birthdays include that of President George Washington. I still remember making a cherry tree in grade school using a tree branch and red gum drops. I don’t remember who got the last candy in the bag.

Another President, Abraham Lincoln also has a birthday. The tall man with the tall top hat was faced with decisions that would either unite or break our country apart. We will never forget a man who bore the consequences of his decision to keep our country united.

Valentine’s Day is the most notable holiday of the month. There is a lot of money spent on marketing the day of love and romance. I think having a special day of the year reminds us to stop the craziness of life and focus on the happiness that is part of romance and love. Such joy.

February has fewer days in the month than any of the other eleven months of the year, but it isn’t small when packed with history, a furry Ground Hog and romance.

Enjoy the month, Make the most of everyday. Find a Happy Ever After.

Believing in Tomorrow

Gini

Giving Thanks for Family Traditions

Webster defines traditions as events that are passed on from generation to generation. The tradition may be a story, a belief, a custom, or a talisman of some sort.

I find traditions comforting, especially those that have passed through more than one generation. Give me the history behind a special one-of-a-kind spoon that Grandma used to prepare a favorite family dish, or a cameo that great-grandmother Erla wore on her wedding dress. I can listen for hours to these stories.

Wisconsin in November brings out a tradition that dates back to early settlers in the region, that of the harvesting of meat to sustain the family through the long winter ahead. Nowadays it is common to see fluorescent orange clothing (or pink for the ladies) hanging on clotheslines or porches as the hunting season nears. Some claim the crisp weather removes human or household odors from the clothes enabling the hunter to be more concealed from the wildlife. I wonder if that is true or if this a tradition that has become part of the adventure.

This year with the raging pandemic there will be smaller family groups gathering as well as fewer spontaneous drop-in visitors. One fallout is that smaller turkeys are being bought for the traditional meal. What if there isn’t any turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce left over for sandwiches on Friday? I, for one, say we can’t let this tradition be lost. Buy a big bird, mom.

Let us also think of new traditions that can be started this year. Maybe we bring out the cloth napkins grandma used that have been kept in a box in the attic, or instead of rushing through the meal to watch the next football game all electronics are turned off during the meal and conversation becomes meaningful.

We can be grateful, happy, and hopeful in this month of Thanksgiving. Maybe that should become a tradition of its own.

Believing in Tomorrow,
Gini Athey