Saturday, May 28, 2011

A day of memories

When I was kid growing up, Memorial Day was one of great excitement. Our church had a tradition of “breakfast in the mountains” and my father was the cook. The night before, he would pack the car with all the essentials for cooking pancakes at a campsite in the mountains, and the next morning we rose up at the crack of dawn and drove up into the mountains. We found the campsite, and he and my mother set up the equipment and made preparations to cook pancakes and fry bacon and us kids – well, we played and explored and ran around, and had a ball.

And soon other people from the church showed up with their kids and we all played and explored and ran around had a ball together. And as the morning advanced, soon portable radios came out and the men listened to the Indianapolis 500. We were not particularly interested in listening to cars roar around a race track and so my dad would begin to clean up and pack the gear and we came home.

And the years passed, but for me the Memorial Day tradition came to a screeching halt when I reached college. Instead of going to the mountains, I found myself holed up on Memorial Day weekends frantically studying for final exams and finishing term papers. We did not have computers back then – we did it the old fashioned way: we looked up things in books at the library, wrote notes down on index cards, and typed it on old Royal standard manual typewriter.

And then Memorial Day sort of became “just another day” in the year. Our family never visited the cemetery or decorated family graves, and certainly after we moved here, there were no family graves to decorate or visit even if we had a mind to do that.

Last year, however, Memorial Day suddenly became memorable once again. It sucked. Big time. Without a doubt, it was the worst day in my life -- up to that point, at least. A worse day was to come, of course.

We have been advised to “find distractions” this Memorial Day weekend, and so we are.

A friend turns 60 tomorrow, and there will be a birthday party at her church after the morning service, which we will attend for a while, then we must high-tail it back to our church in the afternoon because it our turn to host the “5th Sunday Singing” for the area churches. Today I will be occupied making food for that: Asian cabbage pear salad, macaroni and cheese, and a chicken pie.

On Monday, another friend is having us over for a meal.

So, we will take deep breaths, no doubt shed a few tears, and get through it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Crying "wolf?"

Sometime after the construction on the highway in front of our house was finished, and the McDonald’s restaurant and convenience store were put in on land where the package liquor store and the Rawlings sporting equipment factory used to be, and Lee moved his tire shop to the corner of Willow Road and Highway 76, was the installation of a tornado siren.

We are able to hear the siren in town if it goes off – but just barely. The new siren is about 1/2 mile from the house and we can hear it quite clearly.

At about 4:20 a.m. it goes off. Richard is a "night owl", and I am not. I needed to go to bed early last night, so I am sleeping in the “little room” off the porch. I was already mostly awake, but dozing. Not any more.

I lay there for a few seconds, wondering, "is this for real or not?" After the terrible storm that hit Joplin on Sunday, one tends to think twice about these things. Joplin is about 135 miles away, but if it could happen there, it could happen here.

Unfortunately with this siren, one can never be sure if it is the real deal. Several times this spring it has gotten a "short circuit" and has begun to wail for no reason at all. One can ignore a tornado siren in the middle of the afternoon when the sun is shining and there is not a cloud in the bright blue sky.

But not when it is pitch black outside, and through the small window at the foot of the bed, I can see flashes of lightening and hear the rumble of thunder in the distance.

I dare not ignore it.

I get up, get dressed, and step out onto the back porch. The moon is shining brightly. The siren continues to wail.

The NOAA weather radio is not on its hook in the living room. Richard had it in the bedroom last night -- another series of bad storms were moving through the area -- and did not put it back. So I tiptoe in to get it. The regular radio by the bed is on. The NRP station does “BBC World News” over night, and I hear lovely British accents discussing the volcanic eruption in Iceland. The siren has stopped, but Richard did not hear it or news, he is sound asleep.

Back in the kitchen, while I wait for coffee, I learn that there is a tornado on the ground 8 miles north of a small town that is about 30 miles from us, moving away. So I guess the siren was not for real... at least not this time. The computer voice tells me that the tornado warning has been lifted for our county.

I fire up the computer. Another day begins...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Would you like that hockey puck with molasses or jelly?

I’ll take molasses, sorghum if you have any…

Richard on occasion has been rather underwhelmed at my prowess at combining flour, milk, fat, baking powder, and salt and turning out a delectable biscuit (I have also had some trouble with cinnamon roles, but that is another story.)

The problem was that I refused to use white flour or solid fat. I would insist on using whole-wheat flour and canola oil (I do have a recipe for oil biscuits).

They have always tasted OK, but light and fluffy they ain’t, and he could not resist referring to them as hockey pucks. I myself on occasion also referred to them as hockey pucks.

When we started our diet – whoops – I meant to say “permanent change in the way we eat” about 5 years ago, I quit making biscuits all together, but Richard has grown very, very, very, tired of not being able to eat things he enjoys, so once a week on Sunday, we eat stuff that we are not supposed to eat. And a few weeks ago he decided he wanted biscuits, and I caved bought white flour and used butter. And I made us some biscuits.

Our son took a shine to ice hockey when he lived in St Louis, and when we went to California in November, my brother was gracious enough to take him to a L.A. Kings’ hockey match. Now my brother has a friend who has connections with the Kings, and so they arrived several hours before he game and went “back stage” hung out and met the players and watched them practice, and Nathaniel recovered a hockey puck that had been flipped out of the rink.


I just thought I’d do a comparison test of my latest batch of biscuits with the proverbial hockey puck.

I think I came out on top.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Solved: The stinkin' mystery

I am always up for a good mystery. In fact, my friend Judy has loaned me the Elizabeth George With No One as Witness paperback which I will begin as soon as I finish House at Riverton. The fact that I have begun reading again, and am slowly taking up doing things in the "new normal" that I enjoyed so much during the "old normal" is a good sign, I think.

For almost a week now, I have been smelling on "my side of the house" a decomposing animal, which I assumed had been killed on the highway nearby. As days passed and the smell grew worse, I even took a stroll up the highway right-of-way looking for it, but found nothing except pieces of shredded tires.

Yesterday, however, when I went out to put more seed out for the birds, I noticed the smell was particularly strong right near deck at the back door and it occurred to me that I had been looking in all the wrong places for the dead animal. I bent down and stuck my head under the deck and at the far end of the wheelchair ramp and sure enough, I saw a lump.

I figured it was a dead opossum -- they seem to have a habit of dropping dead -- so I told Richard about it and he said he would take care of it.

And indeed he did. And it was not an opossum, it was a dead cat. For months and months a big black and white "Sylvester" type tom cat has shown up at our house to terrorize our kitty -- usually putting her up a tree.

He won't be terrorizing Squeaker any more. On more than one occasion I had asked Richard to please shoot it -- and he had investigated getting a CO2 pellet gun but couldn't find what he wanted at the Big Store That Shall Remain Nameless (which is happening more and more -- not finding what we want there).

Of course we have no clue what the cat died of or why he chose to crawl under our porch to do it, but the natural process of decay after death -- complete with bizarre carrion beetles -- will proceed out of sight and out of smell at the back of the property.

I am just very happy to once again smell sweet Missouri air wafting through the window and will spare you all any further description about this -- it was my job to carry the corpse in a garbage bag to the back of the property and dump it out (Richard was worried that the beetles would not be able to get out of the bag -- we're crazy, I think), and it was all I could do to keep from throwing up, which is not something I want to dwell on any more because in a few minutes I will commence cooking breakfast..

Richard saw a 30-minute documentary on biscuits the other night. He wants them for breakfast, so we'll see how it goes.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The imp in my computer

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for Sam Vimes, Commander of the Watch of Ankh-Morpork.

On the one hand, tensions between the dwarfs and the trolls in Ankh-Morpork, which are always at a simmer, are threatening to boil over. He has to keep a close eye on the trolls and dwarfs who are Constables in the Watch who must put aside their differences and work together.

Now he has been pressured into hiring a new Constable who is a vampire. Vimes does not like vampires; well, it is not that he doesn’t like them, he just doesn’t trust them.

There has been a murder that the Watch must investigate – a troll has apparently murdered a dwarf in a tunnel complex under the city. He is under pressure to solve it quickly because it could launch a full-scale riot in the city. The new vampire on the Watch, who is very beautiful and looks about 16-years-old, needs to be partnered with a Constable who is a werewolf. Each one has senses that make her especially adapted to working in dark tunnels where the murder occurred. Everyone knows that vampires and werewolves do not get along very well….

Complicating matters further is that Lord Vetinari, the not-so-benevolent despot who runs Ankh-Morpork with a not-so-velvet gloved hand, is upset with the amount of money the Watch is costing the government and has assigned an “efficiency expert” to go over the books and the activities of the Watch.

(Be patient. This post really is about my computer, and I will get to it in a minute.)

On the other hand, Sam is head-over-heels in love with his wife and they have a young son, who he adores. He has taken his duties as a father very seriously.

And to help him remember his husbandly and fatherly duties, Sam’s wife, who is somewhat bossy, insists that he carry a Gooseberry.

Ah yes. No matter how bad things were, there was always room for them to get just that little bit worse…

Vimes pulled the smart brown box out of his pocket and flipped it open. The pointy-eared face of a small green imp stared up at him with that wistful, hopeless smile, which, in its various incarnations, he’d come to know and dread.

“Good morning, Insert Name Here! I am the Dis-Organiser Mark Five, the Gooseberry. How may I…” it began speaking fast in order to get as much said as possible before the inevitable interruption….

I don’t carry around the Terry Pratchett equivalent of a Blackberry, or a PDA, or one of those incredible new mobile phones that can do just about everything except wash the dishes, and I have never sent a text message on my little TrakPhone that is for emergencies only….

But I am convinced I have a “little green imp” living in my computer.

I have very particular ideas about how I want my desktop to look. I am a big fan of the uncluttered look – I like it plain and simple. In particular, I like the “old Windows” version of the desktop. Like this:

Which is what it looked like this morning when I turned my computer on. (By the way, Oklahoma Granny, if you enlarge the picture and look at the time signature at the bottom right and subtract about 10 minutes you will get an idea of what time I get up).

However, yesterday morning when I turned my computer on, this is what I saw:

Mind you, I have done nothing whatsoever to the desktop settings on the control panel.

Nothing at all.

It just changes itself.

This is not one of those weird computer problems that makes one want to heave the thing against the nearest wall, it is just bewildering.

Do I have an imp in my computer?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Deeee daaaa, da deee da deeeee

In the early years when we lived here, the volunteer fire department was summoned by a loud, shrill siren mounted on top of the old 3-story building on Main Street that housed the police department and the dispatcher for police, fire, and the ambulance (that was before 911 took over dispatching).

One warm summer afternoon I was driving down Main Street, with the dog hanging out the window, and just as we passed the police department, the siren went off. So, there I was driving down the street with a howling dog. It was hilarious.

By the time our son was old enough to join the fire department and also become a first responder to accidents and medical emergencies, the siren had been replaced with radios and scanners, and we had several scanners that were on at all times, with the volume up if he was home, so if the volunteers were  “toned out,” he would hear it and respond.

The scanner that we had in the living room lost all of it signals 5 years ago when the battery backup went dead after we went on vacation and turned off the electricity to the house for 2 weeks and forgot to take it to a friend’s house so it could be plugged in to keep the memory intact. I never got around to reprogramming it, and think the only traffic we pick up now is the NOAA weather radio report, which is hard-wired into the scanner, and traffic for the electric cooperative, which comes in handy when there is a power failure and we want to know where the crews are in their efforts to get us electrified again.

Our son’s scanner was still plugged in when he left the house for the last time in on Dec 13, and a month or so ago I decided to move it into my office, and I have taken to listening to it during the day. I normally work best without any accompanying noise, but the occasional traffic on the scanner is rather fun to listen to, and also informative.

Throughout the day there will be a variety of calls -- medical emergencies, an occasional fire, or accident. Most of the announcements are from the Highway Patrol headquarters to alert officers to C & I driving and information on license and vehicle registration checks for officers who have stopped people for traffic violations.

What I have learned from these calls is that a significant number of people whose licenses have been suspended or revoked for DUI or “points” or whatever keep right on driving. If the goal is to keep highways safe from irresponsible drivers, it isn’t working.

Calls among the local police officers often involve barking dogs, disturbances at the low-income housing complex, and children playing unattended, shoplifters at the local stores, that sort of thing.

The other morning, however, when I turned the scanner volume up at about 6 am, traffic was flying fast and furious between a number of departments – there had been a multiple shooting just outside of town. A 34-year-old woman had been shot in the back, and two men at the residence had also been shot, but not as seriously as she had. Quite a bit of drama, including the Air Evac helicopter, and to date only sparse details have been printed in the paper about what happened.

This afternoon, things are back to normal.

Attention Troop G Officers: There is a report of goats on the highway…

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sights…sounds…and smells…

At about 5:45 every morning I get up from in front of the computer, fetch the hummingbird feeder, and step outside on the deck to hang it. We have two feeders: the one on the other side of the house hangs from the second-story eve in front of Richard’s window. I raise and lower that one by a rope and pulley to change the sugar water, but I don’t have to bring it in because it is too high for anything to bother. The one on my side of the house must be brought in at night because is easily reached by any marauding raccoon that happens to pay us a visit.

The sky is beginning to lighten, but it is still very dark outside, and the trees surrounding the back of the house loom as black shadows.

The cardinals have already started to sing—they are usually the first ones to greet the coming dawn—but suddenly I hear the ethereal sound of a wood thrush, very, very close by. He is in a tree on my left, probably one of the pine trees or perhaps the birch tree that have grown up very tall since we planted them as seedlings shortly after we moved here. This is one of those birds that is heard but is seldom seen. I remember years ago the Charles Kuralt Sunday Morning program we used to watch on CBS did a feature on songbirds that were vanishing because of loss of habitat. The closing moments of that piece singled out the wood thrush, with the voice over wondering if in the future the song would be silenced.

I have heard this bird on occasion over the years since then as he passed through going someplace else. But this Spring he seems to be staying. I have been pleased to hear his song when walking to the pond or to the edge of the woods at the back of our land, but I have never heard it this close to the house. I am almost afraid to move as it continues to sing, and then it is silent, probably having flitted away.

The air is still and is beginning to warm a bit, and the sky looks clear, so I return to my computer and heave open the window that will provide some visual diversion from the work of the day. It gets lighter and lighter, and a little breeze has started up, and immediately, a puff of air wafts in. I expect to smell the faint sweetness coming from several clumps of multiflora rose that have begun blooming near the back of the house (I remind myself to put “chop down multiflora rose” on the growing list of things to do in the yard that I can tackle, if it will stop raining on the weekends when I have time to do it).

But instead of smelling flowers, there is the pungent odor of rotting flesh. Some animal has died nearby. It probably was struck on the highway and was thrown off the road into the brush, or mortally wounded, it crawled off out of sight of the state’s pick-up-dead animals-on-the-highway crew to suffer a wretched death. Or maybe it just "dropped dead", like that poor opossum we found earlier in the Spring. I guess I will be smelling it for a few more days.

The alarm on my computer goes off reminding me to take my blood pressure medicine.

Another day begins...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

One man’s trash….

I grew up with a father who was a mechanic by trade, and he always did most of the repairs on our family cars himself. I sort of assumed almost all men worked on cars, so it was quite a shock to me when I married my dearly beloved to find out that he did not work on cars and had no interest in learning how. He in turn got a shock because I did not do things like his mother – so we both were in shock for about a year.

At any rate, when we first moved here it was vital to find a mechanic to work on our cars. And we began taking our vehicles to Sidney, who lived very close by and worked on cars out of his garage. Sidney was a good mechanic and he was trustworthy, but he had no concept of time management. Once we left a car at his shop to be fixed and got it back 2 years later.

Sidney eventually retired and moved down the road a-piece, and one of our friends recommended Randy, who has a thriving business in town. Randy is also a very good mechanic and is trustworthy. He also has a concept of time management and has seldom kept one of our vehicles for more than a couple of days, and only then because he had to order a part.

So, the other morning when our pick-em-up truck needed to be inspected for registration and needed a bit of a going over – the antilock brake light won’t go off, air conditioner is leaking coolant, gas can be smelled when the tank is full -- instead of taking two vehicles into town, dropping off the truck, and driving back in my car, we decided we would both go and then walk back, which would give us a 2-mile walk.

It continues to annoy us that people are such slobs, and so we continue to pick up trash when we walk, and we decided to take our trash grabbers and bags and clean up the town a bit on the way home. (I am not slowing down to pick up trash, he says. If I can reach out and grab it without stopping, then fine; if not, then it can stay there…” )

Most of the trash we pick up is from the fast food restaurants (cups for various drinks, lids for the cups, straw wrappers, straws, bags) cigarette packages and the strip of cellophane, lottery tickets, and empty aluminum cans and beer bottles.

Occasionally though we find good stuff. I usually don’t investigate the paper trash that I find along the road, but when I saw this strip of orange on the ground I was a bit curious. Good thing I looked.

When we got back home, Randy had already called and left a message that the truck did not need anything done to the brakes, it would pass inspection; we could recharge the air conditioner many-many-many times for what it would cost to repair the small leak, and “the leak in the gas tank is not dangerous -- just don’t fill up the gas tank all the way…”

And within the next couple of days, we will be heading to the ice cream parlor for a treat (Richard thought I should obliterate the address for some reason).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why I am not a waitress

Many of the young women I went to college with got part-time jobs waiting on tables. I did not. I knew my limitations. When I was offered a job as a student assistant in the campus Admissions Office, I readily accepted.

Twice now our church has joined the Lutheran Church to cook and serve breakfast on Saturday morning at the Senior Citizen Center. Various organizations in the town do this once a month as a fundraiser to help support the Center, which provides meals and other social activities for elderly people in town.

On both occasions I have explained that it would be much better if I were to work in the kitchen and put scrambled eggs on the plate rather than deliver the food to the tables and walk around with the coffee pot “topping off” the cups of coffee.

I sometimes have a bit of a problem transferring liquid from one container into another.

Is a picture worth a 1000 words? Yes, I think so. I didn’t speak 1000 words this morning as this was happening, just a few choice ones…

Sunday, May 08, 2011

My mother's mother on Mother's Day

Women of a certain age (like in their early 60s) most likely were raised by women who in turn were raised by women who learned how to “make do” when times were hard.

I will pause a moment so you can get that worked out.

To make it easier, I am talking about our grandmothers, women who were young women in the early 1900s. And for younger women, that would be great-grandmothers.

On this Mother’s Day, I am thinking about my mother’s mother. Her name was Elsie. I called her “Mongie” because that’s what came out when I was learning to talk and tried to say “Grandmother.”

She died in March 1957, when she was 71 years old, and I was 8 (or maybe I was 7 and would have been 8 in October – I can’t figure it out).

I do remember her, but most of my memories of her are of stories that my mother has told me about her.

My mother had no explanation for why her mother was dressed this way, in her husband’s clothes, standing by the house on their ranch in Colorado.

I love this photograph of her. I have it on the wall.

Elsie married Walter in 1906, and I suspect she had not been married very long when this picture was taken. I suspect the great sorrows that followed this woman around had not yet come into her life.

In 1907 she gave birth to a boy, who died at 3 months.
In 1909 she gave birth to a girl, who died at 1 month.
In 1912 she gave birth to a boy, Ellis. He survived childhood and died in 1976.
In 1918 she gave birth to a boy, who lived 3 weeks.
In 1926 she gave birth to my mother. This will be my second Mother’s Day without my mom. I miss her so much.

Then, in 1936, when my mother was 9 years old, Walter was killed in an accident on the ranch. He took his gun and went off on the horse to do something – possibly to shoot coyotes or perhaps get a rabbit for dinner. They surmise that the horse stumbled and he dropped the gun. It went off and he was shot and he died.

So Elsie buried three children and her husband.

They ended up in Los Angeles when my mom began high school, and I think my favorite Grandmother story stems from that time. They did not have much food in the house, possibly not much more than a sack of potatoes and some tea bags and sugar. Elsie told my mother to invite a friend over. Elsie sliced the potatoes and fried them, and made hot tea, and they had a party with tea and potatoes and played games and had a great time.

I cherish the legacy this country woman instilled in my mother – the attitude of frugality and “making do” and learning to have a good time despite the circumstances.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

What were we thinking?

Well, we obviously were not thinking. At least not clearly.

Our simple solution to the cat bothering me all day came to an inglorious end.

We should have remembered that the main reason why we removed the our home-made doggy door contraption out of the bottom pane of the storm door at the back of the house about 5 years ago was that Squeaker would periodically bring in live animals that she had caught and then let them go.

Once we had to unhook our propane heater and cart it outside for a few days because a rat she brought in had climbed up inside of it.

And then there was the chipmunk who happily lived with us for about a week, gorging itself on sunflowers seeds that I kept in a bucket, before we figured out a way to catch it unharmed and release it outside.

So, why were we so surprised when the cat trotted in the back door a couple of days ago and dropped a very live vole behind my chair? I had it momentarily cornered in a corner, but before I could grab it, it bolted and disappeared. We had visions of it dying and stinking up the house – that has also happened before.

We laid out glue traps and it got stuck on one late last night. So the vole-in-the-house problem is solved.

And the storm door is now firmly shut, and I am getting more exercise.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Courtin’ clothes, and the one that got away

Once upon a time I played the dulcimer, and one of the first songs I learned was “Froggie went a-Courtin.” For some reason, I was reminded of that song when I noticed the American goldfinch who has been here all winter, has suddenly--overnight it seems--put on his bright courtin', all set and ready to impress the rather dowdy-looking female.

I have been pleased in the past week or so to see the arrivals of the birds that spend winters south of here and then return for the summer – among them the indigo bunting – and on a number of occasions I have been treated to the primary colors at the bird feeder – the yellow goldfinch, the bright red cardinal, and the shimmering blue indigo bunting.

I had a perfect shot with the camera lined up – all three of these birds were at the front-hard bird feeder at the same time—and then this is what I ended up with.

You’ll just have to imagine it.