Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Happy Holidays Are Almost Over

Our last expected holiday guests, granddaughter Tara’s family, left us Sunday evening to go back to her Gma Shirley’s house just a couple roads away from us.  There they would celebrate Christmas with her and Tara’s uncles’ families before they piled back into their vehicle with their three little guys—Aidan, Maddux, and Payton—for the long exhausting trip back to Texas.  We were happy for the phone call yesterday saying they were home safe and sound.  They’d visited Bryan’s northern Illinois families earlier and arrived at the farm late Saturday night. 
Gerald and I were impressed this season with how blessed we are to be experiencing life all over again with another generation.  He decided to put up outside lights for the first time in a couple of years; and in the attic over the garage where the lights were stored, he found a couple of cardboard boxes labeled:  “Little Gerry’s Trucks” and “Little Gerry’s Machinery.”  He could not resist bringing them down to the corner of the kitchen.  When we moved here, there was no one to play with them.  But I couldn’t stand to part with them despite their being all scarred and scraped from Gerry’s hard play in the dirt pile beside our house at Pondside Farm. My thought was that maybe decades from now some stranger would stumble on them in the attic and be as thrilled as I was with a dish shard that Gerald found in our garden area when we built on this spot.
But with the addition of Gerry’s three grandsons to our family, Gerald wanted to see if these boys would be interested in these ancient playthings. Oh yes, once their bellies were full of bacon and Gerald pointed out the boxes Sunday morning, they were fascinated and excited to play with these worn saved toys from two generations back.  Their family’s  plan was to go to Gma Shirley’s house that morning since that was the only time Tara’s cousin Jeremy could be there with their daughter Kinsley, who is the boys’ age and very important in their lives even though they are only able to be together a few times a year.  But they got in enough play on the kitchen floor with their grandfather’s old toys to have made it worth while for Gerald to have carried the boxes down on the fold-down ladder.
When they came back for lunch, I was delighted that Kinsley was with them as she was not content with only a couple of hours’ play.  Quickly I set another plate on the table, but when it was time to go downstairs to the family room tree and open presents, I realized she would not have anything to open.  I did not shop this year and had pretty much used up anything I had stored away in the guest room’s “gift drawers.”  But I went in to look around anyhow, and there I realized I had the perfect gift for Kinsley.  A couple weeks ago when I was taking books out of the drawer, I wondered why I still had two sets of the first two Betsy-Tacy books and wondered who I could give them to.  Quickly I stuck the two little books in a gift bag and joined the others going downstairs.
Before Tara and Bryan had to return that evening for the Johnson dinner at Gma Shirley’s before the drive back to College Station, there was plenty of time for Gerald to enjoy seeing the kids play with the new toys he had shopped and wrapped for them. Riding the farm equipment is taken for granted when the boys visit, and despite the cold, they could not resist playing in the lime pile that Gerald keeps for them under the back shed.
 It was later in the afternoon that Gerald and I were so impressed with the knowledge that family history was repeating itself for us.  One of Katherine’s aides had not shown up, and I had gone in to give meds.  But another aide came in at 4, and I was able to return before our company left.  The family room was uncannily quiet, and I asked where were the kids.  It was explained they were in the next room preparing a play.  Soon they came out in construction paper costumes thanks to a confiscated roll of scotch tape from Gerald’s office.   Ah, yes, we’ve been down this path many times. Kinsley was narrator, and while Payton was king for awhile, before it was over he too proceeded to have a sword battle with Mddux just as Aidan had done.  Madd was really good at dying, which he did more than once. This sure brought back memories of confusing but satisfying short holiday plays our grandchildren used to produce for us.
Tara’s two sisters, Erin and Geri Ann, had come in from Texas the previous Sunday and stayed through Friday morning.  We loved catching up with their lives once more and hearing about their friends as they came and went trying to see as many of their local buddies as they could.
Rick, our Freeport son-in-law, had taken his older daughter Leslie down to Belmont on a college tour while she was in high school, and he wanted to do the same for Cecelie and her friend Ryan.  So they planned a tour of Liberty University in Virginia during their break. Elijah had gone along to help drive and to get in on the visit to Leslie and Mike in Nashville on the way back. Jeannie was staying home preparing for their family Christmas.  Elijah had texted he thought they’d be at the farm around 9 or 10 Tuesday night.  Erin and Geri Ann already had a dinner date in town that night with their Johnson cousins, but they’d be back in time for a good visit.
I invited the Mary Ellen’s family over for the frozen lasagna I planned to bake for supper thinking that way there would be some food in the house in case any of the Eilers were hungry when they arrived later.  As it turned out, the four from Freeport arrived earlier and were able to eat with us, so the local cousins gathered in.  There were 12 instead of six for supper, and that was fine because fortunately I had put two lasagnas in the oven.
When Jeannie called me about their coming through, I assured her that would be great but the kids might have to sleep on couches since Erin and Geri Ann were already settled in the two downstairs bedrooms.  At bedtime after Erin and Geri Ann had joined the others, I was silly enough to go down and lay out some sheets and blankets for the couches.  Fortunately, unlike my previous habit, I decided these young adults were old enough to make up their own couches.
There is one “new” full-size couch in the family room probably not over a decade old.  And elsewhere there are three very old couches I have hung onto for visiting grandchildren when needed. One in my office and two in the room, which some might call a junk room.  I first chose to call it the art room for the kids.  For years they would disappear together into that room to dream up all sorts of projects sitting on little plastic chairs around  the  table created by a unused door laid on a couple of stools for their art table.  When they out grew the little chairs and the short table, a discarded kitchen table was used in that room with the two old couches and a television Gerald installed. Now it became the grandkids’ den.  I say it was silly of me to gather up sheets and blankets because once again as they did the last time they had the infrequent but cherished opportunity to visit with Geri Ann, these guys pulled an all- nighter.
As it happened, Gerald had already made a Wednesday morning breakfast date with Geri Ann and Erin to go with him to the Jonesboro breakfast place where he occasionally meets up with his brothers and nephews who are habitually there. So Geri Ann had not been to bed when they left Woodsong at five for the drive to Jonesboro.  Since Erin is one of the older and more sensible grandkids, she had.  I have been told that there was a rush for her room with its two beds for an hour or so of sleep for the partiers since Rick had told everyone they were going to leave at eight the next morning. I hated to see them go but knew they had long hours of travel ahead, and I bet they slept very well on the way to Freeport. Geri Ann caught up when she got home from breakfast!
Christmas Eve was quiet at Woodsong since Erin and Geri Ann were at the Christmas celebration at Gma Shirley’s house.  The next morning was also unusually calm here as I put the ham in the oven and started noon dinner preparations.  Katherine had arranged for her usual Thursday morning aide to come in since that wonderful aide had her family celebration the Sunday before Christmas.  She had Katherine up and dressed and into her chair for David to bring out in the van, and Sam came in his car.  
I had told Mary Ellen not to bring anything since their family were leaving that very afternoon for Arizona.  I wasn’t surprised that they brought a cookie tray someone had gifted them with and Trent and Brianna’s annual peanut butter chocolate candies that they traditionally make. I was surprised that   Mary Ellen had gotten up and decided to make a huge pot of home-made chicken and dumplings for the first time in her life. (I got lazy a long time ago and make dumplings from tortillas.)  Hers were the real thing and so delicious, and the best part was she left them for us, and we have enjoyed them the entire holiday season! 
Gerald's brother Garry had driven up from his farm in the Mississippi bottoms, so we had twelve here for dinner before we went down to open presents.  I’d also given Mary Ellen orders not to do all the dish clean up she always insists on doing. But before we left the table, she had much of the clean up accomplished.  All and all although we were disappointed Gerry and Vickie could not be with us as usual, it was a very good day. We have grown used to Jeannie’s family not being able to come down at Christmas, and they had the experience of Leslie and Mike not being able to make it up to Freeport this year.  (Besides weather and travel dangers, they had their dogs, Millie and Sidney, needing to be at home and Leslie had Ragtime rehearsals.)  Yes, families grow up and move away and traditions must change, but with great grandchildren to visit, some things seem much the same.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Annual Christmas Letter

Woodsong Christmas 2014
Dear Friends and Relatives,

I debated not doing a Christmas letter this year since age is definitely limiting what I get done.  However, at our sister-in-law Ginger’s funeral , a young adult told me that she read every letter I wrote, and that inspired me to continue the tradition at least for this year.  Gerald has not slowed down as much as I have, but he is inside a bit more, and I am glad since he helps me.  However, he just finished cleaning a fence row so the trees wouldn’t shade son-in-law Brian’s crop next year, so he is still outside a lot.  Always has a project!

There have been many changes this year. We spent spring  watching the University of Georgia softball team on Game Tracker on Gerald’s computer followed by watching USSSA Pride, which Gerry coached last summer.  It was exciting to see UGA win their first conference championship with Gerry and his daughter Tara assisting Coach Lu Harris-Champer and granddaughter Geri Ann pitching or playing first base. DuWayne, our nephew, was a great help in driving when we went to Athens once and over to University of Missouri to see the team play in person.  Mary Ellen went along to Missouri. Spring 2015 will be different, and we will need to be watching two games at once.

Gerry and Vickie moved to College Station at the end of the summer, and Gerry became associate head coach at Texas A&M.  Tara and husband Bryan Archibald and our three precious great grandsons--Aidan, Maddux, and Payton--also moved to College Station. Tara took a job as manager of a sports complex that Ty and Keesha Warren are building.  Bryan simply kept his job in Chicago area and continues to work out of their home as he did in Georgia.  They are renting a house just a short distance a way from Gerry and Vickie.

After teaching junior high math at Corsicana last year and coaching in the junior and senior high schools, Erin was back in College Station (her old stomping ground)  looking for houses and paving the way for her families’ move there.  This year she is living with Gerry and Vickie and teaching sixth grade English at Rockdale and loving it just as she did teaching math. She’s also coaching. Naturally she delights in being able to share her nephews’ lives and for the first time in seven years was able to be with her family on her birthday!  She and her parents came to see us in October when her high school softball uniform (Number 12) was retired at the Johnston City Homecoming.

The only one missing in College Station except on holidays is Geri Ann. She is living in        Oregon as a junior at the University of Oregon.  She will be playing softball with the Ducks this year. We are excited and eager to see her in green and yellow this spring!

We only have two  grandchildren still in high school.  Jeannie and Rick’s Cecelie is a sophomore at Freeport, and she’s keeping up her siblings’ theater and speech contest  traditions.  Rick and Jeannie still teach math and art. A wonderful treat for us was seeing Cecelie in Grease last month.  We went up with Leslie, who came up from Nashville, and then piced up Elijah, a senior at Illinois State, at Normal. Elijah did an internship in Chicago last summer, worked at Indiana School for the Blind and Seeing Impaired this fall and is finishing up the semester driving to Springfield to work with students at four schools there. This spring he will be student teaching in Chicago for his last semester.

Last spring I was able to catch a ride with Jeannie when she came through to see Leslie in the Narrator role she had always aspired to in Jospeh and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.  So  I got to see her and Mike’s home and Sidney and Millie, their two dogs.  She is now rehearsing for Ragtime in the evenings, and continues working at Word Music Publishing. Mike is a personal trainer, and he and Leslie are all doing extremely well competing in Strongman competitions in Tennessee.

Brian and Mary Ellen continue to live nearby on their farm up on Route 13.  They had great crops this year and continued their over-busy lives with Brian working in his office at home and making trips to St. Louis and other places when necessary. Mary Ellen is selling real estate with Century 21 House of Realty. Trent, our computer whiz,  is making the honor roll at John A. Logan College and is on the CyberSecurity team there. We all enjoyed hearing about his summer trip to New York City to visit his friend Rachel.  Brianna continues doing extremely well at Murray State, but she is making an exciting transition to work as an intern at Disney World during spring quarter. We will want to hear all about that too.

Sam Cedar, Katherine and David’s son,  is a grave old senior at Marion High School. In addition to filling out college applications,  his life also is over-busy with honors classes, leading the marching band as drum major,  developing a great reputation as trombonist--once again making the state band, playing basketball in the church league, and on and on.  Somehow he always finds time to study with Anna.

Despite all the blessings and good things we have to report, our hearts break every day as we have watched Katherine’s health decline with multiple sclerosis. We are grateful for aides and friends who help her, and we pray for miracles.

There has been a great deal of sorrow in our community this year.  There is much sorrow and injustice in our nation and around the world. I will grieve always for Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Cairo’s straight A student Myron Jordan, who did not have the opportunity to grow up to see what they could achieve in life. Those of us who believe in right to life know that all lives matter. Here is a comforting scripture verse gift for you from Revelation 21:4  “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither pain:  for the former things are passed away.”  Hallelujah!

Love and Merry Christmas,


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Growing Closer to Christmas

Long ago my friend Jo Barger said something to the effect that she loved the rush and over-crowded December days with the pre-Christmas lists and all the busy activities that we try to cram into our lives during this season. So one of the ways I would comfort myself when I was feeling pushed was to remember that busyness was part of the pleasure of the season.  Age has greatly reduced my Yule time observations—no baking, fewer decorations, fewer living friends to correspond with, fewer expectations by others.  But unfortunately, even with these lessening activities, I am much slower, and also have responsibilities that I did not have when younger, so I am still often behind schedule.  So I have again used Jo’s wisdom to whisper to myself a few times this year.  And I remind myself that the one we are honoring was born in a humble place and not with elaborate celebrations—until the angels burst forth in song, that is. So whatever my circumstances, my participation in the season is appropriate whether simple or painstakingly complex.
We have had many concerns. My brother came through with his newest heart stint and is back home in Mattoon with the help of his visiting son Robert.  Just as we were breathing a sigh of relief, Gerald’s youngest brother Keith was taken to the hospital at Cape Girardeau and found out he had had a light heart attack a week or so before.  He came home with a monitor until he was scheduled for a defibrillator.  But before that happened, after a peaceful Sunday morning, he almost left us. Keith and Barbara have a daughter-in-law and granddaughter who are both RNs at the Cape hospital, and they were rapidly on hand to assist Barbara until the ambulance arrived to take him to the Anna hospital to stabilize him.  He was ready to go on to Cape by the time we arrived.  The monitor kept shocking him and slowing his heart down as family cars followed his ambulance to Cape. We were told the next 24 hours were critical, and his sons and wives stayed with him through the night.  On Thursday he had the defibrillator implanted, and now he at home for Christmas with everyone telling him to take it easy.
Despite all these scares and other time-consuming problems, there is a tree downstairs in the family room and another upstairs in the living room.  I have never seen an ugly Christmas tree, so I have thoroughly enjoyed them.  I mailed the last of the Christmas cards this morning, whereas in past years, I have often mailed the last ones way after Christmas.  I shopped for groceries to be able to fix easy meals while loved ones are here, and I have wrapped most of the token gifts, which is all I am giving to loved ones this year.
Two Texas granddaughters are driving up tomorrow after they celebrated their family Christmas tonight in College Station.  Their sister’s family will stop by sometime when they return from Chicago on their way back to Texas after Christmas. We had been expecting their parents for Christmas too, but that is not to be.  And although I am disappointed, I have to smile at the reason why.  When Erin was a graduating high school senior, if I am remembering this right, she bought or perhaps given by a boyfriend, a tiny white dog she named Chloe.   Chloe was such a sweet little dog, but with dorm life ahead for Erin, you know who ended up with little Chloe.  Vickie is good with babies, children, and dogs.  She graciously took on raising Chloe just as she had Tara’s big white dog when Tara and husband moved to Chicago area. (It had some sort of health problem and died, however.)  But gentle Chloe has been  part of every family celebration.
One of my favorite memories was when Tara and Bryan’s first born—Aidan—was a tiny toddler and we all sat around at Gerry and Vickie’s house admiring Aidan and watching his every move—just as we had done back when Tara was a baby.   Chloe was right there in the mix with Aidan; and all of a sudden, Aidan wordlessly widened his eyes with the realization that Chloe was just the right size for him to straddle as a horse. We all saw and knew instantly what he was thinking, so that misadventure was avoided, but we knew Aidan would have been safe with Chloe whether she was with Aidan or not.
Well, last year as a college sophomore living off campus in a house with others, guess who felt she had to have a dog.  And before too long because of some sort of illness or problem, this little black dog of Geri Ann’s was often at Gerry and Vickie’s house with Chloe. It was cute to see them together, and when Geri Ann went off to school in Oregon this fall, of course the little black dog stayed behind at Gerry and Vickie’s.
Chloe is nine years old, and had never had puppies.  But nature prevailed, and an unplanned surprise pregnancy resulted. Now with the help of a vet, tiny Chloe is the very proud mother of three adorable little black dogs—just in time for what was planned to be Christmas travel time.  When they realized that a caesarian birth was going to be necessary and saw on the Internet that these sometimes cost $2000, they were surely alarmed.  Fortunately, Gerry has many dog friends (no I mean friends with many dogs) among his hunting buddies, and one steered him to a kind and excellent vet with a doable fee.  They wondered how Chloe would cope as an inexperienced mother and the doctor assured them Chloe would do fine.  Gerry and Vickie are thrilled with how devoted Chloe is to her babies.  She can’t crawl under the covers of the end of their bed anymore to sleep because she has to take care of her little ones.  And being the devoted mother that Vickie is, she is unable to upset the new little dog family with such a long trip home to Southern Illinois.
Our son-in-law Rick, Cecelie, and her friend Ryan are coming through Tuesday night from a college visit In Virginia and then a Nashville stop on their way back home to northern Illinois.  The Taylor family is heading to Arizona to Brian’s family sometime, but the last I talked to Mary Ellen she still was not sure whether they would leave before or after Christmas.  Katherine has made arrangements with an aide to help her get ready and in her chair for a van ride to the farm if someone can drive her out.  Gerald’s brother Garry is invited up  There is a huge ham waiting in the garage fridge, a new box of instant potatoes, plenty of okra in the freezer from Gerald’s garden, and pies in there left from Mary Ellen’s Thanksgiving baking. 
Tonight Gerald and I hopped in his pickup after supper and drove over to this fantastic decorated house in the middle of the country not too far from us.  We’d tried to see this coming home from the Taylors the other night, but the lights are off before l0, so we needed to go earlier. I see the amazing bright lights in the distance if I go by in the evening to Katherine’s.  I discovered this remarkable lighted scene a few years ago but somehow missed going down the lane to see it last year.  I wish I knew who these people are who go all out with their house and the area around it containing more items than your eyes can take in.  If you live locally, don’t miss seeing this if you can at all.  Take the Old Creal Springs Road from Marion and turn right onto Cherry Valley Lane.  Or go down 166 to New Dennison and from West Ellis, go north onto the Old Creal Springs Road and turn left onto Cherry Valley Lane.  The lights will guide you long before you reach the house.  It has to be a time-consuming task to create such an elaborate scene.  I hope they and all the other folks whose homes we drove around viewing tonight enjoy the hard work and the busy rush it took to create such colorful beauty for others to enjoy.   I hope viewing lifts the sad spirits of those in grief or with severe problems during this season of joy and celebration.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"A Lot Like Christmas"

We enjoyed having son Gerry with us briefly at the end of last week as he and his dad traveled north on a quest for bird dogs to take to a friend in Texas. So Gerald was able to spend much more time with him than I did, but we are looking forward to visits from their family during the upcoming holiday season.
It is beginning to feel as well as look a lot like Christmas. Mary Ellen had given me a poinsettia that the Crab Orchard cheerleaders were selling, and I placed it in the middle of the dining room table and have added the early arriving Christmas cards around it.  But now the guest bedroom is so crowded there is  little room to walk because of the big cardboard boxes, which Gerald helped me get down, and  that did or still hold seasonal decorations. I hope to get complete the emptying and then get the boxes back in the closet, so the room can be ready for the coming visitors.
I haven’t yet found the manager scene that has been in our home every Christmas of our marriage.  When I find it, it will go on the floor by the piano to encourage Gerry’s grandsons to play with it as Gerry once did.  I placed the breakable nativity scene Mary Ellen gave me a few years ago in a prominent but safe place on emptied shelf.  Other tiny items were put on the edge of the books in the full bookcase, so we can see them as we go downstairs.  Many of these bits and pieces were gifts in years past, and I enjoy remembering the ones who gave them to me. While I worked, I played Christmas carols this afternoon.
I have one tree up in the living room.   It is the white one, and again this year, its limbs on the sunny window side are slightly yellowed.  But at night with the tiny lights on it, it looks white.  I have yet to put the ornaments on, but they are laid in the chair beside it, and that should happen tomorrow. It is already pretty to me, but the blue and silver glass balls and the blue, aqua, and red artificial roses stuck among the limbs will make it even prettier.
Last night sort of officially opened the season for me as Mary Ellen had asked us over for supper.  I had seen her bare tree during Thanksgiving weekend when I stopped by for something or other, but I knew it was decorated now, and I was looking forward to it.
So when I got home from an afternoon visit with Katherine, I got out the black sweat shirt Mary Ellen  had made me long ago when she was still an unmarried magazine editor in Nashville.  She had painstakingly glued  tiny multi-colored sequins to form a large Christmas ornament on the front.  She laughed when she saw it last night that there was no way in her life today would she have time to glue on  that many sequins. I remember wearing it to the Carbondale mall. (Going to the mall was something I could do and enjoy back in those more active days.)  The shiny bright colors caught the attention of passers-by, and I received many compliments from strangers. I always wear it once or twice a season; and though it has shed occasional sequins, somehow their loss doesn’t show up in the abundance.
Before we even arrived at the Taylors, we were excited to see the beautiful star shining brightly once again on their barn.  They inherited the star with the farm, and people have been pleased to once again see the long-enjoyed icon as they travel Route 13.  Brian had updated all the burned out bulbs and repaired the hook that had gotten awry when they had the barn repainted.
Wreathes outside and inside the entry porch room greeted us as we went in and stepped on into the kitchen to find the table beautifully set with her Christmas china that I had never seen when they lived away. We had a delicious home-cooked meal, and then Mary Ellen and I had a great visit in the living room by the tree while the men talked farm business at the kitchen table before they joined us.  Before we left, Trent came in from a friend’s house and was all smiles since yesterday  had been his last class of the semester.  We enjoyed his hugs and were definitely in a festive mood when we came back to Woodsong.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Late Fall and Early Winter Holidays Consolidate

Three of the Freeport gang arrived Wednesday night in Elijah’s car, but Elijah and Cecelie were dropped off at the Taylors to join Brianna and Trent while Rick came onto Woodsong.  Later they arrived here and Sam came out from town to join them.  Looking out the next morning at the grandkids’ parked cars, my heart was warmed  realizing anew how grown up they’d become.  Even our youngest, Cecelie, is now taking drivers instructions and will soon reach that milestone of being a 16-year-old driver.
We had ourl three daughters and all their children with us except for Leslie and Mike, who were in Ohio with Mike’s parents. Our son and his children were in Texas except for Geri Ann, who was in Oregon.  Despite enormous cooperative efforts and holding noon meal-time until 2:30, we did not succeed in having Katherine at the table.  Just when we thought we had conquered our quest to bring her to the farm, Rick and Gerald discovered the van had a dead battery probably because of the cold weather since nothing had been left on to run the battery down. The battery charger could not be found in her garage, and so it was necessary to go back to the farm and come in after the meal to get her van charged. With Mary Ellen left with the clean up, we returned to town. The van was charged, another round of meds given,  and Katherine did spend the early evening with us. 
Not only clean up, but Mary Ellen did the majority of the meal preparation this year.  She and Brianna had a mother-daughter day making pies on Wednesday as well as many delicious side dishes. Gerald and I did do the turkey, and I did the dressing and sweet potatoes.  Gerald helped me lift the heavy frozen bird into the fridge to thaw and then five days later on Wednesday night to get it out  for pan preparation.  He did the hated job of getting that awful plastic (better than the wire that used to be used) unstuck from the back cavity. As strong as he is, it was difficult even for him to remove.  Remembering all the times I had fought that at 4 a.m. in times past, I was grateful.  The turkey was all prepped and panned before I went to bed.  All I had to do when I got up at 6 the next morning was move it a couple feet from the fridge to the oven.  Mary Ellen, who had already gone into Katherine’s at 4 a.m. to adjust her after receiving a text that alarmed her, arrived early and did the major work all day in the kitchen.
I had planned to fry the okra as I promised Brianna, and the pan was laid out with olive oil and the okra thawed and covered with corn meal.  However, I was late coming back  with those of us who had gone for Katherine. Jeannie, who was busy in Freeport helping her church up there on Wednesday, drove down by herself Thursday morning with Lucky and Leah and more food for our feast.  Since she had arrived by time for the okra to be fried, she was drafted and did a beautiful job with the okra. The grandkids explained to her that she needed to burn it a bit to be like Grandma’s, so she cooked it a little longer. (That explains well my cooking, but fortunately the grandkids are sentimental anyhow about my okra!)
The five grandchildren here were in top form enjoying each others’ company and exchanging college and high school experiences talking late  into the night. Hearing about a proposed tennis shoe painting project left parents fearful they would be ruining tennis shoes, but the kids’ colorful unique designs were actually very  attractive.  Parents already  burdened with college tuition and housing costs breathed a sigh of relief as well as appreciation for their art work.
The kids were talking about progressive Thanksgiving dinners, and Mary Ellen thought I might think they meant the old-fashioned progressive dinner where each course was served at a different house.  But I knew what they meant, and I thought Gerald and my combined efforts on the turkey qualified us to be called progressive. They thought we still had a way to go, so to be truly progressive, we may have to turn the cooking over to them next year!
If not progressive, we are good at keeping family traditions.  Despite getting to bed late Thursday night, Gerald dragged Rick out of bed to go down to Union County to have breakfast at Jonesboro with his brothers and nephews. A new tradition may have been born Friday afternoon when Elijah took a educational movie in to watch in her bedroom with his Aunt Katherine, who remains extremely interested in inner-city education even though she can no longer teach.
Since I had not been on the computer for a couple of days, I was catching up very late on Friday  night after I came home from Katherine’s.  (Actually it was morning since it was long after midnight.)  I heard our herd of young adults upstairs in the kitchen cooking, and I did not dare go there, but slipped on quietly to bed. They were using their kindergarten “inside voices” and quiet giggles trying not to be a problem to the adult population, but I wondered what the kitchen would look like when people arose the next morning.  I warned Gerald before he left our bedroom that I had cleaned the kitchen the night before, but not to be shocked if things were in disarray. However, although  there were some left-out objects and dirty dishes in the sink,  over-all the kitchen showed their maturity.  Best of all, the left-over turkey  among other things was devoured, and they had once again created memories without any help from us older folks.
One holiday highlight for me was going to Carbondale on Saturday afternoon to see The Theory of Everything with my grandson Trent. Sam had left to work on an English project with his friend Anna. Elijah and Brianna, who also really wanted to go to the movie, used the discipline that has made them good students and elected to stay home and study to be prepared for classes this week.  The Eilers had to return to Freeport on Saturday, but Elijah stayed on and the kids ended up at the Taylor house that night.
Sunday was made special by having Elijah, Sam, and Bri join me at worship at our village church before I scurried in to Katherine’s house.  Gerald picked me up there to go to the funeral of our dear long-time neighbor Mildred Stapleton.  She had lost Russell just a few months ago. This couple had gone through World War II with Russell fighting overseas and through the Viet Nam War with their son Steve fighting there. Then in recent years they had suffered the death of  the two older sons. Mildred was 92 and deserved to go to a better place.   But her loss was great to her grandchildren and their younger children, Mike and Debby, who were neighborhood friends to our kids. Gerald took me afterwards for a bite of lunch and I went back to Katherine’s for the rest of the day.
The autumnal decorations are now put away, and I must face the two over-full closets with boxed Christmas trees—one downstairs and one upstairs. Because I like to leave our trees up at least until New Year’s Day, I haven’t started Christmas celebrating yet except vicariously on the drive to town or  enjoying photographs of lovely lighted trees on Facebook.
Despite a desire by many to have the main holidays of the fall and winter separate, Thanksgiving and Christmas have become one long season in America—just as towns and cities and villages have run into each other and been consolidated into metro regions, where you have to be a local resident to even know when one location ends and the other begins.
Putting the tree up on Christmas Eve was abandoned by most families long ago when electric lights replaced dangerous candle-lit trees.  And now with artificial trees so prevalent, we can put up trees early with less fear of dangerous drying out and annoying shedding needles.  Busy lives have also caused many to use the Thanksgiving time off to put up trees.   Outdoor decorations are assembled  to avoid colder weather later. Consequently we are already into the Christmas season with its beautiful decorations and lights often before we have finished our Thanksgiving grace. Even though I am behind all those who have already decorated, I am going to try and be progressive and enjoy this early beginning of the best season of the year!


Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Weekend Away!

There was honey on my breakfast toast this morning thanks to son-in-law Rick Eiler’s first honey harvest from  his two bee hives on a friend’s farm land.  If I am not mistaken, the last time we traveled the length of Illinois to see Jeannie’s family was for Showtime during Elijah’s senior year at Freeport High School.  It was wonderful to have the opportunity to visit there this past weekend. 
Katherine’s friend Laura was with her, so I did not worry about Kate.  Granddaughter Leslie came up from Nashville Thursday night; and she had invited us to go on up with her, so I did not need to be concerned about Gerald driving that entire way.  We had missed Cecelie’s freshmen participation in last year’s musical, play, and Showtime, so to go see her in this year’s musical was a dream come true as we hurriedly packed and left the farm mid-morning Friday.
Leslie is always delightful company—funny and bright and so pretty. Unfortunately we did not get to hear her sing during this visit, and we should have insisted on it.  But there was much to talk about.  Her husband Mike stayed home with Millie and Sidney—their huge dogs that  don’t travel that well--but we caught up on the news about them as well as Mike. 
Mike is a personal trainer, and proof of his ability has been seeing our little Leslie become a champion strong woman competitor.  (Is that the right wording?)  We really did not know there was such a thing or such contests, but now we regularly see photos of Leslie lifting huge bars into the air while we tremble.  And we see Mike pulling trucks and other outrageous objects with Les in the background of the video being his cheerleader urging him on.  Scary stuff to watch, but we have to be proud that they somehow have achieved that strength in addition to holding full-time jobs, an active social life,  and fixing up their first home. And now to my great satisfaction, Leslie has renewed her high school theater career-- as an extra curriculum activity in the evenings. I love knowing she is singing and acting again.  That was not possible as a commercial voice major at Belmont with all the required concerts to complete that degree. She is rehearsing now for Ragtime in January.
On our way north, we stopped at Illinois State in Normal to pick up Elijah who had driven there from Jacksonville.  He is a senior studying special education for the seeing impaired, but his classes at Normal are over.He spent the first six weeks of this semester at Indianapolis at  the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Now he is rooming in a dorm at Jacksonville, but each morning he drives to Springfield where he teaches individual students with sight impairment at four different schools.  Next semester he will be doing his official student teaching at a Chicago school, so I am especially eager to hear him tell of those experiences.  I think he enjoyed being on campus long enough for coffee with a friend while he awaited us to arrive from downstate.
Soon we were on that long long stretch of Route 39 and 51 heading toward Rockford.  It was good to once more see the familiar sights along the streets of Freeport, and soon we were welcomed into Jeannie and Rick’s house where there was a fire blazing  for us in the living room.  We dropped off Lige and Les and  made a quick trip to our favorite motel to dress for Cecelie’s musical and then returned to be at  Jeannie’s pretty table for chili and goodies before we headed to the Jeannette Lloyd Theatre, another favorite place for our family. 
For twenty-five years Tim Connors has devoted his life to the kids at Freeport High.  He has developed a fantastic speech program and manages to get amazing results from the large casts he works with. Kids working together to create a successful performance is an enormously valuable life experience. That bonding and the artistic opportunity given to such large crews and casts of students are of immense importance to their community.  
Jeannette Lloyd obviously created an educational environment conducive to developing individual talent and superior high school theater, and Connors has continued the tradition of excellence. When I see the stage filled with guys singing and dancing their hearts out, I not only feel personal joy as I listen and watch as  crowds of girls run in to join them, but  I also know lives have been made richer because of those weeks spent producing the show.
I had never bothered to watch John Travolta’s Grease, so I was unfamiliar with the plot.  Since the time depicted was not that long after I had been in high school, I was taken down memory lane.  Cecelie’s sweet tiny neck scarf was the kind I wore most days; and  although I did not have a poodle dog skirt, I envied the girls who did.
In Cecelie’s role as Marty, her emotional excitement and dramatic exaggerated take on life often duplicated the drama my girl friends and I liked to imagine we were starring in.  Of course, I loved her song. I wanted to slap Marty and Rizzo sometimes for their meaness, and I wanted to shake Frenchy and tell her to get busy and study.  Going from childhood into near adulthood can be a difficult time, and these kids in the Grease  sub culture suffered perhaps more than other groups.  I did not like beautiful Sandy, so well played by Veronica Gross, changing because of peer pressure.  But I would like it if today’s kids used a wooden gun made in shop rather than a real one. 
Brianna was arriving after the show to join her cousins at the Eilers.  She had come home from Murray State and joined her daddy for the trip up to his brother’s, where he annually attends an auction fund-raiser.  She drove on in to Freeport to attend Saturday’s performance.  Mary Ellen and Trent stayed home because of a trivia contest they were involved in. We waited to see Bri the next day because we were on a mission for a forgotten toothbrush and special cleanser. We were in bed by eleven and slept late the next morning. 
Jeannie invited us for a breakfast casserole and a yummy coffee cake at their house, but we like poking around and eating at the motel’s big breakast available whenever you want to go the dining room.  Of course when we showed up at Jeannie’s for lunch I sampled the casserole, and I indulged in the coffee cake for lunch and supper dessert instead of the pies on her buffet.
Our Saturday morning schedule was to watch Rick extract more honey from the comb.   We had already observed on Friday  the abundance of little bears and the traditional almost oval plastic bottles filled with golden liquid, and Rick was going to work up yet another batch or two in his garage turned honey workshop.  It was fascinating as he explained the process of scraping the excess wax off the racks of goodness and  carefully placed into his stainless containers to spin the honey out.  There were several steps as we watched the liquid go from the bucket of raw honey to the lovely pure liquid in the plastic bottles. We were given a generous supply of to take home.
After lunch, Jeannie and I left the men  and  went on errands including a couple of trips to the beautiful flower shop on the edge of town where Jeannie was having a presentation bouquet prepared for Cecelie. Leslie was lunching with a high school friend to see her new baby, and Brianna and Elijah were studying together for their respective Monday morning classes.  Our main goal was to see the special thrift store that Cecelie works at and to pick her up at the end of her time there. We hid her flowers in the van and took her home to join her cousins. 
Although Cecelie and her date and some adult friends were coming to the Eilers after the show, Jeannie had a couple large cans of cheese and a crock pot needing to be sent to her friend’s house for the cast party that night.  She enlisted Elijah to deliver them since he is close friends to the two daughters there. That led to the rest of the days’ entertainment because the mother of the house suggested Elijah kidnap his long-time classmate’s tiny stuffed monkey left over from her childhood.
There was much intrigue at the Eiler house as ransom notes were written and Brianna’s unknown phone was used in various communications to Fred-the-Monkey’s mama. While we adults were eating a calm supper, Fred was off with the younger ones having his photo taken at various places at the high school.  At one time he was hanging center stage high on the overhead electric sign Grease.  I think common sense told them that maybe Connors would not enjoy that addition to the set, and they took Fred down. But the photo was funny.
Gerald usually only goes to one performance per trip to Freeport, but I love to see the second (or third when that is possible) and observe and enjoy the difference in audiences and kids’ reactions. The last night is usually charged with a mixture of satisfaction and sadness that makes that performance special.  That was true Saturday night when I went again while Gerald stayed home and watched the football game. Afterwards during  the time between the end of the play and the cast photos, I love seeing the kids still in costume receiving flowers, congratulations, and compliments. They completely fill the crowded hallway with their  parents and siblings and buddies. Alumni from  previous years are also there to give them greetings and hugs and report on college and work.
After the show the college set were out for pizza and Laurel was reunited with Fred. At the pizza gathering or else some where else, Leslie and other theater alums were presenting Connors with a cake in the shape of a juke box. It was quite a cake from the photos shared, and the crowd encircling him and leaning on the table and accidentally breaking it down made the cake presentation quite memorable I am sure.
By Saturday evening, the ground was covered with several inches of snow and everything was slick. I was being extremely careful that I did not fall, and I had Rick drop me off after the show rather than going to the after-event at their house.  The next morning we all met up again at the Eiler house in a winter scene straight from a Christmas card. Cars were covered with snow, and as we waited for church time, Gerald swept the snow off the others’ car as he had ours earlier at the motel.  We were worried about the highways, and Brianna must drive part of the way home alone before she picked up Brian down the road.  So she went on and we were grateful to the crews when we found the roads well salted and free of ice. After worship we headed back to Southern Illinois although we would have liked to have stayed for the Bible class Rick would be teaching before noon. If at all possible, Leslie planned to pick up her car at Woodsong and drive onto Nashville so she would not miss work Monday morning.
On the way home, we lunched at Culver’s, a favorite eating place for all Freeport people.  We dropped Elijah off at Normal, where he would drive onto Jacksonville, and we continued over to Champaine-Urbana and on down Route 57 to home.  Although we drove through almost continual mist, some rain, lots of fog, the highways were clear as we kept ahead of the worsening weather. 
At Woodsong the ground was covered with white loveliness, and again Gerald cleared snow this time from Leslie’s car waiting on her. She reached Nashville and was at work Monday morning.  Brianna stayed at their farm that night and made it safely to Murray the next morning. 

Our weekend with its long delayed trip to Freeport  was a much needed break from routine. Thankfully everybody made it safely back home without an accident including Fred.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

An Incredible Gift

I thought it amazing that Deborah, a friend from long ago, came up all the way from Nashville, TN, to Marion, IL, to help our daughter Katherine be able to go to her son’s Senior Night during football season. Laura, the friend’s friend, also  came along to help drive and to help out. 
It is difficult for the uninitiated to understand how much time and effort it takes to get someone from the bed to the wheelchair, dressed and groomed, fed and given meds.  Then, on top of that, trying to get out of the house and into a van  and arrive at a specified time can often be an impossible.accomplishment. But with Deborah’s and Laura’s help, Katherine was able to see Sam as drum major for the first time in the pre-game show. We were so grateful to these two good Samaritans. 
As amazing as that gift was, the friend’s friend later volunteered to come back up for a week to visit Katherine and help her. She cooked healthy meals that Katherine raved about and introduced her to the spicy substitutes she uses to reduce sugar and salt. She even left a couple of her special salmon patties and banana bread in Katherine’s freezer for me and Gerald.
I followed Katherine’s advice to use this lovely woman’s visit as a respite, so I was only there once to visit while Laura was. That day before she fed Katherine her evening meal, she spoke a brief prayer of thanks. It had never occurred to me to do that when I have helped her with a meal in her bed or chair.  There are usually any number of  needs to take care of before she can comfortably start her meal—finding a safe place for the tray, adjusting her limbs, arranging blankets or throws, adjusting the chair or bed to the right height, and so forth—and I am always fretting knowing that her food is getting cold. Katherine never complains about the food being cold, but I know she enjoys it when it is warm.   But I liked what Laura did, and so I resolved to follow Laura’s example, Yet when I was there yesterday afternoon when the snow prevented an aide from coming, I completely forgot once again. Maybe I can do better next time.
Laura went home yesterday through the bitter cold and the unexpected early snow, and she had to sit  for over two hours in Kentucky because of a cattle truck that overturned on the slick highway.  So her incredible gift of time and service was lengthened and increased in difficulty even more.
How can you thank someone who makes this kind of personal sacrifice to help another?  I can only pray that the God she loves so much will bless her with His richest blessings.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ginger Sue Ward Glasco

How do you write about someone you loved who has passed on to a better place?  Although Ginger was my younger sister-in-law, she was already in place in the family when I started dating Gerald.  She and Garry were married when they were young, and they recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary with her in a hospital bed in their living room.
Because she was so young, she was still full of life and ready for fun times—swimming in the creek, going to town for a barbecue, or just telling me wonderful stories of her childhood riding her bike with her girl friend up and down the Ozark highway hills in Missouri. I never travel those steep hills without thinking of her and feeling fear for her bravery riding there.
With us both being neophyte farm wives, we were learning how  to cook, to carry meals to the field, to can, and to sew.  (Gerald  still had his senior year to finish after getting out of the Air Force, but we lived in a small rental house on a rural road  between his parents’ and Garry and Ginger’s homes. That first summer after our wedding, Gerald was working on the farm there in the Mississippi bottoms, and the first meal I ever cooked, I transported  to the field where he was working. I thought that picnic beside the road was great fun, and it was a complete meal—not sandwiches.) 
Ginger and I were together a lot that summer and the next because there were home-made ice cream gatherings and family meals at Gerald’s parents.  Ginger would usually take Mom Glasco on her Saturday shopping trip, so besides frequent Sunday dinners, Mom would make us all welcome for impromptu cold cuts and goodies that evening.  I learned to enjoy good cheeses that she bought for Dad Glasco.   We enjoyed Garry and Ginger’s adorable little blond toddler Vicki Sue and Gerald’s little sister Ernestine, who I believe was nine that summer.
By that time, severe arthritis was bothering Mom Glasco. Yet despite that. she kept a full productive schedule and was there to help us and share their abundant  supply of garden produce. (I always wished our government would have sent Dad Glasco to a third world country to teach them how he grew more than adequate food. He freely gave food to many people besides his own family.)  There was a huge bin of potatoes for everyone in a large cellar below the backyard smoke house.   Ginger and I got free canning jars by cleaning out the unused cans of food in that cellar. Mom had conscientiously canned available vegetables that sometimes was more than families could eat and it had aged out a few year before.  I would feel bad thinking of all her work with the arthritic hands, but Ginger and I had fun working together and were grateful for the free jars.  
None of us had indoor plumbing that first summer. (Later when Gerald helped Garry put in their first bathroom by using part of the kitchen space in that farm house, they put up an angled wall that I thought incredibly attractive.) Ginger had once lived in a Cairo mansion with three bathrooms during her father’s heyday with grocery stores and other businesses. She most often lived in Poplar Bluff with her mother’s extended family nearby, and she and her sister and brother always remained close to them and each other.   One Sunday afternoon she told me of the places in the nation where she lived temporarily with various step mothers and siblings, which she would  then lose after she had grown fond of them.  I was depressed for a week just hearing about it, but she was strong and resilient loving everyone’s good points and forgiving weaknesses.  Her experiences made her very caring towards all children, and her strong sense of justice was highly developed.
She was Intelligent and curious and liked to interview people to become better acquainted. With my journalism studies behind me. I teased Ginger that she should have been a reporter  
In those pre-sonogram days, she had theories about how one could tell ahead of time whether a baby was a boy or girl.   But I don’t think that she and Garry had anticipated their twin sons who arrived six weeks before I had Katherine.  The twins were  a cause of great joy and celebration in the family.  Because little Vicki Sue had measles when the twins reached the five pound mark to come home from the hospital, Mom Glasco took care of Vicki while I went down to help out during the day with the twins.   So Ginger taught me how to care for newborns.  I have always been grateful that I took care of Kerry, and  because he was slightly smaller, that Ginger took care of baby Gary.  We did not know then how short a time she would be able to do that.
Six weeks later Katherine was born, and then six weeks after that the seemingly healthy twins were at Sunday School and worship with their parents.  They had barely gotten home when they realized baby Gary was in distress, and they rushed him to the local hospital, who examined him and sent them home.  Soon they knew the hospital had made a terrible mistake and they rushed him back. For some unexplained  reason,  employees had put away a piece of equipment that was needed without repairing it.  Although I do not think it would have made any difference, it certainly did not make our family feel any better.  Baby Gary died that day, and the terrible pain of grief  was woven into the fabric of our lives. (Years later at approximately the same age, baby Brandon—Vicki Sue’s first baby—also died, and we had the worst Christmas of our lives.)  So I rejoice that Ginger is now able to see those baby boys again.  I have no idea whether people who die young finish growing up in heaven or if they remain forever young, but I know we are promised it will all be good.  I also like to think that Ginger feels how much she is loved here on earth and  knows how much good she did  while here.
Her grandchildren, who called her Mimmie, are all grown up now and soon the great grandchildren will be. But I remember the first time she and Garry babysat with Shelley, their first grandchild.  Our door bell rang and there all alone on our step was this beautiful baby in her car seat while her grandparents hid around the corner to view our excitement and admiration.  But they were quick to reclaim her after they enjoyed our surprise.
Although Ginger had health problems, she never let it stop her from living fully.  As a child, she had been in a car wreck and hearing loss resulted. Later when she went to the famous hearing doctor in Memphis, she found out that a tiny piece of her inside ear had flown out.  Her story ended up in a medical journal when the doctor wrote about it. 
It will soon be 13 years since Ginger’s devastating stroke that took away her short term memory. Shortly before that, she had brought me a lovely music box for a house warming gift, and I smilingly scolded her since we had said no gifts.  But I loved it, and when she had the stroke just a couple weeks later, I cherished it   Earlier she had given me a music box on our anniversary, and I will play these and remember the good times.
We said goodbye to Ginger way back on July 20 when family gathered at the hospital in Cape. She looked so terrible with that mask hurting her face that I did not like to look at her there in intensive care.. We were expecting the worst when the doctor’s advice was followed and the mask removed.  Instead she breathed on her own and went home to the farm in a couple of days, where with the help of Hospice and the continued devoted help of her loving neighbor Alice, who had helped Garry  care for her all these years since the 2001 stroke.  Kerry and Vicki worked together so well taking turns staying nights in the living room with their mother so that Garry could get a good night’s sleep.
The hospital bed is gone now, and the granddaughters have cleaned the stored couch until it looks new. Ginger would like the way her living room looks again.  Friends have flooded Garry’s kitchen with food for all the friends and loved ones who continue to gather there to console him.   The visitation with its crowds is over.  Yesterday’s funeral would have pleased her with a granddaughter who somehow got there from school in Los Angeles to share her reminisces of what Mimmie had meant to her.  The handsome grandson in his dress Marine uniform who managed to come from Washington, DC, and all the local  grandchildren and great grandchildren would have made her so proud.  She would have rejoiced  at Mindy and Joe’s news that they just found out that Princeton will be having the baby brother or sister he has begged for.  And she would have loved seeing her beautiful sister Lillian, who had recently lost both her husband and their brother, looking so strong surrounded by her loving sons.  She would have loved seeing all the nieces and nephews and hearing from the ones who couldn’t come.    
Ginger loved the holidays and sometimes gifted us with crafted ornaments, which I will hang on our tree again this year but with tears in my eyes. 

Sunday, November 02, 2014

That Time of Year

One short road with four  houses on one side and one house and one mobile home on the other side completes the main drag for our nearby village of New Dennison.  A church faces the highway and beckons you into the village, which ends with a lower entry road that continues on to Marion. Across that lower entry road is one more house and mobile home.  
This is a historic spot, which many years ago had a railway connection where people caught the train to Marion and Carbondale.  Once also facing the highway , where only  an empty lot remains, there was the home of  the doctor who delivered many babies in this area, but that house burned a few years ago.
Just around the corner on the village’s one road  was the small house of  his midwife companion who traveled with him in the buggy to help deliver the babies. A cousin’s daughter told me what a meticulous housekeeper she was.  Now that house too is gone after the midwife’s only child continued to live there with her cat until she finally went into a nursing home.  I never found out what happened to the cat.  I never met the mother, but I was acquainted with her daughter, who never married. She got her water from a well, and almost to the very end lived there proudly without electricity. They surely used oil lamps in her younger days, but I never saw any.  Because she had gradually confined herself to one room and it was very crowded with only a narrow path between furniture laden with clothing, I was afraid to suggest one.  I did take  her one of those battery lights you can put in closets or dark places, but I don’t know if she ever used it. She enjoyed a small battery-operated radio and was interested in the Kentucky Derby and also local news.  A social worker or a relative finally arranged for the Rural Electricity Association to put in a ceiling light in her one room, so she did have electricity the last year she lived there.  After her death, a neighbor acquired the lot and tore down the worn-out house and made it part of their lawn.  It definitely looks better, but I still think of Juanita when I pass by.
One of the more substantial homes on the road always interested me because a favorite speech student of mine once shared the story of his uncle who lived there at that time.  He was retired from some much larger town in another state where he served as post master, and Jerry explained in order to have that good job, his uncle has passed as white.  I never met the uncle, and Jerry died much too young just a few years ago, but I think about these things as I pass beside the houses there.
I always drive through the village and take the rural route into Marion when I go to visit Katherine.  Early in October,  I was driving towards the house at the end across from the lower entry road. I don’t know who lives there, but I always enjoy their Christmas lights. That day on the front porch swing which faces that road was a short man in overalls and straw hat  relaxing in the sun. It was such a pleasant sight that it made me smile, but then laugh when I grew closer and realized he was a straw-stuffed man,  Since then week by week, additional seasonal decorations have been added to the porch and yard  including a ghost by a tiny pretend cemetery.  Bright orange lights illuminate the scene when I come home late at night.  I liked it best when I thought it was a real guy enjoying the fall air and beautiful trees, but I still smile each time I pass.
I make a point of trying to absorb all the bright colors of the  leaves hanging on the trees in such abundance right now around our lake as well as on the road to town. We still have a rose bush blooming and few late day lilies, but very soon the bare browns of November will erase late October’s colors and we will need to adjust to a new kind of beauty.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Kitchen Adventures from Jeannie and Rick's Travels

Not being a very adventurous cook. I had never cooked wild rice before.  Jeannie, our middle daughter, is a long-distance bicyclist.  A year ago last summer, she rode many miles in Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Her husband Rick plays coach and always accompanies her with the truck to keep her as safe as possible.  When they don’t opt for a motel, they sleep on beds in the truck. 
Last Christmas Jeannie gave all the family members lovely gift baskets with discoveries from their summer bike journey.   One item, which did not last long, was a large yummy iced cinnamon roll in the shape of a mound and called Sin-A-Mound. .  It had come from the Sinsinawa Bakery at the home of the Dominican Sisters at the Sinsinawa Mound in Southwest Wisconsin. Their website explains:
’“Mound Bread’ became famous for its homemade flavor among a growing crowd of admirers in the 1960s and ’70s. People who visited Sinsinawa Mound experienced the wonderful homemade baked goods and wanted more. Although the Sisters never intended to sell it, the bread was so tasty that word spread and the demand continued to grow as the product advertised itself. Today, close to 70,000 baked goods are sold to friends and guests every year. Your purchase helps support the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters as they continue their mission of preaching and teaching the Gospel.”
Jeannie’s basket also had jar of strawberry-rhubarb jelly.  I saved it for guests since Gerald and I try to use the sugarless kind of jelly; but we did, of course, indulge a bit when this jelly was on the breakfast table for others. That too has been long gone; and consequently, I can’t remember what interesting road side place it came from or whether it was from Wisconsin or Minnesota...
But the pound plastic bag of wild rice was still in my kitchen cabinet until the other day. The directions saying I needed to cook the rice for 45-60 minutes always discouraged me since I am  usually in a hurry and don’t want to be in the kitchen that long making sure something does  not burn.  (The truth is I am a habitual burner, but that long cooking time seemed like a promise to burn if I did not stay and supervise the pot.)
This rice was grown and harvested by the Red Lake Indian Nation in Red Lake, Minnesota.  Until I started studying the Cherokee, I had no idea that there existed sovereign nations within the borders of the United States, but they do.  And evidently this Red Lake Nation, which represents a band of Chippewa Indians, is one of those nations.  If I understood their website, these people separated themselves somewhat from other Chippewa bands because they wanted to continue to hold in common rather than individuals owning land.  Their population is given as 11,422 citizens.  The two joined areas of the Red Lake are featured in their logo in appreciation of the lake providing fresh water and food-- walleye. Here’s a tidbit from their fascinating website:
“The Red Lake Band of Chippewa, through treaties and agreements in 1863 (amended 1864), 1889, 1892, 1904 and 1905, gave up land but never ceded the main reservation surrounding Lower Red Lake and a portion of Upper Red Lake. The unceded land is regarded as the "diminished" reservation and "aboriginal" land. It is comprised of 407,730 acres. In addition, there are 229,300 acres of surface water area.”

The tribal government has full sovereignty over the reservation, subject only to federal legislation specifically intended for Red Lake, which makes it a "closed" reservation. The Tribe has the right to limit who can visit or live on the reservation.” 

The reservation completely surrounds Lower Red Lake, the largest inland lake within the borders of Minnesota, and includes a major portion of Upper Red Lake.  The land is slightly rolling and heavily wooded, with 337,000 acres of woodlands under management. There are numerous lakes, swamps, peat bogs and prairies.”
I cheated and cooked the rice in a slow cooker, so I did not have to be in the kitchen.  It turned out chewy and very good.  The skins separated from the kernels, so I am not sure it looked as it would have if I had followed directions, which I intend to do with the wild rice still remaining.
Now I am looking forward to honey for Thanksgiving from this Freeport family.  When Rick was a high school youth, he had a hobby/business of bee hives and the equipment to strain the honey.  Throughout Jeannie and Rick’s marriage, this large two-or- three foot stainless steel container has moved with them.  I thought it was a lovely thing and tried to figure out how they might use it somehow as a piece of furniture, but it always remained in garage or attic storage.   Now Rick has restarted his hobby and placed bee hives on a friend’s land, and he harvested his first honey. Since my daddy was a beekeeper like some of his Craig relatives,  I am extremely pleased that Rick has taken up his hobby again and we have a beekeeper in the family.