Monday, May 26, 2008

Rain . . . and Fantasizing

Well, I've been asking for a good soaking rain, and today, my wish has been granted. Unfortunately, the temperature had hit only 44 degrees when I spoke with an acquaintance who had been a bit farther inland (and therefore at an even cooler temp) and she had seen snowflakes falling. Ah, yes, Springtime in the Northland.

As I've been working at getting the garden planted, I've noticed that despite our frequent showers these past few weeks, and hardly any hot or even warm weather, the ground is dry. Our raised beds do tend to dry out faster than the field garden but everywhere I poke a trowel right now seems to be too dry. Roy's been planting some seedling trees in our woods to fill in spaces where we've had to take out dead and dying birch trees, and he reports that the ground is dry even in the woods.

Unless we've had a heavy snow winter or plenty of moisture in the spring, this season makes locals uneasy because of forest fire danger. A week or so ago, a thunder and lightning storm rolled through the area and a tall, standing dead birch tree near our daughter and son-in-law's house was struck by lightning and set afire. Fortunately, so very, very fortunately, FSIL (favorite son-in-law as he likes to be called) was driving home and couldn't help but see the flaming tree just off the road. He hurried to the house and he and DD (dear daughter) called 911 to report the fire, threw what fire fighting tools they had into their vehicle and went to try to control the fire as best they could until authorities arrived. The flaming tree ended up falling mere feet from a dry brush pile that had been left by a logging operation and if they hadn't been on the scene as soon as they were, who knows what would have happened.

Back to our current rainy day, I'm trying to use my time wisely inside today doing laundry and ironing and making soups for the freezer so we have something nutritional to eat on all the days this summer when I'm outside and the cook doesn't show up. (A pox on that cook.) Ground Beef-Barley is simmering on the stove now; Wild Rice with Chicken will follow. Except, with the price of wild rice at $10-something a pound right now at our local whole foods co-op, it will be Tame Rice with Chicken. And actually, I think I'll use previously cooked and boned duck meat from the freezer in place of the chicken. Hmmm, Tame Rice with Duck soup . . . just doesn't have the same ring to it.

I've often said I would be one happy camper if in the summer time, I had a live-in cook and house cleaner. Then I could play, play, play out in the garden all day soaking up healthy tanning rays from the sun and occasionally come in to my immaculately clean and organized house for a refreshing drink (homemade lemonade or sangria?) or a wonderfully nutritious meal prepared with fresh garden produce and perhaps locally caught fresh fish, maybe some home baked garlic bread, and, oh, yeah, homemade ice cream with our own strawberries for desert. Then I could leave the clean-up to said live-in cook while I took a shower followed by an after-dinner glass of wine on the deck with my husband before falling into a freshly made bed with sun-dried sheets that had been spritzed with lavender water . . . by the live-in laundress, of course. Wow. Who ever said I didn't have an imagination?

Sorry still no pictures of garden progress or simmering pots of soup or imaginary live-in servants to accompany this entry. I mentioned previously that it seemed we had a defective battery for our Casio digital camera. This was confirmed by my husband, who believes in going straight to the source, when he called Casio and related the problems we were experiencing. Ah, yes, they said, they have been having difficulties with the batteries in cameras recently sold. Glad to say they have a great public relations/customer service department and sent us a new battery jiffy-quick via priority mail. And this one works! However, our digital camera, along with functioning battery, was loaned out and left for a week long trip to Colorado. It will be home again later this week and then MAYBE I will be including some long promised current pictures to enhance my blog entries.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Memories Prompted by the Upcoming Memorial Day Weekend

When my dad was drafted into World War II in 1942, my mom went back home to live with her parents and her three younger sisters. Her three older siblings were married and had homes of their own. Then, when Dad finished his basic training and was scheduled to be shipped overseas, Mom met him in Tennessee to say good-bye. That's were I began.

Being almost three years old before Dad was discharged, my first years were spent living at Grandma and Grandpa's with my mom, three teen-aged aunts and, when I was one year old, my pregnant Aunt Sally when her husband, Uncle Win, was sent overseas. Mom worked an outside job as did most temporary "war widows" at that time, so Grandma and Grandpa were my primary daytime caregivers joined by the plethora of aunts and Mom at night and weekends.

Grandma and Grandpa's was a medium-sized house full of seven big people, two small children and constant bustle and activity. There was a livingroom, diningroom, small den, kitchen with pantry, one bathroom and one bedroom downstairs. The upstairs had two small bedrooms at one end overlooking the backyard. The rest of the second floor was an open, unpartitioned area referred to as Grand Central Station because you had to walk through it to get to the back bedrooms, and it was shared bedroom space for the three younger aunts who complained there was absolutely no privacy.

Aunt Jeanette was just out of high school working her first job, and aunts Shirley and Joyce were still in school. Mom and I had one upstairs bedroom; Aunt Sally and my baby cousin had the other. Grandma and Grandpa had the downstairs bedroom. The basement contained the old wood burning furnace, an area for the wringer washer (clothes were always hung outside to dry, year round), a root cellar and a small room Grandma called her fruit cellar where she stored her jars of home canned foods. There wasn't a hot water heater in the house when we lived there. All water for doing dishes, laundry, or filling the tub in the bathroom had to be heated on the gas range in the kitchen.

A wonderful front porch ran across the width of the house. It was screened in the summer, had an old-fashioned porch swing that hung from chains at one end and several mismatched wooden rocking chairs. There was no air conditioning in that day and age and often on hot, humid Illinois summer nights, my mom and aunts would drag mattresses out onto the porch floor and we would sleep there.

Grandpa had a huge vegetable garden across the whole width of the backyard and the south side of the house was landscaped with flowers, most of which he had propagated himself. There were two huge catalpa trees in the front yard that kept the front porch shaded and cool in summer.
I have so many fond memories of that house, many of them gained when I was older, certainly, but I do have distinct memories of a few things that happened when I was very young and lived there. Here are two incidents that I remember.

One night my two youngest aunts were babysitting me when everyone else had gone out. It was, apparently, a night they had decided to wash their hair. (Remember this was a time when shampooing your hair wasn't usually done more than once a week and there was frequently a night set aside for the chore.)

Unbeknownst to me, they had somehow broken the glass bottle of shampoo but had salvaged some of it which was sitting on the kitchen table in a clear water glass. Now, Grandpa was a beer drinker and would frequently "sneak" me small sips . . . and I liked it a lot! Do you know what that half glass of shampoo on the table looked like to me?

No one was in the kitchen when I spied it and decided to take advantage of a given opportunity. I had chugged a mighty swallow from the glass when I heard one of my aunts behind me scream, "NOOOOOO!!" The next thing I knew, Aunt Shirley and Aunt Joyce were both holding me over the small sink in the bathroom and I was vomiting volumes of suds. And suds. And more suds. I was just a little sick, but they were TERRIFIED.

A huge hunger is what I recall feeling next. I remember asking for a slice of bread with butter and Grandma's homemade grape jelly. I can almost still hear the debate between my two pale-faced and shaken aunts as they stood over me at the kitchen table. "Do you think we should let her eat something? Maybe it'll make her sick again." "But if she keeps it down, that'll mean she's okay and not gonna die." I don't remember them telling my mom about the incident, but I know they confessed sometime later. I still like beer but for some reason a nice tall glass with a foamy head on it often makes me think of shampoo.

* * * * * * * *

This next memory is the first that came to mind when I started thinking about Memorial Day. Parts of it I think I remember, but most of it is no doubt from hearing the story told at family gatherings over the years.

There came a day Mom received a letter from Dad somewhere in Europe with the best of news. His unit had gotten word that it was being discharged within the month and he would be coming home! They had been given no specific date but thought they would be transported to England and, from there, put on a ship to cross the Atlantic. This could all happen with only a moment's notice, and he was very excited. He said he would call as soon as they docked in New York. Then over a month went by with no communication from my dad.

One afternoon the front doorbell at Grandma and Grandpa's rang, and Aunt Shirley went to answer it. She opened the door to see a Western Union Telegram delivery boy standing on the porch. During those war years, hardly anyone in middle class America received a telegram . . . except for one reason: notification that a soldier had been killed in action.

Thinking my dad had been killed before being discharged, she immediately became hysterical, slammed the door in the messenger's face, and ran into the tiny bathroom where she locked the door sobbing uncontrollably. This brought everyone else in the house running. Someone finally noticed the delivery boy still on the porch and accepted the telegram which was from my father.

He had landed in New York but the lines were so long at the few pay phones available that he knew he wouldn't have time to make a call before having to board the train that would bring him cross country and home. So he had sent the telegram saying he was due home in two days . . . but it took a half hour to convince Aunt Shirley to calm down, unlock the bathroom door and come out!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Strawberry Blues

I used to be able to grow strawberries. I have the pictures to prove it. Pictures of big, HUGE, lovely, red, ripe, plump, juicy strawberries. It just hasn't happened in the last couple of years.

Two years ago, I had some kind of mold infestation in the patch and lost more than half the berries. Then again last year, sad to say, the yield was down-right wimpy. Even though we covered the whole bed as usual with a heavy layer of mulch over the winter of '06-'07, we lost many plants to winter-kill. So in the spring, I ordered new plants to fill the empty spots, plus put in another double row of new plants. That gave us a total of about 110 plants. 'Course, the first year, you have to pop the blossoms off new plants so the strength and growth goes to the plant which will give you a much better berry crop in succeeding years. But even the older, established plants didn't bear as they should have. What gives? Strawberries are Roy's favorite fruit so he was not happy. We ate several pickings of fresh berries, but I didn't have enough of a harvest to make even one jar of jam.

When we uncovered the bed this spring, we were glad to see that it looked like every plant made it over the winter. But, oh, what a matted mess to deal with. I'd obviously not given the patch the attention it needed late last summer and fall as the runners from the mother plants were allowed to run rampant (along with the proliferation of too many weeds --- dandelions with huge, healthy, humongous roots growing smack in the middle of the berry plants, of course) and I was faced with an enormous clean-up job.

I started in on the worst looking of the four double rows and was soon mumbling about getting out the tiller and turning under the whole patch. This so frightened my strawberry-loving husband that he offered to work with me until the whole bed was done. (Bless his kind, kind heart.) It's now two days later, and both of us have sore backs, knees, wrists, fingers, shoulders, and maybe a few other body parts, but the strawberry patch is pristine! All I have left to do is mulch with sawdust around the individual plants and lay a straw mulch between the rows. We've been getting enough rain this spring so if the warm weather will come soon, maybe we'll be back in strawberry jam this year.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why Am I Tired?

This morning a little before 8 o'clock, our dear neighbor stopped over to do some catching up and have a cup of coffee. I said hello and then came back here to my desk in the bedroom to pay a bill or two, do some ordering on-line, and make a couple of phone calls. It was hard to concentrate on my tasks while keeping half an ear on the conversation in the kitchen where it sounded like the guys were having way too much fun without me.

Shortly after 9, D said he had to leave and get into town to make sure things were running smoothly there. (Ya gotta keep an eye on things, ya know.) I got ready to leave for a 9:30 appointment in town and Roy headed out to have a piece of small machinery repaired in a friend's home shop.

We both arrived back home about 11:30, had a quick lunch and went outside to do some garden/yard work. And what a joy to be outside today! It was the first day we've seen more than a fleeting glimpse of sunshine in a coon's age. Had about five full hours of it. Temp was in the high 60's with a soft breeze, and no bugs yet. Does it get any better?

When we staggered in at 6 tonight for dinner of pizza (not as bad as it sounds as it was at least homemade, albeit out of the freezer --- and there wasn't enough of it), we had had a pretty full afternoon. Roy had emptied two 4 x 8' wooden compost heaps and transferred the material to a new free-standing compost area which he fenced in with electric fence to keep the dog out, moved a 4 x 4' wooden compost crib from the poultry yard to the bottom of the garden area, replaced the rotting boards of two 4 x 8' garden beds, and filled in a low spot in the yard with three wheelbarrows of dirt. Meanwhile, I weeded two flower beds, planted a 4 x 8' garden bed of radishes, and 64' of shell peas. Then together we dug out and got rid of 5 shrubs that had never been happy in the spot where we planted them nine years ago (there comes a time when ya just gotta cut your loses and yank 'em out), transplanted one bleeding heart, a leopard's bane which we divided into four plants, and 3 delphiniums.

Not a bad afternoon's work. And I honestly do love the tired feeling you get from having done physical work out in the fresh air. Now if I can just move my body enough to leave this chair, get into the shower and a clean pair of jammies . . . manomanomano, is bed gonna feel good tonight.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My First Entry

The very first entry on a blog should be momentous. It should be accompanied by interesting pictures. Neither is going to happen here.

I've always been a better writer than talker. Therefore, a need to express myself has lead to thoughts of joining the ranks of the "with it" group and starting to blog myself. First hurdle: No idea in the world how to set up a blog. No problem, says techno-weinie daughter. My blog was set up before I could say, but may be I'm not really ready . . .

Next, a blog is
soooomuch more interesting when sprinkled with pictures. I don't know how to use a digital camera let alone transfer pictures from said digital camera to blog page. Have I mentioned that I'm severely technologically challenged? (Now THERE'S an understatement.) No problem, says daughter, it's simple. I can show you in a minute. Her dad goes to find new digital camera we've had for months but have never taken out of package. Long story short, the battery included proves to be defective. So if you care to, hang around for a while, and the interesting pictures WILL appear. I just can't promise an accurate or dependable ETA date.

This time of year is my busiest. I'm a gardener of the first order. I have to garden. Yes, it's hard work sometimes and for many months the cracks, crevices and nails of my two green thumbs are rather grimy looking, but it's an activity I love. Don't know where this came from; neither my mother or father ever planted a seed. (Oh, wait, I do remember my dad setting out a few tomato plants in the backyard of the house where he and Mom last lived.) But basically, I must be a throw-back to my dear grandpa who was an organic gardener before anyone knew what that was. Besides providing food for his family of seven kids, growing a garden was just something that was common sense to him . . . sort of like always refusing to convert to oil or gas for heating his house. The old clunker of a wood-burning furnace stayed in the basement because he could always burn the furniture if he had to to keep his family warm. (The first time my mom saw our 80-acre piece of land that we bought here with the intention of becoming self-sufficient homesteaders, she said that Grandpa - by then deceased - would have worked himself to death on a piece of land like ours, and loved doing it!)

But I digress. For me, the only really hard physical and time-consuming part of gardening is getting it all planted. We have twenty-six 4 x 8' raised garden beds, a field garden that is about 35 x 45' and a pumpkin patch measuring 14 x 23'. Up here close to the Canadian border, our growing season is short, to say the least. So months ago, I started seedlings inside under growing lights. Then they get repotted a couple of times, then they go outside under cold frames or individual cones of protection before the weather is warm enough and we no longer have to worry about an overnight frost. Setting out the plants is a lot of fun because you can see what you've accomplished at the end of the day. But planting seeds --- ugh. Not my thing. I mean, you take these infinitesimally small seeds and bury them under a bunch of dirt. (Why do you bury something? To get rid of it!) Spend a day preparing and planting out five or six garden beds and what do you have to show for it? Nuthin', that's what. I'm always sure I've killed the poor little seeds by either putting them in too deeply . . . or too shallowly. I know, you'd think after successfully gardening for close to forty-five years I'd be a smidge more confident. But I worry every year until I see the first little spring-green shoots bravely poking up through the soil.

So who's doing my jobs inside the house this crazy time of year when I'm outdoors all day? Nuhbuddy. I am so, so fortunate to have a husband who actually likes to eat Wild Rice Soup with Chicken three times a day. Three days in a row. Or who doesn't care if the dust bunnies are so large they scare the dog. It's me who goes a little crazy because I can't do it all. I get cranky if we are both down to the underwear that lives at the very bottom of the drawer because the elastic is shot or, gosh, when did these get so small? I need a neat, orderly house with no dishes in the sink to feel organized and ready for the day. Should I take the time to go to my quilt guild meeting tonight, or should I sit at my desk and pay those bills that came in last week?

What am I thinking? Starting blog writing this time of year??! I have to stop now. I soaked my Sweet Pea flower seeds Friday so I could plant them yesterday, but ended up with more than I could fit around the trellis. So I have to go out now and put up an extra trellis for the leftover seeds. Shoot, I'll probably just kill them by burying them too deeply anyway.