Monday, December 31, 2012

Far from The Fiscal Cliff

Unlike our Nation’s wise Congress sitting in Washington worrying and haggling over how to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, I am enjoying the last day of 2012 far removed from any sort of cliff.

The fiscal cliff was the farthest thing from my mind as I walked the beach this morning, breathing deeply of salt air and admiring the formation-flying skills of brown pelicans.

I enjoyed a funny little sand painting created by one of those mysterious creatures that live in the sand.

I puzzled once again over the objects we’ve seen time and again in the sand. They appear to be scraps from a man-made rubber object but on close examination they seem to be organic in origin. I'd love to know what they are.

Meanwhile, Annie found many delicious smells in the clumps of vegetation.

Annie wasn’t worried about the fiscal cliff either. She was disappointed, though, when she discovered that seawater hasn’t improved in taste since she sampled it yesterday.

I am thankful to end this year in harmony and beauty and mystery.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Canal Breeze Comes up Short

Don’t get me wrong. I love this house, Canal Breeze. (West End houses have names. The first winter I came here I stayed in Whoda Thunk It.) This is my third winter in Canal Breeze. My first year here I was thrilled by the well-equipped kitchen. Compared to other vacation rentals, it was luxurious.

I’m sorry to say that over the years the kitchen equipment has deteriorated either through attrition or misuse. Saucepans have held up well, but the first evening here I discovered that the large skillet has badly scratched nonstick coating and is so battered up it won’t sit level on a burner. The small skillet is stainless steel, which should never be used in a skillet. Everything sticks, no matter how much oil is used.

Yesterday I decided I can’t live two months without a sauté pan, so I bought a new one – ten-inch, which will have to serve all size meals.

Last night I started the sponge for a loaf of slow-rise bread.* This morning I finished the process and looked in the cabinets for a large flat baking pan. The owner of this house obviously is not a baker, for I found absolutely nothing suitable. The only alternative was a 7”x11” glass baking dish with 2”-high sides. I dusted the bottom of the dish with cornmeal, as I usually do before placing the dough on it to rise.

In the oven the loaf outgrew the dish and climbed the sides. We had to pry it out with a spatula, causing quite a bit of damage to the bottom and ends of the loaf. Still, it turned out pretty well and will taste just fine.

There’s not a decent loaf of bread to be had in this dear old town, so I’m determined to bake my own. (OK, I'm spoiled.) Next time I guess I’ll oil the dish instead of using cornmeal. I’m sure not going to buy another cookie sheet, as I have plenty of those at home.

Suggestions for an alternative would be welcome.

*I posted the recipe for slow-rise bread on July 4, 2011. It's so easy everyone should try it, provided there's a cookie sheet or pizza stone at hand.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Beach Walk

Hurricane Ike hit Galveston Island in September 2008 with 110 miles per hour winds and a 22-foot storm surge. The city, situated on the east end of the island, was inundated by six feet of water. On the west end, where countless vacation homes are located, beachfront homes were destroyed and the dunes swept away.

I was here two years later and found my favorite beach at the far west end of the island completely bare. Today I was amazed and delighted to find much of the formerly empty sand now well stabilized by plant growth. Plant life is essential to dune stabilization and preservation of the fragile shoreline, so this is very good news.

These salt-tolerant plants use marvelous tactics to achieve colonization. In the foreground above it’s clear how some of the plants spread over a wide area, snaking out in all directions. Here’s another one with a Christmas color scheme, bearing buds that soon will open into flowers.

The tide was out, leaving many sand-dwelling creatures stranded. I couldn’t see them, as they were buried, but I could see evidence of their homes. Thousands of them dotted the shoreline.

Some were indicated by holes.

Some were indicated by volcano-like rises.

And, finally, there was a feather, surrounded by tiny bird tracks. (To see the bird tracks clearly, double-click the image.)

The wind blew fiercely, as it often does on the shore, but I found the walk exhilarating and reassuring. It’s good to be back.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Friday, December 28, 2012

Lunch Time on The Beach

On the beach today I came upon a group of sanderlings and little sandpipers looking for lunch as each wave left the shore. They eat tiny invertebrates buried in the sand.

The sanderlings, in the background, stalk along the shore with dignity, but the little sandpipers, in the foreground, run, stiff-legged, so fast their little legs are a blur. Dennis has always called them “race cars.” They always bring a smile.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Watching Weather and Counting Coots

A “blue norther” blew us into Texas, all the way to the Gulf Coast. It started in Kansas, trailed us through Oklahoma, where we missed a major ice and snow storm by a few hours, whacked us with a two-hour thunderstorm in Burlson, Texas, followed us to Austin, where the temperature rapidly dropped 40 degrees, and all the way to the house we’re renting on Galveston Island, Canal Breeze. This is the same major storm that has dumped snow, stranded travelers and spawned tornados over the last two days.

Blue northers are usually followed by blue skies, but today is heavily overcast with a strong wind out of the east. What’s more, a fierce little arc of cold is racing southeast from Washington and Oregon and will complete its trip to the Gulf in less than 24 hours. Rain is coming tonight and tomorrow.

That’s just fine with me. I need to rest up from the long drive, put my belongings in order and settle in for a two-month stay. Day after tomorrow will be warm and sunny and I’ll be ready to walk the beach.

In the meantime, I am entranced by the birds I can see from our deck. In the bay, just half a block away white ibis, gulls and herons are looking for lunch in the mud exposed by low tide. Canal Breeze is bounded on two sides by canals where three coots were swimming this morning. I think there were three coots, but there may have been four. Counting coots is uncertain because they dive often and pop back to the surface in unexpected places, often twenty feet from where they went down. This little band of coots was moving as a group toward the canal’s outlet and has now joined others in the bay, but they – or their kin – will return.

From our deck we look at a row of canal houses, most shuttered and silent. Palm fronds rattling in the wind and an occasional squack from a sharp-tailed grackle are the only sounds.

Running through my mind is that song from the musical, Annie, “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here.”

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Friday, December 21, 2012

December 21

We have lots to worry about today – the fiscal cliff, the Mayan end-of-world “prediction,” and whether we can make it through the holidays without having nervous breakdowns, to name just three.

I’m not going to worry about those things. I’m just happy that the shortest day of the year has finally arrived and that day length will start growing instead of shrinking.

Some primitive people weren’t so sure that would happen. They worried that the sun would disappear altogether and performed ritual ceremonies to ensure that didn’t happen. After they figured out the solstice they celebrated its arrival with food, drink and revelry. When Christianity came along it was easy to switch to Christmas parties and gift-giving, perhaps to excess. Instead I prefer to celebrate a little bit each day.

Today’s celebration for me was making granola. My palate having already wearied of buttery, sweet holiday treats, I longed for something more nourishing. Honestly, I enjoy a bowl of granola far more than a piece of English toffee.

Out of necessity I accidentally improved my granola recipe, which calls for half a cup of honey. I had only a quarter-cup of honey so I added a quarter-cup of Steen’s cane syrup, a product of the South.

Cane syrup is not widely available or even known outside the South. Sugar cane is a perennial grass that grows only in tropical or semi-tropical places. Dennis and I once drove into New Orleans along a minor highway that led through sugar cane country. It was harvest time and we often came upon tractors pulling wagonloads of cut cane to the mill. We could see the smoke rising from a mill in the distance and the air was full of the fragrance of cane as it cooked down into syrup. Shopping later in a grocery store I spotted cane syrup and bought some to try on pancakes and biscuits. I’ve been a cane syrup fan ever since.

The first batch of granola was so good that I made another batch substituting cane syrup for all of the honey. It’s a winner!


8 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup sliced almonds or other nuts
½ cup packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup honey or cane syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups raisins or dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 300 F. In a bowl mix the oats, almonds, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. In a microwave warm the oil and honey. Whisk in vanilla.

Carefully pour the liquid over the oat mixture. Stir gently with a wooden spoon; finish mixing by hand. Spread granola in two 15” x 10” inch baking pan.

Bake 40 minutes, stirring carefully every 10 minutes. Transfer granola-filled pan to a rack to cool completely. Stir in raisins or cranberries. Seal granola in an airtight container or self-sealing plastic bag.

Now it’s time to quit cooking and finish packing. My next post will come from Galveston Island sometime after December 26.

Happy holidays, everyone. Don’t worry; be happy.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How I Know Winter Is Coming

Winter officially will begin on Friday, but even if I didn't have a calendar I would have known it was coming because a box elder bug showed up on my desk this morning. The box elder bug is a smart one who knows when the time has come to seek a warm spot to wait for spring.

I intend to do that myself. Dennis and I will leave for Galveston Island this weekend and I won't be back until it's time to plant potatoes.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

English Toffee Step-By-Step

English toffee is sort of like a Heath candy bar only far, far better. It has four ingredients and does not require a candy thermometer. It’s all in technique. I made a batch today. First I melted butter in a heavy saucepan over medium low heat.

While the butter melted I assembled the other ingredients: sugar, slivered almonds and a few almonds finely chopped. Chocolate chips are not shown.

When the butter was completely melted I added the slivered almonds and sugar, turned the heat to high, set the timer to five minutes and started stirring rapidly. At first the butter remained liquid.

Soon, the butter and sugar began to congeal into a mass.

Now the mass started to pull away from the side and bottom of the pan.

The mass began to turn brown.

Shortly before the timer hit four minutes the bottom of the pan began to smoke. I was stirring like crazy. The almonds were making popping noises. 

Dennis quickly removed the pan from the heat and poured the hot mass into the 9”x13” pan that had been sitting on a back burner with barely warm heat under it. I spread the candy out as evenly as I could before it began to harden.

I sprinkled on chocolate chips. 

The chips become shiny instead of dull. Here just a few chips are still solid.

When all the chips were melted, I spread the chocolate over the toffee surface using the back of a soup spoon.

Finally, I sprinkled on the finely chopped almonds. They aren’t necessary but they add visual interest.

I will let the toffee sit overnight and turn it out of the pan tomorrow morning.

There’s a catch. Carol called to say that she made a batch this afternoon, too, but hers burned. She said the mixture began to brown as soon as she turned the heat to high. She uses a gas stove. I use an electric one. Maybe my pan is heavier than hers. Who knows, but if your toffee begins to brown as hers did, life the pan off the burner and turn down the heat! Also, the recipe says to cook the mixture about five minutes, but mine was done in a little less than four. Don’t be a slave to the instructions; trust your judgment.

English Toffee*
1 cup butter
1 cup slivered almonds
1¼ cups sugar
1 six-ounce package chocolate chips

Melt butter over low heat in a heavy 3-quart saucepan, then add nuts and sugar. Turn heat to high and stir rapidly until color changes to a light caramel, about 5 minutes. Almonds will start to make popping sounds at this stage and the mixture will have a compact appearance, yet be fluid enough to pour out. Do not overcook!

Remove from heat and pour at once into a slightly warm ungreased 13”x9” pan. Spread out as thinly and evenly as possible. Distribute chocolate chips over hot candy and spread evenly when they have melted. Sprinkle with a few finely-chopped almonds, if desired.

When the chocolate has completely cooled turn the pan upside down on waxed paper. Tap the pan to release the candy. Break in bite-size pieces.

Makes about 1¾ pounds.

*The recipe is in my 1970 copy of Farm Journal's Homemade Candy. I've been making it every December for 42 years.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Favorite Holiday Cookie

When the holiday shopping is done it’s time to start making holiday treats. First on my list is always Russian Tea Cakes, Dennis’ favorite cookie. Because this cookie is a type of shortbread that requires lots of butter, I make it only in December. If I made it all year ‘round, Dennis would get tubby. I made Russian Tea Cakes only yesterday. Today almost half of them have vanished, although he’s not entirely to blame for that. 

This cookie is not only delicious but also very easy to make if you have an electric mixer. A cookie scoop is helpful, too–the kind that looks like a miniature ice cream scoop.

The cookies don’t expand much, so they can be very close together. The entire recipe fits onto one of my cookie sheets. That's the cookie scoop beside the pan.

Russian Tea Cakes

Mix thoroughly...
            1 cup soft butter
            ½ cup powdered sugar
            1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift together and stir in...
            2¼ cups flour
            ¼ teaspoon salt

Mix in...
            ¾ cup finely chopped nuts

Using a cookie scoop, drop the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. (If you don’t have a scoop, roll the dough 1 teaspoonful  at a time into balls between your palms.)

Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes at 375º. The cookies should not brown, so keep an eye on them. Remove the cookies to a cooling rack.

Using a sugar shaker, dust them liberally with powdered sugar.

I always use pecans, but the cookies are good with almonds, too, especially if you add a bit of almond extract.

Next up: English Toffee.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Delighted and Dismayed

Delightful and dismaying things are happening.

Starting with delightful, the same day I posted “Plastic Bags,” a gift bag appeared at the door. It was from my friend and neighbor Laurie and it contained a “Plastic Bag and Bottle Dryer.”

Oh, this is great! Now I have a place to dry smaller freezer and storage bags that I use again and again until they spring leaks. Laurie is a plastic bag saver, too, and she has one of these in her kitchen. She said she had purchased my dryer some time ago and was waiting for the right occasion to give it to me. When she read “Plastic Bags,” she thought the time was right.

Then I heard on the evening news that Apple will build a $100 million manufacturing plant in the United States. Oh, boy, that made me so happy. I worry a lot about people who lost jobs to outsourcing and I’ve been down on Apple because all their devices are made in China. Now American workers would be making them. A little research, though, left me disappointed. In the new plant robots will make Macintosh computers! The only jobs for American workers will be the health care of robots. So that was dismaying, although I already knew that new manufacturing plants employ far more robots than human beings.

More encouraging, though, is an article in the December issue of the Atlantic, titled “The Insourcing Boom.” Most of the article is about General Electric, which is moving more and more of its manufacturing back to its Appliance Park in Louisville, Kentucky, after many years of off-shore production. Several trends account for this reversal, including the cost of shipping, rising Chinese wages, and the natural gas boom that makes running a factory in the United States more affordable. The bottom line is more jobs for unemployed Americans.

Another delight was using the last of the late Thanksgiving turkey in soup. We were growing tired of left-overs, but this soup tastes nothing like a left-over. In addition to turkey and turkey broth, I used onions, celery, carrots, turnips, kale and the almost pesto I make and freeze every summer. (Almost pesto is fresh basil, garlic and olive oil whirled in the food processor.)

All in all, things are looking good and I’m grateful.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Plastic Bags

I grew up without them. I can’t remember when they began to appear, but my first recollection of them is when bread wrappers changed from waxed paper to plastic. My mother saved and reused them. She washed them along with the dishes and hung them by clothespins to dry on a metal kitchen towel rack. She also acquired plastic bowl covers that were circular and elasticized.

If still alive my mother would be 101. I wonder what she would think of we way we freely use and discard plastic. All packaging today is made of plastic, sometimes in combination with paper. It seems so unnecessary and wasteful of resources. Many things that don’t need to be packaged come in plastic packaging anyway.

My mother lives on in me in many ways, one of which is an appreciative respect for plastic. My children, I believe, think I’m a bit dotty about saving plastic bags to use over and over again. I can’t help it. There’s good justification in my case because I produce so much food from scratch and because we harvest vegetables from our garden. The bags are excellent storage solutions.

So, when you walk into my house, one of the first things you see is a plastic bag hanging by a magnet from the refrigerator door. In this case, the bag is accompanied by a rubber glove that fell in the dishwater and got wet inside. If I had a towel rack like Mother’s I would use that.

I also have a couple of plastic bowl covers, but they are hard to find now. Instead, I use the plastic caps made for beauty shop use. I bought a package of them at the beauty supply store. I use them over and over until the elastic goes limp from exhaustion.

Of course I can’t save and reuse all the plastic that comes into our house. We recycle almost all of it, but I’m always on the lookout for a sturdy plastic bag that doesn’t have printing on it.

Thanks, Mom. I know you would also want me to say that when the petroleum runs out, plastic bags will be only a memory.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Negative Thoughts

Every few years I re-read all of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo novels. Ostensibly these are mysteries of the police procedural variety, but the Navajo Tribal Police procedures are informed by Navajo philosophy and are therefore different from, say, the LAPD.

Hillerman’s descriptions of landscape and atmosphere evoke memories of times I’ve spent in New Mexico. His plots are intricate and the characters are believable and consistent. But what draws me back to these books is the Navajo outlook on life.

The traditional Navajo strives for hozjo, which is a state of harmony, peace and balance. The Navajo sees the interconnectedness of all things. The Navajo is respectful of others and the Earth.

Currently I am reading The Fallen Man. In this story Lieutenant Jim Chee tries to avoid negative thoughts. Hillerman explains:
         The Navajo culture … had taught him the power of words and of thought. Western metaphysicians might argue that  language and imagination are products of reality. But in their own migrations out of Mongolia and over the icy Bering Strait, the Navajos brought with them a much older Asian philosophy. Thoughts, and words that spring from them, bend the individual’s reality.

How easy it is to allow oneself to slip into negative thought! A perceived slight can fill one’s consciousness and whisk one away from present reality.

Yesterday I woke up with a painful ankle and painful thumb. As I was reading the above passage I remembered that the night before I had been obsessively miffed over a trivial matter. Ah, ha! Pain is the price we pay for negative thought.

This morning my thumb is back to normal and my ankle is much improved. I hope I’ve learned the Navajo’s lesson.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Seeing Things Differently

It’s odd how different people see things so differently. Take my leaf pin, for example. This being another warm December day, I wore just a jacket to town. The leaf pin happened to be on the jacket, so I left it there, even though it was too far out on the jacket's shoulder.

Among other errands I had an appointment with an ENT. I parked my car and was walking toward the building when a woman walking out stopped me. “Wait!” she said, “There’s something on your jacket, a leaf.”

She reached out to brush it away, but immediately realized that it was pinned down. She apologized and walked on.

When I saw the young physician’s assistant, he said, “Just a moment. There’s a leaf on your jacket.”

He brushed at it, then said, “Oh, it’s a button.”

This did not surprise me. I’ve had prior experience with leaf discomfort. One glorious October I visited Nancy and her family in Colorado. She and I went to Cleo’s school one afternoon to watch the children parade in their Halloween costumes.

We had to park some distance from the school and enjoyed a walk along the residential neighborhood sidewalk. The sky was blue beyond belief. The street was lined with maple trees covered with leaves of pure gold. Golden leaves slowly wafted down, drifting on lawns and sidewalk.

One falling leaf landed on my sweater shoulder and stuck. I thought it beautiful and hoped it would stay put. As we walked along three different women stopped me to say, “There’s a leaf on your shoulder.”

Many people are not comfortable with a real fallen leaf on someone’s clothing. But I see it differently.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Monday, December 3, 2012

I Pinned My Hopes on El Nino

At some point in the miserable, hot, dry late summer I heard a news report that NOAA was predicting the return of El Nino, a warming of Pacific water that somehow brings rain to Kansas and other inner-continent states. 

We’ve been in a La Nina phase for almost two years now. La Nina is a bitch who tries to turn Kansas into a desert, so I was happy to hear that El Nino would be returning, bringing an end to our drought. I pinned my hopes on El Nino.

This morning Dennis said that “Kansas rain” was falling. We now consider a sheen of moisture that condenses on the concrete driveway and stone walkways to be Kansas rain. The sheen then evaporates.

I assured Dennis that El Nino was coming to save the day. But then I thought, “Shouldn’t he be here by now?” so I checked the Internet. Whoops! NOAA has canceled its El Nino prediction. Instead we will have neither El Nino or La Nina, but  “La Nada,” the nothing. I’m not joking; that’s what it’s called.

I’m disappointed and will not pin my hopes on a NOAA prediction again. El Nino is a tease, if you ask me.

But, hey, isn’t it odd that both our east and west coasts are being flooded with water from the sky while our continent’s inner core is drying up and could soon become a desert? Oh, what changes that would bring to our so-called civilization! 

If only I hadn't read about geology, which reminded me that our inner continent was once an inland sea, teeming with creatures whose skeletons are preserved as fossils in the stone wall that separates our back yard from the woods. 

All is change.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Late Thanksgiving

We are experiencing a prolonged drought. Eastern Kansas is 15 to 19 inches short of rainfall for the year. What’s more, our temperatures are much warmer than normal. Today it’s 69º. Tomorrow, the same.

I haven’t been writing about this because I can’t bear to. Watching Ken Burn’s Dust Bowl documentary, which ran on PBS last week, didn’t improve my outlook one bit. The great Dust Bowl drought lasted ten years. Ours has been only one or two so far, but I saw what could happen.

So I’m not writing about the drought. Instead, Dennis and I are making a late Thanksgiving dinner. We didn’t host the holiday dinner this year, but that meant we didn’t have any leftovers. We always enjoy the leftovers even more than the actual dinner. How nice it is to pull turkey, dressing, gravy, cranberry sauce and all the rest out of the refrigerator for a post-holiday meal!

The 11-pound turkey is roasting, cranberry sauce is cooling, a sweet potato is baking and I’ve just mixed the dressing, which is my very favorite part of the meal. I’ve always made dressing just the way my mother did. There’s no recipe; it’s made by instinct and experience.

Today it started with stale whole wheat bread. I keep a plastic bag in the freezer and as homemade bread goes stale I break it in chunks and freeze it. Today I hauled that bag out and dumped the contents into a big mixing bowl.

I also had four biscuits left over from breakfast and crumbled them into the mixing bowl with the stale bread. A few slices of fresh bread, cubed, brought the bread content to an acceptable level.

Next I went to the basement and pulled a couple of onions from the braid that hangs from a nail. The homegrown onions are almost gone, which is fine because they're beginning to sprout. I chopped them, some shallots (which last well into the spring) and celery stalks and leaves, then slowly sautéd them in butter until they were soft.

A generous amount of rubbed sage and parsley fresh from the garden topped off the ingredients.

Finally I added some broth from the giblets and enough chicken broth to moisten all the bread. Now, the dressing is baking in a buttered 9”-square baking dish alongside the turkey. It will be crispy on the top, sides and bottom but still moist in the center. Just right to be topped with gravy.

Aromas have my mouth watering and I can hardly wait to sit down to eat. Drought or no drought, we have a lot to be thankful for, especially with a second Thanksgiving dinner on the table. And if you think there will be a photo of the finished dressing, forget it. I'm ready to eat.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

The Advantage of Dying Young

Michael Soft stopped by to visit after supper last evening. He was wearing a long face and launched right into what was bothering him.

An old friend, Tim, who is Michael’s junior by several years, is in the hospital with stage four cancer. Tim lives alone and has no health insurance. He hasn't seen a doctor for many years. A friend who stopped by to see Tim three weeks ago found him sitting helpless, unable to walk or care for himself. The friend took Tim to the hospital, where he has been ever since, receiving radiation treatments.

“People who live alone at the end of life...” Michael began, but couldn’t finish the sentence.

Then, in an abrupt change of mood, Michael quipped, “If you die young lots of people will come to your funeral but you won’t have to go to theirs.” With that, Michael took his leave.

The great thing about a visit from Michael is that no matter how dire the topic of conversation he always makes me laugh. Laughter is our saving grace.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I've Got The Existential Blues

I wish I hadn’t read about geology as a distraction from the presidential campaign. Geology, I thought, would give me a different perspective. My view of time would zoom far, far out and I would see the election as less important.

Indeed, that happened, but I got more than I bargained for. By reading the geological history of Earth I came to realize that human beings are destined for extinction, no matter what we do, just as so many species have been before us. I also realized anew that what we humans are doing is accelerating our inevitable demise. Our numbers are too great. Earth simply cannot support her ever-growing human population in the style to which we have come accustomed and now consider our entitlement.

The staggering changes we have wrought on our environment since the Industrial Revolution have come rapidly and continue with great momentum. Climate change is upon us and we are unprepared for it. Many of us deny it. Among the realists, some of us try to do what we can to delay the disaster. We recycle and ride bikes. We carry reusable bags to the grocery store and learn to drive our cars for fuel efficiency instead of speed. But not enough of us are trying and what little we do is a drop in the ocean.

I’ve long taken the existential view that my actions make a difference in the world and that it is my moral duty to choose my actions carefully. I have believed that if I and others take collective action we could turn the tide of climate change or at least slow it down. But from the viewpoint of geological time, I see that it can’t be done. There isn’t time. We are destroying in a few human generations an environment that took billions of years to develop. Sea levels will rise, coastal communities will be devastated and Kansas will be part of the Great American Desert. The oceans will become acidic and destroy the marine food chain. The ozone layer will become Swiss cheese. And so on…

When the existentialist realizes that nothing she can do will change the inevitable, she gets the existential blues.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer

Monday, November 26, 2012

Late Fall Weekend

We didn’t have special plans for the weekend, other than doing some late autumn chores, but Saturday began with a surprise. I needed a pair of gloves for outdoor work and opened a drawer of the chest that sits by the garage door in the entry room. Woops! The drawer held more than gloves. It held quite a lot of dog food.

Dennis opened the other drawer. More dog food.

Clearly, our pack rat friends have returned and made themselves at home.

After we cleaned out the pack rat stash we went to the cold frame to thin lettuce and spinach. Our approach to cold frame gardening is to plant generously and gradually thin the young plants. Dennis harvested enough baby lettuce and spinach to make several salads, leaving plenty for future harvests.

Next, Dennis began lugging garden hoses to the barn for winter storage.

Then we walked the pasture. Dennis’ task was to lop off seedling red cedar trees. If not kept in check, the red cedars would quickly turn our pasture into a cedar forest, the first stage of successive forestation.

My task was to scatter ashy sunflower seeds, but the strong north wind blew the seeds away. Instead of sowing, I just observed what is growing in the area around the pole barn. Construction of the barn necessitated creating a swale to draw rainwater away from the building, leaving a completely bare area. Two summers have passed since the land was graded and I was delighted to find a few well-established clumps of big bluestem and numerous clumps of side oats grama grass, another prairie native. There’s no side oats grama in other parts of the pasture, so I can’t imagine where the seeds came from.

When I went back to the house, Nancy called to ask what we were planning to do with our turnip harvest. I had no plans until she recommended what she called “Beef and Root Vegetable Soup.” As it happened I had cooked a beef brisket, so I made the soup using the caramelized onions and broth from the brisket, carrots, turnips, kale, and parsley, along with some pieces of brisket. I added thyme and summer savory. Oh, my, that soup was hearty and delicious, the perfect ending to a day of outdoor work.

Now, if only it would rain.

Copyright 2012 by Shirley Domer