Sunday, June 28, 2015

Big Yellow Taxi

Lately I’ve thought a lot of the phrase from Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”  The refrain is, “Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone?”

Every time I look at my swollen thumb, that phrase runs through my mind. That’s the course of rheumatoid arthritis; joint by joint it eats away cartilage and soon the bare bones are rubbing against each other, grinding away. With this process, one’s abilities are diminished, diminished, diminished until few remain.

Oh, I’ve learned many adaptations to my disability. I use tools such as pliers, scissors, and jar openers for tasks my hands used to do with ease. I’ve switched from one-handled saucepans and skillets to ones with two handles. I use a pasta fork to pull clothes out of the dryer. But there are some tasks, such as putting sheets on a bed, for which there are no tools. For those things, I have to depend on others.

With each loss of ability I come to appreciate what I had but have lost. I look at undamaged people with awe as they skip up steps, lift heavy objects, use a keyboard, and much more. I admire hands that can use nail clippers and aerosol sprays, hands that can reach into the back of a shelf to retrieve objects.

Once, long before I developed this autoimmune disease, my mother watched me pulling weeds in my flowerbed and remarked, “Shirley Carol, you are going to ruin your hands.”

In the arrogance of strength and vitality I retorted, “Mother, God gave me hands to use.” This warning haunts me. Why didn’t I listen to my mother? I just didn’t know what I had. Now that it’s gone, I do.

I still have good eyes, though, and can appreciate Nature’s beauty, such as this geranium brightening the deck.

And I can admire the burgeoning prairie coneflowers attracting great spangled fritillaries to their nectar. Two fritillaries were feasting when I took this photo earlier this afternoon. I hope you can spot them.

And don’t forget to appreciate your hands and to treat them as the treasures they are.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

High Water

Instead of visiting our garden I went to Clinton Lake with Dennis. He was planning a canoe outing with an inexperienced teenager. We’ve had so much rain lately he wanted to check out the sites where he normally puts the canoe in, just to make sure they weren’t underwater.

We had noticed one arm of the lake backed well up into the surrounding diciduous trees. This was surprising because the lake, which is man-made to supply water to nearby communities, has been increasingly low over the past few dry years.

When we neared the first boat ramp, we saw that the road leading to it was closed due to high water. When we reached an alternative access point, we found the handicapped ramp to the dock was under water.

The rocky shore was lined by a flock of geese and, oddly, three turkey vultures. As we approached the geese fast-waddled to the water.

Two of the turkey vultures flew into a tree. The third, bolder than its companions, lurked in the tree’s shadows. Soon we understood why the vultures were there. The shore was littered with the skeletons of fish.

We even spied a turtle skeleton.

All the skeletons had been picked clean by the vultures. That’s what vultures are for; they are the clean up crew. Turkey vultures, so-called because of their turkey-like red heads, have keen eyesight. They cruise the sky looking for sick, dying, or dead creatures. Their scavenging is an efficient recycling project. I will admit that it’s a bit unnerving to be outside and notice vultures circling overhead. Are they waiting for me to die?

Back to the main topic, it looks as if our water supply is assured for another couple of years. And, yes, the canoe trip was a success. They put in at the vulture site and paddled around the goose flotilla.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Venture Outdoors

Since the chiggers have hatched I haven’t been to the garden or in the yard. Chiggers love me to pieces, but don’t seem to have a taste for Dennis. Consequently, he is harvesting all the garden produce with no help from me.

I did venture out to the paved area by our front door this afternoon, lured by the burgeoning flowerbed, now in its pink and blue phase with campanula and prairie coneflowers.

The coneflower is native to Kansas and its adaptation to our climate gives it an edge up on non-native species. The first blooms are just beginning to open, as one can see in the photo. Soon I’ll post a photo of the full show, but by then most of the campanula blossoms will be gone.

Summer flies by so quickly. I can hardly believe the hostas are already beginning to bloom.

Heading back into the house I was startled to spot a spectacular moth on the stone wall, waiting for dark to fly away. Its dramatic black and white pattern inspires me to make a quilt. (That is most unlikely to actually happen; having it in my imagination is satisfying enough.)

The porch light attracts many insects, a fact that spiders do not fail to notice. The porch sports numerous spider webs, but the ones I enjoy the most are those of wolf spiders. The spider lurks in a carefully constructed, dark tunnel, then pounces when an insect flies into its web. Just look at all the insect exoskeletons that spider has sucked dry.

That was the end of my outing for today. I was careful to avoid touching any plant and hope I don’t wake in the night with furiously itching chigger bites. Tomorrow I plan to “suit up” with insect repellent and sulfur powder and venture to the garden. Dennis tells me the cabbages are making big heads and I have to see them for myself.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Troubles in Paradise

Paradise doesn’t seem so paradisiacal these days. To begin with, the chiggers have hatched, as they always do in early June. I learned this the usual hard way. The morning after I walked out to the pasture to see the wildflowers I woke up with a wealth of wildly itching red spots. Chiggers always head for snug spots – the armpits, the waistband, and, worst of all, the groin. It is impossible to see a chigger with the naked eye, but I know they are out there, thriving in our shady yard. From now until late September I would be ill advised to venture outside without taking elaborate measures to repel the little monsters.

Another annual pest hatched last week: the hackberry butterfly. Our property is thick with hackberry trees so every June we are plagued by thousands of their companion butterflies. Ordinarily I love butterflies, but when these pests are about I can’t even walk out on the deck without being accosted.

Here the hackberry butterflies mob the pot of thyme.

The hackberry butterfly seems to have an insatiable thirst. It lands on exposed flesh and rolls out its proboscis to sip moisture.

Just walking on the driveway one is covered with butterflies. They follow us into the house where they continue to plague us. The best thing about these creatures is that they soon will mate and die, unlike chiggers.

To top off our miseries, thanks to El Nino, it rains almost every day and every night.

Plants are thriving in the continual rain and the woods have never been more lush with greenery.

Still, we humans would appreciate a little sunshine to boost our sagging spirits.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Creamed Peas and New Potatoes

This is a traditional country dish, one we looked forward to when I was a child. Mother usually made it in early June, when my dad brought in the first peas from his garden at our nearby farm. Although the garden potatoes weren’t fully mature and ready for harvest, he always dug a couple of hills so we could have new potatoes with the peas.

New potatoes are qualitatively different from old potatoes. Their skins are tender and the flesh holds its shape when cooked, and peas are never tastier than when they are fresh from the garden.

This is a dish that is extremely flexible with respect to amounts of ingredients. This evening I made it using these proportions for Dennis and me:

¾ pound small new red potatoes
1½ cups freshly shelled peas

Scrub the potatoes and cut them in half. Put the potatoes in a saucepan and barely cover them with water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, about 15 minutes. Add the peas and more water, enough to barely cover the peas. Replace the cover and let the vegetables simmer while you make the sauce.

The sauce is what my mother called “white sauce” and the French and more pretentious cooks call b├ęchamel.

3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of flour
1 ½ cups whole milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Melt the butter in a one-quart saucepan over low heat. Stir in the flour. When the flour and butter are bubbling, set a timer for one minute. One minute is all it takes to “marry” the butter and flour, which prevents the sauce from being lumpy.

Stir in the milk and increase the heat to medium. Add the salt and pepper. Continually stir the sauce until it comes to a boil and is thickened. This takes about five minutes.

Drain the vegetable and put them in a bowl. Pour the white sauce over them, and serve.

All of these proportions are variable. If you’re making it for four, double the recipe. If you like potatoes better than peas, use fewer peas. If you like less sauce, that, too, is adjustable, using the formula one tablespoon butter and one tablespoon flour to  one-half cup of milk.

It isn’t even necessary to use fresh garden peas. Frozen peas are an acceptable substitute, but the potatoes must be new red potatoes. I think they are available in early summer in supermarket produce departments.

Mother usually served this dish with pan-fried pork chops, but tonight we ate it with cold salmon. Heavenly!

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer