Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What would you like to tell me?

In the early 1990s, when exactly escapes me because time has a way of slip sliding away, the Department of Transportation announced that the rumored expansion of the highway in front of our house was actually going to occur. Eventually, men came and we negotiated about how much the state would pay us for the 3-acre strip of land they were going to take and the extra compensation we were going to get for the loss of some really beautiful trees.

The state was very fair, and the men who negotiated with us were very decent people just doing their job. I did not envy them their job at all, because emotions were running high among homeowners and business owners along the highway. We were, of course, very unhappy with the proposed project and I suppose we told them how we were feeling.

As the work was drawing to a close in front of our house, one of the men came by with a bundle of trees -- bald cypress seedlings -- as a way of apologizing. That he would do this was something of a surprise (sort of shot down our idea of the heartless bureaucrat, etc. etc.) but bringing these particular trees was also something of a surprise. True, they are native to the swampy areas of southeast Missouri down in the Bootheel, but this isn't exactly southeast Missouri and it is not a particularly swampy area. One just doesn't tend to think of bald cypress as a typical tree to plant in the yard.

So, I planted two of the small trees by the pond then promptly forgot about them. I planted the rest of them in a line along the runoff at the base of the bank below the highway. A lot of water flows along there when it rains, and pools form that last quite a while, and the soil seems to be damp most of the time. They liked it there and began growing quite nicely, but that was short lived. The state came through about 3 years later in an attempt to reign in the forest of mimosa trees that had sprung up and cut the bald cypress down along with the others. The bald cypress resprouted, but I suspect the state will come back in another year two and clear them out, yet again.

In the meantime, life moved on and we stopped going out to the pond altogether because there just didn't seem to be any reason to go out there, and then it became so brushy and overgrown that we lost the path.

Then the electric co-op had a crew clear under the power lines that run from our pole to parts unknown...

and Richard built a bridge across the wet weather spring,

and so we once again had the potential to access the pond. Late last winter, to give our son something do to, we put him to work clearing a new path out to the pond, which he did.

On a beautiful afternoon a week or so ago, I took a lawn chair and walked out there to see what I could see. I was hoping to get a glimpse of one of the soft-shelled turtles that our son says he has seen. I sat myself down and spent some time watching a myriad of silvery beetles swimming on top of the pond in random circular patterns, hundreds of them making spectacular patterns and ripples in the water...

and bright orange dragonflies zipping everywhere. I did not see the soft-shelled turtle.

Then I happened to look to my left and got something of a surprise...

The two bald cypress trees I had planted at the edge of the pond were thriving, and one kept tapping me on the shoulder,

wanting to tell me how happy it was to be living there.

When I discovered a new plant, I sat down beside it for a minute or a day, to make its acquaintance and hear what it had to tell me. -- John Muir

Monday, September 28, 2009

I get by with a little help from... total strangers

I suppose everyone has a good story to tell about how a total stranger helped them in a time of need.

When we were living in Oregon, an angel in a tow truck just happened to drive by where I was stuck out on a country road in the middle of the rye grass fields and the sheep pastures 15 miles from town with a 3-year-old. My big old Ford station wagon had a flat tire and the spare was flat too. He totally rescued me. Took me, the tire, and the kid to town. He fixed the tire, drove back with me, the tire, and the kid. I mention this because one day I did drive off after church and left our child at the church nursery and I was almost halfway home before I realized it. And he put the tire on.

So, a few days ago, one of those ubiquitous LGBs (little gray birds), the type that drive bird watchers absolutely nuts because they will not sit still long enough to get a good look at them to figure out what the heck they are, crashed into the glass panel of the storm door that opens onto the deck.

And Richard happened to be at the back door and he noticed it and told me, and I grabbed the camera, and the bird book.

When I say "LGB," what I actually mean are the warblers, and it really is not a very accurate label to hang on them because some of them are very brightly colored indeed. Even expert bird watchers can get extremely frustrated trying to sort the warblers out, though, especially in the fall. Peterson's Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies has two whole pages devoted to Confusing Fall Warblers.

So there it sat...

Looking around....

And I grabbed the bird book.... and what the heck is it? No clue at all. And then after a minute or so, it flew off to live another day. Fortunately.

It looks sort of like several different possibilities and I was getting a bit frustrated, but not to the point where I was going to hurl the Field Guide against the wall or anything.

So I found this really nice Web site maintained by this very nice person named Giff - which I am guessing is a man -- and he helped me sort this out and it is a taa daaa (drum roll)

Philadelphia Vireo!

Not a warbler at all.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

New Taste Sensation? or Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Richard came home from the Farmer's Market a few weeks ago with this....


A woman who sells vegetables there every week started growing them. She said it fell off before it was ripe. She thrust it at Richard and urged him to bring it home.


Is this truly edible?

I don't trust her. She smiles too much. She seems way too happy. Is this really a fruit? Or is it actually an alien pod of some sort?

We are supposed to wait until it turns orange.

I'm keeping my eye on it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Spit Shined and Polished

As a kid I can remember my dad of a Saturday evening getting out the box of black paste polish and a soft cloth and shining his black shoes to a high gleam for church the next day. Spit was involved.

Yesterday evening, I rushed out of the house with our boy in tow for church service, and as we were walking toward the building he looked at me.

Ma, you've got food on your face.

And he stuck his finger in his mouth and began spit cleaning the barbeque sauce I had dribbled on my chin and neck.

How many times did I stick my finger in my mouth and clean grime off my child's face because suddenly we were in public and I had forgotten to wash his face earlier (or, more likely, he had gotten dirty in the meantime)? If I did it once I did it a thousand times.

I know that the roles eventually get reversed. "The child becomes the father of the man..." but I didn't think it was going to come quite so soon.

At any rate, he got me all polished up so I didn't embarrass myself.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Seasons Go Round and Round

The dogwood is a thing of beauty in the early Spring. Pale green leaves form around a silvery bud on the bare crooked branches, and then suddenly there is the mass of flowers.

They are an especially lovely thing to see in the deep woods, and from a distance it looks like a bit lace dropped into the gloom of the still sleeping forest. Just as people trek to the Northeast to see the Fall colors, local folk are fond of taking drives out into the National Forest in the early Spring to see the dogwood and redbud in bloom.

And then the glory fades, the petals wither and drop off and the leaves continue to grow and the dogwood looks just like any other tree. But as summer fades into fall, the dogwood is one of the first trees to put on its fall clothes...

and the real reason for those lovely flowers appears...

The potential for next generation...

And indeed, the dogwood does reproduce itself quite well, almost as well as the proverbial rabbit. These berries are very attractive to the birds, which eat them and then poop them out; it's part of the plan...the seed requires passage through the bird's gut to remove an outer coating so that it can sprout.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sweet Repeats

I pay attention to the books other people who write blogs say they are reading. So, when Shouting at Streetlights mentioned that he was reading a book by Nevile Shute, and Marian Keyes mentioned in her blog/newsletter that she was reading something by Michael Connelly, that was "brilliant," I went to the library to track down books by these authors.

I knew that I had read something by Nevil Shute once upon a time, but I wasn't sure which one - probably On the Beach -- so I grabbed the first one with his name on it, which was The Breaking Wave.

Then I wondered around the other side of the stacks and found about 2 feet worth of Michael Connelly novels to choose from. I had never read anything by him. So it took a while figuring out which one to pick.

Right below him was a row of books by Catherine Cookson and my eye lit on a little book called Mrs Flannagan's Trumpet.

I admit I frequently choose books by their titles and covers. It looked interesting, so I got that one too.

And when I got home I looked at the back of the book and saw that I had already read The Breaking Wave, sometime in early 2000 (they stopped writing down dates on the checkout cards when they went to computerized system). And it seems I had also read Mrs. Flannagan's Trumpet, which was due back on Aug 19, 1994.

Blimey. Funny thing is, I so frequently pick books again that I have already read once upon a time that I usually always look at the back cover to see if my number is there before I walk out with it. But then I figured since I didn't remember reading it the first time, I might as well read it again.

And Shouting is right. Neville Shute is a great storyteller and I will have to get more of his.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hanging Around

I don't know if other writers of blogs do this or not, but I often find I see something that I think might make an interesting topic for a post, and then I take a bunch of pictures, and then something even more interesting happens that I think would make an interesting topic for a post, and I take a bunch of pictures.... and before too long, I have totally forgotten the original thing I wanted to write about.

So yesterday as I was heading out of the house, I noted that once again the storm door had not closed all the way (because the house is crooked, but that's another story) and a lizard had come in off the porch and was sitting on the carpet just inside the door in a patch of sunlight. These five-lined skinks patrol the porch fairly regularly looking for bugs, and because the barrier between outside and inside has become somewhat nebulous over the years, this is not the first time one has come in the house.

Anyway, the lizard reminded me that I had stalked a lizard a few weeks ago....

I happened to see the lizard scurrying along the foundation of the house and it let me get remarkably close.

About 2 seconds after I took this picture, a small grasshopper leaped on the brick right in front of the lizard and was eaten.

Of course I totally missed that shot.

From time to time Richard gets promotional materials from paper companies that make high quality paper for printing works of art (photographs, lithographs, etc) and other uses, and often these are small posters. Most recently came this one in the mail. The cougar's tongue is actually rough. Go ahead, run your finger over the image....

A long time ago, this poster came, and I have it up on the wall where I work.

I love the details in the stucco in addition to the lizard.

Somehow, the concrete blocks of the foundation in my pictures aren't quite as interesting as the stucco in this one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chip and Dale

Many folks my age enjoyed watching the antics of Chip and Dale as they tormented Pluto, Donald Duck, and various other Walt Disney characters in the cartoons we watched in the 1950s.

I don't need to go digging through the archives of ancient cartoons to enjoy my very own Chip and Dale (No! not Chippendale!!) show. I get to watch one fairly regularly from the window in front of my computer.

There are at least 2 chipmunks that live somewhere on the north side of the house. Unlike Chip and Dale, they don't have different colored noses or different configurations of teeth, one is a bit lighter across the back and tends to frequent the feeding table.

I call it Dale.

The other one comes most frequently to the post feeder, which is situated about 3 feet from my window.

I call this one Chip.

Most of the time, the chipmunks just vacuum up the seeds until their face are bulging...

and then they speed off to store them someplace.

Once in a while, they actually stop and eat the seeds.

Picking them up one by one in their little paws.

Chipmunks are not very sociable animals, so on the occasions when one happens to venture onto the other one's spot, they fight about it. They chase each other around. It is hilarious. But I guess you have to be here to see it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Slime Factor

Okra is one of those vegetables about which people tend to have opinions. I happen to like okra-on occasion and in moderation (and I even like the slime)-which is why I am very pleased to have a freezer in which I can store okra when it is season and parcel it out to myself if I am in the mood. The only way Richard will eat okra is dusted in cornmeal and fried in a hot skillet with oil -- because that is about the only way to cook okra without the oozing slime (cooking okra in liquid seems to make the slime worse) but Richard does not want me to cook with a lot of fat. so I don't.

I was given a nice quantity of okra on Friday, and decided to cook some of it and take it to the pitch in dinner at church on Sunday, which would have ham as the meat. I have two favorite okra recipes, both are from the Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook, which is a vegetarian cookbook. One of them is West African Groundnut stew, which can be found here and perhaps elsewhere as well, and the other is jambalaya, of which there are probably a jillion versions.

West African Groundnut stew is absolutely delightful (and I think it would taste even better with coconut milk instead of the juice, which I have used anyway) but Richard has opinions about what it reminds him of after it is cooked and in the bowl. I thought jambalaya would taste good with the ham and and might not look quite so much like something that had erupted unexpectedly from the digestive tract. I chopped all of the okra and froze about half of it and the rest I used in the jambayala.

And yes, there was a bit of slime on the cutting board and the knife, but not bad. Just as the jambayala was finished, and I had just started to clean up the mess in the kitchen, Richard shot a squirrel. So, I moved outside on the back porch with the cutting board and the knife and worked on fixing the squirrel so it could go into the crock pot.

Finished with that task, I took bleach solution outside to clean the cutting board and left it to dry while I came back to finish cleaning up the mess in the kitchen. I forgot about the cutting board though, and this morning when Richard brought it in after being outside for 2 nights, it had several meandering slime trails from slugs, which is a heck of a lot harder to get off than okra slime.

And for the record, the jambayala was a hit at the church meal. People ate it. They actually ate it. (this is a major deal or me: I have a history of making things that nobody will eat). And someone actually said "This is good. Can I have the recipe?" You might like it too... and it is good without the okra if you don't have any of that; or if you want to add meat (sausage, shrimp, catfish, ham) you can do that too.


3 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 cup carrots, sliced diagonally, 1/8 inch thick
1 cup chopped celery
2 cups coarsely chopped red and green bell peppers
2 tsp dried basil (2 tbsp fresh)
1/4 tsp dried thyme
2 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
10 ounces frozen whole baby okra, 2 cups fresh whole baby okra (I used 2 cups chopped okra)
3 cups vegetable stock (use juice from canned tomatoes as part)
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 - 1/2 tsp cayenne
salt and pepper to taste


1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup unbleached white flour

Chop all of the vegetables before starting to cook because you have to do the stew and the roux at the same time, and the roux needs to be stirred almost constantly.

Start the stew in a large stew pot by heating the oil and add the onions, garlic, and bay leaves and sauté, stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent.

Start the roux by heating the vegetable oil in a heavy cast iron skillet. The oil should be hot but not smoking. Whisk in all the flour to form a smooth paste. Lower the heat so the roux gently simmers. Stir almost constantly, stopping only to attend to the stew. The roux will very slowly darken. Cook the roux for 20 - 30 minutes, which is about as long as the stew will take to cook. The roux will turns a nutty brown. Don't let it burn.

Once the onions are translucent, stir in the carrots, celery, bell peppers, basil and thyme. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, okra, stock, and remaining spices. Cover and simmer gently for about 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

When the stew vegetables are tender, adjust the seasonings and stir in the roux. Simmer the stew on low heat for about 10 minutes more, taking care not to scorch. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

Friday, September 11, 2009


We lived in the lovely town of Albany, Oregon, until just after our boy turned 4 years old. The city cemetery was about a block away from where we lived, in the downstairs part of a grand old Victorian house that had been converted into two apartments. On days when it wasn't raining or I didn't feel like loading him up on the bike and taking off on an adventure, we often walked there. He wasn't able to read the markers on the graves, of course, but he liked to look at them with me. Each marker had its own story to tell, and some of the stories gave great food for thought and wonderment. What happened in that family that 5 little children all died by the time they were 2 years old?

He enjoys visiting graveyards and looking at the markers even today. I don't make it a habit these days of visiting graveyards. One of the last times I went to a country cemetery carved out of the woods, to watch birds, I became covered in seed ticks. It was an experience I would not care to have again.

Cloudia (I love saying her name... I love the way my mouth feels when it says the c-l-o-u sound) did a very interesting photo essay not too long ago on a cemetery with many Chinese people buried in it. We don't have anything quite that interesting here, at least not in the city cemetery in town. It has rules about what can and can't be put on the grave.

But there are many cemeteries scattered around the countryside, such as the one where I got up close and personal with the ticks. Some are connected with country churches. We have lived here long enough now that I know several people who are buried in the cemetery behind Pine Grove church.

I knew the grandpa that is buried here.

Many of the cemeteries are privately owned, such as this one, which is on the road to the lake.

Most of the people who are buried here are from the Collins clan.

And the families of some of these people apparently did not have money to purchase a fancy marker for the grave. So they made their own markers out of cement.

And embedded bits of glass and unusual stones to make them personal....

and tried to make them pretty...

The homemade markers are not very durable...

and some of the older ones are deteriorating...

Already, some of the marbles are falling out of this marker for Charley Collins, who died in 2007.

Charley must have liked racing cars...

A poem to think on...

In a Disused Graveyard

The living come with grassy tread
To read the gravestones on the hill
The graveyard draws the living still
But never any more the dead

The verses in it say and say:
'The ones who living come today
To read the stones and go away
Tomorrow dead will come to stay.'

So sure of death the marbles rhyme,
Yet can't help marking all the time
How no one dead will seem to come
What is it men are shirking from?

It would be clever
And tell the stones: Men hate to die.
And have stopped dying now forever.
I think they would believe the lie.

--Robert Frost

From: Selected Poems of Robert Frost

Today is one of those days that people remember. They remember what they were doing on September 11. I was busy pushing the broom at the post office and trundling around to mail cases with my trashcan on rollers. Everything came to a halt when the news came over the radio. At first we thought it was a joke announcement. But then we knew better.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I decide to play a bit

One of the problems that self-employed people have to wrestle with is that if we don't work, we don't earn any money. There is no such thing as a paid holiday. So one has to choose.

I chose to play....

Just a bit....

On Labor Day I took a few hours off from my labors to get away from the computer.

Off to Noblett Lake, a small lake that formed behind the dam built on Noblett Creek between 1938 and 1940 by young men in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Noblett Creek is a small river that meanders through Howell and Douglas Counties, and the lake is about 12 miles from our house.

They made a trail along the shoreline from the dam leading to a nice picnic area with tables under the trees

and two pavilions for people to gather under cover if they wish.

There is also a trail that runs the ridge around the lake, which I hiked once many years ago when our boy was young.

I invited Richard to come, but he said it would be too crowded. It wasn't, of course. It was deserted.

See how crowded the parking lot is?

I invited our son to come, and he said yes. He had the day off, but in a very great irony, the company he works for doesn't recognize Labor Day as a paid holiday, so they honor their workers on Labor Day by shutting down and then not paying them for the day off.

Noblett Lake is in the Mark Twain National Forest and so it is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and they made a major mistake....

A very big mistake...

They planted kudzu along the road leading to the lake.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Displaying one’s wealth

In ancient times - and maybe even today -- women in some parts of the world displayed their wealth in the form coins made into necklaces and other jewelry or sewn as decorations onto the hems of their clothes and other apparel, head coverings and masks.

I have modest tastes in jewelry, which is good because I carry my wealth around in my mouth. Over the years, I have accumulated 7 gold crowns and a porcelain crown (which cost just as much). For us, this mounts up to a fairly hefty chunk of change, even though I realize it may very much be "small change" compared with the work some people have had done in their mouths; one man I worked with spent $25,000 on dental work.

Whoops. Lets amend that to 6 gold crowns and a gaping hole.

I take fanatical care of my teeth, but I have weak teeth. As I was flossing my teeth at 10 p.m. Friday night, one of my gold crowns flew out of my mouth and landed in the trash can, which was empty of anything else, thank goodness.

So, here it is, for everyone to see -- yeah, yeah, I know nobody wants to see it -- about $600 worth of my wealth.

It wasn't only until Saturday morning, after I got back from the drug store with my little kit of do-it-yourself dental glue - knowing after making calls to two local dentists that on Saturday morning of a 4-day holiday weekend there was a snowball's chance in "a very hot place" that I would be sitting in a dental chair - that I got out the magnifying glass and saw, to my dismay, that my crown just hadn't come off.

The crown was firmly attached to a broken chunk of tooth.

Now, great inroads have been made rural areas such as where we live with urgent care clinics that offer medical care after normal doctor hours and on weekends to people who aren't really sick enough for the emergency room, and at a fraction of the cost. But there are no urgent care dental clinics. I was not able to use the dental glue to put the crown back on as a temporary fix. Fortunately, that tooth also had a root canal in addition to the crown. I shudder to think what the last four days would have been like otherwise.

I have horrible nightmares about my teeth falling out. In my case, these dreams do not have some deeper meaning. I am really horrified about having my teeth fall out, I guess because I was told over and over again by my parents when I was young that it was a terrible indictment to neglect one's teeth so that they had to be pulled.

Take care of your teeth!

I was warned on more than one occasion. About 10 years ago I had to have a tooth pulled because it was fractured in so many places it could not be repaired. And even though it was not my fault, and I cried for hours and hours.

I assume early tomorrow the office staff at my dentist will arrive and listen to my frantic message on the phone and that I will get call back.

And friends and neighbors, I have a bad feeling about what he is going to say. A very bad feeling. I am steeling myself for the worst.

Actually, I did do something fun today, which I will write about.... tomorrow.... maybe.