Friday, March 30, 2012

Church Fish Fry

The big social event of the Lenten season is the Sacred Heart Church Friday Fish Fry with its parking staff and long lines and heaping plates of really wonderful fried fish made by a cheerful team of handsome Christian gentlemen in a hellishly steaming little shed out near the parking lot. We, the mobs, who come to dinner from 4 to 7 p.m., eat in the Sacred Heart school gym with 300 other people all enjoying the bounty of $8 or $10 (refillable) plates with pasta, slaw and green beans, plus coffee, iced tea or milk. Find a table with malt vinegar and you are set.  Other mobs buy take-out. The dessert table, 20 feet long, displays individually wrapped servings of all kinds of desserts, and if you look hard you might secure a chocolate pecan pie slice as I did last week. Nobody leaves hungry!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Is This Buck Legal?

How to survive if lost in the woods: Build a fire using your waterproof matches or a cotton ball smeared with Vaseline; fire your gun three times after hunting hours; and hope you left a hunting plan and a stamp of your bootsole on foil beneath your car's window wipers. Stay where you are; find or build a shelter for the night; know that you can live for 14 days without eating but only 3 days without water; and no Missouri stream is clean enough to drink straight up. How to hunt turkeys in season (April and November): Don't wear red, white, blue or black, turkey colors; keep your back against a thick tree or rock; don't make too loud of a turkey call; don't shoot roosting turkeys (it's not fair); aim at their heads; put the turkey that just bought the big casino into a hunter's-orange bag, tucking the wings in so no other turkey hunter imagines it's a live one. . .some of the many tips from Missouri's ten-hour hunter's education course. Free to all students 11 and older thanks to Missouri's one-eighth-of-one-cent sales tax that funds our marvelous state parks, conservation areas, shooting ranges and programs. A husband-and-wife team taught us how a muzzle loader works, how to track game, I.D. six kinds of firearm actions, and the six ways to carry long guns safely on the hunt. Much emphasis on safety. A million Missouri hunters have taken this course, reducing the average number of fatal hunting "incidents" from 20 per year to 4. I passed the 50-question written test, earned the coveted orange patch and now with this credential maybe with my squirty little .410 I can tag along with friends who hunt birds at Marais Temps Clair. I've never hunted. My father did, sometimes. He certainly wouldn't have taken a female along.
My coveted patch, earned 3/22/12

Our first speaker, though, was a young former hunter who accidentally killed his best friend's father--involuntary manslaughter normally avenged by eight years in the pen. He got five years' probation and cannot own a firearm or hunt. The best friend and his family withdrew their friendship, which he understands, he said. As the speaker left the front of the room, one man, with great simple American manly grace stood up, took the young man's hand, and said, "I'm sorry, brother."

Why'd I take this course, mandatory only for hunters born after 1966? Because this is the environment I live in and the people I meet.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Most Secret Secret Place

1. When I was 10 my mom called from work and told me to cook the steak for dinner. I didn't know how. The heat was too high and I burnt it black. Scared, before Mom got home I took the pan outside and dumped the charred steak - BEHIND THE GARAGE!

Behind the Divine garage
2. Grownups hated it when kids climbed their fences and sneaked through backyards, but we did it anyway. This route down our block began in the bushes BEHIND OUR GARAGE!

3. If my little friends and I wanted to play with matches or plant dollar bills to grow money trees, we went BEHIND THE GARAGE!

4. The previous residents of our house really liked the neighbors who lived in back of us, and had left a gap in the hedge and two flagstone steps leading into the neighbors' backyard. When no grownups were looking, we kids used this as our shortcut to Carter Street! These steps were located ______________.

5. When I grew up, my husband threw what I didn't want inside the garage BEHIND THE GARAGE!

6. In 2002 I rescued pink Missouri granite bricks from the gateposts destroyed when the state widened Highway F. I had no place to put them except BEHIND THE GARAGE and they are still there!

7. To get rid of 2x9 planks full of nails I can't pry out, I drag and dump them BEHIND THE GARAGE!

8. The only place on the property that Dutchman's Breeches (pictured) ever grow is in the woodsy, north-facing incline _______________!

Happy Spring Equinox y'all!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rarities of Spring - This Week Only!

Temperatures have hit the 80s for most of March so far, making everyone wonder how monstrously hot our summer is going to be, and sparking April flowers weeks ahead of time. But while living in the now, everyone's crazy 'bout the flowers: spring beauties, dutchman's breeches, redbuds, magnolias, daffodils, phlox (always phlox) and wildflowers, like these tiny, tiny four-petaled bluets (Haedyotis caerulea), an annual which forms mats in my south-facing lawn and won't share its space with other wildflowers. And then wild Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) behind the garage, the only place they grow on my whole acreage. Like the bluets, getting about 10 days to express their fullest beauty. Their puffy blooms nod in the light wind. Golly. We must all deserve these things! Wildflowers like a pastry shop for the eyes! And just go to the garden section at K-Mart or Wal-Mart! Or rather, don't, right now. It's mobbed by people hungry for plants, greenery, vegetables, divine beauty, and volunteering huge portions of their lives to grow it. Also called "gardeners."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

"Well Begun"

Installed the refinished cabinet door and drawer on Wednesday. I can refinish the other drawers any time but the next project, now that I'm warmed up and skilled, is to refinish a solid-core wooden door whose paint chips show a history of being painted both sea-green and white. For that one I had to ask for help. The landlord's handymen will unhinge the door for me and take it to the garage where I can work on it. It's the bathroom door, so I'm hanging a curtain there for the duration. Curious always to uncover the lost pattern in the wood.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sweet Sweet Sweet

Spring peepers are tiny frogs that trill and piccolo all night when spring begins. It sounds like they're saying "Sweet, sweet, sweet." Demetrius said they were really saying "Love me, love me." That seemed right.

Aware now, along with my age group, that any spring could be my last, with all my soul I love every bit of it, even this odd 81-degree weather in mid-March. It's causing the neighbors to use their fireplaces and burn up the wood they didn't burn all this warm winter. It caused me to weed about four square feet of earth and plant arugula, a low-maintenance green which thrives when planted early. Three days later there was a little green mention. Two more days and genuine cotyledons (kottle-ee-dons), or baby plants, in their ballet skirts, had appeared. Like an idiot (who's lived alone on big acreage for a long time) I fell to my knees and said, "My sweethearts!"

And last night two barred owls howled and sparred for an hour, so much I thought they were coyotes, so much I stepped outside and said, "Okay, that's enough."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Yes, I Do Chicken Fat

The coveted Kennedy/LBJ-era fitness patch
Full-body exercise being what it is -- important -- I want to do it, but as briefly as possible, and therefore have returned, after 45 years, to exercising to the 6-minute 33-second sound recording called "Chicken Fat," written by the composer of "The Music Man," Meredith Willson, and performed by its star, Robert Preston, and released in 1961. It's on You Tube should you miss the Cold War era when Mrs. L put it on the turntable and forced your class to exercise to it. It gets the lead out on slow mornings. I do it daily and can now do those insufferable 10 pushups military style and have developed genuine see-able front delts.

Odd history, this song. Health people concerned that we kids were watching too much TV formed the President's Council on Physical Fitness, under President Kennedy. They commissioned the writing and recording of "Chicken Fat" and sent millions of copies of the 45 rpm disc to schools. Once past its corniness it isn't a bad little workout, but obviously the only model for physical fitness back then was military, so you get orders to march ("Left! Left! Left a good pound and a quarter; was it right? Right? Then it should be left!") interspersed with the jumping jacks, pushups, bicycle, deep breathing and arm circles. And when was the last time anybody told you to touch your toes ten times to get physically fit? Or to run in place, for heaven's sake (the culminating exercise)? It's a time capsule of WWII boot camp (Robert Preston was in the army for years; you can hear it in his voice).

Yes, it's dated, but it's simple and cheap. No equipment required and only a few square feet of space and costs nothing but willpower and discipline. There's been a call for the present government to commission and distribute a motivational exercise recording on the "Chicken Fat" model. Of course it could not be uncool, so it will never be made, because kids nowadays won't do anything uncool and that changes hourly, and no matter what, there'd be parents filing lawsuits about it. Back then we did what we were told or got sent to the principal who lectured us about the Soviet threat.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Meet Farmer Bob

He'd just got there and parked, because his truck bed was full of dozens of eggs, in miscellaneous cartons. (Who decided eggs should be sold by the dozen? It's the perfect number: a brilliant, immortal idea.)
I screeched the car to a halt. The brown-egg man on the side of the highway again!

This time approaching him I did better. He said, "Hello, young lady." (Always the salesman.) I smiled and said hello, and we exchanged how'er you, good morning, i'n'it a pretty spring day, and shook hands. He held my hand in his own cold hard hand and looked me square in the face. He said, "I've seen you before." I said yes. (My rare and elegant Turkish nose is unforgettable.) He got around to asking me how many dozen eggs I wanted.

"Just one," I said.
"Just one?" (Always the salesman. He isn't standing on the road shoulder for his health.)
"I only need one. There's only me," I said.
"Only you? You mean a lovely young lady like yourself i'nt married?" (Always the salesman.) "Why is that?"
Keeping things simple, I said, "He died."
"Sorry to hear that. There's only one place to take those kind of troubles," he said, "and that's to the Lord." He said more and I just said, "You gotta have faith." It's a sentiment that nobody in Missouri objects to. (I've discovered only one other such statement: "Freedom isn't free." When I wear my "Freedom Isn't Free" t-shirt, people from all walks of life, in the bank, the drugstore, the street, read it and say, "Damn right," or "That's a fact.")

I thought about the friend I was on my way to visit and said, "Better make it two dozen; I know someone who'd like some fresh brown eggs."

He said they'd been laid just yesterday and crowed, "Any fresher and you'd have to be standing in the henhouse."

It took a long time for him to count out change in dollars and fives worn thin as toilet paper. "Can't see without my glasses," he explained. I asked his name. It's Bob something (a truck was roaring by and I couldn't hear the last name.) I asked if I could take his picture because I knew you'd like to see it. He's holding a carton of eggs he's bagged for me. He promised in the summer he'd bring his truck back full of homegrown tomatoes, pickles and more eggs.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

On Trader Joe's and Karl

You know how you eat so much fiber that your gut makes sounds like dial-up? Ever get tired of always consciously feeding yourself fresh raw alkaline organic locally-grown vitamin-packed calcium- and iron-rich fair-trade fibrous foods, and recycling the packaging? I've got a friend whose stomach growls constantly. His kids named this phenomenon "Karl" and when "Karrrrlllll" grumbles it's all I can do to stay in the room because it's impolite to laugh. I shop Trader Joe's grocery because it is cheap and most of it organic. There's some controversy about unions or imports or whatnot, but with my responsibilities I can't fix everyone else's problems until I catch up a bit on eating fresh raw alkaline organic locally-grown vitamin-packed and fibrous foods, and recycling the packaging (the recycling center is seven miles away). Organic carrots, lettuce, potatoes, pepitas, apples and broccoli slaw mix are in this healthy haul, plus cave-ripened bleu cheese. Now that I'm politically and nutritionally correct, let me go have a marshmallow.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Household Improvement Project, Part 2

To dress for refinishing I picked out of my rag bag an oversized fleece jacket in red and black buffalo plaid, and worn brown stretch-corduroy pants with burn holes from building fires. Good time of year to work: not too cold. Garage has no electricity; all must be done by daylight. Here you see my work setup, which I love, and  the carefully stripped and sanded drawer, and also the first coat of varnish (color: "natural") on the cabinet door. Yes, I wear a respirator when I scrape and sand and varnish, and read the instructions too. And while I breathe, I meditate. Seven coats of stripper (over nine days) taught me patience. I wasn't however willing to strip down into the (cheap, thin but genuine) wood to gouge the very last of the paint traces out of there. So it's gonna show the grain. It's gonna show a history. I could buy and use a darker varnish. Don't want to spend any more money. And better honest imperfection than a lying, cheating coverup for a bad case of pride. I'm pleased to be doing this, enjoying spring inspiration, no matter how it turns out. "Give me a fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections," said Vilfredo Pareto.

Went to Dickey Bub's hardware and found there was one more hurdle: replacing the hinges. Mr. D. there hunted high and low but the fact is the hinges I brought him were so elderly that today's hinges -- all of them -- are drilled completely differently. To make any new hinges fit I will have to drill new holes into the cabinet frame. I'll show you how that turns out when I do it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Household Improvement Project, Part 1

The remodeled bathroom looks so great I began refinishing the wooden kitchen cabinets. They are thickly painted white, then were varnished, then repainted white God only knows when, and were worn and graying around the edges. But because I'd done refinishing only once before I decided to take on, at first, only one cabinet door and one drawer. Removing the door's hinges I was stunned at their condition. Here they are. Here's the outer side of the "before" door. I dreamt of returning it to its natural wood. Only the facing of the drawer is real wood; the rest is particle board and veneer.

Cheerfully I set up in my garage, using a table I set out in the sun and enjoying the view and the dissipation of fumes. Equipment? Chem gloves, mask, scrapers, brushes, sandpaper, sponges, varnish, and the safest eco-type paint-stripper I could find. It's from 3M. Don't buy it. It is odorless but pricey and produces a headache anyway, and it required seven applications, the whole gallon bottle, each application taking a day to strip two little pieces of wood just a little deeper: Seven applications.  Purchase the stinky, caustic stuff and get it over with.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bring It On!

This sign surprised me. When people plan to hike a trail in the woods in rugged rural Missouri nowadays, do they really need to be warned in writing that they might experience, like, "natural surfaces"? It must be a liability issue. But then it should warn of bugs, poison ivy and mushrooms too. How about rattlers and snapper turtles? How about squirrels that might pelt you with acorns? Why not just stay in your car and watch a DVD?

...What's That Smell?

I had just served fresh pasta and hearty Italian tomato sauce to an appreciative guest, and stepped out on the screened porch where in February the opened bottle of wine keeps cold between pours, and --God Almighty-- a skunk had gotten into an altercation nearby, and the fumes made my my sinuses throb. My city guest called to me, "Zare a skunk out there?" The stink invaded my dining room although I slammed the door shut fast. Angel cake ala skunk suddenly became dreadfully unappealing.

I lit a scented candle and said, let's go into the living room and watch Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. The skunky atmosphere crept in and we kept our breathing shallow. See, my city friends love to come out and visit, but I need a disclaimer that I'm not responsible if a skunk has a bad date with a coyote just outside, or a blacksnake is hunting mice in the bathroom. What is the etiquette if a skunk (the animal, not the human kind) ruins your evening? Do you politely pretend it doesn't reek to high heaven although your eyes feel bathed in onion juice? Do you ask pardon? Do you feel freer to expel your own gas? How about, "I know you want to get the hell out of here ASAP, so at your leisure please feel free to take the opportunity"?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

They Don't Name 'Em Like That Anymore

My uncles and aunts were:
Harry & Dorothy (ran a rural tavern)
Eddie & Helen (he sold insurance)
John & Elsie (never figured out what he did)
Leon & Millie (farmers)
Emily & Frank (teacher & woodworker)
I had some elderly neighbors:
Fran & Ollie (No lie!! Honestly!) (grocery store checker & manager)
Eleanor & Clare (Clare was the man.) (fun-loving, flapper-era full-time drunks)
Gerald & Rose (retired)
George & Rose (he was a printer)
Bert & Betty (he worked in a foundry)
Howard & Peggy
Elmer & Marie
It was a whole other world. Did you know some similar pairs?