At Seventy—My Bold Adventure

I became a gardener when I bought a house in Raleigh, on my own, and restored the old garden. Up until then, I merely did yard work. I was fifty-five.

I considered myself a writer when I started my first blog and shared it publicly. Before that I was just a journaler. I was fifty-eight.

I called my self a hiker when I returned to the Pacific Northwest and purchased boots and trekking poles and began being brave: solo hiking on steep and sometimes narrow mountain trails. Before that I was only a walker. I was sixty.

And now, I am growing edible food in raised beds I built inside a deer enclosure I built mostly by myself. I take nearly weekly hikes every spring, summer, and fall. And I’m soon officially to be an author. Next week I turn the page to seventy.

My friend Christina read a report that women are most productive in their sixties. Second in line is the decade of their seventies. Third is the fifties. My mother said her favorite decade was her eighties. I don’t know how “productivity” was defined in the study (I’m pretty damned proud of the two children I raised in my thirties and forties), but personal fulfillment definitely gets a nod to the sixties—including, I can say now that it’s in the rearview mirror, caring for my mother the first half of the decade—and I’m intoxicated by this next gateway. There are good years ahead, Goddess willing and the creeks don’t rise.

As I approach my decade birthday next week, I’ve been planning my celebratory summer, which will culminate with the publication of my memoir in October—and the huge learning curve of promoting it. I set a goal to hike seventy miles, but I’m already at 32, so I’ve changed it to 101—one for each summer of my mother’s amazing life—including at least seven new trails. Now I have a true challenge. (I may even have to hike in the rain, if the PNW doesn’t turn itself around.) And I’ve just completed the reveal of my carefully-guarded Secret Big Thing.

So here it is:

One of my (few) life regrets is that I didn’t spend a college summer working at a national park.  Yesterday—serendipitously on the 106th anniversary of my mother’s birth—I did the first training step toward being a volunteer Meadow Rover at Paradise in Mt. Rainier National Park. On-the-trail orientation is July 25—hopefully the snow will be gone by then. I will wear a uniform shirt with a name tag and insignia, and carry a walkie-talkie (!); and, I learned yesterday, a clicker to record visitor contacts! (Laughing.) I will hike the trails, being friendly to the Park’s many visitors from all over the country and the world (did you know MRNP is the fifth oldest national park in the country?), educating them on best practices, answering questions, offering information, preventing emergencies, and calling for help if they happen. It’s a departure from my avoidance of crowded trails and my preference for silent hiking. But hey, I’m seventy! It’s time to stretch.

A long-time Meadow Rover recently retired; she was in her nineties. I’m off on a Big New Adventure. Who knows how far it can go. There’s no expiration date on a dream.

My mother was born the same year the National Park Service was born. Happy birthday, Mama. I hope you are proud. I am.

Strawberry-Citrus Shortcake

The Story:

Strawberry Shortcake was a June staple in my childhood, Pacific NW strawberry season coming as it did in convergence with my mother’s birthday, my birthday, and my sister’s birthday. It was never ever made with the tasteless little store-bought sponge cakes sold in the produce section at the grocery store. Never with pound cake, a perfectly good dessert, but not shortcake. We might have had strawberries with angel food cake, but it was not called strawberry shortcake. I suspect my mother’s recipe for shortcake was the one on the Bisquick box, but I don’t know that for certain.

Berries were sliced, crushed, and sprinkled with sugar—the kids’ job—then left on the counter to marinate. Whipped cream was made from whipping cream and powdered sugar, whipped up in an honest-to-god mixer or with a manual hand-mixer, never squirted from a can, never Cool Whip.

I confess to having used a sugary biscuit dough recipe for shortcake, maybe even Bisquick, but none tops this one my sister found and uses. It’s strawberry season! Enjoy!

The Recipe:

Sugared strawberries w/ Grand Marnier

8 c. fresh strawberries, stemmed & sliced
¼ – ⅓ c. sugar
3 T. fresh orange juice
3 T. Triple Sec, Grand Marnier, or OJ


2-½ c. flour
2-½ tsp. baking powder
½ c. yellow cornmeal
⅔ c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1-½ c. heavy cream
4 tsp. grated lemon zest
4 tsp. grated orange zest
4 T. unsalted butter, melted
Sugar for coating (about ⅓ c.)

Whipped cream

To prepare the strawberries: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients. Marinate for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

To make the shortcake: Preheat the oven to 350º. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cornmeal, sugar, and salt. Stir in the cream, lemon zest, and orange zest until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Form into a ball and knead 8 to 12 times, or until the ball holds its shape. Cut the dough into 8 equal portions and roll into balls. Roll the dough in the melted butter, then the sugar. Place on a created baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned and cooked through. Let cool slightly on a wire rack.

To assemble: Cut each shortcake in half. Top the bottom half with fruit and whipped cream. Place the top halves on top and serve!