Saturday, July 23, 2011

lost and found

The Hummelstown Swim Club has been a refuge from the languishing
heat and humidity that's been clinging stubbornly like a disgruntled child to her mother's legs.
The boys, amused with their games of
shark, marco polo, and tag
as well as their
 dare devil demonstrations on the diving boards
 have been as buoyant as their bodies
while their mother sits on the clover rich lawn
under the shade of the yews overtop-absorbed in the torrid saga of Flaubert's Madame Bovary.
Mr. Ninja sorely disappointed that his goggles are missing- hoping against hope
that someone will return them to
 the lost and found
 so his eyes won't burn from the sting of the chlorine for the rest of the summer.
The next day you call.
It's been at least five years since I've heard your cheerful voice- which quickly
takes me back to when we were roommates living in Tucson's desert heat.
I was 20. You were 33.
I had a bike and you had a
White VW Golf- that you'd sometimes let me drive- marveling at how I could get it started in
3rd gear instead of 1st.
We play catch-up.
You tell me that your mother passed away in March.  That shortly after the funeral,
you noticed the lump under your breast.
Scars and scarves soon follow-
 expressions of your courage and faith to fight your greatest battle yet.
I've got your address now and phone number written in permanent ink
in my red address book with the picture of an Amish quilt on the cover.
The boys are anxious to leave as soon as I hang up the telephone.
We head to the pool and are happy to discover
Mr. Ninja's blue googles 
 sitting unassumingly in the lost and found drawer.


Monday, July 18, 2011

George and Lois- a short story

Finally, this day is over.   George thought as he unpacked the last box.  He'd purchased the tiny, two bedroom bungalow on a whim ( he'd liked the spacious front porch) however, the house would make do.  He needed a fresh start and Florida was a long way from Philly and his ex-wife.

He could remember the conversation he'd had with Martha- just like it was yesterday.  She'd been in the middle of washing the dinner dishes.  Things hadn't gone well for her that day.  She'd been in some kind of funk for over a month- on edge and irritable.  Dinner had been eaten with only the sound of their forks clinking their plates.  The summertime heat hadn't help things either- temperatures had been in the mid-nineties all week and with each rising degree, Martha's patience was wearing thin.  Nothing he said could make her happy.  

- The phone company called today,  Martha said, as she washed the silverware in the hot, sudsy water.  They need seventeen dollars by the end of this week or they'll disconnect our phone.
- Oh yeah?  George said, absorbed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  
- We need our phone, George.  How else will I be able to speak to my sister?  contempt thick in her voice.
- You know things have been slow at the shop lately.  Can't we just hold off for another month until things pick up a bit?
- You know, George.  The truth is that things aren't ever going to pick up, are they?  If it isn't one excuse for the man it's another?  Why don't you just drop this job and go find something that pays more money?
- Come on, Martha.  You know Joe is doing the best he can.  He has a wife and five kids to feed.
- I know he has a wife and five kids to feed.  Don't you think I know that, George?  What about our kid, George?  Isn't she important, too?
- Of course she's important, he replied, still reading the paper.
- Oh.  You're so infuriating!  her face crimson with anger.  

And that was it.  The next thing he knew, a butcher knife was flying past his face- just missing his left ear by half an inch.  Panic flooded him as the reality of the situation sunk in.
He wouldn't say a word.  He'd simply grab his keys and walk out.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

sunflower house part II

Mr. Cook inside the fort
The sunflower house has finally grown into all of it's glory and is tall enough to house Mr. Ninja and Mr. Cook comfortably (actually, I've enjoyed standing inside the house as well).
Here is what I learned:

1.  Don't trust sunflower seed packets.  All of the seeds that were supposed to be 4-5 footers turned out to be 10-12 footers.  All of them.  If anyone would care to share with me why this happened... I'd be really grateful to glean from your experience.
2.  Use plastic plant tie tape to hold the sunflowers in place. I grabbed the top of the sunflowers and tied them to other ones to form a "roof" on top.  The flowers bend pretty easily closer to the top of their stems ( although they can still break-so be careful).  You could use twine as well- whatever works.
inside the house- looking up at the roof
3.  Water regularly.  I usually water about every other day since there isn't a whole lot of soil around each plant to keep it moist.
4.  Plant those lima beans earlier. I planted lima beans between the sunflowers in order to create more privacy between the  flowers- the only problem is that I planted them too late.  Next time I do this, I'll try putting the limas into the ground a week or so after planting the sunflowers.  That way the kids will have something to munch on while inside the house.
5.  Be careful where you place your sunflower house site.  If you have other veggies close-by that require full sun, remember that the sunflower house will provide shade as it reaches maturity- which might be a plus or a minus.
6.  In the fall- harvest those seeds.  Hopefully the birds won't get to them before I do.

Some final thoughts... I'm so glad I did this.  Not only did it provide a wonderful fort for our boys in our treehouse-less backyard, but it has brought beauty and joy to us and the neighbors as well (which is always a good thing).  Not bad for a couple packets of seeds.  Not bad at all.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

come july

Ever have one of those days that kind of impacts the rest of your life unbeknownst to you?  I had one back in 1998, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  Mr. Hero and I decided that we really wouldn't be breaking the Sabbath if we attended one of Southern Utah University's Summer Evening concerts ( it was free after all).  We were to listen to a woman we'd never heard of- Judith Edelman and her band.  The bio on the program said that she played bluegrass, and having lived in Fayetteville Arkansas for a couple of years when I was a young girl, I'd developed a hearty taste for it.

We had Mr. Tailor and Mr. Reporter in tow- both under the age of three.   Their young age didn't matter this time- they listened to the music without so much as a peep.  We were all transfixed.  Judith was so personable- she engaged the audience with her humor and at one point even asked us not to look at her so she wouldn't be frightened (how were we to do that when we were all there to see her?).   After the concert, I went with my gut instinct and broke the Sabbath anyway by purchasing her CD- Perfect World - which turned out to be a decision I would never regret- even as a practicing Mormon.

Her music has offered me comfort and sheer joy over the years as I've plugged away at raising my baby boys. Some days, I'd wake up in one of those moods set on by the stress of little ones tugging at my legs, knowing that a ton of work was ahead of me, understanding that Judith's music would set everything right again- "I Don't Need a Thousand Acres"- usually did the trick.  The song is about a woman who has grown older and is now content with just a small room... for she knows that her imagination will take her where ever she wants to go.  When a rebellious mood would hit, I'd listen to "Ride On a Train", which is about a woman hopping on a train that was headed for nowhere in particular, just because- and she was going to smoke 'til she dropped because she knew that a train wouldn't be disappointed in her- it wouldn't care at all.

Now summer is here and for the first time in our gardening experience, our family has a watermelon patch growing out back. We've got five out there, growing on the vine... I think that we should have a "watermelon bust" with the neighbors to celebrate.   Once again, Judith's music is going through my head.  This song is from her Drama Queen album- "Come July".  It's about watermelon and lobster pie and that "restless man whose hard to hold".  Check her out.  I hope you enjoy her as much as I have.

Monday, July 11, 2011

mr. Ninja's muffins

This muffin recipe has been my old stand-by for when the "mom, I'm starving" complaint starts a comin'.  I've had it for years and still end up using it about once a week.  You can change it around by adding blueberries, pumpkin, pineapples, apples, chocolate powder, or whatever else suits your fancy (ok... maybe you won't want to add all of these ingredients at once).  Give it a try.  You never know what might come out of the oven with this thing.

Mr. Ninja's Muffin Recipe
yield: 24 muffins

Basic Bare Bone Ingredients: 
dry ingredients
3 cups flour
2 cups oats
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt (optional)
wet ingredients
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
4 cups of milk

1 cup oats
1/2 cup sugar
6 tbsp butter- chilled is best
1/2 cup flour

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Oil muffin tins.
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Make a well in the middle and mix in wet ingredients.  Mix streusel ingredients together in a separate bowl until crumbly and put on top of muffin batter. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.

My notes (in other words, here's the skinny):

You can totally play around with this and still make it up- even if your fridge is bare- as long as you have the dry ingredients in your pantry.  For example: water can be substituted for milk- or you could use soy or rice milk if you prefer.  You can also substitute the eggs with 2 tbsp of flaxseed meal- just in case you are out.  I also like to use whole wheat flour.  For years, I didn't use white flour at all- but now I add two cups of white flour and a cup of whole wheat flour to make them a bit more soft.  You can also use shredded coconut in place of the oats-which when pineapple juice is added in place of one of the cups of milk- tastes really yummy.
As for fruit: I've added blueberries, raisins, craisins, strawberries, pureed pumpkin (you'll want to decrease the milk when using this), pineapple, apple bits, etc.  Use whatever you want.  For a pumpkin pie muffin, add a tsp of cinnamon, 1/4 tsp clove and nutmeg- and you're set.  A tsp of vanilla can also be added for flavor- or you could try almond extract.  Experiment and have fun.  You really can't mess this up too bad.
Also a final note: I have used Sucanat in place of white sugar for over 10 years now. It is very healthy for you and adds to the nutritional value of this recipe, as well as gives the muffins an added flavor.  Try it sometime.  I bet you'll like it.
Ok... one more final note about the streusel: You can mix the streusel ingredients by hand or you can use a food processor- which will have the job done lickity split. It's up to you.

Happy breakfast (or lunch... dinner... )!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

putting food away

Strawberry picking with Mr. Ninja
A couple of years ago, I came across this article in Mother Earth News which changed the way I thought about food storage and the grocery store.   Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms, gave a tutorial on how to "wean yourself off the grocery store umbilical cord" and showed how easy it can be to eat local produce in season, whether you grow the produce yourself or find it at the local farmers' market.

So for the last two years, we've been trekking it to Strites Farm in an effort to stock up on berries and fruit. Come September, we'll hit the local farmers' market at the Farm Show complex and purchase 1/2 bushel baskets of bell peppers, apples and gherkin pickles which we'll freeze and can for the winter. Also during this time of the year, we'll get our yearly supply of grass fed and organically raised meat from Mark- a mennonite farmer who was blasted by the state for selling raw milk and cheese to his customers (you can learn more about the FDA's war on raw milk here). This year we'll be purchasing 1/2 a cow and a pig to get us through.

I've gotta tell ya, come November, after all the growing, canning, and freezing is done, and the food is all stocked away in the freezer and put up on the shelves, I feel rich. No other way to put it.  I know that if anything were to happen- if some freak winter storm hit and the trucks couldn't get to the super markets for a week or so, we'd be ok.... and so would our neighbors- because we'd share with them, too.

8 lbs of cherries, 80 lbs of blueberries (we ordered these from a supplier in NJ), 13 lbs of strawberries