Thursday, December 15, 2011

For Those Without Money, It's A Heartless World

Tomorrow afternoon I will undergo yet another surgery, the third since August. My right wrist will be fused, strengthening my hand and relieving me of intense, debilitating pain. This is possible because I have good health insurance. It will cause no financial hardship for me or Dennis.

But tonight I'm thinking of others, mostly women, who suffer the ravages of rheumatoid arthritis and who do not have health insurance, who cannot even consider having surgery to restore function and relieve pain. Their lives and the lives of their families must be living hell.

Surely a great democracy can provide its citizens with health care. This should be a basic right of all Americans. But this country, replete with technology, fine automobiles, vacation homes, and material possessions of every ilk, does not grant all of us this right. As Dennis said last evening, "For those without money, it's a heartless world."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Today We Lost A Dear Friend

Butch stopped by yesterday to deliver kitchen scraps to the chickens. He had special containers to store scraps in the refrigerator. Whenever they were full, he drove out, fed the chickens and came in the house to pick up a couple dozen eggs and linger to visit.

Yesterday we discussed the subjects we always returned to – politics, the economy, weather – but added a new one: signing up for Medicare. He would be eligible in January and was wondering what he should do about supplemental insurance. That struck me as irrelevant because Butch has avoided seeing a doctor for as long as I've known him. Yesterday he said he wouldn't need Part D because he would never take medicine.

When our conversation turned to the state of our society and I said I worried for its future, Butch said, "I don't worry about that. I believe the universe began when I was born and it will end when I die."

Today Butch's universe ended. A friend, concerned that Butch wasn't returning his calls, went to check on him and found him lying dead in his apartment.

Butch was more like a member of our family than a friend. He was sweet, unpretentious, smart, capable, and loyal. He loved Annie and the chickens. He always lived here to care for them when we were out of town. He was a skilled carpenter and created many things in our house, all of which will always remind us of him. He was shy, I believe. We begged him to join our family for Thanksgiving but he apparently spent the day alone, even though his brother had invited him, too.

It's been awfully good to know you, Butch. Thank you for sharing your universe with us. You leave a big empty place in our lives.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bad News and a Blessing

For a while my second wrist surgery was going well. I cooked. I washed dishes. Then a new kind of pain arose in my right hand, intense and breath-taking. I was again reduced to being a one-handed person.

When I went to the surgeon for a final check of the surgical outcome, I said a new problem had arisen, probably unrelated to the surgery. The surgeon ordered X-rays of my right wrist. He studied them carefully, then announced that my right wrist is in worse shape than my left had been before he fused it. I had two options, he said. One is an artificial wrist joint that is not very durable. It might last five years. After it breaks I would have to undergo another, more difficult surgery to fuse the wrist. The other option is immediate wrist fusion, which allows for no wrist movement whatsoever.

I left his office with tears welling in my eyes. Is there no end to this deterioration? How will I manage to live, to survive another surgery?

I drove from the surgeon's office to the downtown. There was banking to do and I needed to pick up the sunglasses I had left the day before at the bakery. I was walking up Vermont Street, fighting tears, when I looked up and was amazed to see Dennis walking toward me.

When we met, he asked, "What's the matter, Darlin'?" He looked in my eyes and without another word enveloped me in his arms and held me close while I rested my head against his shoulder.

Never in my life have I needed more to be held by someone who loves me, and there he was, a blessing.

Of course I will do what must be done. There is no way out but through. His love will give me the strength to endure, just as it gave me the solace I desperately needed, standing by the library on Vermont Street last Tuesday.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chinese Junk

No, I'm not writing about a cute little boat. This is about the quality of goods made in China. For example, I recently replaced a Revere Ware one-quart saucepan because I had burned food in my old one and don't have the hand strength to scour it out. 
When the new one arrived, it felt lighter than the old one. I hadn't thrown out the old one, so I weighed both. The old one weighs 13.95 ounces, the new one 10.60 ounces.

 I noticed that the new one was made in China so I searched on line for Revere Ware and found this page: <>. The first sentence reads, "Revere Ware Cookware are a quality product, if you happened to bought one then you made an investing worth to be protected." Gee, I wonder who wrote that sentence. Do you suppose it was written by one of the employee-owners of  Revere Copper Products, Inc.? The company's web site describes it as "a privately owned corporation whose only shareholders are its employees. Its business operates in a collegial, team-based structure with a manufacturing center in Rome, New York." This tinny little pan certainly wasn't made in Rome, New York, and I doubt the copy writer has ever been there either.

The company's motto may well be, "You want cheap? We got cheap." Paul Revere, founder of the original Revere Copper Company, must be rolling in his grave.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Life's Lessons

Most of life's lessons, it seems, come through mistakes we make – errors of judgement, hasty decisions, impulsive actions, inattentiveness, egotism and plain old ignorance.

Some of the lessons I've learned, both major and minor, read as a list of Don'ts. For example:

Don't lay your glasses on a bed or chair seat.

Don't spend much time with know-it-all, overbearing people.

Don't use the sharp edge of a knife to scrape food off the cutting board.

Don't try to be someone other than your self.

Don't put off having the chimney cleaned regularly if you have a wood stove.

Don't mistake sexual desire for love.

Don't try to get even.

Don't buy a Kenmore dryer.

On the other hand, some lessons belong on my a Do list, such as:

Do try to be kind.

Do eat your greens every day.

Do your best, even if it isn't very good.

Do take a book along when you leave home.

Do treat fellow human beings and other creatures with respect.

Do give what you can.

Do empty the pockets before throwing clothes in the washer.

Do try to be in the right place to watch the full moon rise.

Both of these lists could be much longer, of course. I wonder what your lists would include if you wrote them on the spur of the moment as I just did.

Friday, November 25, 2011

We Had A Wild Thanksgiving

Last week my brother, Holmes, called. "Sis, we want to come to your house for Thanksgiving and we will do all the work."

That made me happy. Our extended family has come together here to give special thanks for many years. It's a tradition I wasn't able to carry on this year.

He went on, "I've always wanted to have a wild Thanksgiving."

Fine with me.

What he meant was wild venison tenderloin harvested from the Missouri woods. Holmes kept a careful eye on Oz as he carved it hot off the grill.

He also meant wild pheasants from his hunting trip to Nebraska. He used a recipe from Antoine's in New Orleans circa 1924. For the sauce he brought morel mushrooms he gathered and dried last spring along with some shitakis.

He added some madeira and, later, cream before reducing the sauce.

Holden gathered salad greens from the garden. They're not really wild, although some are self-seeded, but they were freshly picked, which makes them close to wild.

Holmes was determined to serve the pheasant under glass, a la Antoine's, but it didn't quite fit.

Eleven of us stuffed ourselves with wild and not so wild food, including dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, petite pois, and whole wheat rolls.

The pumpkin pie found the scene amusing...for a while.

Everyone went home about 7:30 that evening, after doing all the work.

Many thanks to my family for carrying on the tradition. It was a wild and wonderful day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving was for enough food to eat and for peaceful relations between races.

What will we give thanks for tomorrow? Everyone's answer will be a little different. Some have little to be thankful for. Others have perhaps too much. I have a great deal to be thankful for. Here's a short list:

Health Insurance. Without it I would be a helpless invalid.

Skillful Surgeons. Without them I would be a helpless invalid.

Family and Friends. Without them I would be adrift in the world.

Earth. Without it I would starve.

Rain. Without it I would live in a desert.

Occupy. Without it I would have little hope for change.

Books. Without them my life would be limited.

Dennis. Without him....I cannot imagine life without him.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In The Time of Long Shadows

This is the time of long shadows. Hanging low in the southern sky, the sun elongates shadows of utility poles, trees and houses to twice their size. Driving toward the south we are blinded without sunglasses.

This is the time, too, of relentless grey skies. On these days we crave sunlight and sleep too much. The hens don't lay as many eggs. Everyone seems a bit lethargic and cranky.

Thankfully, even on these overcast days, bright spots remain in the garden. Broccoli heads are forming now.

And the turnips!

With or without row cover (the white stuff) they are thriving despite several night-time temperatures in the low twenties and many below freezing. Here's why: turnips grow wild in Siberia.

I pulled some for our supper tonight. I'll cook both the tops and the roots and give the hens the big outer leaves I reject.

Here it is, November 20, and we're still eating fresh greens grown right here in Paradise. Aint life grand?

Friday, November 18, 2011

No Pie Today

This afternoon, six days before Thanksgiving, I just couldn't wait for some pumpkin pie, so I pulled out the recipe card I wrote at least thirty years ago.

Over the years I've used it so many times it has turned the same color as our yellow countertops. Its splatters, notations and mysterious brown circle attest to its long history.

The penciled in dollar amounts date back to 1979 when I made pumpkin pies to sell at the Lawrence Farmers Market. I was allowing $5 an hour for my labor and even figured in the cost of running the electric oven.

About 15 years ago I quit the evaporated milk and used half-and-half instead.

Somewhere along the line I started buying store brand pumpkin instead of Libby's. Although in 1979 I paid just a quarter for a can of pumpkin, as the card shows, I thought myself lucky to find Hy-Vee pumpkin for seventy-nine cents a can this year. Libby's was priced at a dollar more than that.

Today I mixed up the pie filling and pulled out equipment to make a crust. But wait! Why did we need a crust? Why not just make pumpkin pudding? Maybe pies should be reserved for special occasions, such as Thanksgiving dinner.

So I poured that filling into a souffle baking dish, sprinkled on some cinnamon, set it in a pan of hot water and baked it at 350º for an hour and ten minutes. When it was half-way done, I scattered a little chopped preserved ginger over the top for visual interest and taste surprise.

Now, having eschewed the high-calorie pie crust, I may have a blob of lovely whipped cream on my serving of pudding.

In The Midst of High Unemployment

With the October unemployment rate at nine percent, why did I keep reading about labor shortages? This question keeps nagging at me.

Fruit and vegetable growers were the hardest hit, which is due mostly to the immigration law changes. Hispanic migrant workers seem to be afraid to show up and it appears that most other Americans don't want to do the work, even at $150 a day. The Seattle Times reported on Oct. 31, 2011, "One after another, at a recent emergency meeting in Wenatchee called by the Governor's Office, fruit growers talked about how hard it's been to find workers as the harvest hits its sweet spot." And, "One orchardist recalled how, of the 149 people referred to him earlier in the season by the state's unemployment office, half showed up on the first day, a quarter on the second day. Now, only five remain."

Georgia growers faced a similar situation in the early summer, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Craig Schneider. "The AJC found that some farm owners, especially those who rely on migrant workers, see the July start date of the law coming at them like a wrecking ball. Many of their crops are peaking right now, and they say they are desperate for pickers. Some farms have as few as half the workers they had last year."

I'm hearing such stories directly, too. Last week, the owner of a construction company specializing in remodeling told me he has a hard time finding workers. For example, he recently hired a young woman to work on his crew. The first job was a century-old house whose plaster walls had to be demolished. He told the new hire that the first couple of days would be the worst, with plaster dust everywhere, but after that it was clean work. She quit that afternoon.

Then, just a day later, I heard that so-and-so had taken a night job at a warehouse because her unemployment benefits had run out. I wondered about that – did the job appear just in the nick of time, or had she been holding out for a better job or had she just been enjoying a vacation?

Is it possible that Americans don't want to do hard work? That we are, in fact, unwilling to work hard? Are we really that lazy? How many people drawing unemployment are looking for cushy jobs only?

Just asking, that's all.

It's a topsy-turvy world.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Back Home on The Range

The past few months are rather cloudy in my mind. Pain, followed by narcotics, followed by surgery, followed by pain, followed get the picture. Although each round of narcotics was brief (one to three days), it left me feeling pretty weird. Take stuff like that and you could turn into a nut case; think of Rush Limbaugh who was hooked on the same drug I was taking. 

I didn't feel like myself and probably offended several people by my inappropriate and immodest behavior. Sorry about that.

Finally, though, I feel like myself again. I've been desperate to cook, to bake, to try something new. A day or two ago I ventured into the kitchen again as more than a spectator and advisor. I made biscuits! I made banana nut bread with black walnuts! I cooked up a pot of chicken tortilla soup that tasted marvelous topped with sour cream, avocado and cilantro!

Today I made, for the first time in my life, caramel egg custard. Here it is, cooling in its pan of water. You can't see the caramel, which is on the bottom of each cup, but a little has seeped up in one of those on the right.

After trying to caramelize sugar in a pan on the stove, I gave up. It never even melted. On the good old web I looked for a microwave method and voila!, there it was. Three minutes later the caramelized sugar went into the cups, followed by the custard mixture. Kudos to our "girls," the hens, who produce the orangey-yellow yolks that give the custard its rich color.

I'm back at home in the kitchen, standing at the range, cooking up some grub. Oh, joy!

Downloading the custard photo I found some outdoor shots I must have taken during a recent brief moment of sanity. The first is something I first saw from the living room window. From a distance it might have been a snake or a piece of garden hose. But when I went outside I found it was just a small dead branch from a walnut tree, which had self-pruned during a recent blow.

It broke off one of these walnut trees, probably the center one. 

I took this picture facing east. Notice the pale pink at horizon's edge; that is characteristic of our winter sunsets. The east is a pale reflection of the fiery pink western light in the late afternoon.

It's good to be "Home on The Range" again. That's our state song, you know.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fall Garden

Every spring my dad planted a garden to supply fresh vegetables for our family. Lettuce and radishes were the first to be harvested, followed by green beans and onions, potatoes, corn and tomatoes. He also planted peppers, but always harvested them before they fleshed out. When the first frost hit, that was the end of the garden.

For some reason Dad never planted a fall garden. Maybe he was too busy farming or maybe he didn't know it was possible. No one else in our little town planted one either.

When I started gardening I did it just like Dad did, but I kept reading about fall gardens. Finally the idea of fresh vegetables in the fall overcame my doubts about planting a garden in the heat of August. I planted some fall greens. Oh, they were delicious! Now a fall garden has become traditional for us.

This year's garden is a spot of rich green in an otherwise ocher and russet landscape. The plants have shrugged off several nights of temperatures in the twenties and kept right on growing. The white cloths are row covers that we will use to protect the plants when night time temperatures fall even lower. Yesterday, November 2, I took these photos.

Beyond the parsley are the cruciferous vegetables, then arugula and turnips. 

Little Brussels sprouts are forming along the central stalks.

Cauliflower leaves are curling inward, indicating that a head of cauliflower is forming.

Elsewhere, spinach and lettuce crowd the cold frames where they are protected from freezing nights.

We've been harvesting fresh vegetables for nine months now and expect to continue through this month.  Both Dennis and I were fortunate to grow up in homes where gardening was an integral part of life.  Our dads set us on this path, for which we are thankful.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

They'll Never Pave Our Paradise

Our property, Paradise, is part of a rural subdivision originally platted in lots of three to five acres. We have two lots comprising just a tad under ten acres. The subdivision was formed from a worn-out farm and sits at the end of a long, high ridge in Douglas County. It is shaped like a thumb, with three sides of this little community falling away to Chicken Creek valley. The hillsides are heavily wooded.

Hillsides on the north side are glowing with the russet leaves of large oak trees, but here on the south side all the oaks fell to logging sometime before we moved here in 1975. Our hillside was home to hackberry, elm, redbud, cedar and osage orange trees, but no oaks. Only a logging trail remained to tell the story of the great oaks that once grew here.

Over the ensuing years squirrels have worked to remedy this loss. Gradually oak seedlings began to appear on our hillside. Only at this time of year are they clearly visible. Most other trees have lost their leaves, but the oaks are late to turn and the last to drop their leaves. Looking down from the back deck I see many spots of color.


Wine red

I will not live to see these trees mature, but I take joy in hoping that our great-grandchildren will treasure these trees. Oaks are part of our legacy to them. The oak is a symbol of strength and endurance, qualities those yet-to-be-born children will need to survive in a world where 25 million acres of tropical forest are destroyed every year. Water will be in short supply for the world's population of humans, which will have reached eight billion by the time those children are born. A myriad of other problems will beset them in our rapidly-deteriorating environment.

We do what we can to protect those unborn children and hope for the best.

Monday, October 31, 2011

On The Other Hand

Two months ago my left hand was overhauled. Last week I had another surgery – this one to prevent tendon damage in my right hand. It went well and healing is underway.

My left hand has healed completely; it now works better than in my wildest dreams. Soon I'll be able to use the keyboard with two hands and will write more.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Talking Coffee

Here in Colorado Springs I've been reading a book Nancy left by my bedside, The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg.* In the chapter "May" he writes about sweet memories of the vernacular expressions that his family members used as he was growing up in Iowa. In particular he misses the sound of his mother's voice. If he could go back in anywhere in time, he says, it would be to the scene of a family gathering where all the adults are preparing for Sunday services at a Congregational church.

     The oldest child pretends to be coloring, but he's really waiting until the mowing
     and the music stop and his mother and grandparents start to talk together among
     themselves. He can hardly wait to hear what they'll say.

Reading this, I was swept in a flood of my own childhood memories of listening to the grown-ups talk. I listened as a tiny girl sitting between the back rungs of my grandfather's rocking chair as he sat with two or three other old men in a semi-circle around the wood stove. They talked of events and people from their past. Oddly, the only words I remember are the name of a man – Did Hamilton – but I remember well the ambiance, my being there without being part of the scene, hearing these old men's voices, their timbre and tempo. They also occasionally spit tobacco juice into a tin can sitting by the stove.

As I grew up after-supper talk around the kitchen table kept me fascinated. This was the hour when chores were finished – just the supper dishes left to wash – and relaxation was possible for the first time all day. Dishes were stacked and second cups of coffee were poured. Then the talk began. My brother and I loved this time. He called it "Talking coffee."

Uncle Earl, who died nearly sixty years ago, loved talking coffee, too. Once, when he was a little boy and the after-supper talk was winding down, he said, "Come on, Dad, tell another one, even if it is a lie." My mother sometimes told this story during coffee talk.

Only through this medium is family and community lore passed along. The lore isn't just in the words, which can be written down to pass along. The tone of voice, the facial expressions and the various viewpoints and reactions of the participants are equally as important as the words. It's being a part of the group experience that makes talking coffee so memorable.

* Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2003

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I've Seen The Light

I'm visiting in Colorado Springs again and every day I marvel at the beauty of this huge tree against the blue, blue sky.

Although I love being here I've been feeling bum -- very tired, headachy, and dizzy. My stomach hurts and I don't have much appetite for Nancy's excellent cooking. Worst of all, my hearing has become so bad I can hardly understand what anyone says.

Yesterday it occurred to me to check the side effects of sulfasalazine, an arthritis medicine I've been taking for the past few months. Much to my surprise I learned that it can cause every one of the symptoms that are troubling me, including hearing loss!

Are the symptoms reversible? I don't know. I do know this: now that I've seen the light, never again will I take medicine without carefully reading about its possible side effects and being watchful for them.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Yes, I'm puzzled by our goofy, misguided, vacuous society, and I hope to join the Occupy Lawrence gatherings as soon as I can, but that's not what this is about. This is about jigsaw puzzles.

I've always loved doing them, studying shapes, finding groups of colors, and puzzling out how they fit together. Early memories are vague, but somewhere along the line our family acquired a holiday tradition of having a jigsaw puzzle going in my sewing room. Then I developed rheumatoid arthritis and needed surgeries to repair wrecked joints. Nothing held my interest during recuperation better than a jigsaw puzzle.  When I began to spend winters on the Gulf of Mexico -- in Galveston and Biloxi -- jigsaw puzzles helped entertain me on chilly days or evenings alone.

For this surgery I chose a puzzle made from a John Singer Sargent painting. I learned a lot about Sargent's style and technique -- his layering of color and feathery strokes. Sorry I didn't take a picture of the assembled puzzle. I passed it on to Linda, who, in turn has loaned me a Monet.

When Leslie visited, she brought on loan two antique puzzles, one of which is these colorful parrots.

Here's the thing about jigsaw puzzles: putting them together gives us a sense of accomplishment, of having solved a problem, of bringing order out of chaos. If only it were that easy to put our fractured society back together!

For the history of jigsaw puzzles, go to

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Strange Land of Convalescence

The experience seems unreal, as if I have been cut off from the world in ordinary ways. My consciousness has centered on healing and strengthening my hand. I've made almost no useful contributions to my home or community.

All my normal activities have been suspended out of necessity -- they can't be done with one hand. Even personal hygiene is impacted. Do you realize that a hand cannot wash itself or its own armpit? That's just one example. One hand can't wring water out of a cloth either. When I used a washcloth on my face, water flew everywhere. Then Linda came and made little washcloths from a bath towel. They're perfect.

I did manage to wash my Dr. Strangelove glove. Here it is, taking the sun on our back deck.

Dennis, bless his heart, has done all the cooking.

He even made biscuits.

We've enjoyed simple meals. A home-grown tomato made this one special. (Unfortunately for Dennis, having a meal with me is like dining with a toddler; when I finished this meal the placemat was a mess. Poor old right hand is still in training.)

I've put together two jigsaw puzzles, read several books, watched movies, and stared out the window observing wildlife.

Now I'm three days away from the six-week anniversary of surgery, which means I'll be able to ditch the splint. (see From "The Mummy" To "Dr. Strangelove.") My hand is stronger every day, thanks to great physical therapy. Today I took off the splint and drove myself to town for therapy, which is a major milestone.

If I can just prevent the tendons in my right hand from breaking before I have it repaired on October 25, I'll be home free. I'm trying to be very careful using that hand and keeping my fingers crossed (figuratively, of course).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

We Get By with A Lot of Help from Our Friends

When my left hand fell apart in July I was in big trouble. I couldn't cook or bathe myself. Dennis, God bless him, stood by me and kept me going. When it was time for his annual trout fishing trip, he took me to Colorado Springs, where our daughter Nancy and granddaughter Cleo gave me loving care.

Back home I still had more than two weeks before surgery and it was time for Dennis to return to work at the university. No family members were available to help, but friends showed up with food, with encouragement and with loving concern. I cried often, grieving for my lost capability, but also in thankfulness for the kindness of others to me.

Dennis was home with me for my surgery and three days after. Then Kathy arrived. When Kathy and I are out together people often assume she is my younger sister, and truly she has been a sister to me for more than forty years. This time she showed up with bags and boxes and a cooler full of food and a suitcase. She cooked, helped me bathe, consoled, took me to the doctor and kept the house running. She even watered the gardens. Here she had just placed a sprinkler in the arid strawberry bed.

She stayed five days and then came back the next week for three more. A more generous person never lived and I am forever in her debt.

Others who stepped up to help include Kathy T. and Bill, Cheryl, Pia and Uli, Laurie and Greg, Linda, Joanie, and Tracy, who refers to herself as my "personal assistant." Sincere thanks to all of you who have helped me through passage back to health and functionality. You have helped both at home and by ferrying me to and from physical therapy, the grocery store and other errands. (I can't drive with just one hand.) What's more, Leslie, Barbara and repeat helpers are waiting in the wings to be called on; for the safety net you provide I'm also grateful.

In addition, friends have sent cards, flowers, e-mails and Facebook comments, all of them supportive and encouraging. This, too, provides a source of strength in my recovery.

Through it all, Dennis has been my mainstay.

With all this help I've gone from being a woman who didn't care whether she woke up after surgery to being a woman who is free of pain and who expects to lead a productive life.

The Golden Rule comes to mind: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." If we know someone who is in a tough situation, let's give them a helping hand. Care-giving is an affirmation of interconnectedness and love. Someday, sooner or later, every one of us will be in need of care. True friends will do whatever they can to ease the burden, make us feel that we are not alone and give us hope. Trite but true, a friend in need is a friend indeed. I never fully understood that saying before.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

From "The Mummy' to "Dr. Strangelove"

I had three-hour hand and wrist surgery on August 25 and spent the next two days in a narcotics-induced haze, floating in a briny sea, breathing through gills again. Then, having called it quits with oxycodone, I swam to the shore of reality and gazed in awe at my mighty left paw.

The half cast and dressings seemed to weigh five pounds. It rested on two pillows beside me, keeping my hand above my heart.

Six days later a nurse removed the bandages and cast, revealing a bruised and swollen hand adorned with Frankenstein black stitches. Then came a splint molded to hold my fingers straight. Under the splint I wear a Dr. Strangelove glove to help reduce swelling.

With the splint came instructions for faithful exercising of fingers four times a day. Last week the stitches were removed and new, more difficult exercises became my routine. My fingers become a bit more dexterous every day. I'll have to wear the splint, which essentially makes me a one-handed person, for three and a half more weeks.

Looking back at older posts I marvel that just a year ago I was making jelly and working in the garden, sewing and preparing meals. Maybe someday I'll be able to do such things again but for now I'm learning to depend on others to help me through each day.

Next time I'll write about the wonderful people who have helped me get this far, people to whom I am deeply indebted.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Linda's Wisdom

My friend Linda is a marvelous combination of left brain/right brain fusion. She's an artist and a microbiologist. She's emotional and rational all at the same time. Here she is at the West End restaurant when she visited me in Galveston in 2010.

Linda commented on my last post ("I'm Mad As Hell) with suggestions about actions we could take to correct some of our problems. (This in contrast to my rant, which consisted of bitching about problems.) Now, on Facebook, she has another suggestion, which I have shamelessly lifted:
We need jobs. I suggest the government tax the rich and start 50 (one in each state), let's call them "Health Grant Colleges," to train thousands of new doctors and health care workers. There would be more high paying jobs and we could start to solve the health care crisis.
I hope she comes up with more ideas. Maybe she should run for president.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I'm Mad As Hell...

and I have to speak out.

1. Hello, Supreme Court, corporations are not human beings. What were you thinking?

2. Does "No Child Left Behind" really mean that children who cannot speak and require diaper changes must be "mainstreamed" in middle school classes with those who are capable of learning?

3. Why does a cell phone recharger cost $33.3% more than a new cell phone and an identical recharger?

4. Mega-rich people pay lower tax rates than the people who work in their offices. Why do we refuse to  ask them to pay their fair share?

5. Why is health insurance such an expensive morass in the United States, while it works perfectly in Switzerland and other countries? (Crone's disease medication costs $75 a month in Switzerland, but $2,000 in the U.S.)

6. Do we really have to argue about whether "global warming" is human-caused?  That's just a semantic obfucation to avoid the fact that we are shitting in our nest and ruining this beautiful planet.

7. Does the United States really need to be a world power? Can we support military bases all over the world forever? Come on; it is impoverishing us.

8. Can't we make anything anymore? What happened to that great, proud slogan, "Made in The U.S.A.?

9. Will we continue to knuckle under to tea partyites who strive to impose their religious views on the entire nation? Will we defend the separation of church and state?

10. Is it possible for our culture to sustain rational thought?

Oh, Lord! Maybe I've become a cranky old woman, but I can't understand why our nation is on this self-and-world- destructive path.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cleo's Inheritance

Last November I bade farewell to my last pair of fancy shoes. (Goodbye To All That, Nov. 1, 2010)

Then Nancy commented that my granddaughter Cleo has inherited my love of shoes. That got me wondering whether the shoes would fit Cleo and whether she would like them. As it turned out both answers were "Yes."

Here's Cleo at home in Colorado Springs today.

She's a runner and tennis player and totally sweet. Am I proud to pass my treasure on to this lovely girl? Darned tootin'!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Seeking A Modus Vivendi

Decades ago a news article said that Israel and the Palestinians must find a modus vivendi. I loved that term and, in spite of not having studied Latin, intuitively knew that it meant “a way of living in a difficult or intractable situation.” Somehow the term has stuck with me over the years, maybe because I associate it with the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict we've all grown disgusted with.

Living with rheumatoid arthritis for nearly 26 years has been a lot like the Israeli-Palestinian situation. I've watched parts of my skeleton fall apart, cartilage eaten up by inflammation and, consequently, bones coming apart -- sort of what happens to skeletal structure when a corpse decomposes. Like the Israeli building projects, rheumatoid arthritis has claimed a lot of my territory.

Small joints are especially vulnerable, producing the stereotypical rheumatoid arthritis fingers that turn sideways from the hand.  Feet are affected, too. I’ve had so many toe repairs that my feet look like they belong to two different people. Still, I can walk just fine.

My hands are almost totally shot, though. I've had four finger joint replacements; all have broken and remain in situ. The biggest problem is that both wrists have fallen apart, and there are a lot of bones in one’s wrist. Just look at a diagram of the hand. Bones everywhere!

Since arthritis struck 25 years ago I've devised many ways of doing what I want to do using defective mechanisms -- my hands. I've become adept at using tools to do what normal people do barehanded. I have a wardrobe of hand and wrist supports. But using my hands became ever more difficult.

Recently my left hand (I’m left-handed) has blown up. All the bones in my wrist have come apart. The entire hand is painfully sore and swollen. I can’t do the things I love any more. I've always been a maker of things by sewing, cooking, baking, gardening, making art, preserving food, and much more. I’ve done these things in spite of pain for so long, as if I would never have to face reality, that I am having great difficulty imagining a way of life that does not include them.

Reeling from the realization that I can no longer live as I wish to, I am seeking a modus vivendi. Wrist surgery is in my near future. How much it will enable me remains to be seen. In the meantime, achieving peace of mind is my goal.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Heat Wave II

The heat goes on, 103º as I write this at nearly 7:00 p.m. We've lost count of the number of days over 100º. I personally blame Cynthia and Dick, who came here from Austin last month bringing scorching temperatures with them. They forgot to take the heat back home.

Adding insult to injury, grasshoppers have totally consumed the fragrant autumn chrysanthemum Pam gave me.

No fragrant blossoms this year. I've lowered my expectations and just hope it doesn't die!

One bright spot is that Bill and Carol, who are moving away, gave us their bird bath. It arrived just in time to save many thirsty birds. Chicken Creek has run dry, so this became a life-saving oasis for our birds. Birds came in by the dozen. A waiting line formed on nearby tree branches. Four juvenile robins just developing red breasts hang out all day at the bird bath, splashing and drinking. Others who come are cardinals, bluebirds, phoebes, titmice, song sparrows, and others I haven't identified.

Birds are shy, of course, so all I have to offer is a photo of an empty bird bath. You'll just have to take my word for it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

We're Havin' A Heat Wave

Day after day now the temperature hovers at 100º and there's no end in sight. Cracks craze the garden soil. Frequent watering is necessary just to keep plants alive. Annie gets to stay in the house, where she distributes drifts of her hair. Our appetites have waned and cooking has no appeal.

There's just one bright spot: the butterfly garden where butterflies flit about all day, sipping nectar and doing mating dances.

Two Tiger Swallowtails and a Fritillary

Tiger Swallowtail with closed wings

Tiger Swallowtail with open wings

Black Swallowtails prefer tiger lily nectar

It's my good fortune to stand at the living room window of an air-conditioned house, watching these beauties who go about their brief lives oblivious to human discomfort.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Too Many Pockets

I have a black leather purse with seven pockets. It weighs one and a quarter pounds empty and slips off my shoulder with a jerk. I also have a purse that copies the healthy back bag. It has nine pockets plus a big interior. I can never find anything but my car keys in either purse.

Whenever I'm in a department store I look at purses. There's never one I could a) carry, or b) be seen in public carrying. They're all either too big or too small and are trying too hard to be fashionable, whatever that is. Why are women's purses so goofy?

Finally, I decided to make a purse that suits me.

The strap is long enough to wear bandolier-style so it can't slip off my shoulder. It's soft and sturdy and has just one pocket in addition to the main interior.

I made it from a thrift-store man's shirt and a thrift-store woman's dress. The thread came from a church rummage sale. It was almost finished when I was struck with a severe rheumatoid arthritis flare-up in my left hand -- my dominant hand.

The last step was to hand-sew the lining to the bag. I took it to a gathering of Sew What at Pam's house. My friends Carol, Linda and Pam sewed the lining in for me, each taking a turn. I left humming that old Beatles' song, I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends. Thanks, ladies.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Letting Go

Last summer my journal seemed to focus on garden scenes and produce. This summer's garden has been productive, but for some reason I haven't written about it or posted photos.

We've had beautiful English peas, fresh herbs, garlic, shallots and broccoli.

Now Dennis has dug some of the potatoes.

Also, this summer my left hand -- my dominant hand -- has literally fallen apart. My right hand isn't much better than the left. I haven't spent much time in the garden, just enough to observe progress and harvest broccoli and herbs. Dennis has done almost all the garden work.

This morning, against my better judgement, I decided to harvest the Mother of Pearl garlic. Gingerly, carefully, slowly I went about the task of loosening the soil with a potato fork, pulling up the garlic plants and removing dirt from their roots. My hands began to hurt.

Then, an epiphany! I can't do this any more, I realized, not even a little bit. I literally can't handle it. Peas were ready for picking and carrots are ready to be dug. I had to leave them in situ.

I came in the house, feeling sad and downhearted. How I have loved gardening! I've loved starting tiny seeds indoors in the very early spring, then transplanting them to the garden. I've loved watching green beans start to bloom and corn tassel. I've loved harvesting, storing, canning and freezing the produce. I've loved it all and now must give it up forever.

Dennis and I had a talk about this and he confessed that his thumbs are giving out and he doesn't know how long he will be able to do garden work. We agreed to give it up.

After a shower and a nap, I woke feeling strangely elated. How odd that seemed, but I felt suddenly freed from worry about how I would manage canning tomatoes, for example. Freed from frustration over being unable to shell peas and snap green beans. Free to explore other avenues of creativity.

Letting go rather than grieving seems to be the best approach to aging, and I feel very fortunate to have so easily let go of something dear to me. Now, what shall I do with the extra time? 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Population Explosion

For many years Dennis has faithfully eradicated the plants we call "sticktights" from our property. Nevertheless, this summer we've seen an astonishing number of plants along the road, by our driveway, along the edge of the woods and in the pasture.

If you didn't know what they were, you might say, "Oh, look at the pretty little white flowers scattered among the grasses." Indeed, they are pretty.

But look what they become!

Each flower has become a seed covered with hundreds of tiny burrs that latch onto your socks and pants and hitch rides on passing furry animals. They are designed to disperse and take over the world.

We've been talking about how such an explosion could occur in light of Dennis' diligent eradication efforts. I suspect it's a result of ideal growing conditions for sticktights this year.

This population explosion is not very different from the explosion of human beings all over the world, except maybe in western Kansas, where population is dwindling. Think of all the women who carry fertile eggs and of all the eager men whose sperm number beyond measure. Many of these folks, like sticktights, attempt to reproduce themselves in the greatest possible numbers.

Population explosions occur frequently in nature, but they cannot be sustained and the populations collapse. One year, billions of sticktights; the next year just a few. One year, grasshoppers everywhere; the next year, not so many.

Unlike sticktights, human beings have choices. I hope no one will attempt to eradicate human beings, but I also hope that human beings will choose to reproduce responsibly for the ultimate good of our species -- before our population collapses.