Thursday, January 30, 2020

Back when I was the Poem Lady

Here's a story that might make some of my readers think I'm delusional.  Especially my atheist friends, because I have learned online the way non-believers feel about anybody who believes in a god, or "hears from God".  I've always been very careful NOT to say things like "God gave me this poem (or song)".  I'm human, and I don't want to unwittingly write something God didn't say, then tell folks He helped me write it.  While I do believe He gave me some of my better songs and poems, I never want anyone to get a wrong impression.  So here's my story:

All through the 1970's and '80's, and sometimes in the 90's, I wrote a few songs and lots of poems.  Because I wrote so many poems at the time, I got fairly good at making rhymes about almost anything.  I can honestly say that 90% of my writings are mediocre or worse, but I just consider those "practice" and keep them to myself.  All this writing, though, came into being because of Norman Vincent Peale.  He was famous for his positive thinking books and messages.  I would read pamphlets he sent out, and I remember reading one of his books as far back as junior high:  The Power of Positive Thinking for Young People.  I can't say it helped me much... I remained a wallflower.

One year I got a desk calendar from the Peale organization that had this portion of a Bible verse on it:  "Stir up the gift of God which is in you...".  That's from 2 Timothy 1:6.  Did you ever have words that practically jumped off the page and felt as though they were meant for you?  That's how I felt about those words.  However, I didn't think I was very gifted at any particular thing, so it troubled me somewhat:  if the message was for me, what was I supposed to be stirring?  I milked cows twice a day back then, and it seems like the barn was where I did my best pondering on the verse.  I even had a few conversations with myself and God.  What could I possibly have that anyone could derive any good from?  I'm a fairly decent cook, but I had no desire to open a restaurant.  I've always been home-bound because I've never had a driver's license, so even if I figured this out, I'd have no way of sharing whatever it was.  For days, I'd go to the barn, milk the cows, and wonder if I was crazy, or if there was a special message.  Over and over I'd say to myself, "What gift do I have, and how can I stir it up?"

Finally one morning I said (to myself and God, and maybe the cow as well) "I write poems sometimes.  I wonder if any good could come out of that skill."

I made myself sit down and write poems often, and I got a little better at it.  At church I would take notes on a sermon, then turn the sermon topic into a poem and send it to whatever preacher had given the sermon.  Before long, individuals would come to me and ask me to write a poem for them for some particular occasion:  a grandchild's graduation; an anniversary party; a goodbye get-together for a couple from church who were moving away.  I told people, "I might be able to do it.  I'll try my best, but I won't promise anything."  As far as I know, I never failed to come up with what they asked for, and it surprised me more than anyone else when I succeeded.  I made sure to tell them that they needed to give me a lot of facts about the person, the more facts the better.  Dates were good, because many numbers rhyme with lots of other words, and I need rhymes.  Place names were also helpful.  The more facts they could give me, the better my chances were of making it work, although I warned them I probably wouldn't use every detail, so if there was something they really wanted in the finished work, they'd need to let me know.  I had great fun at it and got some cute business cards that said "The Poem Lady".  

Then a time came when I no longer had transportation to church, and slowly but surely, my motivation disappeared.  My poem-writing had a rebirth around the year 2000, when I made a lot of friends in an AOL Christian Chat room.  I'd write a poem now and then about situations in the chat room, or about the Bible stories I'd read that day.  My Internet friends, some of whom I'd met in person at this point, begged me to do a book of my poems.  Eventually I searched on line for publishers who would publish a short book of my poems; I found one that was affordable.  I gathered my favorites together, proofread them many, many times (I still missed one or two mistakes) and sent it in.  I ordered far more books than I thought I'd need, because the more I bought, the cheaper each book was.  

Within a year I'd sold enough books to pay me for my cost of publishing the book, and had a mountain of them left.  I retired shortly after that and stuck two boxes of the books in the garage around 2008.  And then I forgot about them.  Out of sight, out of mind.  

I was moving stuff around in the garage a couple of years ago and saw those two boxes of books.  "Cliff," I said, "I don't see any sense in keeping all these around.  I don't go anywhere to give them away or anything.  What do you think?"  He said it was up to me.  I was goin to toss them all, but at the last minute I decided to keep a few.  I grabbed a small box from the trash, put the keepers in it, and bid the rest of them goodbye; I carried the ones I'd saved in the house and put them in a closet.  

Boy, this is turning into a long story, isn't it?  

Fast-forward to recent months:  I began attending two local churches, as I've explained here before.  Our town is a small one, but I honestly know very few local people because of my non-driving status.  When I went to the Methodist Church, I sat in the next-to-the-back pew.  An elderly lady, Pat, sat behind me each Sunday.  Finally one Sunday I stepped out of my comfort zone and started a conversation with her.  From then on we chatted every week before services.  Then one Sunday she wasn't there.  The next week she was absent again, so I asked about her, and was told she was having terrible back pain.  

I hardly ever send cards and letters these days, but I wanted my new friend to know I missed her.  I wrote her a note; and for some reason, those poem books came to mind.  I had some 5 by 7 manilla envelopes from the old days when I was sending my books by mail to folks who wanted them.  I then recalled Pat telling me one Sunday that a lady in town, Alberta, told her how I used to write poems and songs.  She wanted Pat to ask me if I'd mind sending her the words to the song I wrote about our town, Wellington.  So before I took Pat's book to the mailbox, I printed off those words, looked up Alberta's address, and mailed her the words.  

And now there's a chain reaction.  Every Sunday, someone else wants one of those books.  They're free, and I'm happy to share them.  But there is a limited supply. 

And now I'm wondering:  Am I supposed to start stirring up the gift again?  Inquiring minds want to know.


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

settling into winter

Last month we had a few unseasonably warm days, and I guess it spoiled me, because we aren't getting any breaks in the weather now and it's making me grumpy.  It isn't brutal outside, but with the snow we've had the past few days and the wind blowing hard, I've had to settle for riding the stationary bike.  Finally Gabe and I walked in the pasture yesterday and today.  Even when I have a good book to read while I'm pedaling the bike, I'd rather walk.  Getting outside in fresh air is one of the best weapons against wintertime depression.  There's still snow on the ground, even though a lot has melted.  In fact, we got a fresh covering of the white stuff this morning to dress up what was left from the weekend.  I have to walk slower when there's snow or I'll wear out before I'm done.  

Cliff always reads while he's on the recumbent bike, but that's about the only time he picks up a book; when he's passing time on the couch, he's usually look at tractor repair videos, welding videos, tractor message boards, and such.  He'll finish his book at the rate of thirty minutes a day, then bring me the iPad he uses as a reader, and say, "Get me another book, will you?"  I hate having to choose his books, because we don't always enjoy the same type of book.  When he came to me with the usual request today, I said, "Don't you have something in mind you want to read?  Maybe a biography or something about football?"  "No," he said, "just get me another one of those Flowers books, I guess."

Now, if you have read the John Sandford books that feature Virgil Flowers, you know that many of Virgil's cohorts have a descriptive term they put ahead of "Flowers".  So when Cliff talks about him, he adds that term.  Silly man.  Anyhow, I figured since I was doing a library search for John Sandford e-books, I'd get him one Flowers book and one Davenport book.  That way if he decided at the beginning he didn't like the first, I'd return it for him (I don't know why he won't return his own books) and he would still have one to read.  He looked at the Libby app and said, "I think I've read one of these books; I remember reading one with the word "prey" in the title."  

I explained to him that all thirty Davenport books have the word "prey" in the title.

Back to the subject of weather, we do have a good day coming up Sunday, when it's supposed to be near sixty.  Of course, we'll be watching the Superbowl and the special programming that precedes it, once I get home from church; so I doubt we'll be taking advantage of the heat wave outside.  

We'll be attending a funeral this week, but that and the Superbowl are our only plans.  This makes for pretty dull blog entries, but I'll try to keep posting more regularly, even if it's just drivel like this.  

Spring starts in forty-nine days!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A life well lived

Cliff got the news yesterday that a cousin had passed away at his home in Versailles, Missouri, only a few months after his mother, Cliff's Aunt Gertrude, left this world.  Although the aunt died in a nursing home, she had been living with Darrell for some time before that, due to her declining health; this worked out well for both of them because they could help one another out.  Darrell had been in poor health for years:  He got around on a mobility scooter and used oxygen to help him breathe, due to the fact his lungs were hardening.  He knew, as we all did, his time was limited.  Still, it was a shock when Cliff got the phone call.  I guess I assumed he'd be going to a hospital before he passed, or perhaps put on hospice.  

Maybe he wanted to die at home, though.  Most people wish for that gift.  

We saw Darrell occasionally before his mom died because she was living with him; he always knew the best place to eat in any town, and could give directions around various cities across the country as though he'd been everywhere!  I liked and admired him.  He was an expert on race cars.  He'd had ups and downs in his life, as we all do, but dealt with anything that came his way with common sense and humor. 

Because I'm a person who doesn't make friends easily, and have even been known to "push" folks away if they get too chummy, I do not have close friends.  I have one good friend who would do anything, even risk death, for me:  my husband.  Which is why, in my mind, the most amazing thing about Darrell was that he seemed to have so many genuine friends.  I try to imagine what it would be like to have such friends.  It's my own fault I don't, because I pull away when people start to get too close.  Folks, real friendships take work on both sides.  I'm lazy, and I'm selfish, and very much a loner.  I should add, though, that I do have many people who love me anyway, even if they can't break through my barrier.  

As I think about Cliff's cousin, here's what comes to mind:  Even when he had to use a scooter to get around, Darrell was helping folks.  He would drive older ladies to get their chemo and radiation, and take people to church when they couldn't get there on their own.  I'm sure he gave automotive advice to anyone who asked.   He hosted a men's Bible study in his home.

I went to his Facebook status and scrolled down; There was the last Youtube video he posted:  The Old Rugged Cross.   I believe Darrell had one foot in heaven for quite a while; all he had to do was take a step across the Jordan when it was time.  

His greatest testimony, though, was that he had so many true friends from every walk of life, each one a star in his crown.  I smiled at a remark he made on Facebook the day after that Bible study session:  

"Darrell Bias Danny Saville that guy who rode his motorcycle last night Made me cold when he rode away BRRRRR

Darrell lived the principle set forth in Proverbs 18:24:  "A man who has friends must show himself friendly, and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." 

I sure am glad I knew him.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


After a couple of days of single-digit temperatures, the thermometer is staying right around freezing.  It's been gray all day, with a mixture of snow and sleet that is trying to melt as soon as it lands on the snow from our previous snow.  This sort of weather isn't what I would prefer, but it's good weather for reading.  I'm glad Gabe and I went on a walk yesterday, because it would be pretty sloppy out today.  I rode the exercise bike a while ago, and Cliff is in there using it now.  We read when we're on the bike; it makes thirty minutes seem like ten.  

We've both been on a computer or reading device most of the day.  I didn't even have to cook:  We went to Costco the other day and I got one of those $5 rotisserie chickens:  When we got home with it we had it for dinner after microwaving a sweet potato and cooking some broccoli.  Am I the only one who can never remember the right spelling for broccoli?  I usually give it one C and two L's.  Thank goodness for spell check.  Anyhow, the next day with the Costco chicken I fixed my low-calorie version of Jambalaya.  I also cut up a bit of it in small pieces to use as treats for Gabe and then put the rest in the freezer.  I took that yesterday and made chicken salad for sandwiches; that's what we had for our noon meal yesterday and today.  I also cut up some more for Gabe and froze it in a  plastic container.  Four meals for us and many dog treats for $5.

The Internet is a wonderful method of entertainment, sometimes a little too handy.  I'm reading the latest Virgil Flowers book, Bloody Genius.  John Sandford sometimes mentions a real-life author in his books, and he mentions various stores or restaurants too.  When he does this, it distracts me:  I have to stop reading and ask myself, "Does he get paid for mentioning those places?"

Well, today as I read, this brought me to a screeching halt:  "Virgil had some time to kill before the meeting with Trane and the cop, so he stopped off in St. Paul for a Butter Flake Roll at Breadsmith, went next door for a Strawberry Surf Rider at Jamba Juice, then idled around the corner and looked in a bookstore window until he finished eating and drinking his smoothie, then went inside and bought the latest Dave Robicheaux novel by James Lee Burke."

This mile-long sentence sent me down so many rabbit-holes my head was spinning.  Being who I am, I had to look up the places mentioned.  Yes, they are real places.  Then I had to look up James Lee Burke and the Dave Robicheaux books long enough to decide I needed to read those books.  I don't know when I'll get a chance, because I'm getting great books from the library faster than I can read them.

The last book I finished was Olive, Again.  It was different, but I liked it.  I identified with her, in a way.  I see she was the main character in a 2008 book, Olive Kitterage, that won the Pulitzer Prize, so I plan to read that at some point.  Do you see my problem?  I guess it's a good problem, though.  Sort of like having too much money, or too much beauty.

I got a free Reader's Digest in the mail today with an amazing offer:  A one year subscription for $10 or a two-year subscription for $15.  I just don't read magazines any more, but Cliff likes Reader's Digest.  In fact, he's reading this new one now.  At fifteen bucks for two years, I can't pass it up.

That's it, folks.  Just rambling.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The assignment

My instructions:
This lesson focused a great deal on the concept of show don't tell. For this assignment you will practice writing in a manner that shows, rather than tells.
 Write several paragraphs that are based on the topic of a young girl going with her father to sled on a winter evening or about a boy flying a kite with his mother on a spring day.
 What happens is up to you. Submit your work to the instructor when you are finished.

My assignment, which happens to be autobiographical:

The curly-haired girl was one of fifteen students in the one-room schoolhouse, one of four children in the first grade.  It was winter in Iowa, 1950.  The students had trouble concentrating on studies, with Christmas vacation starting the next day.  There hadn’t been any snow thus far, but the temperatures were frigid, and when she entered the schoolhouse, she was glad for the heat of the coal-burning, pot-bellied stove.  The child had squirmed at her desk as she daydreamed about the sled she was pretty sure Santa would be bringing.  Finally, the day ended.  She usually walked the mile or so to and from school, but this was the second coldest December in twenty years, and her mother usually drove the old Mercury to pick her up.

Her grown-up sister and brother were coming for Christmas with their children the weekend after the big day, but on Christmas morning, it was just the girl and her parents.  When she awoke, she ran into the living room; there, on the floor beneath the stocking that was pinned to the armrest of the sofa, was the coveted sled.  Unfortunately, it had not snowed even once that winter.

Bored, she bundled up, put on gloves and a headscarf, and went outside with her sled.  She was used to playing alone, and had developed a good imagination.  This day, though, she could think of nothing but her new sled, useless without snow.  She ran up and down the slopes of the underground cellar a few times, bored.  Oh, how she wanted snow!  

A thought occurred to her:  She and her parents attended church three times weekly, and she began thinking about things people prayed for.  She’d never prayed on her own, and her family didn’t pray at meals, but for some reason praying for snow seemed like a good idea.  She kneeled on the cellar-hill and briefly asked God for some snow; it was just a one sentence prayer, but she remembered to say “in Jesus’ name” at the end, like they did at church. 

The next morning there were five inches of snow on the ground.  It worked!  Cold as it was, she took the sled outside to a yard that was as flat as a pancake.  She slid down the cellar-hill a few times, but it was a tiny little hill, and not very exciting.   Stepping back inside, she asked her dad if he could take her to a hill someplace, but he was helping her mom get ready for company.  After a little begging, he agreed to go outside with her for a bit and pull her around the yard.  That was better than nothing, but it wasn’t what she had in mind.  So in a way, getting the sled was a disappointment at first.  Later on at the country schoolhouse that was perched high atop a hill, all the kids took their sleds to school.  At recess she flew down the hill with the others, so fast the wind took her breath.  But what she never forgot for the rest of her life was this:  Praying works.

Monday, January 20, 2020

How I became a (sort of) football fan

When Cliff and I were first married in 1966, neither of us cared a thing about football.  1963 was the Chief's inaugural season in Kansas City.  I'm not sure I even knew they had a team, even though it's only twenty-five miles away from us.  Surely I did, because back then I read the Kansas City Star every day.  But football wasn't even discussed at our house.  Sometime around 1970, some of our friends would mention the Chiefs when they came to visit, friends who watched every game.  Cliff and I wondered what the big deal was.  

In 1974 we moved to a place in the country near Coffey, Missouri.  We stayed about nine months, realized we weren't going to become farmers, became homesick, and moved back to this area, settling in Wellington.  But during those nine months, we felt pretty isolated from everyone we knew.  Cliff decided it was time to buy our first color television and see if he could figure out why people watched football; so we did.  There was only one clear channel coming in up there, a St. Joseph station.  A couple of Kansas City stations would sometimes come in, but they were "snowy".  This was long before satellite dishes came into being.  Cliff was bored and missing his friends and relatives.  He was determined to give football a chance, just for something to do.

After he had watched a couple of games he'd picked up enough of the rules to figure out what was going on, and began to learn names of the players:  Fran Tarkington, Terry Bradshaw, OJ Simpson... the list goes on, and Cliff was talking about them often and sometimes yelling at them on the TV screen.  I watched this side-show in unbelief, and usually found something to do in the kitchen; I still heard the yelling and cursing, though.  The one that stands out in my memory is this:  "Run, you little S.O.B, RUN!!!"  

 (Cliff says, "Yeah, and that's back when they PLAYED FOOTBALL, they didn't have to pussyfoot around like now.") 

I got so sick of hearing that know-it-all Howard Cosell; it was like chalk on a blackboard.  One time as I walked through the living room on my way to the bathroom the cameras focused on the face of that ugly, irritating man and I did my own bit of yelling:  "Oh shut up, you big can of crap!"  Cliff laughed and laughed, because that's as close to cussing as I got.

As the years went by, I learned to cope by going to another room when football games were on:  I'd watch a portable television, or read a book.  Later on, I listened to podcasts while Cliff watched TV.  I didn't know anything about football.  I was always happy when the Chiefs won, simply because they were representing Kansas City, although winning was pretty rare for them, most years.  If they were playing, I'd holler from the next room to Cliff, "What's the score?"  Or I'd look up from my book and glance at the television occasionally.  But I didn't understand the game, and didn't want to.

Enter Patrick Mahomes, stage left: the Chiefs started winning.  Suddenly Kansas City had a team we didn't have to be ashamed of, although I was mostly just a Mahomes fan.  What a nice kid!  He helps charities, he talks to his fans, he visits kids in the hospital.  He seems to love people in general and he loves Jesus.  Because of Patrick, I began watching portions of the Chief games.  Before you know it, I was watching every moment of every game Kansas City played.  And wouldn't you know it, I fell in love with two other guys on the team:  The unstoppable wide receiver Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, tight end.  I like him because he dances around after a touchdown sometimes.  It's hilarious.

I'm even figuring out a few of the rules; it's probably hard to believe, but until the last month, I didn't even know who was offense and who was defense; I finally asked Cliff and found out it's the goal they are defending, not the football.  Duh.  

I've tried to get interested in other teams, but I don't know the players.  So it's no fun.  However, I can see now why people get excited about football.  It took nice-guy Pat Mahomes to make me a football fan.  

And by the way, the Chiefs are going to the Super Bowl.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Canadian thistles

When we lived on our first place in the late sixties and early 70's, neither Cliff nor I knew much about noxious weeds; but Cliff had been around enough farms, apparently, to know what a Canadian thistle was.  They weren't noticeable on our first twenty acres.  Actually, there were none I knew of.  I had a couple of small children, and didn't get out to walk around our pasture much.  But one day I was outside with Cliff when he noticed a weed with a purple flower and stickers all over it.  He cussed it and made sure to get rid of it, I don't recall how:  He may have used a pocket knife.  He told me how, if one of those purple flowers turn white, the tiny seeds will spread for miles when a breeze carries them away; the weeds could totally take over a place.  We seldom saw any of those noxious weeds while we lived there, but when we did, Cliff wasted no time getting to it and destroying it immediately.

When we'd go to Blue Springs, though, on the outskirts of town were properties that had been farmland but were now for sale; the town was enjoying a population explosion at the time.  Investors were buying up vacant land and leaving it idle, hoping to make some big money as the city expanded.  After the farmers sold the properties, nobody bothered to tend fences and mow the pastures; that's when I got to see just how invasive Canada thistles can be.  They can grow up to five feet tall, and they will absolutely take over a property if they are left alone.  I became a thistle-hater like  Cliff after seeing the damage they could do.

Even though we weren't real farmers, Cliff subscribed to a farm magazine or two; we read a couple of different articles about some insects that would kill the plants for you, but that just seemed too good to be true.  

"Four species of insects are designated for use in as a biological control for thistles: Canada Thistle Stem Mining Weevil, whose larva bore into the stem and roots; Musk Thistle Head Weevil, whose larva consume the thistle head (blossom and seeds); Canada Thistle Stem Gall Fly, whose larva grows in a stem gall that impedes the plant's reproductive abilities; and (Thistle-feeding) Shield Bug, also known as the Thistle-Defoliating Beetle or Thistle Tortoise Beetle, which feed on the leaves."

In 1974 we sold our Oak Grove property, briefly rented a farm in north Missouri, got homesick, and came back to the area we knew and loved.  I had three or four Jersey cows, so we needed enough land to support them.  However, when we began looking for a place to buy, there was no acreage the size we needed that wasn't way over what our income allowed.  We didn't want back in Jackson County, with their nuisance zoning laws and inflated real estate prices, so we centered our search in Lafayette County.  The only property in our price range was an old two-story house on six and a half acres... this place, where we still live.  We moved here in May of 1975.  I reluctantly sold all but one of my cows and we were off on a new adventure.  Cliff went back to his old job at the butcher shop near Oak Grove.

What little available pasture we had here was fenced, and there was a low outbuilding that had once been a large chicken house where I could milk my cow and house the chickens.  The eastern end of the tiny "farm" was nothing but ditches and timber, and totally useless for anything but goats, and Cliff hates goats.  It was either buy this place or move to town.

Because it was May, we didn't see any Canada thistles when we looked at the place.  But it wasn't long until we realized we had a problem; those evil weeds were coming up everywhere.  You can mow them again and again, but they come back from the roots, not to mention the new seedlings from the seeds that fall to the ground.  I'd say there was about one plant for every square foot.  Back then I was outside a lot; I had huge gardens in those days, and usually had a hoe handy.  I had seen Cliff grab a hoe and chop down a thistle at ground level, so I decided that was something I could do.  I'd walk around that little plot for an hour at a time, destroying each hated plant I came to, right down to tiny seedlings.  This still left the roots in the ground from which would spring a plant, but I figured if I faithfully went out with my trusty hoe, it would make a difference.  If only there had been an easier way.

We had a rainy spell one time, the kind where you get three or four inches of rain that comes slowly, over a period of a couple days.  A real soaker.  I walked the pasture, seeing all the thistles I'd hoed off re-emerging, and got an idea:  What if the bigger plants could be pulled up by the roots while the ground is soft?  Get rid of the roots, it can't grow back; right?  On the first try, I grabbed the plant right next to the ground, where it has fewer thistles.  However, there were enough thistles to hurt.  I put on some work gloves and tried again; I'd feel the prick of a tiny thistle come through the gloves once in awhile, but ignored it and kept on pulling.  The ground was so thoroughly soaked that those roots, some of them a foot long, came out easily.
Unfortunately, when I woke up the next morning I found out I'd gotten stuck more than I realized.  My hands were swollen and painful; the thistles had gotten their revenge.  Later on I learned to put on Cliff's leather gloves, although there weren't many times when the soil was soaked enough for this method to work.  

Believe it or not, I got rid of thistles on our six acres.  I patrolled the pasture often, and the seedlings that came up were quickly hoed, so it was now a manageable problem.      

Several years later we had an opportunity to buy some adjoining land when a next-door neighbor sold his place, and that made us the owners of around 43 acres all told, most of which was a virtual Canadian Thistle farm.  Yes, I got the newly acquired land down to a low population of thistles, too, although right across the fence were thistles as tall as my head, sending new seeds all over the countryside.  It was frustrating, but I suppose the exercise I got hoeing thistles was good for me.  Occasionally someone mowed the place next door, but they didn't do it at the ideal time for getting rid of thistles.

I don't know how many years later I noticed there were far less thistles on the other side than there had been, with nobody really trying to get rid of them.  I remembered the magazine articles from the 70's; Surely then, that's what decimated those thistles.  Eventually there wasn't a thistle showing on that place.  My first thought was, "All that work I did, all the times those thistles hurt me, and I could have just waited for some bugs to show up and get rid of the plants!"

But we'd have had to put up with many thistles for several years before that method got rid of them, so I guess my labor was worth it.  Cliff. by the way, is still amazed at how many of them I got rid of with just a hoe; it takes a lot to amaze him.  So there's the pride of knowing I once did it.  

And just like that, a bad memory becomes a good one.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Adventures in the kitchen

I'll have to do my freestyle writing elsewhere today, since I made a note of some things for a blog entry and actually have something in mind to write about, as you can see in the title.

I like to cook from scratch when possible.  I'm the first to admit that pancakes made from Bisquick or Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix are slightly better than the scratch version, although my oldest granddaughter insists my pancakes are the best anywhere.  Bisquick is good for biscuits, as well as pancakes, and I used it often when the kids were growing up.  But pancake mix could get old and stale sitting around for the two of us to use.  It isn't that we don't like pancakes, but we don't need all that butter and syrup very often.  So I make them from scratch.  I guess I feel a certain amount of pride, knowing I'm cooking the way those who came before me did.  My mother didn't even own an electric mixer until the late fifties, I believe.  Before that, when she baked a cake she used a hand egg-beater on the eggs first, poured them in with the other liquid ingredients,  and poured all that into the mixed dry ingredients.  Then she beat the batter at least three hundred times, counting under her breath all the way.  I grew up watching Mother cook, and I think about her as I'm cooking and baking.

I'm always spilling something or forgetting something.  If I get through preparing a meal without making a mess or forgetting an ingredient, it's a banner day.  Let me give you examples from the last couple of days.

Cliff likes to have an egg-and-cheese-and-Miracle-Whip sandwich for breakfast, so I see to it he has one at least once a week.  It's simple and quick to make; and how much mess can you make, really, just putting an egg between two slices of bread?  Leave it to me to find out.  Tuesday morning I broke an egg into my smallest cast-iron skillet, the only coveted Wagner brand skillet I own.  I had the skillet turned pretty low, so I stepped to the counter to spread Miracle Whip on the bread while the egg cooked.  I don't even know how it happened, but I somehow bumped the almost-full jar (plastic, thank goodness), and it fell hard on the floor, laying on it's side.  It landed so hard a lot of the stuff splattered all over the lower cabinets, as well as the floor.  Gabe, who can hear a bread-crumb drop on the floor two rooms away, ran it to see what tasty treat awaited, so I had to scold him to stay back all the time I was cleaning up.  What a greasy mess!  
my Griswold skillet
Yesterday I was making an enchilada casserole, which required a teaspoon of chili powder.  I buy those huge containers of chili powder at Costco, because it's something I use a lot of.  I picked up the jar, opened it to measure out the amount I needed, bumped the container, and managed to spill about a fourth of a cup of chili powder on the floor.  Again, Gabe to the rescue.  For some strange reason, he only took one tiny taste of chili powder and left the kitchen.  

Fast forward to this morning.   I bought about five pounds of ripe bananas for $1.99 at the store this week.  We both like our bananas ripe; if the have the little spots on the outside, that's perfect.  I knew there was no way we'd eat them all out of hand, but as they get riper, I intend to smash them, add Fruit-fresh to keep them from turning dark when thawed, and freeze them in one-cup amounts for banana bread.  This morning I decided to surprise Cliff with banana muffins; I wanted to wait until he got up to put them in the oven, though, since the anticipation of waiting and smelling them is half the fun.  I figured I'd get ahead of the game by preparing the dry ingredients, as well as the crumb topping, ahead of time.  I also broke some nuts to put in it.

I woke my husband up at seven, as usual.  I don't know if I've ever explained why a retired man has a certain time to get up:  Thanks to his life as a butcher and concrete construction worker, he has arthritis in most joints; he says if he lies in bed too long, it makes him hurt more.

Now I needed to mix the wet ingredients, which consist of mashed bananas with 3/4 a cup of sugar stirred in, melted butter, and a beaten egg.

I sprayed Pam in the muffin pan and began spooning the batter, which seemed sort of stiff, into the muffin pan.  I was just getting ready to put the crumb topping on and bake them when I glanced down at the counter and saw the closed container of sugar sitting there; I realized I had not added the sugar!  And there the batter was already in the muffin pan.  Thank goodness (and Pam) , each glob of dough/batter slipped right out into the mixing bowl, hardly leaving a trace behind.  I'm sure glad I hadn't put the crumb topping on before I saw my mistake, because I'm not sure how that would have turned out.  I added the sugar, which made the batter more "liquid", then the topping.  All's well that ends well, and they are delicious.  We each had two, and the rest went into the freezer in a covered container.

Three kitchen mess-ups in three days.  My parents always said things happen in threes, so maybe I'm done for awhile.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Freestyle writing

Freestyle writing is when you sit down and begin composing something when you have no topic in mind.  That's me, folks.  So this could get boring (as though I've never bored you before, right?).  And since my intention is to do a blog entry every day for two weeks, don't be surprised if I do some short blog entries.  Right now I have no idea what I'll put on this page.

Speaking of boring:  Old age brings many surprises, many of them unpleasant.  My body has betrayed me in numerous ways over the past few years, and it only gets worse.  However, there are good surprises too.  One of the things I've learned over these past few years is that I never get bored, even though I'm one of the laziest creatures God ever put on this earth.  Most of the time, especially in winter, I sit and pass the time reading or surfing.  I usually wake up at 3 AM and go to bed at 9 PM.  The time flies, especially those four hours in the morning before my husband gets up.  Since Cliff retired, I've came to the realization that I don't have that much time left on earth.  That's a fact even if I live to be a hundred.  I can write that in my blog, but the kids and grandkids don't seem to like me mentioning the brevity of life as it applies to me and Cliff.  Sometimes I will say something about my cremation or headstone... anything having to do with my death... just to get them going!  "Oh Grandma, you're awful!  Don't say that!"

How nice that they are still young enough to feel invincible.  And yet, I wouldn't trade places.  This is not a bad time of life.  It's rather like a second childhood:  I can be as lazy as I want.  Nobody can tell me what to do.  For the most part, I'm free as a bird.  My chief responsibilities these days are cooking and laundry.  I miss having a Jersey milk cow, but after a couple years without one, I realize I've gotten over missing them and have even arrived at the point I'm glad I don't have to go out in rain, snow, wind, and hail to milk Bonnie-the-Jersey-cow twice a day.  Letting the dog in and out several times daily, feeding him and walking him... that's as close as I get to "doing chores".  Oh yes, add to that the three barn cats I feed.  That's all the livestock I have.  I would sort of like to have a few chickens again, but we'd have to make a place for them; it's just not worth the effort that would have to be expended for a hobby I'm likely to get tired of in a year or two.  I'm facing reality here. 

I've mentioned before that I'm going to two churches every Sunday and loving it.  I believe I also shared the fact that I enjoy church more without my husband being there.  He isn't interested in church to begin with, and he can't make out anything that's said because he's so hard of hearing.  His hearing aids really help at home, but in a room where there's often some background noise and perhaps a little church-house echo, he's totally lost.  What I did not say before is WHY I enjoy the services more without him.  When he sat beside me at Church, I visited a little with him, but I never really talked to the other folks more than a sentence or two.  It seems when he isn't with me, I'm forced out of my shell, and I visit with people.  I've met such nice folks!  I look forward to my two church services every Sunday, and I'm almost depressed when they close for bad weather.  

There are seldom more that twenty people at either of the churches I'm attending.  My first Sunday in each of them, I was shocked by that.  I went to that same Baptist church for a couple of years back around 1980, and they had a decent crowd then by small-town standards.  I hadn't ever attended the Methodist church for Sunday services until this year.  The more I went to the two churches, the more it bothered me that church attendance there is so low when these churches are a big part of the town's history.  When I look around at the people there, they are old, for the most part.  There is no doubt those churches will eventually close.  So I made up my mind to support them with my presence whenever possible.  If one of them closes while I'm alive and still able to go to two churches, I'll have two others in town to choose from.

Here's another revelation:  as a non-driver, I've found out I needed somebody besides relatives to talk to, even though I am an introvert, socially awkward, and a loner.  So both my churches are helping me a lot more than I can possibly help them.    

That's it for today's freestyle writing.  Thanks for sticking with my drivel throughout my learning experience, faithful readers.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Maybe this blog will help me out

One of the assignments in my creative writing class is a challenge to write something every day for two weeks, anything at all.  If you can't think of anything to write about, they say to start writing something on this order:  "I don't know what to write, I don't know what to write...." and eventually your mind will get tired of that and come up with something.  I'm not so sure about that.  Personally, I can always think of something to write.  It may not be interesting, and it might not be long, but there's always something perking in my brain.  In the class, they suggest you decide on a certain time of day to write.  

I write best from 3 AM until 7 AM.  I am every bit a morning person.  You might think, "With four hours, that shouldn't be a problem."

Oh, but it is.  I have other priorities during those four hours:  My first priority after getting up and letting the dog out is to make my coffee.  Then I go to the recliner, toss a throw over my lap, and lift up a corner of it to let Gabe get underneath it to snuggle against my leg; I leave the thermostat at 64 until time to wake Cliff up, so Gabe and I snuggle under the cover to stay warm while I play Words With Friends.  Sometimes I have 30 games going, which means thirty moves.  I feel as though that gets my brain working for the day and wakes me up.  

On January 1 this year, I chose to start reading in my One-Year Bible again.  I've read it all the way through several times, although the last few years I haven't made it very far in the Old Testament.  I love Genesis, and when I start in January, I have a daily portion of Genesis, a chapter or so of Matthew (another favorite, what with the Sermon on the Mount and all), a verse or two from Proverbs, and the first chapter of Psalms, part of which I know by heart.  I usually make it through Exodus before I get bogged down.  And boy, when I get to Leviticus, I start yawning.  I never read all those" begats" any more, because I really don't get anything out of them.  That means if I'm still reading the One-Year Bible on Valentine's Day, I've already abandoned the begats.  If the last few years are any indication, I'll probably entirely give up on the Old Testament by March and will only be reading the Psalms, Proverbs, and the New Testament portions.  I'd really like to stick to it this year and read the whole thing, but I doubt that happens.   

After reading the Bible I pray.  Nothing fancy.  Mostly I pray for friends or relatives who are hurting in some way and for God to show His presence in their lives as He has in mine.  I don't pray for the weather, but I pray for people affected by it; I don't pray for football teams to win, or any such nonsense as that... although I do often let God know how thankful I am that the Chiefs are finally doing so well.  My prayers, which I say while I'm still in the recliner, consist of nothing more than praying for others, praying for God to help me "be nice" and to show me the right road one step at a time; then I spend awhile just thanking Him for so many ways He blesses me.  This praying business can get pretty tricky, because occasionally, while I'm praying, "something" will tell me I should apologize to someone for something I've said or done.  I hate when that happens.   

What I'm trying to say is this:  I don't have time to blog in the morning, with all that other stuff going on while Cliff is still in bed!  Even the fastest, easiest blog entry takes at least an hour by the time I proof-read and change things here and there; many times it takes twice that long.  

My goal for this assignment is to blog every day for two weeks; that should satisfy the teacher.

Here's a song I've always loved.  It was popular several years ago.  Most Christians may have thrown it out, since the man who wrote and sang it came out as gay after it had been popular awhile.  I still listen to it.  His life-style doesn't invalidate the wonderful song, one which has helped me get through some rough stretches of life.  If I ever met him, I'd thank him for writing it.

Thanks to my readers for putting up with my "assignments" for awhile. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Taking an online course in creative writing

While looking through all the free courses I can take through the the library, I settled on "creative writing" for my first class.  If it does me even a particle of good, at least I might be more proficient at writing my blog entries.  In fact, I'll do my first assignment right here, then copy and paste it to send to the instructor  (I'm not sure how I do that, but I hope I'll figure it out).  This is one of two assignments I have to do before moving on to the next lesson.  

Here it is:  "For this assignment you will need to write a couple of paragraphs (two at least). The topic you will be writing about is where you currently are as you are reading this. In it, you should try to be descriptive enough to show the reader what the place is like. Things to consider including would be setting, temperature, smell, artifacts, etc. You can assume you are writing a novel and in it you are showing the reader the room and setting. Submit your writing to the instructor when you are finished."

And here it is:

I sit here in this lumpy, aging recliner with my belly full from dinner and my dog covered up beside me.  He's trying to get warm after his last potty break taken in pouring rain.  It's been raining off and on all day and thundering occasionally, a gray day indeed.  It's the sort of day when I'm glad I have a good book to read.  There's seventies' country music playing in the background because my husband asked me to have Amazon play our favorite genre of music.  I thought about suggesting we wait until I finish my assignment so I could think more clearly, but he's a prisoner of the weather in this house the same as I.  There isn't much anyone living in the country can do on a rainy day in January.  Besides, Willie, Waylon, and Dolly are as much a part of me as breathing.  I hardly notice them.

We live in an older trailer house that we bought used, several years ago.  It suits me fine.  I could cheerfully live in a teepee with a dirt floor as long as I had a comfortable place to sleep and enough food to eat, although I'd want electricity and Internet.  It's a bit cool in here just now, because we keep our thermostat at 68 daytimes and 64 at night.  I wear flannel-lined jeans and two long-sleeved shirts layered, so I'm generally pretty comfortable.  We use propane for heat; it costs a small fortune to fill a 500-gallon tank, and we live only on what we get from Social Security.  My husband and I fill our time with web-surfing on days like this.  He's sitting on a fairly new leather recliner-couch we thought we loved when we bought it; once we were home with it, we realized it was a mistake.  We've lived with many mistakes in life.  These days, at our ages we just sort of shrug and say, "Oh well."

There you have it, my first assignment.  The next assignments will be longer, and I probably won't be putting the rest of them on my blog.    

Thursday, January 09, 2020

I'm lost on the Internet

I'm in way over my head at this point.  Someone at church mentioned I can do genealogical searches through my library website.  So now I can read old papers, search for my relatives and ancestors, read magazines, and check out books... all free!  I've been wanting to do a genealogy search on Cliff's family, but I don't have much background on the Wood family.  So all I have on the tree so far is Cliff and his parents.  Apparently, though, I can't access my family tree on the library's link to Ancestry.  Still, I can look people and documents up and have them sent to me, I think.  I found my dad's first marriage license with my sister's mother, who died giving birth to my brother less than two years later.  That was interesting.  

Also!!!  There are all sorts of free classes online that I can access.  There are so many subjects, though, I don't know where to start.  However, it's better than staying on Facebook all day I guess, if I'm learning things.  Unfortunately, surfing the web in any form doesn't burn many calories; nor does it get the cooking and laundry done.  Cliff and I were sitting on the couch mid-morning today, enjoying our computers. "This is the life, isn't it?"  I said.  "You know what?" he answered, "You're right!" 

We have strange, brief conversations often. 

It's around 60 right now with a howling wind, but there's a cold front coming in soon.  I won't even guess which weather forecast is accurate for our area, since I've heard everything from just a little bit of precipitation to eight inches of snow.  At the least, it's probably going to get a little sloppy.  At worst... well, we won't talk about that.  I hope it doesn't ruin our Chiefs game Sunday.  

I can't even believe I care about a football game!  But since I mentioned it, let me show you a picture of our prized quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, dangling off his daddy's arm:

And my dog, my crazy Gabe.  This morning I couldn't get him to go outside without me going along, simply because the wind was blowing so hard.  After our noon meal, Cliff went outside to see what he could find to do.  Some time later I let Gabe outside and forgot all about him.  I heard the four-wheeler coming up out of the pasture, looked out the window, and Cliff drove by in the four-wheeler with Gabe riding shotgun, front paws on the dashboard watching the world go by.  What a sight!

Gabe reminds me of a two-year-old child.  I will step outside, notice him off at the edge of the yard, and call.  He will look up at me, then proceed to ignore me.  I beg, cajole, and belly-ache at him, telling him to come.  Finally I start walking toward him, griping all the way.  When I get about six feet away from him, he will act surprised I'm there and start running toward the house.  Really?  This is how he treats the person who feeds him? 

This is just me, checking in.  I'm diving back into the public library website now, to see what I can learn.  

Bye bye.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

I've lost interest in television

I've never been one to leave the television on all day for "background noise".  That would drive me batty for sure!  But throughout the years, I've generally had a handful of favorite shows I enjoyed watching.  The last commercial television shows I've actually looked forward to were West Wing and The Good Wife, and they go back a few years.  Right now I believe "Call the Midwife" on PBS is the only show I look forward to.  I watch Forensic Files often, but it's mostly just something to kill time.  The other evening Cliff asked if there was anything, perhaps something on Netflix or perhaps a movie on DVD, that I'd like to watch.  I thought awhile and finally said, "Honestly, I couldn't care less about anything on television these days."  

Never have there been so many choices when it comes to watching television:  If you can afford it, you can bring any sort of entertainment into your living room.  Most people have cable or satellite television, plus several streaming apps like Netflix and Prime.  We do, and I'm not sure we aren't wasting our money on those.  We paid an extra ten bucks a month to watch Country Road TV until we'd seen all the Country's Family Reunions several times, and when I realized we weren't watching it much, I discontinued it.  With all the choices available, I still find very shows that interest me unless you count old reruns from past years, shows like "All in the Family", "Taxi, "Andy Griffith" (only the black-and-white episodes), and "Frasier".  

Probably at the root of the problem is this:  I have unlimited books in my life now, thanks to the iPad and our public libraries.  With books, I can pick the genres I enjoy, read the reviews online, and generally find a book I can read and love.  I also pay attention to what my online friends are reading; if there's a good book someone says couldn't put down, I immediately see if it's available at the library and check it out or put it on hold.  Here are some of the books I'll be reading in the next several weeks (if you aren't using the Libby app, you should):

I'm glad my next book will be John Sandford's, and it features my favorite character... Virgil Flowers!  Right now I'm reading "Olive, Again", which I saw mentioned online.  I almost passed on it because it was an Oprah's Book Club selection; sometimes there's an agenda behind their choices, but I'm enjoying this book.  The waiting list is longer than just the books you can see pictured here.  There's a John Grisham book, The Guardians; This Tender Land; Garner Files; and The Whisper Man.  Those all have a six-week wait time.  

Yesterday I was undecided about what we'd have for dinner.  I have a little chili in the freezer, enough for us to put over a couple of hot dogs.  Being in the middle of an interesting book, I thought chili dogs would be simple and quick for lunch, but I could tell Cliff was less than enthusiastic... not that he said anything, but after over fifty years of marriage, you learn to communicate pretty well without saying a word.  Anyhow, I decided, since Cliff has been pretty patient with my wanting to eat out lately, to make hamburger stew instead.  That made a hit, and there's plenty left for today's noon meal, too.  (More reading time for me.)

Yesterday was a lovely day that started out cloudy, but cleared off nicely by noon.  Cliff spent a lot of time piddling around outside.  I got my walk in, but I did it in two parts, since my timing on the soup was a little off.  I like to walk mid-morning; I'm more energetic in the early part of the day.  But I didn't have time to do the whole walk before noon.  Yes, we eat promptly at noon around here.  I'm telling you, with my belly full of delicious soup, part two of the walk was slow and draggy!  

I believe that's it for today.  Have yourselves a great day, won't you?  I intend to.  

Friday, January 03, 2020

It's been a mild winter so far

I suppose that isn't saying much, since winter just started a couple of weeks ago.  But in my mind, winter starts November first and ends the first of March.  So we're well on our way through it, right?  We had one significant snow storm in December, but it only affected us for a couple of days.  I've seen winters that have been so much worse!  

I'll just talk to myself here, since I really don't have anything major to tell.  

The other night Cliff and I were looking in vain for some movie that might interest us.  We were browsing through what Netflix had to offer and I noticed "Rain Man" was available.  We discussed it; we'd both liked it.  It had been years since we'd seen it, and decided it would be fun to watch it again.  As it turned out, we had forgotten most of the story.  Oh, we knew the guy kidnapped his brother, hoping to get his share of his dad's inheritance, and that everything worked out in the end.  But all the little things that made the movie so great?  We had no recollection of those whatsoever.  

I'm telling you, it was the best movie we've watched in years.

On another note, Gabe has been bringing me presents.  I guess the spirit of the Christmas season must have gotten to him,  First, I must explain that he can easily hide something in his mouth and it doesn't even show, thanks to the Schnauzer beard.  I let him outside four days ago; when I called from the door, he was in a corner of the yard sniffing around and ignoring me; when I got really loud and threatening, I saw him scoop something off the ground into his mouth.  I figured it was a berry from the Bradford pear tree, or maybe an acorn.  Yes, he eats that kind of junk.  Is it any wonder he takes a puking fit every few days?  I assumed whatever he'd gotten into his mouth was on the way to his stomach and let him in when he got to the door.  I shut the door, turned toward the center of the room, and didn't see Gabe anywhere. "Gabe?" I called.  I walked down the hall toward the guest bedroom, back to the living room, and then through the kitchen.  As I walked in our bedroom I saw Gabe sitting proudly in his kennel with a dead sparrow at his feet.  Somebody just shoot me!  Then this afternoon, I had let him out for awhile; I went to call him in, and as I called, I saw him once more scoop something into his mouth:  This time when he got to the door, I forced his mouth open before I let him in.  Out fell as large a mole as I've seen lately.    

Cora, the kid we babysat for so long, spent Monday and Thursday here this week, and we're always glad to see her.  Her grandparents were watching her during her dad's week of the school's winter break; so we got to spend time with her, and the grandparents had a couple of days to themselves. 

Now that it's all said and done, I guess it's OK to mention that Cora's parents have divorced; they each have her every other week.  It seems to be working out for everyone at this point, and I think Mom, Dad, and Cora have all settled into their "new normal".

Cora told me about some of her Christmas gifts; one grandma got her lots of Barbie Clothes, and two huge Barbie houses.  I saw an opportunity to have a discussion with her about the collection of "Little People" stuff I accumulated while I was babysitting her.  "Now that you are into Barbies, you're sort of too big for Little People stuff, aren't you?"  She agreed.  "Really," I told her, "the Little People are more like baby toys, don't you think?"  She nodded in agreement.  

"Well then, since I don't have a lot of room here, and I really don't need all these toys around, don't you think it might be a good idea to let Monica and Natalie (two of my granddaughters who are expecting) have them for their babies?"  Cora agreed with me, and I thought, "Wow!  That was easy!"

Unfortunately, it only took her about ten minutes to have a change of heart.  She decided she might not be done with Little People after all; in fact, she thought we might just play with them that very day. 

I'm pretty sure that the child will be willing to relinquish them before too long.  The seed has been planted.  Once she has time to think about it, she will come around.  I'll keep suggesting that Little People are for babies and toddlers, not for big girls like her who like Barbies. 

Moving right along:  The book I'm reading now is "Burial Rites".  It's set in Iceland on 1829, inspired by a true story (and soon to be a movie).  Now, if ever a nation screamed "boring" to me, Iceland would be that country.  I started the book wondering just how interesting such a story could possibly be.  However, I'm over halfway through it and it's holding my attention just fine.  I have done several Google searches on Iceland, simply because I can't imagine why anyone would live there; why would anybody even settle there in the first place?  (Hint... they didn't like where they were living before.)  The climate is cool and dreary-sounding.  It seems incredible to me people can raise crops in such a short summer where it doesn't normally get all that warm. 

And there you have it... just small glimpses of my life, nothing earthshaking today.  Nothing hilarious, nothing sad... just me.  My work here is done.