#Maya Angelou – Aspire to her Greatness

Maya Angelou at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993

Maya Angelou at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993

We lost a great one yesterday with the passing of Maya Angelou. But thank goodness she passed through this life and graced us with her presence.

I loved turning my students onto the poetry of Ms. Angelou. When she was called upon to write and recite a poem for Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993, she had less than three months to write a poem on command for a world debut. As a writer, I can’t imagine the pressure that must have been, but Ms. Angelou did it. All she ever wanted was to be a blessing in this lifetime. She far exceed her own expectations.

The poem she created for the nation, On the Pulse of Morning, is chilling in its preciseness of language, thrilling in its dramatic contrasts, and loving in its portrayal of hope for our nation.

To me the final verses of the poem are the most powerful. I loved reading this aloud to teenagers who, despite themselves, could not help but be inspired by this great woman’s words. I read an interview after the inauguration where she said she was disappointed in the poem. Please rest easy, Ms. Angelou, there is no disappointment in these words of encouragement.

Excerpted from On the Pulse of Morning (final verses):

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

#Gardening – Spring Means #Spinach

Spinach ready to pick

Spinach ready to pick

This warm and wet spring weather means lots of big leaves on the spinach plants. It also means we’ll have it longer before it goes to seed, if the heat of summer stays away for a few weeks.

Robert picks the spinach after it’s been watered or after a good rain. . .after it’s had time to dry. He then puts it into dry plastic bags and stores in the refrigerator until I can find the time to start cleaning, blanching, and freezing. He actually does the washing part while I chop, blanch, and bag. The other night we managed to put up eighteen bags containing two servings each.

spinach1

blanch for two minutes

We’ve been eating it every other day in various forms: raw in wraps and salads, sauteed briefly in olive oil, garlic, and silvered almonds, in lasagna, omelets and just plain steamed.

Medical News Today reports the breakdown of what is contained in one cup of raw spinach: It “contains 27 calories, 0.86 grams of protein, 30 milligrams of calcium, 0.81 grams of iron, 24 milligrams of magnesium, 167 milligrams of potassium, 2813 IUs of Vitamin A and 58 micrograms of folate.”

bags ready for freezer

bags ready for freezer

We might get one more big picking before it’s done. But that’s thirty-eight meals of spinach for the winter and a few more meals with fresh spinach before the season ends. Then we’ll start on the peas, which are now climbing their chicken wire fence and reaching for the sun.

I’d love to hear from you on what’s going on in your garden or what you’re eating from the local farmer’s markets. Ours, filled with lots of local food grown in western Pennsylvania, are just opening for the season.

 

Click on cover to purchase

Click on cover to purchase

Our book From Seed to Table provides lots of gardening tips and recipes. Here are the steps I follow for blanching and freezing bags of spinach (in two-serving bags):

Blanching and freezing spinach

Note: The blanching steps below may be followed for most vegetables with variation in the time the vegetable is in the boiling water. The recipe below preserves as much of the vitamins and taste as possible. Our frozen spinach is green and tastes “almost” like we’d just picked it.

  • Wash the leaves – Put the leaves in a sink of cold water and carefully wash off all dirt and grass. Put in colander to drain.
  • Chop the leaves – I didn’t do this last year, and I was sorry. While the spinach tasted great, it was a bit stringy. I chopped them into about 1-inch squares.
  • Blanch – Bring a big pot of water to boil and place one colander full of leaves into the water for two minutes.
  • Ice water bath – Submerge in ice water for another two minutes.
  • Place in colander in a large bowl or pot and let drain for a few minutes.
  • Put into freezer bag that is labeled and dated.

One colander full equals two servings and fits perfectly into a freezer sandwich bag. It’s fine if some water is in the bag – it’s probably better for the spinach.


 

Plant a Tree for the Future

What's Green with Betsy?!?


The social, aesthetic, and environmental benefits of trees are numerous.  They manufacture oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.  They provide shade in summer and windbreak in winter.  The beauty and serenity of trees have been shown to help hospital patients recover more quickly. Trees reduce crime in low-income urban areas and increase property values.   Trees help us save energy and improve air quality, conserve water and provide homes to wildlife.   Large and majestic trees are an important part of the community.

According to American Forests, the national urban tree deficit now stands at more than 634 million trees.  Unprecedented environmental stresses are making it more difficult for trees to grow and flourish in today’s world.  Because trees sequester carbon and offset our carbon footprint, or the amount of energy a person consumes in their day-to-day activities, it is more important than ever to plant trees.  The average person produces 26 tons…

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#Civil War – Battle at Seven Pines, 1862

Currier & Ives depiction of the Battle of Seven Pines

This excerpt from Civil War Journal of a Confederate Soldier – the memoir of my great grandfather – shows firsthand the horrors of war. There are no winners here at Seven Pines (Fair Oaks), Virginia.

May 31 – Orders came for us to report to General Kearney at Seven Pines Tavern. Without delay, we were on the move. Before we reached the stage road, one of those sudden storms peculiar to the south burst upon us without warning. The sky grew dark. Then quickly came sheets of livid flame, followed by deafening crashes of thunder. In another moment, sluices of water began to pour. Darkness became so intense that nothing could be seen except by the blinding, hissing, crackling flashes of lightning. The scene was one of terrific grandeur, but exposed to its fury as we were, it was not pleasant. Some gained the partial shelter of the trees. Others could not make head against the flood and were forced to stand and take it where they were. In half an hour, this cloudburst was a thing of the past. The only evidence that it had been was the distant detonation of thunder and the lake of muddy water in which we stood over our shoe tops.

As soon as the storm swept by, we marched away in pursuit of orders. Then there broke upon our ears rapid explosions of thunder that we knew too well were not from heaven, followed by an unsteady roll that we knew was not the reverberation of thunder along the clouds. To our experienced ears, it was the sound of deadly strife.

Then came fugitives from the front, saying that Casey’s division which was in the advance had been surprised at Fair Oaks station and “All cut to pieces.” As with increased pace and quickened pulse we pushed forward, the number of fugitives increased and all had the same cry. “We’re all cut to pieces.” To say that our little band felt no misgivings in the face of this wild rout would not be true. Thoughts of Bull Run forced themselves upon us, but when did the 2nd Michigan fail to report wherever they were ordered. Straining toward the front, we met the lion-hearted, firm and true General Heintzelman at a point where the swamp and creek came close together within forty rods. This hair-lipped old general demanded, “What are these and where are you going?” Being told that we were two companies of the 2nd Michigan going to report to General Kearney, he ordered, “Deploy across this muck and stop these stragglers or kill them.” Instantly, the movement was begun at double quick and in another moment, we were facing the mob of excited, terrified men, some hatless, from they knew not what, while the spent balls from the enemy was stimulating their speed.

To stay this tide was to us a harder task than to fight the enemy. They were our friends, and we did not want to hurt them. By the sounds from the front, we knew that our men who had not been stampeded were bravely holding the rebels in check. These men must be made to turn and help them. At first, it required rough treatment and some received wounds here that had escaped unscathed at the front, but when the tide was once stayed, a peremptory order to “Fall in,” enforced by the point of the bayonet, backed by a loaded musket was obeyed without resistance. Each had his story to tell, to which we would not listen. Officers and men alike insisted that “We’re all cut to pieces” and “I am the only man left of my regiment.”

Officers and men resorted to various subterfuges and tricks to get past our line. Two men carrying their brave and esteemed captain, with both legs tied up with handkerchiefs, were stopped to examine the captain’s wounds. When the bandages were removed, no wounds were to be found. Men with heads, bodies, legs, and arms tied up were detected in the cheat and put into the ranks. A colonel of a New York regiment with two men carrying him desired to push through. We sent the men to the ranks, but passed the colonel. He was dead-drunk. We dumped his carcass on the ground in the swamp as of no use. One by one, seven color bearers drifted back to us with their colors and the declaration that they alone had escaped with the colors, the others were “all cut to pieces.” The phrase “cut to pieces” became a joke and many an officer in splendid uniform was asked to take off his clothes and show where he was cut. Some officers were indignant that their rank was not respected, and that private soldiers dared to prevent their passing, but a look into the muzzle of a loaded musket with a resolute eye behind it inclined them to waive their rights for this once. By stationing the various regimental colors in different parts of the field, and directing the men to assemble around their own colors, we rallied seven good-sized regiments of live men that were not “cut to pieces.” We kept our line all night, part of the men sleeping at a time. Our duty had been a very unpleasant one, but we were assured that it was very important.

June 1 – Early in the morning we joined our regiment on the battlefield. Seven companies of the regiment were in the thickest of the fight and lost heavily in killed and wounded, and Colonel Poe had his horse shot under him. Richardson’s division was already pushing the enemy, and long before noon, the lost ground was regained. This two-day battle was called by both names – Fair Oaks and Seven Pines, the fighting being done between a railroad station of the former name and a country tavern of the latter. (The aggregate loss to Union and Confederate – killed 3,690, wounded 7,524, prisoners 2,322.)

[Fair Oaks or Seven Pines, May 31-June 1, 1862 with the total killed, wounded, or captured now recorded as 13,736.]

From Civil War Trust:

The Battle of Seven Pines
Fair Oaks
May 31, 1862 – June 1, 1862

On May 31, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston attempted to overwhelm two Federal corps that appeared isolated south of the Chickahominy River. The Confederate assaults, though not well coordinated, succeeded in driving back the IV Corps and inflicting heavy casualties. Reinforcements arrived, and both sides fed more and more troops into the action. Supported by the III Corps and Sedgwick’s division of Sumner’s II Corps (that crossed the rain-swollen river on Grapevine Bridge), the Federal position was finally stabilized. Gen. Johnston was seriously wounded during the action, and command of the Confederate army devolved temporarily to Maj. Gen. G.W. Smith. On June 1, the Confederates renewed their assaults against the Federals who had brought up more reinforcements but made little headway. Both sides claimed victory.  Confederate brigadier Robert H. Hatton was killed.

Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier is available on Kindle and in paperback. Click on the image to visit the Amazon page.

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page

Asparagus – First Vegetable of Spring

 

First Asparagus of 2014 Season

First Asparagus of 2014 Season

We had a real treat last night. We ate the most delicious steamed asparagus–picked fresh from our garden only moments before.

Robert planted the asparagus crowns in a bed at the end of our garden two years ago.

Asparagus 2013

Asparagus 2013

This makes its third season and the first one for harvesting. For the best results, it’s good not to harvest until the third year. Also, be sure to plant them with forethought because asparagus is a perennial, and the same planting can last for twenty years or more without doing much but covering them with straw over the winter.

Purple asparagus

Purple asparagus

Asparagus is rich in all the B vitamins, Vitamin C, calcium, and iron. It’s also chock full of anti-oxidants and provides digestive support. What’s not to love? I thought I loved everything about asparagus until I ate it the other night fresh from the garden. As with all vegetables, nothing beats a newly harvested crop. There’s none of the bitterness that sometimes comes with older asparagus. Ours actually tasted sweet.

Here’s the one problem as I see it. It will produce more and more each week for about six to seven weeks. That means we need to eat it often, and I need to become proficient in finding and making different recipes. Steamed is great, but perhaps it will lose its novelty after the fifth night in a row. I’ve yet to find a good way to preserve it as I can do with the spinach about to be picked as I write this post.

Spinach ready to pick

Spinach ready to pick

However, I will search for preserving techniques for asparagus and welcome suggestions from you. One of my friends told me about asparagus guacamole–I actually thought she had her “a” vegetables confused. I looked it up online, and it’s the same recipe as with avocados, except substituting asparagus that’s put through a food processor. That will probably be one of the first recipes I’ll try.

What about it? Any ideas to share about the harvesting and preparing of asparagus? This is my first season with this vegetable, and I’m a little giddy to think of having so much to eat for the next few weeks.

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page

 

From Seed to Table – Growing, Harvesting, Cooking, and Preserving Food  provides lots of tips and recipes for vegetable gardening.