Thursday, May 30, 2013

Grandmother Spider

Grandmother Spider is a powerful spirit in the mythology of several indigenous peoples of the Western hemisphere. She appeared in legends of the extinct Arawak people in the Bahamas and may have been the principal diety of the pre-Columbian Teotihuacan civilization.

In Choctaw legend she gave humans the gift of fire, enabling civilization to develop. She also taught the people how to combine earth and fire to create pottery and to spin and weave.

In Southwest tribes she is known as the Earth Goddess. In some legends she and the Sun God together created life. In another, she is the sole original being, ancient and lonely. She also is called the weaver of the Web of Life. In one story she created the stars by flinging dewdrops caught in her web into the sky.

The Greeks called this goddess Gaia, the daughter of Chao. She is the earth and married to Uranus, heaven.

To me, Grandmother Spider is the feminine, the giver of life. She is the creative force. 

Four years ago I started making a Grandmother Spider mask to honor her. This project stalled for several years because I couldn’t figure out how to attach her legs. Recently a solution came to me. She is finished and I am proud to present her here.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that shortly after putting the finishing touches on Grandmother Spider, I used my Bugzooka to capture a spider in my kitchen. No worry – I released it outdoors.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


I can’t explain why one of our kitchen drawers contains kitchen towels, dishcloths, bar rags, cooking thermometers, chewing gum, matchbooks and lozenges. There’s little logic in putting all these things together; that’s just the arrangement that evolved and I dare not change it.

A couple of years ago I completely rearranged my sewing room/studio in what seemed a logical order. Then, when we needed wire, for example, I couldn’t remember where I had put it. I’ve spent two years searching for things and finally have a mental map of where they are located.

If I reorganized the kitchen drawers it would take two more years to become accustomed to the order of things. It doesn’t make sense, but we know where things are, although I’m still looking for a couple of tools that disappeared in the sewing room reorganization. I won’t make that mistake again.

I’m not changing anything. I may not have much time left and I don’t want to waste it looking for things. Instead of trying to organize my house, I prefer to admire the oriental poppies’ fleeting beauty. They are very well organized.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Parties Through The Ages

It’s Saturday night, Dennis is at his high school reunion and the only excitement in Paradise is a view of flooding in San Antonio as reported by the Weather Channel. Saturday night used to be party night.

During my twenties someone would call friends and say, “I’m having a party on Saturday.” When guests arrived at the dumpy apartment, most carrying a six-pack of beer, the host laid out a couple of bowls of potato chips and provided a cooler with ice for the beer. Testosterone dominated the atmosphere.

In my thirties parties were more up-scale. The hosts provided dip made from sour cream and Lipton’s onion soup mix to go with the chips and beer. One year, for my then-husband’s birthday, I made ten pounds of spiced shrimp. We also attended dreadful theme parties at the country club. Once when I refused to dance with a drunk he said, “Well, the hell with you, then.” That was same night I walked into the elegant ladies powder room to witness a tipsy woman tumble off an armless chair onto the floor, passed out, as they say. 

Parties in my forties were vastly different. I had left suburbia and started post-graduate studies. Large groups of my fellow students congregated to listen to music, sit on the floor in semi-darkness and smoke dope or drink jug wine. No one remembers whether there was food, although I do recall that Tim and I once fried twenty pounds of chicken for a gathering in my 1920’s bungalow.

By the time my fifties rolled around parties revolved around academic circles. White wine was in vogue along with cheese trays, crackers and olives. Vegetables or, if you will, crudités, had their debut as party food. Everyone stood up and mingled, searching for common ground beyond the university department. This also the decade when dinner parties were de rigueur. Four couples usually made up the party and the hostess served appetizers and a three-course meal. Wine was served. Conversation again centered on university politics.

In my sixties most parties centered around graduate students in Dennis’ program. These often were pot-luck dinners, with the hostess providing a main course. Various faculty wives took turns providing the venue. Wine was still the drink of choice but the food improved considerably.

Now, in my seventies, the closest thing to a party I’ve participated in was a reception following a memorial service. To quote Lyle Lovett, “It made me happy seeing all those people I ain’t seen since the last time somebody died.”

Tomorrow Dennis will attend another kind of party, his mother’s 95th birthday celebration. Cake and punch will be served. There won’t be any wine.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Late May Day

This May has been unusually cool, cloudy and rainy. A freeze blackened the potato plants and killed most of the gooseberry blossoms. It may have ruined the apple blossoms, too, but I haven’t been to the pasture to check.

Today is cool, more like Colorado than Kansas, just 69 degrees. Pam, our yard and garden helper, is lining the garden fence with wood mulch to keep out weeds and grass. I’ve been wandering around outside, looking and taking photos.

I started in the garden. I’m happy that seed starting has moved into Phase 4; tomatoes, sweet potatoes, basil and parsley are in the ground. They don’t show up in this photo, which is dominated by onions, garlic, shallots, broccoli, cauliflower, and, in the far right, the potatoes, which have started new growth after being frozen.

Phase 5 of seed starting is also in progress. This is the stage of dispersing extra plants to friends, family and neighbors. The plant tray holds heirloom tomatoes, basil, parsley and pimento peppers ready to give away. 

In the memorial, where ashes of friends are scattered, the wild phlox is blooming beside a stone bench. The prayer beads were left by friends of one of the deceased whose ashes lie here.

Heading back to the house I noticed a leaf caught under the door sill.

But, on closer inspection, it turned out to be a moth, no doubt scouting out the venue for our annual moth festival.

My walkabout was a wonderful distraction from anxiety about my up-coming shoulder surgery. I’ve had too many operations to repair and patch up rheumatoid arthritis damage. This will be the fifteenth or sixteenth and I’m weary of being in the shop for repairs. Nature, music and books help distract me from pain and worry. I’m lucky to live in Paradise.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Good Days, Bad Days

When I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis,  my co-worker and friend Retta Lou said, “You will have good days and bad days.”

I remember answering, “I want all my days to be good.”

But that’s not how life is. We can’t have all good days, and we’re lucky if we don’t have all bad days. Actually, most days are a mix of good and bad.

Today is a case in point. It started with something bad. Dennis discovered that overnight a predator, probably one of our neighbor’s cats, got the baby cardinals that hatched in a nest below our kitchen window. Now the nest is empty and deserted, just as I had feared.

But then, something good happened. Our friend Dick called to say he would soon arrive at our house with a load of horse manure. While this may not seem like a good thing to some folks, to gardeners a load of manure is a gift from the gods.

Then a bad thing happened. My left shoulder, which had been stiff and sore all day, dislocated. Popping it back in place was, well, very painful.

Next the weather service announced that we were under a tornado watch. Damaging winds and hail were expected. But this storm turned out to be a good thing for us, because the storm system brought only a nice little rain, just what the yard, garden and perennial beds needed.

Good day? Bad day? No, just another day of life, a grand and interesting mix of events.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Temper Tantrum

Yesterday I behaved like a two-year-old having a melt-down. I had a temper tantrum. It was a doozy.

To tell the story I have to go back to last Monday evening when I banged my arm against a door handle, which tore an inch-long flap of skin. I applied a bandaid with some antibiotic ointment.

The next day the wound started bleeding again, so I went to my doctor’s office to have it dressed. The nurse washed it with saline solution and applied a large square of Tegaderm, which adhered to my skin, completely covering the wound.

Tegaderm is an interesting product; transparent, adhesive, waterproof, it essentially seals the wound, but allows air in. The nurse said the dressing would fall off in a week and that the wound would meantime heal. Fine.

Yesterday morning while I was cleaning the kitchen countertop, I brushed my arm against the metal mixer bowl handle, re-injuring the wound. Looking at my arm through the transparent Tegaderm I saw bright blood pooling under the dressing. What a set-back!

That’s when the temper tantrum started. I raged out of frustration, disappointment and helplessness. I shouted, I cried, I lay on the bed and pounded my feet on the mattress. I roared through the house, keening.

Luckily no one was around to witness this event. I was able to vent to my heart’s content without anyone trying to comfort me. When I finally ran out of steam, I felt much, much better and went outside to weed a flower bed.

Now I know how little Zander used to feel when he went into melt-down. This may have implications of second childhood, but I don’t care. Sometimes we are inconsolable and have to scream a while.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My May Gardening

Things are happening in the big outdoor garden, but today I’m focusing on the cold frame and indoor plant starting.

Two hot days scared the lettuce and spinach, who seemed to be saying, “Quick! Reproduce before we die.” I rushed out to harvest some of the lettuce that hadn’t yet bolted and brought in a peck basketful. (A peck is a quarter of a bushel.)

Spinach plants have been putting up seed stalks for a couple of weeks, and now the lettuce plants are shooting up in preparation for blooming. We will let these plants bloom and when they begin to dry up I will harvest their seeds for next fall’s cold frame planting. No commercial seed beats home-grown and saved seeds. What’s more, we will have four kinds of lettuce seed and two kinds of spinach seeds that won’t cost a penny.

Romaine lettuce in the other side is slower to bolt, but clearly it is on its way, particularly the tall one in the back of this photo. My refrigerator won't hold any more lettuce, so I'll harvest some of the romaine to give to neighbors, leaving two or three to go to seed.

Inside the house, the sweet potato slips are proliferating while the mother potatoes are still forming new sprouts. There are at least two dozen slips, one of which is in a pot of soil and vining. Even the Japanese yam has finally made three shoots.

Finally, seed starting has moved into stage three, called “hardening off.” The little plants are on the deck, exposed to sunlight and breezes. The tomatoes, which were the first to germinate, have been outside for nearly a week and are ready to move into their permanent homes in the garden. Peppers, parsley and basil are slower and will need several more days of babying before they are sturdy enough to plant outside.

My banged up body doesn’t allow me to do much of the big garden work, but thank goodness I can still run a little nursery. It’s a joy to play in the dirt and watch the miracle of reproduction in the plant world.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ephemeral Spring

Spring happened quickly and briefly, lasting from Sunday through Monday. Saturday night the temperature dropped to 32º, resulting in freezer-burned little potato plants. They turned black instead of green.

Sunday and Monday were lovely. My favorite pink tulips opened their blooms.

The euphorbia bracts were perfect lemon yellow.

Today the temperature is 92º. A hot, dry wind is blowing from the southwest. The tulips are cooked and the euphorbia is fading.

Having lived in Kansas 47 years I should not expect dependable, gradual changes from winter to spring, spring to summer and so on, but somehow I’m always optimistic about spring. It fools me nearly every year, but a two-day spring is the cruelest of all.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Banged Up

My left shoulder is totally shot. The cartilage has been gone for years and the two bones have badly eroded from friction. It hurts a lot and my arm movements are severely restricted.

Consequently, I couldn’t make the trip to Arizona for my grandson Grant’s law school graduation last weekend. I was disappointed, but Dennis had to go without me. The wonderful consolation prize was a weekend visit from my brother Holmes and sister-in-law Candace. They came to help me with things my shoulder won’t permit me to do.

Here they are having a conversation with their daughter, Holden. They had just learned some interesting news.

Holmes is an avid morel mushroom aficionado. He hunts them daily during their brief season. I used to hunt them myself, but haven’t been able to walk the woods terrain for several years. Bless his heart, he brought morels to share. These are the small ones.

He even cooked them for brunch on Saturday. These he dipped in beaten egg, then flour. Here they are cooking in olive oil and butter.

We ate, we talked, we napped, we played Scrabble. Candace cleaned up the kitchen and helped with laundry. Holmes looked after the chickens, lifted and carried things for me and cooked our meals.

The best part of their visit was laughter and love. Laughter won’t heal my shoulder, but it certainly helps heal my spirit and soothe my worry. As for love, who can thrive without it? I would have had a miserable weekend without Holmes and Candace.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, May 11, 2013


Although my mother died in 1985 she lives on in several ways. She lives in our memories, of course, and family members frequently recall stories about Mom. She was a teacher for 40 years, beginning in a one-room country school, where she prepared a hot lunch for her students on the wood stove that heated the building. Surely hers was one of the first school hot lunch programs in the country.

Eventually she became an inspiring high school history and geography teacher, whose high standards did not deter senior students from enrolling in her elective geography class in droves. Being the first in her family to graduate from college, she was passionate about learning and teaching. She was a proud sponsor of the Honor Society.

Mom kept up on all the news and long before most Americans realized what was happening in Vietnam, she was trumpeting the danger of our becoming more deeply involved. She loved not only newspapers but also books on a variety of subjects and was a regular patron of the public library.

In the tiny town (population 103) where we lived she was active in church and organized an interdenominational group called “Christian Youth.” That group became the focus of social life for rural teens (known as “country kids") as well as those who lived in town.

Her sense of humor was quick and wry. She laughed easily and often. She and I acted silly together and went on shopping larks in Kansas City, where we went into hat shops just to try on the merchandise and laugh at ourselves.

She was a marvelous cook, renowned for her pies, hot rolls, cakes and biscuits.

Mother lives on, too, in my daughter Nancy especially. Nancy is passionate about education and has been an English teacher in both high school and middle school. Students love her. She has volunteered at school to work individually with youngsters who have learning problems. Nancy reads newspapers and books avidly. Her cooking is masterful and delicious. She was active in church until the church sucked up too much of her energy. Last, but not least, Nancy has Mother’s wry wit and ready laugh. Any time I am feeling down I try to get Nancy on the phone, knowing that she will have me laughing within a minute.

It is my great good fortune to have my mother reincarnated in my daughter!

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Is generosity learned or innate?

My daughter Carol was born with a generous spirit. She would lend her meager allowance to any child who asked and never expect repayment. Once, when we were vacationing on a shoestring budget Carol used the little spending money she had to buy me a present, a candle that I have kept unburned for nearly 30 years.

I, on the other hand, learned generosity later in life. Not that I was selfish – I was unaware, without consciousness. I learned generosity from Carol and am thankful to her for that gift.

Now I know that nothing is more gratifying than giving to others. Sharing when I have plenty or even letting go of a treasure that another person admires gives me a sense of being intricately connected with other human beings, of being selfless.

Seed starting gives me an opportunity to be generous. I always start more plants than we need, just so I can share with friends and family. This year I have 36 tomato plants, 23 pepper plants, 20 parsley plants and as many basil plants. We need only a fraction of those for our garden. It is my pleasure to give most of them away.

Thank you, Carol for the gift of generosity. In a way, I suppose this is my Mother's Day post.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Monday, May 6, 2013

Poetry Day

Poetry is not a popular reading choice, but good poetry sometimes can express in just a few words the most complicated issues. For instance, what responsibility does the U.S. have regarding the war in Syria? Many of us feel that we have had enough of war, but what about the people in Syria who are being killed by their own government? What about other nations’ responsibilities? Why does intervention fall on our shoulders? Calvin Trillin wrote a terse verse on this subject:

Thoughts on Geopolitics

It seemed like such a good idea.
Oh, when did it begin to sour
And start to be no fun to be
The last remaining superpower?

Closer to home is the subject of seed planting as treated by everyone’s favorite poet, Robert Frost.

Putting in The Seed

You come to fetch me from my work tonight
When supper’s on the table, and we’ll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree
(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea),
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,
Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.

As for myself, I'd rather take Voltaire's advice and tend my garden than try to solve geopolitical problems.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Friday, May 3, 2013

Getting Big

Sixteen days ago the pepper seeds were just emerging. Their leaves were cotyledons or “seed leaves,” which are not the plant’s true leaves.

The seedlings used to live in an old baking pan on the kitchen countertop where under-cabinet lights shone on them all day. Now they have developed true leaves and moved to the basement plant nursery where they will be potted individually, which is Phase Two.

Although I started tomato, pepper, parsley and basil seeds in 4-inch pots on the same day and they lived in the same environment, germination occurred over a nine day period. Tomatoes showed up first, then basil, then parsley and, last of all, peppers.

Laurie helped me pot the tomatoes individually last week. In the photo they are on the back row. They are already growing. Today I potted the tiny parsley plants in styrofoam coffee cups with holes punched in the bottom. Next on deck are the peppers, which are maturing faster than the basil, which is hidden by the peppers in the photo.

Here’s the nursery set-up. Two full-spectrum fluorescent lights, attached by S-hooks to chains, hang over the plants. As the plants grow taller, Dennis will raise the lights by moving the S-hooks. Ozzie made the waist-high potting table for me many years ago. It has a lower shelf where I store tools, seeds and materials such as seed-starting mix, potting soil and fish emulsion fertilizer.

An ideal plant nursery would be warmer, but the little guys do just fine in the 55º basement. So who cares if it snowed yesterday? The summer garden is progressing apace.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer