Thursday, March 28, 2013

Things Are Looking Up

It’s 63º. Almost all of the snow has melted. The air feels balmy to us and Dennis is sitting on the deck with a lapful of paperwork and a bottle of beer.

In the cold frame spinach and lettuce are going to town, but the arugula is putting up seed stalks. There’s a good reason it’s also called “rocket.”

Leaves on the 18-month-old sweet potato I discovered sprouting in the basement last week are growing and turning from maroon to green. Meanwhile the garnet yam is showing a few sprouts but the Japanese yam has only one tiny root.

Best of all is the Lucy news. Yesterday morning Dennis came in from the chicken house to announce that Lucy had died overnight, but when he went back to dispose of her body, she jumped up and ran out into the yard. 

I have been watching Lucy closely from the kitchen window. She has spent all her days since the attack 13 days ago standing in one or the other of the far corners of the chicken yard. She even trudged through deep snow to reach a refuge. She didn’t seem to be eating and we were sure she would starve to death. Then, when Dennis took a bowl of vegetable scraps to the hens, Lucy came running but didn’t get any of the scraps because she was afraid to approach the other hens, who were gobbling up the scraps. 

Chickens are very mean-spirited birds toward one another. That’s what the term “pecking order” is all about. They seem to have no tolerance for disability and will drive off a wounded or sick member of their flock. Once, back when we still kept a rooster, a hen sat on a clutch of eggs. When the eggs hatched one of the chicks was slightly deformed. The mother hen shoved it out of the nest! I put it back and she shoved it out again. She had no intention of raising a deformed chick. So, none of the hens has cared a hoot whether Lucy lived or died and they didn’t want to associate with her.

Realizing that the other hens were keeping Lucy away from food, I crumbled a leftover biscuit in one of her safety corners (chickens love any kind of bread) and some “scratch” in her other safety corner. She ate and she revived. By evening of the day we thought she had died, she was, as Dennis said, “almost a new person.” Today Lucy has been out and about, eating, but avoiding her flockmates. She, of course, is the one on the far left.

Yep, now that we’ve made it through the winter, things are looking up.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hot Chilies on A Cold Day

Late in the afternoon a ray of sun fell on the ristra that hangs from our mantle. Thanks, Grant, for giving me this glowing moment on a cold March day.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, March 24, 2013

March Madness

We should be planting potatoes and onions today. Instead we’re waiting for the snowplow to come through. Laurie has been out measuring snow and believes it averages 10 inches deep. Dennis is on his way to see if he can get through our driveway in the car. The chicken house is shut up tight. I won’t be lounging on the deck today.

Nor will we have lunch on the patio.

Talk about March madness! This trumps all the NCAA tournament upsets.

I can’t recall a late March snow this deep, but the Lawrence Journal-World
reports today that exactly 101 years ago this area received 19 inches of snow.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, March 23, 2013

How To Dice An Onion

It’s a cold March day with occasional flurries of snow. This day calls for soup, homemade cream of tomato soup. As I was dicing the onion I wondered why it took me so many years to learn the easiest way to do it.

First, cut of the top of the onion, but leave the root end intact. Stand the onion on its head and cut it in half, going down through the root end. Peel off the outside layer(s) of one half. Now, lay the onion half cut side down and make deep slits toward the root end without cutting the root. Next, cut the onion crosswise. Make the last cut about ½ inch from the root end. That’s it. You’re done unless you need to dice the other half, too.

By the way, this homemade cream of tomato soup beats Campbell’s all to pieces. I've posted it before, but just in case...

Cream of Tomato Soup

3 T. butter or olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery with leaves
1 quart home-canned tomatoes or 2 pounds chopped fresh tomatoes
¼ t. dried thyme or ½ t. dried summer savory
½ t. dried basil
½ t. paprika
grindings of black pepper
3 T. flour
14 ounces chicken broth
½ cup half and half (or more if desired)
½ teaspoon sugar if desired

In a large saucepan, saute the onion, and celery in the butter or oil until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in thyme or summer savory, basil, and paprika and cook another minute or so. Add the tomatoes and some black pepper.

Simmer 10 minutes if using fresh tomatoes. Home-canned tomatoes don’t need this step.

Add chicken broth, reserving ¼ cup. Cover and simmer for 10 to 25 minutes.

Stir the flour into the reserved chicken broth to dissolve. Slowly add to the tomato mixture while stirring.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Stir in cream. Return the soup to heat, but do not allow it to boil.

Serve it garnished with chopped parsley or chopped chives and a dollop of sour cream.

Snow has seriously started now. I’m going to eat soup.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Poor Lucy

Last Friday evening Dennis arrived home weary from two days of travel. We had a little supper and he settled in to watch the KU basketball game. For the first time in more than a year, he went to bed without locking up the chicken house. I never think of closing the chickens’ little door because I can’t bend my wrists to fasten the locks, so the chickens went to bed unprotected.

Saturday morning Dennis realized his mistake. Six chickens were outside. Last year's chicken slaughter by raccoons was on our minds. Dennis postponed checking out the situation until I said, "You might as well get it over with." Sure enough, he found two chickens dead in their yard, having been dragged outside by the killer or killers, no doubt a roving band of juvenile male raccoons. A third chicken, Lucy, was badly injured with wounds on her head and neck. A fourth had some minor cuts on her head.

This tragedy left us with just six chickens, one of them unlikely to survive. On Craig’s List I found a seller offering three Rhode Island Red hens, one year old. Dennis drove a farm near Ottawa to get them.

After a few pecking order squabbles, the now-integrated flock is living in harmony. They laid six eggs yesterday.

It seems miraculous, but Lucy is still hanging on six days after the attack. She spends most of the day standing in a corner of the chicken yard but goes in to roost at night. Her head is squinched down between her shoulders. We haven’t seen her eat anything and fear that she will starve. Out of respect for Lucy I’m not posting her photo.

What a dilemma this presents: put Lucy out of her misery (assuming that is her state of being) or let nature take its course. Maybe she will recover.

Ah, this country life. It isn’t as romantic as some might think.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

An Odd Day

Some days are filled with little oddities. This was one for me.

This morning when I carried some empty canning jars to the basement I noticed again the basket of 18-month-old sweet potatoes waiting to be thrown on the compost pile. I noticed a detail I’d missed before: a couple of these small, ancient tubers had put out sprouts. Since the basket receives little light, the sprouts are pink with maroon leaves.

The sweet potatoes I bought at the grocery store and stuck in water haven’t done diddly-squat, so I brought up one of the ancient sprouted potatoes, laid it in a bowl of water, supported it with pebbles from the Biloxi beach, and set it in the south window. I laid the potato on its side because it has sprouts on both ends and I don't want to sacrifice any sprouts. This is not the traditional way of starting sweet potatoes. Usually they are suspended lengthwise in a jar of water. Mine is an odd experiment.

The next odd thing was the snowstorm. Here it is, the last day of winter, and I was driving to town in what seemed like a blizzard. The sky was white with big clumps of wet snow that melted on the windshield, but blanketed the farm fields in white. It didn’t amount to anything in the end, but snow is forecast for the second and third days of spring, an oddity indeed.

The final oddity is this organic object I found when cleaning out the vegetable drawer of our refrigerator. It's two inches long and weighs practically nothing.

I’ve been gone for two months and have no idea what Dennis put in that drawer. He doesn’t recognize it either. I wish someone would identify it before I throw it in the compost. Don’t you just hate not knowing? It’s the curse of an inquiring mind, another oddity these days.

P.S. The dictionary that is part of my MacBook Pro is far superior to Microsoft Word’s spell checker. Word thinks I spelled “diddly-squat” incorrectly, but my Mac dictionary knows it well. In face it shows three different spellings.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Monday, March 18, 2013

Friend Power

When I turned 77 I figured I would die soon. Seventy-six had been a trying year with three wrist surgeries and a bad fall. I was feeling vulnerable. Moreover, my mother died when she was 78.

Subsequently, I suffered a loss of confidence. Then I fell into a funk, a deep one.

Finally, months later, I’m getting my mojo back and it’s all due to friend power.

Kathy and I, who have a long history, used to get together regularly to sew or do other creative work. Then, the sewing stopped when I had wrist surgeries. Instead, Kathy came to be my caregiver in the first few days following each operation.

Kathy came back today to sew. I had made a great effort to get the sewing room, now sewing room/desk area ready. Still, my art table was literally covered with long-delayed, uncompleted projects, some of them works in progress and some there for repairs.

Somehow, with Kathy working near me, my spirits lifted, my mind and hands found their competence and I finished all the repairs.

The old driftwood sculpture of a shore bird that I made many years ago in Biloxi  had been leaning far forward, its legs cracked just above the feet. Now it stands upright again.

The Dennis mask I made years ago had fallen from the wall, its horns broken off and damaged. Now it’s back on its wall spot, repaired and ready to cause more mischief.

I also repaired a broken marble etching that Lucy gave me many years ago and the broken natural tendril on this miniature gourd that I beaded years ago.

I'm back in the groove. My confidence has returned. I'm not waiting to die. I attribute it to Kathy’s presence and her unconditional love. This is the power of friendship.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Terminal illness and fatal illness are now called “life-limiting illness.” That’s what a hospice facility in Topeka calls it on its web page. In addition, “hospice” means hope, comfort and support at all times,” according to the web page.

Well, well, well. Where does the hope come in? Is it hope of heaven and better times ahead? Does a nurse stroke one’s brow and murmur “There, there, Jesus is coming to get you?”

Personally, I’d rather get real and call it terminal illness. I’d rather the hospice nurse would say, “You are going to die soon. We will try to ease your way into the great beyond.” And I just hope it won't hurt too much.

What a great experience death must be if one is allowed to die in peace or by surprise. You’re here and then you are not. Back to before you were born, I believe, but I’m a nut.

Our friend Tim is in hospice care now, in the very facility whose web site I quote above.  God help him.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, March 14, 2013


When the sneezing fits started a couple of days ago, I looked outdoors for the culprit. Sure enough, right on schedule, the elm trees are in bloom. They’re nothing much to look at – just fuzz on the twigs – but their pollen sure packs a whallop.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How Does Enmity Arise?

I’ve been thinking about enmity now and then for the last couple of years. The burning question for me has become: how does enmity arise? Finally, I decided to learn what others have opined on this subject. I started with

enmity |ˈenmitē|
noun ( pl. -ties)
the state or feeling of being actively opposed or hostile to someone or something : enmity between Protestants and Catholics | family feuds and enmities.

Next I found Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Part Four, Friendship and Enmity. He had a lot to say about friendship, but skimped on enmity. He didn’t speculate on how it arises. He lingered on the difference between anger and hatred. He said that anger can be cured by time, but hatred cannot. Whether both anger and hatred are enmity or lead to enmity, he does not say.

A couple of centuries later, in Tetrabiblos, Ptolemy blamed enmity on the stars – opposing astrological signs of the parties involved. I’m sorry, that’s not helpful.

Thinking of the enmity between Muslims and Muslims, Jews and Muslims, Christians and Jews, and so forth, I decided to discover what those religions have to say on the subject. I guess they’re all too busy quarreling and killing each other to ask how enmity arises, because my quest turned up nothing.

Confucius wrote, somewhat enigmatically, that one should respond to enmity with excellence. What does that mean?

At the end of an afternoon of on-line research, I’m no closer to an answer than when I began. I just hate not understanding how enmity arises.

I did, however, learn afresh something I've always known. Aristotle wrote “… we can prove people to be friends or enemies; if they are not, we can make them out to be so; if they claim to be so, we can refute their claim; and if it is disputed whether an action was due to anger or to hatred, we can attribute it to whichever of these we prefer.”

This thought resonates with me because I believe that once we have set ourselves against another (or others) we can perceive them only from that point of view. In other words, enmity sustains itself through mind set.

Although I'm no closer to understanding how enmity arises, Robert Frost’s poem “Fire and Ice,” describes its tremendous power precisely.

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Monday, March 11, 2013

Super Water

We are advised to drink eight glasses of water every day.  It’s a good idea, but why not make it super-water?

Recently I’ve become interested in herbal alternatives to pharmaceutical products, which have many undesirable side effects. One is hibiscus tea. Who would guess that red hibiscus flowers pack so many health benefits, benefits – lowering blood pressure and cholesterol as well as benefiting the liver? It’s also rich in vitamin C.

Drinking hibiscus tea has deep cultural roots. In Jamaica, Mexico and Central America it is called "Agua de Flor de Jamaica" It is also a traditional drink in North Africa, Asia and Italy. Although the traditional drink is sweetened with sugar, I’ve been making plain hibiscus tea to mix with my morning orange juice.

I’m also drinking oat straw tea, a mildly sweet, grassy tea. Oat straw has just about everything one could need: calcium, magnesium, vitamins A and B complex. It’s good for insomnia, estrogen deficiency, thyroid conditions, depression and anxiety. It boosts the immune system and lowers cholesterol. Oats are native to Scotland but have spread to many parts of the world. It was the Scots who first made tea from oat straw.

In the following photos I’ve already started my daily oat straw tea and am ready to brew hibiscus tea. The proportions are one tablespoon oat straw to one cup of water and one-fourth cup hibiscus flowers to two cups of water. Hibiscus flowers and oat straw are available in bulk at your local health food store.

Here I’ve just poured boiling water over the hibiscus flowers. Quickly the water turns red.

Here the teas have finished brewing and are ready to be strained. I let them cool completely before straining.

Let's drink to the health benefits and delightful tastes of super water.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Nouveau Ragout

Rain fell all afternoon and evening yesterday. The last traces of snow disappeared, revealing tulips, daffodils, narcissus and oriental poppies several inches high. Although my rain-starved soul rejoiced, a trip to the grocery store on a rainy afternoon had no appeal.

Instead, I stayed home, listening to raindrops on the roof, watching raindrops roll down the windows and figuring out what to make for supper using ingredients at hand. I had a bunch of kale, three poached skinless, boneless chicken thighs and several kinds of cheese.

What I came up with was surprisingly good! In fact, I’ve written down the recipe so I can make it again. If you enjoy the tang of feta cheese and want to eat more kale, you may want to try it yourself.

Nouveau Ragout

2 tablespoons flour
½ cup half and half
1 bunch kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 ½  cups chicken broth or water with chicken base
3 or 4 cups cooked chicken, diced
2 tablespoons butter
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Stir the flour into the half-and-half and set aside. Steam kale in ½ cup of the chicken broth until tender. Add remaining broth, diced chicken and butter. Bring to a low boil. Stir in the half-and-half and continue to cook until slightly thickened. Stir in 3 ounces of the feta cheese.

Serve over rice, mashed potatoes, polenta, or even toast. Sprinkle each serving with some feta cheese.

Next time I'll try adding mushrooms.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tough Guys and Wimps

Over the weekend when the snow began to melt Dennis went out to open the cold frame.

Inside, despite bitter cold days and deep snow cover, all is well with the spinach, lettuce and arugula. These tough guys just need a good drink of water.

Now the covers are down again, free of snow so the sun can shine in.

Inside the house, where we wimps live, a hot weather crop is about to get started. No tough guy when it comes to cold, the sweet potato faints and dies when touched by frost. Starting sweet potato “slips” is as easy as putting a sweet potato in water and setting it in a sunny window. Tiny buds are already forming on the little one, which is a Beauregard. The big ones are a garnet yam on the left and a Japanese yam on the right.

Who says you can’t garden the year around? You just have to know the tough guys from the wimps and treat them accordingly.

To be fair, when hot weather comes the tough guys will become wimps. As the dys grow warmer they will start going to seed to secure their posterity. That's when the wimpy sweet potatoes come into their own, growing vines that criss-cross in a tangled mass and head off in all directions.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Case of Mistaken Identity

As Annie Hall so often said when nonplussed, “Well, la-di-da, la-di-da.” Ever since we returned from Galveston I’ve been searching for the dirty clothes I packed to bring back separately from clean ones. I remember putting them in a kitchen trash bag and topping them with my black dress shoes.

Just now as I was doing laundry a light bulb came on: when Dennis packed the car he mistook my dirty clothes for trash and put the bag in the trash cart at Canal Breeze. My clothes are gone – underwear, jeans, T-shirts and shoes – gone to the Galveston dump.

Well, la-di-da, la-di-da.

Never mind. The scenery around Paradise has been soft and monochromatic. The snowy fields with silos and trees…

The Rural Water District No. 2 water tower, providing a spot of soft color…

And the memorial in our yard where ashes of some departed friends are scattered.

Who cares about a few clothes and a pair of shoes? Beauty is all around.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer