How Did We Ever…?

When I was a kid, how did I ever climb all those trees?  Our house backed up on a park with plenty of trees, but many were elegant pines that were simply too tall–or too sticky!–to climb.  But I had two favorite maples that were eminently more accessible.  The smaller of the two was easy, as it was fairly young, and the branches, just hefty enough to hold my weight, were reachable.  Standing on tiptoes and slinging my arms up and over, I could pull myself up, and then proceed higher from there.  The other one, as I recall, was bigger, and took some real effort to clamber up the trunk to reach any branch sturdy enough to go higher.  I usually stuck to the smaller tree, going up as high as I could so I could perch and watch the world go by.  No ropes, no pads, no helmet, nothing but the brute strength of a pre-teen.  (Is there such a thing as brute strength at that age?)  Now, if our granddaughter is visiting, I’ve learned that the first place to look for her if we’re outside is up our massive maple tree in the backyard.  Must be genetic!  She’s gone on to greater things already, as she’s now a competitive rock climber, while still a pre-teen.

How did I ever learn to ice skate or roller skate, or ride a bike, for that matter?  How many times did I crash and burn while out there with no kneepads or helmet, or any other accouterments to cushion any falls?  Plenty, that’s how many!  When ice skating, at least winter provided the best reason to pad up with snowpants, heavy jacket, mittens, hats.  No problem falling then, we were so layered we all looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy.  A worse fate awaited those who had to visit the bathroom after getting dressed.  Summer roller skating was fraught with more peril, as concrete doesn’t give much when in sudden contact with hands or knees.   But I’ve now been bested by a grandson who’s taken to the ice to speed skate competitively…at age 9.  Better than I could ever do, even then!

How did I manage playground equipment?  Remember those merry-go-rounds that could prove the physics of centrifugal force, always laying in wait to fling you off onto the asphalt?  Or the slides that ended so abruptly…kerthump!  I loved the teetertotters.  Haven’t seen one of those in years.  They provided a great opportunity to plague a friend by keeping them suspended up in the air while you hoped your weight would keep them there.  Of course, sometimes that backfired, as they returned the favor, and then pushed off so you descended so rapidly you left a crater when you hit bottom.  What fun!  No, really!  It was fun.  Tetherballs could turn into weapons too, if the server had a really powerful stroke.  Paying attention was crucial, so you could serve back to them.  In a more gentle fashion, naturally…

 My crowning glory, however, in the How-Did-I-Do-That? category was the fall I learned how to kangaroo.  This has nothing to do with Australia, and everything to do with canoes.  Our Girl Scout troop was on a canoe/camping trip on the Wisconsin River in September when our leader–our adult leader, nonetheless!–challenged us to a kangaroo duel.  Several of us took up the offer.  Little did we know…  Swimsuits and bare feet were de rigeur, considering we might take a dunking.  First step: empty the canoe of all but self and a paddle, and paddle out to the middle of the river.  Second step: stand up on the gunwales, as far aft as possible.  (I can hear you either gasping or laughing.  Trust me, gasping is more appropriate!)  Third step: bounce up and down gently, without feet leaving the gunwales, thus propelling the canoe forward in little hops, kangaroo-like; hence, the term.  Yowza!  How safe is that?  And we didn’t wear lifejackets either.  Safe?  No.  Stupid!  I don’t recall falling in the river myself, but I’m sure somebody did.  The photo from 1961 proves the deed.  So far, no one else has taken up this sport, and I use the term lightly.

Yes, that’s me on the left. (Please, no judgements!)

Seatbelts were a thing of the future, but, then again, no one could move faster than a mom’s arm in restraining a kid in the passenger seat, if quick braking was called for.  Bike helmets were only for roller derby queens.  Knee pads were worn by professional gardeners, not those of us just grubbing around in the dirt, or roller skating.  Playground surfaces were asphalt, or, in special cases, wood chips.  Ouch!  The splinters!

Sometimes I wonder how any of us survived childhood!  But we did, and I’m glad.

Spring! What?

It’s April, right?  Right?  As I’m writing this, I’m staring out at the remnants of an April snowfall.  Now, I live in Wisconsin, so I shouldn’t be surprised.  I remember plenty of snow in April when I was a kid, enough to still enjoy skiing.  But ol’ Mom Nature seems to have retreated from those kinds of snowfalls in recent years, so this one came as an unexpected…gift.

Well, yes, to give the meteorologists credit, snow/sleet/rain mixture was predicted, but I was concentrating on the “rain” part.  After all, the tulip leaves are up and unfolding, and the daffodils are poking fingers out of the soil…um…out of the snow now.  The snowdrops have been blossoming for a bit already, but they’re not called snow-drops for nothing.  I know, I know, spring officially arrived March 21st, or whatever was decided.  But that is far too human.  Kind of like the Changing of the Clocks in spring and fall.  Time itself doesn’t change; there are still 24 hours in a day.  Moving on…

I prefer to rely on Mother Nature, even if she does snicker and dump snow at odd times.  I watch for the birds in particular.  Even the flowers can get fooled, but they’re usually smart enough to hunker down if the weather does a whiplash on them.  I picture them like a petulant child, folding arms and pouting, but staying in place to just wait out the gusts.  The birds are usually more reliable.  Except for the robins.  A couple of those idiots will hang around all winter, thus negating my “scientific” determination of spring.

Several bird avenues exist to help figure out what’s coming.  Maybe the best around here are the sandhill cranes.  Yes, sometimes one pair will hang around the marshes all winter, but they’re pretty quiet.  Once love is in the air, they start calling and laughing.  I always hear them before I see them.  A pair or two will go over as harbingers of what’s to come.  Then come the hordes.  Flocks of 20, 40, I even counted 150 one morning.  Magnificent!  I know they congregate along the Platte River in Nebraska by the hundreds, but we get smaller groups coming up from Florida.  Check out the images on Google.  Wowza!  Talk about birds!

If sandhills start the season, then keep your ears open outdoors for an old-fashioned telephone ringing.  That’s a red-wing blackbird.  If they’re here–and they are around here already–then spring is truly here, no matter what the weather says.  They don’t soar like the cranes, but are easily spotted hanging precariously on dried grasses and cattails.  Just don’t get close to the nests once they start building.  They divebomb anyone coming within ten or twelve feet.  One knocked my hat off last spring when we were out in a public park for a walk.  Oh, yes, folks, they nest close to people sometimes.  And they attack from the rear, so it’s best to hang onto the hat and hustle smartly past a blackbird.

I love watching the small birds that cluster on the birdfeeders outside our patio door.  Some birds just don’t care about weather.  They’re around all winter.  Cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, finches, mourning doves, woodpeckers.  But a few are true migrators.  The funny thing is, they fly off looking for colder climes, not warmer.  The juncos, for instance, also known as snowbirds.  When their numbers start declining, spring isn’t far behind.  I think they leave a couple behind just to tease us into thinking spring will never come.  But eventually, those leave too.

The fun part is watching the finches.  First of all, whoever named purple finches must have been colorblind.  They are most definitely not purple, but rosy.  Well, everyone does see color in a different fashion, so I guess I should be more tolerant.  Anyway, they don’t change quite as dramatically as the goldfinches, whose male half explodes into a blaze of lemon yellow.  What female goldfinch could resist such a display of Louis XIV splendor?  The Sun King reincarnated in this tiny bird.  Now spring is truly, really here.

No matter where you live, keep your eyes peeled for the birds that proclaim Spring.  They may be all puffed up and hiding from the snow in a thick evergreen, but they know what they’re doing.  They’ve been promised spring by the correct sun angle, and, b’god, they’re going to create spring with their presence.  Hope springs eternal, and hope always does come through with the birds.  So, get out your binoculars and watch for the signs.  They’re out there.

Pi(e) Day, and More

Pi Day:  March 14.  Get it?  3.14?  That mathematical…whatever it is.  Well, okay.  It’s the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.  Oh, yeah!  You remember now!  Teachers all over pounce on the date to introduce some fun.  Bake pies and bring them to class.  Measure all the stuff on a 10-inch pie pan, then do it over for a 9-inch pie pan.  Does it change if you use a deep-dish pie pan?  (Hint: no) Of course, this all entails sampling the pie, because you have to deal with diameter, and—horrors!—maybe even radii (that’s plural, folks).  Whatever is required, it all ends up as a mathematical triumph, as well as a gastronomical one.

Which reminds me of my personal pie triumph, which involved my Senior Girl Scout friends camping pioneer-style.  When two of us were on cooking detail, we decided to make the fresh blueberries we picked into a pie.  We had a reflector oven for use with a wood fire that had already produced successful biscuits.  But we didn’t have a pie pan.  So…we used a garbage can cover.  Yes, we washed it, and lined it with aluminum foil.  We fed a dozen of us.  Messy?  Oh, yeah.  But it tasted great, garbage can cover or not.  Of course, that was the meal we also served banana pudding, with pieces of banana floating throughout.  Only, we didn’t have bananas.  We had lumps.  How we managed to convince everyone the lumps were bananas, I have no clue.  Please don’t tell them our secret.

Then I got to thinking about pi.  It’s non-repeating, so the numbers go on forever.  I wondered if there were any zeros in pi.  Yup, out in 32nd place, there’s the first zero.  Which took me even farther afield.  Where did zero come from anyway?  That took some searching.

Turns out it started in Mesopotamia 5000 years ago.  Then moved to India, back to the Middle East, and onward all over.  Anyone familiar with the Super Bowl knows the football game uses Roman numerals.  We’re already past fifty.  That was “L.”  We write it also as “50.”  See?  Take a look. There is no Roman numeral for 0.  Weird, eh?  That’s because the Romans devised a number system for trading and pricing goods.  They used the Latin “nulla” meaning “nothing.”  Which isn’t the same as zero…

Right, you say.  Who cares?  In Rome, you couldn’t buy or sell “nothing,” so they didn’t need a zero.  But if you’re trying to show that something is missing between two numbers…well, that’s where a zero is useful.  One Middle Eastern culture put a dot underneath a number, to show that there should be a gap between that and the next number, as in the number 107.  

So now we use Arabic numbers.  Thank Signor Fibonacci from the 1200s.  Much simpler than the old Roman numerals, where you could tie yourself in knots just trying to figure out if XIX is 11+10, or 10+9.  (It’s 10+9, in case you’re wondering.)  Zero was a great place holder.  A positional, as it were.  Imagine trying to add or subtract Roman numerals!  Yikes!

Mathematics went crazy from there.  Calculus, graphs, computers, and on and on.  And I’ll leave it at that, not having a mind that works well with abstracts like…well, zero.

All this from contemplating pi.  Simple, right?  When it comes to pi, or pie for that matter, I’ll stick to Yogi Berra’s solution:  “Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I can eat eight.”

Unfinished Projects

When my mother died, I found a box of half-finished cross-stitched snowflakes among her belongings at the nursing home.  I took them home, completed them and gave some of them away.  A few I saved for Christmas decorations.  I was delighted in a number of ways.  First, I was glad she continued to pursue some of the hobbies I knew she enjoyed.  She loved working on crafts of one kind or another, having partnered with my dad to create some pretty spectacular items for the annual fundraising holiday bazaar for the local hospital.  She could do pretty much everything, though she confessed she could never conquer tatting.  Sewing, knitting, crocheting, and a myriad of other talents were well within her purview.  Busy with one thing or another, right up to the end, leaving at least one project unfinished.

I too have given up on a number of projects.  Knitting is simply beyond me.  Every attempt at a scarf ended up looking like the map for a rustic road: all curves and varying terrain.  Best to set that aside.  Books too.  If I’m not hooked by the first 50 pages, I chuck it.  Life is too short to spend time reading a book I don’t care for.  And there aren’t that many I don’t care for anyway.

Three weeks before our daughter’s wedding, I was so frustrated with the dress I was making, I tossed the whole thing.  Then what to do?  I pulled out a long dress that I wore occasionally for teaching.  Round neckline and sleeveless, the color blended from pale aqua down to the hem of dark aqua, a straight and plain shot.  I even had shoes to match already.  And a big white summer garden hat with a flash of turquoise silk flowers.  I thought, if I can find a scarf to match this dress, this is what I’m wearing, old or not.  By some miracle, a local store did have a scarf with the same flow of colors!  I hauled out my grandmother’s opera length pearls, and I was set to go.

But some unfinished projects stick with me for a long time.  Students, for example.  We work together for long stretches of time, and then, they, unfinished projects, move on to other things.  Now, this is exactly what should happen.  But I still wonder where they go, what they do, how they evolve.  Sometimes I get feedback, of course, but I still wonder.  Do they realize I think of them when I cruise an art museum, or read a particularly well-done piece of writing?  Of course, others picked up where I left off, so these particular human unfinished projects continue to grow in directions I may never see.

Most important in my life, our children are also unfinished projects.  Yes, the day that a son or daughter says, “Don’t worry.  I’ll get the check” is a red-letter day, because I know they are truly on the way to self-sufficiency.  I’ll always be a parent, but I can untie the apron strings and be more prudent about my suggestions.  The “children” may be unfinished, but my part of that project is pretty well over.  I get the added bonus of watching them raise another living being, our grandchildren.  That is their project, not mine.  But I still get plenty of benefits from their efforts.  There’s a certain freedom in those kinds of unfinished projects.

So, I help build the ship, then crack the bottle of champagne on the bow, and watch the ship ease down the slip.  To each and every Unfinished Project, I say, check your maps for hidden reefs, plot your paths, and try to plan for contingencies.  Then my final words: “Off you go!”

And So It Toes

At the end of the day, the feel of clean, white, sweat socks is unparalleled.  Not those wimpy thin-ribbed ones, no.  The ones with deep ridges and thickly cushioned soles, yes.  When I get home, one of the first things I do is release my imprisoned feet.  This is a brief moment of ecstasy.  Then I slip those faithful feet into a pair of high-quality sweat socks. They envelop my feet with just the right amount of warmth and support.  My toes are cradled in fluff.  And the bottoms?  Well, the soles feel like they’ve made a trip to the local spa to be swaddled in that lush terrycloth those expensive robes are made from.  Food for the soles!  Then I stand up, enjoying a moment before I have to slip my shoes on.  As long as I can wiggle my toes in those thick socks at the end of the day, my feet and I can stand anything.

Some people have a hard time dealing with feet, even though they know that life would be missing something essential without them.  In spite of that, these footophobes are repelled by feet.  I once was on a long road trip with one of these foot haters.  When one of the other passengers nonchalantly removed shoes and socks, and propped her feet up on the back of the front seat, I thought we’d have to pull over and call the paramedics.  My phobic friend’s immediate response was a high-pitched yell that brought every dog within fifty miles to its feet.  As the driver, I was sure I struck a member of some endangered species, perhaps even a whole herd.  No, she assured me, after I had pried my fingers off the wheel; it was merely her shock at seeing a naked foot appear close to her face.  They are just so ugly, was her first intelligible comment.  Well, I countered, they are the underpinnings of our entire civilization after all.  Her answer was about what I should have expected.  She didn’t care if the world stood on its own two feet as long as she didn’t have to look at them.  Where I saw ten nicely spaced digits with the big toes providing real and artistic balance, she saw ten nubs of flesh, akin to giant warts, with the big toes being merely the largest offenders.  The woman has no soul.  Or maybe no soles.

I may not have the most beautiful feet, but they have afforded me hours of pleasure, to say nothing of the entertainment they provide for others.  I happen to have fairly small feet, which is fine when trying to hop rocks across a stream, but is not so fine when snugged up in a pair of hiking boots.  Of course, the mocking to which my feet are exposed may have something to do with the fact that my former hiking boots happened to be twenty years old.  I thought I would never give these babies up.  Every spring I cleaned and polished them, coated them with silicone, and stored them away.  Snow came, and I hauled them out for their annual appraisal.  Every fall it was the same—they looked great; why fool with a sure thing?  Anyway, those boots had a two-inch sole, which brought me up to the tallest I will ever be—five feet, five inches.  That was the point the mocking began.  Because I have a size 7 boot, and the soles look pretty hefty in proportion to the length of my foot, it appeared that I either, like Cinderella’s stepsisters, lopped off part of my foot in order to fit into those boots, or my foot was so flexible that it folded up, accordion-style.  I took the derision in stride, so to speak, because those boots, which, I admit, made me look like Frankenstein’s bride, proved themselves.  At one point in their long career, they were totally immersed in a shallow stream in which even my small feet could find no steppingstones.  By the time I climbed out the other side and walked another five minutes, the sheepskin lining wicked all the moisture from my feet, and I was good to go.  Even my heavy-duty sweat socks, which I put on with such enthusiasm, didn’t even need to be wrung out when I returned to camp an hour later.  If those boots didn’t lead me to defeat that night, I was not about to give them up in the foreseeable future.  But the foreseeable future came too fast, and they wore out.  I gave them a dignified burial.

Feet are wonderful things.  Considering the abuse dished out to them, they do a fine, upstanding job.  In fact, I think I’m going to take my feet out right now for a reward.  Let’s see.  How about a new pair of clean, white, sweat socks?

Time Management

I’m stalling.

I’m getting really good at this!  Finding things to do other than…

What’s that?  There’s a chipmunk in the live trap that needs to be relocated?  No problem.  I’ll just take care of that now. Put plastic in the back of the car, grab the trap and talk to the chipmunk a bit, assuring it that all will be okay.  Seat belt, key, and so on.  Go way out of town, so the chippie doesn’t bother invading anyone else’s birdseed supplies.  I’m surprised they stick around our yard, because our birdseed is secured in galvanized garbage cans in the garage.  Well, that’s neither here nor there.  The chipmunk has been relocated.

Back home, I’m ready to…

What’s that you say?  The tree that broke off and was hung up some thirty feet up has apparently fallen to the ground in that last wind blast.  No, I can’t see it up there anymore either.  Just a minute, I’ll get the binoculars and double check.  Nope.  It’s gone.  Must be down on the ground.  Maybe I’d better pull on the wellies and go out and check.  I’d hate to be traipsing around back there and have it come down on me.  Or on the grandkids.  (Who, by the way, never go back into that part of the woods.)  Yup.  All clear.  Tree down where it will cause no harm.  While I’m out here, a quick check for any leftover garlic mustard.  Nothing to pull, so I guess I’d better head back in.

Pull up a chair and…

Wait, where ya going?  Are you sure your prescription is ready?  Oh, they called.  Okay.  Um…can I ride along?  I’d like to get out a little bit today.  Shoes on, grab mask and wallet, just in case.  Seat belt, settle in.  Twenty minutes or more filled up, just like that.  And I’m nowhere near home, so can’t do a thing, other than enjoy the beautiful weather and the minimal traffic at this time of day.  What am I worried about traffic for?  I’m not driving.  I can even wait in the car at the pharmacy and watch the people go by.  Maybe the scrip won’t be ready, and he’ll have to wait.  Whoops!  No such luck.  Head for home.

Breathe in, breathe out.  Ready, set…

What?  Turkeys in the front yard!  Lemme see.  Head for the front windows.  Sure enough, two adults, one juvenile, and two very young ones.  I see the blue heads and necks of the adults bobbing around in the weeds.  One disappears into the woods, but the other steps out proudly onto the lawn and starts aerating.  These are not attractive birds.  Ben Franklin, didn’t you see them outside of breeding season?  Long legs, brown feathers, huge feet (the better for scratching in the dirt, which is what they’re doing just now), and those ugly blue necks.  Easy to see where the term turkey skin came from.  The little ones sure are cute though, especially the youngest ones.  They haven’t developed those powerful legs.  They’re still fat little quail-sized…oh, my gosh, wouldn’t they taste good?  All right, all right, forget that.  They’re melting into the woods anyway, so no chance to nab one.

Back to…

Oh dear.  I was supposed to clean the bathrooms earlier.  Well, buck up, lady.  Might as well do it now and get it over with.  That doesn’t take long anyway, and then it’ll be time to create something for supper.  I’ve still got the evening to get the other stuff done.

Going to bed already?  It’s barely ten o’clock.  Okay, g’night!

Sit down at the table.  Again.  Place fingers on keyboard.  Just get typing the rest of that chapter.  It won’t write itself.

And I’ve run out of time to manage.  Sigh.

Tenting Tonight

My neighbor put his boat to bed the other day, and I watched him pull down the cover and tighten up the cords before he drove away to store it for the winter.  The motions reminded me a lot of striking a tent, what with the canvas tarp and all the paraphernalia that goes along with it.

When I was in high school, our Girl Scout troop was gungho on camping and all sorts of other outdoor fun.  If we weren’t canoeing on the river, we were camping in the woods, or working summer jobs as counselors at a nearby camp.  One summer, we traipsed out into the woods to spend two weeks pioneer camping.  That meant pitching tents away from anybody or anything…which also meant digging pit toilets and cooking over a fire.  But it was the tents that were our worst challenge.

These were Army surplus tents, dating back, I swear, to the French and Indian Wars.  Well, okay, not really, but they were probably used in World War I.  Canvas that weighed a ton, they had a 12-foot ridge pole into which the two uprights fitted, one on each end.  That meant at least three people were needed to put up one tent: one on each end to hoist up the ridgepole and tent, which was seated onto the uprights with grommets, and one person to run around like a crazy person, pounding in tent stakes and tightening ropes to hold the entire contraption upright.  Many a tent capsized before enough stakes were in to hold it.  And even then, if the “pounder” selected soft ground, the whole she-bang could tip over, like the Titanic slipping under the waves.  Impossible to stop.

That was just the beginning.  We were astute enough—we thought—to dig a trench around our tent, just in case it rained.  Rain is pretty much a given when you camp.  Mother Nature having fun.  Anyway, with three of us in a two-person tent, it was crowded, and when the inevitable rainstorm hit, it overpowered the trench.  Water coursed in a full-sized creek right down the middle of our tent.  What was the Army thinking when they didn’t put floors in their tents?  With a body in the middle, and all of us encased like mummies in our sleeping bags, none of us stood a chance of avoiding the deluge.  We could’ve slept outside in the rain, considering how wet we were inside.  All this is to say nothing of the daddy-long-legs we collected on the inside of the tent.  Falling rain outside, and falling spiders inside.  Delightful.

I moved up a notch to a tent with a floor…and a front awning!  Heaven.  Although it was still canvas.  Sigh.  This was a trip around Lake Superior with a college roommate who never camped before.  We entertained a lot of neighbors in the campgrounds when we pulled in and got out of the car in clean shorts and tops, or even a skirt at times.  One couple pulled out their lawnchairs to watch us set up, convinced, as they told us later, they’d have to step in and help.  Nope.  We pulled on our Wellies and lumberjack flannel shirts and proceeded to launch into our routine.  This was no Army tent, so we had the protocol down pat, and the tent went up in record time.  Canvas turned  out to be a good thing when a mama bear with two cubs was scared away by campers in an RV.  The cubs took off running, each zooming up a tree on either side of our tent.  Mama, lumbering between our car and tent, called them down, and off they went.  Scared the bejesus out of us!

Finally, I reached the pinnacle of tent camping when I camped with our adult daughter, just the two of us.  She has the Ritz Carlton of tents.  Perhaps not to some folks, but to me, grown up with those unwieldy canvas beasts, her nylon tent, WITH a vestibule, mind you, is the cat’s meow.  Slide in the framework, pop it up, and voila! a 4-person tent.  Well, it would be a 4-person tent, except that we travel in style.  That means a queen-size air mattress (self-inflating, of course), sheets (yes, real bed sheets), blankets and pillows.  With the ability to take off shoes in the vestibule, the inner tent stays pristine clean.  Maybe “pristine” is a bit optimistic.  But a lot cleaner that a tent with no floor, or a tent without a place to leave grubby shoes.  Did it rain?  Is the pope Catholic?  Of course it rained!  A huge, gully-washer of a thunderstorm.  The trees above us sheltered us from some, but we pitched on high ground, and we put on the rain fly.  Our mamas didn’t raise no dummies.  We zipped the window closed, and slept all night.  We remained dry as a bone.  In the morning, all around us sleeping bags were draped over branches and cars, drying out.  Some people went home.  I tried not to feel smug.  Been there, done that, I reminded myself.

Will I tent again?  You betcha!  Of course, cabin camping is nice too.  And so is the Ritz , come to think of it…

The Cranberries Are In!

Those glorious little red globes are back in season.  Thank God! 

A few weeks ago, I got a hankering for cranberry bread.  Tart and sweet together in one loaf.  Salivating at the thought of it, I headed for the freezer, sure that I had one bag anyway, left from last year.  My pout was deep enough to balance a spoon on my lip when I rummaged around and found…nothing.  Well, nothing in the line of cranberries.  None in the stores either.

I headed up to my hometown, the heart of cranberry country in Wisconsin, for a visit.  I was all primed to purchase cranberries, fresh from the vine.  Did you know Wisconsin is the largest producer of cranberries in the country?  True!

I was staying with a friend, and we headed out to the marshes.  The bogs stretched out on either side of the road like dominoes laid out on a table.  The water in each huge rectangle was low, but sluice gates open to flood the bogs when cranberries are ready to harvest.

Imagine my consternation when I discovered I was three days early for the start of the harvest.

The owner filled us in.  Tractors pulling a series of prongs head into the bogs at low water to stir up things so that the berries pop off the vines.  Then the bogs are flooded to about 18 inches of water.  Cranberries are hollow, so they float, and workers can push them to one end of each bog, where they’re scooped up and zipped away to be sorted, bagged and sold.

All very interesting, but I still didn’t have any cranberries.  But then my luck changed.  My friend Jackie offered me her frozen cranberries from last year’s harvest.  I jumped at the chance.  But I didn’t want to leave her without any.  Not to worry.  She already had the promise of fresh ones coming from a friend in a week or so.  Bring ‘em on!  She sent me home with bags of ruby-red berries.  Ecstasy!

If you think the berries you get at the store are yummy, you are in for a great surprise if you can somehow snag some fresh ones.  Even the ones frozen right off the vine are miles better.  The cranberry bread I yearned for is now sitting on my kitchen counter, all puffed up and crowned with a sprinkling of turbinado sugar to counter the tartness of the berries.  Food for the gods.

My favorite is a cranberry cake my mom used to make, a recipe everyone living near a cranberry marsh recognizes.  Invariably, mention of that cake brings a groan of remembered pleasure from everyone.  A piece of cake sliced open and laid out to receive the warm sauce.  M-m-m-M!  (Don’t worry.  I’ve included the recipe below, so you can try it too.  If you do, let me know what you think.)

Some things are worth waiting for.  Cranberries in the fall are one of those things.  But you can bet your bottom dollar I won’t let the freezer supply dwindle away to nothing again!

CRANBERRY CAKE

Mix:    1 C sugar

            2 TBsp butter, melted

            1 egg

            ½ C milk

Add:    2 C flour

            2 tsp baking soda

            2 C cranberries, fresh or frozen

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes in a 9 X 9 pan. (9 X 13 makes a thinner cake)

For sauce:

Heat 1 C half-&-half, ½ C butter, ½ C powdered sugar.  Stir until combined.

Slice each piece of cake crosswise to absorb the warm sauce.  Pour hot sauce over slice & serve.

Giving Me the Finger

Don’t worry, it’s not that kind of finger.  I had a benign fluid-filled cyst removed from the top of my little finger, so the surgeon actually gave me the use of the finger back.

Unfortuantely, it has caused problems with my typing…as you can see with that first word.  Spellcheck can only do so much.  So Ive had to make accommodations.  See?  There’s another one.  My Chicago Manual of Style editor friend must be going crazy, if she’s reading this.  I can go along just fine, and then, all of a sudden, *eman8uY&&….   You get the idea.  I’m adapting a bit by paying attention to when I need a little finger key, and switching to the ring finger.  What concentration that takes!  The Shifts and Returns are the worst.  But if I forget, my little finger hollers a bit, and I back off.  I wonder if I’ll get so habituated to this way of typing that I won’t be able to return to normal.  Writing my manuscripts could pose a new challenge.  But for now, this is the way to go.  Which sometimes means using Delete a lot when my little finger, bandaged like a breakfast sausage, descends unbidden to sneak in something strange.  Bear with me; it’ll be okay.

This not the only thing going crazy.  Playing piano is almost impossible.  It’s amazing how often pieces want me to stretch that right little finger up to those lovely high notes that add such color.  Well, it ain’t happening now.  Now, my piano teacher would point out—accurately too—that I do have a left hand only piece.  Two of them, in fact.  Because my left hand work is definitely weaker, that would certainly be a plus for my meager skills.  However.  I don’t like those pieces. Shhh!  Don’t tell her!  My excuse is that I can’t play the occasional chords for the right hand, because those need the fifth finger to complete the chord.  I can hear her say, “Yes, but then don’t play that top note.  The idea is to strengthen the left hand, after all.”  I have no answer there, so maybe I’ll have to cave in, and do those exercises after all.

Washing up is also a circus.  I have two more days before I can get the thing wet, which means no shower right now.  So, what does that mean for walking my usual miles in the morning?  Okay, the walking is not necessarily strenuous, but I still end up drenched from the effort.  And no shower for two days?  Well… don’t come visiting just now!  I’m also under instruction not to do any heavy work, which is just fine with me.  No hoeing or pulling weeds?  No problem.  But does that also include setting the table or cooking, or even dusting?  I’m sure I can pull the directions, like taffy, to cover a myriad of tasks.  In the meantime, my left hand is getting all the soap and water.  Squeezing out a washcloth is going to give me muscles like The Hulk.

In spite of the trials and tribulations—they’re actually pretty minor—I am ready and willing for one thing that requires a raised pinkie:  Tea with the Queen.  I’ve let Buckingham Palace know that I am fully certified to partake in an English High Tea with Her Majesty.  I would even be willing to remove the bandage, should the invitation come through.  By the time it does, the blood should all be dried up.

Doggone, I love ‘em!

Gus comes galloping across the road to greet me on my morning walk, then begs for a pat or two.  From that sentence, you might think Gus is a horse.  But no.  Gus is a hundred-pound bullmastiff.  A dog.  Yes, he’s the size of a miniature horse, but he’s a dog.  A very well-trained, sweet dog who loves his neck scratched and his hips massaged.  His tail may be the size of a broomstick, but when it’s wagging, it’s clear he’s a real people lover.  When I see him coming, I brace myself.  He leans once he gets to me, and if I weren’t prepared, he’d bowl me over.  Gus’s best friend lives across the street.  Hazel is teeny-tiny compared to Gus, but she’s just as friendly.  When they’re together, it’s a bit like watching Laurel and Hardy.

I’m glad that dogs love me, because I’m a real dog lover.  And we have plenty of them in the neighborhood.

There’s Lacey, the chocolate brown who’s gone prematurely gray on her muzzle and paws.  I say hi to her owner and lean down to pet her.  She smiles placidly up at me, wags her tail madly, and asks to be scratched “right there,” right behind her harness.  If her owner and I talk a bit too long, she sits down, waiting patiently until we’re ready to go our separate ways.

Some of the neighborhood dogs aren’t nearly so calm.  The various spaniels seem always on alert, ready to pop away at the scent of a rabbit or other such delectable that just demands a race into the woods and back out again.  Only they’re all on leashes.  Sigh.  Such is the sacrifice they make for a walk with a human.  Some little dogs are only at the level to chaw on ankles, should the fancy strike them.  Luckily, they don’t, all being well-fed enough not to do more than bark to let me know I’m getting close to their territorial border.

An old fat German shorthaired pointer lived next to us when I was a kid.  Penny was too old to hunt any longer, but she was still a member of the family.  I was the only one who could pet her while she was eating.  Somehow, she knew I wasn’t after her food, even though she apparently was convinced that every other kid was, and would growl and snap. But she and I had an understanding.  Her biggest talent was her ability to retrieve a raw egg placed in a sock without cracking the shell.  A number one hunting dog, retired after years of faithful service.

After a childhood full of animal allergies, which prohibited owning a dog, I was happy to leave that all behind when my daughter and her husband acquired not one dog, but two.  Both Oscar and Maddy were rescue working dogs.  Oscar was mainly a blue heeler, and Maddy was mostly border collie.  Maddy was the smart one, able to finish her chew bone, then grab Oscar’s toy long enough to distract him so she could steal his bone.  Maddy was the soft furry one, but Oscar was the gentleman dog.  He watched Maddy go crazy over a frisbee, while he seemed to shake his head and think, “Goofy dog.  Too much energy spent on such foolishness.”  When we visited, Oscar came bounding out the door—we always met him outside because too much excitement made him pee—dancing and “talking.”  He was, and always will be, my very favorite dog.  He knew it too, and I was his very favorite human.  (Don’t tell my daughter and her husband!)

The best thing about making friends with others’ dogs means that I don’t have to do the work associated with any animal.  No need to pick up after potty breaks, nor dole out medicines.  No trips to the vet, or remembering to get that particular kind of dogfood they like.  No watching a dog age, and then having to perhaps make the awful decision to ease them out of a life of pain.

But.  And there’s always a but, isn’t there?  No fluffy warmth lying on my feet at the bottom of the bed at night.  No dog going wild with happiness when I get home, no matter what mood I’m in.  No deep satisfaction when a dog learns to Sit, Stay, Wait, Come, Drop It.  No watching the silliness of play, or the excitement when they come back with the ball, and wait, tail wagging, for me to throw it again.

Without a dog in the house, now I live vicariously.  I “borrow” the neighborhood dogs, meeting and greeting as we do morning walks, then letting them go off, while I keep the sweet memories of wagging tails, smiling doggie mouths, and generous owners willing to share a moment or two of their dogs’ lives.

Doggone, I really love ‘em.