The Nose Knows

The Nose Knows

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but what about odors?  Why in the Sam Hill do some dogs think they simply must roll in what we consider the foulest-smelling substance they can find, and then trot, grinning from ear to ear, back into the house, looking for all the world like they’ve just solved the Mysteries of the Universe? I am darned if I can figure this out.

Bindi, the very good dog who showed up here at the farm on the day after Thanksgiving last year, and who has been a true Godsend for 99% of the time since, is one of those types.  She seems to think she’s applying perfume by flopping down onto her side, forcefully pressing one ear and the side of her neck into a particular spot on the ground, and pushing forward with her head and shoulder to smear who-knows-what substance deep into her otherwise pristine fur.  Sometimes she wears Eau de Catpoop.  On occasion it’s Eau de Cowflop.  But a few times it was–horror of horrors–Eau de Dead Raccoon.  Yecchh!

My dear sister-in-law Abby told me yesterday on the phone that her vet told her there’s a technical term for this, and that it’s called “scent ecstasy”.  This intrigued me, so I Googled it.  All I saw were a bunch of links pertaining to drug-sniffing dogs and something called MDMA.  No doubt the Internet Police will be keeping a watchful eye on me now.

Then I did a search for “why dogs roll in stinky stuff”, since sometimes the non-technical terms tell us just as much, and maybe keep us out of trouble.  All sorts of theories abound, with the most likely one being something about dogs–as hunters–wanting to disguise their own smell to make it easier to sneak up on potential prey.  An instinctual behavior, so to speak, that no amount of Purina products can completely overcome.

Thankfully, though, in all the years I’ve lived in the Boonies, only one of my dogs has been victim of the Ultimate Odiferous Offense: that of being sprayed by a skunk. I called the vet’s office, where Heather L. was (as usual) able to provide excellent advice.  She told me to mix a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda, and a bit of dish soap (the kind with degreaser) and apply that (outside, of course) to the area of the dog that had been squirted by the skunk’s oil.  After vigorous massaging of this solution into the dog’s fur, a warm water rinse, a regular shampoo, another thorough rinse, and a long airing out, the dog was actually able to come back inside the house that evening.  Amazing.

Now it’s your turn.  Leave a comment with your dog’s favorite cologne.  And here’s hoping he or she (or you!) never gets skunked!

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Mr. Tur-tell

Mr. Tur-tell

At last Sunday’s annual family reunion, there was–as always–enough food brought in to feed far more than the 76 people in attendance.  If there’s one thing we know how to do well, it’s eat. Another area in which some of us excel is in jokes, both the spoken and the practical. For instance, as we worked our way down the buffet line, I discreetly pointed out to my sister the warm crockpot filled with deep-fried, breaded turtle meat.  Call it a hunch, but I just sorta figured that Sis wouldn’t be hankering for any of that delicacy, yet she might not identify the crock’s contents in all the excitement of the day.  She waited until we’d parked ourselves at the table with her husband and our parents before casually mentioning that No, she really didn’t think she was ready to try eating turtle just yet.

With his fork paused in mid-air, my dear brother-in-law’s face was priceless.  “Turtle?” he rasped, in an almost choking voice; “there is turtle over there?” Then his eyes switched downward to his own plate of now partially-consumed food. “Is there some Here?”  Sweet as ever on the surface, but with just an undertone of orneriness, Sis let the question hang for just a moment, before assuring him that no turtle parts had crept their way onto his plate. His relief was obvious.

Some folks, however, actually look forward to a meal that includes snapping turtle, and apparently it’s been a long tradition in the May Clan.  (See last year’s post “Safety in Numbers”). When you’re struggling through the Depression with eleven kids to feed, you often eat whatever you can catch.  I know my cousin Jeffrey liked turtle, but I’ve never gotten up the nerve to try it, myself. I did stop the truck to snap the photo that I’m using with this post when I spotted one in the road on my way home recently, though, and looked up Snapping Turtles on the Missouri Conservation website. They’re legal to harvest (except for the Alligator Snapping Turtle, which is endangered and protected), as long as you have a fishing license. They consume fish, snails, bugs, birds, small mammals and some water plants, and have been known to turn up on the hooks of trot lines or jug lines instead of the catfish for which those devices are usually intended.

Getting back to the jokes, though, it’s difficult for me to look at a terrapin without thinking of a story my dad told us when we were kids, all gathered around the family supper table.  It involved three unlikely friends:  the proverbial tortoise and the hare (or at least cousins thereof), and a buzzard.  They were poor and barely scraping by, but they all got along just fine.  As time went by, the bunny was separated from his buddies, and was therefore not in on the windfall that resulted from their chance finding of some valuable commodity.  While the buzzard and the turtle moved onto a large estate with expansive gardens and uniformed servants, the rabbit struggled to survive by running a lawn care service. One day he was called upon to bring manure for the gardens at the residence of his old friends.

The rabbit’s knock at the handsome door was answered by a snooty butler. “Yes?” he drawled, looking down his nose at the humble bunny.

“Hey, is Ol’ Turtle around?” the rabbit asked.

“Mr. Tur-TELL is down at the well.” the haughty servant replied.

“Huh.  How ’bout Ol’ Buzzard, then?”

“Mr. Buz-ZARD is out in the yard” spoke the butler.

“I see” said the bunny, who by now had suffered just about all the pretention he could tolerate.  “Then would you be so kind as to inform Mr. Tur-TELL down at the well, and Mr. Buz-ZARD out in the yard, that Mr. Rab-BIT is here . . . (and here Daddy made a quick glance toward Mother, who had almost imperceptibly stiffened in anticipation) . . . with the Fertilizer!”

Thanks, Daddy, for always keeping us laughing.  You still know how to tell ’em.  Happy Father’s Day!

A Garden Experiment

A Garden Experiment

Are you a hunter or a gatherer, or both? How about a gardener or a farmer, either by nature or nurture, or maybe a combination thereof?  Whatever the reason(s), I think at least a smidgen of all of those names would apply to me, in addition to several others, some of which are even printable.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of planting and tending gardens with my mother and other relatives.  Uncle D. wanted his potatoes in the ground by St Patrick’s day, weather permitting.  Aunt C. told me the sweet corn should be tasseling by the 4th of July.  A distant cousin whose name I don’t even recall taught me that one of the sweetest vegetables in the world is the garden-fresh pea, popped out of the pod and straight into a 10-year-old’s mouth, right off the vine . . . and I didn’t even like peas!

After several years of hiatus from the hobby, I’m thankful to have a garden growing out back of my house again.  The weather’s been so wet that it’s not as far along as I would have liked, but I’m experimenting with a new system this season. With rare foresight, I’ve been saving the triple-layered paper sacks that formerly surrounded 50 pounds of feed for my chickens.  With a stout pair of scissors, I nipped the folded-in bottom corners and made long cuts up the sides, then placed the opened flat bags end-to-end between the rows of squash, cucumbers, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, etc. The paper was then covered with thick flakes of last-year’s hay.  Straw would probably be better for this, but hay is what I have available.  Additional tufts of hay were tamped down between the plants within the rows of the larger items.  I’ll still have to weed the lettuce row, for instance, but in a large part of the garden this method should (hopefully) block the weeds, hold in the moisture, give me clean material on which to walk, and add the bonus of being biodegradable.

I’ll keep y’all posted on how it goes.  Feel free to leave a comment with your garden solutions if you like, and if you have any ideas on what is eating holes in the leaves of my eggplant, and what I can (organically) do about it, let me know.  Happy Gardening!

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Strawberry Pie Recipe

Strawberry Pie Recipe

This week I heard something that caught me by surprise:  a strawberry isn’t truly a berry.  What?! This sounded like one of those urban myths you read about, so I did a tiny bit of research. True enough, the botanical definition of a berry is “a simple fruit having seeds and pulp produced from a single ovary.” Conversely, our friend the strawberry is termed an “aggregate accessory fruit”, as is the dewberry, the raspberry and the blackberry. Weird, huh?

But berry or not, the unmistakably lush flavor of a sun-ripened, locally grown, freshly picked strawberry ranks fairly high on my list of Favorite Things in Springtime. And years ago, while living in Springfield, Missouri, the following recipe for Strawberry Pie was given to me by my neighbor, a dear, kind lady from Galesburg, Illinois named Jeanne Wallace.  If you’ve ever had a better strawberry pie than this one, I’d sure like to know about it, because Jeanne’s version (like all of her recipes that I ever tasted) is really top notch!

Here’s the recipe, in my own words:

1 prebaked pie shell (I prefer homemade, but suit yourself)

4 cups strawberries, washed & decapitated (you know, cut off the green stuff at the top)

3/4 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1 1/2 cups cold water

1 small box strawberry gelatin

Stir sugar and cornstarch together in a medium saucepan. Slowly add cold water, stirring to dissolve the cornstarch. Begin cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly, and when it gets hot, add the gelatin. Cook and stir until thick and clear. Cool syrup, then pour over the strawberries you’ve placed in the baked pie shell. Chill a few hours to set. Serve with whipped cream if you like.

As you can see in the photos below, I placed some of the berries upside down in the pie shell first.  This looks nifty, but it didn’t seem full enough, so I quartered more strawberries and sprinkled them over the top of the arrangement before adding the glaze. Another option is to halve or quarter all the berries, and just pile them in, which tastes just as good. And don’t worry if the glaze seems thinner than you expect when cooked or even cooled; a few hours in the refrigerator will set the gelatin nicely.

Enjoy!

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Guardian Angels

Guardian Angels

More than once I’ve seen a car with a bumper sticker that says “Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly”. Sound advice, to be sure, and maybe good for a smile, but what if we’re not driving? Do they think our heavenly helpers just get to lounge around on meringue-flavored clouds, admiring their never-need-buffing nails, as long as we mere mortals are not mobilized? Believe me, I’m more of a challenge than that.

How many times have you done something that seemed like the right choice at the moment (or maybe the wrong choice, but you were doing it anyway!), and then afterward considered what the potential outcome could have been, and realized Divine Intervention was probably the only thing that had stood between You and Disaster. How many of us now, as adults, consider what a wonder it is that we actually lived past our teens? Welcome to the “do as I say, not as I did” years! But sadly, being a grown-up doesn’t exempt us from needing a guardian now and then.

I believe God often puts us in a position to act on behalf of those guardians, too. Last weekend, when the serpentine belt on my old Suburban snapped, it just so happened that this occurred one mile away from an exit ramp not far from where my cousin Brian lives, and that he was home and had the tools and the knowledge and ability to replace it, and that the parts store was open at the time.  Out of a 200 mile trip, this was the best possible place for that belt to give way.  (OK, so this is a “driving” example, but it’s the one that’s freshest on my mind!)  Thanks to my cousin, I was back on the highway for home in good time, and none the worse for the experience. Thank you, Brian May!

When have you felt the presence of your Guardian Angel, either celestial or earthly? Leave a comment and tell us about it. Even Angels need a sincere “thank you” now and then!

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A Worldly View

A Worldly View

Last weekend I enjoyed a quick trip to Texas, to visit my sister and her family.  We celebrated Sis’s birthday with homemade ice cream and three–count ’em, three–kinds of cake. We attended a celebration of life memorial service and dinner with the family of my brother-in-law’s very good friend Bill, whose father of the same name left a wonderful legacy of kindness and extreme hospitality.  The next day my sister, nieces and I partook of a bit of pampering at the nail salon.  But amidst all these big events, perhaps the Big Deal of the weekend was the Passport to Culture extravaganza held at Newman Smith High School.  It was Amazing!

Angela Hardy and Lindsey Cullins are teachers and co-sponsor a Human Rights Club.  Months ago, they invited any interested students to participate, and began planning this extraordinary event to showcase what they’d learned as well as what they might have absorbed in their own homes, and to share it with those who came to see.  More than 500 “passports” were issued at the door!  Following some inspiring opening remarks by Human Rights activist, Professor Rick Halperin, we traversed the halls to the school’s cafeteria, where small groups of students had set up forty booths to display and demonstrate snippets of their newfound knowledge and understanding of what life can be like for people in other parts of the world.  Many of them had tasty tidbits of food on offer, made from recipes they had researched from their featured countries, and it was all good!  These ambassadors wore traditional dress pertinent to their booths, and they supplied various types of stamps for our specially made passport booklets to commemorate our visit. If I hadn’t already been bitten by the Travel Bug prior to this event, it’s certain I would have been by the time we left it.  What an inspired way to learn, and what an exciting way for the students, in turn, to become our teachers.  With booths showing cultural aspects of life in Austria, Spain, India, Eritrea, New Zealand, Nepal, Israel, Germany, El Salvador, Brazil, Indonesia and so many other parts of the globe, the room was a wonderful, colorful array of life, providing us with lessons in the best way possible:  they made it fun.

Now, when I read in the news or hear on the radio about events that happen in other countries, instead of thinking “overseas”, and dismissing it as some unknown, unseen part of the world, I’ll have a new perspective.  Maybe I’ll picture a young lady playing the flute, or a young man offering hot mint tea, or hummus and pita bread.  I might remember a lovely lady from Japan, teaching us the basics of Ikebana, the art of flower arranging in her home country. I’ll think of the doe-eyed beauty of those long-lashed adolescents whose family heritage began, perhaps, thousands of miles away, but brought them eventually to Dallas, Texas, to expand the horizons of their teacher’s Auntie from the Midwest. And then I will smile at those memories, and say a prayer for those folks mentioned in the news, because now they feel like my neighbors.

Thank you, Newman Smith students (and teachers!) for opening the doors of your school and your knowledge, to the rest of us.  You impressed me in so many ways. You are Leaders!

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May I Live In Your Garden, Sir?

May I Live In Your Garden, Sir?

That may sound like a rather impertinent question, but it was indeed how I felt on Friday.  Except the “sir” in question was not a person, but rather a company, and the idea of actually living there would not be practical or allowable.  But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Shelter Gardens, located in Columbia, Missouri, is just one of the ways Shelter Insurance® gives back to the community, and this month’s view is just the tip of the iceberg.  To help while away some time in between appointments, my recently retired friend J’Teena met me there, and we strolled the carefully tended grounds of the Gardens, a place I hadn’t visited in several years.  She waited patiently as I stopped repeated to take photos with my trusty iPhone, while I kept wishing I’d remembered to bring a better camera.  The redbud and dogwood trees were blooming, a few tulips and daffodils were still putting on a show, the rose bushes were leafing out with great promise, and the violet patch near the back was next to heavenly.  There were flowers blooming that I don’t know the names of (yet), but the pictures I snapped are preserving the images for later research.  It was an inspiration!

Many of the trees and plants are labeled, and we both felt amazed by the beauty of a very large bush with snowy-colored clumps of small white flowers.  “Korean Spice Viburnum” the tag read.  I immediately took a photo of that, just so I wouldn’t forget the name.  Among all the landscaping efforts I’ve made over the years, the category of bushes seems somehow to have been overlooked, but darned if I know why, and this specimen has me rethinking that approach.  The spicy-sweet scent was strong enough to attract us (and the bees, like last week’s apple blossoms!), but not overwhelming.  And whatever fertilizer they’re using over there, it’s working really well, because this bush could easily be mistaken for a small tree!

So today I’m thankful once again (or still) for all the spring things blooming around us.  Lilacs, violets, azaleas . . . I love them all.   I am thankful for a good friend who drove into town just to help me enjoy the day and catch up on what’s been going on in our lives.  I am thankful for companies who look for ways to “return the favor”, so to speak, to the customers, neighbors, and tourists who might have (or maybe will) support them.  And I’m thankful that I live in a place where all these wonders surround me.

What are you thankful for today?  Leave a comment and tell us about it!

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It’s All the Buzz

It’s All the Buzz

Amid the Springtime rituals of planning and planting a garden, oohing and ahhing over the procession of crocus, hyacinth, daffodil, jonquil and tulip blooms making their brief but spectacular showings, and possibly cussing over the mower and the tiller and the trimmer that aren’t sure they’re ready to emerge from their winter hibernation, arrive those perfectly pleasurable days when the fruit trees are blooming.  A good year means that no late ice storm or deep freeze or wind so strong that the blossoms get literally “nipped in the bud” occurs.  Thankfully, this appears to be one of those years.

Yesterday my friend Michelle was here.  We set metal t-posts in a 20 x 30 perimeter, stretched and secured 4′ high woven wire around it to keep the varmints out, and hung an old gate for the entryway to my new garden.  It has been several years since I’ve had a garden, and the truth is, I’m so excited about it I can barely contain myself!  Maybe it’s the strong farmer influence in my genetic history manifesting itself, but I’ve always felt somehow incomplete during those years without a vegetable patch.  Witnessing the growth cycle of the plants and enjoying the bounty of the produce is such an elemental pleasure, but a strong one that pulls me in, year after year, just as the orchard does.

After the garden perimeter preparations, we worked on refreshing the mulched areas underneath the two apple trees near the garden.  Both of these trees were here when I moved to the farm, and I’ve never figured out the specific types.  I just know that one gets yellow apples that stay fairly crisp and somewhat tart when ripened, while the other produces red apples with a softer texture and a juicy, sweet flavor.  It was interesting to note that the blooms of the “yellow” apple tree had more pink tint to them than the ones for the “red” variety.  What made the task of mulching so much less like work, however, was the amazing aroma of those apple blossoms.  The air around their branches was perfumed with a lilac-like sweetness, one of those smells it seems I can almost taste.  The honeybees were tasting it, or at least giving the impression that they were.  Michelle and I were careful not to disturb them, knowing that they were doing a more important job than we were.  After all, the mulch just makes it easier to mow around the trees, and helps to hold in some moisture underneath.  The bees, though, help in the pollination process that allow those blossoms to become the fruit for next Fall’s harvest, which is what it’s all about anyway.

So, here’s to the Buzz!  Do you have an orchard?  And what’s in your garden?

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A Puzzling Problem

A Puzzling Problem

“So, what happened to the Blog?” my mother asked me  during one of our telephone conversations this week.

“Uh, well . . . hmm.”  How could I tell her that a new addiction had me fast in its clutches, permitting me little time for productive things like laundry, dishes, cooking, crochet or writing?  It was a puzzle.  Literally.

As children, the long break between Christmas and New Years always seemed the perfect time to gather around the table as a team and work on a jigsaw puzzle.  We’d turn the pieces all right-side-up, sort out the edge bits to begin with the border, and go from there.  The puzzles provided hours of entertainment, and the sound of holiday tunes drifting from the stereo speakers in the next room provided an appropriate backdrop to the evolving picture under our hands.  Sis and I still enjoy this activity; our brother–not so much.

Once upon a time I overheard a conversation between two co-workers who both liked to play golf.  One told the other that she intended to spend her Sunday afternoon in front of the television, watching a golf match.  “Golf?  On television?” the guy replied, “I’d rather watch paint dry.”

That wasn’t quite my brother’s reaction when I told him about the free online jigsaw puzzle sites I’d recently discovered (thanks to my particular friend PJR!), but it was pretty close.  Sis, on the other hand, sounded intrigued.  Online puzzles don’t take up any more room than your computer or tablet already do anyway.  None of the pieces get lost when the cat jumps up to keep you company, sprawling out and stretching on the horizontal surface before you as if nothing at all were underneath him except the smooth wood of the table top.  There are hundreds of them to choose from. With an audiobook from the library playing at the same time, I can puzzle along for hours.

There.  That’s my confession.  Now that it’s out in the open, maybe I can start fighting my way to the surface, and break out of this jigsaw bondage.  I’d better, because Spring is arriving, and I’m hoping to put in some semblance of a garden . . . and to get back to some writing!

Walking Wounded

Walking Wounded

Did you ever read that book titled Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus?  It’s been years, but I did.  One of the things it pointed out was how when women voice their concerns about something to other women, they usually receive sympathy, or empathy, or some other word for an emotional response.  Women commiserate.  Men, on the other hand, tend to put on their Mr. Fix-It hats and look for a solution.  This is not a bad thing, it’s just one of the many wonderful ways in which the genders differ.

This week I (finally) went through the process of taking my late husband’s name off the accounts where I bank.  Everything was going just fine until the account manager brought out the papers from ‘way back when . . . the ones that showed Larry’s signature.  His handwriting.  The definite way he dotted the letter “i”.  The controlled curve at the base of the “L”.  So familiar; so painful to see again.  The kind lady at the bank ducked into the supply closet and came back with a box of tissues.  I just wanted to hurry up and get this ordeal over.

At lunch afterward I told the ladies at the table about it.  Bless them:  sympathy all around.  Virtual-if-not-actual hugs.  Support and sad smiles.  Of course they understood!

Three days later I sat between two male co-workers (who are also good friends), waiting for a meeting to start.  “How’s it going?” one of them asked.  I relayed the Bank Debacle.  “I feel like I’ll never be right again, even though it’s been more than three years,” I told them, “like I’m the Walking Wounded.”

“Well, of course you are”, my friend V. said matter-of-factly.  “You shouldn’t expect not to be.”  Friend T. agreed.

“The word you need to emphasize is Walking” he told me.  “Wounded is a given; just remember you’re still Walking.”

Wow.  He was so right.

I’m Still Walking.

As the French say:  Vive la Différence!