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I remember a columnist from years ago named Gladys Tabor. She wrote about her garden, seasonal flowers, about feeding the birds and digging pesky vine roots, pruning roses or picking berries. I’m not the gardener or the writer that she was but I’d like to take you around our corner and just shout out a few hallelujahs for the blessings God displays for us.

Our tubs of herbs along the outside of the back porch are green and luscious with rosemary, parsley, basil, lavender and mint. I hung a bunch of everything in the kitchen to smell good and to dehydrate. We bought two red geraniums for the porch which I can see from the den window. There’s something about red geraniums that makes me feel good all over. And Charles transplanted a patch of a dozen or so small purple iris around the maple tree south of the porch. The white ones in the same bed have done their thing and bowed out. The purple flags, as my mother called them, are smiling center stage.

The mulberry tree is at the height of its season, berries thick on the branches, the whole tree in motion with squirrels and birds feasting. The squirrels have had to find a new way to the mulberry since we cut down the two large oak trees which they had used as connectors in their super highway. We meant no offense in particular to the squirrels, just became concerned that at least one of the big oaks might land some windy night across our bedroom. They were both rotten and hollow. But Charles, in preparation for the tree felling, also took out a massive bank of old shrubbery–azaleas, wisteria, etc. So now, not only are the squirrels missing their highway, but they hardly have any cover on that side of the yard. They sneak across a wide open stretch either in one headlong dash, or, often, a few feet at a time, stopping to sit up erect like meerkats on the prairie before tackling another stretch. Once they scale one certain large pine they have it made–a leap to the cherry tree and then protection all the way to the arms of the generous mulberry. That pine is a giant stairway to freedom for hundreds of tiny squirrels’ feet.


Mulberries are sweet even before they are ripe!


Charles’ sister Revonda came and sat on our porch with us Sunday afternoon. We talked about old friends they knew when growing up in Thomas County schools. Our cat, Sassy, brought a skink to the screen door and meowed for attention. We talked about her and didn’t rescue her victim which was all but dead. Birds flew in and out of the feeder area. Squirrels scaled the pine and leaped to the cherry tree limbs, then to the mulberry. We caught up on ours and Revonda’s grandchildren, then called the third sibling of the JB Graham family, Ronnie, up in Michigan. The temperature was forty degrees there to our very pleasant seventy. We’d forgotten about Sassy and the skink when suddenly we spied her lugging a baby rabbit up the driveway. She tried to settle in by the screen door to give us another show. But our sympathy was warm for that little bunny. Charles stepped out and made Sassy release it. We laughed with glee as the small “Peter Rabbit” took to his feet and made a very quick and bouncy exit. I knew for sure at that moment I was not married to a “Mr. McGregor.”

Along the front porch are knockout roses. When five-year-old Kaison spends the day with me, we include in our activities, “dead heading” the roses. He is surprisingly adept with the clippers and gets almost too much pleasure snapping the dead blooms off with an “off with your head” to each one. He and I fill the bird baths too. I chuckle remembering my father-in-law who used to call out to Mama Graham, “Elizabeth, here’s those pesky birds flopping around in the bird bath. They’re going to splash all the water out!”

When Charles and I walk around the yard in the evening, we always stop to see how our new blueberry bushes are doing. Charles has worked so hard testing the soil and preparing it then to blueberry specifications. There are berries now on each little tree and we’re hoping to have some soon enhancing our cereal. In a couple of years we’re expecting to make muffins, cobblers, and stick some berries in the freezer.

Brown thrashers are here. We saw a beautiful one at the feeder outside the breakfast room today eating voraciously. They only grace us with their presence during their nesting time but I greatly enjoy seeing them for those few weeks–flying in and out of their chosen bushes. The feeders are busy, too, with cute little black-capped chickadees, tufted titmouse, bright cardinals and purple finches. We woke this morning to the sound of birds singing from low bushes and high in the pines. A mockingbird trilled his thirty-minute repertoire from the cherry tree as if he would burst if he couldn’t sing. A few minutes ago we spotted our first hummingbird of the season.

I heard about a shrub called a “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” plant. We found one at Nesmith Nursery in Thomas County and just finished settling it into the soil near the butterfly garden. We’re told it blooms sporadically all summer and that on any given day there will be yesterday blossoms of pale lavender, today blossoms of almost purple, and tomorrow blossoms of white. We’re giving it to each other for Mother’s Day/Father’s Day, a fun new acquisition!

Thanks for wandering with me. (And thanks, Gladys Tabor of long ago, for your inspiration.)

So many blessings close by! With the psalmist, let’s say Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. (Psalm 103:1)

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New Year’s Eve Fruit Cake

When searching for my favorite Christmas recipes, I found Mama Graham’s icebox fruit cake recipe typed on a double index card. I was flooded with sweet memories of both hers and my mother’s versions of that recipe. My grandchildren and I talked about making it this year for Christmas–and for old time’s sake. Wouldn’t it be fun, we thought, to have loaves of that fruit cake to surprise everyone? But here we are on the other side of Christmas and making that cake was not one of the many things we accomplished.

But is it too late? We used to hoard Mama Graham’s cake and enjoy thin slices of it all winter, even into the spring if we were that lucky. My mother had so many children (ten), she could never make enough cake to go beyond her own table. But Mama Graham made half loaves for her three children and shared more with neighbors and friends.

So–no, I don’t think it’s too late. Just because fruit cakes are a popular (though often ridiculed!) gift at Christmas is no reason to stop short of making them on New Year’s Eve. Our grandmothers baked fruit cakes in mid fall, then seasoned them with cider (or something!) till Christmas. The ice box fruit cake doesn’t need all that soaking. Now that I’ve gathered everything together, I’m excited about mixing it!

Looking at Mama G’s recipe I’m reminded that she typed it because she typed things that were very special. She only learned to type when she was in her 60’s and then it was hard for her. But she bought a sweet little typewriter and, being the “neat” queen that she was, she typed addresses on Christmas card envelopes. And she typed other “sacred” things like this recipe. I see a dab of erase tape in a place or two. But it is correct to the letter. And I know she must have done two others, one for Revonda and one for Ronnie, no copying or multi-printing available for her then.

Oh, and by the way, Mama G’s birthday was the 29th. She would have been 93.

All right–enough said. I’m ready to start. If you’d like to make a “late” fruit cake also, here’s the recipe for Ice Box Fruit Cake:

  • 1 pound (Honey Maid) Graham Crackers (Hey, you can get the crumbs. Easier!)
  • 1 pound miniature marshmallows (She, in later years, used marshmallow cream)
  • 1 (5 oz.) can evaporated milk
  • 1 can angel flake coconut
  • 1 (10 oz.) bottle cherries, halved
  • 1/2 box (1 cup) raisins or 9 oz. box
  • 2 cups chopped pecans (On rainy days Mama G set Papa to cracking and picking out nuts but she chopped them herself. They had pecan trees and froze gallons of nuts each year.)

Crush crackers (or use 16 oz of cracker crumbs!). Add nuts, fruit and coconut. Mix together. Melt marshmallows in milk on low heat stirring continuously. (I did mine this way wanting to make it the way she did.) Add to mixture and start stirring at once. Marshmallows will cool quickly. Mix more than you think you need to. And then mix some more! It’s no wonder Mama G couldn’t do this after she had carpal tunnel in both hands. As she said, wet your hands before shaping into loaves or pushing hard into loaf pans. Dampening will keep your hands from sticking.

I’ve placed my loaves (a 9 1/2 x 4 and two small loaves) in the refrigerator (I do remember an ice box but we are blessed with a refrigerator!) and tomorrow we’ll try slices to welcome in the New Year!

A quote from my mother for the New Year: “Leave everything better than you found it.”

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