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Many years ago, while picnicing with friends in Florida, I borrowed a metal detector and a treasure hunter was born. I had a wonderful afternoon sweeping the park area, coming up with a dime, two nickles, and a metal label from an old barbeque grill. When treasure hunting, it is sometimes more about the anticipation of finding a treasure than the actual treasure found.  It was all fun and games until the park rangers came and made us stop, and they were quite serious about it. Apparently, treasure hunting on state-owned property near the nation’s oldest city is frowned upon, and they threatened  confiscate our detectors as well as our finds.  Just like that, my dreams of finding a cache of ancient Spanish coins were gone in a poof of exhaust smoke. They were kind enough to let me keep the twenty cents, by the way. After that day, I was hooked. I researched and bought my own metal detector, reading testimonials from those who “paid for their metal detector in the first hunt” and from those who “found Civil War relics of museum quality.”  I found nothing, and by nothing, I mean NOTHING.  I brought it to the beach, hoping to find jewelry and coins from shipwrecks or at the very least, careless tourists.  I hauled it to the family farm property in Kentucky, hoping for Civil War relics, or even old pieces of metal from HIS ancestors. Nothing. I considered selling or donating the metal detector before we moved to Minnesota, but kept it because we bought an old farm, and I just knew there were treasures to be found. It took me a few months before I had the time to treasure hunt again, and decided to sweep the garden area before I planted one spring . Even though there were no beeps from the metal detector,   I managed  to trip over the rusty tine of a long-ago plow before I gave it up once again. This summer,  I decided to pull the old detector out of storage, this time to explore an old foundation on our property that at one time was an old barn. I’m not sure if the old barn fell down or burned down, but surely, there was something…ANYTHING to find, even of it were a handful of rusty nails. I spent a good hour sweeping the area with the metal detector, and although it was beeping loudly for a few minutes, it turned out to be nothing. At least I think it was nothing. I’m not done digging up the back yard yet. If anybody asks, I’ll just tell them that I’m putting in a new garden. It will be a lot more believable than saying that I’m hunting for buried treasure. 

We recently took our annual anniversary road trip. Last year I suspected something was going on, but this year I was certain that HE, my husband of 39 years, had another woman  in his life. I knew it to be true when the computerized female voice on the GPS unit said “In point seven miles, turn right”, and he said “Yes, dear.” When she directed him to “Turn right here”,  HE answered (and quite cheerfully, I might add) “I heard you, Baby.” Baby? And right in front of me, too!  After driving to our hotel in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, with HER directions and HIS answers for every twist and turn, I accused him of talking to her more than he talks to me. What’s worse, he wasn’t crabby to her at all.  I try to be a helpful navigator when we take our trips, even though most of the time I can’t find my way out of a wet paper bag on a rainy day.  I just don’t understand it. For some reason, HE never says “Yes, dear” to me when I offer helpful directions, comments about the speed limit,  possible missed turns, and gentle reminders of the red lights coming up ahead. In fact, if the truth REALLY were to be told, HE can be quite the old grouch. Sheesh. At least this other woman has a little bit of maturity on her, thank goodness, which is probably why she is not quite up to date on her maps or directions. At one point, she had us going around in circles in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, so he promptly pulled the plug to stop the persistant “Turn around when able” to shut her up. I almost pointed out the red light ahead and the fact that HE might miss it because he was going too fast, but thought better of it and kept my mouth shut. The 39th annual anniversary road trip was really nice, and I don’t want the plug pulled before the 40th. 

I’m beginning to feel like I should be on an episode of “Hoarding:  Buried Alive.”  You know the show…through the wonders of “reality” TV, we visit someone who has a house full of garbage and Lord only knows what is buried underneath.  We watch people climb over mountains of stuff and follow narrow pathways through living rooms into kitchens piled with dirty pots and pans. No, my house isn’t anything like that, thank heavens, but I do admit that watching it makes me feel a little better about my housekeeping skills.  Although HE may tell you that I have too much junk, my garage sale finds will be worth something someday and are carefully and artfully stuffed into the closets. You’ll be perfectly safe as long as you don’t open any doors. The buried alive part of my life that I’m talking about is the garden. Once the weeds started coming up faster than I could pull them, I threw in the trowel…and the hoe, for that matter.  I gave up. The weeds won. In reality TV, teams of helpers in hazmat suits clean up the mess and the homeowner always argues about what should stay and what should go. The only drama around here is that I can’t find the rake, and I know it is in there somewhere. The surprising thing is that buried in the waist-high weeds there are tomatoes, and lots of them. The ones I planted are easy to find because they are caged. Due to all the rain and warm temperatures,  there are also dozens of volunteer tomato plants growing tall,  some of which are even  bearing fruit. Getting a ripe tomato from a directly planted seed doesn’t happen very often in northern Minnesota, so I’m thinking that perhaps I’m a better gardener than I thought! The pumpkins and squash are growing like crazy, over and under and around the weeds. I’m not sure exactly what is there, but come first frost, I will either have two or 102 to harvest. There are cabbages, too. I know because I tripped over one, and it is ready to pick any time. I can’t find the celery, there were only a few cucumbers, and the green beans died an early death, but all in all, if there are veggies to pick, the gardening season was a success. Now if I could be just as successful with cleaning out these closets before the people in the hazmat suits arrive….

Flowers

When we bought our little farm nine years ago, the large yard was filled with many weedy perennial beds, and I must admit, it still is.  Flower gardening is not my forte, and from the looks of the weeds in my other garden, neither is vegetable gardening. My colorful array of chickens are like flowers to me, and although I haven’t trained them to pull weeds, they love to scratch up the perennial beds looking for worms and bugs. Despite their digging and my lack of both skill and time, I have a riot of colorful flowers every spring and summer that outshine the weeds by far.  Old Mum, the oldest and my most favorite chicken died today. You knew her too, from the stories that I write, which are true, or at least 90% true. Sometimes the names must be changed to protect the innocent.   I would often find Old Mum peeping out from among the tall hollyhocks, their large leaves and flowers offering a bit of shade from the hot sun.  This summer, slowing down a bit, she stayed pretty close to the coop, watching for me out the window,  and if I didn’t feed her quickly enough, the feisty little banty would fly up on my shoulder and tell me to hurry it up. Due to a malformation in her beak, her food had to be in a dish or in a pile so she could pick it up, so I fed her separately from the others.  Old Mum preferred cracked corn and cottage cheese to layer mash, and the other chickens left her food alone most of the time, seeming to understand her age and disability. Either that, or they were afraid of her, as she tended to get a little feisty with them, too. The purple irises and Asiatic lilies are in full bloom in several beds in the front yard, but can’t compete with the hollyhocks in the back, which at their peak were as tall as the roof. Although slightly past their prime, they are still putting forth huge blooms of white, pink, and red against the back wall of the house and attract dozens of bees. I am so thankful that an old farmer and his wife planted these lovely flowers many years ago,  probably never dreaming that they would still be enjoyed years after they were gone.   The simple task of breaking open the seed pods each fall and spreading them along the south-facing wall ensures a spectacular show each summer, if Mother Nature cooperates. I buried Old Mum under my bedroom window, near the hollyhock garden, and covered her grave with the biggest and pinkest blooms I could find.
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How many writers does it take to screw in a light bulb? What’s black and white and bruised all over? I’ll answer the second riddle first:  Me. For a couple of years, I have raised a few of the Goliaths of the chicken world, the Jersey Giant.  Jersey Giants are the largest of all chickens and were originally cross-bred in the late 1800’s as a replacement for the turkey, and often are used for meat birds. I started  raising them  because they are cold hardy and are known to be good winter layers, both a plus for northern Minnesota chicken farmers.  Everything I read said they were a gentle and docile breed, also. What the chicken literature didn’t add was that they are gentle and docile UNTIL they get broody.  Broody hens want to sit on eggs all the time, often to the exclusion of everything else. They are obsessed with hatching, and for one of my Jersey Giants, it is an obsession to the point of being crazed.  Speaking of crazy, I tried explaining the Biology of the whole baby chick thing using my most soothing voice as I attempted to reach underneath for her precious egg.  If there is no rooster in the equation, there will be eggs but no babies, I told her.  She didn’t care.  She fluffed her feathers out and pecked me hard. I tried to lift this hissing turkey-sized creature from her nest and she pecked me some more. It hurt like the dickens, and I have the bruises to prove it, but I finally had the egg in hand. The next day, she puffed herself up as soon as I walked into the coop. This time, the bruises to my arms and my ego still fresh, I used a metal feeding pan as a shield and managed to get pecked only twice before I got the egg. The third day I was ready. Who’s the boss around here, anyway? I wore HIS heavy winter jacket and a pair of work gloves to the coop. It was 85 degrees in the shade, too, but that didn’t stop me. I picked up my shield and entered the coop, ready for battle. My prizes?  One large brown egg and another Farm Woman adventure story to write. How many writers DOES it take to screw in a light bulb? Two. One to write most of the story and another to add an exciting twist to the end. As I let all the chickens out today and they rushed outside, I tiptoed to the window and peeked in. The big black chicken slowly turned her head and looked me straight in the eye. I was on the outside looking in, but I swear she cackled. She’s ready for me. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Whatever the answer to the age-old riddle is, the egg is mine.

A few years ago, someone in the U.S. Department of Baloney came up with an idea that food products should be stamped with an expiration date.  These “best when purchased by” or “best when used by” dates are not a law, but merely a suggestion with only a few exceptions to the rule.  My daughter believes these dates to be the Eleventh Commandment:  “Thou shalt toss the cheese to the dogs when  even one hour past the date shown on the package.”  Me? I have been known to cut the moldy part off the cheese and smell the milk no matter what the date.  I don’t believe much from our U.S. government these days, anyway.  Those guys and gals in Congress seem to have no expiration date to their tenure and are enjoying a seven week paid summer vacation as you read this. I really shouldn’t be so catty though. It has been such a long time since their week-long Memorial Day and July Fourth “weekends” as well as  their four week paid Christmas vacation.  You and I both know they must be weary with all the time spent passing the buck, shooting the bull, and tipping the scales in their favor.  I  stopped looking at expiration dates a few years ago when I found a “use by this date” suggestion on a bag of croutons. CROUTONS?  Did someone think they would dry out or get stale or was it something much more menacing?  There is not much that we have around our house that we have to worry about any more.  Gone are the days when I  shopped at the warehouse store to save money on things like huge containers  of lunch-box sized chocolate pudding for my lunch-carrying loved ones. (It was never a cost savings  anyway, as once they knew there was chocolate pudding in the house, they would eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.)  We are not preppers, either, so there is no storage room with shelves in the basement holding a year’s supply of food. I  once watched an internet program on prepping, and the homeowner was proud to show off many cans of ravioli  and her 75 two-liter bottles of  diet cola. If  the Zombie Apocalypse came I wondered how she would fend off the Zombies who would be sure to come after her stash, and has anybody else ever wondered if expired diet cola could  be the probable cause of a Zombie Apocalypse in the first place?  In all seriousness, with many thanks to the preppers and diet cola drinkers for allowing me to have a little fun at your expense,  I’m all for growing, preparing, and either canning or freezing one’s own garden goods, foraged foods, and meat. Kudos to those of you who do. With my job(s),  church work, cleaning the house, and the gardening chores that come every summer, there are just not enough hours in the day to get everything done.  Maybe  I could  look for ways to squeeze in more time…or maybe I should just run for  Congress. Some people say I’m really good at shooting the bull.

“If you’re not in the parade, you watch the parade. That’s life.” ~ Mike Ditka

There’s a lot of excitement in the air when it comes to watching a small town parade on a Sunday afternoon. Around here, people start setting up their chairs in the best shady spots two hours early.  Kids carry grocery bags around in anticipation of all the candy that will be thrown.  The Shriners on their shiny motorcycles start things off as the excitement builds.  As the honor guard marches, men remove their hats, some folks clap and cheer for our flag, and some stand quietly, hands over their hearts.  Along comes the hour-long procession of fire trucks and rescue vehicles, ATV’s, antique cars and tractors.  There are colorful floats with people waving and throwing candy. There are always politicians who smile and shake a lot of hands. There is usually a band or two, sometimes marching and sometimes not. Usually the horses and riders are last, and you can probably guess why.  I remember my high school years of many moons ago, marching with my trombone in a scratchy wool uniform while wearing a cap that kept falling down over my eyes.  It was always either ninety degrees or pouring down rain outside, but we played some lively music no matter what the weather.  As it does every year,  today’s parade reminded me of a special parade that happened 14 years ago.  We were spending the weekend at our cabin, and Dad had just had a mishap with the boat, so was soaking wet from his head to his toes. Needless to say, he was a little disgruntled as well as  dripping wet, so he decided to go home, changing into the only dry clothing available, a pair of red thermal hunting pants, held up with red suspenders. His chest was bare. His teenaged granddaughter, having had enough of an afternoon of family fun, decided to go back to town with him.  It was 90 degrees in the shade, and the air conditioning in the truck wasn’t working well, so they drove with the windows down, he in his red suspenders, she in her bikini.  They got into town just as the annual Wild Rice Festival parade was ending. The honor guard had passed. The fire trucks, rescue vehicles, ATV’s, antique cars and tractors were done. The colorful floats, politicians, and marching bands were heading for home.  I wasn’t there to see it, but people told me later that on that special Sunday, with most of our town and half of the next still lining the streets, there was an addition to the scheduled parade lineup.  Right behind the horses and their riders was a dusty brown pickup truck, driven by  old man wearing red suspenders with a beautiful young woman in a bikini in the passenger seat.  Dad was well known and respected in the community, a retired teacher, expert on wild foods, and an elder member of his church. I’m sure people were staring, so he did what anybody with a wicked sense of humor would do. He waved. If he would have had any candy to throw, he would have. Sadly, he died a month later, so we never got to laugh over the “remember whens” as families often do. I suppose that’s why I never leave a parade until that last horse passes by, followed closely by the kid with the pooper scooper. I always have that little bit of hope that I will see the dusty brown pickup truck and that the man in the red suspenders will give me a smile and a wave before I head for home.