Saturday, July 30, 2011

Caught in the act…

A week or so before we left on our trip in early June, I planted the last of the tomato plants that Richard bought from the feed store. We did not get around to staking them or putting them in cages before we left, and when we came back it might not been too late to do it, but we were preoccupied with getting ourselves reorganized from the vacation, and when we woke up and saw what was happening, they were a tangled mess on the ground and it was too late to do anything about it.

Richard comes in and announces “I found the culprit who is munching on our tomatoes.” 

Yes indeed.

Who can resist a vine-ripened tomato (aside from someone who doesn’t like tomatoes)?

Not me. Not him (or her) either.

Friday, July 29, 2011

End of an era

The cicadas that live in the trees that surround the house begin very early in morning to stitch their sewing machine songs. These are not the smaller periodic cicadas that we had in the late spring, these are the big ones that are with us throughout the summer every year. Even if there were no traffic whizzing by 24/7, there is nothing quiet about country living in the summer. The cicadas go to sleep in the early evening, and then the katydids wake up and sing to each other throughout the night. I love the sound of the katydids. Puts me right to sleep

The Bandido Brothers show up fairly regularly here after dark. Each year there are a different group -- the Momma raccoon brings the latest batch of infants to the house to introduce them to all the goodies that might be had here. They scavenge the leftover bird seed at the bird feeder, they invariably tip over the large saucer of water I put out for the birds, and if I forget to bring the hummingbird feeder in, then they are all over that. They squabble and make noise and are just adorable. Until they grow up. They apparently did not come by last night, because this morning I see that the water is still there.

The heat continues. I suppose it is hotter in some areas than it is in others -- I think we get a bit of a break because our house is well shaded by trees and surrounded by tall trees and there is no asphalt or cement around the house to serve as a heat sink. It gets this hot in Los Angeles for sure, but there is no late afternoon marine layer coming off the ocean to moderate the heat. The "low" the other night was about 80 degrees. I find that even though we have lived here since 1981, Los Angeles is still home. I still think of myself as a "California girl".... urr... well, make that "geezer."

I sort of "engineered" it so that someone came on Wednesday and installed two window air conditioners, one in Richard's office and one in our bedroom  (my office is in the bedroom) so we will have "zone cooling".  He was annoyed with me because he "wasn't ready" to do what needs to be done so the A/Cs can be installed (had to move a bunch of stuff away from the window so the A/C could be put in), but one of the A/Cs has been sitting in its carton for at least a year and the other one even longer, and it was time. Installing a window A/C is not a major deal, but Richard can't lift anything very heavy because he has an umbilical hernia that he must be careful with.

So an era is coming to an end -- an era of suffering through the Midwestern summer with no relief except for box fans a few hours of cool air being drawn through the house in the early morning and early evening by the whole-house attic fan. The heat never seemed to bother us much -- or if it did we have forgotten how miserable we were -- but at least now we can be a bit more comfortable.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Not a slave to fashion...

Richard listens to the NPR radio program Car Talk every week, and by default I hear snatches of it as I meander within the sound of the radio in his office. I enjoy the program, the banter between the hosts and the people who call in with problems, the weekly puzzle, and the closing credits.

The credits begin with “colorfully nicknamed actual staffers, notably producer Doug the subway fugitive, not a slave to fashion bongo boy Berman

I have not been a slave to fashion since we moved here in 1981. I try to be neat and clean and look presentable, but I have nothing currently fashionable hanging in my closet.

I was reflecting on fashion yesterday when I rose from the pew to make my way to the front of the church at the end of the service to play the closing song and happened to look down. If I had stuck to the white pumps with the 1-inch heels that I had briefly tried on and then discarded because my feet immediately started hurt (even though they are my size) I would not have found myself suddenly realizing that that I was wearing a different shoe on each foot. I wondered why I had not bothered to look down when I was putting them on or at any time before I left the house, when there still would have been time to change my shoes.


It was an easy mistake to make, actually, because they are, after all, very much alike, and I doubt that anybody noticed the difference, especially since I was wearing an ankle-length dress.

In some places footwear like this on a Sunday morning would not pass muster, so I am very thankful that I live in a place where I don’t have to torture my feet to fit in.

The writer of one of the blogs I read sort of went on a rant about why do we need “perfection.” And he makes some good points. Many very nice looking, and pleasantly average, and even strikingly beautiful women are filled with insecurity about how they look and thus gobs of money are spent on facial products and surgical procedures and clothes, and hair to so they can feel better about themselves, and sometimes in order to succeed in a world that values external beauty. 

He tends to want to blame our culture for this, but I think the root of it is basic human nature: I suspect that every culture on the planet has some sort of standard of beauty that the people must strive to achieve – from the tribal people in the Amazon River rainforest where they often have skewers in various parts of their faces, to the Inuit in the far north whose women were expected to tattoo their faces to appear beautiful.

I am just thankful that my career path did not take me in a direction where I had to “dress for success” and appear a certain way to advance my career.

Dressing for success today in our hot little house with no A/C meant slipping on silk boxers to wear as shorts (25-cents at the thrift store) and a sports bra that was in a bag of clothes I was given years ago by a woman whose house I cleaned. I just have to make sure no one arrives unexpectedly at the back door.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Feeding the donkey…

Several Saturdays ago, maybe the second Saturday after we got back from California, the phone rang in the afternoon, and I picked up.


Immediately, I heard voice of my sister’s husband, rattling along in Italian at breakneck speed.

Of course I did not understanding a single thing he was saying, and likely never to do so, especially since the variety of Italian that his family speaks is a dialect that developed on one of the small islands off the coast of Italy where they all came from.

I began to laugh. It perked the day right up.

Yesterday, we took most of the day off and journeyed to Springfield to commemorate our 40th wedding anniversary. It ended up being sort of boring because it was so hot outside we did not go to any of the fun outdoor places we had thought about going to, and the theater that offers such a nice price break on the matinee on Tuesday was not showing anything we want to see.

We were able to find a few things we wanted in a couple of used-book stores, and we looked at the beautiful things at the Waverly House, a art gallery and gift shop, and then we had lunch at the Macaroni Grill.

We both had the opportunity to learn a little Italian. Richard came back from the men’s restroom and said it was playing a lesson in Italian that said, “When was the last time, Gina, that I told you I loved you.” We had a good laugh about that. What if the woman’s name was not Gina?

So, more out of curiosity than real need, I visited the women’s facility to see what I would be taught.This is what I was asked to repeat: “I have to go to the bank to get money so I can buy food to feed the donkey.

We had an even bigger laugh. The day, which had the potential to slide into boredom, suddenly perked up a bit. Laughter will do that...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Nursery fare

The essay for July 9 in Simple Abundance

is titled “Nursery Fare for Children of All Ages”

She writes:

When you’re cranky and cry easily, when you are so tired that your eyes burn from keeping them open, when you need hugs and someone to pat the top of your head and whisper, “Shh… there, there…” and no one is around, you need nursery fare.

Nursery foods are the well-loved recipes from childhood that conjure up the happy, innocent moments when all was right with the world…”

She started me thinking about the foods that bring back such pleasant memories of childhood.

 My mother did not make dessert very often, but things that spring to mind are…

warm tapioca pudding…

warm rice sprinkled with sugar, a dollop of margarine (butter was a treat for only very rare occasions), and a bit of milk….

a few marshmallows on top of a graham cracker and put under the broiler (years before “S’mores” became popular)…

hot chocolate made with canned milk…

It surprises me not at all that my favorite thing to eat off the dessert bar at the mega buffet is bread pudding (not that we will be going there anytime soon given how much weight we have gained…)

And then I suddenly remembered some things I loved to eat when I went to stay overnight with Mungie, my mom's mother, who was twice widowed and lived with her son, Ellis, whose wife had died many years earlier.

I loved Mungie, but I tended to prefer hanging around with men when I was a little girl, and I especially liked hanging around with Uncle Ellis. He had a couple of hobbies – indoors he raised canaries, and in the back yard he raised and raced pigeons.

Every time I see the small flock of feral pigeons flying about near the bridge over the highway, where they roost on the ledges of the “I” beam girders, I think of him and remember going outside with him and helping him mess about with the pigeons. When I was a little older, he gave me some pigeons of my own and built a coop for them at my house, but a neighborhood boy that I went to school with stole them one summer when we went on vacation. It was not until we were at our 10th high school reunion that he confessed that he had been the one to take them.

Uncle Ellis made money by making brooms, and he kept me supplied with stick horses – I was going to be a cowgirl when I grew up. Really, I was.

I loved the smell of the broomcorn, and watching the machine that he used to stitch the broomcorn, and the other machine that wound the wire around the stick. And when I spent the night, they fixed me up a bed in the room with the big machines that made interesting shadows when the lights were off, surrounded by the smell of the broomcorn.

And part of the ritual of staying with them was the bedtime snack: pieces of white bread torn in chunks with milk poured over and eaten; or it might be graham crackers crumbled into milk and eaten.

I have already learned in the past 6 months that food does not help. Eating to assuage our grief has just made us gain a lot of weight. So, I think I had better just reminisce about the nursery fare of childhood… except if memory serves, I believe I do have some tapioca in the cupboard…

Excuse me for just a minute….

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Perilous times

The bluebirds have worked very hard this year and have managed to raise a second batch of babies.

I have no idea how many left the nest box, but at least one survived and ended up on our porch on Saturday.

It sat there quite a while, with Mom chattering away from the branches above.

We were pleased to see it, but very much wished that the parents would lure it away from the house and take it out back toward the woods, where it might be a bit safer from the marauding cat.

I have not heard the parents’ plaintive calls since Saturday, so I hope that they succeeded.

Baby birds often do not survive. Lots of things are out to get them, and their clumsy abilities at flying often send them crashing into things, which can be fatal.

One would like to intervene: rush out and grab it and keep it safe from harm for a little while longer. But Nature has to take its course, and sometimes it isn’t pretty.

One could make a metaphor about baby birds leaving the nest and children, but I think perhaps I won’t go there….

Monday, July 11, 2011

That creepy-crawly feeling

Once upon a time, I taught fairly young kids – kindergarten, first grade—on Wednesday nights at church while their parents were attending the Bible study. I enjoyed the kids and most of the kids seemed to like me, and at the end of the hour, I would get hugs and off they went.

And then once, a few days after such a Wednesday night session, I got an itchy sore that began to spread… and then another... and then Richard got the itchy sores… and then Nathaniel got the itchy sores.

We could see that something was Going On.

I made an appointment with the doctor.

In the meantime, the child in question had been taken to the doctor, so by the time I saw the doctor to find out what it was, there was no “mystery diagnosis.”

I had been given scabies by the child and had thoughtfully given it to my family.

We were given a bottle of prescription medicine that we had to wash ourselves with, and I had to wash a lot of laundry in very hot water.

On Saturday while I was sitting at the computer, I kept getting this feeling that something was crawling up my right leg over the shin.

Flea? Chigger? Tick? Scabies mite?

Please, not that again!!! Although chigger bites are just about as bad.

I’d look down and I could see nothing. I’d rub the area, and creepy-crawly feeling would go away. For a while.

And then it would happen again.... and again... and again...

I got a magnifying glass and had Richard look at my leg to see if he could see any minute beastie crawling up my leg.

Nope. Nothing there.

We have concluded that a nerve in my skin was confused. Today, fortunately, it seems to have gotten a grip on its proper place in the network and is behaving itself.

So I can stop worrying about ticks, chiggers, and scabies mites. Now, if I could just do something about the two mosquito bites on my stomach.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Any port in a storm

It is imperative that people who live in these here parts regularly check the engine compartments of any cars that they do not drive every day, because pack rats will move into the space and set up housekeeping. If that was all they did, it would not be much of a problem to simply sweep the debris out of the engine compartment and carry on.

But as I said, they don’t just make themselves a cozy nest. They compulsively chew the electric wiring and hoses in the engine compartment and they can do a horrific amount of damage. We had to junk a perfectly good but very old car when we determined it would cost far more for a mechanic to track down the electrical problems caused by pack rat damage and repair it then the car was worth.

Our yard has taken on the appearance of a used-car lot. We have 3 cars sitting idle – a long story that makes us seem as though we are flirting with mental illness – involving the “beater” back-up vehicle to make sure our son would have a car to get to work, the purchase of a good-quality vehicle for us to drive on the frequent trips to the hospital 90 miles away (sometimes two or more trips a week) while he was being treated and recovering from operations and when we still had hope he would recover, and then of course the “beater” car that he was driving when he was able.

OK. So Richard lifts the hood on the “good” extra car and sees this...

which is the beginning of a pack rat nest. The car is parked near some straw that I was using to cover my hostas at night earlier this spring when winter had not quite given up... otherwise it would be a collection of twigs,  leaves, and grass

And then he lifts the hood on Nathaniel’s old car and sees something totally unexpected in addition to an accumulation of twigs, leaves and grass…

This tiny little possum had apparently decided the engine block was a safe place to stay to get in out of the rain (which we have had quite a bit of recently).
We wrestled with what to do about it – we didn’t want to kill it outright...

but Richard needed to put out poison and set traps to catch the pack rat that was also thinking about setting up housekeeping in Nathaniel’s and what if the little guy ate the rat poison... or got caught in the trap?

Richard left the hood cracked and when we checked yesterday afternoon the little guy moved on to someplace else. I'd hate for it to be collateral damage in the war with the rats.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Laughing.... and crying

I try to keep in mind that the telemarketers who call me on the phone are probably decent, hard-working people who are just trying to make a living. It is rather unfortunate that the job they have irritates the snot out of people and leaves them open to all sorts of rudeness and bad manners.

Carl Hiaasen wrote a great "consumer-gets-revenge-on-the telemarketer" novel, Nature Girl, where the woman of the house lures the offending telemarketer to Florida and bad things happen...

Of course I wouldn't attempt to get revenge like the outraged woman in Hiaasen's novel, but I find I have suddenly started responding out of character to these phone calls.

While we were at my Dad's house, a telemarketer called and wanted to know if I was the homeowner. Instead of the usual, "Thank you, but I am not interested..." I responded:

"No. I am not the homeowner and we are not taking any calls now."

Everybody in the room who heard this began laughing hysterically -- although I suppose it does not actually seem that funny now, it was good for a bit of merriment when it happened.

Today I got one from a woman with an accent so thick that I could not understand what she was saying. I had to get her to repeat the lead-in and her voice was so annoying that I finally just said said, "I am sorry but I do not want to talk to you" and I hung up.

It helps to find things to laugh about a bit after having a hard day yesterday.

My boy is never far from my thoughts, yet I was a bit surprised at myself when I walked into Y yesterday morning, saw a couple of the women in my aerobics class sitting there waiting, sat down and burst into tears. I think the clerk behind the counter was a bit surprised too. After some hand holding and hugs, things were better and I had a good rest of the day...

Until about 4 p.m. Ann had invited me to attend a graveside service to bury the ashes of her son and his wife. The wife, who had had suffered with severe depression, killed herself in September. And then Ann's son, who had became increasingly despondent over his wife's death, shot himself in January, a week after our son died. Our son and this young man had been school friends for several years, and we were at their house often.

Sometimes shared experiences forges a bond. I just wish the bond I have with Ann wasn't so horrible.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Who Gets What

Sorting out the disposition of family heirlooms and other treasures can be a minefield for adult children after their parents die. I began cleaning house for an old guy shortly after his wife died, and I worked for him a few years before he also died, and there was so much infighting among his 5 children about who would get the family treasures – and there were a large number of antiques and other beautiful things – that they finally decided the only way to settle the arguments was to have a public auction and everybody had to buy what ever it was they wanted; of course with the worry that some of the items would pass out of the family if his kids could not cough up the money to outbid strangers for particularly nice things.

Some years ago, after my mother heard about a particularly nasty battle that went on among the family members of one our relative's in-laws over a toy tricycle, she decided that, “we aren’t having that in our family,” and so she distributed some of the nonessential treasures. I got the small ornate sewing scissors that she used and some figurines, my sister got the piano, and so on…

When I was there in June I decided to appropriate for myself – after getting the OK from my father – that had great meaning to me from “way back” but that I had a good idea meant little to my brothers or my sister.

My father’s oldest sister, Aunt Betty, had given The Jar to him when I was young, and one of my earliest memories was being mesmerized by what was in The Jar. Unlike The Jar so creepily written about by Ray Bradbury and dramatized so well by Alfred Hitchcock, this did not hold any terrors for me. I loved this collection of reptiles and amphibians. It had been sitting in the garage on a shelf since the early 1960s.

Over the years the formaldehyde had evaporated to the point that some of the specimens were close to being  ruined, and I could not stand it. So, it made the trip home with me and I rehabilitated it.

And even though some of the once brightly colored specimens have become bleached out because of the sun shining on them, I still enjoy looking at it, I suppose because of the memories it brings of my Aunt and Uncle .

And just so y’all don’t think I am totally weird, I also have a teapot that belonged to one of the grandmothers (not sure if it was my mom's mom or my dad’s mom) that I love too...

and periodically fill with dried flowers.

And I just want my family to know that I will not fight with anybody over the disposition of the butcher knife. This was a present that Aunt Betty gave to my folks when they got married in 1945. It is still being used and is as thin as a razor and just as sharp, and sparks could fly when it comes time to decide who gets it. You three can work it out. Richard, however, says he would like the potato peeler, if nobody minds.

Friday, July 01, 2011

In which Little Huney gets hitched…

My sister (looking very beautiful as the MOB)

began calling her baby girl “Little Huney” rather early on because she really was a “Little Huney” – and very different in personality from her big sister....

but not perfect, of course--they have had some interesting times with her, just like most other parents who have raised daughters. She got up one morning before anybody else was awake, decided she wanted a piercing in her ear cartilage, and just.... did it herself. Then she came home one day with a stud in the side of her nose, again without asking anyone what they thought about it.

And then she met a young man at Starbucks, and fell in love...

 and they had a glorious wedding back on June 18 (time flies!).

I have sat through a few weddings that seemed to me like train wrecks waiting to happen, and unfortunately, my assessment was sometimes right. Of course one never knows how things are going to work out for a young couple as they begin life together, and most couples do go through bad patches no matter how perfect they are for each other.

This wedding was not a train wreck. Indeed not.

We were right up front, in the second row, so I don’t know how many elbows bent to press Kleenex to extra moist eyes, but I suspect there was a lot of damp Kleenex by the time the ceremony was done, especially when the groom got choked up saying his vows and could hardly finish them, and the minister who married them got choked up himself.

Having come unprepared, I had to borrow my brother’s handkerchief before the ceremony even started.

So, how does one go about putting into words the sights, sounds, and memories of a lovely wedding and lovely visit with family and friends?

Ships passing in the night

I have not seen my Aunt Vera (my father's sister) and her husband, Uncle Bud

or their children—cousins Teri, Mark, and Nadine—since their father turned 80 years old in June 2003.
Our family happened to be on a “long weekend” trip to Yosemite that year, which is not that far from Sacramento, where they live, and so we took a detour home and crashed the party.

Uncle Bud Murphy and Little Huney share a birthday. She decided to get married three days before her birthday, and the Murphy relatives decided to come to the wedding, and then head on down the road to Phoenix, where Mark lives, to have big party  for Uncle Bud.

Teri came from Hawaii so she could drive her dad and mom in their RV...

and Nadine (on the left there) came too so they could take turns with the driving. And then surprise surprise, Mark showed up for the wedding...

He is a pilot, so he hopped on a plane Saturday morning in Phoenix, rode in the “jump seat” to the Orange County airport, rented a car, attended the wedding, drove back to the airport, and caught another ride back to Phoenix.

And then there was cousin Jeanie and her husband Ryojin..

She is a “half first cousin” -- we had the same Grandpa (a longish story better saved for another time)  -- who lives in Pennsylvania. I last saw her in 2004 when my father turned 80 and she came to the party.

The wedding coincided with a trip she was planning to Papua New Guinea and she had to be in Los Angeles in connection with that, so I was able to spend a little time visiting with her before we went our separate ways -- her husband back to Pennsylvania and for her, a long plane ride over thousands of miles of ocean.

We were like ships passing on the sea, flashing smiles at each other, exchanging brief messages, and then heading off on our own particular journeys.