Friday, December 30, 2011

Raspberry Sunset

What December has going for it: Christmas cookies with friends and neighbors, and great sunsets. Here's a raspberry-colored one from night before last. Tonight's was purple and gold, just like high-school colors. This has been a snowless winter in eastern Missouri and in fact the whole Midwest so far except for a single "dusting" that didn't last the morning. This morning it was 55 degrees and I put a chair outside the kitchen door and enjoyed my morning tea there. Who knows what it means, but it saves lives when the roads and bridges aren't icy.

What 2011 had going for it: The world got rid of several murderous dictators. The U.S. has stopped warring on Iraq. That is plenty.

Selecting a new wall calendar for a new year is always fun. My 2012 finalist calendars were "Hunks" and "The Missouri House Rabbit Society Calendar." I will let you guess which one I chose. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Brown Eggs with Value Added

Saw this pickup today where Bald Pate Road meets the highway. Never saw it before. Turned around, pulled over and trotted up saying, “How much for brown eggs?”

The tall thin older man, wearing flannel and a farm cap (more squarish than a ball cap), extended a very dry, cold and toughened hand. “H'are you today?” he asked. (In the country you don’t run up and demand to do business right away. You greet the person. You look into their eyes and get to know them. And you give value-added. City habits still plague me.)

I said, “Your hens laying already?” (I know they start laying in earnest very early in the year.)

“Mine do year round,” he said. “These eggs yesterday morning and the day before. Three dollars for one dozen.” His egg cartons were a miscellany from all sorts of places and there weren’t many left. He opened a carton and showed me the eggs. I wanted only one carton. But I got my value-added. “What you do with these,” said the farmer, holding the carton and demonstrating, “is turn ‘em upside down and leave ‘em that way every seven days, if you remember to do it, and the eggs stay fresh for 30 days same as now.”

“I never heard that,” I said, appreciatively.

 “I grew up on a farm,” he said, “and my mother and me went to seminars, and if you listen,” he said, tapping an ear, “you learn somethin. Don’t hard-boil these. You’ll never get the shell off.” (That’s true when an egg is too fresh.)

He thanked me for my $3 and wished a Merry Christmas to me and my family, and I wished him a Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


My perfect solution to the "Merry Christmas, uh, happy holidays, uh, happy solstice," social-intercourse problem is to call it "Yule." Formerly a moveable feast, Yule has been celebrated by Germanic/Saxon/English peoples since at least the 4th century. They say that in the early days it used to be the "mother's festival." It got Christianized and pinned to December 25, when Christians all worship a mother and her baby, with a stepdad on the side. Nothing wrong with that as long as there's still decorations, parties, visiting, no work, and feasting. Come over for tea or coffee or hot chocolate and I'll share my famous Christmas cut-out cookies from my mother's recipe, which is better than any other Christmas -- er, Yule -- cookie recipe ever.

The one holiday decoration that is always politically and socially okay: the evergreen wreath. Here you see it on the gate of the nearby horse farm, along with a gravel road, wooden fence posts, and two cedars, photo taken today. You'll notice the scene is snowless. It hasn't snowed here at all. That -- no ice to drive on or snow to shovel -- is the best Christmas -- er, Yule -- present ever.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Won't See This Again 'til 2024

Saw several of these strange burrows ringed with cairns of mud balls, a good three inches high, this past summer. They are called "chimneys." Like nothing I'd seen before, but remarkable, very noticeable, and today I find out it's no wonder I hadn't seen them before or since, because they are the homes of the nymphs of the 13-year cicada, whose year it was in 2011. (In late May and June you couldn't take a step outdoors here without feeling them crunch beneath your feet.) Some people confuse these mounds with crayfish "chimneys," but these were located on a hill, under trees, far from any creek beds. When it rains, the cicada nymphs house-clean by pushing mud and mud balls up and out of their dwelling -- pretty good considering they haven't any arms -- and leave them right outside. Good housekeeping. Now I will know what these little mounds of mud balls are when I see them again in 2024.

Monday, December 19, 2011

In Hiding...and Smiling

North of "my" property line is Missouri Conservation land, designated as such only about a year ago. So I'd never explored it until this winter, and here I found beneath a sandstone cliff along a shallow run of the LaBarque a nice sandy place to sit and rest. That pure white isn't snow but silica sand. It doesn't stick to your clothes; its grains are more spherical than crystalline. It's similar to the sand at the Great Salt Lake. It makes beautiful white sand bars and beaches and little beds as you see here. And it's all from the sandstone cliffs just like the one you see. I hid and rested under this overhang, perfectly happy; it'd make a nice place for a picnic or romantic encounter. Even in December, the determined sort of people could manage. The trees? The old creek banks are eroding (severe drought/flood cycles don't help) and we are losing lots of old trees, oaks and sycamores. It's nature.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Who Goes There?

I took a beautiful Sunday slog down LaBarque creek when the water was low, and along the creek edges and wet sand bars I saw evidence of wildlife traffic, come to the creek for a drink. Traces of ice were in the water that had been left in shadow; I broke it up like plate glass and pushed it downstream so more creatures could come to the creek edge and drink. What we have here  is raccoon tracks stylized in wet sand and a three-toed footprint of a very large and heavy bird (each toe the length of my ring finger). Wondered what it was -- the LaBarque hosts herons and egrets,  but it looks most like the track of a turkey. If it had been a heron the footprint would have had a less splayed, more slender profile and have a lighter fourth toeprint in back. So it could be an egret, but the fact is we've got more turkeys. Actually we are fortunate to have plenty of both.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The End of a Cedar Tree

Two full-grown trees in front of the old boys' camp bathhouse got sawn down, for no reason except they might have been growing too near the electrical wires -- but there's been no electricity running through them for 30 years. For love of the trees I counted the rings: 54. The camp buildings, now abandoned, were erected in 1957. It's a perfect match. Clearly these trees were planted to screen the bathhouse doors, and kept growing although the camp closed in 1971.The camp and trees are my exact contemporaries. With God's help I will not be abandoned to the elements or cut down at 54.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mistress of the Flames

Demetrius used to share with me the heavy work of winterizing. Today while I taped plastic sheets over the windows and whipped weeds and moved bags of birdseed and cat litter (not salt; I have a creek to take care of) and put snow shovels onto the porch and sprayed the locks with graphite, I grieved because he didn't like living, finding humanity grossly corrupt and offensive. He wanted to turn back time to 1956 when he was a child and all was perfect. After he died I cried only once: When the radio played the musical children's tale "Tubby the Tuba" and I knew he would have loved it.

Well, now I am single so I do it all. Single is fine. I do what I want, go where I want, and spend all my money on myself. But it's not like you can ask friends to help you winterize. So I covered the plant beds in drifts of fallen leaves, and cleared the roof, lawn and walkways of fallen and broken limbs and branches, chopped and sawed them if they were too heavy to drag, then dragged them into a pile near the fire bowl. Oh yeah, and I got the stepladder and sprayed the satellite dish with Pam because HughesNet told me it keeps ice from sticking on it. Fortunately it was 56 degrees F, my kind of December 3, and I decided to make my first fire on my own. Before today I'd never had the urge or the heart. Kept bringing it fallen branches and raked-up leaves; it was ravenous for them and the larger the fire the more I was cheered, and began to hear in my mind the lyrics "See the blazing Yule before us," and "heedless of the wind and weather."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Polish Meal

I'm half Polish. My mom's parents came from Poland about 1906. They met and got married in Chicago in 1912, and 100 years later, about four times a year I get the jones for Polish food, in particular cabbage, sausage, potatoes, mushrooms and home-baked white bread. When I make this meal it brings tears to my eyes. I didn't even know my grandparents; they bought a farm, had seven children, and died early.

Re-creating the Polish dinners of my kid-hood requires a trip to an international grocery that sells Polish sausages imported from Chicago. Only these--made in the home of America's largest Polish community--taste like they should. Don't give me Hillshire Farms; give me Bobka. Thank you. And keep your sauerkraut; I use fresh cabbage, boil it and add mustard sauce, put the mushrooms on the side, and that is my kapusta. When I picture a Polish table I imagine a snow-white tablecloth perfectly creased, because these people were far into linens and washing and ironing. My grandfolks was po' so there was no gorgeous Polish pottery to inherit. They left me nothing at all, at all, except this meal, which I love.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

U.S. Post Office, Powell, MO

Just a nice little post office, an honest piece of America. No "developments" or "cul-de-sacs" here in Powell. No "metrosexuals" or poseurs or celebrity-mongers ever come here. No glamour at all. Perhaps the last truly honest face of any given town is its post office. Maybe that is why I love post offices. Other people love stamps. Other people love mail. What I remember of the post office of my childhood, far away from here, was being ledup some concrete steps into a temple-like building of gray granite, into a great hall all hung with smoke and painted glossy green, footsteps echoing, keys lightly jangling, counters too tall for me to see over. Down its hall were shut doors with panels of frosted glass, labeled "Private," with unmoving shadows behind them, and a flooded type of quiet, like the library, except that people were doing something even more private: getting and sending and stamping their mail, their boxes, their money orders. A great and quiet efficiency (any noisy activity confined to the docks out back) and reverence for the ideas of order and service. And say what you want about the country going to heck in a handbasket: that beautiful flag is part of my heart.

Property-Line Rapture

Today in the November sunshine, blinding because it's set at such a low angle and the trees are leafless, I set out to find the northern end of this 100-acre property, and my hike brought me here, where LaBarque Creek is still "mine" -- and in a few feet it crosses over and becomes the property of the Missouri Department of Conservation; that is, it becomes everybody's. But it's always been everybody's. The creek is low -- it's been very dry all summer and fall -- but that means more fossils for me to rifle through, and more deer and raccoon tracks at water's edge. And it is right here that I would like to be standing when I'm taken up bodily into Heaven (during the next Rapture).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


In fall, I can't help but become pensive. Summer was easy. October was beautiful except it lost us 72 minutes of daylight. Now, as my companion plants lose their leaves (these are sycamores, reflected into the LaBarque Creek) and freeze, the warm-blooded creatures withdraw into deeper woods, some into hibernation, some into the house, warmed by propane. And there I further withdraw into myself and think of the late autumns and winters past: holidays, snow, cold, long unbearably dark days, days with watery sun --now fifty years of them to look back on. The soul-food Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving of cheap sausage and beans. The Christmases with no one. The Christmases I made myself cream of cashew soup, sauteed monkfish, fine vegetables, and homemade orange spongecake jellyroll. The Christmases with very special people. The Christmas snowed in. The warmth of soup and baking. The glassy look of sky and water, like ink drawings of autumn.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

General Store, Powell, MO

"Twenty or thirty years ago" this general store in Powell, MO, closed. Along with it, at the center of town, is an abandoned Baptist church (no steeple) built of stone, and a DX station, its roadside sign now tangled in treetops. Another way to describe Powell is that the post office is open although no one works there, and there's a place that publishes gospel music and has since the composer of "I'll Fly Away," Mr. Albert E. Brumley, lived in Powell. He wrote the hymn in 1929, truly Divinely inspired, because it's been recorded by every gospel artist worth mentioning including Andy Griffith, Aretha Franklin, Crystal Gayle, Johnny Cash, and Kanye West. Brumley also wrote 600 other songs. Powell is in the far southwest corner of Missouri where there's not much but scenic Ozark beauty and farming. You'll have to drive 17 miles to buy a Snickers bar. I'll put up some more Powell pictures, but first, this fascinating and unique storefront sign made of horseshoes. That's Divine inspiration too.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fall's Finale

The last face of fall wildflowers here on the property: the marvelous Blue Aster. On every walk I see fewer and fewer. I love the way they linger. They are a great selvage end to the fabulous cloth woven by summer.

Wild Turkey on the Wing

I love wild turkeys. This year's Divine Property flock is 2 moms and 7 young ones who by Nov. 1 are nearly grown. Walking up Timberstone Trail I saw the flock crossing the road, gobbling and wobbling. Excited, I lifted my camera and then, hyper-aware as they are, they saw me and fled into the woods. The last one out of the woods, startled by my approach, shot up into the air and flew. Clicking the photo will give you the best view of it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Zen of Caulking

To save heat I caulked the Divine Cabin's doors, windows and baseboards, and around the fireplace and anywhere else I could feel a breeze indoors. This has not been done since 1930. It took 3 8-hour days. I am now enlightened. Please avail yourself of this dharma transmission:
  • Confucius say, Cheap or expensive caulking gun are the same.
  • Caulk, like fingernail polish, comes in many shades. If you are a novice like me, buy TRANSPARENT caulk; that way, if you mess up it doesn't look as bad as if you used white or gray. Transparent comes out white, but it eventually turns transparent.
  • It's pretty clear that you'll  have to clip off the tip of the bottle, but don't forget to also then stick a long (tenpenny) nail down in there to puncture the foil seal so the caulk can get out. Withdraw the nail and check its point to make sure there's goo on it, proving that it reached down to the caulk.
  • Wear plastic gloves.
  • Clean what you're caulking before you caulk it.
  • Caulk is not Reddi Wip.It's taffy-like. When caulking, squeeze, move the tip, and relax slightly. Repeat and repeat.
  • Don't try to use the bottle tip to smooth out the lumps and bumps. Instead...
  • ...carry around some craft sticks/tongue depressors to smooth out the lumpy spots.
  • Fill a crack from right to left so you can see where the tip is going.
  • The more you caulk, the more caulking you see needs to be done.
  • Stay awake. Don't, like, caulk your windows shut.
  • Goo, debris, excess, and unsightly extraneous dollops can be removed with a dry cloth while it's fresh, or picked off with the fingers when it's cured (after 24 hours). In between, just accept it for what it is.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Twin Oaks and Twin Oaks and Twin Oaks and....

About 150 years old (judging from the rings of similar-sized trees) this pair of oaks looms over my lane, across from the garage, and they're massive. See, if you can, my six-foot picnic table at their feet. Wind and ice rip off some branches, but in autumn they simply rain acorns and some of 'em take, especially just to their north which is sunlit meadow. And the young trees (three are pictured below) are twin oaks just like their parents. That tickles me no end. I uproot or hack down competitive and invasive red cedars and vines to keep the native Missouri oaks and hickories thriving. After living here 10 years I can see the results, new oaks that will long outlast me, and am so very happy.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Faithfullest Friend

He's back...this time in a beautifully textured "wooden" coat and the loveliest green waistcoat -- my faithful (platonic) friend the Walking Stick. He's hanging on the porch door right now, head down, waiting for me to take his annual portrait -- much more colorful than last year's, when he dressed as a dry stick. I saw him a few days ago clad in chalk-white, playing part of the garage siding. Enter "walking stick" in my search box at upper  LEFT to see his previous outfits. Here you see him at his most handsome and tasteful.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Reason I'm Freezin'

The landlord finally put in new bathroom fixtures, then noticed "stuff" falling out of the bathroom ceiling vent. He calls the heating and cooling (HVAC) guys.

Now, for ten years pink fuzzy "stuff" and then glittery gray "stuff" shot out of the the heating vents every time I used the (forced-air) furnace, so much so that I stretched old nylon stockings over the vents to contain it and so didn't have to sweep it up every hour. The HVAC guys climbed through a little window into the attic where I have never been, ripping down a rotted window box on their way. The attic contains only heating ducts, all chewed through by mice and rife with huge holes. The ducts weren't metal. They were foam, wrapped around a wire skeleton, wrapped with gray plastic, wrapped in one last layer of pink insulation. These are prized mouse-nest-building materials.

So now I know why stuff shot out of the vents, and why a whole tank of propane got sucked up in a couple of months, and the reason the living space, especially the bathroom, never got warm. Mice scrabbled in the ceiling above my bed every winter, waking me at all hours so I'd bang on the walls, throw books and shoes at the ceiling, and yell -- and every couple of weeks put a block of bright blue mouse poison in the wall by the fuse box and within a couple of days they ate it, the little b*****rds. Landlord is going to replace the ducts with metal ducts. Then the HVAC guys told him that was no good without an updated furnace. So I'm gettin' that too, and maybe won't have to dread winter as I have the past couple of years, and pay the electric company big money for constant use of three electric heaters. The lack of heat during winter was one of the few negatives of living here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Love Medicine

Meet the Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica). It is an autumn flower, uncommon but of course we have it here, growing over a small stream (see photo of its environment below right; the lobelia likes "seepy areas"). The wildflower ID book I rely on reveals its old-time uses:

"The Mesquakies used great blue lobelia in love medicines. The roots were finely chopped and mixed into the food of a quarrelsome couple without their knowledge. This, they believed, would avert divorce and make the couple love each other again. Other tribes used root tea for syphilis..."

The book: Kurz, Don. Ozark Wildflowers: a Field Guide to Common Ozark Wildflowers. Helena, MT: Falcon, 1999. ISBN 1-56044-730-3.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Homeless Quilt Comes Home

To raise funds, the county library was raffling off a delectable pink quilt, with hearts and flowers all over it. Smitten as I have never before been by a quilt, I bought 12 chances on it some time ago, waiting for the Saturday Oct. 15 drawing. I told my mom and she predicted I would win it.

On Oct. 14, though, I was admiring the annual quilt show at a city library when a friend asked me, "Do you like quilts?" I said yes. She said, "I have one in my car. I won it, but don't need it. I took it to my daughter who didn't want it, gave it right back to me. It's pink. Do you want it?"

"Oh yes," I said. And my friend dragged a plastic bag out of her backseat and handed it to me. I didn't look at it until I got home and laid it out on my bed. It was exactly the right size, beautiful, and my first quilt. It didn't matter that I didn't win the library's quilt the next day. Well, maybe it did a little, because I loved those pink hearts stitched into it. I understood then that old ladies like hearts on everything because they love life and the earth more than they ever did, love it with more concentration and passion, as their time here runs short.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Surprise in the Shoebox

Fact is the Divine Cabin sits on a concrete slab and the floors radiate cold, starting this time of year. Even through the carpet it'll chill your feet, up to and through wool socks or house slippers, so I always get a pair of thick-soled indoor/outdoor clogs and wear them to shreds every winter runnin' around in here, squashing spiders and whatnot. This year ordered a pair that in the online catalog looked like black suede with gray boiled wool on top. Wool is always right: warm, durable, breathable, and these came in size 8 double-wide and were on sale--what could be better? The link said these were the last ones in my size, so I clicked.

The UPS man brought them today and to my great surprise that is NOT wool on top or even felt, but gray fuzzy stuff with BLACK SEQUINS sewn into it. I was shocked, then delighted: sparkly shoes to cheer me all the gray winter! How could I have wanted anything else?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October Can Be Okay, I Guess

We've had the most gorgeous fall weather for weeks on end, days between 70 and 80 degrees, and no frost yet. I go to bed late these days, from working, and rise as late as 9 a.m. when the sun is shining full and clear. My reward is something like this, a photo taken in the meadow this morning. The insignificant white item behind the scarlet leaves is my house.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hum Along

Always comes a day when my hummingbirds leave for the season. The last one left my feeder Sept. 26, about the usual date. And always I grieve because when they fly away they take my heart with them. You love hummingbirds too; you know what I mean.

But I hadn't time to turn around before the big Pileated Woodpecker started his yelling, swooping, and pecking at the suet, leaving all the other birds to look on awed and envious. My Pileateds usually vacation for a month in late summer after the couple is finished rearing its offspring. They don't come for suet for that month, but they do "call" when they see me emerging from my own woodpecker hole, and I greet them loudly in turn. When the weather changes they return for suet and eat it all up like a hundred yards o' chitlin's.

I sing as I put out seed and suet and fresh water in the mornings, to the tune of "Good Night, Ladies":

"Good morning, birdies.
Good morning, bunbuns.
Good morning, ______________  (turtles, turkeys, possums, deer, fawns, coons, foxes, lizards, butterflies, armadillos, moles, frogs, peepers, beavers, muskrats, spiders)
We love you, every one."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Middle West

Fall is Church Supper Time in rugged rural Missouri; praise the Lord for ham, potato salad, slaw, green beans, white beans (savory not sweet, just as I would make them; my friend Ace ate two plates full); best homemade applesauce ever, coffee, iced tea and homemade desserts, served by the friendliest Midwesterners. Ace asked the dessert table people special permission to eat two desserts (lemon pie; pumpkin pie sans Reddi-wip). Cost of meal $9 for adults; I bought. Some churches charge only a "free will offering." Note "The Middle East" biblical-era and modern maps tacked up behind the people; obviously Bible-study material. The most important part of any church is its basement. Rather go there than any restaurant.

Do you ever attend church suppers in your area? People were so glad to see us strangers they showed us photos of their grandchildren. This particular church is far out of the way, in the remains of a tiny town alongside the train tracks. In fall the Catholic church raffles off a live pig; I never buy a chance because I'm afraid I'll win. Another church has a whole-pig roast, and yet another church an awesome pork sausage dinner; that's the one they pour you a glass of milk at table. In spring, fried fish at Lenten church suppers is so good it just about converts me.


What is it in our spirits that makes us all excited to see a new fawn? The new deer were born in July, two of them, to the deer family that's been on the Divine 100 acres since I moved here 10 years ago, whom I see and meet now and then in the woods, but just the other afternoon I saw the new babies walking down the lane, and then, as I tried to get a better photo, they skip-hopped into the cedar hollow. Here's one of the pair. I love the details: the elegant hooves, the dark sweet nose,white freckles, skinny legs. They're twins, so when they pass it's like seeing double.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Th*ngs Demetrius Used to Say

  • "I'm so glad people are much more polite to me than I am to them."
  • "I speak on the phone. Others yack on the phone."
  • "Quit asking; I can't just pull it out of my a**"
  • "What kind of a sheeny outfit are you people running here, anyway? You ought to be ashamed of yourselves."
  • (When asked why he did not clean the bathroom) "I don't perceive it as dirty."
  • (When asked if he would throttle a baby bunny) "Only if it was bothering me."
  • "Bring me food."
  • "I did not call you stupid. I said, 'Why are you behaving stupidly?'"
  • "Everyone should wake up in the morning and ask, 'What can I do for Demetrius today?'"

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Advice for Single Ladies

To all the girls who are in a rush to have a boyfriend or get married, a piece of Biblical advice: "Ruth patiently waited for her mate Boaz." While you are waiting on YOUR Boaz, don’t settle for any of his relatives: Broke-az, Po-az, Lyin-az, Cheating-az, Dumb-az, Drunk-az, Cheap-az, Lockedup-az, Goodfornothing-az, Lazy-az, and especially his cousin Beatinyo-az. Wait for your Boaz and make sure he respects Yoaz.  -attributed to Hubert Brandon

Sunday, September 11, 2011

They Say These Things Smell....

I met a muskrat today in a swimmin'-hole type area in LaBarque Creek that is otherwise mostly dry--the drought continues--and was surprised because I'd never seen a muskrat in the creek before, common as they are in Missouri. Beavers, yes; snapper turtles, yes; water snakes yes; egrets and herons, yes; muskrats, no. Maybe about eight inches long not counting a long black tail. Nibbling on leaves attached to some vines, he or she ignored me until I switched the camera to video, making a "bing" noise, and splash, off swam my photographic prey, paddling a bit (pictured), then as I cried, "Hey, wait!" it dove and fled like a torpedo. Walked about a quarter mile farther up the road and turned back, and found him/her again, nibbling on leaves. I fussed with the camera, got 13 seconds of video, just so you could see it really swims and it's real, and then moved to get closer and maybe sniff that famous musk--and splash, it swam under water someplace inaccessible. Camera shy. Next time I will look for its lodge and will commandingly say to it, "Take me to your leader." They say the trappers liked its fur and the peak time to trap and collect them is in December, doubtless right after the office party.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I'll Show You Happiness

It struck me as I set up to make a tomato sandwich: "I am happy. This is happiness."

What's not to love? It's Saturday. There's a fresh loaf of white bread and two perfectly ripe huge tomatoes, and two Vidalia onions. I've got kitchen tools, spatulas, whisks, strainers, measuring cups,and I love each one in a different way and totally, and nobody will ever know how much. By the tomatoes is a can of Ann Page nutmeg, souvenir from the days of A&P grocery stores; I've got 1950s copper-toned canisters for sugar and rice. My mom had the same set in silver tone. It's sunny outside. It's morning. I've got a propane stove that works, and a knife. God knows there have been times when I needed a knife and didn't have one. There's mayo in the fridge, basil the best herb in the world is growing in a pot outside and going into the sandwich. Nobody's yelling at me or nagging me. I ain't dead yet. I have health insurance and a CCW. Yeah, there's quite a few miles on me, no spring chicken, but nothing is hurting me. I have inspirations. I have friends and one of 'em was game enough to accompany me to a night of cage fights and another of 'em is planning a canoe trip for us, and I'm going to an antique tractor pull and have my own car to get there. I just paid my monthly bills. I found Chock Full o' Nuts Organic Coffee online and ordered a case. Tomorrow I'm on the road to see my special person; later in the month I'll fly to visit my mom for her birthday. It's not always so, but right now I know how lucky I am and I'm grateful.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I Never Give Up

Sure the birdbath bowl was badly cracked (see August 30) so I bought a new bowl at a concrete works, and the birds gratefully took baths and drinks, but that old, more artistic bowl, considering I couldn't move it except to flip it over, sat there and I thought, I hate to give up, I hate to give up, so for the fourth time, to the hardware store. I simply confessed to the clerk: "I'm trying to fix a concrete birdbath. Nothing works," and she led me to concrete putty stuff and DAP quick-crete. I patched a big chip at the bowl's rim with the putty stuff. Bet you can't find the patch in the picture! (It's at the 11 o'clock point.) Then all gloved up, with much unskill I laid readymixed QuikCrete on with a trowel and let it dry overnight. The next morning I poured water into it. IT HELD. Glory be! Some spots were not quite perfectly covered. so I applied a second coat just now, with great skill and in five minutes. When it's dry I'll sand it a bit and find somebody to help me lift it onto the pedestal, and it will be just like old days for the birds and me.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Joys of the Rural Mailbox

Having a rural mailbox was the deciding factor in me moving to the country 10 years ago. It's a Pandora's box of joy and mystery. Six days a week someone puts surprises in it. Never know what I'll get. Oh, some items aren't fun, but golly, I've unlatched my box--so much better than those mean little slots in the city--to find checks, postcards, packages, magazines, personal letters...and they just keep a-coming. Whether I'm good or bad, I get mail just the same. Everyone gets mail. It is a type of unconditional love. I love my mailbox as others love a pet. I have walked downhill to it in steaming hot sun, or in starlight, or heavy snow, either to pick up mail or-- this is really neat--put mail INTO my box, up the little red flag and have it taken away! Ten years later, I have not gotten over how great this is, and the only extra I could ever want is a mailing address that says "Rural Route," or, better, "Star Route." Maybe someday.

Yes, these boxes pose challenges. I have to step into the road to get my mail. Others have it worse and have to actually cross the road to their boxes. For me it's a long walk down and a steep one back up. Sometimes, if I've put the flag up, I use binoculars to check it. Mail gets baked, or soaked if the boxes rust or leak, or the latch gets iced shut or fails and the box hangs open like a mouth right on the highway where anybody could reach in (and sometimes, desperate people do), or kids in cars bash them with baseball bats. But I LOVE my mailbox. When the flag won't stay up I repair it (with duct tape). When it's warped I hammer it back into shape. I love all rural mailboxes. But my own I love with a passion that is unlike any other. Mine used to have morning glories twining up its post; divine; after 2002 and the cliff-blasting and road widening, no more. Still I love it just as much. Photo is of a box down the road with natural, native Tickseed Sunflower (Bidens aristosa) growing up on it right now. Prettier than mine. But so what.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"People Who Never Wear Clothes"

In Girl Scout camp I told the counselors I wanted to become a naturalist. They kind of looked at each other, and one explained, "Those are people who never wear clothes." Embarrassed, I forgot about becoming a naturalist. But they had confused that word with "naturist," another name for nudist. Moral of the story: When you talk to children about their futures, know what you are talking about, especially when you are a camp counselor and an eight-year-old tells you she wants to be a naturalist.

I became a naturalist anyway, and along the road (wearing clothes, mind you) found orchid-shaped, beautiful mauve-and maroon-colored blossoms I couldn't find in the Ozark wildflower field guide, which is arranged by flower color. Color is tricky: different soils produce different shades and intensities, and these could be  described as red, pink, purple, blue, or even brown flowers. I finally said, "Maybe it's not native," but, unable to stand a mystery, went back and plucked a blossom to study it further. No dice. Gave up. On another walk I saw it again, this time with its fruit attached and intact: a bean.

Pleased to tell you this wildly lovely flower is a Wild Bean (Strophostyles helvula) and a native plant. And it's in the field guide, but shown only with the bean!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Daddy's in Love

Looked to me like this daddy-long-legs is having a loving moment with the scrub brush that has all those marvelous bright green legs. These two seem very very cozy, if you know what I mean...But I'm not one to gossip, so you didn't hear it from ME... The scrub brush later told the potato scrubber that they were just friends...but you know how scrub brushes are; when was the last time one of them told you the truth? Bless their hearts.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

White-Trash Repairs, Example # 37,633,881

Tried to fix it, but most anyone could tell you that this concrete birdbath bowl, much loved but now 10 years old, and been outdoors all that time, is too far gone to save. That didn't stop me, though, from buying a tube of silicone and loading it up in a caulking gun, and somehow not piercing the foil inside the nozzle, and then squeezing the caulking gun harder and harder and getting nothing out of it, then realizing I'd broken open not the pointed end but the bottom of the tube, and a full load of silicone goop was coating and hardening inside the caulking gun chamber.

Realizing I had a narrow window in which to salvage my pride and any claim I have to intelligence, I grabbed craft sticks and smeared the silicone into the cracks in the birdbath. Mess City. Tried valiantly to remove the tube from my orange caulking gun, which was the gift of a former boyfriend who never bought me anything else, may he burn in hellfire for eternity, but it was also too far gone. Got a garbage bag so nobody would ever see it (too embarrassed to take a photo) and wrapped up the tube and caulking gun now stuck together forever, unlike me and the former boyfriend. The one nice thing about trash is most of the time nobody will be able to tell whose it is.

I'd have been better off using duct tape....

Sunday, August 28, 2011

How to Burn Bagworms

 1. Get a pole, then rip and bat these horrible huge translucent sticky bags, each full of a thousand squirming baby bagworms, out of any tree you can reach. I got three big bags that were skeletonizing the leaves on my hickory tree. If I'd left 'em, the worms would crawl out, be adult in a couple of days, turn to moths and reproduce, and next year my proud tree, which shades the Divine cabin and provides genuine Missouri hickory nuts for wildlife, would be sicker.

2. Lay the bags side by side and wrap in newspaper. Don't wrap too tightly because then the bags won't burn. In addition to being gluey as spiderwebbing times three, they're also somewhat fire resistant.

3. Set newspaper on fire. Dance insanely around it while it burns.

4. (Not pictured.) Make sure no bagworms have survived. If they have, wrap them up in more newspaper and set it on fire. Bleeding hearts, please know that plenty of  bagworms in torso-sized bags are in all sorts of trees way up beyond my reach. Yet I think of Mahatma Gandhi's advice: "Anything you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it."

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Colors of Things To Come

Last night the local TV weatherman gave his "next three months" forecast: It'll be dry as dust, will frost in October and, he actually said this twice, might snow before the end of that month. November the pits also. But I knew anyway that when August comes the party of summer is pretty much over. "August is a September month," poet Sylvia Plath wrote in her diary. She preferred July. I prefer June. May is better. Anyway, can't do anything about it except admire the previews of fall colors I currently see here and there among the jungly greenery. The cliff is typical geology for this area.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stripping It Bare

Sav-A-Lot became the Eureka Market this past year, but a few weeks ago it shocked me with a message in stark black Magic Marker on the door: "DUE TO THE ECONOMY THIS STORE IS CLOSING." It is now its final week, has emptied all but about 10 percent of its normal stock and is selling it all cheap. I have shopped there -- not as my primary store but as a reliable source of canned beans and tomatoes, and real corn tortillas -- since 1999, by my reckoning about 200 times. This store has anchored this particular strip mall since 1966.

Its parking lot had cars so I went in there today, surveyed the shelves, got a cart and loaded it to the top with the last of the: pitted kalamata olives, spicy mustard, balsamic vinegar (that item never sold very well), canned tomatoes, canned artichoke hearts at half the normal price, green Tobasco, Progresso chicken-sausage gumbo for when I don't make my own, black walnuts, tiny canned shrimp, tissues, birdseed, heavy-duty foil, boxes of Jello and so on, perhaps 100 pounds of groceries, to the tune of $83, about one-third to one-half of what I would have paid for it in a normal store. Remaining is a lot of bagged candy, cake mix and canned ravioli, and sunglasses 2 for $1; but no bread, meat, milk or produce. If the boxes were mouseproof I'd have bought more cereal. The bad economy has taken so much from so many, me included. I took advantage to stock up for harder times.

I should have known this was coming when I went in needing bleach, found none, and was told "it would be in tomorrow," and when the store cut its hours and its staff (soon to be jobless), but like any death it's always a shock, and it was truly like a funeral in there today.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

An Old Watermelon Joke

Was a watermelon farmer from Kennett, MO, whose crop got ripe and every day he found a big fat juicy melon missing from his garden. He put up a sign that said "Warning: One of the Watermelons in This Patch is Poisoned!" and figured that would fix the thief. Farmer the next day came out and found his sign had been scribbled on and changed to say, "Two of the Watermelons in This Patch Are Poisoned!"

Sunday, August 7, 2011

How About A Nice Plate of Hashbrowns?

Mine is a small household needing nothing but a knife and cutting board to fix vegetables, but when recipes like Zucchini Bread say "Shred 2 cups zucchini," I am less willing than before to take the time with a hand grater and to shred my knuckles, or to "chop finely" things like apples or mushrooms. (Life's too short.) Yet for the zucchini bread or potato pancakes or carrot-parsnip patties (them's good eatin'), nothing but shredding will do. Maybe you've noticed that cookbooks and recipes, more and more often, say "Put this in the food processor and process for one minute," and I started to think I should get one.

Food processors have always looked to me like nuclear power plants or what a chemical refinery might look like if made of high-impact plastic; slightly creepy. Went to all sorts of sites, read reviews, knowing this was a once-in-lifetime purchase. I didn't need the $200 11-cup processor but its bowl was less fragile than the same maker's $170 7-cup, and the other maker's 3-cup size leaked and for all of them people hated handwashing the parts and buying accessories. Others declared them all junk unless made in France. And where would I put the ungainly thing? I even got rid of my coffeemaker to get more counter space.

Then I found scores of rave reviews for this Black and Decker 2-cup chopper for $22. It has exactly three parts: the bowl, the whirling two-winged blade, and the 2-speed motor on top. So I ordered one. That first day I pulverized Parmesan and chopped carrots with it and then I baked an eggplant and made babaganoush in a twinkling, and now I make hashbrowns like I haven't in years. The chore of shredding gets done in no time and I can start cooking. I don't normally recommend material items, but if your needs are small and your hands are stiff or you're just too busy to chop up onions or the jalapenos for the salsa, this is the thing to get.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


This is the only Prairie Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) in the meadow. Vernonia  is the aster/daisy family, and Vernonias can be found all over the world. There's a kind that grows 7 feet tall but this isn't it; it's only about 2.5 feet high. Wikipedia says all Vernonias "have the same effective properties as a blood purifier and uterus toner, containing sesquiterpene lactone,which helps also to prevent atherosclerosis." I am therefore honored to have this native perennial in the meadow. Those dark little bud nubs are what caught my eye; they look like blackberries.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Smiles on a Summer Night

The July just past was the fourth-hottest July on record in this area, and the hottest since 1936, and August is the same, and this is God's way of telling the people of Missouri to enjoy the hot darkness and slurp up icy things before bedtime. There's something wonderful about neon lights in August advertising icy stuff. The SnoBiz stand, a tiny six feet wide and 12 feet long, is shuttered all winter behind the grocery store and so nondescript I don't even see it, but it comes alive with fun lights and people on summer nights, and finally -- because life is too short to be such a hardass as to lecture myself, "I don't need sweet icy stuff on an August night" -- stopped in about 10 p.m. when it was still 85 degrees, and bought a lemon-meringue ice (a staff recommendation) just so I could take a photo.

It was incredibly tasty for a cup of shaved ice and placated my inner seven-year old who vowed that after she got her own purse and money and could stay up past 8:30 she wouldn't ever pass up an ice cream store, ice-cream truck, ice-cream sandwich, slurpee, or sno-cone. (Wasn't any frozen yogurt in those days. In Harvard Square, in Cambridge, Mass., is a plaque honoring the place that the first frozen yogurt was made and sold in 1971.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Everything's Good This Time of Year

Please stop in at your local farmer's market or fruit and vegetable stand because this time of year you cannot go wrong. If it grows in your locale, it's at its peak. So what if it's 100 degrees. I sorted through the Missouri tomatoes for the squat-looking Big Beefs and Brandywines, bought the sweetest local corn (had it for lunch along with my own baked steak fries; now that's divine) and local nectarines, a local eggplant with such lovely purple cheeks I want to kiss it, some zucchini and green beans, and I admired the plums, famously sweet Vidalia onions ("You only cry when they are gone"), brand-new baby potatoes both red and Yukon, and the avalanche of melons.

Andy's is in House Springs, also called House Sprangs, and operates 11 hours a day in summer, like many such businesses. I asked the beautiful lady who waited on me (pictured) if she was the owner. She said she was the Owner's Wof.

This is my idea of heaven.