Thursday, May 27, 2010

Skyrockets in flight.... afternoon delight....

For several weeks now, I have been stalking the box turtles around our house, camera in hand, trying to get a decent picture of one with its neck stuck out. 

 They have such lovely colors around their faces and legs...

 but none of them have been particularly cooperative. 

Our boy saw one the other day walking along carrying in its mouth a mulberry twig with berries on it. By the time I got out there with the camera, it had dropped the twig, no doubt because our boy scared it.

I mostly have given up on getting the perfect turtle shot.

We usually walk up the driveway after lunch to see if there is anything exciting in the rural mailbox. I don't always take the camera with me, but I grabbed the camera on the way out the door, just in case there was anything exciting along the way.

Indeed there was.

We came across these two turtles in love. 

Squeaker thought it was interesting too.

His lady friend seemed the retiring type, perhaps embarrassed at being caught in the act. He didn’t seem to care that he had an audience.

There was nothing exciting in the mailbox. Turtles don't rush sex. They were still at it when we came back down the driveway.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

David Slays Goliath....

Insurance companies are delighted to take our money against the promise that they will, in fact, insure us, but then when it comes time to actually live up to their end of the bargain, they have a knack for figuring out how to weasel out.

And frequently, when the little consumer David goes up against the insurance company Goliath, Goliath wins, or at least thinks it has won.

I am thinking about my friend Rhonda, who lives in Northern California who paid... and paid... and paid... one very well known insurance company for 20 years, and then when she went to file a claim that should have been covered, suddenly it wasn’t. She did not take this laying down...
But she didn’t win. And I think the insurance company didn’t win, either. The insurance company was rather shortsighted in refusing to pay. Think about it, because they obviously didn't: They had collected far more thousands of dollars from her and her husband during the 20 years that they had been customers than the company would have had to pay out by honoring the claim. And the company would have kept my friend as a customer and gone on to collect probably many more thousands of dollars.

So yeah, they skated on paying the $2600 bill to fix the car, but now another insurance company will be getting their money. 

Our church also went up against an insurance giant when it refused to honor a claim that we filed, but we fared quite a bit better, when the dust of the battle finally settled. About 15 years ago the company was happy to write a policy on the church building “as it was.”  Then, about 2 years ago, an ice storm came through this area that caused extensive damage to many buildings, including the interior structure of the church roof. The contractor we hired to give us an estimate said the entire roof structure would have to be taken off and replaced, and it was going to cost $30,000.

We presented the estimate to the insurance company, and they offered us $1500.

Nope. That wasn’t going to happen.

So things went back and forth for a while, and we were forced into an arbitration agreement with a court-appointed mediator.

In the meantime, the church had to borrow $30,000 to pay the contractor to make the repairs before the entire roof collapsed into the auditorium. For a while before the repairs could commence because of weather, steel cables were stretched across the auditorium to make sure the walls didn’t move.

And the arbitrator decided that, yes, the insurance company had to pay... but only $10,000.

Nope, that wasn’t going to happen either.

So, this little David got himself a good sling (a very good attorney), who wrote some letters (5 smooth stones), and about 2 weeks ago, the insurance company sent us a check for $29,000. And the attorney only charged the church about $500 for his services.

The church was out some money for sundry expenses, but we were able to pay off the loan, the building has a new roof, and story ended well. Will the insurance company continue to insure the building now that it has a spanking new roof on? One wonders....

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Robin Hood

One of the very first movies that I can remember watching was a very early version of Robin Hood. I was in kindergarten, and the teacher showed the movie during the afternoon quiet time. I am almost sure this was the one made in 1938 with Errol Flynn.

And I have seen many more of them over the years. How can one not like the idea of a Robin Hood? Battling the rich to redistribute wealth to the poor, standing up for the little guy against the injustices of the corrupt powers that be. This basic plot has been repeated in many other movies – including the Hispanic version featuring the handsome Don Diego, transforming into Zorro, which was one of my favorite TV programs in the early 60s.

I especially enjoyed the Robin Hood movie where Alan Rickman played the Sheriff of Nottingham. He was so wonderfully evil in that role. I also liked the “later years” version with Sean Connery as a much older Robin than we are used to seeing, tired and rather world-weary, and the Audrey Hepburn as a lovely Marian, who is also feeling her age.

And now yet another Robin Hood movie is offered for our viewing pleasure, this time with Russell Crowe.

Our boy is not Robin Hood, if anything, he would be one of the poor to whom a Robin Hood would be redistributing the wealth, but he has taken up shooting with a compound bow...

 and his practice, practice, practice, is paying off.

He has worked hard on improving his form.

He finally got his eyes checked and his prescription adjusted so he could see the target better...

And I am rather proud of him. I am even more proud of him for his strength of character. He has managed to pay off all of the money he owed  us and soon will be able to once again have an independent life.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

An explosive day

This morning I was worked on a manuscript in which the author was describing different categories of organ donor, including those who had sustained “explosive brain death,” defined as severe head trauma or a gunshot wound to the head. I found this use of the word rather disturbing. I couldn’t help but think of brain material exploding out of the skull. Gave me the creeps. Why not just call it “traumatic brain injury” and leave the more graphic terms to the novelist? 

Our boy was a first responder, volunteer fireman, and an EMT for a while, and he worked a few traffic accidents and suicide deaths that involved “explosive brain death.” It was disturbing to him as well.

And then later in the day Richard was cooking some Brussels sprouts in the microwave and one exploded. It blew up and scattered bits of green all over the inside.

Don’t like Brussels sprouts? This is an excellent recipe that we got from Gourmet Magazine:

Trim 10 ounces (about 2 1/2 cups) of Brussels sprouts and quarter lengthwise. Cook sprouts in boiling water for 5 minutes, or until just tender, and drain in a colander.

In a pan, cook 1 small thinly sliced onion in 1 tbsp butter, stirring occasionally, until golden. Add the sprouts to the onions and cook and stir together for about 1 minute.

In a small bowl, stir together 2-1/2 tsp of Dijon mustard (preferably coarse grained) and 1 tsp of water. Stir into the sprouts with salt and pepper.

And finally, nature is exploding. The honeysuckle, multiflora rose, gooseberry bushes, and blackberry brambles have run amok in the area where we planted a small forest of dogwood trees some 5 years ago or so, next to the area where we planted grapes about 20 years ago. I have been out there in the cool of the early evening with clippers and lopping shears trying to make up for years of benign neglect. Let me tell you that gooseberry bushes have mean little thorns that are every bit as lethal as those on the multiflora rose and blackberry canes. The grapes, which we have totally ignored for years and years, decided they did not want to grow along the wires we so thoughtfully strung for them and instead lept into the trees that sprang up. Even if they produce grapes, and some grapes survive the birds eating them, we will be unable to reach them.

Other than that, all else is quiet on the western front. All that was lacking today was an explosion of dynamite at the quarry, which is a few miles away.

Monday, May 17, 2010

If we had a gas oven, I would stick my head inside

At 7 o’clock this morning he asks me if I want potato for dinner tonight. We have already established that I am going to eat for dinner the leftover Eggs in Hell that I took to the breakfast at church yesterday morning. This recipe, from How To Cook a Wolf, a cookbook by MFK Fisher (which my mother gave me as a present) was something new for these born-and-bred Missouri Ozarkers, and was actually very well received.

Eggs in Hell

Chop an onion and saute in a couple tbsp of olive oil along with a garlic clove with a toothpick in it. If possible, use a heavy cast iron skillet with a lid.

Add 2 cups of tomato sauce (if you are counting calories, skip sauteeing everything in olive olive first) and 1 tsp mixed herbs (basil, thyme), 1 tsp chopped parsley and some pepper (I usually skip adding salt because of the high sodium content in the tomato sauce).   

Simmer this for about 15 minutes. Then carefully tip 8 eggs into the sauce (I usually crack the eggs into a small bowl first so I can fish out the egg shell), turn the heat down, and cover. Cook on very low heat until the eggs are done. If you have time, you can even turn the heat off and the heat from the cast iron skillet will cook the eggs. Fish out the garlic clove and discard (I don't keep garlic on hand so I just add garlic powder).

It is supposed to be served on top of toasted French bread. It could be made Mexican-style by changing the spices 

Answering his question is not quite as simple as simply saying “yes” or “no.” Things must be considered. The alternative to potato would be rice, or no carb at all. Yesterday was a diet disaster. There was chocolate gravy for the biscuits. I had never had chocolate gravy. It was amazing.

Then one must ask (1) How much potato is already cooked? and (2) how long has it been in the refrigerator? Occasionally he gets a bit carried away, cooks too much, and then it has to be thrown out because it gets slimy. These are Yukon Gold potatoes. One simply cannot bear to think of Yukon Gold potatoes being thrown out.

I know he has already cooked rice – two kinds in fact; basmati, and a mixture of brown rice and wild rice.

So I have to think, what would taste good with Eggs in Hell. We discuss alternatives. He begins to get animated.

He begins to bounce a bit, wave his hands, and shout: 

Just tell me if you want rice or potato!  

We start laughing hysterically, although we are not sure exactly why this is so funny.

So, I finally decide: Give me the potato and add enough rice to make 88 calories.

Thank you, he says! He is very grateful I have come to a decision. I am very grateful we do not have a gas oven.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Messing about in the kitchen

My husband’s mother was among the cadre of women who were swept into employment in the years during World War II – she worked swing shift in an aircraft plant. Women were becoming more liberated in the sense of jobs outside of the home, but meanwhile, back at the ranch, there was still “women’s work” and there was “men’s work” and even though the women went out to work, they were still expected to come home and do the “domestic work” as well. Richard’s sister helped her mother with the housework, but Richard and his father did not help her around the house.

When my father came home from the war and my mother became pregnant, she quit the job she had and stayed home and took care of children and the house, and my father went out to work. The difference between our families was that he did help my mother in the house. He did help prepare food and clean the house.

So it made for some interesting times when we got married. Richard expected that I would be like his mother. I expected him to be like my father. Ha. It made for some interesting arguments and misunderstandings.

But gradually in the 39 years we have been together, there has been some shifting and blurring of our domestic roles, which came to a quick head (as I have mentioned more than once to everybody’s boredom) when I was laid up for 2 months several years ago.

He moved with remarkable grace out of his comfort zone and became the “domestic god” and has done a wonderful job. What has been most fascinating to me in recent months has been his increased interest in actually messing about with our food and figuring out ways to make what we eat every day taste better. As anyone who has bothered to count calories can attest, the things one adds to the food to make it taste better can often double or triple the calorie count.

He found a really tasty, and rather expensive, cream cheese spread and thought perhaps he could make his own version using reduced-calorie cream cheese. So he bought some garlic powder and onion powder and dried parsley. And his version is just as good for a lot less money. He wants to know should we try beer mustard on the salmon? Yes, we should. And it tastes wonderful.

Then he looked at the zucchini we eat a lot of and began trying new ways of fixing it and we had ourselves a little taste test.

The two at the top of the pan were sprinkled with onion powder, garlic powder, and cheddar cheese powder (which we buy in bulk from a alternative market). The two in the middle were sprinkled with onion powder, garlic powder, but no cheese powder. The two at the bottom were sprinkled with basil, oregano, and a bit of Parmesan cheese, which is how we usually fixed it.

And yes, the topping at the ends got a bit dark, but was not burnt.

We decided we liked the version with a bit of garlic powder, onion powder, and cheddar cheese powder the best. Perhaps I will get him a chef’s hat for our anniversary.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Seeing the unnoticed

One does not think, at least going in, that there will ever be anything too profound in a Terry Pratchett novel. It would be like the collection of Monty Python actors suddenly behaving themselves and reciting scenes from a Shakespeare play.

But inevitably buried in the layers of satire and puns and jokes and general craziness that Pratchett spins in his novels of the Discworld are occasional nuggets of philosophic profundity. It is usually something I already know (after all, there is nothing new under the sun, right?), but it just comes as a surprise.

Any time Richard and I go on a trip of more than few miles, I read to him as he drives. Richard has mild dyslexia and doesn’t read for pleasure. This way, I get to share with him some of my favorite authors. Our most recent novel is “Reaper Man.” 

 The basic plot is that the bosses of Discworld decide that Death needs to retire but don’t bother replacing him, which causes all sorts of problems for people (and things) who are supposed to die, but don’t.

There are several subplots. One involves Death himself, who becomes the hired man at farm owned by a widow. She puts him to work cutting grass with.... wait for it.... a scythe.

Another subplot involves Windle Poons, the oldest geezer among the wizards at the Unseen University, who suddenly finds himself among the Undead when Death fails to show up for him when it is his turn to die. Being Undead takes some getting used for old Windle...

The late Windle Poons knew from experience.... that the living never found out half of what was really happening because they were too busy being the living. The onlooker sees most of the game, he told himself.

It was the living who ignored the strange and wonderful, because life was too full of the boring and mundane.
I read this to Richard about 20 minutes or so before we arrived at Hardy (see the last post), and I had to stop reading for a minute while we talked about it. Wondering what amazing things we might miss from day to day because we are too caught up in the routine of life.

So, I was trying, more than usual, to pay attention as we strolled the nearly deserted streets of Hardy. And yes, there were definitely some strange and wonderful things to be seen.

I very nearly stepped on this plant...

 growing in a crack in the sidewalk.

My eye almost slid past this spider web...

glimmering in the early morning sun.

I would have totally missed this sculpture...

 had Richard not seen it first and pointed it out to me.

Then, of course, there are those things that one can’t possibly miss. They scream, “look at me!” This place,

reminiscent of something someone might find on the old Route 66 in the California desert, 

was on the highway a few miles outside of Hardy. 

 Almost too much to take in. Nothing subtle about it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Coping with “gang aft agley” with grace and humor

“Are you a farmer?” The little boy comes up to my husband on the street at Hardy, Arkansas, early on Saturday morning. His question is pertinent. My husband’s usual uniform when we are not going someplace fancy is bib overalls. He explained that he was not a farmer.

Hardy exists to trap tourists, and like us, there were a few clumps of people, mostly adults with children in their wake, who had also shown up in town too early, and were drifting along the street looking a bit confused and annoyed about why the stores would wait until 10 a.m. to open on a Saturday morning.

This was yet one more occasion when Richard and I have attempted to have an adventure that just doesn’t quite evolve as it is supposed to. Our careful plans don’t quite work out.

And then the challenge is still having an enjoyable time while mulling over the alternatives.

Having felt most desperate to “get out of here” for a few hours, we decided to take Saturday off – both of us – and drive down to Hardy for my Mother’s Day treat. The border with Arkansas is about 48 miles away, and the lovely scenic Ozarks hills just get more scenic and more hillier as one heads south. The quaint little town we were headed for is maybe 20 miles past the border into Arkansas. It has a short downtown section with some very interesting antique shops and gift stores, and a very cool pottery shop, where I bought a gorgeous oil lamp a few years ago. On the edge of town, sitting on a high bluff above the river, is a thoroughly wonderful bbq joint on the river.

So the plan was to visit the pottery shop and buy another oil lamp, visit a few of the other shops, and have wonderful a bbq lunch. 

The first problem was that Richard totally misremembered how far away Hardy was and how long it would take to get there, so we left the house too early and arrived in Hardy at about 8:30 or so. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at the fast food place outside of town. Then we drove down Main Street. All of the stores were dark. Still a little early. So we continued on through town and stopped at the bbq place.

A woman, apparently the owner who lives on the premises, heard us pull in the parking lot and stuck her head out the back door and yelled – “We’re closed.”

Closed? Okay. Not all restaurants are open for breakfast. Not a big deal. Only it wasn’t that at all. The restaurant was entirely shut down for remodeling – “We will be open next week” she says.

This was a major disappointment. So we stood at the bank of the river and thought about it for a while and then began laughing. So we came up with Plan B – we’d head back home after visiting the pottery store and have lunch at a new bbq place closer to home.

We strolled long the river for a while and then drove back to the pottery place at about 9 a.m. only to find out that it didn’t open until 10 am. Another hour to kill. So we strolled very slowly up the street and looked at displays in all the windows of the other shops – and none of these opened until 10 a.m. either – and headed down the other side.

One lone soul out of step with everybody else was open. She was selling handcrafted wood items had opened. Really lovely things. I got my Mother’s Day present there.

Finally the pottery shop opened. There were no oil lamps. This was a major disappointment. But, Richard spotted a beautiful coffee cup, so I suggested he buy it for his Father’s Day present. And he did.

So we left Hardy and headed back home. We made a few spontaneous stops, which is rather hard for Richard to do, but made the day rather special.

Yesterday was a bit harder. The first Mother's Day without my mother. Whew. I miss her.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Uninvited guest

The barrier between the inside of our house and the outside world is tenuous at best. For the storm door to completely shut, one has to sort of lift up and pull, which is an extra step we don’t always do when our hands are full, whether carrying baskets full of laundry to and from the washing machine or transferring bags of food to and from the freezer, or even when both hands are free and we have something else on our minds. 

It is not much of a problem in the winter because the back door is shut, but that all changes in the summer. The back door mostly stays open until the last one of us goes to bed at night. Because of this, we have had a few uninvited guests “just come on in and sit a spell” with us over the years. 

One year in late summer, after we found a small frog in our bathtub several nights in a row, we let it stay there during the winter and let it go in the spring. A chipmunk lived with us for about a week before we managed to trap it and let it go outside; a possum that came in through the dog door after dog food woke us up one night wandering through the house trying to find its way out again after the back door was shut for the evening (to keep the dog in because he kept getting sprayed by a skunk, but that’s another story).

Yesterday morning as Richard was gathering up the dishes scattered around the house after our snacking the night before, he detoured over to me with one of the popcorn bowls and invited me to tell him, “Is this a good bug or a bad bug?” I really wasn’t sure what the big black thing in the bottom of the bowl was, but because it was obviously not a cockroach, I decided it was good bug and could be let go outside.

This morning I rescued a firefly in the kitchen. All part of a typical day at our house.

But we both got rather excited when Richard discovered a very different sort of uninvited guest the other afternoon.

Last Sunday’s sermon had to do with overcoming fears, and our pastor talked about her fear of snakes. Fortunately, neither of us is afraid of snakes. Nevertheless, there was certain timbre of excitement in Richard’s voice when I heard him say “Leilani, come here. There is a snake in the kitchen.”

Yes indeed. There certainly was a snake in the kitchen, and like any good blogger would do, I took one look and then raced for the camera. Mr or Ms Black Snake, probably our resident black snake from under the porch, had decided to patrol the kitchen. And of course none of the photographs I tried to take of it as it slithered across the top of our smaller counter came out very well. 

Under other circumstances, perhaps, a snake big enough to eat a rat or mouse would be welcome to patrol the inner recesses of the house. But Richard doesn’t like the idea that it might end up bed with us.

Mr or Ms Black Snake was carefully carried outside to resume his/her life.     

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Baseball anyone?

When we lived in Oregon, I heard lots of stories about baseball-sized hail, and the devastation it caused, from my Mennonite friends who had come West from Kansas and Nebraska. I found it difficult to imagine what hail that size might look like.

I no longer have to imagine what hail that size might look like (that's 25-cents there in the middle.)
A very fast-moving thunderstorm storm passed over our town Friday evening, bringing with it a tornado and this seriously big hail. The tornado was an F-1, which is not very big, but it did damage some businesses, the town’s water treatment facility, and some homes.

Also fortunately, the hail did not last too long. My car has some dimples from the hail, but our skylights were not damaged.

Once the storm had passed, we ventured outside and picked up some of the huge hail. By that time the power had gone off, and Richard said he wasn’t opening the freezer to save the hail for posterity. And I didn’t think to take a picture, the one above is a picture someone from town took and sent to the TV news station 

It is always an interesting experience to be without power for a while, because we are so conditioned to depend on electricity for our entertainment. So we sat in our very quiet house with the lanterns on. We actually sat in the living room together and talked for a while. Our boy went to bed early. I read a couple of chapters from the Terry Pratchett book to Richard that we started a few weeks ago. It was such a quiet, pleasant evening. Did the world come to an end because I missed Dog Whisperer? No, it did not. I am thinking that perhaps we need to have more TV-free evenings. Just turn the TV off, for cryin’ out loud!