Friday, November 30, 2007

A Den for Christmas--Maybe

We’ve been to two middle school girls basketball games this week. Tonight we hurried back to pick up a prescription waiting at the pharmacy at Kroger’s. We weren’t sure it would be open, but we got there a minute or two before nine and were happy to see lights through the drive-in window. Interestingly, the sign in the window showed new closing hour as 10 p.m. We needn’t have hurried.

While we were feeling so buoyed up by our success, Gerald thought we might as well run out to another store as he needed a piece to finish up a project he has been working on. Our luck ran out there, however, as the workers had just locked up. Had we known the pharmacy was open until 10, we could have gone there first.

When we moved into this house in six years ago, we had a passel of little grandkids. After Gerald put in an outside shop building at the last minute, the area in the walk-out downstairs with a garage door that was intended for a shop was not needed for that. I immediately designated it the “art room” and put in an unpainted wooden door held up by a couple of unused low end tables. Surrounding it with small plastic chairs, the kids had plenty of room to draw or paint or cut or whatever messy idea they chose. The concrete floor could not be hurt. An extra fridge and a popcorn table was there for sodas and snacks.

The kids loved going there for many made-up games and projects. Although there is a tiny TV left over from someone’s dorm room or something, I don’t think the kids ever turned it on. They had written and colored all over the unfinished door; and when they finally got too tall for it, I still had a 13-year-old disappointed when he discovered it gone.

We had given an old kitchen table to a daughter, who no longer needed it. While remodeling their house, someone had broken off a leg. We took it back thinking Gerald could repair it and we could donate it to the Household Give-Away that the Marion Ministerial Association runs. Stuff is stored for those who need it at Community of Christ Church.

However, when we realized the low door needed to be replaced with a taller table, that repaired kitchen table was the answer. Adult chairs were substituted for the little red plastic ones. (Aidan found them and enjoyed them at Thanksgiving.) The growing kids continued to congregate in their special place.

With various electronic games becoming important to them, more and more they were hooking onto the family room TV with cords and junk all over the floor to trip the unwary. Their desire to watch the Disney Channel (not available on the little TV in the art room) competed with the fathers’ desire to watch ballgames. We had a problem. The youngsters had outgrown the “art room” although they still claimed it and used it. I decided we needed a teenagers’ den in there.

On one wall of this room, there was a wire shelf left over from the garage. Clothes could be hung underneath. That had gradually filled up with hunting clothes and old coats and sweaters for the occasional time kids might unexpectedly need a warm garment when they ran outside. Then I moved a bunch of “junk clothes” out of another closet so the kids could have “costumes” for the skits they sometimes create. Before I had time to act on the den project, that overloaded shelf fell down depositing a wall full of garments all over the floor. I piled them on the table and the “art room” was out of commission.

Since obviously the first clothes rack had failed, Gerald and I began to shop for more substantial closet equipment to put on that wall . After his lugging heavy boxes of pressed wood closets to the truck and then into the house, he started to put them together during the World Series only to find the first box did not contain the correct amount of hardware.

All those heavy boxes had to be returned. Actually, they had to be returned twice. The first time Gerald had to bring them back home for two weeks because I had written a check instead of using a credit card. While we waited, he came up with the idea of using extra paneling left over from the house to build closets on that wall. In addition to all his regular duties, he has been working on building the closets. It looks great and oddly makes the room look larger even though this takes up an extra 32 inches with its depth. The doors still must be varnished.

In the middle of the two closets is a place for the heavy family room TV. It will be a job to move it, and we will have to have a new one for the sports viewing. Now Gerald has a wiring job to complete. If we can get the TV in the “den” hooked up for Disney Channel, the kids can watch or use their electronic games even while the men claim the family room. We hope to have this part of the project completed by the holidays. May not happen. We will see.

I have yet to think through the rest of what I am going to do to make this a teenager gathering spot--either move in an old couch from another room for TV watching or maybe buy a couch. I won’t have to do much to make the kids happy if they can have a place they can call their own with the TV that Gpa will be providing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Grateful the Turkey is Ready for the Oven

My annual battle with the frozen Thanksgiving turkey is over. The giblets are in the pan ready for me to add water to make giblet gravy for Gerry. The turkey is in the little fridge in the garage until I place the pan in the oven in the morning as near to 5 a.m. as I can.

I have never cooked a fresh turkey. I considered it one year--but they were out there five or six days before Thanksgiving, and that struck me as a long time to keep a fresh bird. Maybe not. Obviously, I have no experience except with the frozen kind. That is very convenient to choose early and know it is awaiting your use.

The problem comes when you have to get the bird thawed. For a big turkey that our gang usually requires, I need three or four days in the fridge to thaw it. Still it usually has ice in the middle daring me to get that a sack of liver and gizzard out of the neck hole. The greatest challenge, however, is that ever-present clamp holding the legs together. GRRRR. How many women broke a fingernail on that onery piece of metal or plastic today? I thought I would never get out that neck frozen tightly in the stomach hole.

After wasting ten minutes or so pulling on the thing, I finally broke the rules and ran warm water in that hole to release the neck. I’d pay a couple dollars extra to have those giblets and neck in a separate sack OUTSIDE the turkey, but I don’t figure that I will ever be given that option. I did at last succeed and carried the awkwardly heavy fellow to the fridge ready for roasting.

Now if I can get to bed early, I should be able to turn on the oven even if I am half-awake, stagger with turkey to push into the bottom shelf, set the temp at 325, and if I am real lucky, I might sneak back to bed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Blessings and Troubles Then and Now

Sadly Gerald lost another cousin--his second this year. So tonight we went to Anna for the visitation for his cousin Clarence Lee Glasco. We again saw many of his relatives, who had also been at the funeral for his cousin Charlene Givens. Cousin Wilma, who was so ill at her sister’s funeral, had recovered from her cancer surgery and looked great. She had been helping and sitting with Clarence during his illness, in fact.

A problematic fact of modern life is that we often only see relatives at funerals and weddings. Yet in the early part of the last century, people who lived as far away as Marion is from Anna would probably not have been able to make the trip to a cousin’s funeral visitation. Despite the high gas prices, most of today’s population can afford such trips now more than people could a century ago in Southern Illinois when travel was mostly by horse-drawn vehicles or trains. Trips to area towns often took the entire day if one did not go by train.

However, we should not forget that there remains too large a percentage of us who cannot travel freely today. Not just because of the price of gas, but because many cannot afford a car in the first place. When I worked with families in this area, one of the first problems I ran into was that single mothers usually did not have a car. Without a car, it often was impossible for them to find a job. Few jobs exist here within walking distance.

Often worse were the problems that owners of a car ran into when the car had problems. It seemed to me that an ancient-looking car with a tail light out invariably was stopped for a ticket. For a single mother on a tight budget, a ticket could spell total disaster for her family’s hope of getting out of crisis. I was never sure what could be done to lessen these problems, but certainly good public transportation, such as the trains that used to be available, would help.

When I drive through the cluster of houses that make up the village of New Dennison near our farm, I almost always think that here was once a railroad center. People caught rides from there to Marion and Carbondale. The late Marguerite Lashley, who had returned to live in her childhood home there, told me how her physician father would pick up the Presbyterian pastor who rode the train over from Carbondale to New Dennison. The doctor’s family in their horse and buggy would take the preacher on to Shed Church. Then the family would return for the Sunday dinner Marguerite‘s mother prepared, and the pastor would catch a train back to Carbondale.

Not only do we lack that convenient public transportation today, but we endure dangers these early citizens did not. On our way to Anna on Route 146, Gerald braked rapidly when a large buck started to cross in front of us. Fortunately, the buck turned. No one was behind us, and Gerald thought he could have missed him if he’d continued. We were glad we did have to find out. His cousin Barbara Houseman had just driven in from a meeting in Springfield and told me she left tire marks on Route 127 coming to the funeral home. Her deer was standing in the middle of the highway. Since November is the month that most highway deaths in Illinois are caused by the deer, two Glasco cousins were blessed with escapes tonight.

After the visitation, we went with Gerald’s brothers Keith and Garry and our sister-in-law Ginger along with nephew DuWayne and wife Vickie to the local restaurant we used to call Dino’s. There we all enjoyed supper together and had the opportunity to visit and still drive home for an early bedtime if I had chosen to go to bed instead of write this blog.

And though we were watching closely, we did not see a single deer coming back to the farm. I hope the hunters see them this weekend. Then their families will have venison for the winter stored in their freezers for hearty meals that few families could have enjoyed in 1907.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Chatting About Daily Chit Chat

Gerald and I took the pickup over to the body shop this afternoon. We were finally able to pick up our car today. The twice-replaced back right door looks great. I hope this door lasts longer than the first two.

I drove on to Carbondale as I had a Trail of Tears Association board meeting tonight, and I have been needing the car to claim my re-soled and repaired Birkenstocks from Shawnee Trails. They’ve been ready for a while, but I had no car to go get them. The management there is so accommodating. I apologized for being so long in picking them up, and the man was so nice that I was almost made to feel I’d done them a favor for being so poky! Once again for far less than half price, my returned Birks looked like a new pair. And choosing repair over brand new helps the environment as well.

While I was that close to 710 Book Store, I couldn’t resist the pleasure of going in to look at the books. I was delighted to find a copy of the late Normagene Warner’s Standing on Tiptoe, one of the most beautiful and honest accounts of losing a child that I’ve ever read. You can no longer order it from Amazon, so I was delighted to find a couple of copies there, and I bought one as I think I gave my last one away. Copies of the late Dr. Ben Fox’s two books were also there.

Earlier this week I finished Cinnamon the same day I started it. This account of the trekking the Appalachian Trail was fascinating and enlightening. I am also thoroughly enjoying Rowena McClinton’s translation of the diaries from the Moravian mission in pre-Trail of Tears Georgia. I won’t finish these two hefty volumes in a hurry though.

Diaries and journals are probably my favorite genre because they are composed of such simple day-to-day activities that end up making a life. Yet the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. One of my all-time favorites is The Diary of Helena Morley, which Elizabeth Bishop translated. It is the wonderful diary of a young girl in Brazil telling of the daily life in their village. I used to order it through inter-library loan, but with the Internet, I was able to buy my own second-hand copy.

In much the same way, I have always been attracted to the weekly journalists who write personal columns about the Smith family spending the day at grandma’s house and little Suzie Jones being sick with the flu. There was a time in my life that I read probably 25 or so of these community columns a week--about people I did not know from neighborhoods with names like Possum Hollow or Tool Shed Corner.

One of my weird writing goals was to write such a column, and I did accomplish that for about nine months. It was some of the most difficult writing I ever did.

The Johnson County Genealogical and Historical Society is publishing a book of Harry Nave’s columns from some decades ago, and I am eager to read his book. I find it exciting that he wrote a book without knowing it--one weekly column at a time.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Fall Cookin’

Autumn brings new menus--no more BLT’s with tomatoes from the garden and no more veggies to pick for lunch.

I’ve bought several bags of local apples. The huge sweet potatoes at Small’s Grocery were so attractive that I couldn’t resist one that I baked in the microwave. Gerald and I ate on that one monster potato for two meals. I have made my first big pot of beef-vegetable soup for the season and the first apple cake I have made in over a decade. The cake is so good, but neither Gerald nor I are supposed to be eating such sweets. I used to make these all fall but doubled this recipe to fill up a large pan twice as big as the 13 by 9 inch I used on Wednesday. Of course, in those days I had a houseful of young adults to feed.

In addition to feeding the two of us, I have been reading and, of course, doing some writing. And have had a good many check-ups and doctor appointments to take up time the last couple of months. I delight in days when I do not have to go anywhere and can stay home to enjoy myself. Yesterday on what would have been my mother’s 105th birthday had she lived, Gerald took me to schedule cataract surgery on December 6th.

When we returned home, with dilated eyes and the flare-up of arthritis that is making it painful for me to walk, I had a good excuse to start reading the first of two huge volumes of translations of Anna Gambold’s diaries from Springplace mission to the Indians in Georgia. The books were ordered months ago, but were delayed so they arrived Tuesday from Amazon, where they were cheaper than at the University of Nebraska Press.

Originally written in a tiny hand script of an ancient variation of German, the diaries are now available to the world in English thanks to the painstaking and remarkable work of Dr. Rowena McClinton, who teaches at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

I have only read McClinton’s introduction so far and have been amazed and enlightened about the Moravian mission movement as it developed in Europe. Since I have had no world history since grade school, all of her explanations were new to me and I was fascinated with the breadth of her knowledge while wishing for more on my part. In fact, I think I will quit this blog and go read more!