Wednesday, May 23, 2012

May 23rd

It's weird how a date can be so important to you. As I wrote this date on my classroom whiteboard yesterday before I left school, I took a moment to consider how it was like writing my own birthday. It is my sister's birthday. I've talked before about her and not always just because it's her day. She died seven years ago, this June. It was unexpected, and quite shocking to us. After all,  she was only 51.

But as her birthday comes around again, three months to the day after mine, I realize that her passing does not remove her from our family. She is as real to us as though it were still possible to pick up the phone and listen to her tell you a silly story about her cats, or hear about the latest knee surgery or, in a  self-deprecating way, tell about some awesome act of neighborly kindness she was involved in lately.

She grew a huge garden every year and gave away most of it. She baked constantly---again---giving away the results to friends in need. (And the need didn't have to be sickness--she knew who felt lonely and sad.) She was grandmother extrordinaire, too, and they didn't have to be her grandchildren. She'd drop in on my grandchildren because she could, and I couldn't. Too far away. If you were her relative in the MTC, you got treats. Her son sent people to visit/stay with her while he was in Korea, because he knew she would take them in and do what was needed--despite the inability to communicate in a common language.

She inherited most of the ills and physical ailments and difficult body structures that the entire gene-pool seemed to offer. But she also inherited all the goodness, hospitality, humor and joie de vivre that was available too. Happy Birthday, Trish!

Here we are in 2004, posing inside the milking side of the barn, where we spent half our lives as teenagers. In the summer, we'd bring out the radio and play rock and roll music till the radio station went off the air at sunset. In the winter, we'd practice our vocabulary words, or memorize scriptures for seminary. In 2004, her husband LaRon, and our other carpentry-skilled brother-in-law, Alan, shored up the frame and roof and we all joined in for a weekend to paint the barn. The next summer, she was gone, and the year after that, our mother left, too. The memories we made that day are way more than priceless. (And, no, we didn't coordinate the pink shirts in advance...isn't it just too cool?)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


...and the thermometer's rising. Fish don't jump here--it's cooler to stay underwater. But, you could easily grow cotton! I'm growing tomatoes and lettuce (which I must go cut tonight because it will definitely not survive the weekend if it's going to be over 100 degrees. I'm also growing basil and geraniums. As long as they get water, those two love hot temperatures. Anyway, I just thought I'd share what my truck instruments were telling me tonight as I drove home from the teacher's union meeting.

It was hot in there, too. As you know, we teachers are the worst people ever, here in Las Vegas, because we wouldn't give back the raises that we received last fall. Which we were entitled to according to our two year old contract. But, no, school districts don't really need teachers, after all. I mean, if they pay us, then how will they afford the salaries for all the people who work in the district office? After all, what is school for? Teaching children? Come on...(Okay, I'll stop now.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Divine Foods...continued

Oatmeal. Yes, I mean the stuff you cook in a pot on the stove. I'm rather fussy about my oatmeal. There is only one way I like it. First, I boil the water. Then, I add the oatmeal. If you bring the oatmeal to boil with the water, it will be creamy and mushy. That is probably the main reason many people don't even like oatmeal. They've only eaten the creamy, mushy sort. Also, it is important to use Old-fashioned oatmeal--not "Quick-Cooking" or...bleah--instant. I know--I'm being a snob. This is a matter of personal taste, I recognize. However, as nice as it is that one can now buy oatmeal at various fast-food places, the product they serve you is not even close to the oatmeal I love.

Oatmeal is a heritage food. I have a great-grandmother named Agnes Stewart. Born and raised in Scotland, then emigrated to America. However, the version I eat is far removed from the oat porridge that she would have served or eaten. Apparently, oats were the staple of Scotland because the growing conditions there were too cold and damp to make wheat a successful crop. But, oats can grow in a harsh climate--I know--my dad grew them on our farm. Oats are like candy to horses. If you wanted them to come down from the pasture to you (rather than you chasing after them) walk out there with a couple of handfuls of oats in a bucket, and give it shake. They'll trot right over for the treat.

Here's a great quote: "Samuel Johnson referred, disparagingly, to this [that the Scots grew and ate oats in lieu of wheat] in his dictionary definition for oats: "A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people." His biographer, James Boswell, noted that Lord Elibank was said by Sir Walter Scott to have retorted, "Yes, and where else will you see such horses and such men?"

Plus, oatmeal has been proven to reduce cholesterol, it is a fabulous source of fiber, it helps to lower blood pressure,and it is 100% natural--they grow it, they roll it, and you eat it. It is spectacularly inexpensive. And, truly, it is delicious. Also, you can cook a pot of it, eat some today, and refrigerate the rest for each of the other mornings this week. Simply microwave a small dish of it each day and you can have hot, delicious whole-grain cereal for breakfast every day. You'll be filled with nutrition and energy, frisky as a young colt for the entire morning.

About twice a month, CoolGuy and I will have a supper of oatmeal and toast and fruit. I'm tired, it's late and maybe, we had a big lunch. Then, breakfast for dinner is perfect. CoolGuy likes to add brown sugar and dried cranberries with the milk. I prefer white sugar and milk. But, it is one meal you can paunch yourself with and not feel a bit of regret. My children have introduced me to steel-cut oats. They take a bit longer to cook, but everyone gives them rave reviews. I'll have to try it soon.

My favorite breakfast grain is a versatile cook's helper, too. I add oatmeal to meatloaf as the binder. It is much chewier than breadcrumbs or chunks of bread, and almost tastes like the ground meat itself.  And is there anything better than oatmeal cookies? Unless it is oatmeal cookies with raisins? Or maybe No-Bake cookies made with oatmeal? I love to make and eat granola, too, which is basically raw oatmeal coated with delicious honey, oil and mixed with every nut or dried fruit you wish. Sigh....oatmeal. It's perfect in so many ways.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Today is our wedding anniversary. We were married in 1974. We honeymooned in San Diego. Actually, CoolGuy was stationed in San Diego in the Navy, and we lived there. So after the celebration in Wyoming, we just went back home. But, hey! We did fun things, and lolled around, and ate food, and rode the motorcycle. So it was like a honeymoon. Just another bonus of living in a vacation mecca: you can do all the cool things, then go home and sleep in  your own bed.

Wow...if you want to feel old, then look at the wedding picture on your 38th anniversary...whew.

Six short years later, we'd expanded the family quite a bit, huh? Another wedding---this time, my sister's. (1980)

Four more years went by, we've been married for ten years.
This was at my father's funeral. (1984)

Seven more years...everyone is growing up--except the parents.
We're ageless.  (1991)

Five more years, living across the country....(1996)

We always have to take a photo here...(2004)

Here is it...almost 38 years. Everyone is grown
and yet we're still smiling and standing up
together. (2011)

There are so many more photos. Weddings, missions, grandchildren, beach visits. Moving from state to state, and one of them twice. Funerals and birthdays, graduations and surgeries--we've done lots of all four. We're shooting for fifty years---just to amaze ourselves. Who knew??

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Helpful Hint

When wearing light colored pants to school, be very, very careful how you eat your lunch. Yesterday, I was dining on my usual: salad with a sliced hard-boiled egg, chopped turkey, diced avocado and---the piece de resistance: sliced beets dressed with rice vinegar and olive oil, which I pour over the rest of the salad as the dressing...

.....When, (I'm sure you've guessed by now) I dropped a piece of beet. Yes, into my lap. Yes, onto the tan pants I was wearing. AUUGGHH! And it bounced back and forth, so that both legs were quite splattered. AUUUUUGGHH!!!

I spent the rest of lunch scrubbing with baby wipes and water to get the stains to a pale pink from the original rich, deep red . Then, I tried drying the large wet spots, that went the length of my upper legs, by dabbing with a dry towel and fanning with a piece of cardstock, but finally had to go to the cafeteria to monitor lunching students.

So, the moral of the story is: don't take beets in your lunch when you're wearing light colored pants. Or, don't be careless when eating beets for lunch when wearing light colored pants. Or, wear a rain poncho over your light colored pants when eating beets for lunch. Or, something...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Legacy Fern

Isn't this a lovely fern? And isn't is awesome that I haven't killed it yet? Yes, it is. I have a bad pattern with ferns in the past. However, I have a strong incentive with this particular fern, because it is a piece of the fern that my mother had in her living room, all my life. I got a section of it from my sister after our mother died, and I almost messed it up, like I've done to countless other ferns in my care.

My sister sent me this photo more than 25 years ago. It is a shot of her children and some of my other nieces and nephews, posed in Grandma's living room. I was so busy admiring the babies I hadn't seen yet, and how big everyone had gotten that I overlooked the plant behind them. Besides, that fern was just a fixture in my mother's living room. I rarely gave it a thought. But a friend of mine, seeing the photo on my refrigerator, gasped, "Is that a fern??" and as I looked again, I realized that it dwarfed the children in the picture. It was enormous.

My mother's fern seemed to be low-maintenance. Mama would pour a quart jar of water in it once a week. She'd pick up the occasional fallen brown leaves that would litter the floor. Sometimes, she'd use scissors to snip off a frond that may have been broken by roughhousing, or the occasional errant thrown ball. But I don't recall any misting, or conversations with it, or even any plant food. None of the usual things that one reads that should be done to cause a fern to flourish. It just sat there in front of the west facing window, in the shadow of an enormous pine tree (so the direct sun could never fry it) and it grew and grew. I also remember her taking it outside every five or so years, and removing it from its pot (which, in my childhood, was an old white enamel dishpan) and breaking it all apart. It would become pot-bound, so she'd separate into sections, wrap the sections in newspaper and give them away to friends and relatives. Then, she put a nice chunk of it back into the old metal pot with fresh dirt and replace the greatly diminished plant back on its wooden stool, in front of the window. In a few months, it was filling out and great long swards of it were arching out to tickle little kid's faces once again.

It seemed indestructible, so I was optimistic that, for the first time in my life, I could keep a fern alive. It was looking good for the first few months. But, then it started to droop and turn mostly brown and only a few of the fronds looked like they were going to keep living. I did so want to be able to have this little piece of my mom flourish in my house. So, I took it outdoors, I dumped out whatever dirt was in the pot, I broke off all the dried out and rotten chunks. What I had left was just about three vigorous looking fronds, bravely still trying to grow. I filled my pot with good soil from my compost-amended garden, and re-potted those courageous little bits, and took it back inside to grow on a plant holder, in my west window, that is shaded by a large tree. Then I wrote myself a recurring note on my Outlook calendar so that I never failed to water it every single week.

It worked!! Here (and above) are photographic evidence that even I can grow a fern!!  It is fabulous! It just grows and grows, constantly shooting out new little fiddleheads that unfurl into large graceful fronds that overflow the edges of my pot and dance ever-so-slightly in the breeze from the ceiling fan. It has been several months since I rescued it by never missing a watering turn and just staying away from it except for that. It seems to be just as happy here in my house as it was in my mother's. Every time I look at it, I think of her. So, besides her hardworking hands and work ethic, I also have my mother's fern to remember her by.  Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Desert Adventure

We had an incident last week at school that happened only because it's a desert out there. A student came to me, right after we got in the class room, and lifted up her thumb to show me, as she said, "I reached in my backpack and something poked me." Sure enough, I could see a little mark on her thumb indicating that, indeed, she'd been poked. I wondered what she could have in there that would jab her--an open pin, a compass with a sharp point? Weird. Then, she said, "I thought I saw something move in that pocket." Hmmm...a bug? Well, I told her that we should take her backpack out on the patio at lunch and clean it out. I decided to send her up to the nurse's office for some ice or calamine lotion or whatever. She complained a couple of times later that morning, I put some more calamine lotion on it and had her put a wet paper towel on it to cool down the little bit of redness I could see forming. We were having a crazy day, and I totally forgot the backpack.

The day was mixed up  because we were in the middle of our testing schedule. I had one group of students for the two and a half hours before lunch. We were deeply engaged in a writing activity on the laptop computers. Time flew by and they all went out to play. We ate lunch, we returned to the rooms, they all packed up their backpacks and she went off to math class, without me remembering that I was going to take it outside and dump everything out.

An hour later, we were moving our classes to their "specials" (PE, Art, Music) and I walked out into the hall to see my student, the math teacher and her back pack. The backpack was dumped across the corridor, everything scattered across the floor. At my questioning look, my colleague said, "There was a scorpion in there!!!" That got my attention.

My student had reached down to take something from the open upper pocket and saw the scorpion run across the zipper flap. She screamed, the poor math teacher screamed. A boy knocked it off the backpack, and another boy stomped it into the carpeting until it was just a smear. It was less than two inches long and about the same color as the backpack. But, still!!! A SCORPION!!! We were all quite non-plussed.

I took her up to the nurse to show her the red, swollen thumb. It wasn't that obvious, but now that I knew what had stung her, I realized that for four hours, she'd been telling me her thumb still hurt, and as I examined it more, I could see that it was a little swollen and there was quite a bit of redness. I felt terrible. First, I felt bad that I hadn't checked the backpack immediately. Then, I felt better knowing that at least I'd given her anti-itch cream and a cool, wet towel whenever she asked. I insisted that the nurse call her mother and explain, and give mom the option to take our girl to an Quickcare Clinic after school if she felt it necessary. My student was looking a little worried, but I assured her she would be fine. If she was going to die from that scorpion bite, she'd have been feeling really bad just a short time after the sting, and we would have already called the paramedics, and they would have already saved her. She looked more relieved when I explained it like that.

The next morning, she had a brand new backpack! Her mom threw the old one away, and from now on, the backpack would always hang on a hook and never rest on the floor at their house. She felt that the scorpion may have crawled in at their home, because at school, it was hanging on a chair usually. I hope it was from their house! We already deal with the occasional cockroach and bumble bee; I really don't want scorpions, too. Scorpions!! Good grief!!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Chickens in the Pool Shed

I got run over by a whole flock of chickens tonight. I'd gone outside to transplant some new geraniums I'd just bought, into my empty pots. I looked over at the pool and realized I ought to put some chlorine tablets in the filters, but didn't find any in the pool shed. However, I did remember that I needed to look in the drawers of a file cabinet out there to see if I could find my oldest son's Boy Scout merit badge sash.

 (Are you seeing the chickens...?) (Okay, I'll explain: my friend, the special ed teacher, sometimes wears a T-shirt that says, "I don't have ADD---Oh Loook!! There's a Chicken....) Well, I didn't find the merit badge sash. I didn't get any chlorine tablets into the pool filter baskets. I didn't even get the geraniums re-potted. Instead, I found a big folder stuffed with type-written pages. The only person who would have typed papers that ended up in that file cabinet was moi. And I found a totally awesome package of old treasures out there.

In the Olden Days, when we didn't own a T.V. and after I put the kids to bed, I'd either sit down to the sewing machine, or the typewriter. I typed a lot of stuff. Not just stories for my sisters, or memoirs for my parents, but I found articles about child-rearing, what I learned (and should have learned) in Young Women, silly stories about my life (some were published in local newspapers), a couple of stories that The Friend didn't want, and three more biker stories that were, sadly, rejected by Easyrider magazine. (I say sadly because they paid me, whereas the local newspapers just printed my stories with the only reward being fleeting glory among my acquaintances.) I also found a really sincere rejection letter from Redbook Magazine, telling me how very much everyone there liked my article, and how it went from editor to editor, but was ultimately not selected, but that I should definitely submit it to another publication because, girl, it was good!! (or words to that effect---for a rejection letter, it was remarkably personal and complimentary.)

I also found notebooks filled, in my formerly exquisite handwriting, with song lyrics and poetry--mostly laments over disappointments of love. I even wrote some of the poems myself. In fact, I still really like a couple of them. Here's one: (I think it's about sarcasm.)

Take Care
Why quarreling?
Why purposely hurt?
Cruel arrows
Flung in fun
With a slow-but-sure poison.
Love is too close to hate
And our tables are
Too easily turned.

Remember the poem that was printed in the New Era? Here's another poem I wrote on the same topic. I don't know's not dated.

Autumn in Star Valley

Indian summer comes to her
As a long gone lover home at last.
Her bright blush of maple fire
Cooled only by November's blast.

Scarlet and gold, she dresses now
To dance through star bright nights.
Mystical geese making music
That drifts down with the breeze from their heights.

So, anyway...chickens--really interesting, wow, I forgot I even wrote that, chickens.  Maybe I can still go plant the flowers by the porch light.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

A Whale Tale

Today is our daughter's birthday!! Happy Birthday to FoxyJ!! She is spending the day with her sister and they are at the beach. It is the chilly, damp Oregon beach, where one doesn't frolic in the surf, but walks along in the mist and admires the shells and the scent and ... c'mon---it's the ocean--how can it be bad?

Actually, she was inspired to go there from an article in Sunset Magazine, a family favorite periodical. The March issue had an story about great places in the west for a weekend getaway, and Depoe Bay was featured.  It's a whale watching destination and I can't think of a better place for her to get away to for a pleasant, brief vacation. And, I really, really hope she can finally see some migrating whales.

We've tried a few times to do that, over the years. We had some wonderful experiences in our attempts, but we didn't get to see a single whale... I don't know how we managed to do that, either. We lived for a total of twenty years right on the coast that is the main migration route for the California gray whale population as they leave Scammons Lagoon each year and head north for their summer homes off the coast of Alaska. We'd go to various viewing locations and watch and watch, but, although we saw a couple of spouts out there, we never saw a whale. One year, we actually took a whale watching boat trip in the Santa Barbara Channel---a location that should have a crossing guard for the baby whales, and yet....that whales. Sigh.

So here's wishing her a happy, happy birthday---filled with spouts and flukes and baleen and barnacles. And lots  and lots of spyhopping!

We were on top of Point Loma in San Diego in a prime whale watching location, but saw only a couple of far-off spouts. However, you can lie down on the painted outline of a gray whale to get an idea of their size. (1983-ish)

This is at the base of Point Loma, in the tide pools and, while you can't really see whales from here, you sure can see a lot of other things that live in the ocean.  (1985)

You can find bones, or coral or rocks or something wonderful....

This is along the coast just south of Monterrey Bay. We'd spent a weekend at the aquarium there, where there are life-sized replicas of whales hanging from the ceiling. Again...none in the wild. (1990)

Now here's a dear old friend of the birthday girl!  Shamu! Her first love...and Dad worked hard at the arcade and won her the giant stuffed Shamu to take home and love forever.   (1991)

Here she is on the bow of the whale watching boat in the Santa Barbara Channel. We went out during Christmas vacation and anticipation was high to, finally, see some migrating whales. We were smack in the middle of the largest marine preserve on the west coast. She stood out there and was rimed with salt and soaked with spray. She reminded me of the way a farm dog leans out over the side of the pick-up truck as he rides down through the fields. Pure joy... (1993)

So, this week as these same two sisters, now grown women, spend some time together on the coast, I hope that they finally get to see some whales. But even if they don't, they'll have a super time anyway, I bet, enjoying one another and the sea.