Saturday, September 29, 2012

Comfort Food

It's a beautiful day in Paradise, but my heart is heavy. During this past week I've heard bad news. In separate incidents two people I know have gotten falling-down drunk and hit their heads. Both are sweet, dear men who happen to be alcoholics. One has a deep gash in his scalp and a concussion; the other has a fractured skull and is hospitalized.

Alcoholism is a terrible affliction that hurts not only the alcoholic, but also those who love and care about them, who live in fear of the phone call in the middle of the night. There's nothing I can do to help, but my heart aches.

At times like this I turn for comfort to food, which usually means making a childhood favorite.  Today I made pimento cheese, a dish my mother made many times, which is probably why I consider it a comforting food. She ground cheddar cheese and whole pimentos together in an old food grinder that attached to the table edge. It was quite a production. Now, making pimento cheese is much easier, but it tastes just as good as my mother's.

Pimento Cheese

8 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
4 ounces diced pimentos
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
several blobs of mayonnaise or, my favorite, Miracle Whip

Stir all the ingredients together until well mixed.

Now make a sandwich or just get some crackers and dig in. You will feel better, at least I did.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Only someone who has experienced drought can understand my great delight in seeing puddles. We have them!

More than an inch of rain fell night before last. The drought isn't broken; we are still 10-12" below normal, but this is a beginning.

It's been a cool, overcast day, a day when colors are more vivid and the air is sweet with moisture and decay. This growth cycle has reached its senescence. Virginia creeper – a stubborn, persistent denizen of our woods – is always the first to turn its color. It loves our old limestone wall, built by Dennis, Barry, Pam, and a host of KU students 35 years ago. Every few years the ivy completely covers the wall. That's when we rip it all away and let it begin again. This is two years' growth.

What, you may ask, is the white area of the wall? The white stones were laid at the same time as all the others, but while the others have grown darker with age, this area has progressively lost its natural tan color. Here is one of the stones, half black, half white, close up.

This phenomenon must be related to the elm tree that overhangs the wall. The tree seems to be bleeding sap onto the stones. How strange that it isn't red.

The chiggers have departed. Some water has fallen from the sky. Autumn has replaced the horrid summer and I'm back outdoors, wandering the place I love most in the world. I'm such a lucky woman.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Is It All About Money?

Michael Soft stopped by at the cocktail hour this afternoon. As those of you who are acquainted with Michael know, he is an off-the-wall sort of guy. The first time I met Michael he visited Dennis and me at the old farmhouse we first lived in together. Dennis had accepted an invitation to subscribe to The Texas Monthly. Michael dropped in the day the bill came at about the time Dennis was regretting his decision to subscribe.

Michael, upon hearing this, snatched up the bill, scrawled on it "Dennis Domer is dead. He went in a huff, leaving nothing," stuffed the bill into the prepaid return envelope and sealed it. He tossed it on the table where we were sitting and declared, "That takes care of that. Next subject?"

That's Michael, devil-may-care and irreverent. But today Michael's mood was somber.

"Michael, is something wrong?" I asked.

After a pause, he looked at me and replied, "The business model is destroying the United States," then took a casual swig of his beer, as if he hadn't dropped a bombshell.

I took the bait, of course, asking him to explain. He told me that today everything comes down to dollars and cents. If it doesn't make money, get rid of it. He honed in on education and cited the example of the University of Kansas recently dropping its Western Civilization course, long a requirement for graduation. This course was too expensive to continue, according to University spokespeople, he said.

Michael also cited the closing of Marion Springs elementary school, the school our neighborhood children used to attend. Now the Baldwin school district has erected two new elementary schools in town to accommodate students from closed rural neighborhood schools. "They think it will save money," Michael said, "but it helps destroy our community. You see, some valuable assets have no monetary value – assets such as community and family."

I had to admit he had a point there.

Then Michael got going on the Supreme Court's ruling that corporations are people and money is free speech. Oh boy, was he getting hot under the collar! "Corporations don't serve in the military," he declared, "nor do they sleep or eat or vote in elections!"

"But you can do anything if you have enough money,"he concluded. "So the question is, can the superPACs buy this election for Romney?"

Michael then took his leave, tossing over his shoulder, "Money talks."

I sure hope he gets a good night's sleep.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Presidential Power

President Obama has said it before and I'll say it again: presidential power is limited. There are many things a president cannot control, the price of gasoline, for example. We know the amount of petroleum in the world is finite. Someday it will be all used up. In the meantime, the price of gasoline and other petroleum products will rise, gradually at first, then precipitously. Neither President Obama nor any president elected in the future will be able to change those facts.

The president also is limited in power by two other branches of government. Sometimes the power ratio is 1:2, sometimes 2:1, and, theoretically, it could be 3:0. That's what the founding fathers intended – balance of power. President Obama's power has been diminished greatly by congressional divisiveness during the last two years of his term in office. He got a little break from the judicial branch when the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Health Care Act passed by a sympathetic House of Representative early in his administration.

Now a recession appears to be looming in Europe. A recession there will surely affect the United States economy. No American president can change that either. Power is limited.

If the president can't change these things, it certainly is not in my power to change anything whatsoever. Happily, I'm reading about metaphysics and geology, for both of these subjects lend the long view to human affairs, which are only a blip in time. It's as if I were enrolled in two classes at a university: I study, I look up the meaning of words, my vocabulary is expanding, and I'm pretty much distracted from news of the day.

But I must say the winner of the coming election may be the big loser after all. His power will be limited in the face of this rapidly changing world.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Our neighbor Greg left a bag of apples in the snake room for us on the first day of autumn. They are Red Delicious from the tree in their yard. Greg must have watered the tree because these apples are sweet and crisp and truly delicious. The Kitchen God was pleased.

This bounty called for Waldorf Salad. Nothing could be easier. I use these ingredients:

1 Red Delicious apple, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
3/4 cup seedless grapes (red, green, purple – it doesn't matter), cut in half
1/3 cup chopped English walnuts


1/3 to 1/2 cup Miracle Whip or mayonaisse
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

It isn't necessary to premix the dressing. I just add the dressing ingredients to the basics and stir them in. Also, the basic ingredients are flexible to your taste – more apple, more walnuts, more grapes, less celery – it doesn't matter.

The Kitchen God was pleased.

Dennis and I ate all of it for supper. Rats! I was hoping for leftovers.

We Did It Again

Yep, we spent two more hours in the basement, sorting, tossing and organizing. I hadn't been confident that we would carry on, but the lure of endorphins released when somethings become nothings compelled us. This time I sorted a box of bathroom things we brought from Lexington in 2006. I now have a lot of cotton balls, having just purchased a giant bag of them day before yesterday. A lifetime supply of Campho-Phenique (so good for chigger bites) also is in the drug store inventory now.

We accumulated two large bags of trash, two large bags of recycling and a huge pile of cardboard boxes. We didn't need 400 egg cartons, for example, having only 12 hens. I talked Dennis into keeping only this many. He also kept the Billy Bass that our grandchildren enjoy so much.

I started another box of donations to the Social Service League of Lawrence. (Those folks do a lot of good in our community.) We cleared a table top and much of the countertop of the do-it-yourself cabinet.

All of Dennis' rolled maps and drawings are in one place now. I thought the orange box especially appropriate.

Dennis has carved out a corner to become his work-out area.

It is now possible to walk all around the basement without stepping over things. This is where all the cardboard boxes used to be.

What is working for us is that we concentrate on one area at a time, sometimes together but mostly separately. We help each other as needed but what really keeps us going is our camaraderie in a common task, working together toward a goal.

No "before" photos appear here, although a few untouched areas sneaked into the "after" shots. I'll just say that before we started cleaning the basement we were on the watch list of a "Hoarders" talent scout.

Eventually we will finish the basement task of making nothing out of something. It won't take many more days like this. Then I can quit worrying about dying and leaving a terrible mess behind.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mysteries of Life

When I was a kid, thinking about the universe made me sick at my stomach and a little dizzy. I’d have to put my head down on my desk and close my eyes. I couldn’t bear to think of the vastness of space. I knew then that my brain was too limited to comprehend it.

Now I no longer feel that sickening awe, or any awe at all for that matter. I’ve come to accept the whole thing: vastness and my limited ability to comprehend it. Thus, I am able to read Jim Holt's new book, Why Does The World Exist? for entertainment. After an introduction, Holt presents various people's views on the intersection between physics and philosophy with regard to existence.

The book is intended to be a gift for Logan’s birthday, which was a month ago today, but he is in the midst of a three-month tour of European cities and I couldn't resist dipping into his book last night. It seems to be built around the questions posed by Heidegger in his Introduction to Metaphysics, “Why is there something and not nothing?”

It’s a goofy question in a way, but on a much lower level it has me thinking about why there are so many somethings in my house. I wish there were more nothings. I’m wearied of trying to keep track of possessions, such as the mouse traps we couldn’t find earlier this week.

Things have gotten out of hand because we have lived in the same house for 36 years. If  we had moved from house to house we wouldn’t have accumulated all of these somethings. We had another house in Lexington, Kentucky, for six years in the early part of this century and accumulated a good many somethings there, too, bringing many of them back to our Kansas home when Dennis left the University of Kentucky. So, you see, we are in quite a mess of somethings.

Today we are going to tackle the basement and start making nothings out of somethings. Why, indeed, is there something rather than nothing? Just because we’re too lazy or preoccupied to let it be that way, that’s why.

Wish me luck.

OK, I'm back. Dennis and I spent two hours in the basement, each working on the projects of our choosing. I chose to clean, categorize and inventory the pantry area. Right away I realized that the shelves were not organized for ease of use, so I moved most of the somethings around, replacing old newspaper shelf liner as I went. Toward the end, Dennis had finished his project of assembling a set of new shelves and carrying out old computer equipment for recycling, so he pitched in to help me finish by moving all the empty canning jars to the bottom shelf.

I'm happy with the results. Most of the food is on the top two shelves, in a clear line of sight and easy reach. There's a drugstore section now, a cleaning products section, and, almost filling the bottom two shelves, canning and freezing equipment and supplies. I love it! (If you want to see the photo full size I think you can double click to see it in Preview.)

During this process we gathered a big bag of recycling in addition to the computer equipment, a big bag of trash and a box of food to donate to the Social Services League. I've started a Craig's List list of unneeded food-related equipment such as the soy milk maker that is too hard for my hands to use. And if anyone needs canning jars, I have way too many and will be happy to pass some on.

So, at the end of the day, I feel virtuous (mostly) for having brought order to one small part of my life. I did discover that the case of canola oil I ordered last week was not needed because I already had seven big bottles! Maybe I should go into the pie business until I've used all of this oil.

Best of all, we have more nothings than we did this morning. Now, back to the book. I hope this abstract view of the universe coupled with the long eons of geology will keep me distracted from the current news. And maybe tomorrow we will devote two more hours to turning somethings into nothings.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Listen Here, Mitt!

Listen, Mitt, I am not a deadbeat. I pay my bills. I pay my taxes. I pay a higher tax rate than you do. I keep my money in American banks. I try to be a good citizen and help my neighbors and those in need. I believe that mutual respect and concern for others is the foundation of democracy. I am a Democrat and I will vote for Barak Obama in November.

Mitt, most other Democrats are like me in all these respects. Seventy-two million Americans are deadbeats and lazy good-for-nothings who won't take responsibility for themselves, you claim? Bullshit. We are not looking for government handouts, but some of us need help, just as many Republicans do. Why Republicans on food stamps would support you I cannot imagine. The Republican party appears to be the last stand of white supremacy, but it as doomed as Custer was at Little Big Horn.

David Brooks, a Republican but a fairly reasonable man, had it right in his New York Times column this week when he said you are out of touch with America. We have to wonder what planet you are living on.

When Dennis and I spent two weeks in Delft, The Netherlands, a few years ago I marveled at the calm, rational culture there. One day we were eating lunch in a small restaurant when a woman struck up a conversation with us. (Virtually everyone I met there spoke excellent English.) I told her how much I admired her society and asked, "Where are the homeless people?"

"We don't have homeless people," she replied. Now, there's a country that loves its people and cares for all of them. I wish America could be like that. I wish people in America didn't feel the need to carry guns. I wish we valued education – true education, not glorified job training – as our forefathers did. I wish everyone wanted to pay his or her fair share for the benefits of an organized society. I wish you weren't trying to make us a dog-eat-dog culture. I wish a lot of things, but I realize that we live in an imperfect world in a country that has an inflated ego.

Whew, Mitt! I hadn't meant to listen to a word you say, but this one got through. I'm done now and going back to reading about geology in a wonderful book by John McPhee, Assembling California.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Day in The Country

It's a beautiful day today, cool and sunny. I had lots of plans for getting things done, but things don't always work out as we plan.

Annie came in the house last evening with one of her dew claws (that's a dog's "thumb" that grows out the side of its foot) sticking out at a 45º angle. Obviously she had suffered an accident, but would not allow us to examine her foot. We resolved to take her to the vet first thing this morning, but when morning came, the dew claw had completely disappeared. No doubt it will turn up in the vacuum cleaner sometime soon. (Sorry, no photo of the missing dew claw; she refuses to be photographed.)

We were relieved to have that problem resolved but then discovered mouse droppings in almost every room of the house. Whoa! They were on the kitchen counters, on the coffee table, on the bedroom window sill, on the bathroom floor, on my desk, and who knows where else. A mouse even chewed the edge off a doily that my grandmother crocheted! Yep, that little black thing is a mouse turd.

Unless a mouse poops about 40 times a night, it appeared that an extended mouse family has moved in. We couldn't find our mouse traps (they're here somewhere) so Dennis went to town right after breakfast for eight new ones. Yep, those are mouse turds on the window sill, too.

After the traps were set there was nothing to do in that department but wait, so I moved on to the day's tasks. I started laundry. I started bread dough. I did more laundry.

Tasks were waiting outdoors, too. First I went to the garden to see how the new plantings are progressing. The garden gate is decorated with plastic twine removed from straw bales we use for mulch and chicken litter. That's just for fun. The board on the left side of the gate is a rabbit barrier that must be removed and replaced every time we visit the garden

The little radicchio plants are coming along pretty well after a rocky start. I know, radicchio is red and this plant is green, but it will turn red in time.

Oh, my! the turnips are growing like weeds and need thinning. I'll put that on my list of things to do. It's an arduous task. Times like this I wish I were three feet tall. I used to thin seedlings on my knees, but since my wrists were fused it's too difficult to get up, so I bend instead.

Next stop, the chicken house. Although Dennis had gathered the morning eggs, a lot of cackling this afternoon told me there were more waiting. The five young auracana pullets are cranking out eggs every day now. I enjoy the varieties of colors. It's a nice change from brown, brown, brown and more brown.

Supper time is near now. The laundry is done. Three loaves of bread are ready for the oven. I didn't have to go to town today. I'm a happy woman.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Just Another Sunday Morning

It was just another Sunday morning until I finished eating a soft-boiled egg. Removing the contents of its shell revealed a surprising interior. The shell appears to be lined with green alabaster.

Such a beautiful beginning surely portends a beautiful day.

May each of us find beauty in this day.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Corporation One Has To Despise

There are several actually, but I'm really, really mad at Monsanto in particular. You see, Monsanto genetically modified soy beans to make them resistant to Round Up, a Monsanto herbicide farmers and others use to kill weeds. If a farmer planted Monsanto's soy beans she could spray her soybean fields with Round Up to kill weeds without harming the soybean plants.

Some farmers, did not need or want Monsanto's genetically-modified seeds. Such farmers often saved seeds from their own crops to plant the next year, and had been doing so for years before Monsanto got in the business of messing with Mother Nature. Take, for instance, Farmer A, who didn't buy Monsanto's seeds but continued to use seeds from his previous crop. But when Farmer A's neighbor bought and planted Monsanto's soybeans, the pollen from his soybeans drifted into Farmer A's fields, fertilized the flowers and thus transferred the modified gene to his seed stock.

How Monsanto knew this occurred I will never understand, but Monsanto sued Farmer A for patent infringement and won. In fact, Monsanto has brought and won many patent-infringement lawsuits in recent years. (Just Google Monsanto lawsuit.)

This, in effect, makes Monsanto the owner of every soybean to be used as seed. Farmers will have no choice but to buy Monsanto's genetically-modified seed. Monsanto has proven that it pays to mess with Mother Nature – at least it pays the corporation, but certainly not the farmer. I am the daughter of a small farmer, and I am outraged by Monsanto's infringement on the rights of farmers to save and plant seeds from their own crops.

Oh, yes, Monsanto also has genetically-modified alfalfa, sugar beets, cotton, canola and more. If this were to continue Monsanto could conceivably have a monopoly on all kinds of seeds, and would not permit me to save seeds from my garden.

I also am outraged by President Obama's appointment of a Monsanto vice-president as senior advisor to the commissioner of the Federal Drug Administration. It tells me the president doesn't know beans about agriculture.

The Short, Happy Life of A Homemade Pizza

Last night I made pizza from scratch. After the dough had risen and rested I pulled it into pan shape, laid it on an oiled pizza pan, brushed it liberally with olive oil and laid on sweet pepper slices.

Next came mushrooms,

followed by onions and black olives.

Finally I added sauce and pepperoni slices. Putting the sauce on top of the vegetables keeps them from drying out.

After it baked for 15 minutes I added provolone cheese and baked it 15 minutes more. I sprinkled on some parmesan cheese. (Sorry, folks, I favor good old Kraft grated parmesan, but you gourmet cooks can use the fancy stuff.)

The dough recipe was in an Italian breads cookbook from the library. I've used it so long that the name of the book is lost somewhere in my overcrowded mental filing cabinet. A good amount of olive oil makes the crust crisp and tender. It's also pretty easy to work with.

1 3/4 teaspoons dry yeast*
pinch of sugar
1 1.3 cups warm water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt

Put the warm water and sugar in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast and let it sit for a few minutes. The yeast buds will bloom and rise to the top. Then mix in the remaining ingredients, stirring in the flour a cup or two at a time. Use the kneading blade in your electric mixer if you have one. If you don't, knead the dough on a floured cloth or board until it becomes elastic.

Turn the dough into a large oiled bowl and let it rise until doubled. Turn the dough out of the bowl and deflate it. Separate it into two equal parts and flatten them into circles about eight inches in diameter. Go away and prepare the vegetables for filling. Now that the dough has rested it will be much easier to form into pan-sized shapes.

Place the dough circles on well-oiled pizza pans and seal the dough with olive oil. Add fillings except for cheese.

Bake at 400º for 15 minutes. Remove the pans and add cheese. Mozzarella is traditional but I prefer provolone. At this point I slide the pizzas out of the pan onto the baking stone that always sits on my oven rack. If you don't have a baking stone, just leave the pizzas in the pans. Return the pizzas to the oven and bake about 15 minutes more.

*Because I've baked yeast breads in my kitchen for more than 30 years, wild yeast abounds. It doesn't take much yeast to get a rise out of dough. I use only 1/4 teaspoon of yeast in this recipe.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What? Me Worry?

Dennis, who still watches the evening news as well as various talking heads, came away from the TV last night worried about the "fiscal cliff." He started to explain it to me, including some dreadful possible outcomes, but I stopped him.

I didn't want to know and I still don't. I remembered Thomas Gray's famous line, "...where ignorance is bliss, Tis folly to be wise." I remembered Alfred E. Neuman's "What? Me Worry?"

The fiscal cliff is a vast abstraction, not a reality, to me. I'm too practical and earth-rooted to waste time fretting over what might happen in the future.

I'm interested, instead, in what is before my eyes, such as three loaves of fresh bread and a dozen pullet eggs, half of them from Araucanas.

I would rather look at the salad bowl and see a fat buddha holding his supper bowl, ready to be fed, than think about the fiscal cliff.

Rather than get indigestion from watching news programs, I will read John McPhee's books about geology, starting with Basin and Range. Geology is a subject guaranteed to give perspective on the importance of human endeavors. By the time I finish, the hubbub about elections and fiscal cliffs will be over.

I'm sure Dennis will tell me how it all turns out.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Health Insurance

One good reason to favor single payer health insurance is the gross inefficiency of our current system.

The month before Dennis' contract at the university was to end, we both signed up for Medicare. With the end of his contract came the end of employer-subsidized Blue Cross health insurance. Our Blue Cross insurance shifted to the retirees' plan.* We were all set.

Then at the end of June, came a new, unexpected contract. All the insurance changes had to be undone and redone. Here's the amount of paper these changes generated at our house. The stack is 2 1/4 inches high. How many hours employees spent generating this flood is unknown.

As it happens, both the employee's and retiree's insurance is with the same company. If they were different companies the paper accumulation would have been even greater. But why within one company why must there be more than one plan? Why not just charge retirees more for the same plan they have been on? Well, because of Medicare. Medicare is primary and Blue Cross supplemental is just that.

Health care is such a mess in this country. I wish we could apply a little logic and simplify the system for everyone, insurance companies included.

*Under Medicare with supplemental insurance our monthly premiums would total more than $800. While Dennis was employed our health insurance cost was $127 each month.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What Does It Take To Make Me Happy?

It doesn't take much to make me happy. Others might scoff at the simple pleasures we enjoyed last weekend, but they were just my cup of tea.

On Saturday afternoon we decided to take a drive. First we stopped at the new bridge over County Road 460. The new highway isn't open yet, so we had free access for photos.

Kansas is the Sunflower State, so-called because of the Maximillian sunflower. Its seeds lie dormant for many years, awaiting the opportunity to sprout and grow in disturbed soil. Construction of the new Highway 59 has disturbed an amazing amount of soil, and the Maximillian has responded in force. All along the highway vast swaths of the flowers, freshened by Isaac's rain, are now gloriously blooming. Here, for example, they are on the side of the bridge.

Here they are, growing in rubble on the opposite side.

On we went to the Baker University Wetlands Reconstruction Project. There, too, were sunflowers and vast patches of blooming knotweed and false sunflower. The project manager has sown prairie wetlands plants such as this sedge, which is plentiful around one of the ponds. At first I mistook it for cocklebur, but when I touched the seed heads they were soft, not prickly.

Because of this summer's drought the ponds are down, even in the wetlands. Near the pond's edge Dennis spotted this unperturbable frog with its yellow eye and effective camouflage.

On Sunday morning Dr. Michael Soft dropped in for coffee. He announced that the MDS (Mowing Deprivation Syndrome) crisis has passed. Rain from Isaac brought the grass back to life, restoring peaceful mowing to both suburbs and countryside.

After Dr. Soft left I helped Dennis put new plastic on the cold frame and he helped me make peach jam. I recently obtained re-usable canning lids in a group purchase through the New Boston Buying Club. This is the first time I've used them, and I found that they work quite well. I hadn't prepared enough jars to hold the unexpected amount of jam. The overage went into two bowls, one of which we shared with Laurie and Greg, who gave us hot peppers. These are the pleasures of belonging to a community.

We ended the day by another community activity: taking recycling to Walmart. Whatever else one may say about Walmart, this store in south Lawrence provides the only public access to recycling in Douglas County.

Imagine how fast a landfill would fill up with beer bottles from all over Lawrence!

Another great thing about the Recycle Center is that it is run by Community Living Opportunities by and for their disabled residents.

This doesn't seem like much of a weekend, I suppose, but everything we did made me happy. I hope your weekend was happy, too, and that you, too, found pleasure in life's simple things.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Spilled Milk

When my children were small they unintentionally created big messes. Spilled milk was the most frequent. The child bumped the full glass and over it went, milk pooling across the table and dripping onto the floor.

I would spring into action, swabbing up milk with a sponge as fast as I could. Inevitably milk continued to run under plates, onto the floor and into the child's lap. No matter how fast I worked, cleaning up the mess took far, far longer to clean up than it did to create.

This event, which every parent has experienced, is analogous to the Great Recession, which we are still trying to recover from. George Bush had eight years to turn a budget surplus into a monstrous budget deficit, while investment banks ran rampant, jobs were shipped overseas, two wars were started and the middle class lost its footing.

How on earth can Barak Obama be expected to have cleaned up the mess in just four years?

We parents know how long it takes to clean up spilled milk compared to the time it takes to spill it: far, far longer.

We also know that there is no quick fix; we have to slog through it.. We try to control the damage while sopping up milk as fast as we can, but it can't be accomplished in one fell swoop. Eventually order is restored, but the meal is interrupted for some time.

Let's be patient.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thanks To Aunt Vena

She was a tiny dynamo of a woman who worked in the field beside her husband, kept a garden, canned the produce, helped her neighbors, wore jodhpurs, made comforters out of worn-out clothes, and once used her shotgun to blow a hole in the screen door and the big rattlesnake that was climbing it. She was one of two sisters who married two of my mother's brothers.

When my mother went into labor seventy-seven years ago she was laboring at home, a little clapboard house at 610 West Mason St. in Odessa, Missouri. Aunt Vena, who lived on a nearby farm, came to help.

Dr. Martin, a down-to-earth general practitioner with a pot belly and a honking voice, was called. He came and went all day. The labor went on for hours and finally, about four in the afternoon, Dr. Martin determined that although its head had crowned and partially emerged, the baby was stuck in the birth canal. Turning to his black kit, he produced forceps, clamped them on the baby's partially exposed head, and pulled.

Mother was in bad shape. The baby was blue from lack of oxygen and judged to be dead. It was laid aside and attention focused on tending to Mother.

Luckily for that baby Aunt Vena was standing by the table where it lay. Suddenly she shouted, "This baby isn't dead! I just saw it move!" She snatched it up, put it on her shoulder and pounded its back until it drew a breath and began to cry.

That's how I began my seventy-seven-year journey through life, thanks to Aunt Vena. I always loved her, even before I heard the story of my birth. That, of course, made me love her even more. She was a remarkable woman and she saved my life.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Planting The Fall Garden

Normally we would have planted our fall garden two weeks ago, but there's no point in planting seeds in a drought. Then came Isaac and the gentle rain. Rain is again in our weather forecast, so we finally felt a fall garden would have a fighting chance. Out we went early this morning, before the heat set in. Dennis had already prepared a small plot, incorporating lots of compost.

In the foreground are a basket of seed packets and a tray of the most pitiful seedlings I've ever started. The almost invisible plants are escarole and radicchio, but they have not thrived and most of the escarole died of damping off. Still, we would plant them. Maybe they will do better in the garden soil.

First Dennis made the rows.

I followed along dropping seeds: arugula, turnips, and kale.

Next, Dennis dug holes for the pitiful escarole and radicchio.

After freeing the pitiful plants from their styrofoam containers, he firmed them into the soil. Because they are so tiny and vulnerable, we decided to shelter them with old, rusty coffee cans.

Finally, we covered the rows of seeds with soil, tamped it down, and set up a sprinkler to water them in. After all, sometimes the weather forecast is wrong. These tiny seeds and seedlings need all the help they can get. We are hopeful.