Friday, December 27, 2013

Waiting out the night

I've been a long time away from my blog and other forms of social media. There are reasons. Some because of busyness and good things that kept me occupied. Others, well, others because maybe priorities don't include posting pics of our fabulous Christmas dinner, or the beautiful four hour blizzard on Christmas eve after lessons and carols that made you glad you weren't slouching to Bethlehem on a donkey, or I might be discouraged, (depressed?). For days (until two days ago) I hadn't even written in my journal.

But I'm here today dipping a toe back in the icy water.

I've always loved the writing of John McPhee. He writes about the oddest things and then makes you wonder how you could justify never having thought about the shad. He wrote an entire book about them. Last year Anita gave me a copy of The Founding Fish. EVERYthing you'd ever want to know about shad. 

The following quote may energize me enough to get started writing again myself.

   They (shad) move upstream at first light - an optimal time, when muscles are rested. And resolutely they move in the afternoon, Kynard guesses that the falling light reminds them that another day is ending and they've got to get on with their mission. "That drive to get upstream is strong. It must be particularly forceful when they sense that they are losing light." 

 This reminds me of what I do all day (nothing). I sharpen imaginary pencils and look out real windows. The light of a computer screen seems far too bright to me. I kill hours, hoping for distraction, and complain bitterly when distraction occurs. Three, four, five P.M. Nothing whatever accomplished. The day coiling like a spring. Nothing is worse than a lost day. Panic rises, takes over, and I write until I go home at seven, thinking like a shad.

   When daylight drops in the evening, the fish turn and retreat from rapids, because they can't maintain orientation. "They go backdown, but not far. They find the very first deep slow-water area. That's where they stay. They just kind of settle down to the bottom. Get down to a lower velocity. Get in the current, where they can just maintain position. Let the lateral line take care of keeping them up, and not moving downstream." As if they were treading water, they wait out the night. (p. 32)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Stacked Enchiladas for a cold day

Stacked Enchiladas
Stacked Enchiladas ready for the oven

I have a friend who will soon deliver a new baby - her second child. Liz is also a lively writer and a great cook. She has combined these two skills to make one of the few blogs I regularly read - Carpe Season - "Living seasonally in an under seasoned world." Right now she is trying to prepare her family for an event she knows will change their lives in ways she, well, it is hard to accurately predict what life is going to look like on the other side of second baby, isn't it? I remember someone telling me it's the third one that either makes or breaks you - after that it doesn't matter. She had seven children. I didn't know whether to be relieved or frightened. Even now with adult children I can't say whether that is true or not.
Liz came up with an idea to help her family eat well even as they transit from three to four. She called on some of her friends to send their favorite make-ahead and freeze main dish meals. She plans to make one now and freeze one for later.
I was inspired to send her a family favorite that dates back to our New Mexico days when we lived next door to a Hispanic family. Their Nana made the world's best flour tortillas. Fresh every day. Like it was nothing. Like me toasting a piece of bread. I wish she was still my neighbor. It surprised me that they often made the following dish that was considered lazy, fast, and unauthentic Mexican food. I RARELY, rarely use Campbells cream of anything soup, but for this - I break my rule, unless I have some good leftover chicken broth. This delicious dish can easily be made gluten-free, especially if you make your own cream soup.
This is not difficult to whip up and the ingredients are easily kept on hand for a cold fall day. When served with a side of refried beans, fresh salsa and a simple fruit salad - this is comfort food. Around here, anyway.

Stacked Enchiladas
1 pound ground beef, browned and seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper
10-12 corn tortillas
12 oz grated mild cheddar cheese
1 can green chiles (optional to use more)
1 small onion diced
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 can milk
Butter two small casserole dishes to make two main dishes that will make three servings each. One to eat now. One to freeze. Or use a larger baking dish to make a main dish that serves approximately five and eat it all at once. Number of servings vary according to appetites. (A cast iron skillet also works well for this recipe.)
Brown the ground beef, set aside. Mix soup and milk in a largish shallow bowl. Grate cheese, set aside. Chop onion, set aside.
To assemble casserole: dip a tortilla in the soup mix so each side is drenched. Place in bottom of dish. Sprinkle a bit of ground beef, 1 T raw onion, 1 T green chile, a little sprinkling of cheese. Repeat layers until the tortillas are used. (In a large casserole dish use 1 1/2 or 2 tortillas. Tear them to fit the shape of bottom.) Pour any remaining soup and a generous amount of cheese over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until it bubbles.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

There are Chickadees

One thing I've always wished I could experience is to have a wild bird eat from my hand. I've always loved chickadees - they are so small and cheerful. I've heard they aren't too difficult to entice, just stand outside until your hands and feet are frozen stiff and hypothermia followed by rigor mortis sets in.
Last week I did it. I stood on the deck of the cabin. Waiting, waiting. Waiting for them to overcome their fear of me. There was a flock of them flitting about because they'd already been careening in and snatching from little piles of black sunflower seeds I'd scattered on the railing. When they were nearly gone, I posted with my hands cupped, those seeds a little siren song seducing them.
I was about to give up when, to my surprise, the nuthatches came! Hopping along the rail, making little chirrups, clutching my fingers with their tiny feet, sorting the seeds,with their needle-nosed beaks, tossing away several before finding the exactly right one. I was enthralled. Finally, a brave chickadee skidded to a stop about six inches away. She arched her head, eye-balled a seed, hopped on my thumb, grabbed it and arced away. I could feel the tiny draft of her wings as she pulled up. They kept coming. I tried not to laugh for the joy of them.
I just heard about a woman with four young children who has Stage IV breast cancer. As we know, "there is no Stage V." Her heart bursts and breaks with love and longing for her children and her spouse. She strives to remain in Christ during her long sleepless nights.
So, I wonder. Why am I blessed with chickadees and nuthatches? There is no short answer to this. It seems that as long as I live I will need to review questions about suffering and persevering. I read C.S. Lewis. Edith Schaeffer. J.I. Packer. Others. And am temporarily satisfied, but is it my memory that has so many holes in it that I must return again and again to be reminded? I think so. And, I also turn Scriptures that assure me that God "prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies." (Ps. 23) And further, "goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life." So, God, please bring comfort to that young woman. Prepare a table for her that sustains her through the valley of death. And thanks for the birds you brought to my hands - they were goodness, a kind of evidence that you have not abandoned us or your creation.
Handfuls of goodness

Friday, October 25, 2013


Here's a new reason for "cooking the books."  I just pulled the last load of books out of the oven after an hour at 185 degrees. Before that it held a canvas book bag, my computer cover, Denis' wool stocking cap and a Bible.
We just returned from vacationing at a very quiet, sweet spot. It was a much needed time away for rest and refreshment. It was almost perfect. Except that on our first evening, I noticed something very tiny moving on my knee, which I pulled as close to my nose as joints allowed for inspection. It looked like a little piece of dirt on my blue jeans except that it moved, like when static electricity causes a small seed to jump. It was a flea. I stood up to look at the wrap I was sitting on. It had more jumping seeds. I yanked it off the chair, screamed in a quiet fashion so as to alert my husband that something was wrong, who merely said, do you want to go home? No. Not really. So for a week, we simply tried to ignore … no, that isn't quite right. I kept catching them on the bathroom floor with dampened toilet paper where they easily showed up on the white tile (as if flushing one or two every three hours would make a difference in their population). Denis dealt with them by refusing to discuss or acknowledge them, choosing denial as a means of coping. I admire him.
The day before we left, I posted our status on FaceBook. Fleas. Help! What should we do? The response was fairly large and adamant. I shouldn't mess around. I even got a phone call from a friend in Missouri who had immediately spoken with another friend who is an "Exterminator."  I was to seal everything in black plastic bags. Don't even think about bringing it in the house. The expert and others said go to a laundromat and wash and then dry everything on high heat. Sigh.  Or… do what I did and what a few others recommended. Dump everything on the lawn. Take it in a load at a time. Launder and dry it. Bake your books and anything else you can't put through a dryer. I've done all that.
The last load to go in late this morning was the big white cotton blanket (we needed to bring our own linens) you see in the middle of the photo. A few minutes ago I pulled it out of the dryer and out of curiosity, I was examining whatever little black flecks of dirt and lint clung to it. Perhaps I shouldn't have done that. One of the specks sprang away. It did it again. I bent close. A live flea. It's back in the dryer on the highest heat the dryer can manage. I may run it for 36 hours.
I know you don't feel too sorry for me. After all, we haven't needed to bomb the entire house, or move out like some of you have. We don't even have noticeable bites. And I've just finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand about a Japanese WWII POW. The vermin they had to live with for months, even years at a time! Whatever can I be complaining about?
Perhaps just a couple survivors will not make any difference to us? Perhaps they won't find each other and breed like flies. Perhaps they specialize in biting dogs only. Or cats. Maybe they are just harmless little fleas who eat grass. Perhaps this will discourage visitors from coming to Toad Hall. And now I will be able to do everything I've put off for years. Except that pausing to scratch my waist every ten seconds may cripple my progress. Am I obsessed? Probably.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Giant Puff Ball

I know, after being gone from here for so long, you'd think I'd come back with something really profound. But when I think of it, what is not profound about this very strange and rather rare mushroom? If you are on a hike in the woods and happen to glance off into the undergrowth and notice a large round white object it is probably a Giant White Puffball. It is so startling, you can't help but think that some kid lost a soccer ball. If you can find it early on, when it is still young and dense, they are delicious. Along with morel mushrooms, there is no mistaking them for anything else. Seriously. You would be safe eating them. Their pure white flesh tastes a little like mild cheese. 

Anita found this one and brought it home. When I first saw the photo, I thought you could easily mistake Honeysuckle for a miniature bunny who was examining a button mushroom. (Denis and I are not home right now - having taken some vacation time to be on the North Shore - our favorite spot for decompressing in this starkly beautiful place.) She reports that last night she made a brown rice risotto with kale and mushroom and it was delicious.


North Shore


Friday, September 20, 2013

God Answers Denis' Prayers about Wild Mushrooms

Mushrooms Boletes

So, last week among the mushrooms springing up beneath the thickets on this lonely point where we were staying, I found what looked like the Cep, also known as the King Bolete. These large, brown mushrooms are found and eaten everywhere in Europe. As an American I've felt lame and ignorant when it comes to harvesting and eating what is so OB-vious to other people everywhere. And FREE! There are some species I know beyond any shadow of doubt. Like Morels which, if you know me you are sick of hearing about. The Common Puffball is pretty safe as long as you don't confuse it with a very young mushroom of another sort in its early stages. Once, I even found the Giant Puffball. They are so enormous,I swear when I saw it in the woods from a distance, I wondered who on earth kicked a soccer ball to here!? It deteriorated before I could eat it all.
Anyway, I was relying on some of my guides to help me figure out what is edible and what is not. Two of my favorite guides:
Edible Mushrooms by Clyde M. Christensen  He is a no nonsense kind of guy who believes the best way to harvest edibles is not by knowing all the poisonous ones - there are too many - but to know the edible ones so well you will never make a mistake.
Mushrooming Without Fear: The Beginner's Guide to Collecting Safe and Delicious Mushrooms by Alexander Schwab is a fantastic guide. He show-cased some of the most common edible mushrooms and each species had many photos and characteristics to look for so you would never, ever mistake them for anything deadly. I trusted him. Even when I read:  "the white network on the stem of the King is very clear and makes identification almost foolproof." It is that "almost" that is a little unnerving.
After fingering each page of his book, I couldn't stop myself gathering a whole lot of the best examples, Ceps, Birch bolete, Larch Boletus, Puffballs. Then, I brought them inside and prepared them for supper.
Many mushrooms
Ready to clean

Mushroom Mix

I peeled the caps - they all had a membrane that was easy to pull off - cleaned them, dried and sliced them. Sautéed them in a little butter, added chopped garlic, chicken broth and white wine and commenced reducing the liquid. The aroma filled the cabin and I couldn't wait.  As they simmered away, I thought, "I'll just take my iPhone and google poisonous boletus because, just in case. As you probably know, anyone who is a situational hypochondriac should stay away from Google. So I found a ton of sites that mentioned that some Boletus are difficult to identify and some species might make you sick especially if you are elderly or a little unhealthy or just don't care to risk 48 hours of your life blowing out your intestines.
Denis was reading on the porch when I rose from my chair and confessed that after a little more research I didn't think I should take the chance. His relief shocked me. I hardly believed him when he said he had been praying I WOULD NOT even taste them. He insisted he was sincere. If he had tried to stop me, I suppose I would, of course, have eaten the whole mess. This is not a virtue.
I stepped into the bathroom for a minute and when I came out the pan was empty. Anita had already dumped them in the trash.
I need a living mentor. Where is she?!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Stink Horns and Fly Agaric Mushrooms

On this small point of Wisconsin land that gently bulges into Pike Lake there must be several dozen species of trees from larch to maples. Last week something in nature aligned with trees, weather and decaying earth because the ground gloriously released hundreds of mushrooms. Everywhere. Some as big as dinner plates and as soft as Nerf balls, others so tiny and camouflaged you would never spy them unless you stared at your feet for a hundred years.
WI Cabin
Pike Lake Cabin

Boletes Not sure what kind. Perhaps "Red Cracked"
I saw lots of boletes - distinguished by a hundreds of tubes on the underside giving them a sponge-y feel and appearance. Dozens popped in the grass just outside the cabin door - golden nuggets blending with the yellow leaves that are beginning to fall from the maples. I was sure they were  larch boletes and I collected them, determined to eat them later. We found several fairy rings - mushrooms that are supposed to be delectable, but we decided we needed more information on them.
Fairy ring mushrooms
A Fairy Ring

Fly Agaric 1
Immature Fly Agaric (Aminta muscaria)

Fly Agaric 2

Two of the most fascinating species (I can't identify that many) were unmistakable. Aminita Muscaria - the beautiful poisonous Fly agaric. I love finding this legendary mushroom of fairy tales and wood elves. When young its round cap varies in shade from orangey-red to straw yellow and sits perfectly round on a white stem. The cap is covered with white or pale yellow warts. As it matures it flattens and broadens into a plate that can range from three to ten inches across. It attracts flies who lap up the sticky surface with their little tongues, go into a dizzy dive and fall dead. Apparently there are folks in Siberia (and who knows where else) who risk enjoying the hallucinogenic properties and live to tell. But I guess its a gamble, not everyone survives. So how good could the trip be? Or how bad your life? (I never fail to exclaim.)
Stinkhorn Mushroom

Denis alerted us to a stinkhorn mushroom. Yes, it stinks and yes, it's shape is disgustingly hornish. He had wandered over to a bench near the water and got a whiff of something so revolting he looked around thinking he had stepped on a rotting carcass. As he peered into the grass he noticed an odd-looking mushroom. It was about six inches long and the cap was covered in an olive-green evil-smelling slime. As Denis wafted the air my direction I took an involuntary step back. By the end of the day it was covered with flies and black beetles fighting for a place at this slimy table.
I never fail to wonder at the strangeness of mushrooms. At their mycelium which lurk unseen in rotting wood, garden soil, even in the foundations of our homes, at their fruiting bodies suddenly appearing out of nowhere in mind-numbing varieties. That they can be literally drop-dead gorgeous and kill you in a single bite or be so delectable you crave them like crack cocaine. All these things are why I am bewitched by them and that God should make so many! As many as the stars, perhaps.

Friday, September 6, 2013

You have no idea

After one of my book readings this summer, a lady approached me with a comment. She had read my book and quite liked it, but had to exclaim in a loud voice so everyone around could hear - "I DIDN'T KNOW YOU WERE SO SMALL!"
I'm not very quick with repartee. It's only much later when I'm lying in bed at night that I might think of a response so stunning it would go viral on youtube. (By morning I've forgotten it.) So all I managed to squeak was, "Well, how BIG did you think I WAS?"  ( I didn't really want to know the answer to that.) She patted me and assured me that she didn't mean to insult me, it was just that, surely, with all the things I did in the story, one would need to be quite a large person.
In a twist of kismet or whatever you call the quirks and folds of the universe, another woman came up to me at the same evening and said basically the same thing. She sounded aghast: "But you're SO SMALL!!"
I have never thought of myself as small, petite, tiny - none of that. Woman who are size 2 are small. I am way larger than that. In fact, although I'm not that tall, I consider myself stout. Sort of chunky. Solid. Curvy.
So when Denis sent me pics of these dog tee shirts last week, I thought perhaps I should order the last one and wear it to my next reading. Although historically the last dog I owned was a poodle. (He had to be put to sleep in his prime and I loved him so much I cried to see him go.) However, we did NOT accessorize. EVER. I admit he wore a purple sweater for winter walks and because of my white hair which gets a little frizzy when humid I KNEW passersby were thinking, "There goes another dog owner who looks just like her dog." This did make me paranoid.
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When I read a book I always get a mental image of the author or character that is described. Meeting them in real life can be enlightening. Even photos don't always give an accurate impression. So it's not surprising that people have ideas about how I look. I don't want to disappoint readers, but there it is. Or, rather, there I am. At this stage of life, accepting what I look like feels pretty good. These days, I'm caring more about those sneaky inside places that still need a lot of work.
Here at Toad Hall, we are looking forward to the weekend. Family is coming tonight and our house will ring with grandkids. Pulled pork sandwiches and watermelon for supper. Tomorrow my daughter-in-law is running a 10k and the kids are going to do the family mile. I hope you enjoy your weekend, too. Read a book. Take your dog for a walk. Get outside. And we, none of us, will worry about what others perceive about our size. Not today, anyway.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Breast Cancer and Art 101

On a Monday morning not long ago a friend, a breast cancer survivor, sent me an interesting link. She called it weird. Or worried I might think it weird, but I didn't. Not at all.
There are some things we who have never had a mastectomy don't ever think about. That is, until your best friend or your mom or sister has a "double" and part of the reconstruction process is what's to be done about the fact that your breasts look strangely bereft without their central high point - the nipple and areola? It's difficult enough to suffer removal and treatment, but when reconstruction is done, your brain is cooked once again, when you look in the mirror because these new mothers look like they were ordered from a doll factory and plunked on a flesh-colored torso. Remember those bare Barbies? Uh-huh.
The answer is that the color gets tattooed on. I remember my friend was a little apprehensive about making that appointment with Mayo's officially sanctioned tattoo "artist." The procedure seemed like simply one more indignity one had to suffer post-surgery. The results were less than satisfactory. It was like the "artist" simply stenciled twin targets on the front of each one. A salmon-colored circle with, ta-da! a chocolate brown bull's eye. (C'mon guys, A five year old could do better.) Complaining seems pointless, though, when you're not a complainer, and when there are no categories for comparison. In fact, when you didn't even know there was a category for medical tattoo!
Now she wishes, at the time, she could have had someone who was more of an artist, a tattoo artist. Someone with an eye for beauty and color, like this guy. She wishes she could get the word out. I'd like to support that desire. We ALL know someone who has had a mastectomy even if we ourselves forget about it after awhile because clothing worn over reconstructive surgery makes them appear normal. But that person doesn't forget. Every glance in the mirror is a reminder.
So I thought it was a tender, vulnerable thing to share with me. I just never knew! I'm glad she did because this post is a very small way to support breast cancer survivors. Here's the link: Breast Cancer Survivors Find the Michelangelo of Nipple Tattoos

Monday, August 19, 2013

Bringing nature home

"A room is never at its best without flowers. Flowers show that a home is cared for and truly lived in. While furniture can remain the same for years, flowers speak to the present moment. And yet they are a talisman, a reminder of the world beyond our doors, of growth and change, and the passage of time. They are fleeting pleasures."  from Bringing Nature Home by Ngoc Minh Ngo.
I don't know much about flower arranging. I mean what is this or that style called? Japanese minimalist? Polly's posies? I don't know. I only know the names of a few flowers and shrubs. I'm likely to describe a licorice plant as that plant with the thick, viney, trailing stems with fuzzy, kinda white-ish leaves. I just put things in vases. I learned by looking through this book that my style is a meadowy look - bouquets of colorful shapes and sizes, crammed together, over-flowing -  tumultuous, bountiful. Rather like my cooking that I call Peasant Style; pretty simple and a lot.  But there are other ways.
The dictionary reminds me that a talisman is an object thought to have magical powers. This book inspired me to take a walk around our yard looking for magic. What could make simple beauty if I brought it inside? What could I find that was simple, graceful and made from less rather than more. I wonder what you have outside your back door? I stole a single blue hydrangea from Anita's prized shrub. To go with it I clipped some licorice plant stems from overgrown pots. The faint white shades of the leaves put the single blue flower in relief. Three mint blossoms on arching stems gave it a little lift. Their soft, brush-shaped flowers contrasted with the precise hydrangea petals. I pulled an antique water pitcher off the shelf for a vase. I left it here on Anita's bureau.
I was happy with this small way to express joy. At the same time, flowers make me sad because they don't last and I think a lot about this. They drop messy pollen all over the place, their petals shrivel and fall off, and have you ever smelled flower water? It STINKS like dog shit after a few days.  I've spent a long time thinking about what it means when Isaiah says "The grass withers, the flower fades," (Is. 40:8) and I know he is talking about us. Human lives. We are so here for a little while, then we are gone. This is distressing.  I used to wonder, then, what it meant that when Isaiah finishes the thought with "But the word of our God stands forever." Is that supposed to comfort me? Well, yes. Yes it should. That's because, as so often happens with Scripture, it coheres. It interprets itself. So when Peter writes: "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, 'All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.' " (I Peter 1:23-25)
So yes, flowers have their fleeting pleasures with reminders of a world beyond our doors and it is no small thing to bring them in and to love their glory. We can, I mean we are allowed, to think of them as we ourselves fade and we are no longer at the peak of our game, as if I ever was, but I have this: this promise, because of Jesus, I am re-born of imperishable seed and one day I shall be restored to a kind of eternal beauty. He will make it so. Really, he will. My faltering steps rest on it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Johnny Cash - too many "I's and me's"

From an interview by The Daily Beast with record producer and co-founder of Def Jam Records, Rick Rubin says:

On our first album, there was a song he wrote, I can't remember which one it was, but I listened to it and said, "Do you think you could take some of the 'I's and 'me's out of it?" And he thought about it and he was like, "Yeah, I think I can do that." And he did. So 10 years later, I'm visiting him in Nashville. He's in a wheel chair. He's blind, pretty much. It felt so awkward. So I said, "What have you been working on lately?" And he said, "I've been working on using 'I' and 'me' less." And I said, "Really?" and he said, "Yeah. Remember? You gave me that comment on the song? That's what I've been working on." Incredible. He didn't mean it in the context of songs. He meant it in the context of life. 

Thinking recently about my own "I's" and "me's." Until we die - our enduring Holy War.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Cuckold  ˈkəkəld, -ōld ORIGIN: late Old English, from Old French cucuault, from cucu ‘cuckoo’ (from the cuckoo's habit of laying its egg in another bird's nest). The equivalent words in French and other languages applied to both the bird and the adulterer.
     For the second time this summer a pair of purple house finches have built a nest in the corner of our front porch. They are hidden up there on the ledge where we have placed a shallow clay pot liner. We love the little parents who scold us when we walk out to get the mail. They fly to the crab apple tree and say, cheee, cheee, cheee. Their first nesting hatched three babies, so we were shocked when this time around there were seven eggs! An ominously large brood for a little mother to raise. But wait! When I looked more closely (we lifted the liner down for a few seconds to peek in because we’re curious, and then quickly replace it before the parents die from anxiety.) Suddenly, I realized that two of the eggs were not like the others. (I could hear that Sesame Street song in my head urging me to decide which one was different.) I looked again. Two were noticeably larger and different in color. More brown speckles. I know that Cow birds are like the English cuckoo bird playing a nasty bully-trick on honest little birds, sneaking in and dropping a giant egg or two that when hatched will put to death the natural children, and with their voracious appetites, will stress the parents who can’t seem to tell the difference between the interlopers and their own poor, starving babies. So the cuckoo is the source of the word “cuckold.” The story of the sailor who has been away at sea for over a year, who returns home to find his wife has a baby. Thus the saying emerged: “I’ve been cuckholded!”
     I didn’t expect to find the cowbird in an urban setting. At our house? I have no problem interfering with their ugly agenda. I remove the two eggs, take them to the driveway and smash them on the cement, heartlessly killing the little alien invaders. I’m not looking too deep for meaning here. Or am I? Why should I turn every story into a Me Story? Unless God means me to reflect on this passion I have for rescuing. Maybe removing cuckoo eggs is not what I’m supposed to be doing. Maybe I’ve misunderstood the difference between selfishness and stewardship? Perhaps my zeal for finding and saving has more to do with my own needs than it does for helping others? This might make more sense if you knew I was struggling with boundaries. More wisdom to learn, even at my age.
Finch Nest
Finch nest on Toad Hall porch.

Cowbird Eggs
Cowbird eggs in hand.

Cowbird eggs in finch nest jpeg

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Dangerous Rhubarb Cordial

Rhubarb plant
Last of this season's rhubarb

We are having a quiet 4th of July. Sandy, a friend from New Zealand, a nurse practitioner, is staying with us for three weeks while she keeps up her annual licensure at Mayo. Another good friend, Larry, from Scottsdale, is here for a month working as a hospitalist and he will join us later.  I'm just home from Laity Lodge in Texas where I spent every last spoon of energy I own at a women's retreat. Yesterday I felt like I would never, ever get out of bed again. It was the kind of day when everything made me weep. Like the wren outside our back porch who finally found a mate after singing a solid month before he found her. Cheesh.
Today I'm so much better that the first thing I did was strain the rhubarb cordial that has been brewing on the breakfast nook table for three weeks. (You understand. I have priorities.) A friend sent me this recipe and said to watch out, it is so refreshingly delicious you could drink a quart before you are even aware. Of course, given the ingredients? It wouldn't be long before I was happily unaware of anything. However, due to the company we will keep today, if I were to fall and bump my head, I'd be in good hands.
Hope you all are having a wonderful Fourth and keep your fingers away from lit fuses and hot grills.
Rhubarb strained
I'd be pale, too, if I soaked in vodka for three weeks.

Rhubarb Cordial
Ready for ice and soda water.

Rhubarb Cordial
Bring 6 T sugar and 1/4 cup water to a boil, stirring just until sugar dissolves; remove from heat. Cool Place 5 cups coarsely chopped rhubarb in a two quart glass container. Add 3 cups vodka, 1/2 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur and cooled sugar syrup; stir. Screw lid on tightly and let stand at room temp for 2-3 weeks or until all the color leaches out of rhubarb. Strain over a bowl, discard solids. 
Enjoy it straight up over ice or with club soda. Remember: all things in moderation.
For another great recipe: Sparkling Rhubarb Lemonade link

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

God is gross

Honeysuckle wool
This gives you an idea of how long her wool can get.

When Honeysuckle's principal owner, Anita, is gone, seeing to her health and well-being as a pet falls on me, though Denis is good to bring her dandelions in summer and kale in winter. As we all know, sometimes our pets purposely do things that are disgusting - I'm thinking about how our dog used to find things to eat on the boulevard during walks; things I don't even want to know what they were; things I could't stop him from gulping down however quickly I jerked back on his leash and yelled NOOOO. Or, and this is true of any animal we may be responsible for husbanding, like cows or goats, …. or it may not be anything they can't help, like musky glands or baby lambs stuck in birth canals. Or even the normal digging, biting power cords, chewing one's home to bits.

Anyway, I was thinking about things like this as I had Honeysuckle positioned upside down on my lap because her long wool sometimes needs to be trimmed away from certain parts of her anatomy - she had a buildup of matted and clotted fecal matter that needed to be carefully and meticulously cut away. She lay patiently on my lap as I snipped away and thought what a nasty mess this was. But as usual, I couldn't help thinking about the deeper meanings our encounters hold for us if we think about them for more than two seconds. How good I felt helping this innocent animal with something she couldn't do herself. Although it was stinky, it felt right and proper and grace-giving - like in that moment I was doing exactly what God told us to do when he blessed our Mother and Father in the garden and sent them out to take care of the earth.

Then as I was reading and reading and reading, because it is such a looooong book that requires eating in small bites, The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, I came across a letter on the very topic of how we can be repulsed by the natural consequences of being a natural beast, and thought how clever I might have been to be able to scold C.S. Lewis for his scruples.

"Physical disgust is a sensation which I have very often and of which I am always ashamed. If one lets it grow upon one it will in the end cut one out from all delighted participation in the life of nature. For God is gross and never heard of decency and cares nothing for refinement: nor do children, nor most women, nor any of the beasts nor mien either except in certain sophisticated classes. And yet it's hard to feel that the faculty of disgust is a sheer evil from beginning town. I don't know what to make of it." (#146, p. 371)
I couldn't agree more. 
Honeysuckle on lap
Do even part-time owners look like their pet? Here we are getting ready for a clipping.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Morchella Eschulenta (Morel Mushrooms)

It has been perfect morel mushroom weather. A cool, moist spring with a few warm days causes this strange woodland treasure to appear for those who have eyes to see and enough stamina to push through miles of thorny vines and masses of tangled brush and trees. Anita and I have tromped through promising woodlands for hours looking and haven't found a single one. The vendors who sell them at Farmers Market have a slightly scornful look for the pitiful folks who step up to pay $30.00 a pound for their springtime addiction. To us it is like junk. White Tiger Heroine from Maynmar. Truffles from France. Etc.
This week I thought maybe we could afford a small treat. You know. A tiny amount. I could buy exactly 9 medium mushrooms - about 1/2 pound. That would give us three each. That is what I planned to do until last Sunday when Joe, our friend from Heartbeet Farm, offered to take us out to a wooded area near their farm.
After two hours of searching and Denis getting lost, we were about to give up when Joe found a large patch poking out of the decay and leaf litter. Denis wrote a beautiful blog about our experience You should go read it now.
It was almost enough to pick them and just fondle them without ever getting to eat. I couldn't bring myself to hope for more, but when Joe insisted we take them all, it felt like Christmas, like strawberries and cream, like unmerited grace.
I can't imagine preparing them any other way than the way my mother taught me. Anything else seems like an awful waste. Sinful. I'd rather have two intense morel-ly bites than a sliver here and there lost in a pasta dish or quiche.

Hard to see
Look how they blend in with surroundings and are very difficult to see.

Happy with a basket FULL of morels. This must be about four meals worth.

Soaking in salt water
First, cut the large ones in half lengthwise and soak in cold salt water about 5 minutes. This drives out little critters hiding in the crevasses. Drain and individually rinse each one under running cold water. Handle gently. Morels are hollow so shake the water out through the stem. Place on a clean dish towel and pat dry. Don't worry about a little dirt in the cracks. It won't hurt you. You need bacterial diversity, don't you?
Pat dry

Mix a simple tempura-like batter.
1/2 cup flour (Or substitute corn starch to be gluten-free. It takes a little more to get the right consistency.)
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 t. salt, 1/2 t. garlic salt, pepper
Whisk together in shallow bowl. Should be the consistency of cheap paint. Not too thick. Dip mushrooms in and turn to coat.
Saute in medium hot skillet with plenty of butter for browning. They should sizzle when placed in pan. Press down on them a little to flatten. Turn when browned and crisp. Doesn't take long.  Drain on paper towels. Eat while hot.
Sizzling goodI was right. We've had them on three occasions and enough for one more round. Grace upon grace, we've never had this many morels! I'm all for experimenting with food. But not here. Not with these. 

Golden morels

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Honeysuckle Chews

Making mulch.

Honeysuckle s hutch
Honeysuckle chewed off the leg to her hutch.

Honeysuckle has been in a mood lately. We don't know why. She has been gnawing her hutch at an alarming rate. We gave her a couple more months before it would definitely need to be replaced. We were wrong. She has been so aggressive in her demolition project, going after the back support and the legs that finally one of the front legs fell off.  She sniffed it as if to say this is what you get when you reduce my pellets and expect me to eat timothy hay like a horse - and what did you expect? Do you want my incisors to grow through the roof of my mouth?
We have been careful to bring her every rabbity treat and comfort - even cutting her fresh apple branches and crocheting her a little rug for her foyer.  Apparently this hasn't been enough. So Anita has had to fashion a new leg - and will continue to patch, reconstruct and coddle this creature until her home falls apart for good.
Anita Repairs hutch
Anita fashions a new leg.

 Honeysuckle at work:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Spring is making us crazy

10 days ago

Spring is making us crazy. I'm not kidding. Less than ten days ago we were doing this.
Three days later all that was left of the snowman was his little brain lying on the ground with a sunken eye. That's all. Really.
Every day we've gone out to inspect tiny green shoots of crocus, hostas, peony, tulips, bleeding heart, wondering if they would survive the snow. A few golden crocus blossoms opened, but that night, Honeysuckle's wild boyfriend bit them off clean to the ground. When the storm dumped 15 inches of snow on us May 2, we had already been waiting so long for the daffodils which were finally in full bloom, I rushed out to turn the wheel barrel over them hoping to save them. It worked.

Flower pots
Full pots.

In the following days few days I gradually became more crazed and obsessed for green of any kind. (Anita is worse.) We stopped by Heartbeet Farm and I noticed that Joe and Becca had moved flats of parsley, green onion, lettuces and I don't know what all, onto the ground in front of the green house. It was green heroine, a salad sea. It was all I could do to keep from falling face first and licking up the leaves.
Next day Anita and I went to the nursery. Such a bad idea. Our piggish appetites paid no attention to our budget, we wanted them all. Everything. I made little grunting noises as I passed flats of alyssum, Sweet William, geraniums, African daisies, dianthus, succulents of all kinds, petunias - mini, waving, cascading, climbing, don't-care-what. Even though there are flower snots who won't even sniff a geranium or petunia, declaring them boring and ubiquitous, we don't care. We want them all. NOW.
Now get this, we went from snow a foot deep ten days ago to 95 degrees yesterday, so it's no wonder - this kind of weather-jerking could make the Dali Lama crazy. Luckily, we escaped Hyvee's nursery with only enough flowers to fill several Metro-domes. We are pale, but we're breathing again. Our skin is showing little spots of health. Our pots are full. Our beds are laden. We are calmer.

Tulips. Finally

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Wood Anemones

Wood anemones first flower of spring

Peeking through forest litter
     Yesterday I was sitting on a bench at the edge of a river bluff. Elms and lindens soared up from somewhere from way down below, their skeletal ribs towered above me and gently waved their hairless crowns as if pushed lightly pushed by a spirit. To my left a white pine soughed in the wind, creaking softly. Bright green moss cushioned the floor from my feet to the sharp edge of the cliff where it dropped a hundred feet to the river below. I was listening to hairy woodpeckers drumming on deadwood, tapping out mating calls in woody rhymes. How, I wonder, can anything beat its head that fast and hard against solid wood and survive? An eagle silently soared past at eye-level following the twisted river. She glanced at me with a severe look. I nearly overlooked a tiny wood anemone. I could have left without ever noticing – so shy it is. Sometimes its called a windflower because a windy day can cause it to open its sepals that look to me like seven tiny petals unfurling around a furry yellow center. But botanists say they are sepals not petals. When I looked more intently, then I saw anemones everywhere in small patches along the very path where I’d walked, peeking from brown litter and steep ravines. White clusters, some with the softest blush of pink. These are the first flowers of spring that took so long to arrive this year. I think sometimes its just okay to be small and hidden, quietly blooming, doing your job before the big guns come and steal all the sun and air. Hoards of bluebells. Extravagant wild iris. Carpets of wild garlic.
Today I hope you are blessed by something elfin and beautiful just doing its job.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Come away with me

Henri Nouwen once said in a sermon:
When you are able to create a lonely place in the middle of your actions and concerns, your successes and failures slowly can lose some of their power over you. For then your love for this world can merge with a compassionate understanding of its illusions. Then your serious engagement can merge with an unmasking smile. Then your concern for others can be motivated more by their needs than your own. In short: then you can care. Let us therefore live our lives to the fullest but let us not forget to once in a while get up long before dawn to leave the house and go to a lonely place.      (Sermon text: Mark 1:32-39)

The past 48 hours I have been alone in a “Monk’s Quarters.” With comforts, I add. It belongs to friends who loan it to friends who need a come-away-spot. It is a gift I love – not only for the place itself, but because Denis encourages and supports my being in a place here where I find renewal. Even when I’m not even sure I’m doing the right things to make renewal happen. Like HOW early do I need to rise? Is sleeping in allowed? How much time in prayer? How many pages of serious reading before I can pick up that NYT Best Seller? Can I just stare over the balcony listening to bird song for as long as I want?
Tracking spiritual growth is difficult. Maybe we’re not meant to “track” it as though it were the Prime Interest Rate. Becoming more holy seems to happen when we’re not looking. Like the tiny wood anemone I saw yesterday as I sat on a bench in the woods. It is so diminutive it is barely noticeable. Suddenly your eyes focus and there it was all along.
Despite my shotgun approach to time away, God meets me with kindness; my successes and failures do lose some of their power and I can smile at them, letting them go. Then, for a while at least, I am ready to crack back into everyday life.
I wish I could give the same experience to so many of you who have little choice, being where you are with your obligations. But if the chance arises. Don’t hesitate! Grab it. Thanks for stopping by and for thinking along with me. Hoping/praying you have strength for days ahead.

Wood Anemone, Root River. Among first forest flowers to bloom in spring.

Wood Anemone. About 1/2" in diameter.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Our Weakest Moments

 It has been weeks now since we have seen the sun. Among other things I have blamed the weather on my attitude. Which is one of scratchiness and resentment. My community (Denis and Anita) have been tiptoeing around me. I am at least slightly, if not clinically, depressed and a little confused. Constantly questioning what should I be doing? What have I done besides beat the pants off ten strangers who think I’m a guy in games of “Hangman” on my iPhone? (Someone should block me.) And seeming to end days having done nothing. That isn’t really the case when I give an actual account.

This morning I left the house intending to go to Dunn Bros Coffee to work, drove there, changed my mind, came back home, parked the car in the garage, left my computer bag on the trunk of the car because I didn’t want to carry it into the house or take it a block up to Caribou where I bought an Americano and returned home. Get it? For all of about six minutes, I risked leaving it right there in broad daylight. When I walked up the drive, OF COURSE, it was gone. I was almost 95% certain it was Denis who found it and took it in. (WHY is it that whenever you choose to do a foolish little thing like back out of the garage – even though you’ve done this easily one billion times- the day your husband stands watching, you smash the side-view mirror against the garage door???)

In my office, I sat down to collect myself and read the next chapter in the book O Love That Will Not Let Me Go: Facing Death with Courageous Confidence in God.  You are laughing. Don’t. I have a friend who is dying of stage four prostate cancer and also my mother is 83 years old – though in good health right now. I want to learn some things.

Chapter 10. “A Witness in the Way We Die” by John Eaves.  (Each of the 22 chapters are essays written by a different person.) John Eaves died in 2004 of metastatic colon cancer. This is from the last sermon he preached. It begins:

Life is not about us. Life is about Jesus and our witness for him in this world. It has taken me a lifetime to embrace this fundamental truth in all of its implications. It has also taken the same amount of time to recognize that our witness for Jesus is frequently manifested in our absolute weakest moments rather than when we are at full strength..”

It ends with:

In our weakest moments, God moves toward us and asks us to extend ourselves to others…

I was overwhelmed as I understood this is not just about end-of-life issues. There are universal implications that address ME where I am at today. So I am confessing. I don’t know how it can be that my weaknesses which are so petty and disgusting in the midst of things like dying of cancer or getting your legs blown off at the Boston Marathon can be of use to anyone?  But I’m here saying that, today, this is who I am. Selfish. One eye on the weather, the other on my coffee cup. I desire to be the person who sees and allows God to move in me and use me in the midst of my imperfections. I move toward you in this small way. I would be so very awe-struck and happy if this extends, somehow, to you who might read this.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Rabbit Den

Our granddaughter, Manessah visited us over her spring break. While she was here she did a fun little project. On the landing going down to our basement there is an old, old fuse box on the wall dating back to when the house was first built. The old wires had been cut and the breaker box was moved to another spot when the house was rewired a long time ago. Inside, the box was dusty and dirty and a few ancient fuses lay along the bottom. A small 220 outlet box stuck in the middle leads to our electric stove on the other side. I had never thought of doing anything with it. Didn’t even ever clean it out.

Manessah decided it could be a secret little den. You could open the hinged door and surprise! there would be a little world living beneath the floors of Toad Hall – a tiny Rabbit Den. She fashioned furniture, painted a window, put up a clock.

She has gone home to Tennessee now and we miss her. It seems that life is never equally spread when those we love are far away. Our thanks to H. & P. who gave a gift ticket to make this visit possible.

The old fuse box with a hinged door.

Box clean, supplies ready.
Windows bring light. Good.

Hanging wall art.
Ready for living.