2.01.2014

Art on the Wing

Monarchs are old friends of mine. Our area being one of the main migration paths, I saw them arrive and leave every year as far back as I can remember. It really saddens me to hear of their plight.

As a little girl, wandering around the garden, pastures, and ditches of our property, I would come across them on the many milk weeds scattered around.  There was no missing them, with their bright colors; Deep oranges, dramatically-outlined by black, wings catching your eye in bright morning sun.

When you're very young, everything is fascinating to you.  It's all so new!  For instance, one day I noticed the dryer vent on the outside of the house.  Mom was doing the laundry that day, and the weather was still too cold for her liking to hang out the clothes.  Warm air was rushing out of the vent forming little clouds near the ground.  I had to investigate, of course.  As I drew near, I could feel its moist warmth - it was delightful!  My little hands were cold, despite the wool mittens my grandmother had knitted me.  I thought, why not take them off and warm them up under the vent?  So I did.  I came back often as I played in the yard, to warm up there.

One day later in the spring, in that in-between time when the snow had gone, but the full bloom of summer is yet to be, I came to warm up at my friendly vent, when I saw something different there.  It was small, short, round...and a shimmering green in the early morning light.  I had never seen anything like it before.  It intrigued me, and I wanted to know more.  I ran in the house and told Mom about it.  She told me that it sounded like a Monarch butterfly chrysalis.  I didn't fully understand, and my confusion must have shown on my face.  She smiled and said, like a cocoon that brown and orange caterpillars I already knew so well, turned into before becoming moths.   Oh, I said.  She further explained that if I watched it everyday, soon it would turn into an amazing butterfly, one of the most beautiful ones there are.  That's all it took, I was hooked.  I think this was my very first scientific adventure; I was taking the step beyond just exploring, into focused and purposeful observation.  I was excited!

It didn't take long.  I went out one morning to check, saw it was open.  Upon closer inspection, I saw that the former occupant was long gone.  I was very disappointed to have completely missed the magic of seeing the chrysalis finally open, and the butterfly emerge.  But I did what I could, examining the opened "shell".  With a gust of wind, it detached and blew away before I could catch it.  Gone, just like the butterfly.

1.11.2014

Creamed Corn

After cutting the kernels off the cob, she'd take the backside of the knife, scrape the cob
hard all the way around to get every bit of of the 'corn milk', thus enhancing the flavor...
My Mom made the best creamed corn. She always made sure to scrape the cob after cutting off the corn to get all the tasty 'corn milk'.  She used milk, butter, a bit of sugar plus flour, salt, and pepper to add to the corn after cooking it in a bit of water for a few minutes, to thicken and enhance the flavor. 

I loved her creamed corn - especially with a Sunday roast chicken meal...

1.09.2014

Influences

One of the films that affected me deeply as a young woman, was the adaption of Ray Bradbury's FAHRENHEIT 451. I will never, ever forget how the society in the story tried to control every aspect of individuals' lives. Nor how a brave few fought against it, and resolved to choose free will and knowledge above conformity and ignorance. The final scene of the 'books' walking purposely through the woods of their sanctuary, reciting out loud their contents, has stayed with me to this day...

11.30.2013

Talking to Myself

Soliloquy: The act or custom of talking to oneself or talking when alone.

When I was growing up, I would often overhear my grandmother and mother talking out loud to themselves. They'd count up something, make an oral mental note, mutter an exclamation or make a declaration, shoo away a pet, scold a child - and at other times, deal with a frustration by 'talking it out', out loud.  That doesn't even count all the singing, humming, Irish 'diddly-dee'ing', or whistling.  Some of it I suspect was just to deal with the continual work that never seemed to end, or the solitary nature of the majority of their long days. Whatever the reason, I grew up around hearing them vocalizing their thoughts, and felt it the most normal thing in the world to do.

Thus, I also talk to myself. I have done so all of my life, on an almost daily basis, about this and that.  It is like a method to clarify my thoughts, lay out problems, work through frustrations, or express deeply felt emotions.  I don't really think about it, and have even been caught doing it by other people around me, who find it very odd.



11.03.2013

Spring Cleaning


When I was growing up, it was common practice for my mother and grandmother to do what was called spring cleaning.  Windows were opened up, curtains and quilts were washed and hung out, rugs were aired and beaten, walls and floors scrubbed.  And kitchen cupboards were emptied, and thoroughly cleaned out and washed down.

As a young wife 35 years ago, even I used to do this domestic ritual.  I liked how it connected me to my mother and grandmother, and how it made me feel like a successful homemaker.  Everything felt so wonderful, so fresh, renewed!

Over the years, I became a very busy single working mother, and spring cleaning was forgotten and abandoned.  Not because I stopped believing in it, but because there was never enough time.  Deep cleaning gave way to spot cleaning on-the-fly.  It seemed to suffice.


In recent weeks, Bill and I have noticed increasing sightings of a small, dark, and thin beetle on our counter tops.  Along with this tiny beetle we have seen nearly as many small 'worms'.  We cleaned the area and thought no more about it.  Until it kept happening.  Over and over.

As often is the case, we were in denial.  It became obvious that this was not isolated but ongoing, that no amount of wishful thinking was going to make them vanish.

We did some research.  We learned they were a type of grain beetle, of which there are many kinds.  The solution sounded suspiciously like...spring cleaning.  I had lucked out over the years;  sadly, time and statistics (and maybe domestic karma) has caught up with me.

So this week, I shall be slowly but surely unloading the corner cabinets top and bottom, doing an inventory on my supplies, throwing out anything that is old, open, and/or infested, and thoroughly cleaning the cabinets.

Grandma and Mom knew what they were doing...

10.15.2013

Dresser Scarves

When I was growing up, this was called a dresser scarf. No good home was without them. This one is quite lovely - it is made from linen that has been crocheted over, then edged with. The embroidery is quite striking - a crewel using ribbons. I admire the maker, whoever she is.

I used to do a fair bit of embroidery myself, when a young girl and young woman. It was the one handiwork I truly enjoyed. I never wanted to learn to knit, did learn basic crochet but never was interested enough to develop it. But I can do a mean satin stitch.

My favorite linens to embroider were dish towel sets consisting of seven flour sack dish towels, one for each day of the week.  The old ways were nothing if not generous with the linens, which meant more laundry!  Other favorites of mine to enhance with thread and needle were dresser scarves, hankies, and pillowcases.  My Grandma Fitzpatrick taught me a lot about the different stitches, how they were done, how to properly separate your floss, tricks to threading needles, and how to tie off your thread.  The best needlework, it was said, looked as good from the back, as it did from the front.  Due to my never wanting to waste an inch of floss, I never did get that down; looking at the back of my needlework was like looking at a drunken spider's web!  But my fronts were splendid, if I do say so myself.

I still to this day, have dresser scarves, pillow cases, and towel sets that I have never used.  They were done by my grandmother, and I treasure them and the work of her hands so much, I do not want to use them and have them worn out.  They are to me, a heritage I wish to preserve.

9.30.2013

Putting Up and Putting By

In our basement, which was just rough cement walls and floor, was a root cellar left from the days when there wasn't a proper basement under the house when my grandparents built it in 1906. Later in the 1950s came the basement. My parents continued to use the dark cellar for potatoes and carrots, and other root vegetables. But my mother also had many shelves, and they were very full when I was very little. Over the years she did less and less when it was only me and Dad, and my sisters had grown and left. She took her first full-time out-of-the-home job in 1974 to help attain some financial goals her and Dad had before he retired in 1987. She still canned even then, but only as little as possible. She began experimenting with freezing some vegetables. I will never forget the many meals we had during many long, dark winters with food she and Dad grew and then put up. That was the beginning of my 'pickiness' about food; if it wasn't as good as Mom's, it wasn't good enough...