Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Welcome, March Wind

At last they’ve come, the howling winds of March. Hang on to your car door or it will slam into the adjacent car. Forget keeping your hair from blowing into a new arrangement. Tie on your hat if you don’t want to go running across the parking lot to retrieve it before it blows into traffic. Put off planting lettuce seeds until the gale dies down. Hang laundry out to dry if you don’t mind a wet sheet wrapping around your head while you underwear takes off for the neighbor’s cornfield. In short, batten down the hatches and wait it out.

We’re caught in the vortex between cold air approaching from the northwest and warm air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. We’re excited because these conditions are ripe to bring us desperately needed rain. It's so dry a handful of garden soil sifts through our fingers like salt from a shaker. Our gravel road’s dust coats our cars inside and out. Fifty pounds of grass seed are scattered over the yard and they need a good drink of water from the sky. The only good thing is that the hens don't get their eggs dirty by stepping on them with muddy feet.

Bring it on, March Wind, bring us the water we long for.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Monday, March 24, 2014

Grieving for Galveston

I’m grieving today for poor old Galveston Island, beset by yet another major oil spill. This time a barge carrying almost one million gallons of marine fuel oil collided with another ship. Approximately 168,000 gallons of this thick oil leaked into the Houston ship channel near Texas City. The ship channel passes between the east tip of Galveston Island and Bolivar into Galveston Bay and on to Houston.

Galveston Island once was a major port and point of arrival to emigrants from Europe, but after two major hurricanes had devastated the island and port at the beginning of the 20th Century, the ship channel was dug to Houston, which then took Galveston’s place as a point of arrival for goods and people. Now the port of Galveston is primarily used for enormous cruise ships to board and disembark passengers.

Beyond its port Galveston Island was a salt-grass covered island, home to rattlesnakes and myriads of birds. Much of the island was devoted to cattle ranching, the cattle feeding on salt grass, accompanied by cattle egrets. A few primitive fishing shacks went up along the bay and on the gulf side. But even as Houston replaced Galveston as a major southern port, the cattle ranches were slowly, inexorably replaced by vacation homes on stilts,

Gradually these vacation homes have grown to mansions and high-rise condominiums have risen on the west end of the island. Canals dug into the island made it possible to build hundreds of vacation homes with access to the bay, as well. Today only tiny remnants of the cattle ranches remain.

Galveston’s greatest attraction was its beautiful beaches that stretch from the city of Galveston to the island’s tip. Millions of seashells, water birds, crabs, and other life forms gave the beach vitality and contributed to its beauty.

First hurricane Katrina, then the Deepwater Horizon oil well spill devastated the marine life of Galveston. Beaches once covered with seashells now are almost bare. The crabs have vanished. Only some of the birds remain. Now this marine oil spill will take its toll. It is another nail in the coffin of Galveston Island, a place I have loved.

I’ve know for a long time that we humans would spoil everything we touch, but I never expected to live long enough to see it happening. Now we read of oil spills and toxic waste contamination of waterways nearly every day. Will we never learn?

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hurrah for Saturday, Baking Day

Saturday is the traditional homemaker’s baking day, the day she baked loaves of bread and cookies or a cake or pie for Sunday. Baking is my favorite activity, so I love the Saturday chores. Actually, I bake several times a week. Sometimes I bake biscuits for breakfast or corn bread for supper. Whatever day we finish a loaf of bread is the day I bake another one.

Dennis once said that in retirement every day is Saturday, and that certainly holds true for me when it comes to baking. Today, which happens to be Saturday, he requested zucchini-carrot bars, a kind of cross between carrot cake and bar cookies and I was happy to oblige. He made a special trip to town to buy a zucchini and a package of cream cheese for the frosting. As desserts go, this is about as nutritious as they come; it has 3 ½ cups of shredded carrots and zucchini along with English walnuts.

It seemed an appropriate way to celebrate Saturday, baking day. I would include a photo but guests came by and the bars are more than half gone already. I won’t be able to wait until next Saturday to make another dessert.

Someone asked me what day was cooking day for the traditional homemaker. Cooking day was every day, three meals a day – breakfast, dinner, and supper. And where did all the other chores such as canning tomatoes or spring cleaning fit into the week? They doubled up with other chores.

The traditional homemaker did not have an easy life. She didn’t have time to read magazines or visit the beauty salon. She worked hard every day, including Sunday, which was supposedly the day of rest. On Sunday, when others might be resting, she put a beef roast in the oven, went to church and Sunday school, and then came home to finish preparing the big Sunday dinner and to clean up the kitchen after serving the meal. If she was lucky she might get to take a short afternoon nap.

I don’t envy the traditional homemaker, but I certainly respect her. In fact, I stand in awe of her strength and fortitude. She was a better woman than I will ever be.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday, Cleaning Day

Friday is the homemaker’s traditional day to clean the house in preparation for the weekend. Personally, I’ve never enjoyed house cleaning. I would rather make messes.

When I was in kindergarten I asked my teacher if I could wash the doll clothes. With her permission I made a pan of sudsy water, washed the clothes, hung them up to dry, and walked away. When she asked me who would clean up the mess I had made, I said, “Some boy will do it.” Apparently I was a feminist from the get-go, and had the idea that males of our species were supposed to do the dirty work.

When I first became a homemaker I fantasized about having a house in which all the furniture was suspended from the ceiling and the floors were made of tile with a floor drain in every room. My idea was to simply hose everything down and go outside until it dried.

Luckily, times have changed and many men participate in house cleaning. The old-time housewife would be amazed, I’m sure.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, March 20, 2014

It's Thursday – Shop

The traditional Thursday in a homemaker’s week was focused on shopping. That doesn’t mean she was going to roam around the mall looking for something cute or sophisticated to wear, but that she was out purchasing the necessities for her household – basic food supplies from the grocery store, some nails from the hardware store, or a length of dress material from the dry goods store.

I heartily endorse her kind of shopping and, in fact, I practice that myself. I visit grocery stores, the hardware store, the feed store, and the drug store. Occasionally I hit the office supply store or the modern equivalent of a dry goods store.

A dry goods store, as opposed to a hardware store or a grocery store, sold soft things and shoes. Soft things included clothing, linens, towels, and fabric, as I remember. Today fabric has split off into separate fabric stores, but department stores have taken over everything else, with the addition of cosmetics, jewelry, luggage, dishes, pots and pans, and a myriad of other things.

The only shopping I truly enjoy is at a grocery store and I do it, not necessarily on Thursday, but on any day of the week when I happen to be in town or when I make a special trip because I need to re-stock supplies. I mostly shop the perimeter and the baking aisle somewhere near the center of any grocery store. I don't buy the processed foods that didn't even exist in the traditional homemaker's day. I don’t carry a shopping basket like the traditional homemaker, but I do take two or three fabric bags with me when I shop. At the bottom line there’s not a lot of difference between me and the traditional homemaker, except that my life it a lot easier than hers.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Wednesday, Time to Sew

It’s Wednesday. It’s time to get out the sewing basket. There’s a stack of mending waiting by the rocking chair – holes in socks to be darned, cuffs of pants to be tacked back in place, buttons to be sewn back on shirts and blouses, loose hems to be whipped down, and, if my grandmother Alice is doing the mending, as she often did, the cuffs of my shorts to be let down. She didn’t approve of young girls showing their legs and did everything she could to lengthen my shorts.

Interesting isn’t it, how the difficulty of the labor tapers off as midweek arrives? Doing the wash on Monday is hard labor and Tuesday ironing requires standing all day in one place, but Wednesday the homemaker gets to sit a spell. If the mending doesn’t take too long she may have time to work on the afghan she is crocheting before starting supper.

My 2014 Wednesday is sewing day, too, although I seldom have mending to do. I’ve given up darning the holes in socks and relegated them to the rag box. Modern washers don’t pop buttons off like the old wringer washers did, so I seldom have a button to sew on. Making my own clothes is a thing of the past. I sometimes do minor alterations, such as shortening Dennis’s pants that were too long, but mostly I sew for pleasure.

Today I’m making Alison’s potholders. I’m making them of faux chenille, using the slash cutting method. First I stacked four layers of 7” fabric squares on top of a batting square and, at the bottom, another fabric square. Next I sewed channels diagonally on each stack, 3/8” apart.

Then I cut down the center of each channel of the top three fabric squares. Because the channels run on the bias of the fabric the cut fabric will curl up without fraying. Already the hint of chenille appears, but they will not achieve their full look until the potholders have been washed and dried.

The only task left is binding the potholder edges. I’ll cut the binding from the sleeve of the old shirt I used to make the potholder squares.

That’s enough about Wednesday, Sewing Day. I have to get to work on the binding.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tuesday: Ironing Day

Yesterday, Monday, we did the wash. We sorted the line-dried clothes, put away the things that don’t need to be ironed, re-made the beds with sweet-smelling sheets, and set aside the things we would iron today.

Now that breakfast is over and Dad has gone to the fields, we wash and dry the breakfast dishes, separately wash and scald the many parts of the cream separator, fill a bottle with water for sprinkling the ironing, and put a sprinkler stopper in the bottle.

My job was to take the pieces to be ironed from the bushel basket, lay them on the Formica kitchen table, sprinkle them with water, and roll them up. As I sprinkle the handkerchiefs I place them in a pile and, when all are sprinkled, roll them into a cylinder. Starched shirt collars and cuffs get a liberal sprinkling, as do the hems of pillowcases. All of the pieces are heaped on the kitchen table and covered with a dry tea towel.

Now there’s time to make the beds, bring up the ironing board from its perch on the basement landing, and plug in the electric iron, a wonderful advance for the homemaker.

I, being a mere child, am not allowed to iron complicated things such as white shirts, work clothes, or women’s dresses. That is the province of my mother and grandmother, but when it’s time to iron the flat stuff – table cloths Ugh!), pillowcases, and handkerchiefs, I take over. I turn on the radio and tune in to a Kansas City Blues baseball game and iron away, imagining home-run balls flying over the fence.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Washday, Old Style

When I was growing up, washday was always on Monday. It started right after the breakfast dishes and the cream separator were washed and put away. Beds were stripped, towels gathered, and all carried to the basement where the Maytag wringer washer and rinse tub were located. While the tubs were filling with hot water, we sorted the dirty clothes from bushel baskets located below the railing of the basement stairs. All week we had been tossing our dirty clothing into those baskets.

The first things to go into the sudsy water were white garments – my dad’s white shirts, our blouses, and handkerchiefs. We pulled the lever on the side of the Maytag washer to start the center post agitating the clothes and went upstairs to check on a pot of navy beans simmering on the kitchen stove.

When the first load had been sufficiently washed we turned on the wringer motor and fed the wet clothes through the wringer into the rinse tub, which sat by the washer. One of us would load the washer with bed linens (all white in those days) while another used a long stick to stir the rinse water full of shirts.

Now it was time to pivot the wringer to a position over the rinse tub and feed the rinsed clothes through the wringer. From the wringer the clothes fell into a bushel basket sitting on an old piano stool by the tub. When the basket was full someone carried it up the basement stairs and out the back door to the clothesline. A bag of clothespins hung on the line, ready for pinning the clothes up. While the washed clothes were being hung up to dry, another washerwoman was in the basement feeding sheets through the wringer into the rinse tub.

So it went, from whites to light colors to dark colors and ending with my dad’s work clothes. He was a farmer, so we had to remove straw and dirt from the cuffs of his khaki pants before putting them into the Maytag. Neither the wash nor rinse water, a scarcity, was changed between loads, but was used to do the entire laundry.

By noon we were usually finished with the wash. We emptied the water from the wash and rinse tubs into a drain in the floor, and gratefully went upstairs to a dinner (our noon meal) of navy beans and corn bread.

After a brief respite we began to unpin dried clothes from the line, laying them in a bushel basket, and carrying them inside to be sorted, folded, and put away or set aside for ironing, which would be done on Tuesday. Beds were made up with crisp sheets  smelling of clean air and sunshine. Then it was time to fix supper.

Eventually, the Maytag wringer washer was replaced by an automatic washer, but the routine of washday remains forever etched in my mind. I treasure memories of the toil, the camaraderie of women of three generations working together, and the pleasure of a difficult task accomplished.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Rites of Spring

Yesterday we hit 72º F. and rain was predicted for the evening. Our thoughts turned to sowing grass seed, a March ritual for us, futile though that effort usually turns out We set off to town to purchase a big bag of seed, hoping to spread it before the rain came.

The sky looked smoky and, sure enough, when we reached the county road, we spied a huge column of smoke.

Burning off the dried grass in pastures is a spring ritual practiced by farmers, and smoke columns are a common sight in March. By the time we returned, the pasture was blackened and only a few wisps of smoke remained.

Back home, Dennis spread 50 pounds of seed. We were ready for the rain. The rain didn’t amount to much, a fierce wind blew from the north, and the temperature plunged below freezing. We woke this morning to a skiff of snow. It seems we will have to wait a bit longer for spring rituals to produce results.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Friday, March 14, 2014


I’ve  badly ripped the skin on my left hand, so all my plans for the day flew out the window. Instead I’ve been piddling around all day, looking at things I often don’t often really look at, namely, my fabric stash. Wanting to make some faux chenille pot holders for Alison’s birthday was what got me started. The first requirement is some Tuscan orange cotton fabric.

I looked in the closet stash. Nope, there’s just one orange piece but not the right orange.

Then I checked my stash in and on the six-drawer chest. Lots of pieces there, but nothing close to what I need.

That wasn’t the end of possibilities, not by any means. I went to the basement, where I have stashes in a raft of banker’s boxes and plastic tubs. Right away, in a box of men’s shirts, I found one made of this fabric. Hooray!

What I find remarkable is not that I found an appropriate piece, but that I have collected such a huge amount of fabric, both new pieces and thrift shop garments that I can cut apart and reuse. (If my knee didn’t hurt I would go back to the basement and take pictures of the collection.) What did I think – that I would live forever, sewing every day of my life?

It’s a funny thing that I and many other people have amassed far more objects than we will ever have time to use or enjoy. Maybe that’s what the first part of a person’s life is about – acquisition of worldly goods. But now, toward the end of life, we are stuck with all that stuff.

Well, I’m putting out word right now that when I croak, which can’t be many years away, my fabric stash will be up for grabs. There will be a wide variety of things to choose from – woolens, cottons, rayons, linings, silks, and even a couple of rolls of nice leather, not to mention all the sewing notions. Let me know what you want. I’ll keep a list with my will. I can’t bear to part with my stash just yet. Who knows when I might need a piece of Tuscan orange fabric?

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Post Script: I just read a column in the New York Times titled, "Let Me Count the Days." It's all about how we will never use up all of our supplies. One comment on the article seems particularly appropriate to quote here: "Among knitters and crocheters who buy yarn and stash it in the closet for future projects, there's an acronym for this: SABLE = Stash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Population Control

Today my hip and knees hurt, but I tottered around outside anyway. I couldn’t resist the 72º F. temperature and semi-sunny sky. I made my way slowly and carefully, which gave me plenty of opportunity for noticing details. I was making a mental list of spring clean up chores, one of which is to cut the yucca bloom stalks from last year.

Yucca plants were in the yard when we bought this place almost 39 years ago. They are still here.

We made the mistake of cutting the seed stalks and tossing the over the fence into the pasture. Now yucca colonies are appearing all over the pasture. They make a beautiful spectacle when they bloom each June, tall sentinels adorned with white blossoms.

There’s no telling how many yucca plants we would have if not for nature’s yucca population control method. The yucca blossoms attract yucca moths, which lay their eggs in yucca blossoms. The larva then feed on some but not all of the developing yucca seeds and exit the seedpod by boring tiny holes in the hardened casing. Here you can see two exit holes used by larvae as they emerged.

But that isn’t the whole story. Not only does the yucca moth depend exclusively on the yucca flower for its continued existence, the yucca moth is the yucca’s only pollinator. This symbiotic relationship has enable both species to survive through many millennia. But, if the yucca moth larvae didn’t eat seeds we would be overrun by yucca plants.

Human beings also have symbiotic relationships with various other life forms, but we have conquered many other life forms that would control our population. As more and more diseases and health conditions are conquered, we have reached the point where only war and famine can keep us from totally covering and possibly destroying the earth.

To learn more about the relationship between the yucca plant and the yucca moth, visit

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Under the Weather

We’ve all heard someone say she is “under the weather,” and generally taken it to mean that she just doesn’t feel well. Until a few years ago, that is, when I began to notice that a couple of days before a cold front arrives I feel slightly sick at my stomach. I get a fierce headache and my joints hurt like the dickens. Finally I realized that the phrase “under the weather” should be taken literally. My pal Barbara is affected as well. Her symptoms are slightly different from mine, but both of our bodies know in advance that a weather change is coming.

I think the more apt phrase would be “before the weather,” because when the change arrives, Barbara and I feel much better. We feel bad not under the weather, but before the weather. On a beautiful, sunny, warm day like today I feel terrible and can’t enjoy it. A cold front will be whizzing in sometime tomorrow. Rain and snow are forecast. Tomorrow, when the weather is gloomy and chilly, I will be feeling chipper again.

Barbara and I certainly are not alone in our suffering, though. I’ve heard old war veterans remark, “My old wound is acting up. I think it’s going to rain.” I’ll bet athletes who have had injuries ache before weather changes, too. Anyone, in fact, whose body has been damaged will be affected as a cold front approaches. As for the headache and nausea symptoms, I’ve never heard anyone else talk about having them in connection with the weather, but I’ll bet some other people do.

Weather sickness has a potential up side for me because a cold front often brings some form of precipitation, preferably liquid. Rain is essential for successful gardening. If this is what I have to pay for a nice soaking rain, it’s worth going through. The odds are not favorable for that kind of precipitation, but what the heck, hope makes suffering tolerable.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Friday, March 7, 2014


I knew better than to claim that I know how to cook. I’ve heard the adage, “Pride goeth before a fall.” Now I’ve had my comeuppance.

A couple of days ago I bought an eggplant, just because its purple skin was so shiny and unblemished. The only dish I’d ever made with eggplant was ratatouille, but this time I felt adventurous. I made a recipe called “Eggplant and roasted red pepper terrine.” All the ingredients were at hand – the eggplant, roasted red peppers in the freezer, fresh parsley, and brie cheese.

It was a labor of love, but love’s labors were lost. The terrine looked pretty, but it tasted terrible, even with the fresh tomato sauce. Here’s what remained after Dennis and I each took a serving.

I ate crow and we fed the terrine to the chickens, who found it to be quite to their taste. As least it didn’t go to waste.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Today I am remembering my “aunties.” Not my biological aunts or aunts by marriage, but older ladies who were our neighbors and friends of my mother and grandmother. “Mrs. Weight” was too formal for my relationship with her, but calling her Bertha would not have shown the proper respect. I didn’t invent this; my mother instructed me on the proper form of address.

These ladies mostly lived in the tiny town where I lived from age seven until I married. Bates City’s population was 103 that entire time, although it later dropped to 85. All of my aunties lived within a block of our house, with the exception of Aunt Pink, who lived in the country outside of town.

On clement afternoons it was the ladies’ custom to go visiting. Not every day, but a couple of times a week, a knock at the door about 2:00 P.M. announced the arrival of one auntie or another, who would sit with my grandmother in our living room and visit. I do not recall refreshments being served, although my memory may fail me on that point. Surely a glass of iced tea was offered on a hot summer afternoon.

I also saw my aunties at church, at school events, and at large social gatherings. They were as familiar to me as my own family and I knew I could always turn to them for help if needed. I will never forget Aunt Ida’s kindness when my mother was in the hospital. I was twelve, and it fell to me to prepare the evening meal. I prepared spaghetti with meat sauce. After we ate I became violently ill, perhaps from anxiety about my mother, perhaps from poorly prepared food. At any rate, Aunt Ida appeared at the door to see how we were getting along. She held my hand as I vomited. She tucked me into bed with a wet cloth on my brow. She became my substitute mother that evening and I was thankful for her kindness.

I was always welcome in the aunties’ homes. Sometimes I visited Aunt Mary to play checkers. Sometimes I delivered quarts of milk to aunties and stayed to visit. (My dad, a farmer, always kept a milk cow.) Sometimes I popped in to enjoy freshly baked cookies.

I was able to help the aunties, too. One morning I was visiting Aunt Ida when her husband was taken violently ill. Aunt Ida, who didn’t have a telephone, turned to me and said, “Run home and call the doctor.” When Aunt Bertha’s husband died, I sat beside her as she lay sobbing on the couch. I held her hand and talked to her about how he was now happy in heaven.

I was a lucky child to have so many loving aunties. The world has changed dramatically since then. I don’t know whether aunties still exist. I hope they do. I hope that today’s children enjoy the love and security that aunties provide.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Happy Home

The winter dragon lashed his tail again. This dragon is more fierce than most and he packs quite a wallop. This time the forecasters predicted ice and sleet, followed by lots of snow. We fretted about the possibility of losing electricity, the worst thing that can happen in winter. My bones knew something was coming. My joints ached. Sharp unexpected pains took my breath away. I could barely stand to walk. 

Finally, after three days of my pain and the weather people's dire predictions, we got no ice, no sleet, and only about three inches of snow.

What did happen, though, was very depressing. The temperature dropped to 8º F in the day and to -8º F that night. Lethargy set in, both physically and emotionally. I didn’t accomplish anything and I didn’t care. It seemed that winter would never end.

The temperatures will moderate now, starting with today near 40º F.  My aches and pains have gone away. I’m elated and feel energy returning. This morning I decided to polish an old pie tin. I found it and its twin at a thrift shop years ago. They are small, measuring just eight inches from rim to rim.

I’ve made many pies for two in these tins. They cheer me and I treasure them for their endurance through the decades, for the pies they have held, and for the women whose hands created those pies.

It’s nice to have come back to life, happy at home.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer