Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sentinel Time

The summer unfolds in fleeting stages, a slide show of lovely, familiar scenes. From year to year each scene will very in length, from two days to three weeks, depending on the weather. This year we raced from winter in a cold April to summer in May. Nature forgot about spring this year. In May our irises blossomed and, two days later, the blooms dried to dust. Columbines flower were so fleeting that the humming birds didn’t bother to show up to sip nectar.

Now, well into a hot June, we have reached a new, but familiar stage – one I call “Sentinel Time.” I name it for the yucca blossoms that have a colony in our yard and south pink pasture roses east pasture, but the stage also includes Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed Susans, and pink pasture roses along the country roadways and pastures. 

The sentinels foretell that the wheat harvest is about to begin, and, indeed, the first harvesting machines started their work in the fields near us yesterday. Now mere stubble is all that remains of the amber waves of grain.

Next there will be homegrown tomatoes in our kitchen along with sweet corn from a local farm. Before we know it the corn harvest will begin and the woodlands will add gold and reds to their color scheme.

Time keeps marching on.

Copyright 2018 Shirley Domer, .

Friday, June 15, 2018


Right after breakfast this morning Dennis and I made a batch of strawberry jam. It took us about an hour from start to finishing the clean up.  We’ve made a lot of jam together in recent years. By now each of us knows just what our tasks are and we move like clockwork. While I was stirring the boiling jam my mind was pondering a question: why do we make jam? Most people don’t.

We both grew up in families that weren’t far removed from farm life. Our folks still kept gardens and preserved most of the harvest for cold weather months. Dennis’s dad, a banker, even built what he called “the canning kitchen” in their basement. My mom was a high school history teacher and my dad was still a farmer, although we lived in town. He planted a big garden at the farm and hauled bushel baskets of produce to our house in town for Mom to “put up” in glass jars which were stored on long shelves in our basement. So we grew up eating that food all of our young lives.

Because my only household tasks were to sweep the front porch and dry dishes I didn’t get direct experience in canning food, but I somehow absorbed it into my being. When I married, one of the first things I bought was The Farm Journal Canning and Freezing Cookbook.Sixty years later, I still use it every summer, even though it is literally falling apart.

We make jam not only because jam-making is part of our heritage, but also because it is more economical than commercially prepared jars of jam and jelly and because it tastes better than anything we could buy.

Today we used two pounds of strawberries and about two pounds of sugar, for a total cost of about seven dollars. Those ingredients made for pints of jam, which would cost ten dollars each if purchased. Also, we use only fruit and sugar in our jam, but no high fructose corn syrup or expensive commercial pectin.

We use eight cups of berries and six cups of sugar. We buy the strawberries at the grocery rather than a you-pick local patch because locally grown berries are usually fully ripe, while commercial berries are picked slightly under-ripe so they will survive shipping. Under-ripe strawberries have more pectin than fully ripe ones, so there’s no need to add additional pectin.

Alas, this knowledge will be lost. None of our children is interested in jam or jelly making. The tradition will die with us.


Copyright 2018 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

No Thanks

About five years ago a friend invited us to an informal reception immediately following his daughter’s wedding ceremony. We attended and took a gift, an immersion blender (which I consider an essential kitchen gadget).  The bride and groom didn’t open the gifts at the event, nor were they expected to do so. But weeks went by and no one acknowledged the gift by note, phone call, email, or text. To put the best light on ii, I thought perhaps the gift card and gift had become separated and the couple didn't know who to thank

In ensuing years more friends invited us to their children’s events – weddings and baby showers.  Each time, even when we couldn’t attend the event, we sent generous gifts.  Thank you notes never arrived. Slowly I’ve come to the realization that mores have changed, and the tradition of thank you notes has been cast aside.

My mother taught me that every gift must be acknowledged, even if it is ugly, inappropriate, or useless. The ritual of writing thank you notes was an essential part of the baby or wedding shower.
Obviously that isn’t done any more, but I wish I knew why the practice has been abandoned. 

And, yes, this change is one more thing about modern life that makes me disgruntled. I may stop responding to these invitations and send no gift. Instead I will just attend funerals and send condolences, which need not be acknowledged since the person who is honored is unable to respond.

Copyright 2018 by Shirley Domer 

Sunday, June 3, 2018


I awoke this morning to find that the electricity was off due to a storm. No coffee! That fit right in with my almost perpetual irritation these days. The new lenses for my glasses did not arrive when they were promised. A generous two weeks went by. I called the dispensary to complain. Now three weeks have passed and they’re stillnot here.

I’m not happy with the blood pressure medicine I’m taking, either. It makes me dizzy and unsure of my steps. I feel like a drunk reeling from lamppost to lamppost, and that makes me mad.  What good is medicine if it makes me feel worse?

It isn’t just the big issues that irritate me. For example, toothpaste tubes used to be made of something I could roll up from the bottom and they would stay in that position, forcing the remaining toothpaste to the top. Now they’re made of plastic that keeps its original shape and will not cooperate. UPC code stickers on fruit and vegetables in the grocery store also irritate me no end. They are too difficult to remove, and rip the skin right off a delicate pear. Even stickers on peels that will be discarded irritate me because we give kitchen scraps to our chickens, and they certainly don't need to eat the stickers along with the banana peels.

I could go on naming all the irritants – people, thing, and cs, situations  – but you get the idea. Everything makes angry or irritated. I’ve become a cranky old woman. 

Or could it be Donald Trump?

Copyright 2018 by Shirley Domer 

Saturday, May 19, 2018


Stuff everywhere I look! Paintiings, ceramics, dried flowers, nonfunctional but attractive wooden bowls, do-dads people have given us, photographs – you know, stuff. Everybody has it, it seems, but it’s beginning to feel like a burden to me. 

Why? The sad thing is that these things have grown so familiar to my eyes that I don’t really see them any more. 

I want to shake things up, to start over, but how? Once, years ago, I boxed up some things and put them in the basement to give them a rest and recuperation time.  They may have been as tired of being ignored ad I was of not seeing them. Later I got them out again, and gave other things a rest. That won’t work now because I can’t carry boxes to the basement any more.

Once I gave myself a birthday potlatch. I insisted that everyone take something home with them. I had set up a table, covered with give-away things to choose from. Everyone found something they liked, and a lot of Stuff went out the door. Alas, I’m too old and tired to have parties any more.

Maybe I’ll call in the troops – the children and grandchild who check on me to make sure I’m all right.  I’ll tell them I’m not all right but that I would be if they would come and took away all this Stuff.

Copyright 2018 Shirley Domer

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Back to Nature

To reach our home in rural Kansas we drive through several miles of farmland. Over the years I have watched the fields and houses evolve, some holding their own, but others declining and being overrun by the first wave of reforestation.

First a couple of Eastern red cedars pop up in a pasture. Then, before you know it, there are twenty, then forty.  

Meanwhile our native dogwood, moves in. This is not the flowering dogwood so prized and vaunted by southeastern states and the state tree of Missouri. Our native dogwood has but one purpose in life – to help reclaim pastures. It grows in copses, spreading underground until the copse is 15 feet wide. A shrub rather than a tree, it blooms modestly and produces white berries the size of large peas.  

Another interloper, the Osage orange (also called “hedge “ or “bois de arc,” among other names) sometimes shows up, Early farmers planted the trees in a row between fields as fences. Branches of these thorn-covered trees were woven together to form barriers that cattle could not cross. The tree produces “hedge apples,” bright green, hard as rocks, the size of large apples, each containing enough seeds to populate every pasture in Douglas County. Squirrels like to carry a hedge apple to a nearby spot and eat some of its seeds, letting some seeds fall to the ground to become new trees. 

For example, forty-three years ago a pasture not a mile from our house was home to cattle. But the farmer gave up the cattle business and the pasture fell into neglect. Little trees showed up. About twenty years ago the thirty-acre pasture was put up for sale and someone bought it. The new owners put in a water meter and a stand-faucet.

The new owners’ dream of building a home in the country didn’t work out for some reason and the cedars and hedge trees continued to grow. Today the pasture could not be properly called a pasture any more, as you can see n the photo below.

Several vast copses of dogwood have developed, too.

Along the fence row I also see mulberry and  honey locust trees, as well as lush forests of poison ivy. This is the first stage of a succession forest in Kansas. We describe it as the woods taking over. 

I think sometimes of the man who first cleared this land and the hours of hard work he spent chasing a dream. I think, too, of the people who bought the land with their unfulfilled dream of living in the country. Nature will triumph, as nature always does.

Copyright 2018 by Shirley Domer 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Saving Water

Reading on the Internet, I came across a post by a woman who had attempted to save water by hand-washing her dishes.  To her dismay, she wrote, rinsing each dish under a faucet of running water actually used more water to clean the dishes than the dishwasher did. She gave up the idea.

Well, Honey, that ain’t how it was done. Having grown up in a household that depended on a cistern for water, I knew every trick in the book for saving water, and had I not used them, my mother and Grandma Alice would have scolded me severely.

I knew I could “fill” my bath with two inches of water, part of which I heated in a teakettle on the kitchen stove. Our old Maytag washing machine in the basement was filled just once each week with water, also heated on the kitchen stove, and used to wash everything in the laundry. No refills. We rinsed the laundry in a separate tub, filled with cold water. This water, too, was used to rinse the entire laundry. No refills. 

And when it came to dishwashing, we used two dishpans that hung on nails on the kitchen wall, one for washing, and the other for drying. We heated two kettles full of water on the stove, and poured some into each dishpan. We washed in one, dunked the dish in the other and handed it to the person who was waiting, dishcloth in hand. ready to dry and put the dish away. So, that’s how it was done. There was no running of water over each dish. They all went into one dishpan full of water.

The dishpans were enamelware, like this one offered on eBay for $16.95.

The general principal was to wash the cleanest things first, and so on down the line until only the dirtiest remained. For example, first wash the glassware, then the tableware, then the plates and bowls, and finally, the pots and pans. In the case of laundry, first wash the white things such as white shirts, sheets and pillowcases. Then bath towels, followed by colored dresses, shirts and underwear, then Dad’s work clothes and, finally, rags. My friend Yvonne’s family, who lived in the country, even extended this principle to bathing the family, from cleanest to dirtiest, in a round galvanized tub on their screened-in back porch in summer and by the wood-burning kitchen stove in winter.

Every drop of water was used, you see, until it was too dirty to use. Even then, we carried the used dishwater outside to pour on the flowerbed by the back door.  Our gutters were equipped with a moveable spout, and when rain came, Dad let the first few minutes go by to wash off the roof, then went outside to switch the spout to drain into our cistern.  That was our water supply and we hoarded it until the next rain.
Want to give that life-style a try?

Copyright 2018 by Shirley Domer