Monthly Archives: May 2011

Remembering Those Who Served

Freedom isn’t free.

A catch phrase, perhaps, but true nonetheless.

While war and methods of warring have changed over the centuries, one thing never changes; people die. 

In an earlier age, they died because their king commanded their service.  They died because they owed fealty.  They died because they were conscripted.  They died defending what they believed.  In more recent ages, conscription of a different but similar nature forced young men into uniform, onto the battlefield, but many more fought for an ideal; the right for men to be free.  Still, the why never mattered; death doesn’t care about the why.

Good men died beside bad men.  Friends died beside enemies.  Wives, mothers, fathers, lovers, sweethearts, siblings,and children prayed, frightened for their loved one caught in the chaos regardless of the reason behind or righteousness of the fight.   And these same wives, mothers, fathers, lovers, sweethearts, siblings, and children wept and grieved when death snatched their loved one away.

I guess that makes two things that never change.

Righteousness is laudable, but it doesn’t ease the pain of loss, hold a spouse or child in loving arms, dry tears, or play ball.  It doesn’t teach boys to be men or girls to be women.  Supporting an ideal is one thing; cuddling up with it on a cold night is another.

This Memorial Day, as we honor those who served, who protected our freedoms, many of whom paid the ultimate price, let us not forget those who were left behind.  No serviceman or woman serves alone.  Within his or her heart, along with hopes and dreams for the future, these warriors carry the faces of those left behind—the husband or wife struggling to raise a young family alone, the mother whose pride in her child is the only thing that keeps fear from suffocating her,  the child who doesn’t understand why a parent can’t attend the landmark events in his or her young life, and the list goes on.

Service comes with many faces.  Those who wore the uniform did not fight, sacrifice, or grieve alone.  It is fitting on this day when we remember the brave men and women who have secured our freedoms we also remember their families.

No, freedom isn’t free.  If you doubt that, just talk to anyone who has a folded flag and/or photograph with a metal beside it on the mantle.  The price of freedom is high, indeed.

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Life and Death

For the past week or more, my mind has been occupied with life and death.   I lost a dearly loved aunt, a nephew suffered a serious head injury and was hospitalized (he’s home now, but still very limited in what he’s permitted to do), and my youngest daughter scared the life out of me, although her five-week premature son is doing better than anyone could have hoped.

It’s been harrowing, to say the least.  Caught between grief and jubilation, the rituals of death and birth commanded my thoughts.

My aunt went into the convent the year I was born.  The evolution of her habit from something akin to a full-length woolen torture device with a stiff, white bib and a headdress more like  architectural  framing than a  wimple that concealed everything from her eyebrows up to something lighter and more comfortable is chronicled in family photos.

I still recall me and my sister running up to one of the convents where they stationed her and announcing to the girl who answered the door we were there to see Aunt —.  Asea, the novice looked at my mom who quickly explained we were there to see Sister Mary—.   My sister and I disagreed.  We wanted to see Aunt—!  Mom then had the joy of explaining to a confused five and six-year-old that the sisters took new names upon entering the order.

That was my first clue there was more to Aunt’s life than living with a bunch of ladies who liked to dress funny and be addressed as Sister.

Her religion was her bastion, her faith, her solace.  She took comfort in the repetition, the familiarity of daily mass, and the various liturgies.  Every situation had a preset protocol to guide and direct.

 The funeral mass was lengthy and the eulogy heartfelt since the priest who gave it had been a student of my aunt’s and, when he lost his mother as a young boy, she’d held out her hand to help him cope.  A loving woman, with a soft-spot for children, her arms and heart were always open.  A phone call would have someone added to the convent prayer list, and that person would be held up daily until another call said the crisis had been averted or the need had passed.

Instead of being interred with her birth family, she is interred among the sisters of her order who’ve been her religious family for more than 50 years.  That’s okay.  I’m sure that’s what she would have wanted.  Even so, while we honored her choice and were willing to share, she was, is, and always will be one of us.

The last time I saw her, she attended my daughter’s baby shower and had my granddaughter in her lap.  Smiling and laughing, she played with the baby.  It’s a good memory to hold.

Because she died in the hospital after what should have been minor surgery, I don’t know if she received the Last Rites prescribed by the Catholic Church before she left us.  I do know her lifetime of faith will see her safely home (Acts 16:31).

While at the funeral, we received a call about our daughter.  Pre-eclampsia.  They wanted to induce as soon as possible.  Before they could, another call.  Her water broke.  Ready or not, our grandson was on the way.

My aunt would have been thrilled.  She would have said something like, “This family is so big, someone had to make space for the newest member.”

Youngest daughter has a couple of health issues and lives far from home.  Unable to go to her, I took a page from my aunt’s book and prayed—a lot.  Our grandson came into the world weighing less than a nice roasting chicken and not much more than a scrawny fryer—3lbs 11oz—but he’s healthy and already gaining weight. 

A friend reminded me, without death we would soon be forced to deny young women the joy of motherhood.  Without renewal, in time, mankind would stagnate, cease to stride forward because there would be no new perspectives, no innocent eyes to see something and ask “why?”   Although all I have is a photograph, seeing the look on my baby girl’s face when she held her son, while it didn’t take the grief away, did bring my friend’s point home.  Even after all these years, the memory of the love that filled my heart when I first held my children burns bright.  Not even to save myself grief would I ever deny any young woman that life-altering experience.

The circle is complete.

Ah, yes, I meant to write on the rituals of life and death.  Well, I have—sort of.  Eulogizing is a common ritual, isn’t it?  As is announcing a birth.  I’ve done both.

Anything more will have to wait for another blog, folks.  This one is a selfish one just for me.   My heart hurts even as it rejoices.  Leave it to my aunt.  I’m confident she’s looking down from heaven either smiling or out-right laughing.   

Love you, Aunt.  Always will.


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Planting a Medieval Garden

I am a gardener.  Despite the gloves (hate dirty hands), the perspiration (ugh!  Excretory system, people), and the labor (no exposition needed), I NEED to garden.  Working the soil, making things grow, creating something beautiful all fulfill me in a way nothing else does.  It allows my mind to wander where it will, freeing ideas or solutions otherwise hidden.

Medieval people were avid gardeners.  Not everyone loved it, of course, or used it to trick their muse into being forthcoming, but folks liked to eat, and most had some basics planted in their yards.  Beauty was secondary to survival when it came to planting.   A quick trip to the grocery store wasn’t an option.  To make it through until the next harvest, food had to be grown and stored.

On large estates, be they castle or manor, medicinal herbs, cooking herbs, onions, and the like were often reserved for what was called “The Kitchen Garden” for obvious reasons.  Now, I’m not suggesting you plant a kitchen garden, per se, but using some of the items found therein among your own decorative plantings adds color, texture, fragrance, and a quick source of fresh ooomph to your culinary offerings.

This is a photo my recently completed ‘Meditation Garden’. 

Front view: Meditation Garden

Within you will find many fragrant herbs like thyme, rosemary, sage, basil, mint, oregano (common in Mediterranean gardens), and lemon balm–all of which flower.  Medicinal and edible flowers also populate this garden:  foxglove, holyhocks, lilies, and lavendar, predominently, and add their fragrances to the mix.

Parsley, chives, more rosemary, and lavendar are located in other gardens, all of which contribute themselves to whatever is being mixed, grilled, baked, boiled, steamed, sauteed, or roasted either in the kitchen or in the yard. 

I have a hummingbird feeder and a solar powered fountain, as you can see, as well as solar lighting—none of which would have been found in a medieval garden, of course—but the angel statues, the stone path, and the wrought iron-looking entry aid the illusion.

I’m thinking about putting a willow at the base of the yard—the bark, which can be chewed or brewed into tea, contains salicin, a pain reliever that has since been synthesized into salicitic acid which is the primary component of aspirin–because soaking the green shoots in water produces a rooting compound head and shoulders above what is available commercially.

Medieval gardens also included flowering fruit trees, apple, pear, and plum being the most common in Britain, arbored grape vines, and other climbing medicinals like honeysuckle and ivy.  These were ruthlessly pruned and pulled to keep them from overtaking the entire garden.  Lily of the Valley, Bluebells, and other bulb-grown plants were also used.  The bulbs provided the medicines, the flowers, fragrances for soaps, unguents, and perfumes.

One of my favorite books on medieval gardens is Brother Cadfael’s Herb Garden by Rob Talbot & Robin Whiteman.  It warns of the dangers even as it explains the medicinal uses of each plant.  Another good book is called The Medieval Garden by Sylvia Landsberg which explains layout and gives a more comprehensive view of how gardens were actually used in a medieval home.

A path lined with fragrant herbs leading to your door will always provide a warm welcome to your guests while saving money on herbs for your kitchen.   Give it a try!


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Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day is what the cynical have dubbed “A Hallmark Holiday.” 

Considering the word ‘holiday’ is the consolidation of the words ‘holy’ and ‘day’, they may have a point.  Motherhood can be a most unholy mix of stress, pride, craziness, contentment, heartache, joy, and a host of other things that test intelligence, patience, ingenuity, and stamina. 

And women have borne it with ready hearts and open arms since time began.

Mother’s Day, as we know it, didn’t exist as an official observance in the USA until May 1914.  From there, it spread to most of the world.  In truth, however, mankind has always celebrated the wonder of motherhood in one form or another.  Celebrations specific to a mother deity, a mother church, or Mother Nature all honored the ability to create, bear, nourish, and nurture new life.

Being someone’s mother is the most difficult job any woman has ever loved.  Motherhood fills the heart then rips it asunder, dances upon it with hob-nailed boots one minute, swells it until it can barely be contained the next, and if done well, guarantees those in whom all was invested will leave the investor behind—to begin the cycle anew.

To those who have weathered or are weathering the highs and lows of motherhood, enjoy your day.  Remember, the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

Love unconditionally, but rule wisely.


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It’s May Day

I don’t suppose most of you have ever danced around a Maypole, weaving in and out among the other dancers until the ribbons festooned the pole in color.  I can tell you, it was fun.  Up and over, down and under, laughing, dancing, singing, sometimes tripping, until the ribbon grew too short to continue and we fell, giggling, to the ground.

In medieval times, May Day called entire villages out to celebrate.  At dawn, the Maypole dance started the festivities and the party continued until dark.

The official color of the day is green.  Wreaths crowned heads and green sashes circled waists since, for most of the time period, only the wealthy could afford (and later, were permitted to wear) garments dyed bright colors.  As the day progressed, more greenery was collected, woven, and hung to decorate walls and doorways, welcoming the growing season.

May Day festivities included games, tournaments, music, dancing, and a feast where all the foods, including the trenchers, were green.  (I could find nothing to tell me how or with what medieval people made green trenchers.  Thus, I do hope they used dye.  The alternative isn’t very appetizing.)

Not surprising after an all day party celebrating life, love, procreation, and renewal, nine months hence, the village would see a spate of newborns who would, in their turn, maintain the village and its traditions.

Mayday represented hope.  Thus, this May Day, I wish you and yours enough seed for a good harvest and a year of hope and prosperity.


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