Monday, September 29, 2008

I try not to covet my neighbor’s dog

We went for a stroll last night after dinner. It was perfectly lovely out, not too warm, not too cold. I am able to stroll fairly well these days, which is a good thing if I expect to stroll through several airports toward the end of October when my trip to Los Angeles is planned.

We strolled at a moderate speed down Willow Road toward Tony's house. Tony is a good man and a kind neighbor. He always gives us some deer meat during hunting season. Tony lives at the fork where Willow Road and the county road meet. We decided to take the fork to the right because there is a house further up the county road that has an amazing water feature. We watched if for a moment and then saw that Tony and his dog, Chance, were walking toward home. When we met up, we all strolled back toward his house.

This is Chance, and she and I have a history because of this fellow...

Little Dog. When he was alive, I took him on a walk every day when the weather was nice, and we usually walked by Tony’s house. Tony’s yard was not fenced then, and if Chance was outside when we passed by, she would gallop over to us in high glee.

She loved my dog and was happy to follow by his side. They made a comical pair. She is big and he was small -- Little Dog could just about walk under her belly without touching..

A few years ago, Tony bred her to another American bulldog. Little Dog had died by that time, and I had it in the back of my mind to talk Richard into getting one of her puppies. Except she only had two puppies: One of them was promised to the breeder, and Tony sold the other one to a friend. And then Richard said she was too much like a pit bulldog. He didn’t trust the breed.

I do. I trust her. She is a great dog, and I’d take her in a heartbeat. The only problem is her massive tail, which she wags a lot, and it just about knocks you down if it whacks into the back of your knees. I'd prefer not to do any more falling down, thank you very much.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

We collect water... and something unexpected

When the power goes out, we no longer have running water because the pump that brings the water to our house from the well runs on electricity. Once upon at time there was a hand-dug well, sort of in the front yard, that worked. It filled up with water when it rained. We couldn't actually drink the water from the well because former owners had used it as a trash pit and all the plastic bottles that had been thrown in there would float to the top. We were in the process of trying to clean it out and eventually could have used it as a source of water, but the well was wiped out when the highway expanded.

In any event, it is very important that we have a stash of water on hand for drinking and to flush the toilet. For drinking, we have cases of bottled water and a few gallon jugs. And for flushing the toilet, we have large plastic pails of water stored in the cellar.

When we lost power a couple of weeks ago, we went through our stored water fairly quickly--it is surprising just how much water the average toilet requires for a flush when one is required to hoist a heavy pail and start pouring water in the tank.

Now we are starting to collect it again for the next time the power goes out. A container its under the faucet in the kitchen to collect occasional drips; the water in the shower that normally pours down the drain while one waits for it to get hot is collected and added to the pail. Each pail sits on the porch until it is full, and then it is eventually put in the cellar. We have several different sizes and shapes of these large plastic pails. Some are from popcorn (we eat a lot of popcorn), some are from soap, and some are ones we have picked up along the way.

They all have different lids. The lid on this pail wasn't the right one and so it was not put on tight, it was just sitting there loosely to keep the bugs out. Yesterday afternoon Richard checked the pail to see if mosquitoes were breeding in it.

They weren't. No mosquitoes and no bugs. But he did find we had collected something else...
A gray tree frog.

I love those precious little suckery feet.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Slip sliming away

The corn and sunflower seeds that I feed the birds sit inside the house by the second back door (in this odd little house, we actually have three back doors and no proper front door). I used to keep the sunflower seeds and chopped corn outside on the deck in a covered pail.

Then Amahl (the mother) and the Night Visitors (the babies) showed up.

With their clever little hands, they tipped the pail, removed the lid off, and helped themselves.

So we brought the pails indoors. But we sort of forgot about putting the lids back on. The back door stays open day and night during the summer so the breeze can blow through the screened part of the storm door to help keep the house cool.

The storm door has small gap at the bottom, which is the same as an open door to whatever might want to come in. There was a lot rain that night, which is why the inside of the storm door was wet, and the wind blew a lot of leaves off the trees. Slugs have started to come in the through the gap at night to eat the corn. I know slugs and snails are pests and eat plants in the garden, but that they would be attracted to hard, dry corn is something I was not expecting.

Slugs are slimy. They leave slime trails on the carpet. They leave slime trails on the sides of the bucket. Corn sticks to the slime.
They invite their friends to come to our house for dinner. Party of three, table coming right up.

And they eat...
and have sparkling conversation. By the time morning comes, they have returned to wherever they go during the day.

I made the mistake of using two bare fingers to pinch them out of bucket, and I put them outside next to a handful of corn on the porch by the back door.

R: You put corn outside for the slugs? Are you kidding me?

Me: No, I'm not kidding.

And no, I didn't kill them. I got slimed. Slug slime is interesting stuff. Incredible stuff, actually. It does not wash off. I had a heck of a time getting it off my fingers. A Google search turned up some interesting information. Wipe with a dry paper towel first. Use salt.

And no, the enticement of outside corn did not stop them from coming in the next night.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Doesn't play well with others

One of the pleasures in my life is bird watching. Richard was kind enough to build a feeding platform so that I can see it from the window where I sit all day in front of the computer. And I cobbled together a platform behind that using some sawhorses and an old sheet of plywood.

As summer draws to a close, the birds become very grumpy. Doves have become symbolic with peace, but they are not peaceful birds. Not at all. They fight with each other. A lot. They chase each other around; they hit each other with their wings. When they take off, their wings make a whistling sound. All day long I hear the whistling and the sound of wings being bashed together. Maybe these are adults chasing off young-adult babies that they no longer want hanging around (I know the feeling).

The adult cardinals are rather grumpy too. The last of this year's nestlings are now old enough to feed themselves, but they still make the annoying "feed me, feed me" cheeping sound. The adults will tolerate it for a while, and then they loose patience and drive off the youngsters.

Of course, everyone knows that hummingbirds don't get along at all. Why is it so annoying to watch other birds squabble but so much fun to watch these ornery little stinkers fight? Probably because of the amazing moves they are capable of making in the air. Fall is here, and they will head south for the winter very shortly. I will miss them when they go. So will Richard. Sometimes doesn't get much work done when they begin circling and darting and attacking each other in front of his office window.

I don't just feed the birds though. There is little fellow (who is somewhat blurry thanks to my great camera skills). We call him the "furry monster," and he sucks up seeds like a vacuum cleaner until his cheek pouches bulge, and then he races off to store them to eat later.

These fellows are nuisance. The old man I used to clean house for called them "tree rats." I do not enjoy watching them at all. Not at all. I have a live trap, and in a week or so I will start trapping and introducing them to a new home on the other side of the highway.
On occasion Richard gets out the gun. Squirrel tastes a lot like chicken. It is very good in squirrel stew.

And then finally, there is the cat bird. A bird of a different feather. She likes to perch on top of the platform, look in the window, and meow at me to let her in. I usually always get up. She has me well trained.

Often when I open the door, however, she doesn't really want in, she wants the catering service to provide food on the porch, which I usually do.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Busy as a bee

Turns out I have a short video of the bees mobbing the old honeycomb that I forgot about when I did the previous post (see at the end there where it shows the bees).

If the video isn't embedded, click here.

Him: You should have zoomed in. You should have made it longer.

Me: Yes dear, you’re right. I’m still learning how to do this.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I keep on truckin'

Yes indeed!

My business as a copyeditor depends entirely on my ability to use my computer and access the Internet. Everything I do is on the computer. I use the computer to edit the manuscripts I receive by e-mail or download from an FTP site. I send them back the same way.

A few years back when this area was hit by a terrible ice storm and some sections of Springfield were without power for weeks, it occurred to Richard that if we didn't have a way to keep our computers running if the power went out, I would effectively be out of business, and so would he, for that matter, until the power came back on. And he had the brilliant idea that we had better get a generator, just in case. I agreed with him, although at the time it did seem like a rather expensive item for "just in case."

It took us almost a year to get the generator, however, because Harbor Freight, the store in Springfield that sells them, could not keep them stocked fast enough to keep up with the demand. But eventually Richard was able to buy the generator and he brought it home. He built a cart for the beast and put wheels on it, and rigged it so he could maneuver it around. And then it came to pass that the "just in case" time arrived when we least expected it.

Hurricane Ike wasn't content to wreak havoc in Texas, the storm rampaged up through Arkansas and into Missouri, and at about 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, our power went off.

Normally, our electric cooperative is able to restore power within a few hours. The longest we have ever been without power is 8 hours I think. This time the power did not come on right away. And it continued not to come on. In fact, it didn't come on until Tuesday at about 7 p.m, about 60 hours later.

If we had not had the generator, I would not have been able to turn on my computer and access my e-mail, I would not have known that I was being offered a new journal, and I would not have responded, and someone else would have gotten the job.
The generator certainly saved my bacon.

The main casualties in the storm were beautiful big old trees that came down all over town. Our son's friend Tim was hired to cup a tree that had blown over in someone's yard, and our son went with him help. As they worked on it, they discovered it was hollow. There weren't any bees around, but there was a old beehive in it that still had honey in the comb.

Our son brought a piece of it home so we could see it, and he left it out on the porch.
The next morning it was swarming with yellowjackets, bees....
hornets, and bumblebees, all after the honey. The large black one on the right is a bald-faced hornet; an insect that is best left alone. The one on the left and slightly below it is a bumblebee.

Walking down the porch steps was a bit nervewracking with all the stingers buzzing about, so when the sun went down, Richard moved it off the porch and under a tree. Much safer that way. Interesting how nature is so good at recycling. Nothing goes to waste.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A failure to communicate

A sorry tale to tell.

A woman at our church has three sons. At the end of last summer, at just about this time, the middle son got married to his high school girlfriend very quickly, with maybe 2 weeks' notice (yes, she was). They wanted to know if I would play the piano at the wedding. I frantically searched for some easy versions of traditional wedding music and started practicing, but I realized there was no way I could become proficient enough to play for the wedding. We had a CD of wedding music on hand, so I rigged up the church PA system to a CD player and used that instead.

In the meantime, the younger son decided he was going to get married in October to his girlfriend (no, she wasn't), and they asked me if I would play for their wedding. I said yes because I knew I would have enough time to practice. And I commenced practicing.

It came to pass that the younger son and his girlfriend had a big fight. He "showed her" and joined the Marines, who wasted no time in whisking him off to Camp Pendleton. I heaved a big sigh of relief that the wedding was called off, and I quit practicing. They actually did get married when he came on leave, but they did it at the courthouse and no piano playing was involved.

Now for the hard part. At some point during this period of time, I apparently was approached by the oldest son and his girlfriend, Amber, who asked me if I would play for their wedding. They hadn't set the date yet. I apparently said yes.

I used the word "apparently" because I totally forgot the conversation. By and by they did set the date for their wedding, which was last Saturday. But no more was said to me about playing the piano, no discussion about what music she might want, nothing. We did not plan to go to the wedding because it was 70 miles away and we had not gotten a written or verbal invitation. Friday night while we were eating dinner, the phone rings and it is the son's mother, who is calling from the wedding rehearsal.

"Are you coming to the wedding tomorrow because Amber says you are supposed to play the piano."

I just about died. I felt terrible, but I had to tell her that I didn't remember having the conversation with Amber and that no, we weren't planning to come because we had not been invited. "Well, I put an invitation up on the bulletin board at church," she says. Only I never look at the bulletin board so I didn't see it. I suggested she go to Walmart and try to find a CD of wedding music. Richard went up to the church later to turn on the AC and he says he didn't see an invitation.

At any rate, our pastor performed the ceremony and said it was a wedding without music. The bride walked down the aisle in silence instead of to "Here Comes the Bride..."

Something usually always goes wrong at a wedding. If I were an insurance adjuster trying to assign blame for this accident, I'd have to say I am not sure who was more at fault for this major thing going wrong: me for forgetting, or her for not following up.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I cook food and count the calories

I have more enough magnets to handle the things that I might want to stick on the refrigerator door. Often some of the magnets have nothing to hold up; that is, until I start cooking. Then I have to try to calculate how many calories are in a serving of whatever I am making, and little slips of paper with numbers start finding their way onto the refrigerator. This is the only way I can keep them safe from being tossed in the trash when a certain person I live with starts to clean up.

The church potluck rolls around once a month, and I have a hard time figuring out what to make. Last month I made lasagna, which was very good. They ate it. I think there was one serving left in the pan. The month before that, I made enchiladas. They were horrible, which I didn’t realize until much too late. The tortillas were mushy, and it almost makes me gag thinking about it now. And then there is the embarrassment of trying to feed something truly awful to my friends. I divided what was left (nearly all of it) in smaller containers and froze it to eat later, which did not improve anything. None of us wanted to eat it. I really hate wasting food, but I eventually dumped it on the compost heap. It is not for no reason that cooking for people makes me nervous.

So, for this month’s fellowship meal last week I took an assortment of things.
About a half a can of tomatoes and chili peppers was left over from what I had used to make some spicy soup the day before, so Richard opened a can of corn and combined them.

Sicilian eggplant relish.

Linguini and white clam sauce.

Red Thai curry (okay, it isn’t very red, but I did use red Thai curry paste).

Confetti grain pilaf.

And then comes the tedium of trying to figure out how many calories each of these contains. Everything that goes into the recipe must be weighed and the calories calculated for that amount by looking it up in the book or getting it off the label if it comes from a package or can. That will be a topic for another time, because we have found that one can’t trust the calorie counts on the labels. The food manufacturers lie and mislead. I did say that was a topic for another time. Moving right along. Once the whole recipe has been cooked, I have to figure out how I am going to determine the serving size – either by weight or volume.

So, the Thai curry was 91 calories for a 1/2-cup serving. Richard was sitting next to me at the meal, and he took a bite of it, leaned his head on my shoulder, and said, “Oh my, this is good.” Other people liked it too. Only one serving was left in the dish I brought home.
The linguini and clam sauce was 42 calories per ounce. Our son commented how much he liked it after he had gone back for another helping. Other people liked it too, and only about one serving left.

The pilaf was 19.75 calorie per ounce. Nobody ate it, because in the confusion of getting the food to the church on Sunday morning, I forgot the pilaf. I ate it for lunch all week with melted grated cheese on top.

I lost the slip of paper for the Sicilian eggplant relish, but it was about 45 calories for a 1/2-cup serving. I guess they did not like the way it looked, because they didn't eat too much of it. But it really tasted good. Even Richard said so, and if he likes it, it is good.

What started the whole calorie-counting regimen was the sorry state we were in 2 years ago, which is when this picture was taken while we were on vacation in California. As soon as we returned home, I started on the long journey to loose weight and Richard joined me a month later. I keep this picture on the refrigerator, with the pig magnet, to remind myself why I am going to all the trouble of calorie counting--and believe me, it can get really tiresome--and what I will look like again if I don’t do it.

As you can see, I am not a skilled food photographer. This woman takes beautiful pictures of food. Google found her blog for me when I was hunting for a way to cook peppers and fish, and she had a recipe.

There is one more important thing on my refrigerator. I look at it a lot.

And as a final note, I am firmly in the camp with April Showers regarding the evils of high-fructose corn syrup: None of the ingredients in these recipes contained high-fructose corn syrup.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I go to a garage sale and don't fall down

Yes indeed. My first garage sale since the accident in June, when I fell and fractured a pelvic bone before I barely had a chance to look at the first table of stuff.

I am drawn to blue pottery like a moth to a flame; so naturally, this little gem had to come home with me.

I am a firm believer in putting things to work, even pretty things. So, if it can have a useful function in this house, then it does. In this case the little blue bottle is going to become the container for the Herbes de Provence, which I will sprinkle on the squash when I cook it tonight. As usual when I attempt anything in the kitchen, I make a mess while I try to fill it.

Now, the old canning jar can go back in the cupboard in the pantry, and instead of looking at it, I can appreciate the beauty of this little bottle sitting on top of the spice rack and get some use out of it as well.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Good fences make good neighbors...

It was late last winter when I first met the wife of the couple who bought the house next to the microwave tower. This fence separates their property from the church yard. They are probably our closest neighbors on this side of the highway as the crow...
err... vulture flies.
No.... no.... turn to your right... you're headed in the wrong direction. Uhhh... on second thought, let's don't follow the vultures. At least 5 more vultures showed up, and they all swirled around for a few minutes. I couldn't get myself arranged fast enough to take a photo of them all before they floated away off over the woods in a large swirl.
And there would be the straight flight path from the microwave tower to the telephone pole by our back porch. At any rate, moving right along. Our son found their dog's collar in the cleared area (well, it used to be the cleared area) under the power lines that are strung across our field, also visible in the above photo. The dog had likely gotten caught on some brush, jerked to free itself, and the collar broke. The tag announced that this was Blackie, an appropriate name for a black Lab. I called the phone number that was engraved on the tag and Blackie's person, a woman in her 70s (I'm guessing), came and picked it up. She seemed nice, and I thought I should try to get to know her better. But I didn't follow through with that. I did get to know Blackie a bit better, however. He chased my car down the road one day not too long after he got his collar back.

The man came into the church a couple of weeks ago during Sunday school and said he was planning on redoing the fence line. He wondered if we (the church) would mind if he cleared the trees and brush away from the fence? We (the church) said we didn't mind. Well, I minded, but I didn't say anything.

Richard and I didn't realize that they also own the land that borders our field. Most of the fence was either on the ground or sagging badly because of rotted fence posts, so he hired some guys to put in a new fence. For about 2 weeks off and on, there was a lot of ...
rummmmmm.... RUMMMMMM.... rummmmmmmm... RUUMMMMMM from the chain saws... and clanging.... and banging as they drove the metal posts.

And then once that commotion died down, we got to smell lots of smoke as large piles of downed trees and brush were being burned...

and burned.

And a few days ago she knocked on our door and said she was very sorry, but the guys who set the fence discovered they had made a mistake. She said her husband had called out a surveyor to confirm the property line and they were 13 feet across the line on our land. So, they redid the fence, and more banging and clanging commenced. Had they not told us, we probably never would have realized the mistake, at least until we went to sell the land.
Our pond is somewhere on the other side of those trees. And I was wondering if they had done something to it.

We were now rather anxious to see the fence line, so Richard fought his way through the brush to the bridge over the wet weather creek, but was stopped by the poison ivy, which he is horribly allergic too. Yep, there is a bridge there, and if you click on the photo to enlarge it, you'll see it.And the other path I used to take to get to the pond when our son was younger (note the rusting hulk of our old satellite dish) is impassable without some serious trailblazing activities.

However, yesterday morning I put our son to work clearing the brush and lo and behold, a bridge.

Once the poison ivy dies back, maybe we can fire up the gasoline-powered brush cutter and get out to the pond and see for ourselves. I remain curious to see whether our new neighbors are going to ask us to pay for half the cost of putting up the fence.