I got my start as a graphic designer laying out ads for a newspaper in southern Minnesota. I had an old fashioned “in and out” box on my desk. Am I dating myself? Ad copy would pile up in the “in” box and finished ads loitered in the “out” box, waiting to be proofed. Every so often our proof reader, Hallie, would come by and empty my “out” box. She’d return my stack a few hours later.
My routine was to pour a cup of coffee and thumb my way through the return pile. Most ads had minor corrections. Ads that were perfect though got a signature Hallie smiley face scrawled with her blue proofer’s pen. Oh how I loved to find a perky little smiley face lurking in the corner. Ads that were really messed up got a confused face. And if an ad came through the proofing rotation more than twice, you could expect an evil stink eye. Shudder.
It quickly became clear to me that Hallie was a master. Nothing got by her. And boy could she draw a smiley face. I marveled at her ability to give a simple little face so much expression. Her faces frequently made my day. I actually started a smiley face file. Every once and a while I’d clip a face until slowly I amassed an envelope full of smileys. And let me tell you, when you’re feeling down and you dump out a pile of smiley faces that someone has drawn, it’s hard not to feel at least a little bit better. It’s been over 10 years since I left the paper, but I still have my envelope of smileys tucked in my desk drawer. Just in case.
The staff at the paper was small and frequently we’d gather together for lunch at the back table, sharing bits and pieces of our lives. Hallie’s kids and grandkids are scattered all over the country and I loved hearing about their lives. She could also talk food and gardening to no end. Truly a woman after my own heart. We shared many meals and swapped many recipes.
I start every rhubarb season off with a batch of Hallie’s rhubarb muffins. Made with brown sugar, they have a rich carmel flavor that pairs beautifully with tart rhubarb. Last week I baked my third round of Hallie’s muffins in as many weeks. They’re that good. I packed a few muffins and a thermos of tea to take out to the bee yard for a hive check. My two new hives have been limping along with the cold spring weather – which has resulted in me clucking around them like a nervous mother hen.
Out at the bee yard I pull the lid off of hive one and find a gorgeous queen, busy at work. Her brood pattern is good, but it’s still in small patches on the frames. Her hive population is small too – all young nurse bees and not many foragers. I close up the hive and give them a reassuring pat. The situation in hive two, however, is all together brighter. After multiple hive checks, I’ve yet to lay eyes on this queen, but that hardly matters. My heart leaps at her handiwork – frame after frame of perfectly laid brood. In a week or two this hive will be bursting with bees.
I remove my veil and take a seat on an empty pallet for a cup of tea and a muffin. I decide to call the elusive queen in hive two Hallie Frances. She has earned a smiley face, no question. I think I’ll even tape one of Hallie’s smileys to her hive for extra encouragement. I mull over hive one. This queen is younger by a good two weeks. I’m confident that she’ll catch up. Last fall I named the daughter of my all-time favorite queen Ella Bella – after another woman whom I respect and admire (childhood idol turned adulthood inspiration). Sadly this little hive did not get a fair shake and they met their match with this winter’s unrelenting cold. So I decide to call my new underdog queen simply, EB. Hell, maybe I’ll give her a smiley face too. Smile power works – I know.
I pack up and test the voltage on the electric bear fence before I go. Finally I can relax. I’m heading into the summer bee season with two strong ladies at the helm. And that, makes me smile.
Hallie Francis’s Rhubarb Muffins
I don’t care for overly sweet rhubarb baked goods, so I do not pack the brown sugar. I also prefer a very rhubarby muffin. Adjust both to suit your taste.
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oil (something neutral like canola)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 – 2 cups rhubarb, chopped
1/2 cup nuts (optional)
Cream together brown sugar, oil, egg, and vanilla. Mix together dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Fold in rhubarb and optional nuts. Batter will be thick and sticky. Fill muffin tins 3/4 full and bake at 400º for 20 minutes. Makes 1 1/2 dozen regular muffins.