Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sunshine on a Stem

Where last year’s garden was, Gerald planted a patch of sunflowers. He quickly acknowledged that they were much too thick. I don’t think he really knew how to thin them, and I know he has not had the time. I thought it could just be an experiment to see how well the plants bloomed planted that closely. For some weeks now, the tall plants have made a thick rectangle of swaying green—there is not a mite of space between the plants.

Last Sunday there was one tall stem above all the rest. Topping it was a beautiful circle of yellow. The next day a couple more blooms came out. By today, we have a hundreds of bright yellow flowers facing out kitchen window. Obviously, they are not planted too close together for maximum blooming. There are some little short plants with smaller blooms on the front row, but the huge blooms dominate. It is a lovely sight, and the birds will enjoy those seeds this winter.

I enjoyed Gerald’s observation that his green John Deere tractor with yellow wheels parked beside the flowers yesterday matched them perfectly.

It is nice to have some extra sunshine in our lives. There is so much sadness in the world and so many health problems in our immediate family and in our church family. Enjoying summer’s beauty is sometimes an antidote to being overwhelmed by our problems.

Talking to someone by phone who is struggling with grief, I was told she went to a Christian book store today and bought not one but two books—one to distract herself from her family’s problems and one that might offer helpful suggestions.. I can remember when I have faced serious problems in the past, I would often search out all the books I could find on a particular topic, such as how to care for elderly parents. I always felt if I checked out other people’s ideas, I would perhaps run into information I did not know or ideas I did not have. And sometimes I was simply searching for affirmation that I was handling things as well as possible.

My brother told me once that some problems we just have to live with—we cannot solve them. I have always remembered that, and sadly found it to be true sometimes. We can’t always fix things. But even when we can’t, thoughtful living and seeking ways to handle what we have to live with can make a positive difference in our lives.

It can help to deliberately enjoy the good things in our lives even when the bad things are more overpowering. No one wants to be in a hospital room, but enjoying the beautiful flowers that someone sent to show their love is not a wasted effort. Smiling at photographs of happy days gone by is not a waste of time. And looking out on a bright patch of large yellow blooms smiling at us does lift out spirits.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

August Blessings

We have been having delightful weather in Southern Illinois. High temperatures are so difficult on those with multiple sclerosis, so I have reason to appreciate more moderate temps. Hearing the news folk remind us one evening that it had been over l00 degrees on the same day a year ago made me doubly appreciate the cooler weather.

After he had been mowing the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land around Woodsong, Gerald came in and invited me to ride behind him on the “mule” to enjoy how pretty some of the back fields are right now. There are meadows of native grasses blowing in the breeze separated by the mowed areas for water run off. Last year he was excited about the partridge peas, but because of early weather and rain conditions, they are less abundant this year than last. Yet especially at the edges of the native grass patches, we do see a good many of the pretty lacy green plants with bright yellow blossoms.

The star of the field this year, however, is a plant I had never heard of before—bundle flowers. Brown has always been a favorite color of mine, although I like bright colors too. The bundle flowers are little brown balls or bundles filled with seeds that will drop to the ground soon and be there for bird food. We frequently see quail around the farm now and are grateful for their come back.

The garden is producing not just zucchini but enough acorn squash to even give away although there is only one acorn squash plant. It was accidentally bought by Gerald as it was mixed in with the zucchini. Most autumns I buy an acorn squash or two and one bright turban squash to create a centerpiece with other veggies. Then before the Christmas season, I cook them. But we had never grown acorn squash before, and we have really enjoyed this addition to our summer menus. We are also enjoying fresh tomatoes and okra.

The women in our church enjoyed a wonderful repast at Charlene’s on Monday night, and just when we thought it could not be any better, she brought out fresh peach cobbler. We have been able to get local peaches at our Kroger store, and many of our August meals have ended with a peach or a dish of sliced peaches.

Gerald came in tired tonight from his travel on an Angel Flight with his pilot friend Herman. However, he was feeling good at seeing a two-year-old and his grandmother transported to receive care for the little boy's legs which had been burned in an accident. Gerald loves to fly and to experience the amazement of going over so much territory in a short time. Since they had been delayed by the lateness of the flight that brought the duo from Cleveland, they had only returned to Marion in time to eat “lunch” at supper time. So just as I entered the kitchen, to cook a bite, Gerald said he had already eaten. So I was blessed with extra time to start reading When Lincoln Came to Egypt by Professor George Washington Smith originally published in 1940 and then republished by Gordon Pruett in 1993. I finished the introductory essay by John Y. Simon, one of our area’s outstanding historians who died this July. With my hometown of Jonesboro preparing for the sesquicentennial of the Lincoln-Douglas 1858 debate, I thought it was a good time to read the book.

I picked this book up at our village library when I returned William Keller’s History of Jonesboro, From 1803 to 1899. I grew up with Bill, who was just a year older than his cousin and my friend Shirley and I. Although I knew he was employed at the historical society in Springfield, I did not realize until after his death how much research and writing he had done. One of my deep regrets was that I did not take advantage of reconnecting with him after he retired in Jonesboro. I am sure that he had many answers to much that I want to know about the town.

I had a difficult time getting this book (Bill’s thesis for his master’s degree at SIU in 1956.) because it had been checked out earlier from the SIUC Special Collections. Naturally it finally arrived when I was busy with other projects (like shredding zucchini). Since it could not be renewed and had to be back by in the morning, I was glad Gerald was on the Angel Flight and I could read through the lunch hour and finish reading and taking the notes I wanted.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Paper, Paper Everywhere!

Sometimes I feel as if I am drowning in paper. I actually love paper. I love messy desks, over-flowing magazine racks, and over-stocked shelves of books. However, sometimes there comes a day of reckoning and every surface I see is covered with undigested pieces of paper.

I will start to write. . Suddenly I am stymied, however, because I need to double check my facts. I know that a copied paper with the facts or a saved article I need is here somewhere, but I can’t locate it. When I start going through a pile, I find things I’ve been looking for in ages past—but not what I need today.
Today was such a day. I had a rare day with a few hours to write. (I would have had more time if I weren’t wasting it grating that blamed zucchini for the freezer.) I start writing and soon begin to doubt myself. I know what I am writing is probably factually correct, but I need to double check my facts to be positive. (This is the same feeling that makes me need to go back and check that I turned out the stove at the very moment Gerald starts to back out of the garage.). Where did I read that story that told these dates, names, or facts? Am I spelling that name/place/object correctly?

So instead of getting that article done, I have instead spent those hours looking through a huge stack in a magazine basket that was somehow turned into an impromptu filing cabinet. No, that is not accurate. Nothing was filed in there. The wide basket was merely a holding pen for a foot of stuff that needed filing. I emptied the basket, and I deliberately carried it to another room, so I would not fill it again.

I managed to throw away a few papers in the wastebasket. (I have already explained that I love paper, and it is very difficult for me to throw away cherished pieces of information. Never mind, that even when and if I get papers filed, I rarely need 90% of them again.)

After some clipping, I did have a stack of saved newspapers to carry upstairs for recycling. (Who can resist also re-reading these months-old newspapers as one clips?) A few items did get filed. Many got put in little separate stacks for me to file soon. (What a fantasy that is!!)

I am one birthday card richer to send someone. (Why was it in the middle of newspapers?) And there was the scrap of paper with an address and phone number I needed a few months ago. Mixed with the ephemera were several magazines that I had never opened. There are a couple stacks of those to carry into the other room.

I am also behind on recording anything that needs to be recorded. That desk (an old door on top of two short filing cabinets) is so cluttered that I know it will take a week to make sense out of the clutter. I love records, but I am a most unfaithful record keeper.

I found and re-read a number of pages of information I found and copied last January at Southern Illinois University’s library annex that is being used to house the Special Collections. I had gotten them encased in clear plastic ready to be stuck in loose leaf binders—but for some reason they had been placed in the bottom of the basket and soon covered up with months of paper debris. Now they sit on the large folding table in the middle of my office.

With all the little stacks of sorted papers still lying around, I cannot say that my office looks much better. I still have not found the copy of the magazine that started my search. But I do feel a little smug about emptying that magazine basket. (Now I only have a half a dozen or so boxes with even more papers to someday look through. When I get through going through them, I have some boxes of my mother's papers stored in the tornado shelter and saved for me to have a project when I am in my frial-elderly stage of life and can't get out of the house.)

But tomorrow I better start again on my article for the Writers Guild anthology with the September 1 deadline. I may have to find an alternate source of information to make my needed factual checks. Sometimes I can find what I need on the Internet, but yet if I don’t immediately use it, I must either write it on a note card or piece of paper to save it. You know what happens to those at my house. Ah well.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Why Does Everything Come At Once?

At the Trail of Tears Association board meeting tonight in Carbondale, Cheryl Jett arrived breathlessly with her supper in hand from a drive-through window. Our meeting after her drive down from Collinsville was just one of the many places she had to go today. This was also her first deadline for materials for her book about the city of Alton coming out sometime in 2009. She had prepared and printed out for us the agenda, treasurer’s report, and complicated minutes of the last very long meeting. She asked, “Why does everything come in the same week??!!”

Boy, did I empathize. My own agenda for today started out quite reasonable as I planned it yesterday. I’d have all morning to do laundry and get our lunch and fix a plate for Gerald to microwave for his supper. Knowing I was on my way to Carbondale anyway, it would be easy for me to be available to take Samuel to catch his bus to church camp so Katherine could keep her doctor’s appointment.

I could also return an unneeded item at the Carbondale Mall, recycle all the stuff in my garage at the drive-through recycling center, drop some letters in the Carbondale mail slot, and still arrive without pressure for the 6 p.m. board meeting. I looked forward to a busy but nor harried day. Since we have ridiculous amounts of zucchini and acorn squash accumulating in our kitchen, I also had thoughts maybe I could take a box to the soup kitchen since we no doubt will have another box full soon for me to think about freezing.

Last evening, however, Gerald told me that our wonderful neighbors had harvested a field of sweet corn in Galatia in yesterday’s hot steamy weather. The corn was picked and waiting to be shared with us. How many dozen did we want? Gerald ran over and brought back half-a-tub full of scrumptious perfect ears of corn. What more could anyone ask? Someone else raised it and picked it and gave it to us free!!

Suddenly my morning included getting down the big pans from the top of the pantry, washing corn and brushing off silk by the sink full, boiling water for blanching to stop the deterioration and loss of vitamins and minerals, fixing ice water to cool the corn after the blanching, bagging it and putting it in the freezer. As I read the morning’s paper at breakfast, I had laughed through Dixie Terry’s account of all the zucchini in her kitchen (when they had not raised a one), and decided I would get rid of one of ours by following her recipe for zucchini pie. Sort of.

I rarely follow a recipe exactly. Living in the country, if I don’t have an ingredient on hand, I make do with what is in my pantry. Even before gas became so high, I have never considered going to town just to get the items I don’t have. I did not have an onion as I’d thrown out the last one that rotted the other day, so I used onion flakes from the large container I’d bought recently. Not having crescent rolls to line the pie pan, I used a couple frozen pie shells. Usually I have a package of shredded cheese in the freezer, but I couldn’t find any, so I melted chunks of cheese food. I still had some chicken from a mesquite-flavored chicken I’d picked up yesterday, and I made the pie into a main dish. Her recipe was for one pie, but somehow I got two out of it. It baked while I was frantically trying to cool corn and carry it to the freezer in the garage.

The kitchen began to smell very nice, and Dixie’s recipe was delicious served with fresh sliced tomatoes—one from Gerald’s garden and one from the neighbor’s. I got the lunch dishes into the dish washer, and most of the laundry put away but not all. The big pans used for the corn will be washed easily in the morning. Sam was delivered to the church on time; and since I had fortunately packed all the recyclables in the trunk yesterday afternoon, I was able to accomplish that task before returning the mall item, finding a couple summer clothing items 75% off at Macy’s, and even doing a little Christmas shopping at the sale there.

Since our board meeting did not last as late as it sometimes does, I was stopped at Taco Bell and had a bite of supper and took advantage of Kroger’s senior citizen day on the way home. Most of those groceries are carried in; and tomorrow, I will put them away. I will think happily of all that tasty corn in the freezer to feed the grandkids when they come to see us next winter, and we will have left-over zucchini pie for lunch. Oh yes, I have been wanting to talk to daughter Jeannie and haven’t had time to phone her even if she were home to get the call, which she rarely is. I even accomplished that on the second try with a hands-free phone coming home from Carbondale. Everything comes at once some days, but sometimes that is a good thing to push us to more productive. Tomorrow I will sleep late and then do all the left-over tasks from today.