Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Good Medicine

A man should not leave this earth with unfinished business. He should live each day as if it was a pre-flight check.
He should ask each morning, am I prepared to lift-off?

Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider,
Northern Exposure, "All is Vanity," 1991
There came a point Sunday afternoon when I literally thought I was going to “lift-off.” Several days before I could sense that pleurisy was developing, but I didn't think that much about it. The last time I had pleurisy it was not that bad, it went away after a few days. I thought this would be more of the same. It wasn't. It was different. Very different.

We came home from church and I decided to take nap. When I got up, the pain that hit was so intense, I could hardly breathe. I felt like my chest was in a vice. For a second or two I thought I was having a heart attack, but most of the other symptoms that one thinks of as going along with a heart attack were not present. I now know that women frequently do not present with the classic symptoms, and I have filed that way for the future.

Monday morning on my way home from taking the dog for a walk—and yes, I felt OK except for occasional pain under my ribs—I stopped at the clinic and made an appointment to see “I’m-not-a-doctor-just-call-me-Bob” for that afternoon.

Not-a-doctor-Bob came in the room, gave me a hug, and listened to my rather garbled explanation of what was going on and decided I needed an electrocardiogram and a chest X-ray. He has an old-fashioned clinic where you get the ECG and the X-ray right then and there instead of having to go 25 miles down the road to the emergency department of the hospital.

He gave me another hug and headed off to tell the nurse to set up the ECG. Then he came back in the room and handed me three squares of Ghirardelli chocolate (this is good-quality chocolate) and talked about how when he lived in San Francisco he used to go to where the factory was and the smell of chocolate was everywhere.

I had to lay down for the ECG, which showed my heart was just fine, but the pain that hit when I started to sit up was so intense, that he decided I need immediate pain relief, and I got a lovely shot in the arm. And it was a good thing that my dearly beloved, who was at home fretting because it was taking so long, showed up and was in the room to, because I was in no condition to drive myself after that. I was literally feeling no pain. No pain at all.

Next on the agenda was the chest X-ray, and while we were waiting for them to get that ready, Bob walked in and handed us both some more chocolate.

My lungs looked great on the X-ray image. Nice and black, with no cloudy white spots that would indicate pneumonia or another infection and no suspicious looking masses. What was surprising about the X-ray was that it showed an “S” curve in my neck, which Bob said was scoliosis. Which probably explains the slight hump that developed at the base of my neck about 10 years ago.

So in addition to the medical workup, I got several hugs from Bob and some very lovely chocolate. And I think hugs and chocolate are excellent medicine indeed.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Russian Tea Cakes

My cousin mentioned in an e-mail describing various plans they had for holiday celebrations that she had decided to make Russian Tea Cakes.

Russian tea cakes!

It is the rituals or the traditions, if you prefer, that we participate in -- either as children in the family home or those that we have created ourselves as adults when we formed out own families -- that serve as the foundation to the memories we have of holiday celebrations, whether cultural -- such as Christmas or Thanksgiving, or personal, such as birthdays or anniversaries.

One of the traditions that developed in out family for Thanksgiving when I was living there was that I would get up very early with my Dad, while everyone else in the house was still asleep, to prepare the cranberry dressing for the dinner later that day. He would get out the big metal food grinder, the kind that clamped to the counter. It had a hole in the top and an augur that connected to a crank which was turned round and round. We would feed the cranberries, oranges, and other ingredients into the top and take turns with the crank.

I remember only a few of the presents I received for Christmas as a child. What sticks in my mind the most was driving to get the Christmas tree, and my father getting down the large cardboard box filled with shredded paper in which were buried the Christmas ornaments and and lights and the fun of decorating the tree.

And then the thing we looked forward to as much as anything was the arrival in the mail every year of the box from my Aunt Betty, which contained a decorative tin filled with homemade cookies. My Aunt was a very good baker -- she used real butter -- and her cookies were wonderful -- especially the Russian Tea Cakes. I loved them most of all, I think.

It is only on very rare occasions that I make cookies. I learned over the years that I have no self-control in the presence of cookies and cannot resist gobbling them up. But, after reading my cousin’s e-mail and remembering the wonderful Russian Tea Cakes my Aunt made. Well… I just had to make some.

Knowing my difficulty in this area, I only made half the batch that the recipe called for, probably about 2 dozen cookies.

Now, Russian Tea Cakes are supposed to be nice, round little balls covered with powdered sugar. That’s what the ones my Aunt made looked like.

Mine, on the other hand, were misshaped lumps...
with only a slight resemblance to a ball.

I gave half of the batch to my dearly beloved. Although I intended to dole mine out to myself—half at lunch with the after lunch tea and half at dinner with my after dinner tea—I consumed all of mine within about an hour after they came out of the oven.

Richard commented on how wonderful they tasted, and then this morning, he said he had a lot of goodies to eat, did I want what was left of his half?

I certainly did.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Best Gift

Giving presents is a talent; to know what a person wants, to know when and how to get it, to give it lovingly and well. Unless a character possesses this talent there is no moment more annihilating to ease than that in which a present is received and given.

Pamela Glennconner

A new feature at the dentist’s office are televisions in the treatment rooms positioned so the patient can watch the TV while undergoing whatever tortu… uhh procedure is required to fix the problem.

At my recent 6-month checkup, while we waited for the dentist to finish working on my dearly beloved, the assistant and I watched a segment of one of the morning news programs in which three women (I assume they were hosts of the program) wrapped some awkwardly shaped items as fast as they could. The results were predictably hilarious, and I was amused along with the people on the set behind the scenes whose laughter we could here, but actually not that amused because I am terrible at wrapping presents. Just terrible.

And I am not kidding. This is not like the false modesty of the woman who invites you in to her home saying “Come in, my house is a mess” when of course it could be on the cover of a glossy magazine.

Which brings me to events of a few days ago. I have had some difficulty drumming up enthusiasm for Christmas, but I did manage to rouse myself and took a pie tin of cookies to the neighbors. We have lovely neighbors--a nice, personable young couple with three very friendly and very nice kids. I am not sure how to describe our relationship: it is cordial when we happen to see each other, and we wave when they pass us by when we are walking, but we are not on each others’ doorsteps. I expect I am easily old enough to be her mother.

I covered the pie tin with fresh aluminum foil and put some plastic wrap over the cookies but that is as far as I got with wrapping it. Oh, I did try… but after struggling with it for a while and looking at the mess I was making and how awful it looked, I just gave up and took the wrapping paper off and carried the cookies to their house without being wrapped.

My presentation of this gift left a lot to be desired.

The older daughter opened the door. I handed her the cookies and the Christmas card and exchanged pleasantries with the Cary, the mom, and she said “Oh, and I have something for you.” And she walks over to their tree and hands me this amazing package. All gold and sparkling with glitter.

The older girl says “You’re really gonna love this, it is very warm.” And then “Oh, the glitter is going to get everywhere.”

If there had been an available hole, it would not have taken too much effort for me to have leaped in and pulled the ground down on top of me.

Not hard to miss a life lesson here about being able to graciously receive a present from someone when you realize what you have given them is totally inadequate. And a spiritual lesson as well.

I am thinking tonight about the most perfect gift of all. God’s gift to man, a gift we can never match, the birth of the Child we celebrate on Christmas.
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.…

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Oh, Happy Day!

Gloom we always have with us, a rank and sturdy weed, but joy requires tending.

Barbara Holland

Sometime in the late 1980s I came to know a woman who I will call Gloomy Gussie. The details of how this came about are lost in the fog, but she had the contract to clean the post office, and she arranged for me to fill in for her when she couldn’t get to town because of bad roads or other reasons.

The people who worked at the post office did not like her very much, mainly because of her attitude on the job and she was so unfriendly. If GG was cleaning the lobby when customers walked in, she was often rude or made unkind remarks.

So no, she was not a favorite there, and at the end of that fiscal year when the contract came up for bid, the postmaster asked me if I would like to have the job. I said I would, so he rewrote the contract and added some requirements that meant GG could no longer perform the job. I placed a bid and won the contract.

I had a good time cleaning the post office. I met a lot of interesting people in the lobby and enjoyed interacting with the people who worked there. I gave up the contract after about 15 years because we were just getting too old and stiff to meet the contract’s requirements to take care of the floors and shovel the snow off the sidewalks, and haul the lawnmower in to mow the lawns, and a few other things that were required.

But I am at the post office every day to pick our box mail. GG also has a post office box and so we often meet at the door of the post office.

We have had rather monotonous weather for about the last 10 days consisting of an almost uniformly gray sky, a lot of rain and fog, and rather cold with a sometimes biting wind. The blessing is that it is always well above freezing, so all of the moisture has stayed liquid instead of forming layers of ice. I am so thankful for that.

On one such morning a few days ago I saw GG at the post office and said,

“Hi, GG, how are you doing?”

Often a question like that gets little more than a shrug, but this time she actually had something to say:

“I am not very happy. I am tired of the rain and the cold.”

I was not surprised by her comment. And yeah, I get it. There are times when the weather can indeed cause a lot of stress. But I also get how important it is not to let the outside weather influence the “inside weather.”

We are advancing into a “hard time” of the year for us as couple, and I know what can happen if we focus on the rank and sturdy weed of gloom and how important it is instead to tend the internal joy “inexpressible and full of glory” that we are promised as Christians through our relationship with the Lord. If we are always depending on external things to make us happy, we are indeed likely to be very Gloomy Gussies.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Crazy Dog Man

It wasn’t long after I brought Mollywog home from the animal rescue...

that my dearly beloved began to call me the "crazy dog lady."

I don’t think I am a crazy dog lady—I rather prefer to think of myself as a “responsible pet owner”—and I don’t want him thinking that I have become “loopy” or unhinged or unbalanced over the dog.

So I try to “watch it,” and not get too over-the-top obsessive about her, and I take his teasing in stride.

Early in the summer, my niece and her husband opened their hearts and their home to an old dog, Mr. Darcy, whose elderly owner had died, leaving him homeless.

I had heard quite a lot about Mr. Darcy and the struggles they were having over the summer trying to help him adjust to his new home. I was curious to meet him, and meet him I did when she brought him to my Dad’s house for a visit.
My intelligent, level-headed, and very talented niece is a crazy dog lady.

She does something that I do not do with Molly. She pretends to be Mr. Darcy and talks in a "Mr. Darcy voice." It is very cute, and it really is OK that she does that. But, when I told Richard about her and the dog, I had pointed out to him that at least that was something I did not do. So there!

Yesterday evening I had been sitting in the recliner reading a book and had left my reading classes on the arm of the chair when I got up to watch TV with Richard. When I came back into the living room, I saw that Molly had decided to move from the couch and was asleep on the recliner. As she typically does, she had made a nest for herself by rearranging the crocheted afghan and the small blanket that I throw over the chair to help protect it. 
It wasn’t exactly like this yesterday, but close enough. My glasses were missing.

Richard walked over and picked her up so I could see if my glasses were tangled up in the covers (and they were). Molly has learned that when Richard picks her up, something unpleasant usually happens—most often she finds herself in the bathtub (which she does not like)—and she becomes very stiff and looks worried. Then, much to my surprise, he said in a funny “Molly voice...”

“Oh no! What’s happening? Why am I flying through the air? Help!”

I looked at him in surprise, and I started to say, “Well, now I know who the real crazy…” But I never finished the statement because we were both laughing too hard.

But I do indeed think I now know who the crazy dog person in this house really is.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Going to a good home

When our son was little, he was obsessed with all things mechanical—mostly trains, but anything with wheels would do. When he was about 18 months, we moved to a farming community in Oregon, and not far from our house was a company that sold farm machines, and on days when the business was closed, I used to take him there and let him sit on the equipment—tractors, combine harvesters, and the like. I would have gotten into trouble had I ever been caught doing that but, fortunately, I did not.

Among Nathaniel’s favorite books when he was this age was Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, because every page was filled with “things that go” and the story was very cute.
I read that book to him just about every day for several years. I had it memorized and so did he, and I was never able to skip a page so I could get through it quicker.

When Nathaniel moved back home with us, I was surprised to find two tractors as part of the “stuff” he brought with him. 
He never said what prompted him to buy the tractors, but I like to think they brought back good memories of when he was little.

A few weeks ago, my husband said, “The tractors hold no memories for me. If you want to pass them on, go ahead.”

Which brings me to this little boy, named Elliott.
My brother married a woman who had two sons from her previous marriage, and both sons have, in turn, brought two boys into the world. My brother is having a good time being Grandpa to these four little boys.

Elliott is the oldest boy of the youngest son, and I have only seen him once in person, and that was at wedding several years ago when he was an infant. He is “fourish” now, and I find myself drawn to this child—and his parents—especially after seeing a picture of him with a birthday cake in which a clam shell digger was sitting on top of the cake with the shell taking a bite of the cake itself. How very, very clever.

The boy appears to like “all things that go.” Although he looks nothing like our son did at that age, he reminds me very much of our little boy. These tractors need to be played with, which certainly wasn’t going to happen at our house, where they have been sitting on a shelf and would continue to sit on the shelf until…

And so a few days ago, with Richard’s blessing, I packed the tractors into a flat-rate priority box (which was a good deal for me because the tractors were very heavy) and sent them off to Elliott in California. I believe they will have a good home there.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Getting labeled

During the first part of our marriage we lived in the City of Orange, which rightly deserved its name. The climate in that area is perfect for growing oranges, and the city was surrounded by orange groves that were still in production when we moved there. One of the first apartments we lived in was on the edge of an orange grove that was still producing oranges, and the smell of the blossoms wafting through the air when the trees began to bloom made one giddy. But by the time we left for Oregon in 1979, most of the trees had been bulldozed to make room for people and their buildings. The City Fathers, in their wisdom, proudly announced the city would plant a specimen orange grove in a green space to remind people of the history of the town. How ironic, we thought.

Orange was incorporated in 1871, and in 1971, the city decided to celebrate the Centennial of its founding by having a huge street party. I am not sure how this happened, because my husband is a rather shy type, but he became the chairman of the committee that was organizing the festivities. And somehow, and again, I am not sure how this happened, we came to be in possession of a collection of labels that the packing houses put on the crates of oranges that they shipped.

Some of them are quite beautiful, and have themes—these with a fabric theme hang in our bathroom. 

A few of the many others that are hanging here and there around the house.... 

Fast forward to November 13 when my cousin, who now lives in New York, came to visit (see last post).

His mother (my Dad’s youngest sister) and father lived not too far from where our family lived, and we spent quite a bit of time together when we were children. 

And then life happened, and I hadn’t seen him for about 12 years. It worked out quite nicely that he was able to time a visit to his father and they could both come on Nov. 13 to celebrate my Dad's birthday

He told me that while he on a quest to find fruit crate labels of all the places he had lived in, he happened across a crate label that he thought would be the perfect label to give me for a belated birthday present.
  And indeed it is. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The communal cup

Sharing of food has always been part of the human story… “to break bread together,” a phrase as old as the Bible, captures the power of a meal to forge relationships, bury anger, provoke laughter…
Victoria Pope, National Geographic, December 2014

And all these things did indeed happen on the evening of November 13 as we gathered to honor our Dad on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
 In addition to the four of us

and assorted spouses, our cousin, who was raised not too far away until they moved North, but now lives in New York, and his father, who still lives in Northern California, also came, bringing with them beautiful flowers for the table...
 some dynamite sauerkraut from Trader Joe’s 
 (a few days later I bought 4 jars of it for Dad to enjoy)
and family photos of shared events—camping trips and holiday celebrations—many of which we had never seen before.

After the meal there was much hootin’ and hollerin’ and general laughter

as we shared memories and looked at versions of ourselves as young infants, children, awkward adolescents, and then at our weddings as young adults.

Then came the moment in the midst of this boisterous gathering when I picked up the cup of coffee in front of me on the coffee table
(you can just see it sitting there by my cousin's knee)
 and started drinking it and then realized it was my sister’s coffee—not mine—I had not yet gotten a cup for myself. Under other circumstances perhaps I would have said nothing and looked innocent but for some reason, this struck me as being hilariously funny. I do not laugh quietly.  

In some Christian traditions, the cup offered during the Communion service is a communal cup— everyone drinks from the same cup—and through the laughter and good-natured bantering that followed after I drank my sister’s coffee, I sensed that we were indeed communing in very real sense.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A short tale about a short tail

What have I got in my pocket?” he said aloud. He was talking to himself, but Gollum thought it was a riddle, and he was frightfully upset.

“Not fair! Not fair! He hissed. “It isn’t fair, my precious, is it, to ask us what it’s got in its nassty little pocketeses?”
Which brings me to ask the question:

What have I got in my pocket?

Yes indeed.

It was cold enough the other morning that we needed to move from the light jacket to the medium level coat – the coat one wears when it not quite cold enough for the heavy duty winter coat. This was the first time I had worn the coat since I last wore it in the early Spring.

The coat given to me by a friend, perhaps 15 years ago. I call it my coat of many colors because...
it is indeed very bright and cheerful. It makes me feel bright and cheerful when I wear it.

I had forgotten to wear my gloves, and my hands were a little chilly, so as Richard and I walked along, whichever hand was not holding the dog’s leash was in the pocket.

And it happened that I had my left hand in the left side pocket to see what I might find. One never knows. If I had last worn the coat to church, it might be cellophane wrapped piece of hard candy or some other odd thing.

I did not find any old candy, but down in the seam of the pocket I did indeed feel something was there…
And I was very, very surprised.

Because this was not something that I had picked up and put in the pocket. No indeed.

And when I e-mailed the former owner of the coat, she also didn’t remember picking anything like it up.

But there it was…

It is not from a toy stuffed animal, it is a real tail and I have concluded it is the tail of a baby skunk.

But how it came to be there is indeed one of those odd moments that occur periodically.

Friday, October 31, 2014

It was a dark and stormy night....

The sun has dipped below the horizon and the sky is dark now, and it is easy to turn the clock back 50 years to 1954, when I was 5 years old, and Halloween had come.

It was a simpler time then. My mother made my costume, and a very unsophisticated costume it was, too. I was a black cat, and she had created the costume by dying some pajamas black and fashioning a hat to resemble cat’s ears. A black satin mask completed the look.

And in this photo, when I was a few years older,  I think maybe I was supposed to be a princess or perhaps a fairy godmother.  At that time, the elementary school I attended had a Halloween parade during the day and so we came to school in our costumes.
And again, this was a homemade costume.

Our father had an amazing Halloween costume. My sister and I can recall seeing a picture of him dressed up in it, but neither of us has the picture and we don’t know where it is. He had a rubber mask that looked very much like a Neanderthal, with exaggerated features, and scraggly hair. It was not too overdone, and thus is looked very realistic. He would put the mask on, and wrap himself in some old burlap sacks. And he would go with us trick-or-treating, lurching along next to us and growling and moaning at the other children on the street. They would be delightfully scared and would laugh and screech and they loved it. And he had so much fun doing it. Over the years he became the hit of costume parties that the adults had.  

Our Grandfather lived very nearby and we usually went to his house after we had finished trick-or-treating. On one memorable Halloween he tried to make us hot cocoa but accidently put salt in the cocoa instead of sugar.

In this part of the state, it seems inevitable that on October 31, Nature throws the switch for Winter, and the weather invariably reminds us of what is coming down the pike. The first few years that we moved here I found taking our boy out trick-or-treating was quite a far cry from the “brisk but not bad” nights we enjoyed on Halloween in southern California. It was almost always very cold and not much fun. Several years it poured rain, and we did not go, and finally he was old enough that we didn’t have to go anymore. Whew.

Tonight is no exception. Warm fall days earlier in the week have turned cold. The wind is whipping through the trees, leaves are blowing everywhere, which makes it seem even colder, and there will be a hard freeze tonight. We have never had a child come to our door for candy on Halloween, and I don’t expect there will be one tonight either.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A star is (almost) born...

Today is my birthday, and I suppose it would be appropriate for me to find a picture of me as an adorable infant (which of course I was), but instead, I offer you me on my third birthday, which was 62 years ago (if I’ve done my math right). This is the first birthday I remember.

We were at my aunt’s house, and I was given a small fishing pole that fit in a metal canister when it was taken apart. 

 Dad loved to fish...

 and I was happy to be able to go fishing with him with my own pole.

But what I actually want to write about is the family truck and what became of it. Sometime in 1948, a year before I was born, a pick-up truck rolled off the Ford assembly line, and about 15 years later my dad bought it and it rolled up in front our house.

Dad drove the truck to work every morning. On Saturday mornings in the summer, he used it to take us and our friends, including these two women who I went to high school with, to the beach. 

Which is why I expect they wanted a picture in front of it when they came to call on Dad shortly after Mom died.

When it came time for me to drive, I started learning to drive the truck, with Dad teaching me. Poor soul. My initial attempts at managing the gas and the clutch—mind you, this was in the large parking lot of a nearby warehouse—got him so nervous and riled up that that he had to stop and Mom had to take over teaching me in the family car.

Years passed, and because Dad was an auto mechanic, he kept the mechanical parts of the truck repaired and running, even though vehicles half its age had long since been retired to the junkyard or scrap heap. The interior of the cab was not in such good shape though.

Then, about 3 years ago, the family decided it was time for Dad to stop driving, and so he gave the truck to my younger brother.

He began to restore the truck and started taking it to car shows.

 In addition to winning prizes, the truck caught the eye of a man who supplies vintage vehicles for movies and TV programs.

One thing led to another, and last summer, my brother found himself on the set of Clint Eastwood’s movie, “Jersey Boys” as an extra in a street scene. 

He mostly spent the day driving forward, and then backing up and doing it again… and again…. and again…. We were all very excited that we might actually see him in the movie. Unfortunately, his scene ended up on the cutting room floor. But he and the truck may have another chance—he was also an extra on a film being made by Warren Beatty about Howard Hughes.

In the meantime, I am happy to be alive, and I don’t mind being 65. Wouldn’t mind having a few parts restored though, and I indeed expect there will be some new joints in my future.

Monday, October 20, 2014


It was October again … a glorious October, all red and gold, 

with mellow mornings when the valleys were filled with delicate mists as if the spirit of autumn had poured them in for the sun to drain — amethyst, pearl, silver, rose, and smoke-blue. The dews were so heavy...
that the fields glistened like cloth of silver and there were such heaps of rustling leaves in the hollows of many-stemmed woods to run crisply through.”

L.M. Montgomery

Days of seemingly relentless rain falling from cold, gray skies have finally given way to clear, sunny skies, but not too hot – maybe mid-60s in the afternoon, a perfect day for heading off down the frontage road for the church loop and the large pond, a favorite place to walk.

When I take this route in the early mornings on these lovely Fall days, before the sun rises above the tree line, there is thick mist in the low area behind McDonald’s that sometimes flows out over the highway, and at the pond, the mist rises from the water.

All of that vanishes quickly as the sun creeps higher in the sky and warms the air, and I am reminded of the verse…  
You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? It is a mist that appears for a little while. Then it disappears (James 4:14).
Yesterday afternoon the sun felt lovely and warm, warm enough to leave the light jacket at home. The recent rains had brought the level of the pond up high enough so that we could leave the asphalt and walk along the edge of the water without stepping in mud. A grasshopper fleeing from my approach leaped into the air and landed in the water. There are fish in the pond and I was curious to see if one would come up from the depths and eat it. While Molly was snorting into in the opening of some small animal’s burrow, trying to assess whether there was actually anything in there worth trying to dig out. I watched to see what was going to become of the grasshopper.

The grasshopper floated on the surface of the water for a few seconds, and then, much to my surprise, began to propel itself—not sure if I could call it “swimming”—toward the stubble that was sticking out of the water at the edge. I watched until it had climbed safely up on a stalk.

I expect there is a rather profound object lesson here for us: How often does life drop us into the deep end? Do we flounder around or immediately head for the shore? I guess we do the best we can not to drown. I dunno… but I can’t pursue it any further because the Wogster knows it is time for the afternoon stroll. Places to go and holes to snort into…

Monday, October 13, 2014


Not too far from where I grew up in Gardena, on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, there used to be a landfill. Eventually it was indeed filled up and it was shut down. Then, the county purchased the land, rehabilitated it, and turned it into the South Coast Botanic Garden.

It has been a favorite place for our family to visit, and we have gone there on many of our trips to California. Several plants grow in the backyard of my father’s house that were purchased in the gift shop there as presents for my mother.

On one of our visits, the local fuchsia society was having a flower show, and many varieties of gorgeous fuchsias were on display.

 And among these beautiful flowers was a plant with rather small and not very flashy flowers compared with the others. The label said this was an example of the original fuchsia from which all the beautiful varieties had been created in the hundreds of years since the plant was first discovered.

Last weekend Richard met our neighbors as they were leaving on their way to a motocross event, and they mentioned that a couple of their hens had gone missing after a thunderstorm moved through with its sound and light show the night before. He said we would check to see if the hens had come home to roost.

So I did go several times to see if there were any chickens running around loose, but I didn’t notice any.

But I did notice clusters of wild grapes hanging into yard from a tree along the fence line.. Not the big fancy seedless kinds--grapes sometimes as big as a joint on your finger--that we can buy in the stores these days. No, these were the wild variety....

Grapes not much bigger than green pea, if even that big. Grapes that make a satisfying pop when pressed against the roof of your mouth and release a small burst of sweet but slightly sour juice, a small morsel of flesh, and two huge seeds.

Folks are upset about genetically modified plants that are increasingly working their way into our food supply in the United States, and rightly so, perhaps; but we humans have probably always tinkered with plants – like fuchsias and grapes – and the animals that we involve in our lives, selecting for the traits we want

From this….

to this…

 and this (and the little dog was no doubt feeling very frustrated because the big dog was in heat and he was sort of out of luck)…. and this...

 our precious Molly Wog ...

And from this momma cow to her baby, whose daddy was a very different sort of bull than the momma...

 and who watched me with interest as I sampled the grapes and is now enjoying life and kicking up his heels with the typical joy of a young animal, little knowing that he will likely end up as hamburger at someone’s dinner.

So, although I enjoyed eating the wild grapes, am very glad that I can reach in the freezer and grab a handful of frozen giant green grapes to enjoy in my morning yogurt.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A pudding by any other name...

“Me mother allus gives me a special do on a Wednesday night after I get back from Houlton market—a few good slices o’beef, sprouts and taties and, like I said, three Yorkshire puddin’s and a smashin’ spotted Dick and custard…”

 “…as we took our places and read through the good, old-fashioned Yorkshire menu, which had always delighted me—Yorkshire pudding, plaice and chips, steak and kidney pie, steamed jam sponge, spotted Dick and custard…”
Every Living Thing--James Herriott

The cook smiled at Inspector Barnaby and Sergeant Troy. “Would you some puddin’ then? Some spotted dick and a bit of custard?"
Midsomer Murders
I have always found it something of an adventure to try the foods that other cultures enjoy but that are not common in this country. Having read many novels set in the United Kingdom, I have wondered what some of the things the characters eat are like, and I have gone to the trouble of making a few of them.

The first lesson is realizing that some of the words they use to refer to their favorite concoctions do not mean the same thing in the United States; pudding, for example, is almost certainly not what we know as milk and sugar heated on the stove and thickened with eggs and cornstarch (or the instant variety of the dessert that emerges from a package dumped in a bowl and whipped vigorously with cold milk).

Once upon a time, I bought kidneys and tried making a steak-and-kidney pie (once was enough) – I can eat some organ meats, but kidneys? Never again. I have put a Yorkshire pudding, which of course is not a "pudding" at all, in the oven along with roast beef on a number of occasions.

But Spotted Dick? A sponge pudding called Spotted Dick? One trembles at the thought. And Richard, my dearly beloved,  who often refers to himself as Dick when he talks to people on the phone, saw a can of it at the salvage store...

and couldn’t pass it up.

And it was quite good...

even without being topped with custard.

I seldom make dessert, but now that I have had a taste of it, I may even try my hand at making it next time I have company. 

And when they ask, "What is this?"  Perhaps I'll tell them it is "spotted Richard," or "Richard with raisins."

Monday, September 01, 2014

Where’s the vegetables?

People who watched television in the early 1980s are almost certainly going to remember the advertising campaign for the Wendy’s Restaurant franchise. One may not remember where one put the keys, or the dog’s leash, or the birthday present (a beautiful pottery mug) one got for one’s husband several weeks earlier, but one certainly remembers “Where’s the beef.”

And in case you missed the commercial because you had not yet been born when it aired in 1984 or otherwise hadn't seen it...

To celebrate his birthday, my dearly beloved, who is now on the far side of 70 and doesn’t look a day older than...oh... say about 60 (which is what clean living will do for one’s face), decided he wanted to have Chinese food. We have not eaten a meal at an Asian  buffet in a very long time. And “what a difference a… year or two…makes!”

I get it that any cuisine from one culture that makes the journey to another culture is going to be adapted to the new culture. The ingredients will change: things that are readily available in a tropical or semi-tropical climate in another hemisphere halfway around the world may not be available in the new country. A number of the recipes in the Chinese and Indian cookbooks that I have contain lists at the end for substitutions if one can’t find the ingredient locally.

So yes, one expects the food is going to change – it’s inevitable – and that new recipes will be created based on some of the traditional food, as has certainly happened with Chinese food.

But, in the case of Asian food, the changes we have noted in the in Asian restaurants, both when ordering from the menu and in buffets, have been inexorable and not so subtle and not for the better.

I have the general understanding that authentic Chinese cuisine mostly uses of combinations of vegetables and carbohydrates—whether, noodles, rice, or tofu—and a little meat. Our hospice counselor, who went on an extended tour of China last summer, confirms this. A picture she sent shows the ingredients of an authentic Chinese meal, called “Hot Pot” that they were served and which varied depending on what part of the country they were visiting…

And most of the meals we have eaten in Thai and Vietnamese restaurants have indeed been mostly vegetables and a little meat.

Not so at the Asian buffet we ate at recently. Not counting the salad bar or the “Mongolian BBQ” counter where one picks what one wants and a chef cooks it to order (and expects a tip for doing so), and the soup, which had some vegetables, there were 2 vegetables offered singly in the buffet steam tables—fried green beans and fried mushrooms—and two dishes that were a combination of vegetables and meat—one with beef and broccoli and another with beef and wedges of onion. That’s it.

As I stood there looking at all of the meat cooked in a variety of ways (most of which involved a heavy, sweet sauce) and almost no vegetables, I was thinking one would be hard-pressed to get even a fraction of the “5-7 servings of vegetables and fruits” that we are encouraged to eat to be healthy.

Variations on the “where’s the beef” slogan have become catchphrases, perhaps “where’s the vegetables” should too.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

How about a biscuit with that stew?

Among the gifts we received when we got married in June 1971 was a little cookbook...

and a beautiful enameled cast iron cooking pot...

Even though I was not a budding Martha Stewart when I was living at home, I was not totally naive about what went on in the kitchen. I did help my mother (and father, too) prepare food for the family--in fact she said I made a better pie crust than she did--but I didn’t really know how to cook for a husband.

The little cookbook became very useful indeed. There was a great recipe for a dilled potato salad for two, and four meals from one recipe of meatballs, and various desserts.

The cookbook and the cast iron cooking pot are among the few gifts that I still have and still use. The cookbook is indeed well used and looks it, its pages are very stained with the evidence of many meals prepared from its pages. The pot is also rather well used, especially the inside which I am reluctant to scub too severely for fear of damaging the enamel..

One of our favorite recipes from the cookbook is a simple beef stew that I often cooked in the cooking pot. I still make the stew -- not as often as I used to because beef is so high; but in fact, I cooked it not all that long ago.

Although Richard and I eat lunch together at the kitchen table like proper people are supposed to do and exchange scintillating conversation, we eat dinner in bed and watch TV. Each of us has a TV tray on our side of the bed to put the plates and drinking glass when we aren't holding them.

On this particular night in question, Molly Wolly Doodle all the Day was stretched out on her spot at the foot of the bed.

About half-way through the bowl of stew, I decided I wanted some bread, and so I put the bowl down on the TV tray and went rummaging in the freezer for some bread. I could not find the bread but I did find a freezer bag of biscuits that I had made a few weeks earlier was doling out to us for Sunday morning breakfast. I thawed one and came back in the bedroom to see our dog standing at the edge of the bed, in front of the TV tray, and Richard informing me that she had been licking my bowl.

I could see where she had licked some of the stew gravy off a chunk of carrot, but everything else looked untouched, so I thoroughly washed the carrot, but before I could resume eating my stew, the telephone rang. So I sat the biscuit down on the bed (on the bed!!!) and took the bowl with me to answer the phone (I had learned my lesson about leaving the bowl within the reach of the dog, indeed I had). While I was talking to my friend, I could hear Richard start to laugh in the background, and when I got back to the bed I saw that all that remained of my biscuit were a few crumbs on the bed, and the dog was prepared to lick those up as well.

I guess I was not the only one to enjoy the meal…

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Meep! Meep! and Buzzling Meat

I believe a fully stocked junk drawer is essential to smooth functioning in the kitchen, and so when I went into the junk drawer to find the Phillips-head screwdriver that is supposed to be there so that I could tighten the handle on my large pot, it was not there, and neither was the flat-head screwdriver, for that matter.

So I confronted the culprit.

Where are my screwdrivers? I am supposed to have one of each kind in this drawer.

We need to fix you up a marked container with the tools you need, says he.

And so he did. But that meant we had to clean out the junk drawer of the flotsam and jetsam that we really no longer needed.

I now have a nicely functioning junk drawer with all the stuff I need, and I am quite happy with it.

And this post will sort of be the equivalent of a junk drawer, not that I think what I am writing is junk you understand, but I have a few odds and ends of things I wanted to write about that need someplace to live… so here they are.

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I saw many Roadrunner cartoons when I was a kid (Meep! Meep!). I saw a real Roadrunner when we were in Texas visiting my husband’s father, and I followed it quite for quite a distance as it cruised through the neighborhood. Roadrunners have been extending their range in recent years into Missouri and do live here, although seeing one is quite a novelty. I certainly never ever expected to see one at my own house, but there it was, standing on the driveway right by the porch as I drove up in the car. It stood there for a minute or two and then strolled off into the brush.

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When cat’s food in the dish began vanishing overnight, we knew something else besides the cat was eating it. And the fact that little muddy footprints were left all over the table where the cat’s food and water sit gave us our second clue – this was raccoon. How the raccoon was getting into eat the cat food was a bit troublesome. Our whole-house attic fan vents into that room and so there is a door to the attic in there that is open. Did we have raccoons living in our attic?

Richard got the big live trap set up, and after a few days we did indeed catch a raccoon – big one, and we intended to take her down the road about 5 miles and let her go. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, and especially for her, the plan changed because she bit Richard on the finger through the mesh of the trap before we could get her loaded into the car.

So that meant instead of her living happily ever after a few miles away, she went 25 miles down the road to the veterinarian, who put her to sleep and chopped off her head and sent it to the state laboratory for a rabies analysis. Last year on July 3, I was in the hospital with a broken arm, and this year we were dealing with this. We have decided to skip July 3 next year.

We were very happy indeed when the test came back negative, so he does not have to have the rabies shots, although I am keeping an eye on him and if he began to act strangely, I may have to get the gun out and shoot him.

We left the trap set up, and sure enough, more food was missing. I was about ready to start yelling that Richard need to get up into the attic and find out how the raccoons were getting in when I got up early morning and opened the door to see if we had caught anything. I was very surprised and also very relieved to see the tail end of a raccoon disappearing through the screen in the open window. They had carefully pulled the screen out of the frame without tearing it— so it was not immediately obvious there was anything wrong with it— and were using that as their own private “doggy door.”

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A few days ago, he went shopping and I moved my car from in front of the porch to in front of the garage so that when he came back he could park close to the house to carry in the groceries. On the decorative blocks that line the concrete slab in front of the garage was beautiful green snake, sunning itself....

and  I managed to take it up and get a picture of it.

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We decided to have steak sandwiches for dinner. Richard thinly sliced the onions and cooked them in the skillet until they were sort of caramelized and added mushrooms to go with them. Then it was my turn to cook the thinly sliced meat (an arm roast, not fancy steak). He said the skillet was hot but that I should put a little oil in it, so I did. I expected when I dropped the meat in that it would immediately begin to “sear” instead of boil, but the skilled did not appear to be that hot and the meat just sort of sat there. I pointed this out to Richard, that the skillet did not appear to be very hot and he said…

Look… the meat is buzzling!


But he was right. The meat had indeed started to buzzle.

Monday, June 30, 2014

A little early morning music

I lurched out of bed at about 5:15 and into the bathroom to do those necessary things that one must do upon waking in the morning. While I was washing my face and my hands, I suddenly heard music. It was a bright, upbeat jazzy sort of melody of the sort that National Public Radio might play between segments in a program, so I assumed Richard gotten up and turned on the radio. But the music kept on going, so then I assumed he had turned on the computer to live-streaming music, which he sometimes does if the transponder for the NPR station is off the air (which it often is).

When I opened the door the bathroom, he was standing there waiting for me with a funny look on his face.

Me: Did you turn on the radio?

Him: No. I thought you had suddenly decided to play the keyboard. And I was thinking, wow, you have really gotten good!

Me: No, I wasn’t playing the keyboard. Obviously.

Obviously indeed, because the bright and lively music was still playing.

To my unanswered question he pointed toward “Kitty Prison”...

the section of the house in which we confine the Squeaker kitty at night because she bothers us and where I keep the electronic keyboard I use to practice.

He had just opened the door to let her out. I am not sure how the cat did it... 

because I have not figured out how to do it myself, but she managed to turn the keyboard on (well, I do know how to that), and step on just the right combination of buttons to cause the keyboard to begin playing preprogrammed music in its memory banks.

Not exactly Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, but fun anyway.