Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Humble Needful Thing

This two-wheeled folding grocery cart is one of the oldest items I own. In the 1970s when I left home and started working, before I owned  a car, carrying home groceries or schlepping laundry to and from the laundromat was troublesome. A backpack was not spacious enough. A duffel bag I could only drag along the sidewalks until it tore. I lived in a mean city far from anyone I knew, and it wasn't very smart for a tiny woman to carry in her arms through the night streets 30 pounds of stuff stacked so she couldn't see ahead of her. One terrible evening -- youth is full of such moments -- I was carrying three paper grocery bags and on the two-mile walk home a sudden thunderstorm soaked and shredded the bags. Items spilled and rolled all over the sidewalk into the gutters. It was awful; I couldn't afford to lose any of the items. There was no one to call. I have never felt so alone in life as at that moment. I knocked at some doors thinking to ask for some bags, or maybe for someone to call a cab. Don't remember what happened next except....

I told my mom about this and next time she visited she brought this folding grocery cart, which cost $20. It had a bright orange plastic liner. I thought it was for old ladies but it saved me much misery. It has been dragged behind me on city streets, on gravel road shoulders, through snowy shortcuts, and during moves (I lived in 10 different places in 10 years). Somewhere the liner tore and was discarded.

I got my first car when I was 34 and my own washer and dryer, finally, when I was 44. The grocery cart has been neglected in the Divine garage for 11 years, getting a bit rusty and bent, used only to contain broken-down cardboard boxes for recycling. Tonight I took it out, cleaned it, unbent the rods and oiled the wheels for tomorrow's outdoor market. I'm bringing a friend who's just had her hip replaced. Because she can't carry heavy things and I'm no good at it either, I am glad I kept this because now, as an old lady, I can appreciate it fully. Thanks, Mom. And you can still buy one for $20.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Scared to Grill? Who, Me? Nahhh....

Grilling is counterintuitive: You don't put the food on while there's fire? You wait until the flames go out? I finally accepted this as a reality and chose this year to acquire grilling skills. I have had $10 tabletop grills whose bellies burnt through on the first use; no good. Can't lift the propane tanks for gas grills. My best previous experience was with a cast-iron hibachi, so the next step up was the Lodge Cast Iron Portable (sort of; it weighs 35 pounds) Grill. Followed the step-by-step "be a grilly girl" article in the latest issue of Taste of Home Healthy Cooking magazine: Get self-lighting coals. Pile them in a pyramid. Don't skimp. Light. Light. Light, darn it! Why won't they *#***@* light? (Tuck a sheet of newspaper underneath those coals, girlfriend!) Oil the grill so food won't stick. Go away for 45 minutes and return with food packaged in aluminum foil. Grilling seems to require lots of foil.

The magazine's recipe was for grilled corn with olive oil and garlic. In a cookbook I found the recipe for grilled potatoes with onions in a packet (not shown; they were cooking in the coals). Online were instructions to shape the beef patties with a small hole in their centers. This way you can ascertain when they are cooked through. To keep fat from dripping and flaming fat from charring the meat, cook in a disposable aluminum pan until the last few minutes; then move them directly onto the grill to get that smoky taste and grill marks. The corn is that "butter and sugar" bicolor cultivar so popular and good they almost don't sell anything else around here anymore.

While waiting for the food to grill, sit down, enjoy the beautiful Missouri spring day and perhaps a beer. I didn't have one because I now get plastered and loop-legged after a single bottle.

The result was not bad for a novice. Practice makes perfect. I see so many great grilling recipes and don't want to miss out. (P.S. The following week I grilled a flatiron steak, my first grilled steak, and wrote about it.)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Friend With Roots, Friend With Wings

The most gorgeous butterfly in the area, The Great Spangled Fritillary with its orange and black-coffee-colored wings on one side and coffee-and-cream with "eyes" and ruffles on the other, came to visit my young tomato plant yesterday. Butterflies began floating around here in March, about six weeks early, but seem to have flourished.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Three Dead Mice

One morning this week I woke up and just outside the bedroom a small mouse was dragging itself across the carpet. It didn't run from me. It looked sick and just about to drop. I put it out of its misery, bagged it and emptied the bag outside for the ghoul squad.

In the kitchen fixing breakfast, I saw a small dead mouse curled up almost beneath the stove and did a double-take. I had just dumped a mouse outside! It couldn't have fallen from the bag on the way out; I saw it plop from the bag into the grass! Using barbecue tongs, I put this body outside. Went about my business. Later in the living room, I smelled that funny dead-mouse-rotting smell, as if it were right in the room. Looked with a flashlight beneath the couch and such. Nothing. Hoped it would go away on its own, knowing it never does. I went out all evening, and back home went straight to bed.

Today, opening the shade in the living room I looked down among the computer cables and there's a little dead mouse curled up there and that's what stunk.

That first mouse looked poisoned, but I don't use mouse poison any more, precisely because poisoned mice die in inaccessible places like the attic or beneath the water heater, and stink for as long as six weeks. I use traps. So what's going on? Was there a nest? I can't find it. Were they family? They were pretty well grown, completely formed and furred, able to make their way; why aren't they surviving?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Now I Ask You Very Confidentially,

Ain't he nice? Patrick's mowed my lawn now twice. He does it to perfection, doesn't cut any corners on these complicated, sloping grounds, uses a weed trimmer for those hard-to-reach places like beneath the hickory tree's hanging branches and around the satellite post, and today brought me a bag of blackberries picked on his farm. The bluebirds love him. Bluebirds can hunt only in short grass because they eat by pinning their insect or worm prey to the earth. Patrick is my neighbor's son, and he mows her lawn too, although mine's the bigger job, about an acre. He said next time he will bring along his own son.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Missouri Loves Frozen Custard

This was the line at Spooner's frozen-custard stand on a Monday night in May. In Wisconsin we ate ice cream, but Missourians go for frozen custard. The differences: Ice cream is based on dairy products and has air whipped into it; frozen custard includes egg products as well as dairy, and is not whipped. In Missouri they also make "concretes," which is taking your sundae and all your mix-ins and blending them so you get a cup of smooth frozen stuff and can't tell what's in it unless you taste it. I want to see my custard, my hot-fudge sauce, marshmallow fluff, graham bits, whipped cream, nuts, and cherries, and sculpt 'em and blend 'em like a painter with my plastic spoon. Maybe when it's hotter, I'll have the banana split.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Meet Wendy, the Turtle Saver

This area's wildlife includes box turtles and painted turtles, and in seeking territories they cross the roads without looking. This Jeep wagon's back window had spelled out on it "I Rescue Turtles," and its owner happened by. Wendy loves all animals, but she is the turtle-rescuing squad around here. She will pick up turtles with cracked shells, who have been run over by cars, and take them to the animal hospital where she says the shells can often be fixed and the turtles made well again. That was news to me. She will stop and get a turtle out of the road or turn it around if it's headed for danger. She has 15 acres, room to bring turtles home and feed them melon rinds and corn on the cob until they're ready for the wild again. She said her mother raised turtles on Long Island, but what made her a turtle rescuer here in Missouri was witnessing a driver deliberately swerving his truck to crush a turtle that was in the road shoulder. (I myself have heard a crass person say about turtles, "I like to hear 'em pop.") She furiously followed the driver, pulled alongside and gave him the finger. "I don't do things like that," she said, "but I was so mad."

God bless Wendy the turtle savior! She is the answer to all turtle prayers.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

People Under 30 Don't Know What This Is

Back before Wal-Mart, kids, if you wanted cheaps**t clothes you had to make them yourself. This is a sewing box. (A what box?) In this plastic box I bought at a Tupperware party in college I keep my sewing tools and notions: spools, bobbins, presser feet, pinking shears, seam rippers, tailor's chalk,stray buttons (in the metal Curad bandage can -- band-aids used to come in metal cans, y'all) and even a couple of patterns for simple skirts and pants.

Home Ec class taught me so well how to sew that today it's all muscle memory. On my mom's machine I sewed short-shorts, miniskirts, hip-huggers, halter tops and prom dresses--all the stylish things she wouldn't buy me. Because cheaps**t imported clothing was invented soon after I got my own machine [pictured below] it has been used mostly to make curtains and pillowcases and for mending.

This solid-state cast-iron finely-engineered Kenmore with a 25-year guarantee which ran out in 2002, with me oiling it now and then, is good as new. At college graduation--I didn't have a job lined up yet; them was hard times--I thanked my parents for this college-graduation gift, saying, "I might go hungry. But I'll never go naked." Along with this ultramodern zig-zag-capable machine that made its own buttonholes -- a marvel that women gathered round to see, they really did! -- came lessons in how to use it, at the Sears store in midtown Milwaukee on 35th Street. I walked there from 13th Street. Thought nothing of it. Not only did we SEW back then. We walked. An' it was uphill both ways.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Venus Retrograde

A little bit of grief this spring over a relationship that was long-term and long-distance. After two years and ten months of being together, I totally faithful and trusting the man completely up until the last few months when I got mildly suspicious, he admitted he was seeing a married woman, and another woman, and maybe yet even another one (he knows how to seduce the lonely ones), and offered me a deal: We could keep seeing each other just as we had been, maybe a little less often, like every five to seven weeks. Translation: I could stay on his string. "I've never thought that love was finite," he said, not realizing that what he'd just offered me was very finite indeed.

The torch in my heart flamed out instantly. I was calm and composed. I said, "I'm so disappointed in you." I asked him what if I'd been messing with other men. He declared he'd be happy for me.

No normal man thinks that way. And anyone involved in adultery isn't very smart. If that was his chosen relationship I had no choice but to leave him.

He'd given me his mother's brooch, an amethyst surrounded by beads of millefiori glass. It was an unusual costume piece and went with everything. Unfortunately I never photographed it. I wore it near my heart as an emblem of love. I was wearing it and removed it and handed it to him, saying, "Give this to someone you love."

"I did!" he said. But his definition of love wasn't mine. I like honesty.

I wished I did not have to, but I packed up and walked out into the night and got into my car for the two-and-a-half-hour drive home. He was upset. He wanted me to stay. We could have dinner or something. I said, "Only a foolish woman would stay."And I stand by that. I drew the line. It feels much better to be the dumper than the dumpee.

In the future I will trust less, and will love less deeply. And that's what I've got to say about the planet Venus going retrograde on Tuesday.

Friday, May 11, 2012

What It Looks Like Underneath

This gas station in town maybe failed because of competition around the corner plus the new QuikTrip near the freeway, but most likely because its quickshop allowed smoking inside, and smokers exiled from their stores and shops for smoke breaks hung out in there. Going into the quickshop for just one minute was enough to stink up my clothes so that they stunk up my car. This is called third-hand smoke. After a few of those I patronized the other gas station and so did everyone else, I guess.

Anyway, this corner gas station closed about three years ago. By law, before a certain date, they must remove the underground tanks that hold the gasoline we buy there so they don't deteriorate and leak into the environment. A Caterpillar unearthed these two elephantine tanks. They each hold about 10,000 to 15,000 gallons and are the first I've ever seen. It was prehistoric somehow, like walking through corpses of dinosaurs or visiting Macchu Picchu. Hope the tanks got recycled.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"Will You Please Help Me?"

"If it's smart enough to find its way in, it's smart enough to find its way out," Demetrius used to yawn, whenever skinks, lizards, snakes and whatnot got into the house. But maybe not. The Broad-Headed Skink that crawled from beneath the dishwasher last month (see April 18th) lived here about 10 days. One afternoon I came home after a day out, and it was in the middle of the kitchen floor clearly waiting for me, and it looked up into my face with an expression that quite plainly said, "I want out. Will you please help me?"

"I will help you," I replied, and opened the porch door and tried luring it out there, but it would not go. (Yes indeed, this skink is missing part of its tail; it was that way when we met. Maybe that's why it was skittish.) Then taking the broom I very gently swept it, an inch at a time, over the threshhold and out onto the porch, and then out the screen door onto the concrete stoop, where for a moment it regarded the wide world it was about to rejoin. This let me take the photo. When the camera got too close, the skink ran away through the grass, to some secret lair where I hope it's much happier. Probably it now makes the rounds on skink talk shows, describing its ordeal among the aliens, and how it survived because God had a special purpose for its life, and so on.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Bethel Methodist Church, Labadie, MO

Built in 1868 in the Greek Revival Style. In 1993 this building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Taken on one of those marvelously unsettled late spring days.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Made in the Shade

After finishing my outdoor work in the cool of the morning, I sat down beneath the twin oaks and had some organic Chock Full o' Nuts coffee and just reveled in the gorgeous month of May, right here at home, and then thought to take a photo and post it for all the folks back in the office in the city who hate working there every single minute of it, just as I did. Except I earned my freedom and now have it made in the mid-morning shade. How did I do that? Just by being my gifted self and writing five books. Try it!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Perception of Doors

Before hardware removal

3 brands of stripper, all caustic as heck
Paint layers were visible
Strip-Eeze at work
On March 17 the handyman took my bathroom door off its hinges, as I had asked, and I hung a curtain made of a basted yellow bedsheet to replace it, and outside in the garage I removed the door's hardware and began stripping its many thick layers of paint, planning to refinish. Four chemical strips on one side and nine (!) on the other, plus scraping and sanding -- but even so, layers of paint, probably oil-based, perhaps containing lead, remained: peach, pink, blue, green, white. Although the door is solid core, the wood is soft pine, not hard like oak, and my putty knife gouged it in places. Manfully I scraped and sanded, all masked with gloves and respirator and eye protection, until soaked with sweat, trying not to breathe chemicals and dust. "Ain't nobody gonna do this for me," I thought. The door is 80 x 30 inches and heavy, so friends helped me flip it over. One day in mid-April I sighed and phoned the handyman saying I gave up, I'd pay for a new bathroom door, as I'd wrecked the original and really needed a bathroom door--until there's a bathroom door, nobody much can visit me. Despairingly I looked up what a door costs. A slab isn't obscenely priced, but it costs to have holes custom cut for the hardware. In any case the handyman never called back.
Painting by lantern light

I figured he thought: Let the dumb bunny stew in her own juice. Too bad I never got the door perfectly clean of paint and varnished as I hoped. People asked why I didn't use an electric sander. Well, the garage has no electricity and is too far from the house for an extension cord. I never like to give up. But--a bright idea!--I could repaint the door myself. Discovered wood filler for the gouges. Sanded and cleaned the whole thing this afternoon and began painting about dusk so it would dry overnight. Worked by lantern light until I was finished with the one side. Tomorrow a guest will help me flip it over. Then I'll finish painting, replace the hardware and phone the handyman. At least the door will look spring-clean now instead of chipped, gray and pawed over. Moral of the story: Sometimes giving up clears room in your mind to come up with something simpler and better. (Just now a tick was crawling on my neck! Took it to the bathroom and exploded it with a match.)