Bloom in Captivity

Sweet Myrtle bloom
“Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree.” Isaiah 55:13

After four years of TLC, my potted rosemary shrub is budding and blooming. Considering Mediterranean plants don’t usually bloom indoors, I’m quite surprised and tickled—a bright spot on cloudy days.
While I pruned the plant’s leggy, new growth in the basement yesterday, I recalled a sight when touring Inishmore years ago. As I biked the prehistoric, rocky isle, one of Ireland’s three Aran Islands, I passed rosemary hedges tall as a cottage. I cannot remember seeing the herb's lavender-blue blossoms.
Rosemary is of the mint family Lamiaceae. The Latin meaning is “dew” for ros and “sea” for marinas. Ah, “dew of the sea.” The moniker fits the herb’s scent and locale.
Well, Michigan is not the moderate Mediterranean. The best I can do during growing season is keep rosemary in full sun and convince her she’s sunbathing in Ireland or Italy. I feed her Mel’s morning coffee grounds and water her once a week. She prefers dry feet.
Winter is a different scenario. There’s nothing pleasant about an expiring plant you’ve nurtured for several years and depend upon to season your roasted chicken and biscuits.
Now our basement holds four new plants in mutual confinement. Rosemary must share her sunny spot with her companions.
The Kentucky mint and spearmint are gifts from fellow herb lovers, so they must survive these long, dark nights to flavor our water. Come spring, mint goes back into the ground.
Sweet Myrtle topiary
Over a year ago, a friend sat a rosemary plant surrounded by thyme on my kitchen counter. The thyme eventually perished and revealed a young rosmarinas topiary that has since grown into a darling globe of fragrance and flavor. With pruning, I doubt the little plant will yield buds.
Yet, a gardener never knows. Two Octobers past on a gorgeous sunny day, I spied golden specks on white blooms of my indoor sweet myrtle topiary. Sweet myrtle is another Mediterranean herb, commonly known as True Myrtle, Roman Myrtle, and Greek Myrtle.
I bought Myrtus communis when visiting Grand Oaks Herb Farm in Bancroft two summers past with my Seven Ponds Friends of Herbs group. Beulah, the farm’s owner, operates a greenhouse supplied with an extensive variety of herbs and decorative potted plants, all edible.
Beulah suggested the sweet myrtle leaves as a substitute for cooking with bay leaf. I’ve dined in Beulah’s barn before, so I snatched up a sweet myrtle topiary sprinkled with a few white buds.
Dear Reader, although I gave up on African Violets, Boston Ferns, and orchids long ago, there’s no abandoning my few potted herbs to winter’s elements. Their culinary and medicinal properties alone are worth my effort and time.
The ancient Romans and Greeks knew this. And I have a hunch Isaiah understood the significance of the myrtle tree.
How sweet a bloom in captivity! The sight and scent fill my heart and home with grace and gladness.

The Christmas Star: A Farm Fable of Lem and Lee’s Five Hens

Painting by Joyce Harlukowicz

Blackie awoke in the night with a leg cramp. She stretched with care not to disturb her sisters’ sleep. “Urrrr,” she sighed with relief.

“Another craaamp?” whispered Silver who roosted beside Blackie.

“Oh my, I woke you again,” Blackie replied. “I can’t rooost all night like I did last winter.”

“That’s okaaay,” Silver said softly. “None of us are spring chickens any longer.”

Blackie furrowed her eyebrows with worry. “Did you wake with a cramp, too?” 

“No. It’s the stars! They’re beauuutiful tonight.”

Blackie and Silver looked outside the window into the cold, glittering darkness.

“See the bright, rising star?” Silver asked.

Blackie’s eyes popped wide open. “It has a tail!” she gasped quietly.

“Like ours.”

“I’ve never seen a star with a taaail before.”

“Mother never mentioned a star with a tail?” Silver asked.

Blondie roused awake. “What about Mother’s tail?”

Silver rolled her eyes and hushed Blondie who had the habit of dipping into private conversations.

Blondie ignored Silver. “Mother’s tail was like mine.”

“You mean your tail is like Mother’s,” Silver refuted.

“Shhh,” said Blackie. “You’ll wake Goldie and Brownie.”

They yawned. “Too laaate.”

The five hens stretched their legs and wings, turned this way and that upon the pole, and at last roosted close and cozy.

“Now, what was the disturbance about?” asked Brownie.

Before Blackie or Silver could reply, the star’s dancing beam aligned level with their eyes.

“Would you look at that?” Goldie proclaimed. “A star with a tail feather!”

“The cause of the disturbance,” Silver said.

“Did Mother mention a star with a tail feather to your girls?” Blackie asked Goldie and Brownie.


A melancholy mood fell within the henhouse.

“I remember Mother gathering us under her wings,” Blackie said.

Goldie sighed. "'Don’t wander too far from home and lose your way,’ Mother said.”

“And ‘We’re stronger together than apart,’” Brownie added.

Silver nodded. “And ‘Freeze when the hawk’s shadow passes over you.’”

The four hens glanced to Blondie for their mother’s most often repeated advice to them all. She blushed. “And ‘Mind your own business.’”

The sisters roosted in peace and watched the star’s tail rise out of sight before they fell asleep.

By dawn the hens had forgotten the star. They drank their water and ate their grain. They nested and laid eggs while waiting for Lem or Lee to bring their late morning oatmeal. 

“Hello, girls!” said Lee when she opened the door. “Here’s your favorite. Lem said to say ‘Hello.’”

As Lee turned the straw, scrapped their roost posts, and gathered eggs, she sang a song.

Do you see what I see? A star, a star, Dancing in the night.

“Yes!” the hens screeched, remembering the star.

With a tail as big as a kite. With a tail as big as a kite.

The hens flapped their wings. “Yes! A tail like ours!”

Lee hung the rake on the wall. “What are you so excited about, girls? Did you see the Christmas star last night? Wasn’t it peaceful?”

“Yes!” the hens squalled louder. “But what is a kite?”

“Thanks for the eggs,” Lee said and closed the henhouse door.

The sisters cocked their heads and blinked to one another.

“I know,” said Silver with a twinkle in her eye.

“Buook! What, Silver?” Brownie asked.

“A kite must be a big, shiny tail feather. ”

Blondie, Brownie, and Goldie turned to their eldest sister.

Blackie considered the peaceful, Christmas star. “Yes, you could be right, Blondie.”

We're stronger together than apart.

Sure Comfort and Joy

Becky's Winnie the Pooh, forty-seven Christmases old
Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
A.A. Milne

November 1987 we stored our photo albums and daughters’ keepsakes in a friend’s basement. We packed what our two-bedroom rental could hold into a moving van and drove away from our Detroit home. It felt like I was abandoning a devoted friend.  
Yet, we could no longer leave our house on Algonac overnight without fear of another break-in. We had to face change and make responsible decisions.
Property in Addison Township called to us. With God’s help and our thrift, we would build a house we could afford—perhaps never need to move again.
The apartment cramped my Christmas spirit and traditions. No space to display my mother-in-law’s ceramic nativity. No storage for tins and Tupperware containers filled with several different kinds of Christmas cookies.
With more time on my hands, I placed frequent phone calls to my mother for consolation.
To our three girls, however, Shoal Creek Apartments seemed like a long vacation in Sterling Heights. Limited living space meant drastically reduced chores. Since our bedrooms were at the unit’s opposite ends, my husband and I seldom heard them laughing in the night.
Their three twin beds and Becky’s vanity table fit perfectly into the master bedroom for one continuous pajama party, hairdo, and fashion show. And our downsized lifestyle offered the fringe benefit of their private bathroom. I seldom laid eyes upon the place.
For Christmas Eve, we decided to see Empire of the Sun, the season’s hit movie. With the lead role a twelve-year-old boy, the girls followed his story with interest.
The Japanese invade Shanghai where Jamie lives with his English parents. In their stampede to escape, Jamie drops his toy plane and lets go his mother’s hand to find it. The boy’s separated from his mother and captured with an American sailor. They’re sent to a prison camp. The sailor looks out for Jamie who brings hope to his fellow prisoners.
The movie’s conclusion left me unsettled. The untold story was the mother’s anguish in losing her son.
I remember walking into the cold night air with my family. The parking lot lights shined upon my daughters. Seventeen, thirteen, and eleven-years-old. I wanted to take their hand and whisper I love you.
Dear Reader, our girls have long since left behind their hope chests occupied with medals, photos, and souvenirs. Their Cabbage Patch and Strawberry Shortcake dolls languish in our Addison Township attic.
In a lonely moment this morning I remembered our departed daughter’s Winnie the Pooh. I sidled up to Becky’s cedar chest and lifted the lid.
“Pooh!” I whispered to the poor, dusty animal.
“Yes, Iris?”
“Nothing,” I said and took him into my arms. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

When a mother doesn’t have her child’s hand to hold, Pooh’s paw is sure enough comfort. Sure joy for forty-seven Christmases.

Ties that Bind

Detroit Working Writers second Saturday morning critique group
Front center clockwise: Angela, Roberta, Iris, Laura, Lauren, Weam, Pam
I met Angela two years ago through Detroit Working Writers. A new member and dynamo, she dove headfirst into DWW’s monthly critique group. This new face in a pint-sized body came to hear what fellow writers had to say about her work.
I then connected Angela Rochon to her memoir titled Fatherless, and suspected I’d met another kindred spirit.
Like my dad, Angela’s father had earned his living barbering. The strong cord of our devotion to preserve our family history bonded us. Above all, I heard the voice of an overcomer—a loving daughter who praises the healing power of reconciliation.
Angela is now polishing her query letter and proposal for Fatherless. She’s prepared to cast her bread onto the rough waters of the traditional publishing industry. I hope and pray some agent and house have heart and smarts enough to say “yes” to her story.
Meanwhile, Angela drives from Algonac to Troy the second Saturday of the month. There, she listens to her fellows’ point of view in regard to what she’s created and how to pitch it.
“I need this,” she’s said. “I’m so very thankful.”
A retired teacher, Angela’s come to know the solitude and discipline of the writing life. She’s learned the necessity of mentorship into new and oftentimes unfriendly territory. Her writing folk show up and support what matters most: tell and sell a beautiful and compelling story.
Angela’s passion to preserve history has expanded into her hometown of Algonac. She and husband Louis are lifers in this charming neighborhood of canals and docks. 
This is where they grew up and raised three children. And this is where they plan to spend the remainder of their days volunteering for the Algonac/Clay Historical Society and Maritime Museum.
It’s remarkable to see what the group’s number of forty-some retirees has accomplished. Larry took my husband and me on a tour of the museum where a 1949 Chris-Craft runabout is displayed. That boat is my age, and in better shape.
“There is great value in the process of writing a memoir, or reminiscing with family and friends. I hope my father’s story is incentive for others to write or call to mind their own family stories before they’re lost.”
So, dear Reader, have you begun to recall and write your family history? Don’t know where to start?
Think Christmas. Family ties, traditions, and turning points. When you no longer believed in Santa, for instance.
Write as if stories depend upon you to give them life, for they do. Don’t fret over grammar and spelling or what your family (or anyone else) will think.
Write down the bones. Muscle, vessels, and flesh will grow as you move the pen on paper or your fingers on the keyboard.
I promise you will be surprised at the memories that swim up to surface and gulp fresh air. The most marvelous gift to offer those you love.
Christmas. God with us. Our Comforter.
Blessed be the ties that bind.      


Best Seat on the Farm

Twelve o'clock around the circle: Blondie, Silver, Goldie, Blackie, Brownie peck their oatmeal
“Hur-ry!” hollered Blondie from her dust bath under the henhouse. “The sun is at the top of the pine cove!”

Lickety-split, Silver, Blackie, Goldie, and Brownie left their pecking and scratching and rushed to Blondie’s side.

The five hens huddled and gazed upward, their beaks apart in awe of the red, sinking sun.

Brownie couldn’t contain her absolute pleasure. “Errrrrr,” she trilled. “Red is my favorite color.”

The sisters sang their humming song, for every hen is fond of red. “All is well on the farm.”

The sun slid behind the pines and set them afire. Clouds the colors of Lee’s heirloom tomatoes streaked the sky.

“What a doozy!” Goldie whispered.

“Magnificent!” Blackie agreed.

Goldie and Silver drink from their pen water dish
“This is the best seat under the house for the day’s grand finale,” Silver said.

“Bock,” agreed Goldie.

“There’s no other place I prefer,” said Blackie.

Brownie pointed a wing westward. “There she goooes!”

The sun vanished and provoked long leg stretches amongst the clutch. Goldie led the way up the ramp and through the chute. They took one last drink of water and flew up to roost.

“Thank you, Blondie,” said Blackie. “We would’ve missed the show without your alert.”

Blondie didn’t answer. Matter of fact, she wasn’t in her usual spot on the top pole. And she faced the wall instead of the window! Clearly, Blondie was not her usual bossy self.

Blackie turned around on the post and caught the gleam of a tear in Blondie’s eye.  “What’s wrong, Blondie? You look saaad.”

Blondie nodded. “Lee pulled up her red geraniums today from her black cauldron in the pine cove.”

The hens heard Blondie’s tear fall onto the straw. With a great deal of toe and wing maneuvering, Brownie, Silver, and Goldie also turned to face the wall. 

“We all miss Lee’s red geraniums, Blondie,” said Silver. “They were beauuutiful this summer, weren’t they?”

“Buuuook,” Blondie said with a sniffle. “And it’s going to be a looong winter. I feel it in my toes.  We’ll be all cooped up for months! No dust baths under the house!”

Just then, they heard Lem’s voice and the house door opened. “Hello Girls! Getting down to thirty degrees tonight, so I’m turning on your heat lamp.”

Lem furrowed his brows when he saw the hens facing the wall. “What’s up? Don’t you girls know you have the best seat on the farm to watch the sunrise?” Lem glanced at their water and grain and closed the door. 

“See what I mean!” Blondie blurted.

Her sisters shrugged their wings in exasperation.

“Please, Blondie,” Blackie said. “Compose yourself and tell us what you mean.”

The hens waited patiently without a scratch here and there.

“Well, remember when Lem and Lee went on vacation?” Blondie asked.

Her sisters nodded.

Blondie took a deep breath. “Remember how nice our critter sitters were, and I said ‘Let’s give Lem and Lee the cooold shoulder when they return?’”

Silver, Blackie, Goldie, and Brownie blushed.

Blondie hung her head. “We were unkind. Lem and Lee thank us for every egg we lay. They bring us oatmeal almost every day. I feel aaawful we turned our backs on them.”

“I feel aaawful, too,” said Brownie.

“So do I,” chimed Silver, Blackie, and Goldie.

The weight of shame lifted from Blondie’s breast.

Next morning, the hens cracked their eyes open to the first sunbeam and jumped down from the roost. They pecked and waited for Lem at the pen door.

“All is well on the farm,” they squawked a happy song as Lem walked down the hill.