Friday, July 31, 2009

The traditionally built woman

Those who have read the series of books by Alexander McCall Smith starting with the The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, and who just might have seen the series on HBO, will be familiar with Mme Precious Ramotswe, the lady detective. Mme Ramotswe is a “traditionally built” woman. What this means is that she is not some skinny little thing. She has some flesh on her bones.

My mother and father and my sister and I have enjoyed those books very much, and I was so happy that I was able to videotape the HBO series and take it to them to watch. And as it happened, we were watching one of the tapes when my sister arrived to take me home with her for a slumber party and then a minute or two later we heard voices in the front yard and realized that the women from next door were coming to pay a visit.

These sisters arrived in the neighborhood as little girls some 30 years ago, when the Mr J and Brenda moved in next door to our house. There were 5 girls in the family, and these two were the youngest. The baby, Renee is the same age as our son...

Somewhere in a photo album, probably back in Los Angeles, is a photograph of her and our boy when they were about 4 years old: one very black child, and one very white child are standing together on the grass. Renee is a high school basketball coach. After living out on her own for a while, she and her adopted daughter moved back home to make ends meet.

Her sister, Coonie – that is what they called her, honest; but her real name is Laranda – is a school principal.

She is married and has three sons. My folks went to her wedding. Coonie has seen some sorrow. Her youngest child, a a baby girl with Down syndrome, died several weeks ago. Coonie is a presence when she walks into the room. She is nearly 6 feet tall, and is.... well, traditionally built. No one is going to walk over her. My mom doesn’t think she has any trouble controlling the students in her school.

In the early years, when they were little girls, they came over to my folks’ house often, for band aids and to borrow cups of sugar and butter and flour. My mother and father treated them with love and kindness. Coonie says, “It’s hard to see her like this, because she is like a Grandma to me...”

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Goin' home with a smile and a sniffle

Anyone who has seen the documentary film that was made of the Woodstock event will probably remember the wild grimaces and facial contortions of Alvin Lee, the lead singer of the band 10 Years After as he wailed about "goin' home..."

I suppose there are as many ideas of what home is and what home means as there are people to think about it, and emotions to run the gamut as well.

Home is where you hang your hat
Home is where the heart is.

Yesterday, a woman in the window seat said to the man in the middle seat...

Home is where the husband is.

Last Tuesday I went home.... home to the house where I spent about half my life before I got married, home to my mother and father. Home to where my heart is. Yesterday I came home. Home to the house where I have lived since 1981, home to my husband and family. Home to where my heart is.

I smiled a little and cried a little both coming and going. Smiling at wonderful memories, crying a bit because my mom may die soon, and this visit may have been the last time I see her alive on this earth. It is a bit hard to write about it.

Today I am pleased to be sitting in front of my window, happy to have made the connections for three different flights starting with Santa Ana-John Wayne Airport in Orange County at 5:30 am... to Denver.... to Dallas/Ft Worth... and ending in Springfield at 7 p.m. last night. Not everybody who traveled yesterday was so fortunate. Whew...

I will shortly launch myself into untangling the snarl on my laptop. I was not able to give my various bosses any advance notice that I needed to take time off so I did have to take my work with me - which actually worked out OK. Now I will see if I can persuade all those files to come and live on this computer.

And as soon as Richard comes back from his dental appointment and we receive the new refrigerator we bought earlier in the month - just doing our part to stimulate the economy a bit, doncha know - and transfer everything into it, he will download the photos I took, and life goes on....

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bashed borscht...

As I was wandering around on the Internet to get my facts straight for this post, I was disappointed to find out that the amazing used-book store, Acres of Books, in downtown Long Beach has closed it doors. I was going to ask someone to take me there sometime next week while I am in Los Angeles, But, what I really wanted to write about is borscht....

I came to make borscht in a rather roundabout way. I guess it started with a commercial for a plastic storage bag – and I don’t remember which one.

The lady put beets in the bag and then beat on them while she sang “Baby, bop the beets... Baby, bop the beats. Bashed borscht!!!” And then she held the bag upside down and gave it shake to show that the seal had held during the pummeling. It was your basic obnoxious commercial that one tends to remember above all others. As for example, the current motor oil commercial with the crazed Scots bellowing “that’s thinkin’ with your dipstick.... Jimmy...” as he gives people a painful whack with a.... dipstick...

Now, where was I. Oh yes.... I never took the next step and actually made borscht because it sort of sounded nasty to me and I am not that fond of the beetroot itself. After we started growing beets in the early days when we had a garden, we eventually discovered that the lowly beet is like the proverbial pig of country lore. Just about every part of the pig had some use, and very little was wasted. The saying went something like “they used everything but the oink....”

We found out that the beet greens are delicious cooked, the stems are delicious cooked -- rather like celery – and the beetroot? Well, I give the root a pass, but Richard likes cold cooked beet sliced in his salad, and there are various other ways it can be fixed that taste reasonably good.

And then about 10 years ago when we were out visiting my folks, one of our destinations was Acres of Books because I needed to replace Betty Crocker's Cookbook that I had been given as a wedding present. I had used the book to death; it had totally fallen apart. Dad and mom went with us because they wanted to take us out to lunch.

After we came out of the bookstore, we talked about where we were going to eat and then we noticed on the corner a small Russian deli and cafe. None of us knew a thing about Russian cuisine, and so we decided to be adventurous. The menu had lots of interesting things, including different kinds of smoked and cured meats – in fact, we bought some smoked trout to bring home. And borscht was on the menu. I had never had borscht, and never really wanted borscht, even though “bashed borscht” was there in the memory bank, but decided, oh, what the heck, let’s have borscht. So we ordered it. The soup was wonderful. It had never occurred to me that the beet could be made to taste so good.

Turns out the cookbook I picked up at the bookstore had a recipe for borscht. So did my More-with-Less Mennonite cookbook., which is the one I use...

Assuming you have already cooked the beets...
Do whatever you need to do with meat bones to arrive at 6 cups of broth (beef, mutton, chicken). Take meat off the bones and chop. Let the broth cool and skim the fat off. Or you can use bouillon cubes.


1 large onion, chopped
1 qt cabbage, coarsely chopped
5 cups potatoes, diced
1 cup tomato sauce or 2 cups cooked tomatoes
2 springs parsley

Put in a bag or tea strainer:
5 peppercorns
3 springs dill
1 dried red pepper
1 bay leaf.

Drop the spices into the soup, simmer until vegetables are tender.
Add 2 medium beets (or more) that have been cooked and chopped. If you used bones to make the broth, add any meat and let it simmer a few minutes longer.

Serve it with sour cream if you want...

In the meantime, when beets are in season at the Farmer’s Market, I make borscht....

Lots of borscht....

And now, ten years later, my used new cookbook is also starting to fall apart

Only now, there is no more Acres of Books to visit to see if I can get yet another replacement.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Now I lay me down to sleep...

Burnis is the mother-in-law of my friend Judy. They just call her Mom.

And here they are on an outing last year to see the Fall colors in the Ozarks. We don’t have quite the display that one might find elsewhere in the country, but there are enough broadleaf trees that dress up in fall finery to make it a lovely time of year.

Burnis is 87 years old and she just doesn't remember things as well as she used to -- although she can talk your ear off if you ask her about the photographs in her room -- and she is not able to manage the basic activities of daily living on her own, so she now lives in an apartment in the assisted living wing of the local nursing home. She has a sitting room, a small kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom. And they keep an eye on her.

Her main hobby is embroidery. She has won awards at quilt shows for her embroidery.

Judy and Burnis’ daughter, Dot, and her granddaughter, Karen, scramble to find things for her to work on.

Karen found out that an organization that works with the Children's Hospital in St. Louis welcomed donations of pillowcases for their patients. A pleasant change from the plain white that hospitals usually use for these children, many of whom are critically ill and must spend time away from their own beds at home.

So, they scrambled some more and found stamped pillow cases for Burnis to embroider, and then they went on expeditions to find embroidery floss. One might be surprised just how hard it can be to find something as simple as embroidery floss in a small town.

Burnis has been hard at it, and here are some of the pillowcases she has completed.

Soon sick children at the St Louis hospital will have something a little more fun to lay their heads on at night.

This one almost makes me weep...

I imagine a little girl, a very sick little girl, laying her head on this pillow and imagining she is a princess in a fairy tale land of make believe where little children do not get cancer, or suffer from illness caused by genetic defects, where they don't have to leave home and spend the night in the hospital...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Goin’ for a ride in the car car...

I just spent a fun 10 minutes or so on You-Tube watching and listening to variations of Woody Guthrie’s Car Song as I thought about writing about the many trips I have made in the past week hauling squirrels to their new forever homes.

We did not have a problem with squirrels when we first moved here because there was a pasture of several acres between our house and the neighbor’s woods behind the house. There were a few trees scattered here and there, but it was mostly bare of brush because the former owners had brush hogged it regularly. We also hired a man with a brush hog to come in and keep it cleared, for a while, but then we stopped. We wondered what would happen if the neighbors decided to bulldoze the woods and turn it into pasture for cattle. We decided we wanted our own woods.

And gradually, the woods began marching toward the house, and trees around the house began to grow. And pretty soon the squirrels started showing up to eat sunflower seeds along with the birds.

Squirrels wreak havoc with bird feeders and bird feeding. They have destroyed several of my bird feeders. They are responsible for ripping up the roofing paper that I put down on bird feeder platform to protect the wood from the rain.

Sunflower seeds are just too expensive to feed squirrels and besides, I wanted to watch birds and not squirrels, so we bought a small trap and began trapping them.

I loaded them into the car and drove them to their new forever home at a nearby abandoned campground.

Last year I made squirrel stew in the crockpot, which was very good. Squirrel tastes a lot like chicken, but eating the stew was not a very pleasant experience because of the many, many small bone in addition to the associated thrill of biting down on small bits of metal from the birdshot.

Just like there is never just one mouse or cockroach in the house, there is never just one squirrel.

Two years ago, I thought I had "a couple" of squirrels, and I hauled off 20. The next year, it wasn't that many but I didn't keep count.

I began trapping again last week, and so far I have trapped and moved 10 squirrels. And there is still at least 1 more squirrel, and I am watching it right now consume one seed after another.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Aroma therapy

My fondness for lavender goes way back. I was the first person in the family to insist that a bedroom could be painted something other than white, and when I was in high school, I had my dad paint the walls lavender.

My mom, bless her heart, has given me numerous lavender scented things over the years, including some amazing lavender honey.

And she sent me a Lavender Fairy note card, which has been stuck on my corkboard since 2001. I think this little fairy would make such a cute tattoo.

And just about the time she sent me that thank you note, I built a flower bed at the church because I had no good place at the house to plant flowers. I ordered lavender plants through the mail and put them in the new flower bed. They thrived for a long time.

Then the church closed for a while, and then it reopened, and one of the new people decided he didn’t like the lavender growing there. Without saying anything to anybody, he dug it up and stuck it in the middle of the field next to the church, where it eventually died. This all came rushing back as I read the book The Shack, because it has a great deal to say about forgiveness.

Two years ago for Mother’s Day the women at the church were given various small pots with plants of various kinds. The woman who bought the plants had been there when the debacle with the original lavender occurred, and so she got me two small pots of lavender. Being I still had no good place at the house to plant them, I once again planted it in the church flower bed

The lavender spent one year thinking about it, and then this year it bloomed. The scents of many flowers smell good to me for a few whiffs but then become sickening, so I tend to prefer flowers that don’t have a strong scent. Like these.....

...which my honey picked for me for our anniversary.

However, I find the scent of lavender to be pleasant, calming, and soothing, and when word came that the church was going to close its doors, for good this time, and that the property was going to be sold, I decided I better hurry up and find a spot for the lavender. And I did. One clump now has a new home in an old whiskey barrel and the other I gave to a friend.

And because I wasn’t sure if it was going to survive, I cut off almost all of the flower stems, stuck them in some water, and sat them by the computer.

Breathe in, breathe out...

Monday, July 06, 2009

The "met wet weeder pod" escapade...

On a morning walk not too long ago, Richard brought up a a report he had heard on the news about Republicans in California proposing to close the Poison Control Centers
Cutting the California Poison Control System (CPCS) would save the state $5.9 million. Eliminating CPCS would also cost the state an additional $70 million in additional emergency department visits, 911 calls, state Medicaid services, and other demands currently handled by telephone triage.
We tend to pay more attention to California politics than we do Missouri politics. We discussed this at length -- especially the idea that they were being rather penny-wise and pound-foolish-- because we had an occasion to make use of the local Poison Control Center ourselves, all because of the pod of the milkweed plant, sort of... event I was first reminded of after a long, long time when I saw this beautiful milkweed, which is a poisonous plant, growing in the right of way along the frontage road as we took a walk one morning a few weeks ago.

This tale involves two little blond, blue-eyed boys, who were about the same age and the same size.

Our son Nat (on the left) met Jarrod in the Spring of 1981, shortly after we moved here and began attending the church where Jarrod's father was the pastor.

Why they are all standing outside in front of snow-covered cords of wood (we had a wood-burning stove to heat the house) is because this picture was taken a year later when Nat turned 5 years and Jarrod came over to celebrate his birthday. The young cat in Richard's arms was his birthday present -- he wanted her in the picture too. We did not have a flash attachment for the camera so the picture commemorating the day had to be taken outside (and there are other similar birthday pictures outside with the cake scattered throughout this blog).

I am sure there is a good reason why everybody appears to be listing severely to the right (their left), probably because I took the picture. Moving right along.

Jarrod and Nat were best friends. Both of them apart were a little squirrley, but put them together? Whew. Well, let's just say they were capable of some mischief.

One day toward the end of summer -- either the first summer we were here or the one that occurred later on that same year the picture was taken -- I dropped Nat off at Jarrod's house so they could play together. Becky, Jarrod's mother, was a saint about letting our kid come over to play. About a hour later I got a call from Becky.

We think that Nat ate a milkweed pod. I called poison control and they said to buy a bottle of ipecac syrup and get him to vomit. And you have to call them back after he throws up.

So I jumped into the car (I could still jump in those days) and raced over to the pharmacy and picked up the ipecac syrup. Then I went to Jarrod's house. I asked Nat to show me what he had eaten, and he pointed to a vine growing up a telephone pole guidewire and said:

I ate a met wet weeder pod.

I wasn't up on botany at that point, but I was fairly sure that what he ate was not a milkweed pod.

Now I know that it was an opened blossom of a wild potato vine.

But being rather safe than sorry, once we were back at the house, I made him drink the ipecac syrup and he did indeed vomit. And then I called the Poison Control Center and told them the situation and described what he had thrown up, and the very kind man said "He should be fine. Call us back if you have any questions."

And he was fine, and he never again attempted to eat a met wet weeder pod, although one time when we were taking a walk down our dry creek bed, empty he did grab a handful of poison ivy berries and want to know if they were edible.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Send in the clowns... and don't rain on our parade

One doesn’t really appreciate the nuances of small town living until one has lived in a small town for a while and gets to experience the small town parade.

It usually always rains on July 4, and today was no exception. The heavily overcast sky was a blessing, because it has been hot. Very very hot. It did not rain on the parade, though.

I got to the parade a tad late, and I missed getting a photo a wonderful George Washington riding a beautiful Missouri fox trotter horse. I missed Betsy Ross, too

The parade had patriotic motorcycle riders on their Harleys

Classic cars....


More clowns....

Clowns riding on ATVs..

Clowns passing out candy....
Clowns riding on bicycles... The clown on the back of the bicycle is the Episcopal priest. I wanted to dare him to show up at church tomorrow wearing his clown costume, but somehow, I don't think he will..

Characters from our history made an appearance too...

Davey Crockett (Davey, Davey Crockett, king of the wild frontier!)

Some former presidents....

And the monks from the Anada Kanan center just outside of town, a reminder that one of the things our forefathers for was freedom of religion...




And bringing up rear, the volunteer fire department and their various fire trucks..

And a good time was had by all, especially this little girl who received a plastic fireman's hat from the driver just after I took the picture.

Friday, July 03, 2009

When I’m 88?

So many well-known people have died in the last week – and I want to write about two of them, Gail Storm and Dr Jerri Nelson FitzGerald, but I have to organize my thoughts a bit before I do – I decided I to check to see if the author P.D. James was still alive and kicking. Apparently she is. I just finished reading her latest novel and noted with amazement that she was about 88 years old when she wrote it and is now somewhere in the neighborhood age 89. Can’t help but wondering if The Private Patient will be her last novel.

I seldom let the opinions of critics influence my own idea about a movie or book. I remember the movie Kiss Me Goodbye, with Sally Field, Jeff Bridges, and Jim Caan (who plays a ghost), which the critics hated – I mean, it got “one star” on the listing in the move guide. We loved it. Same with that Tom Selleck movie Her Alibi and the Popeye movie with Robin Williams. All movies that were panned by the critics that we enjoyed watching.

Some of the reviews I read of the novel as I was tracking down a link to attach to the image weren’t very kind, but so what?! I enjoyed the book anyway, her writing is exquisite. It was a good read. And in reference to my last post, I thought the BBC adaptations of her novels about Commander Adam Dalgliesh on Mystery!, which PBS used to broadcast, were top notch.

I am at the stage of life now when I actually do wonder how long I am going to live and what will be the nature of my death. We got some unhappy news in our family a few day ago that brings this even more sharply into focus. I wonder if I will make it to 88 years. I wonder what shape I will be in if I do. I just hope my mind will be sharp. Perhaps not sharp enough to write a novel, but sharp enough to write a blog? I already know I am a little dingy, I just hope I am not truly demented.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Lost in the adaptation

I sometime wonder what happens between the time someone says of a book, “oh gee, wouldn’t this would make a great movie?!?” and the movie actually gets made and is released.

One realizes that everything in the book can’t be in the movie. Sometimes when they leave stuff out, it actually improves the story. Case in point: Silence of the Lambs. In some respects, what they left out of the movie made it better than the book.

I realize that some things have to be changed because film is a different medium than print. Plot devices that work in a book don’t always work in a film. But sometimes what they do is just bewildering, and unnecessary, and it doesn’t seem to make any sense, at least on the surface.

When the movie Runaway Jury began, Richard and I thought we had walked into the wrong theater. Eventually it got back on track, but that major plot change at the beginning that left us scratching our heads. The wonderful ending of The Firm?” Totally changed. The armchair-gripping ending of Midnight Express? Totally changed.

Whenever I see a movie that I have enjoyed that I know is based on a book, I try to find the book and read it, which may be a mistake. I dunno.

At any rate, I enjoyed the movie Under the Tuscan Sun (I gave it an 8 at the Internet Movie Database). I have enjoyed watching Diane Lane ever since her first movie as a 13 year old in A Little Romance.

When I saw the book at the used-book store...

I couldn’t resist. I was definitely interested in finding out about the book that spawned the movie.

What is especially odd in this case, even after what I know about how things get lost in the adaptation, is that aside from sharing a title, being set in Tuscany, and involving remodeling a house, the two have almost nothing in common. Nothing. It's astounding. Where did the story for the movie come from??

The book is a enjoyable memoir of the 3-year project of Frances Mayes and her boyfriend to remodel a old, old stone house...

I am about to buy a house in a foreign country.... it is tall, square and apricot-colored with faded green shutters, ancient tile roof, and an iron balcony on the second level, where ladies might have sat with their fans to watch some spectacle below... the balcony faces southwest.... when it rains or when the light changes, the facade of the house turns gold, sienna, ocher; a previous scarlet paint job seeps through in rosy spots like a box of crayons left to melt in the sun....
Not only that, they become heavily involved in horticulture -- rejuvenating fruit trees, olive tree, and grape vines, planting flowers and herbs. Similar to the delightful recounting of John Mayle of his A Year in Provence, the book is part travel guide, part house beautiful, part home repair and gardening guide. And also part cookbook. She’s got recipes. Lord, have mercy. Definitely the wrong sort of book to be reading when one is on a diet. I remember an American Lit professor telling us that when he was a college student studying the Hemingway story we were studying (I think it was The Sun Also Rises), that as a lark, they decided to get a drink every time the main character got a drink. They spent a lot of time drinking. In the case of Frances Mayes book, I kept wanting to run to the olive oil bottle and pour it on the crusty herb bread I had made and sliced and stuck in the freezer for our son. I kept wanting to boil water for pasta. I even got a bit of an education: I had to look up the word “scuppernogs” in the dictionary.

I think the irony in all this is that there was one rather funny thing that happened in the book that should have been in the movie, even with all the changes.

We’re entertaining friends in the sun-dappled bower, just as I envisioned. I go into the kitchen and began arranging a selection of cheeses on grape leaves. I am flushed and excited in my white linen dress... Above me, Primo is scraping the floor. I look up. He has removed two tiles and there is a hole in the ceiling. Just as I look back at my cheese platter, Primo accidently kicks over his bucket and cement pours onto my head! My hair, my dress, the cheese, my arms, the floor. I look up and see his startled face peering down like a cherub in a fresco...

Wouldn’t that have been wonderful in the movie!!! I can’t figure out why they didn’t put it in. Maybe they didn’t actually read the book?