Monday, July 30, 2012

Bird Dishes

Besides not knowing the words, hummingbirds can't do dishes either, so once a week I'm scullery maid to a pile of nectar feeders gluey with drowned ants, moldy sugar, and germs that God made invisible because He knew we'd freak if we could see them. Bird systems are tiny, and feeding responsibly means washing their dishes, especially in very hot weather. Black mold grows most cleverly in the crevices beneath the feeder "blossoms." Do scrub there, topside and underside; it's the nectar-feeder equivalent of washing behind your ears.

Washing aerial tableware.
Glass feeders last longer than plastic and get visibly clean. Use regular dish detergent and a dish brush. Remove traces of mold inside the bottles with an old, clean toothbrush. For stubborn goo I dunk glass pieces in an extremely mild bleach solution, but one must then rinse rinse very very well and allow the feeder to air-dry completely so the fumes dissipate.
  • After handling bird things, anytime, wash your own hands really well.
Homemade nectar: Add one part sugar to four parts boiling water and stir until dissolved. Boil three more minutes. Allow it to cool. Do not add color; they don't need it. Never use any sweetener except white sugar. (Honey is lethal.) Proportion three parts water to one part white sugar if you want more hummers or you want your hummers livin' large.

Friday, July 27, 2012

LaBarque Creek News: Public Greenspace Forever!

Great news that can't wait: LaBarque Creek, the most pristine stream nearest to St. Louis, is now a greenway, its two anchor conservation properties -- the Hilda Young Conservation Area and the new Don Robinson State Park property (not yet open for visits) -- linked by a new corridor of creekside land. You must enlarge this map (click on it, once) to see how exciting this is!! Many Missourians, both officials and private citizens, worked hard and long and gave money and land to protect the enchanting LaBarque and its watershed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Men Taught Me

Men from my daddy on down took me fishing, but I was 45 when I got my first fishing rod and a man taught me terminal tackle, and a year older when I first baited a hook with a live worm not feeling sorry for it. Thrusting the hook through minnows' eyes took another year. I enjoyed fishing on my own, but always feared hooking one because I couldn't face grabbing it and prying the hook out to set it loose; but no problem there, because I didn't land a fish until I was 51, and coached by a man. (The old folks sitting on the park bench behind us cheered as I reeled in the six-inch catfish, so rainbow-beautiful I cried "Let it go!") After that, fishing alone, I caught-and-released and hoped not to catch a keeper because there was no way I could behead it and rip out its guts.

Thrilled to pisces!
Proudly I report that this year I have conquered my girly squeamishness on all counts and am a good angler, man-dependent no more. I can cast. I know which hook and line is best for catching which fish, and can wait until it tugs on the line not once but twice, and catch more than one fish per day. Live fish get unhooked and thrown in the cooler without a single tear running down my face. Yes, I did have a friend with me to (the final frontier) clean and fillet my first mess o' panfish, the bluegills and one small ??? in the photo. But now I think I could cut off their heads by myself. If I had to. If I were hungry.

Thanks, Daddy, Demetrius, Qiu, David, Ken and Jim for helping me unlearn my crippling girlyness and start up a new skill set. (I have no brothers; that might have changed things.) I love fishing. But I don't think I could ever go hunting.

Monday, July 23, 2012

On Having Things Nice

Live alone and you've got to have some items or rituals that quietly and secretly give you reliable pleasure. I like tea first thing in the morning, and I like coffee cups/teacups of thick old restaurant china to be the first things I handle and see. They are comforting and fortifying. (To me, "mugs" even sound barbaric.) While living in Syracuse, NY, I visited the factory store of Syracuse China Company and bought for .50 each eight random restaurant coffee cups from a "seconds" bin, and 20 years later, while the factory is no more, I still cherish the surviving five and the three replacements from eBay, such as the one above, known to be a pattern from 1967. It's in a random saucer because while a restaurant coffee cup is comfort, a cup with a saucer is life.

It's not about "having nice things." Things don't have to be fragile or expensive to be nice. Don't deny yourself just because you aren't wealthy or because no one sees or cares but you. If you've always wanted a jackknife with a fishing scene carved on its handle, or a thermos with the Scotch-plaid pattern on it, a rosemary bush, a gingham tablecloth, if it will gladden you every time you see it, get it. Love it. Any love is good love.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Waves of Green

Found a lost disk of photos showing Demetrius in his 25x25 foot vegetable garden, summer of 2004. He built bean trellises eight feet tall (he was 6'3"), and those are cantaloupe vines around his feet, and he planted marigolds around the cold frames he built because they are a natural insecticide and cheerful to see. His best tip: Plant clover in between the vegetable rows, and the bunnies will eat the clover, not your vegetables. Landlord told us to stop gardening in 2006. Demetrius grew beans, kale, turnips, tomatoes, red potatoes, squashes (including pattypans because I thought they were cute), eggplant (because I liked it), cantaloupes, bok choy, chard, okra, cabbage, exotic lettuces, gourds, five kinds of basil, carrots (voles ate them from beneath before we got any), you name it, and he ate it all raw, even the potatoes. A great vegetable gardener he was: old enough to remember his mother's victory garden, which she kept up until the record-setting-heat summer of 1956; always reading about organic gardening (the magazine Organic Gardening was not organic enough for him), really happy only when he gardened.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Giving Up My Land Line

Tripping and cursing, I'd hurry to the bleating phone, grab it and gasp "Hello" to some solicitor who'd reply, "Ms. Bunbun, how are you today?" Or I'd hear a tinny recording telling me to crab to my state senator about some issue. Family and friends no longer called that number, because I'd gradually, with concern for my privacy, disclosed to ever-widening circles my cellphone number. The chances that an old flame or potential employer might phone my old number diminished with time (although hope never dies). And the complicated bills with four kinds of taxes tacked onto them, looking like a long-division problem or a diagram of a high dive, annoyed me, so finally I gathered the nerve to phone AT&T and say, "Please cancel my land line."

I had to have someone in the room with me to actually do it. I was scared. I've had land lines all my life. If I dialed 911 responders would know my address. Also, I liked my phone number. They're assigned randomly, but some of my phone numbers have been more graceful or memorable than others, or were more fun to say, or suited me spiritually. This one had come with the dwelling and seemed like the foundation of the house. I was fond of it. But my cell number is fabulous. It trips off the tongue and walks on air, and if forced to choose, I'd choose the cell number. So goodbye.

Reports about brain cancer and salivary-gland cancers from cellphones -- I believe in them, and had wondered how to handle long conversations on the cell, but there's an app for that:  a speakerphone function. Now I needn't clamp it to my ear. Unlike the landline, the cellular phone sometimes drops the call, but we all understand that it happens and forgive each other in advance for the inconvenience.

For once, the phone-company employee did not try to sell me something. He simply said not to pay the current bill (because they bill in advance for the month to come; why aren't I ever paid in advance for the month to come?) and they'd send a prorated final bill. He said the connection would be terminated in a few hours. I then made one brief call to my parents, and after that the phone was stone dead. It was chilling.

The system had "hung up" on me. 

I moved furniture and unsnapped the wire from the jack. Eleven years had yellowed the wire and dust made it sticky. Bagging the phone was like bagging a dead body. Never again to dangle the receiver in the air to unravel kinks in the coils, watching physics in action in its wobbly spin. Never again to hear its dial tone, that warm wordless whine, a sound of the 20th century, pitched to resemble a human voice.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Piece of Cake

The 3-2-1 Cake recipe makes one serving of cake in one minute. Mom sent me this modern folk recipe and I tried it and sent it on to my friend Marsha. She expressed disbelief, so I made and served her a 3-2-1 cake. That convinced her!

1. Take a box of angel food cake mix and a box of any other cake mix of your choice, pour both into a ziploc bag and shake well. One of the two mixes absolutely must be angel food, because of the egg whites.

(Here's the 3-2-1 part:)

2. Put 3 Tablespoons of this dry mixture in a ramekin or flat-bottomed custard dish.

3. Add 2 Tablespoons of water and mix until smooth.

4. Microwave for 1 minute. Now it's ready to eat! No pans to wash either!

Put the ziploc bag away until the next time you want cake. My  3-2-1 cake (pictured) is a lemon cake mix, mixed with the angelfood. You can see the fluffy texture. I chose lemon because it's versatile. Sliced fresh peaches topped this one because that is just who I am, but one could eat it plain or put ice cream, berries, sauce or whatever. Sometimes I stir lemon zest into it; I bet I could put some poppy seeds in it. Try it and then experiment and fine-tune for your microwave. I found that my 3-2-1 cake is really best nuked for 50 seconds rather than 60.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Variety Pack

I first saw single-serving cereal boxes at age 9 at scout camp, and you could lay the box on its side, clip the cardboard, slit the wax paper, pour milk in, and your box was the bowl. Was that true, or did I dream it? I vowed that when I grew up I'd buy cereal only in those cool little boxes. Yesterday, 45 years later, the Kellogg's Variety Pack at the store caught my eye. Three dollars. Bought it. It is fascinating. Ten cereal boxes are packaged back to back. Facing out on one side are all the good-for-you cereals, including "Crispix," a contemporary cereal as strange to me as contemporary art; the other side marshals the candied cereals we grew up on: Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, Corn Pops, Sugar Coated Sugar Cubes. And also the Raisin Bran, sweeter than one might think. This two-faced packaging sends a cultural message I can't quite decode. Is it giving me a choice between being a kid and a grownup, or a sinner and a saint? Omnivorous vs. orthodox? Duty or decadence? Or--is it all random and meaningless? Good Lord, the Kellogg's Variety Pack is a moral problem and a spiritual exercise! And then--oh wow, man, blow my mind--both sides have Frosted Mini-Wheats!

So which to eat first? I chose Raisin Bran. It filled a teacup, not enough for breakfast, so I also ate the Corn Pops. Eating the Froot Loops I think will require extensive psychological and spiritual preparation.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Usually it's young male turtles who travel away from their birthplaces to seek their own territories, so I'll call this one "he." The road is the two-lane, 40 mph Highway F on a Saturday morning, and I calculated this box turtle just starting his crossing had about a 50 percent chance of being crushed or maimed by monster turtles with wheels. He looked so brave and alone that I was moved to pick him up, take him across the road, and carry him well into the Divine property hoping that in its 100 acres he will find, as I did, the acre of his dreams.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Tomato Growing: Six Tips for Success

1. Gardener or guest, don't ever caress, pluck, fondle, feel up, or otherwise play with a tomato plant's foliage so you can inhale its gorgeous tomato scent. That's how animals locate tomato plants: by scent. Hands off.
2. When staking, wash and dry the stakes first and then use twine, organic preferred. Don't tie it tightly and avoid twist-ties, rope, thread, cloth, clamps or rubber bands which can scar the stem or hold water and cause rot.

3. Spraying or dousing the plant with water encourages fungus and leaf yellowing. Water at the soil level, splashing as little as possible.

Big Boys, July 4th
4. Use freshly-cleaned scissors to clip away "suckers" (upstart leafy growths in the "Vs" of the tomato branches) and THEN use the scissors to clip yellowed leaves from around the bottom of the plant. Clip away only the leaves that are majority-yellow. Do this in the morning so that the scars (and resulting tomato scent) can heal by nightfall, when the raccoons and skunks prowl. Gather the cut foliage and dispose of it far away from the garden.

5. Every other day, water until the bed has standing water.

6. To rid the leaves of "tiny white winged bugs" (thrips), Method 1: Boil a pinch of tobacco in two cups of water  (it stinks) and when cooled, pour this in a circle around the affected plant. Boiling this mixture hard kills any tobacco mosaic virus the tobacco might be harboring. Method 2:  Blast the bugs off the leaves with a brief spray of water. Spray sidewise, not downward toward the soil. Once should do it. This is the only time you break Rule 3.

The tomato is ripe if it's evenly colored and releases easily from the plant. Resist the urge to leave it hanging hoping it'll be growin' a little redder or bigger; that's just asking a critter to come and get it.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Getting Their Kicks

These four ladies said they're traveling old Route 66 end to end, and this great American road trip takes you through Pacific and by the landmark quonset hut that since the Route 66 days has been a cafe. Currently it's called the Down South Cafe, at 409 East Osage--Osage Street is what Pacific calls old 66 as it passes the prison and the silica mine, the shuttered Red Cedars restaurant, and the business district, out to the Diamonds Motel. Down South is just across from the hardware store where I happened to be at lunchtime and dropped in and ordered gumbo and a veggie burger (it's too hot to eat fried meats) and fries (it's never too hot to eat fries, though) and pecan pie with a dot of whipped cream. Also on the menu, red beans and rice and fried crawfish. The veggie burger was a good one and the gumbo 'most as good as mine.

I said, "You ladies look so happy I would like to take your picture," and one lady said, "Course we look happy. Everybody's happy when they're feedin' their faces." When they left I said bon voyage. The cafe's concave walls are decorated with the absolutely required car and gasoline signs and mementoes; painted on one wall, a stylized map of Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles, with a yellow star for "You are Here" at the center of the universe, Pacific, MO. And there is nothing in the universe better than lunch with a cup of coffee, and, in the summer, ice water or sweet tea in red plastic tumblers.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Why Peaches Wear Flannel

To enchant me all you have to do is stake a hand-lettered sign across from the Cynthiana, Indiana, gas station saying "Peaches," with an arrow pointing down the two-lane road. There I found a family peach stand, with neighbors and friends there too because it was the morning of their first day at the stand and there was coffee and everybody had something to say, just like home. Irresistibly the peaches came in cardboard carry baskets with balsa wood handles. I asked a girl child the price. She told me "Seven dollars." I asked if she grew the peaches herself and she said, "Our orchard's over there," and pointed, and sure enough, across the road  were rows of short-ish peach tree loaded with glamorous fat fruits that I shamelessly eat over the kitchen sink while juice runs down my face and arms.

Technically, peachfuzz is armor. The fuzz repels insects who'd otherwise bore into and suck on the fruit. The fuzz also traps moisture from the air. Peaches don't grow well in the rocky soil in our own hilly area, so we usually go eastward to orchards in Illinois; I just happened to be in Indiana. But I like buying direct and driving home with ripe sun-warmed peaches scenting the car. I have also heard that one should really peel peaches because of possible pesticides, so I peel about every other peach although I'm too enchanted by peach-flannel to give it up entirely. How do you like yours? With fuzz or without (meaning nectarines)?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Drought's First Casualty

I heard "CRAACK!" and turned just in time to see this fully-leafed branch from the huge twin oak peel off and land, completely blocking our only access road. Thank God I wasn't under there and my car was garaged. My neighbor and I were now trapped so I phoned the handymen at once. They said, first thing in the morning. With time to inspect it I tried to find out what had gone wrong with a branch that looked healthy.

What looks like interior rot is the tree's heartwood, and in any tree it's dead already, having done its job. As you know, a tree feeds itself through the wood just beneath the bark, and its concentric rings are what hold it up. It's like a hollow metal pole; its strength doesn't depend on its core. I didn't see real rot. And a sick or bug-infested branch wouldn't have such healthy greenery.

It was, however, a horizontal branch on a very old tree, richly weighted with other leafy branches, after two consecutive years of severe drought. In June we didn't get a full inch of rain here (the city got a bit more than we did). Our towns cancelled Independence Day fireworks for the first time ever because of the fire hazard, and I hope the kids shooting off fireworks for fun aren't doing it anywhere near our dry-as-dust woods and fields.

Where the branch peeled away
Next morning the handymen chainsawed the branch and also amputated the branch from the redbud across the lane that broke beneath the weight of the oak branch. The twin oaks must be among the oldest trees on the property; they are 80 feet high at least and a glorious sight as you drive up toward the house. Branches do fall from them sometimes, but usually only dead ones. Hope not to see any more like this.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Welcome to Utopia

Carol invited me to stay with her at the Poet's House, 404 Granary Street, in New Harmony, Indiana, population 800, founded in 1814 by the Harmonists, Germans who came to the then-wilderness on the Wabash River to establish an ideal society. They built cabins the first winter and brick dorms that still stand. These progressives believed in honor, sharing, hard work, friendship, education, and going to heaven -- everything good but sex. Men and women lived in separate dorms. Those already married could live together but chastely. The Harmonists' experiment failed, but they built a fabulous church that their leader saw in a dream, a brewery (try the beer from their recipe, Harmonie Bier), a granary, a workingman's library and a town with prayers and poems posted along the cobbled, tree-lined residential streets and at its famous Inn and gardens and Roofless Church and two labyrinths -- symbol of the city. It's all about beauty and spirit and views of cornfields. Everything there becomes art. Above is the Poet's House living room, showing the simple look that is typical (the flooring is poplar wood; through the doors is an herb garden); a photo taken in a oversized chair sculpture near the Inn. And the more-than-awesome "bier" from the 1816 recipe, available only at one cafe, called Sarah's; I will drive six hours round-trip to get another one. A wonderful and refreshing visit. They need to move this town to Missouri.