All kinds of mothering

lilac bouquetI am reminded that there is both joy and sorrow in Mother’s Day. Joy, for the present family connections. Sorrow and regret for mothers who are no longer with us.

But it also occurs to me that the primary attributes that we celebrate in mothers: care taking, love, empathy for others, are present in all of us, whether we are women or men, biological mothers or not.

For example, we are mothering when we take care of, and love the tools of our trade. I am reminded of my father, a carpenter and gardener, whose day in the shop or in the field wasn’t complete until all tools were cleaned of mud and grit, polished, and put back where they belonged. That way, he was able to lay a hand on them instantly the next time they were needed. His favorite phrase was, “Take care of the things that take care of you.” He was right!

We take care of and love, other living beings. It goes without saying that I spoil both of my fur babies rotten. They are talked to, coddled, and given the best places to sleep in the bed and on the couch. I, in turn, rearrange myself in the left-over space around them.

But care and attention also extends to the cats next door. One is a gray puss with big eyes, an outside cat with human-parents who sometimes leave for days at a time for work in another town. She’s learned that there’s a fresh water dish and food at my house, at the ready for her in a sheltered area. Her buddy, an orange Tom with a chewed ear, has found a home-away-from-home with two little girls across the street.

We love and take care of both our own children, and others. Watch what happens when a small child gets lost and separated from parents in a large store. Some adult will step up and make sure the child is delivered to the front of the store where a loud-speaker announcement soon ensues, to locate the frantic parents.

We love and take care of total strangers. Once when I was rear-ended on a busy street, I was helped from the car by the guy that hit me! And then strangers were dialing immediately for EMTs. Three burly guys pushed my car out of the traffic lane. We do these things, instinctively.

Where we fall down, sometimes, is closer to home. I am of the opinion that we don’t love and take care of ourselves enough. Sometimes I forget it is a partnership and not a dictatorship from the neck downward.

When I am mindful, I eat what my microbiome needs for nutrition and energy. I exercise, even when I don’t “feel” like it, so that my body gets the stretching and movement that it needs.

But often, when I flub up on a risk that I’ve taken or a venture that’s gone sour, instead of being compassionate with my humanness, I berate and judge myself in the worst possible derogatory terms. I am merciless with my scorn and derision for the failure.

I wonder, why I do this to myself?

Why can’t we be as mothering to ourselves as we are to others?

It’s something I’m working on, especially this very special of days, Mother’s Day.

Tree pioneers of the Verde Valley

When I set out to write the Pegasus Quincy mystery series, I knew the first one, Death in Copper Townhad to take place in a mining town on the slopes of the Verde Valley. To make it realistic, I had to include the Ailanthus trees ubiquitous to that part of the Valley.

Apple trees in the old pioneer orchards make a surprise appearance in an upcoming Pegasus Quincy mystery, Silence in West Fork, to be published later this year.

Two trees on opposite ends of the Verde Valley bring together the spirit of the Verde Valley. One, the Ailantus altissima or Tree-of-heaven, populates the hilly streets of Jerome in the foothills of the Black Mountains to the south. The other, the humble apple tree, grows wild on the upper banks of Oak Creek Canyon to the north. Both have become a part of my life in Sedona.

First, the tree of heaven. If you travel up the mountain to Jerome in the spring, you’ll catch the “burned peanut butter” fragrance of golden blossoms. In the summer, the lacy green of the leaves frames the view across the Verde Valley like a Victorian lady’s parasol. Later in the fall, you’ll be surrounded by the crimson, sumac-like leaves drifting down to the worn limestone cobblestone streets of the old mining town.

The tree first became popular in eastern cities, because it was easy to grow and survived almost any kind of pollution. It became the title of Betty Smith’s book about family life in the tenements at the turn of the century, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

The air in the mining towns of the West was just as polluted. During the heydays of the copper mining, the smelter smog killed just about every living plant in Jerome. With the local pine and juniper decimated to shore up the mines, nothing remained to hold the soil and hillsides eroded. The town was endanger of slipping down into the Verde Valley below.

The “Tree of Heaven/Paradise Trees” that abound throughout the Upper Verde were part of a “re-greening” of the Verde Valley by Phelps Dodge when mining operations ceased in the 1950s.

ailanthus altimissa, tree of heavenEnter the ailanthus.  It is an alien tree, first arriving in America from China in the 1700s.  The tree is a survivor, thriving in the sulfur dioxide-infused soil of Jerome. It is also a selfish beastie, secreting a substance in its bark and leaves that, like the black walnut, inhibits growth of any other plants in the area. But the ailanthus likes the crumbling soil and arid conditions of Jerome, and it gives life-sheltering green to a town that was barren and dark after the mines left.

That being said, it’s not without drawbacks. According to Jeff Schalau, head of the master gardener’s program in the Verde Valley,  “Most people start out liking the tree of heaven. It grows with little water, tolerates alkaline soils, and it creates shade. Most trees of heaven begin to produce seed at about 10 years of age. Male or female flowers are usually produced on separate trees.

“So, the after the 10 year honeymoon period, seedlings begin to come up everywhere. In addition, if the tree is damaged or cut down, then it begins to sprout from the roots. The tree of heaven also produces allelopathic chemicals that preclude other plants from successfully growing nearby.”

The second, the apple tree also came from China, arriving in America in the 1600s. It hitched a ride with the pioneers to Sedona a hundred years ago.  Here it thrived on the banks of Oak Creek canyon in small orchards planted by early homesteaders. They would harvest the crops and trek wagon loads of apples up the steep canyon to Flagstaff to satisfy the hungry timberland workers living there.

Some years ago I helped my sister-in-law locate and map all of the old homesteads spread throughout the canyon. We found almost twenty old orchards, together with old trails once used by mountain lion and bear crossing the canyon.

The big predators are gone, but the trees remain. Many are on the outskirts of the tourist camp grounds: Manzanita, Pine Flats, Banjo Bill.  You’ll see the cracked cement footings of an old cabin, some renegade lilac bushes, and these old craggy trees. If you look sharp you’ll spot them, interspersed in pine and fir stands near the water or tucked in at the edge of a penstamen-filled meadow.

Some have reverted to native stock, producing small sour apples, but others are loaded with green fruit, already ripening with a dusting of red.  Come late September, they produce the best eating apples in the world, crisp and juicy, with a sweet snap as you bite into them.

Well almost the best. I think that distinction has to be the ones I stole from the neighbor’s orchard next door in the small South Dakota town where I grew up, a descendant of Scandinavian immigrants.

 

 

And in a way, these two trees, the apple and the ailanthus, are pioneers, too.  They came from the other side of the earth and have adapted to surroundings very different from their native soils in China.

They are a legacy that makes the Verde Valley a very special place for all of us.

My relationship with sewing machines

Singer treadle sewing machine

Singer treadle sewing machine – All sorts of wonderful things were kept in the drawers on the sides!

When I was young, the neighbor lady on the corner took in sewing. After school I’d often go over to her house and play with the scraps of fabric she collected just for me in a box she kept beside the machine.

Some of my earliest memories are of the clickety-clack of her treadle moving up and down. She didn’t seem to mind my being there, and my mom would call when supper was ready. “I’ll send her right home,” Mrs. Peak would say.

Singer featherweight

A Singer featherweight, weighing in at 11 pounds

Fast forward to my graduation from high school. I’d longed for some fancy present, but instead, my mother gave me…a Singer featherweight. And then taught me how to use it. The Singer featherweight was first made at the onset of the depression, as a way that women could sew clothes for their family during those difficult times.

Weighing in at 11 pounds, it did only one thing–sew a straight line. Singer stopped making them in 1964, but they were so well constructed there are many still around, now collectors’ items that still operate as designed.

And yes, my daughter got one when she graduated from high school to take with her to the dorm room!

Singer athena 2000 sewing machine

A Singer Athena 2000 sewing machine–lots of buttons to push

When I got married, a new sewing machine seemed just the thing for a bride in the 60s. I can’t remember my first machine, but when I traded it in on the next model, I was quite disappointed that this baby above didn’t have a life-time guarantee like my first one did!

Nevermind. It had all sorts of built-in stitches, and fancy ways of doing new things with a myriad of attachments. All you had to do was push a button. Of course, I bought it way before the year 2000. That year seemed impossibly far away in the future.

Then I drifted away from sewing for a while. New machines like sergers using those huge cones of thread appeared. My favorite fabric stores closed and for a while, all that was left were quilting stores with six thousand bolts of cotton fabric in every color and pattern under the sun. Not my thing.

I stayed busy with career and family over the years, but something was lacking. Like the mystery of gardening, where you started out with a blank yard and a packet of seeds and ended up with something wonderful, I missed those bolts of fabric with all their magic potential.

Pfaff Creative Icon

The Biggest-Brightest-Newest Pfaff Creative Icon

Recently I found inspiration in a blog by Sarah Gunn. Called Goodbye Valentine, hello needle and thread,  the blog chronicles her journey in 2011 foregoing purchasing of Ready-to-Wear clothes for a year and making her own. Her results looked pretty darn good.

I loved her motto: “If you can read a recipe, you can read a pattern. If you can drive a car, you can operate a sewing machine. If you can shop, you can SEW.”

Now the machine she uses, the Pfaff Creative Icon, is way beyond my league. It’s a computer that talks to your iPhone and tells you when it needs more thread. And the embroidery it designs is simply amazing.

But in a way, it got me to thinking.

And not too long ago, I found myself wandering into Jo-Ann’s. Winter was coming, and they had put out rows and rows of fuzzy material. At 50% off!

Warm fuzzy PJs in the latency stage

How could I resist? I picked up one color. A second. And then a third. With my arms full I walked up to the measuring table, a big smile on my face.

Once home, I dug my old Singer Athena out of the closet. It hummed to life when I plugged it in, and my fingers traced the still familiar path of the thread through the loops and openings and fixtures to the needle.

I hadn’t forgotten this most basic of skills. I could still sew! I think that Mrs. Peak would be proud of me.

What are your earliest sewing memories?
Do you still visit fabric stores?