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.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Praise Be To The Kitchen Gods

For they have blessed us with the perfect bread box.

All these years of wrapping homemade bread in plastic bags (how degrading) have ended. Last week it occurred to me that there are breadboxes, that they are not just a thing of the past.

Looking on line I found hundreds of breadboxes. I read the reviews. Not good. In addition to wanting my breadbox to be attractive, made of good materials and functional, I wanted it to include a surface for cutting bread like the ones I remember from childhood. Antiques were too fussy. Stainless steel ones were too industrial. Plastic ones were unthinkable. Glass ones made no sense. None had cutting surfaces. I looked in stores, too, but fruitlessly.

Finally I stumbled on the Crate and Barrel offerings and found this one made of bamboo.

Such clean lines! Such simple functionality! How easy to open! And check this out -- a cutting surface!

The big bonus is the material -- bamboo is the wood of the future. It can grow in flood plains. It renews itself endlessly. I just hope this bamboo was grown in the U.S. of A., and that the box was made here, too.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Going, Going, Gone

It all started when I was in college. A set of three rhinestone pins I had worn to a formal dance disappeared, but showed up on the seat of a velvet-upholstered chair in the dormitory lounge the next day. Later, when I was married and entertaining guests, eight sterling silver dessert spoons vanished, only to show up in the basement laundry area months later.

There ensued a long period of things staying where they belonged. Then, about four years ago, things started vanishing again. The first to go was my treasured black cashmere scarf, so light and warm and a regular component of my cold weather dress.  It was nowhere to be found among the stored winter clothes. I checked with all the dry cleaners, but they didn't have it either.

Kitchen tools began to disappear -- the 10-inch serrated knife, four of our six steak knives, four teaspoons and a 1/2-cup measure -- all things I used frequently. After cleaning all the cupboards I have found none of them.

Last fall my wool winter dress coat went missing from its summer storage in the basement. Did it run away to rejoin the cashmere scarf?

This spring when a crowd of people was coming for dinner we brought the big coffee maker up from the basement. Cleaning up the kitchen later, I couldn't find the filter basket, so the coffee maker sat waiting on the counter. Finally I carried it to the basement and was amazed to find the filter basket already there, nested in a large sieve.

Last week the black-handled cheese knife was gone and this week my favorite wooden spoon, the one I use to stir biscuits, pie crust and brownie dough, has gone AWOL.

Poltergeist? Carelessness? Who knows, but it's becoming tiresome. Does this happen to other people?

Needless to point out that no photos accompany this post.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Slow-Rise Bread

I've been baking bread for many years. It has been tasty, but lately I've been dissatisfied with the bread's texture. It crumbles, which is especially irksome when eating a sandwich. Then, on a whim, I decided to make an artisan bread from a recipe in the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion.

The recipe starts with an overnight sponge. The ingredients are a cup of water, 1/4 teaspoon yeast, and two cups of unbleached white flour, stirred together. Sometimes I use one cup of unbleached and one cup of whole wheat flour, but always I use our wonderful Kansas flour, Hudson Cream. Overnight this mixture is transformed.

To this bubbling slurry I add salt, 1/2 teaspoon more yeast dissolved in 1/2 cup water, and two cups of whole wheat flour. (King Arthur recipe calls for all white flour, but what do they know?) Then I knead for three minutes in the mixer fitted with its dough hook. I finish the kneading on my pastry cloth, form the dough into a ball, and plop it into a big oiled bowl to rise.

After the dough rises, which happens pretty fast, I shape it into a long loaf and place the loaf on a cookie sheet scattered with cornmeal. The cornmeal keeps the loaf from sticking to the pan. After the loaf nearly doubles bake it at 410 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pan and set it on a rack to cool.

Sure, it's pretty, but the best part is that the texture is firm, making a sturdy sandwich. It also makes wonderful toast. What a thrill it is to learn a new skill in the twilight of life.