My sister recently asked the question on social media just what we have done to prepare for the coming Zombie Apocalypse. She plans on leaving her toilet seat up so her beloved empty nest dog has water to drink every day. One friend claimed that she actually was a zombie and wasn’t quite prepared to apocalypse anyone just yet. Another friend mentioned the importance of wearing clean underwear. My cousins are like me and think about food. One is stocking up on canned goods and the other decided she would go with a smile on her face and eat ice cream every day. My food thoughts turn to my garden. Everyone knows that when harvest time arrives there is usually enough zucchini to feed an entire nation, even a nation that is being overtaken by zombies. This year, my friends, I am a failure. I have lovely tomato and pepper plants covered with blooms and it looks like there will be enough cabbage for a batch of sauerkraut, but my zucchini crop is a bust. I planted several seeds, which usually burst exuberantly through the soil without any work at all, but this year, none of them came up. I opened a new package of seeds and soaked them for a couple of hours before planting them, but that didn’t work, either. In desperation, I’ve been to two different nurseries looking for zucchini plants, only to find out the season for buying plants is over. I am almost afraid to mention the zucchini situation out loud, though. You know how it is…mention just once that you need zucchini, and well-meaning gardeners from all over the county will drop off zeppelin-sized squash on your front porch. If the Zombie Apocalypse arrives and you see a middle-aged Farm Woman chasing them down the road while wielding a zucchini the size of a baseball bat , just step out of the way. I’m rough and I’m tough, but even more important, I’m wearing clean underwear.
My father was a veteran of World War II and drove a bomb truck to the front lines of France and England. When my sister and I were little girls, he told us many stories, which I’m sure were cleaned up versions of the horrors of war from someone who was in the midst of it. When we would ask him to “Tell us about when you were in the war, Dad, ” we would almost shiver in anticipation that the story would be a good one. One somewhat dubious claim to fame was when a young soldier he was training ran Old Blood and Guts, aka The Bandito, aka General George S. Patton off the road while driving the bomb truck. He also told us that he traded his chocolate rations once for warm hand-knitted wool socks, which I’m sure were a welcome relief for a shivering soldier in the damp English winter. His paychecks were sent home to his parents, and there is one much-read letter saved by his mother in which he instructed her to buy Christmas gifts for his younger brothers. Our favorite story was about the day the soldiers each got an orange, which I’m sure was a rare treat for them, also. The local children gathered around, fascinated by the colorful fruit which they had never seen before. He told us how he peeled the fruit and gave each child a section. They thought it was the best thing ever, savoring each bite and making it last as long as possible. One of the mothers gathered up the peel, too, as nothing ever went to waste in a country torn apart by war and hunger. Stories like this almost became parables, making us realize how lucky we were to be able to eat an orange every day if we wanted to, and to think about those hungry children and appreciate what we had. We never forgot them. Years after Dad died, I was paging through his photograph album when I saw the snapshot. I don’t know how I had missed it, since I had paged through that album many times before. There it was, folded and torn, but showing a soldier who looks very much like Dad on his knees, surrounded by children. It appears that one of the boys has an injury to his leg. I have often wondered how many of those children he talked about survived the war. If they did, they would be in their 70’s or 80’s now. I hope, as they tell their own war stories to their children and grandchildren, they remember a kindly young soldier with twinkling blue eyes who shared a special treat one day and hopefully, brought a slice of sunshine to their war-torn world.
Yesterday was Sauna Day in Embarrass, Minnesota. Had I known, and had it not been right smack-dab in the middle of the planting season, I might have gone. I’m sure nobody in Embarrass was embarrassed by pronouncing it wrong. The correct pronunciation is “sow-nah” and not “saw-nah”. The sauna is a Finnish invention and has been around for generations. As the Finns immigrated to northern Minnesota, many of them built smoke saunas in small buildings without chimneys, called savusaunas. I have heard local lore that these were built until the family could afford a regular sauna stove, but perhaps since the savusauna was the traditional sauna, that is what they knew. Large smooth rocks were heated over an open fire or in a fireplace, and when they were hot, the soot was cleaned from the interior of the sauna before bathing time. Nobody wants a dirty bath house. This was done by strong Finnish ladies who scrubbed everything with lye soap and probably also hauled many buckets of water from the lake. Don’t tell HIM, please. I am not a strong Finnish lady. It must be that bit of Norwegian blood in my veins. At our cabin, which has always been off the grid, (mostly because running electrical lines out to the middle of nowhere is too expensive) we have a real sauna, complete with a wood burning stove, specially made to hold rocks on top. Since there is no running water, we haul buckets of water from the lake. By we, I mean HIM, and before that, the elder HIM. My mother, being 100% Swedish, wasn’t a strong Finnish lady, either. One bucket is placed on top of the wood stove surrounded by rocks to heat the water. More buckets of water are placed near the stove to heat to lukewarm. When the sauna is hotter than heck, you sit on the bench and place your feet in your bucket, adding more hot water as needed. Naked, of course. Then you sit and sweat, splashing water on the rocks to create steam. You sweat some more, wash with soft melty soap, and if you honor tradition, slap yourself with leafy birch branches to stimulate the circulation before dumping your bucket of water over yourself to rinse off. Honestly, you will never feel cleaner. To cool off and close the pores, some people have been known to jump in the lake afterward for a skinny dip or a chunky dunk. When I was a kid, I actually stood naked in the snow just to say that I did. Years ago, people would sauna in groups. First the kids, boys and girls separate, of course, then the ladies, and finally, the men, many of whom carried a cold beer in with them to prevent dehydration, or at least that is what they told me. Sauna on Saturday was as much of a social time as it was a bath time. There is an old Finnish saying “saunassa ollaan kuin kirkossa,” which means that folks should behave in the sauna just as they would behave in church. That’s exactly why I sauna by myself. For me, just as church can be, it is a time of cleansing, contemplation, and rejuvenation. Watching a bunch of soapy people slapping themselves with birch branches and running naked down to the lake? Let’s just say that I wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in a savusauna of keeping a straight face.
Gardening is hard work. Even harder than the actual gardening is preparing the garden for planting. This week, I have been shoveling loads of chicken manure and composted horse manure into the wheelbarrow and hauling it to the garden to enrich my raised beds. This type of hard labor gives me plenty of time to think, and for some reason, my mind turned to all the silly words that we use when trying to describe someone who is full of baloney. That’s one right there. How about balderdash, poppycock, and hogwash? There’s also hooey, drivel, and bunk. Horsefeathers, hokum, and malarkey come to mind, and who can forget blarney? It made me wonder why there are just so many words that mean the same thing, but while loading my umpteenth shovel of manure, I had a epiphany: It had to be politics. From the first moment the first politician made the first promise he couldn’t keep, the words echoed from around our great country from citizens and constituents. The political scene has changed over the years from simple honest people trying to make this country a better place to live to a non-compromising partisan system whose wealthy candidates argue a lot and line their pockets with the money donated from those even wealthier. Frankly, I am not looking forward to the next couple of years when we will have to hear about every skeleton pulled from every closet of every candidate along the campaign trail. I don’t often talk politics, but when I do and if you were to ask me what my political affiliation is, I am a little to the right of the left and a little to the left of the right. That means I mix equal parts of horse manure chicken poo, handle my plants gently, use my limited budget wisely, and tell the truth when I am too tired to pull another weed. My garden is not perfect, but it feeds us and makes me happy. If the politicians were to treat our world like a garden full of different varieties of plants, it would certainly become a better place, or at least the political climate would be much more tolerable. Political candidates used to stand on soapboxes so they could be seen and heard as they voiced their opinions. It is time for me to get off mine and back to that other pile of manure.
Stop for a moment today and remember why we celebrate Memorial Day. This was written by a childhood friend who grew up to be an Air Force Commander. I am reprinting it with his permission:
“In 2010 I had the honor of commanding the 407th Air Expenditionary Group in Southwestern Iraq at Tallil Air Base (now called Ali Base). I was the senior ranking Air Force officer of a unit of 750 outstanding airmen co-located with 14,000 dedicated soldiers and contractors. The commanding general held synchronization meetings every other Friday evening. Five years ago today he held that meeting. I met an enthusiastic Army colonel and remembered this guy is going to be fun and interesting to be around. The next day her was killed while moving his convoy. His death occurred on his 20th anniversary. He left behind a loving wife, a daughter, 16, and a son, 14. I was asked to be the speaker for the Army’s Memorial Day ceremony. The service was incredibly moving-the symbolism, the brotherhood, the bagpipes, hundreds of huge soldiers sobbing uncontrollably in a tent with no air conditioning in the middle of some God forsaken desert. It was obvious the man left a positive mark on many other’s lives. One should be so lucky. This event forever changed my understanding of the day’s meaning. Memorial Day is a day to remember those who gave their full measure ensuring others’ freedoms. Please take a moment on Memorial Day to appreciate the incredible sacrifice made by these courageous men and women . But that servitude is not yet done. Remember also the families. Their service is in a different way but is important none the less. Ask that their burden, their grief, their sorrow be relieved and healed. A very sincere thank you to those who have served and passed, those who serve now, and the families of all military members. Finally, I thank you for your support. Godspeed.”
Thank you, my friend, for serving and for sharing.
Being a Farm Woman is not all the glitz and glamour that you might think. I had been very excited to hear the peeping of a new baby chick in the coop. Just one, though. Mama Hen (one of my five Buff Orpingtons who all look alike and all have been given the name of Mama) was still sitting on the other three eggs. Baby hatched a day early, and I waited a couple of days for the others. Yesterday, I no longer heard peeping, but was hoping that she was asleep under Mama’s protective wings. Today, still no peeps. Uh oh. The sound of silence is never good news in a chicken coop. Expecting the worst, I donned some rubber gloves and quickly lifted Mama off the nest. She cried and shrieked like a banshee. There was no baby chick in the nest. There was no baby chick anywhere. Uh oh. I searched for the body, but it was nowhere to be found. My next Farm Woman duty was to check the eggs for viability. You can “candle” the eggs by holding them up individually to a light bulb, but I have found from either experience or stupidity that it is hard to see through the shells of dark-colored eggs, and mine are all blue, green, and brown. The next thing to do is put the egg up to your ear and listen for activity. That is quite difficult to do when one is in a chicken coop being screeched at by a banshee. Since the wind was blowing, and a cold north wind at that, I carried them to the truck, closed the door, and put each egg up to my ear. These eggs were underneath Mama for 23 long days and were not too clean, but I did it anyway and took my time. Nothing. It was Mother’s Day, poor Mama had no babies, and she was still crying for them. It was really hard to hear, and since I have a soft heart, I had to do something. While Mama was carrying on, some of the other hens were arguing over who got to lay an egg in the coveted spot. Now, there are plenty of nesting areas, but all of them wanted that certain spot. There were three, and all of them sitting on top of each other like a chicken totem pole. The screeching didn’t seem to bother them, and in fact, seemed to egg them on. I grabbed an armful clean straw and put it in a safe spot, making a nest in the middle. Quickly, to avoid getting pecked, I gathered up a few eggs from the coveted laying spot and placed them in the nest. Next, I picked up the banshee and put her next to them, and suddenly, the screeching stopped. It wasn’t completely quiet though. Fluffing her feathers and settling in, Mama began purring, sounding just like a contented cat. Some days, it is best to practice kindness over practicality. The sounds of that grieving mama hen would have haunted my dreams for many nights to come. Now, it is time for this mama’s Jacuzzi bath. Not so much for the glitz and glamour of it all, but to wash the chicken poop off my ears. After all, I did hold those eggs up pretty close.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was when my mother introduced me to Nancy Drew, but from the moment I read Carolyn Keene’s first book, I was hooked. She was one of Mom’s favorites, too. Nancy was smart. Nancy was rich. Nancy was independent, at least as much as a teenager could be. Nancy drove a blue roadster, whatever that was. I loved reading about her adventures with friends George and Bess and her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. Our small town, like many others, had a library back in those days. It was cool and dark inside and smelled like books. There was no need for a library card because the librarian knew us all by name and besides, we signed them out ourselves on a card that was located in a pocket inside the front cover of each and every book. I suppose if they were overdue the librarian could call my mother, but I was always so excited to read the next adventure that mine never were. I filled a book bag or my bicycle basket every time I went, and could spend hours perusing the shelves, deciding what to read next. I loved the adventures of the Bobbsey Twins and The Boxcar Children, but soon switched to the mystery genre such as The Happy Hollisters, Trixie Belden, and Cherry Ames. Nancy Drew was my favorite of all of these old friends, and I read the books over and over. For books that were written a generation before mine, they never seemed to get old. Nancy kept me entertained through numerous bouts of tonsillitis. She accompanied me to our cabin, where I spent many hours lying in a hammock on the beach reading and slapping mosquitoes. After dark, I would duck under the covers, book in hand. Mysteries become more mysterious when read by the light of a flashlight unbeknownst to your parents. I found out many years later that my parents knew exactly what I was doing and that Carolyn Keene wasn’t a person at all but a pseudonym for several authors who wrote the series. That was somewhat of a disappointment to me, as I had pictured a real live Carolyn Keene hunched over an old typewriter in an attic room somewhere, tapping away at the keys. Nancy Drew has been around for 85 years. It is kind of amazing how this fictional character entertained and even influenced several generations of women, including me. One of my hobbies is collecting the original hardcover books from the 1930’s and 1940’s. It is no mystery why they are so hard to find. Thanks, Mom. You were right, as usual. The second Mother’s Day without you is no easier than the first.