Monday, August 31, 2009

Real imaginary

I stayed up a little past my bedtime last night to finish an intriguing little novel, The Girl in Hyacinth Blue

about an imaginary painting by the very real artist Vermeer. Susan Vreeland begins in the present day and follows the painting back in time as it passes from person to person, and eventually to its creation sometime before 1675, when Vermeer died. With amazing skill she details the effect of the painting on these people.

And after a bit more research, I see that the artist Jonathan Janson actually painted The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, as it is described in the book, in the style of Vermeer, in connection with a movie that was made of the novel earlier in 2000.

I wonder if, say 300 years from now, people are going to be standing in front of the art works of modern-day artists with such intensity of feeling as we do for the works of the masters who were painting in the 1600s. Will they be making movies and writing novels about our current painters? Does the local video store happen to have that movie on hand? Must find out.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Rumor has it that mosquitoes get larger and more ferocious the farther one travels north, so that by the time you arrive in Lake Woebegon, in the fine state of Minnesota—where some say the mosquito is the unofficial state bird—the insect might be large enough to carry off a small child.

Fortunately, the mosquitoes here in the lower Midwest are just your common, average-sized variety, unless of course they happen to be carrying West Nile virus, but they still seem pretty ferocious to me, and relentless, and they certainly can still suck blood. I can’t off hand think of anything that will galvanize a person faster than that high-pitched z-z-z-z-z-z-z whine in the vicinity of one’s ear.

I seem to attract them in the early morning as I sit to work at my computer.

That smear of red is what is left from one didn’t live to see another day. I wonder if a CSI person would be able to deduce where that blood on my copyholder came from, and whose blood it is....

At any rate, I have a quarter-sized mosquito bite on my leg and it doesn’t bother me too much as long as I don’t accidentally scratch it.

But what is making my skin crawl just a bit is what Richard found yesterday. To keep the ants out of the cat’s food, we put the bowl inside a larger saucer filled with water.

Richard usually changes the water once a week – it is part of his list of things to do. I assume he changed the water last week, all I know is that when he went to change the water yesterday, he was rather alarmed to see mosquito larvae squirming around in there. The idea that we might be breeding mosquitoes in our house gives me the whillies.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I want some!

Pho that is....


My niece, Adrie, is dating a young man whose mother is Vietnamese,

and he has introduced her to all this interesting food that is not normally found on the Italian dinner table.

Says my sister

Larry's mom made a huge batch of Vietna\ese egg rolls for our family and Mom and Dad. DELICIOUS! is all I can say

Adrie has been raving about how great Pho for some time now, and I have been curious about it.

While I was busy flying from Orange County to Denver to Dallas to Springfield, my honey was running around Springfield shopping for stuff.

When I finally got off the plane, footsore and very hungry, he says,

Guess what. I found! A Vietnamese restaurant! Would you like to eat there

You're doggone right I would. Absolutely. What was especially nice about that conversation was that we didn’t spend 45 minutes discussing all the different choices and the pros and cons... No paralysis by analysis...

We went. We ate. We loved it. I had my first taste of Pho. And it was soooo good.

That was about a month ago -- almost exactly a month ago. I was doing OK about wanting more.... until I got this e-mail from my sister yesterday.... Now I’ve got Pho on the brain...

Adrie took me out to Westminster to a little Vietnamese restaurant for Pho. She was so excited for me to try it. And I must say it was quite tasty... It was a real cultural experience, because we saw not one white person while dining there. All the people coming and going were Vietnamese, and the strip mall that we were at were little businesses that Vietnamese owned and operated. I felt like I was in another country.

They brought out a plate of bean sprouts, basil, chili peppers, some other leafy vegetables, and limes. The Pho was a flavorful chicken broth with green onions, cilantro, and noodles, and large chunks of white chicken meat. Adrie said what to do is to put the different sauces in the soup - chili, oily looking garlicy stuff, sweeter dark Hoisun or something, and the lime juice, plus the bamboo shoots and basil...

Yeah.... well I have something to say....


Often when Richard goes to Springfield I stay home. I won’t be staying home next time he goes, that’s for sure....

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lowering the ears....

When my brothers were little boys, every so often my dad would say “It’s time to get your ears lowered” and he would round them up and sit them down on an old high stool and get out his barbers’ clippers. He’d go buzzing over their heads and a few minutes later they would have a “crew cut” mostly extremely short except for a fringe in front that stuck up in the air and was maintained with goop called "butch wax" that came out of jar.

I guess I am fortunate that my mother was in charge of cutting my hair rather than my dad, except occasionally the results weren't so good. Once, when I was in 4th or 5th grade, I recall a fateful day when she got a little carried away with my bangs just before the school pictures were to be taken. At the time I remember being mortified that they were so short, and forever and ever I am frozen in time with a fringe of 1-inch bangs across my large forehead.

I began cutting our son’s hair when he was a little kid – with scissors. He had a cloud of soft curly blond hair and cutting that off was a hard thing to do. When we moved here I began cutting Richard’s hair as well. After our boy left home, he went through a stage where he liked the “shaved head” look, for some reason, and he bought himself a pair of clippers. I did not think the look suited him very well at all – I thought he looked sort of scary – like a neo-Nazi. Fortunately, he moved on through that stage...

and he let his hair grow again...

and now that he has been moved back home....

I am once again pressed into service as a barber.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A close call

Every evening I place one-third cup of dog food and bits of apple core, other fruit, or ends of tomatoes that we might have eaten during the day on a plate and stick it on the porch. Whoever gets there first, eats. I put the plate so that I can see it from the window by the bed.

Usually, it is an opossum that comes at about 8 p.m. every evening. For several weeks we watched female opossum that came every night swollen like a balloon with babies in her pouch. Many people hate opossums, and I suppose if I were still keeping chickens I might hate them too, but I enjoy watching them.

The opossum is a very neat animal, and it thoroughly washes its face when it is finished.

The raccoons usually show up too...

but they would come even if the dog food wasn’t there because they also like to eat whatever scratch feed or sunflower seeds are leftover from what I have given the birds during the day. Sometimes they don't even wait for the sun to go down....

On occasion, our neighbor’s cat shows up. He is a handsome black and white devil who picks fights with our cat and invariably sends her up a tree. I run him off if I see him.

So, last Sunday night I was sitting in bed getting ready to watch Masterpiece Mystery! when I glanced out the window at the plate of food and saw something black walk up to the dish. Lept off the bed and went charging to the storm door and started to open it to holler at the cat to “get out here,” only I realized as I pushed on the handle that this was most definitely not the neighbor’s cat.

Fortunately for me, seeing that there was only a screen between me and the skunk 3 feet away, it was so startled that it didn't have time to react except to give me a quick look over its shoulder before it scurried off the porch and into the brush.

Last night, at about 1 a.m., the overpowering, nauseating smell of skunk spray came wafting through the open window by the bed. All we can assume is that Flower met Rocky Raccoon and had a disagreement about something. We just hope Flower doesn't make this a habit....

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Folks Do Get Born

This oddment from the Ozarks may seem like a rabbit chase. Folks in these here parts know about “chasing rabbits” in ways other than as a clever metaphor to describe how a discussion can wander seriously off topic. Many people here keep beagles to hunt rabbits and most of them end up loosing the beagle because it starts chasing the rabbit and becomes lost. We used to be serenaded regularly by several beagles that came from a neighbor’s house to our field to chase rabbits. At any rate, there are a few rabbit trails here, but they will all end up at the same place, I hope.

In the midst of an orgy of reading Stuart Woods books, Judy gave me this out-of-print book to read.

Marie Campbell provides an interesting glimpse into the past, the 1940s in rural Georgia, a time when there were strict lines between black and white, where in some towns the hospitals refused to treat a black person, where sometimes the only medical care a pregnant black woman received was through clinics run by the county health department staffed by a few doctors and public health nurses. Alongside the nurses were a cadre of elderly, black women – the granny-midwives – who were almost entirely responsible for attending laboring women, poor white as well as black women, and catching their babies.

Campbell remarks “I am so full of stuff to write about that it is fairly running out of my ears.” And write she did. The book, which was published in 1946, tells the stories of some of these granny midwives, who referred to themselves as “Aunt”. Some stories are heartbreaking, some poignant, some funny. These women didn’t just catch babies, of course, they worked hard on their small farms or as servants for white folks.

Says Aunt Jeanie, one of the granny-midwives:

We ain’t discriminating against white folks, but we don’t want them in the same cotton field with us. Not because they’re white, but for a better reason. They spoil all the fun. Can’t no white folks sing while they picking cotton. It’s contrary to their nature.

One of the things talked about in the books is the “gift child”, a common practice in which the granny-midwife would be asked to raise as her own a baby that the mother was not able to raise herself, for whatever reason. It was not a legal adoption.

About 6 days ago now, this rather unhappy looking baby came into the world in the usual way (the rabbit is now emerging from the brambles).

If I were a bit cleverer, I could probably come up with a great bubble quote to stick over her head. At any rate, she is called Phoebe and she is my good friend’s fourth grandchild. I had lunch with Phoebe’s mother and grandmother a few weeks ago when Phoebe was still a very large bulge.

It was something of a coincidence, I guess, that the mention of “gift child” in the book coincided with the birth of this new baby and the name that was chosen for her, because my mom’s mother became a “gift child” and the woman who raised her was named Phoebe.

The story beings sometime around 1894, when Phoebe and Warren McDowell, who had no children of their own, took in a motherless 4-year-old girl named Elsie Coldren and raised her. Elsie became the McDowell’s gift child from a father who could not take care of her or his three other children after his wife died. Elsie’s brothers and sister were scattered to other relatives, but when Elsie’s father later remarried, the children came back to live with him and his new wife, all except Elsie. She was never legally adopted, but she remained with Phoebe and Warren until she fell in love with Walter Dittemore, got married in 1906, began having babies of her own, and eventually my mother came along.

Then, the circle became complete. Warren eventually died, leaving Phoebe all alone when she was still a fairly young woman. She came to live with Elsie and her husband and helped to raise my mother. She lived with Elsie for the rest of her life, until her death in 1957. My mother has told this story many times, and I have never tired of hearing about it (but I suppose you are.. ha!)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The peanut routine

Quite a few people, it seems, have the time and patience to train wild birds to come to their hands for tidbits of food.

Books have been written about it....

And blogs....

and Web sites

My grandfather did this too. Before ill health compelled him to sell his house and move into a mobile home, he went outside everyday at the same time and sat very still in a lawn chair on his driveway with peanuts in his hand. Eventually, the scrub jays could not resist the lure of the peanut and they would land and take the peanuts from his hand. I can remember crowding at the window overlooking the driveway with the other kids to watch this.

My father also feeds peanuts to the scrub jays, but he doesn't sit and wait for them to come.

Every morning he goes out and throws a cup of scratch feed on the ground for the doves and the sparrows. Then he puts 6 peanuts on the top bar of the yard swing for the jays.

My dad is a man of routine, and he does this every day at almost the same time. The birds don't wear pocket watches or keep an eye on the clock on the wall, but I noticed when I was staying with them in July that not a bird was in sight until about 15 minutes before the time he normally goes out. And then there they were. Perched on the wires and the garage roof, waiting. And lurking in the trees are the scrub jays.

They don't come while he puts the peanuts out, but as soon as he turns his back and begins to walk away, the jays --at least two and possibly three --

land on the swing and began to take the peanuts, and fly off with them. And one by one, the peanuts disappear...

And one seems particularly greedy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ocean water! Go beachy!!

They tell me that was about the first complete sentence I spoke as a very, very young girl. My dad took us to the beach just about every Saturday during the summer, starting out when I was the only child and continuing on as each new baby joined the family and became old enough to come too.... right on through the birth of my sister, when I was about 9 years old. We’d all pile in the back of the pick-up truck and off we’d head to Hermosa Beach. Not surprisingly, we all love the ocean. Not being near the ocean wasn’t something we thought about when we decided to move 1500 miles away from the beaches of Southern California. I miss the ocean. A lot.

My sister now prefers the lovely beach at Malaga Cove, a strip of white sand that gradually disappears into rocks and tide pools as the cliffs of Palos Verdes intrude more and more into the ocean.

Now, a few days ago I was surprised to see that the Pennsylvania Wild Woman had listed a blog about Palos Verdes. It’s a unique, wild oasis in the megalopolis that is Southern California. Many wealthy people live there, but one doesn’t have to be wealthy to go to the beach at Malaga Cove.

So, finally, I get to spend a few hours at the ocean. Bundled up to keep from getting sunburned, and with a death grip on the umbrella to keep it from blowing away in the stiff breeze coming off the ocean...

The three nieces enjoying the waves. Haaeeeey!!

My sister’s oldest daughter rising like a goddess from the waves, draped in kelp, reminds me of a photo my mom took me at the beach when I was a very little girl sporting a kelp hula skirt my father had made.

Two young men with surfboards and attached to a sail. It looked like great fun.

I didn’t go in the water except up to my knees. I think my days of bouncing around in the surf are over, what with my unstable shoulder and healing pelvic bone, but I did take a walk along the shore and there, caught in the rocks, was this amazing shell. Which leads me to the following question:

Who are you? Who who who who. I really want to know!!

I might have made a good scientist if I had been better at mathematics. I lack the math gene. I am tenacious enough to grab hold of something until I worry it to death or figure it out. But sometimes I do give up, and that is where I am now with this mystery shell I found at the beach.

I have semi-identified the shell I found as a member of the Tegula family in the category of “Tops and Turban” shells in the Audubon Field Guide I borrowed. The shell resembles the pictures in the book, the only problem is that this shell is about 3.5 inches wide and about 3.5 inches tall, and most of the shells in the book are itty bitty things.

I would like to have a name to call it, but I don’t. In the long run, it doesn’t matter. The shell is a wonderful reminder of a very special day. A special gift from the sea

Monday, August 10, 2009

Unpleasant surprises

The huge paperweight sitting on the floor there to my left is Porky -- my main computer. The computers on our network are named after the characters in The Little Rascals. I would have preferred Darla, but I ended up with Porky. I am no longer Porky, I'll have you know...

At any rate, one just assumes that when one gets up in the morning and pushes the button that things that have up to now turned on and whirred and behaved as normal are going to do so yet once again.

One may be surprised. I pushed buttons this morning and well.... dummm de dumm dummm...

At any rate, the posting about the beach and the seashell and my sister's seaweed-draped daughter rising like a goddess out of the waves will have to wait until we see if my data drive with all the photographs can be resurrected.

Thankfully for me, I am an obsessive person about regularly backing up -- at least twice day -- to external drives so it is business as usual. So all the photos are safe on the file server... but the pleasure of creating a visual journal for this blog will have to wait a bit...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Wednesday dinner..

Today is Wednesday, and this evening my youngest brother, Andrew, will stop by the folks’ house on his way home from work and have dinner with them.

Salisbury steak will be on the menu. He’ll visit for a while, and then head on down the freeway another 10 miles or so to his house.

On the Wednesday that I was at my folks’ house toward the end of July, my dad announced that morning,

Andy’s comin’ for dinner tonight. We’re gonna have chicken

And he pulled a package of store-bought legs and thighs out of the freezer to thaw.

That set the little gray cells humming. One of my favorite ways to fix chicken is Lemon-Rubbed Chicken Legs with Garlic and Rosemary. Now, of course, a few keyboard clicks will take one to the recipe, but I first found it in Gourmet Magazine, which we subscribed to some 10 years ago, and I copied it out so I wouldn’t have to thumb through stacks of magazines to find it. It is an elegant recipe with simple ingredients and simple instructions and it is just delicious. And it just so happens that some of the key ingredients could be found in my parents’ back yard.

A smallish lemon tree grows in the strip of land boarding the driveway and the house next door, where Mrs. Amos lives.

It was growing there when we moved into the house in the early 1960s, so it is fairly old. It never got very big, it is like a banzai lemon tree. Lemons from the very top can easily be reached with a stick with a “claw picker” on the end. It has the most wonderful lemons in the world. I don’t know for sure what variety the tree is, but the lemons are sweet enough that they can actually be eaten out of hand, without salt, without too much discomfort. My father makes wonderful lemon curd from them.

And growing in the back yard is a rosemary bush that I bought as a small plant some years ago for a present for my mother.

So, I called my dearly beloved and told him where to find the recipe (in the black folder sitting next to the red binder in the bookshelf by the microwave) and I scribbled down what he said, and then I went outside and picked a lemon and snipped some rosemary. Now, once upon a time, Mr J, the neighbor on the other side, did give my other brother, Daniel, an unwanted rooster so I could demonstrate to my niece how to kill a chicken, but as I mentioned, the chicken came out of the freezer.

And we had a nice dinner, and I had a nice visit with my baby brother, and then Daniel came

and took me to listen to a municipal band play music in the park. And the people next to us had a big macaw parrot on a stand and I got to hold it. It was amazing. Good food. Good music. And an adventure with a bird.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A journey of 1000 miles....

Certainly begins with one step, but for me if I want to take an airplane, it also involves a 90-mile ride to the nearest airport, which is in Springfield. Since the last time I flew on an airplane in October, the Springfield-Branson airport has completed a new terminal. I rather liked the old terminal. It had a fountain in the ticketing area. A real fountain, with real water. Now the theme seems to be fake realism.

Now I know that this little fellow can walk on water....

And this person too....

jesus walking on water Pictures, Images and Photos

But now everybody who comes to the Springfield-Branson Airport can walk on water....

True it isn’t real water, and the pebbles lining the creek bank aren’t real either...

and neither is the grass.

It is rather startling to walk in the terminal door and see a pebble-lined creek meandering through a grassy field. In addition to Springfield-Branson, this journey going west and coming home at the end of July involved the airports at Dallas-Ft Worth, Phoenix, Long Beach, John Wayne-Santa Ana, and Denver in various combinations. I did not see in these other airports anything quite like what they have done in Springfield, but one could imagine the possibilities. Sand and ocean in Long Beach, desert carpet in Phoenix; Rocky Mountain carpet in Denver.

I applaud the creativity of those who planned the new terminal, but I also wonder what were they thinking when they put down this carpet in the main thoroughfares leading through the airport. I can’t imagine how it is going to look after lots and lots of people walk on it. True, the Springfield-Branson airport is not that busy but it’s busy enough. I’m just glad I’m not on the cleaning crew.

And then I think a bit about myself, and how much of what people see is the real me and how much is pretend -- or otherwise camouflaged so that I fit in better with my surroundings. And who is the real me anyway? The woman who shows up at church? The one who lurches around the floor at aerobics class? The one who sits on the couch at night reading a book? Obviously, they are all me. Or parts of me. OK. I'll stop now. I think I am going to drive myself nuts.