Sunday, October 19, 2014

Who Was Knocking?

The birdbath needed filling, and I reached to open the porch door to get the watering can and almost set my hand on this huge (five inches?) green creature, Mantis religiosa, or the "praying Mantis" ("mantis" meaning "prophet") clinging to the door and screen. This startling all-green mantis--its coattails resembling folded leaves, as artfully dressed as a geisha--is most likely non-native, a European mantis, the kind kept as a pet. I'm not kidding; it says all over the Internet that praying mantises make "marvelous" pets, I suppose if you don't step on them or suck them up in the vacuum cleaner.

In the autumn, after a summer of growing to adulthood, mantises mate, and the male of the species is puny, skinny, and brown, so I'm guessing this big bold one is an adult female and she's about to mate or has recently done so. The females perform "sexual cannibalism," a spectacle I don't care to see. This is the first time I've looked a mantis in the face. What was she doing at my door today? Did she think there might be males in the house? I left her, returned five minutes later, and she was gone. Could she have had a message for me? What was it? "Be big, green, lean, mean, and beautiful?"

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Oh No; You Must Care For Me

Thought I'd run up some curtains on my Kenmore sewing machine, at purchase guaranteed for 25 years. "Good Lord," I thought, when I asked for and received this as my college-graduation gift, "It's guaranteed until 2003," and by then we'd all be piloting flying saucers. "I might go hungry," I told my parents then, "but with this I'll never go naked." And I never have, although I quit sewing dresses, pants and skirts around 1999, when clothes got so cheap that fabric and notions cost more, and my sewing skills honed in junior high school rusted out. Few things are as piercingly clear as when someone eyes your outfit and says, "Did you make that?" I use this wonderfully-made, solid-state, 23-pound machine rarely and take it totally for granted.

Curtains, however, I can still run up with confidence. Thirty-six years after the purchase and the five free lessons at an urban Sears store, I chose black fleece to insulate my single-pane windows when the cold is deep--as it will be someday soon.
I set to work. Straight seams are no problem. But the needle clanked and stuck, and the thread snarled, amassed on the underside and broke, and the machine whined and resisted and I finally consulted the instruction book, a fascinating object in its own right.

My mechanical masterpiece was asking me to clean and oil it and recalibrate the thread and bobbin tensions, using the tools that came with it. Instead of a blue screen and non-response it spoke and told me in its language, now almost a lost language, that it needed TLC. Just a little. Now it runs sleekly.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Can U Speak Widow?

I meet each week with a club of mature women, educated and accomplished, about half of whom are widowed. We speak a dialect of English called "Widow," featuring these most-favored words:

Straub's (high-end grocery store)

Example: "After my husband died following surgery at the hospital, my terrific niece made arrangements to consign her snickerdoodles to the museum shop to to help pay for what Medicare didn't cover."

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Dutch Oven at Last

My brother-in-law, a garage-sale genius, happened upon boxes containing 5 brand-new 5-1/2 quart enameled cast-iron Dutch ovens manufactured in France by Le Creuset--among the world's most desirable cooking vessels, retailing today for more than $250 each. The owner asked $20 for each, my brother-in-law shelled out, and then asked on Facebook if anybody wanted one. I did! I did! I said next time I was up in Wisconsin I'd pick it up and pay.

My sister of took one of the five, blue to match her kitchen, and selected this sunny color for mine. When I saw it I was so delighted I wanted to roll on the floor, and packed it like a baby in blankets and towels for the ride back to Missouri. For three months I've done nothing but admire it,  and get up the nerve to use this item, coveted for years, almost purchased after our wedding except we chose instead a more practical stainless-steel kettle and never regretted it. But it was not an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, the kind that outlives its happy owner, who becomes a cookin' fool for roasts, slow-baked beans, oven-cooked stews and all.

To prepare, I took a delightful class in baking artisan bread in a Dutch oven. A large mirror hung over the classroom's workspace so all in the room could see what the instructor did, and we got samples. Today--now that it's baking season--there's bread. Yes, the pot is heavy. But it's not as if I have to carry it in a backpack. I love anything that is both practical and beautiful. If it's food-related, all to the better.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Time is a Guillotine

I don't care for reality, so I really hate X-rays, MRIs, CAT scans and whatnot, and refused to get my neck X-rayed this year after it had been MRI'd last year when they checked to see if the ache might be cancer. All they found was an aging neck. I could have told them that.

Three weeks into my most recent my-neck-hurts treatment, I gave in to my chiropractor and had X-rays. They are not cute. It's arthritis, brought to me by Father Time. And I thought: How lucky! How really very lucky!

It's not arthritis in my hands, which I use to make my living. It's not in my knees or hips, so I can keep walking as always. It's only the neck, and honestly one doesn't have to turn it a heck of a lot except when driving. Exercise will strengthen the muscles and chiropractic will cut down on the snap-crackle-snap. I have BioFreeze spray and a contoured pillow. I'll get by. And now I can predict the weather, just like the old folks used to do!

Did you know your head weighs eight to ten pounds?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Just Making Sure

"What are these pretty red bushes at the roadside?"


"Oh, no! If I touch it, will I get a rash? Are those berries poisonous?"

"You're thinking of poison sumac, which grows in swamps and has white berries. You'll probably never see poison sumac in Missouri. But if you're allergic to cashews or mangoes, stay away from all sumac; sumac is related to them."

"Can I eat the berries?"

"Some people make sumac lemonade by steeping the berries, but these berries are dried out. You have to pick sumac berries in the summer to make the lemonade."

"Is it pronounced soo-mac or shoo-mack?"


"Why? There's no 'H'. There aren't any other words in English like that."

"Don't be so sure."*

*Joke credited to Mark Twain.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The "Do Anything You Want" Day

Last night it rained two inches and I loved getting up this warm sunny morning because rain means good foraging in the woods for you know what. I had tea and checked my horoscope: "Your celestial bank account is so full, why don't you spend some of it? Do exactly what you want; you can afford it." Another horoscope said I'd find romance.

7 pounds of wild edible
Much encouraged, I, baker of irresistible scones and biscotti, satisfied my desire for a scone pan by ordering one online, then took basket and scissors into the hot, humid woods emerging with seven pounds of tasty, heavenly-smelling pink and yellow Laetiporus sulphureus cut from a single downed tree--for eating, it must be obtained very fresh, as soon as possible after rain!--then divvied it up and drove to town to see the chiropractor who fixes my neck. She said she liked fresh wild mushrooms, so I gave her a pound of the choicest. Seeking my romantic prospect, I then lunched at an Italian place: Salad, pizza and red wine. Delicious and I ate the whole pizza myself. Outdoors it was suddenly freezing cold and windy.  Back home I cleaned and sauteed my share of Laetiporus, and then worked for a while, because I enjoy my work. At 4 p.m. I drove 15 miles to a Trader Joe's parking lot for a rendezvous with a fellow forager to whom I delivered a bag containing three fragrant, intoxicating pounds of you know what ("Here's the stuff, man") because I'd scored much more than I could use. And then in the store bought two squat little pie pumpkins and pumpkin-cranberry scone mix. Dear neighbors and friends: Scones are in your near future.

On the drive home I received $2.99 per gallon gasoline and  a golden and purple sunset. Took a photo of my old, crippled outdoor picnic table, now set among gemlike autumn colors. I understood that my romance was with this wonderful world. And food.

And the day's not over yet. . .