Saturday, September 19, 2020

Part II of Lavendar Sticks

As I mentioned in Part I of Lavendar Sticks, the new, "improved" platform that hosts my blog is not user friendly! Especially not for photos. After searching for how to move photos around and wrap text with its new design, I've come to the annoying conclusion (along with many others who are loud and clear online about their disasatisfaction with this change) that I cannot manipulate the photos for the time being. Therefore, this is really just a postscript to the prior blog called Lavendar Sticks. The captions (a built in component) don't stay with the photos, either, so I will narrate instead.Harvest lavendar with blossoms are dry. Then: 1.) wrap uneven number of lavender stems in cheesecloth and tie off with narrow ribbon (9-13 stems best).  2.) bend stems down as closely as possible to the tie-off.  3.) Start the weave: over one, under one, over, under, etc.  4.) Pull ribbon tightly as you go, and keep going until you can't weave any longer (the stems get too bunched to continue).  Wrap the stem with ribbon and tie with a loop (see Lavender Sticks Part I prior post.) As the sticks dry, you'll want to snug up the ribbon on the stems. 


Lavender sticks Part I

I have a wonderful source of beautiful and fragrant lavendar every year. My sister and her husband grow an abundant crop in their Seattle home's front yard and always invite me to harvest as much as I want.  For the past few years, I've dried the equivalent of a few cups of flowers, which I then stuff into little organza bags and bequeathe to friends and family at Christmastime. This year I created Lavender Sticks, also, something I haven't done for years. 

I learned to make them as a teenager when my dad gleefully pointed out an article in periodical that I think was called The Herb Growers' Magazine. He was a hobby gardner and loved herbs in general, but he was partial to the scent of lavender and wore Yardly aftershave, which had a predominantly lavender scent. He didn't do crafts himself, but could elicit sachet-making activity by announcing that his abundantly fragrant crop of lavendar in a given year was ready for harvesting. At least one of the three women who lived in his household would rise to the occasion. When I first saw the photo of lavender sticks in the magazine and realized making them meant weaving stems of fresh lavender through ribbons, the challenge was on! They were so satisifying to create and I loved making them, happily giving them to my mother to use as tuck-in gifts for her friends. (None of my friends wanted a lavender stick for Christmas!) 

Multiple years later, I made once or twice when my children were small and the lavendar plants were still thriving at my mother's home, but when she moved the source disappeared. And lavender doesn't winter well in Wisconsin, so after we moved there in 1972, there was no way to source the main ingredient. But even though I've been living back in Washington for the past thirty-four years, I have  made sachets only by bagging loose blossoms, no sticks . . . until this year

I'm not sure what triggered my decision in August, as I harvested an abundant crop at my sister's, to try making 'just one,' but I got carried away and made more than twenty-five! They have to be woven within hours of picking so that the stems are flexible enough to weave. And because the sticks always smell best when they are newly made (unlike traditional blossom sachets that can be squeezed for renewed fragrance), most of the twenty-five have already found homes. Only a few will be Christmas gifts this year. But weaving them was a satisfying activity (and a tad compulsive, too, as I tried to weave each one better than the last one), so I'm looking forward to another season of lavender sticks next year. God willing.

P.S.  Part II of the article carries more photos. The host of my website,, has made radical changes to the way its users create posts, siting 'new, easier' technology. Easier for someone, not doubt, but not for me. Seems that placing pictures with wrap-around text is impossible. It's not just that I'm a bit handicapped in terms of technology, either--I've been on help sites where I find lots of rants by other users of blogger with the same disappointed rsponse. I think my posts will probably be limited to one photo each from this point forward (until fixes something).  

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Apple doesn't fall far . . .

Walking in a local park where an orchard was planted in the 1930s, I had to laugh. There are a few straggler trees remaining, and this time of year the apples drop to the ground. The apple in the photo didn't fall far from the tree--it was lodged in a little crevice in the tree-- so the picture becomes a graphic illustration of the cliche. And that made me think of something that happened a couple of weeks ago. I was at my local Farmers Market, masked up, wearing a hat, carrying several cloth bags loaded up with produce. From behind me a voice called out, "Sallie?" I turned to see a friendly looking woman hurrying toward me, her arms filled with two flats of blueberries. It took me a minute to recognize who was behind the mask, but I did--just as she identified herself as L. "I was pretty sure that was you. I recognized you by your walk." What a flood of memories that brought back. My mother was easy to recognize by her how she walked, and as soon as L. said that, the expression, 'The apple doesn't fall far from the tree,' jumped into my head. I remembered lying in my hospital bed after the birth of my first child more than fifty-six years ago (in the days when a new mom rested up from the ordeal of childbirth for a full three days before returning home) and listening to footsteps in the corridor. I heard my mother approaching from a long way away, recognizing her by the sound of the her footsteps, the same ones I heard every morning as a child. Because my bedroom was over the kitchen, I woke up every school day morning to hear her stepping to and from the fridge, the stove, the table, as she made the family's breakfast. CLICK, click, CLICK. click. She favored one foot more than the other, just I apparently do. 

And since we're on the topic opf like-mother-like-daughter, there's a request that seemed silly to me when she made it while in her early sixties: "When I'm old and feeble-minded," she said, "promise me you'll pluck my chin hairs when you come visit me in the nursing home." I think of my mother whenever I stand in front of my mirror with my tweezers in hand. She didn't live long enough to need someone to help tweeze chin hairs, and maybe I won't need the service, either . . .  but her comment always makes me smile in solidarity.  Yup, THIS apple didn't fall far from the tree.  Maybe that's one good thing about our COVID lifestyle. No one can see what's growing under the mask. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020



 | \ ə-ˈbli-vē-ən , ō-, ä- \

Collegiate Definition

  • 1: the fact or condition of not remembering : a state marked by lack of awareness or consciousnessseeking the oblivion of sleepdrank herself into oblivion
There are definite activites I can indulge in to momentarily bring on a state of COVID oblivion. One of them is walking, if I can make myself stay in the present; another is to simply look up. I share these photos in the hopes that you, too, can identify an occasional moment that might be guaranteed to bring on few seconds of relief. And, yes, I know I'm lucky to have these beautiful sights within easy (I should say very easy) walking distance from my home.
The shadows of trees seem to welcome peaceful contemplation
The underside of branches can trigger awe

The sky helps bring on momentary oblivion

This blue heron sitting on a fallen log
takes its viewer out of the moment

Monday, August 10, 2020

Repurposing Mozart

Well, the title is titillating, you'll have to agree. I'm not sure this tiny little bronze statue inherited fifty-years ago is really supposed to be a likeness of Mozart, but that's how I think of it. A vague memory ascribes it to my mother's childhood, a tiny trophy bestowed for doing well on her piano lessons. I've used it as a paperweight upon occasion, but most of the time it sits in a drawer in my desk--one of those trinkets that doesn't do much except take up space--seemingly useless, but of enough sentiment to prevent its disposal.

Because of Covid-19, I'm walking more than I normally would in the summer. The absence of classes at my local YMCA, not to mention having almost no social life, means it's healthy and easy to take several walks each day. And I frequently need a visor and sunglasses because this is the time of year in Seattle when the sun is out almost every day. 

For many years, instead of having separate prescription sunglasses, I have chosen Takumi brand frames because they come with matched sunglasses that snap magnetically on. That way, my sunglasses can be easily taken on and off while driving, and they are so small I'm never without them--tucked behind my wallet in a small zipped essentials case with me when I leave the house. But because of their small size, they are a little more fragile--and sometimes hard to locate if one sets them down thoughtlessly after removing them.

Because of my daily walks, I wanted to keep them somewhere more accessible than my purse for them. That's when I thought of Mozart! They balance perfectly on his extended wrist. SO . . . I am letting him hold them for me. He is doing a GREAT job, too. I always know where they are; they aren't susceptible to scratching, and just seeing the little statue being useful after all these years makes me smile. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

PT 4: Who Loved Me into Being

William Neill Hughes, Jr.
was 85 in this photo
Yes, you understandably might have assumed I was done with this topic. Not quite. There is one other person who loved me into being: William Neill Hughes, Jr., my great-uncle.

Although my mother kept up a correspondence with her mother’s only brother and the longest surviving member of her family, I didn’t meet my great uncle until I was a junior in high school. Uncle Will lived in Florida and although he was a veteran of the Spanish American War and WWI (European Theater), he’d never visited Washington state because it was an arduous trip to come from Florida where he and his wife had lived since his retirement.

When my family (mom, dad, sister and I) made plans to travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico in May of 1957, my mother was inspired to ask Uncle Will, a recent widower, if he would like to make the short flight from St. Petersburg to join us. She was thrilled when he wrote back return mail with an excited ‘yes.’ He would come for just a few days, motivated to finally meet his two great-nieces, then ages seventeen and twenty-one, and reconnect with his beloved niece.

When I first met him, I found him a little bit intimidating (after hearing about him from Mother for all those years), but also a little bit disappointing. We were there for the first-ever Casals Music Festival in Puerto Rico; my great-uncle was not. He was there only to see our family. At seventeen, I was passionate and even obsessive about music. Pablo Casals was my musical hero, and so were the specific musicians invited personally by Casals to participate in the Festival. How could anyone be indifferent to this event! Nevertheless, it was exciting to meet such an old relative! (He was seventy-nine then, a year younger than I am now.) Since all four of my sister's and my grandparents were deceased by 1946, it was quite exciting to meet someone old enough to be our grandparent. 

Within minutes of our introductions, Uncle Will asked my sister and me to please call him just ‘Billy’—not Uncle Billy.  H-m-m-m . . . that was really a fun idea.  It seemed almost irreverent to call him “Billy,” but we quickly obliged and changed how we addressed (and referred to) him. Mother, however, continued forever to refer to him as Uncle Will--the name she had known him by her entire life. [Note: In the post dated June 29, 2013, I wrote about my great-uncle and referred to him as "Uncle Billy." As I recalled our Puerto Rico experience during this writing, I realized we didn't use "Uncle" when addressing him, and verified that with letters I have from him.]

He didn't want us to use "Uncle" when addressing him
For most of the three day visit, Billy sat in the shade under an umbrella on the hotel grounds, eager to talk and bask in our company and conversation whenever we had time. He and my dad had a lot in common, but he especially wanted to catch up with my mother and get to know her daughters. Our family had tickets for all the festival concerts, but most were in the evening, so that worked well. Billy retired early, and besides, he wasn’t there for the festival; he was there to see the Johnsone family.

On the last day of his visit, my mother called me aside. She was visibly upset. “Sallie, Uncle Will has pointed out to me just now how disrespectful you can be to me. He said I should not tolerate it. And he’s right—I put up with your sassy retorts too much. So from now on, I'm not going to let you get away with a flippant tone of voice or rude reaction to my requests!”

Ouch! Naturally, I was annoyed—no, more like angry—with this old relative who felt it was his duty to share a punitive observation with his niece about me. Who was he to talk about my behavior! I barely spoke to him for the rest of his visit, and when he flew home to St. Petersburg, Florida, I wasn’t sorry. But . . .  deep down, I knew he was right and respected him for noticing. I could be feisty and ill-mannered to  my mother, and was especially annoyed with her in Puerto Rico because I wanted more than anything to gawk at, swoon over, the musicians at the hotel—the admired performers whom I idolized. In my heart I was a classical musician groupie and wanted to act out the part. She was determined I would, in her words, "Act like a lady."

When we got home, all of us received individual letters from Billy thanking us for the opportunity to get together. It was the beginning of a bond between the two of us that solidified over the next twelve years of his life. In that first letter, he enumerated what he saw as my talents and strengths and deplored me to live up to my potential and not to get bogged down in the pettiness that often happens with family members living in close proximity. Expressing outright admiration for what he saw as the good in me, he knew exactly how to get my attention and make me think about his observations. He implored me to continue developing our relationship by agreeing to correspond with him.

I invited him to my high school graduation, but . . .
I wrote him back, and thus began our deepening “pen pal” friendship. Throughout the rest of high school, all of college, and until he died in 1969, we corresponded regularly with long heartfelt letters. Billy consistently praised my writing, which prompted believing in myself as a writer, and he urged me to consider writing as a profession. Within a few years of our 1957 meeting, both of us had converted to Roman Catholicism, which gave us an immense amount of subject matter to share in our epistles. Understanding my devotion to him over the years, my husband strongly endorsed giving the Hughes family name to our youngest child, born in 1968, as a middle name. Billy was delighted!  

How lucky I was to have made the acquaintance with Billy while still forming my own notion of who I was and would become. Billy’s praise for, and faith in, my writing abilities might even be seen as the seed this blog. He was a true blessing in my life.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The comfort of nature

Recently I realized in a different kind of way just how comforting it is to sit quietly among trees, and in particular, to feel--stroke--the bark of a huge Douglas Fir.

I'm fully aware this is not an original observation. In fact, it's probably as old as the spoken word and perceived long before language occurred. There is always comfort in nature. But as I sat in Blyth Park across the river from where I live, no one else was anywhere around. Although two cars were in the parking lot, their drivers must have been walking on a nearby trail. It felt like the entire park was all mine . . . and the birds, of course, and various critters that live in the trees and ground.

Stroking the bark of this giant fir was surprisingly soothing. I wondered how many others had sat there and felt the bark, its skin. If I could have stayed there all day, I would have. The cares of Covid-19, even the isolation it has dealt us, seemed not to matter much while I sat there. It was as though I was connecting with everyone who has ever approached this tree. Blissfully the tree is unaware of the virus and the new distancing protocol. How comforting to think about this magnificent tree could spread its branches--unconcerned if they should come into contact with another tree's branches.

I'm familiar with the concept of Forest Bathing. Although I didn't have a certified leader taking me through a sensory connection with the forest, I made my own bath of quietude and calm. It was better than bubbles for calming stress.