Saturday, October 19, 2019

And a good time was had by all

I have had several wonderful days with my sister and lovely dinners out with my brothers and their wives, and then on Saturday my younger brother and his wife hosted an early birthday celebration for me…

And yes...
I will be 70 years old next week.

Then early Sunday morning, when there is almost no traffic at all on the Los Angeles freeways, my sister and I leave on an adventure, a short road trip.

It seems like leaving the city behind has lifted a burden on our spirits as well, and we are feeling euphoric as we travel north on the Coastal Highway a couple of hours out of Los Angeles.

I have forgotten how beautiful the central coast of California is.

My sweet sister glances over at me: “Ocean on our left.

 Crosby, Stills & Nash on the speakers

(And we have been singing along with them “Do-do-do-do-do, do, do, do-do-do-do…) . 

“Golden rolling hills on the right.
“Blue sky, 65 degrees. What more could you ask for?”

A restroom?

And yes, here comes a rest stop with its very own El Camino Real bell.

I counted 93 of these bells along the road on the way home.

We visited popular places along the coast. We saw sea otters bobbing in Morro Bay...
and  elephant seals sprawled on the beach at San Simeon, near Hearst Castle.

And amazing scarecrows at Cambria.
We went camping near here when I was a kid...

and I remember catching a red snapper off the pier. And for the first time in many years I put my feet in the Pacific.

And then it was time to come home, back to the Ozarks and home.

And then my sister’s husband (who is Italian) leaves one last wonderful memory for us when we walk in the door.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Going Home

“Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can’t.” ― Johnny Depp
Music can indeed have great power to trigger emotions.

In an hour so I will be leaving for the airport to fly away to Los Angeles to see my sister and brothers and their families. I did not see them last year because Richard and I were supposed to have a short vacation but that never happened. So I am overdue for some R&R.

I had no work to do yesterday, so I spent some time bouncing around on YouTube listening to all sorts of music that I enjoyed back in the day, among them this marvelous performance of the Blind Faith classic by Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton.

One line in the song is particularly poignant, “I’m wasted, and I can’t find my way back home…” 

In 1969 when the song was released, I had experienced a couple of years of students at the college I attended falling into the black hole of drug use. Mostly they were just smoking too much marijuana but some were dabbling with LSD and “magic mushrooms” and the like. I watched a couple of very bright students turn their minds to mush and drop out.

But then there are some memories that are much closer to home. Sad memories of what happened to our only first cousin on my Mom’s branch of the tree. My mom had one brother, Ellis, who was quite a bit older then she was – between them were three other children born in the family that died in infancy. Ellis in turn had one son, Ralph. Ellis’ wife died when Ralph was very young, and I am fairly sure he and the boy moved back home for a while.

Ralph was 13 years older than I was, so he would have been 16 or 17 in this picture.

Later he had a good job at the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department, a wife, and two children.

And then he started drinking and couldn’t stop. He lost everything: job, home, wife, kids.

By then Uncle Ellis had moved to a town in central California, and Ralph went to live with him. But he fell afoul of some men there who were threatening to kill him, so Uncle Ellis sent him to us.

He lived with us, briefly, in 1969.  Mom and Dad tried to help him, but they did not understand alcoholism and did not have the resources or the knowledge of how to help him.

Ralph vanished out of our lives, and it was only later many years later that we learned he had died in 1971, at 34, homeless, on the streets of Los Angeles.

What a terrible, sad, waste of a life.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

An Interesting Couple of Weeks

Take me for a ride in your car, car.
Take me for a ride in your car, car.
Take me for a ride, take me for a ride,
Take me for a ride in your car, car.

Peter, Paul and Mary
Sometime toward the end of August, a heavy rain storm moved through the area. Richard had driven the truck down the driveway, which was a river at that point, so he could cut up some trees that had fallen over the driveway. When he drove back, he set the emergency brake and then didn't drive the car again for a week or so. When he got in to start it up it was frozen and would not budge. He was procrastinating about calling a tow truck to get it to the mechanic. We were now down to 2 vehicles.

On Sept 10 I left the house to attend the women’s Bible study at church. I got as far as the end of the frontage road, turned left on the highway, and my car had a catastrophic breakdown. The passenger-side controller arm on the rear axle broke, and the car would not move. Fortunately I was able to get off on the shoulder. The tow truck came and took the car to Randy, the mechanic.

So now we were down to 1 car. The next day as I left the house to go to the clinic for a punch biopsy on my nose, I grabbed the phone, and Richard said, “Who are you going to call if you break down? I can’t rescue you.” Good point. I jotted a few names down just in case.

I was concerned that I had a skin cancer. In mid-August, Richard had a large crater carved out of his nose during a Mohs procedure at the dermatologist’s office to remove a skin cancer, which a plastic surgeon had to cover the next day with a skin flap. I had visions of something similar happening to me.

It took a while for Randy to track down the part from a junk yard. He also discovered that the master cylinder was not working properly and the brakes were working on only 2 wheels. So he replaced the master cylinder too.

On Friday I got a call that the pathology report said it was not skin cancer. Yay!!

One of the men from church insisted on coming to the house last Monday to help Richard with the truck. They spent several hours working on getting the truck freed up and succeeded by spraying everything with penetrating oil.

My car was fixed and we picked it up. A couple of days later Richard took the truck to the mechanic to have the brake pads and drums and emergency brake fixed. Randy told Richard about a 2004 Saturn in pristine condition (it had mostly spent its life being towed behind an RV) he was selling for one of his customers (who was now 90 years old and not allowed to drive).

We bought it. So now we are have 4 vehicles that run, and 3 junk cars. We obviously need to get rid of the junk cars, but Richard doesn’t know how to go about it. This would be one of those "head-shaking" hilarious situations if it were happening to someone else. 

On Sunday I visit a man in the nursing home. He is either in his recliner, where he also sleeps, or he is in his motorized wheelchair. He was in the wheelchair Sunday, so I moved all of the pillows off his recliner and sat down. A little while later, I put my hand down, and the pad I was sitting on felt  damp. So I said, "This feels wet." And he said, "Yes. I peed my pants this morning because they took too long to come when I rang the bell." Because of the motorized wheelchair, he no longer is able to stand or walk so has to be hoisted and moved on a "lift and stand".

I'm thinking: What? I have been sitting on a pee-soaked pad and you didn't say anything?! I wet some paper towels and wiped down my behind and the back of my legs, then got some more paper towels and dried that off, and then I went and got an aide to bring a dry pad for his chair.

Tried very hard not to work myself up into a fury about it. Why didn't he say something??!! I noticed the end of a roll of paper towels on the top of his dispenser, so I grabbed that and when I got to the car put that all over the seat just in case my rear was still damp.

Oh yeah. One last thing. I baked a batch of biscotti for my brother-in-law’s birthday, and instead of turning the oven down to 300 for the second baking, I turned it up to 400. Fortunately, I smelled it in time. I was able to salvage enough to send him, and Richard happily ate the rest of the slightly burned biscotti.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Three (Not Blind) Mice

The experts who published a a recent study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences say mice have been living alongside humans for as long as 15,000 years. This is about 3,000 years earlier than the start of crop agriculture—the time it was long believed mice took up residence with humans.

Doing so allows them relatively good protection from being something else’s dinner and we provide them with food. It’s a pretty good deal for the mice. But for us? Not so much.

One of my favorite paintings at the St. Louis Art Museum, Still Life with Mice, painted in 1619 by Loedwik Susi, captures this relationship very well. I lightened it up a bit so that the third mouse lurking by the apple is a little more visible.
Mice have been living alongside us for as long as we have been in this house. They have chewed bits of our clothing to make nests under the chest of drawers, gotten into filing cabinets and chewed papers, and on it goes. I am not sure what word to attach to the feelings I have had on the occasions when I have opened the kitchen drawer to see mouse poop on the silverware.

One of them got inside our Krups.

 Once I caught 3 at one time in the bottom of the sunflower seed barrel.

And no, I could not bring myself to kill these mice. I took them for a ride and let them go in a wooded area a couple of miles from the house.

Usually, though, they are not looking up at us with their beady black eyes. Usually they quite dead when we find them on the business end of the mousetrap.

I suppose  I should not have been surprised very early the other morning when I was in the recliner reading the scripture for the day and taking the first sips of my coffee to catch some movement at the corner of my eye and looked up to see a mouse scurry across the carpet and behind the bookcase.

So the traps came out, and it took several days before the mouse made a mistake and went to wherever mice go when they are no longer with us.

We thought it best to re-bait the traps (I think he is using peanut butter or perhaps Nutella). This morning we caught another mouse in the living room in the trap right by my recliner and also a baby mouse in the fruit cellar. A baby mouse? Oy vey.

So we have now trapped 3 mice in the last two days, and where there are 1…2…3… mice there is certainly another one and, in this case, probably another... and another....and another... forever and ever.

The traps will stay baited and ready for a while.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Adventures in Country Living

He comes in carrying a plastic storage container. “I need to consult with the resident poopologist,” he says. An animal squeezed through the hole at the bottom of the basement door and left a deposit in the container in the fruit cellar. We peer intently at the poop, and I posit that it is probably possum poop, although the culprit could have been a raccoon or a skunk. Then I remembered that I did detect the faint odor of skunk in our basement about a month ago.

You might be glad that I do not have a picture to share, but you can find just about anything on the Internet, and there is a surprising collection of photographs of various animal poops in case you ever need to try to figure what critter was responsible.

I do, however, have a picture of the small snake that Richard spotted in our living room later in the afternoon. I imagine it came in through the gap at the bottom of the screen door.

It bit me when I picked it up, but whatever teeth (fangs?) it had barely scratched the skin.

It lived to see another day.

Saturday, August 03, 2019


Richard is clearing the dish drainers of last night’s dishes, and he is making a lot of noise as he clatters the silverware, plates, and pots.

The noise stops. I hear him clear his throat and he is standing in the door to my office.

“Can you explain to me why there is a bone in the dish drainer?”

Well, yes. I can, except as I start to explain it comes out gibberish.

“Do I have to?” 

“Yes. I have to have my wife explain the very strange things she does,” he says.

So I start again.

“Next year on the Sunday before Easter, I think will try to do a Passover meal at Sunday School, and I need a bone to represent the Passover lamb. I found this one from that dead deer.
Last night I soaked it in bleach, scrubbed it, and it will be perfect.” 

He nods his head. Now he understands. Sort of.

This year at Easter I was going to do a presentation on the Passover Seder for Sunday School. I have some good material on it from when I put a presentation together for the kids at another church years ago, and I have a great little book.

I almost had what I needed. But not quite. I didn’t have matzo, and there was none to be found anywhere in the area. Not even at Walmart. The Jews who celebrated the first Passover did not have factory-made matzo, after all. I did find a recipe on how to make a Passover bread that could be used.

But what I really wanted and did not have was a lamb bone. At that time, lamb was more $9 a pound, and I couldn’t see spending $50 plus for a leg of lamb to get the bone. I didn’t want to use a chicken bone and pretend it was a lamb bone. Then time ran out and the presentation didn’t happen.

But in the meantime, there is a spot on the frontage road where I walk every other morning -- near where I found the first blue sock (see my last post)--that seems to be a favorite place for deer and other animals to cross the highway, and sometimes they don’t make it. I have found a dead fox there, and two does were killed trying to cross within the past several months.

The deer that was most recently killed was not scavenged by coyotes or dogs or other critters. It has finally rotted away (and the stench was terrible for a while there) and is now just a collection of bones. Although I noticed last time I walked by that something has started carrying the bones off.

Well, I don’t mind trying to pass off a deer bone as lamb bone, and so I think I am going to try again next Easter. It will be perfect, as long as I don’t forget where I’ve stored it and don’t chicken out on the presentation.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Icebag Cometh...and a Pair of New Socks

Three days a week I unofficially lead an aerobics class for active older adults at the local YMCA. And on the other three days I walk at least a mile, perhaps a little further, if my back doesn’t start hurting, and I pick up trash that people have tossed from their cars as they drive along.

Our driveway connects with a ½-mile paved frontage road that runs parallel with Highway 60/63 and then intersects with Highway 76, the 2-lane state highway that one takes to town. The frontage road picks up again on the other side of 76 and runs parallel to the highway for about another ½ mile before it makes a sharp turn and becomes a gravel county road.

I seldom walk on our frontage road because there is challenging hill. It would probably be good endurance and cardiovascular workout to walk the hill, but I don’t want to. So, I drive to the end of our frontage road, park, and then walk across.

Some trash is year round—plastic straws, straw wrappers, lottery tickets, aluminum cans (beer, soft drinks, energy drinks), food wrappers and containers from McDonald’s and other fast food places, plastic water bottles... the list goes on.

As spring segues into summer I also start picking up a lot of empty ice bags.

Conveniently located at the two highway on-ramps and off-ramps is a convenience store combined with a McDonald’s. On these hot summer days, folks decide to head out for outdoor activities, whether to float the river or to hang out at one of the big lakes to the south or other activities. They put their cooler in the back of the pick-up, buy a bag of ice at the convenience store, rip it open and empty the ice into the cooler, and then throw the empty bag in the back of the pick-up. And about 10 seconds after they get up to speed on the on-ramp, the bag blows out of the back of the truck. That’s my theory anyway. This morning I picked up 2 ice bags.

But occasionally there are strange and interesting things scattered. The other day I was walking the frontage road and came across a nice blue sock in good condition. So I picked it up and brought it home.

When I go to town on Tuesdays to pick up the mail and buy bananas (one of the local stores drops the price of bananas to 39-cents a pound on Tuesday), I usually stop at the library. So later in the morning when I drove up to the library, I was very surprised to see another blue sock lying in the gutter in front of the building.

Keeping in mind it’s probably 2 miles between where I found the first sock and the library. How did these socks come to be tossed where they did?

Yesterday I went to my friend Judy’s house to visit her and her long-time friends who are here to be with her in case she needs help while she recovers from knee replacement surgery and to drive her to appointments with the physical therapist, etc. The four of us sat around her table and discussed this briefly.

Eimi supposed that the person had slept in the car on the side of the road, and when they opened the door the sock fell out. Then they decided to go to the library because one can usually sit in a library, which is air conditioned, all day without being rousted, so when they opened the door again the other sock fell out. Interesting, but I don’t think so.

Jim recalled when he was kid their car had a large hole in the floor board and things fell out and were lost, so he decided there must have been a large hole in the floor of the car.

I did not offer a theory.

It will be an unsolved mystery, but come cooler weather in the Fall, I am going to enjoy my new blue socks.