Archive for August, 2012

Did Margaret, my mother-in-law, ever favor pastel colors?  My memory holds images of her attired in earth tones except for pajama bottoms.  Pinkish pigs and Carolina blue sheep decorated the cloth with crescent moons and stars scattered throughout the pale yellow background with snooze time, sleepy, let’s go sleep, and Z Z Z written around the animals.   I inherited the pajamas and wear them, even though pastels don’t dominate my wardrobe either.  I’m always hopeful they will offer a restful night of sleep.

Margaret saved pastels for the naked ladies.  In the sultry heat of Southern summers, naked ladies are adorned with a cool, pink color as their fragrant perfume permeates the humid air.  Margaret’s naked ladies stood as sentinels in the partial shade of her pecan trees and near the front door of her home on Holden Road in Greensboro.  Each spring, tightly wrapped leaves emerged from the earth in her brick planter box.  The long leaves unfurled and for a few months captured the sunlight, storing food in the bulb below.  Until one day, the leaves become limp, faded in color, and completely died back.  For several weeks, the plant is dormant and hidden below the earth’s surface.

Gardeners forget about the plant since it’s out-of-sight and out-of-mind until shortly after the fourth of July.  Next, hollow green stems burst through the soil, grow rapidly, and reach for the sky.  A cylindrical flower bud forms on the tip and slowly opens to reveal three petals and three sepals, all the same color, thus called tepals.   The light pink tepals cool the soul on sweltering days.

The leaves and bulbs of naked ladies are similar to an amaryllis whose bulbs are often forced to bloom during the Christmas holiday season.   Naked ladies belong to the Amaryllis Family and are a hybrid between Lycoris straminea and Lycoris incarnata, called Lycoris squamigera.  Other common names are resurrection lily and surprise lily.  However, I prefer naked ladies because I learned that name from Margaret who enjoyed sharing and receiving garden flowers – both horticultural ones and wildflowers.  Zoonomia, Margaret’s mother, who lived on Mendenhall Street near Buffalo Creek in Greensboro, also grew roses and other flowers.  Certainly, Zoonomia and her daughter delighted in sharing old-time southern favorites called “pass-along-plants.”

Naked Ladies and Native Grasses in Moni’s Yard

How did Zoonomia instill the joy of growing flowers to her daughter?  And why did Margaret’s grandmother name her daughter Zoonomia?  In 1789, Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin’s grandfather, wrote a poem called “The Love of Plants” and the last couple lines introduced the concept of evolution.  Later he published a book titled, “Zoonomia: The Laws of Organic Life.” Was this the derivation? I don’t know but Zoonomia Davant loved plants and I imagine her as a woman full of organic life.

I gifted many plants to my mother-in-law: Soloman’s seal, Lenten roses, May-apples, trout lilies, bloodroot, among others.  The plants passed from my fingers with dirt under the nails to her shaking hands.  With a sparkle in her eyes, she expressed comments like, “These flowers will look nice along the stone walkway by the garage,” but never a thank-you.  With the first plant that Margaret offered me, she taught me an Appalachia superstition:  Never thank a friend when they give you a plant for that will guarantee the plant’s death.

Today, I wonder if Margaret’s naked ladies came from Zoonomia’s garden.  If so, the naked ladies have passed through three or more generations.  When Margaret offered the bulbs to me, I gladly accepted with, “Oh, I’d love to see naked ladies in my yard.”  Of course, they survived and every year John and I, dressed in earth tone shorts and shirts, enjoy the pastel naked ladies scattered about our Burnt Oaks garden with thoughts and memories of a colorful lady.

Margaret and Family Celebrating Her Birthday by Gardening Together

Naked Ladies Flowering in Margaret’s Brick Flower Bed


Read Full Post »

My grandmothers knew the importance of a tasty homemade cookie. However, only recently have politicians gained this understanding. Who will win the 2012 Family Circle Presidential Cookie Bake-Off: Michelle Obama or Ann Romney? Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to fire up your ovens, and then vote.

Cookies were introduced to America by immigrants from Holland, England, and Scotland. The term cookie is derived from a Dutch word, koekje. Cookies originated as test cakes when a small amount of cake batter was baked to test the oven temperature. Probably young children eagerly volunteered to consume the test cakes, as I loved to lick the batter from the cake and cookie mixing bowls and beaters. Admittedly, I still lick the batter and, at nearly sixty years of age, I have never contracted salmonella from the raw eggs. That may be due to my childhood farm life and the introduction of bacterial diversity to my system.

As a child, I thought all grandmothers baked cookies. At least, both of mine did. I never actually saw them bake cookies, but it’s a safe assumption that the homemade cookies neatly arranged in their cookie jars were covered with Grandma Nan’s and Grandma Edith’s finger prints, not Grandpa Fred’s or Grandpa Cliff’s. Grandma Nan’s cookie jar was a big pig wearing a baker’s cap and apron. It sat proudly on her kitchen counter. Another one was a lovely etched, green, depression-glass biscuit jar. I loved both cookie jars, and not just for the contents. Those cookies were made of sugar and tasty, but, more importantly, made by the hands of those I loved.

Pig cookie jar similar to Grandma Nan’s

Grandma Edith’s specialty was peanut butter cookies. When she married my grandfather in 1925, peanut cookies had only recently been introduced. Around that period, George Washington Carver, an African-American educator, botanist, and scientist, promoted peanut production to replace cotton, which had been destroyed by the boll weevil, as the cash crop of the South. Mr. Carver included three recipes for peanut cookies in his 1916 publication, “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption.” The peanuts were crushed or chopped prior to adding to the cookie batter.In 1922, peanut butter was invented by Joseph Rosefield and marketed by Swift & Company as E.K. Pond peanut butter. The name changed to Peter Pan when the children’s novels of the same name were published. During the next decade, peanut butter made its way into cookies as an ingredient in Peanut Butter Balls in a Pillsbury cookbook. This recipe instructed the baker to roll the dough into balls, and then press them down with the tines of a fork.

As a little girl, I noticed parallel lines on the surface of my grandma’s cookies. For a few seconds prior to consumption, I wondered how she made those ridges stretching across the cookie. However, my curiosity quickly faded as the peanut butter cookie continued its path into my salivating mouth. Only years later, when I received her recipe, did I learn the origin of the lines.

Grandma Edith’s Peanut Butter Cookies

Cream together:
½ c. butter
½ c. white sugar
½ c. brown sugar
½ c. peanut butter
Add:     1 beaten egg and ½ t. vanilla
Mix together:    1 ½ c. flour, 1 t. baking soda, and ½ t. salt
Add flour mixture to rest of ingredients and chill. May add chopped peanuts to batter.
Drop on an oiled cookie sheet and press down with a fork that has been dipped in flour.
Bake until set but not hard, approximately 12-14 minutes at 375 degrees.

Returning from a botanical field trip to the North Carolina coastal plain, my colleagues and I stopped in an Amish store in PenderCounty. As I crossed the threshold of the old country store, a sweet smell brought back memories of my past. “What is that smell?” I asked Marj. Soon, we spotted bags of cookies on the check-out counter, and, of course, I purchased a couple bags. Sharing the cookies on the drive home, we all agreed that they topped off an excellent day in the field. But why did those cookies elicit such a strong memory?

That evening, I called my mother. “Mom, today I bought some cookies at an Amish country store. They were like a sugar cookie with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on the top.” The sweetest tone in her reply was filled with love, “Ah, Snickerdoodles, Grandma Nan baked them all the time.” How appropriate that my German Grandmother Fillman (Villman) baked Snickerdoodles, which are thought to be derived from a German cinnamon-dusted pastry called Schneckennudeln.

Grandma Nan’s Betty Crocker Snickerdoodles

Cream together:
1 c. soft shortening
1 ½ c. sugar
2 eggs
Sift together, and then stir into above:
2 ¾ c. flour
2 t. cream of tarter
1 t. soda
½ t. salt
Roll into balls the size of a walnut. Roll balls in mixture of 2 T. sugar & 2 t. cinnamon.
Place about 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 8-10 minutes in hot oven (400 degrees) until lightly browned but still soft. The cookies puff up at first, and then flatten out with crinkled tops.
Makes 5 dozen 2 inch cookies.

There were no chocolate chip cookies in my grandmother’s cookie jars; they were one of my favorite treats. It was also the favorite cookie for the Cookie Monster on Sesame Street, who gruffly demanded, “Me want cookie!” Cookie Monster would have adored living with Hillary Clinton who baked his favorite cookies, and he probably would have voted for Bill Clinton during the 1992 presidential campaign.

During Bill’s campaign, Hillary Clinton replied to a reporter in Chicago’s Busy Bee Coffee Shop, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.” Ms. Clinton received much grief over her cookie quote, but minor compared to what she faced as first lady.

During the Clinton/Bush campaign, the cookie quote inspired the first Family Circle Presidential Bake-Off. In 1992, Hillary’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies beat Barbara Bush’s classic chocolate chip cookies, 55% to 45%, and Bill Clinton won the election. Since that first bake-off, the Family Circle winner has successfully predicted the presidential winner in all elections except one when Cindy McCain’s oatmeal-butterscotch cookies beat Michelle Obama’s shortbread cookies.

Hillary Clinton’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 c. shortening
1 c. packed brown sugar
½ c. white sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 c. rolled oats
2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush baking sheets lightly with vegetable oil.
Combine flour, salt, and baking soda on waxed paper.
Beat together shortening, sugars, and vanilla in large bowl with electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and beat until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in rolled oats and then chocolate chips.
Drop batter by rounded teaspoon onto baking sheets. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes or till golden. Cool cookies on sheets for 2 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Yield 7 dozen

This year, 2012, Michelle submitted another Obama family favorite, white and dark chocolate chip cookies and Ann Romney submitted oatmeal M & M’s cookies. Search the web for recipes and vote, but don’t forget to vote in the real election on November 6!

Read Full Post »

October 18, 2011 started as an uneventful day when Debbie, a friend from New Mexico, and I left my house, drove past the “South Lawn,” and down the gravel driveway to Witty Road, headed to yoga at Sportime. Pele, my Portuguese water dog, sat in the back seat admiring Debbie’s pretty wavy black hair streaked with gray hair just like his. The fall palette framed the Carolina blue sky as we drove past Lake Brandt, one of Pele’s favorite trails where he hoped to stop for a long hike.

However, the “adventure box” passed all Pele’s trails and continued until we arrived at the gym. I slowly steered my compact car into a shady parking space next to an enormous shiny, black SUV.

Pele recognized the parking lot and knew this entailed a long wait. Normally a quiet dog, Pele used his muscular chest and voluminous lungs to bark loudly and express his dissatisfaction. After all, Pele was probably thinking that he does an authentic downward facing dog and could lead the yoga class.

I stepped out of the car while verbally attempting to reassure and calm Pele. With a quick upward glance, I noticed that the SUV was backed into the parking space with all the windows open and four young men watching my every move. “My dog will settle down once I leave,” I told them.

Next I opened the trunk, grabbed my light blue yoga mat, tucked it under my arm, and strolled towards Debbie, who had already looked inside the SUV. After rounding the back of my car, I too, noticed that all the physically fit guys were dressed in black and heavily armed with automatic guns. These fellows were not deer hunters.

Recalling news of President Obama’s scheduled visit to Greensboro to promote his job bill, I leaned slightly to peer into the SUV and asked, “Is Obama in the gym?”

In contrast to Pele, the men remained completely silent. Only Debbie responded. “They can’t say.”

“Well, you certainly are not sitting here because my husband is in the gym,” I joked. Laughter broke the silence, and then Debbie and I continued to the gym entrance. Pele sat in the back seat annoyed.

I watched Moni and Debbie walk away and a curious thing happened. They stood in a short line and quickly reached a civilian dressed man who waved a wand around their torsos, legs, and out-stretched arms; I assumed it was a yoga position. It was difficult to keep a close eye on them because a huge vehicle obscured my view.

I shifted in an attempt to maintain eye contact on Moni because I always keep her in my view until she disappears, and then I focus on that point until she FINALLY reappears. Instead, I glanced inside the SUV. Holy catfish, those dudes had big guns.

Like a cat, risking that my curiosity might kill me, I asked “Hey dudes, who are you? And what is the deal with those guns? Look guys, I promise I won’t bark any more.”

The secret service agents glanced at each other until one finally one submitted, “I guess we can tell a dog, especially one that looks like Bo.”

“We’re from Washington, D.C. and President Obama is working out in the gym.”

“You don’t say. I lived in Alexandria, Virginia the first four and a half years of my life. I’ve seen photos of Malia and Sasha’s dog, Bo.”

“That’s real close to Washington, D.C.”

“Now I live with Moni and John in the woods about ten miles from here.”

“That sounds like a good life for a dog.”

“It’s fun.  I chase deer and squirrel in my yard. I even killed a ground hog recently. Some times I chase the family cat, Socks, but I get scolded for that. What’s the White House South Lawn like?”

“Oh, it is lovely; there is a thick lawn, rose bushes, and a vegetable garden.”

“You should see my South Lawn. It is south of our house with large oak trees, but no grass.”

Debbie and I cleared the wand test and entered Sportime. As Debbie checked in as a visitor, I scanned the treadmills for President Obama. No sign, I figured he was sequestered in a private room. We proceeded upstairs where from the mezzanine Debbie squatted to look through the handrail and, in the weight room, she spotted a tall, slender black man standing alone. “Is that Obama?” she asked.

A millisecond later she answered herself, “Yes, it is!”

Excitedly I exclaimed, “Oh, Debbie, I should tell him how I got the rescue Portuguese water dog that he wanted!”

For a few seconds I hesitated, thinking how this important man probably just wants to be left alone and lift weights. But then I told myself that I had the best story of anybody in this gym to share with President Obama and nothing to do with current events. After all, for years, I joked that I got the rescue Porty that Obama sought and Pele almost ended up in the White House. The man himself should hear the story.

With that thought and enough confidence to fill the world, I bee lined downstairs and straight to the weight room. En route, I told myself to avoid looking around for secret service agents because they would likely prevent me from approaching the President. My timing was exquisite. I entered the weight room with my eyes focused on the back of Obama’s head; he turned to look for his next weight machine and made eye contact. From that second until the end of our encounter, our eyes were locked together.

As I walked toward President Obama, with a smile as broad as the crescent moon across my face, he reached for my hand. During those steps, I was thinking what fun I was about to have and, amazingly, not a bit nervousness. I felt as if I were walking up to an old high school friend. Dressed in long, baggy, brown work-out pants, a cotton T-shirt, and baseball cap bill cropping his sparkling eyes out-lined with long eyelashes, President Obama also had the appearance of an old friend.

“I got the rescue Portuguese water dog that you and your family hoped to acquire,” I started.

For a short second, as expected, he looked confused. I continued, “Not long before you and your family started looking for a rescue Porty, I got one from Alexandria. My Porty could have ended up in the White House, but instead I got him.”

His eyes and face informed me that he now understood.

“Oh, aren’t they the greatest dogs?” President Obama commented.

“They are wonderful,” I agreed.

“What is your dog’s name?”


“Well, it sounds like Pele ended up in a nice home.”

“He sure did, we adore him.”

My mind continued with thoughts to share with President Obama such as how I’m a botanist and Pele conducts field work with me. But, reality reared up and I felt it was time to let the President continue lifting weights.  He released my hand, our eyes shifted, and he searched for his next machine.

Only after I departed did the amazement that I had just informed the President of the United States that I beat him to a rescue Porty sink in. Back to my more timid, shy self, I returned to the yoga room and began my practice without telling any body except my good friend Debbie.

In the parking lot, Pele concluded his conversation with the secret service agents, “Please tell Malia and Sasha that my only regret is that I never got to play with them. And tell Michelle that I would have enjoyed sneaking out of The White House with her.”


Bo at work in DC

Pele at work in NC

Read Full Post »