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Archive for March, 2014

The Clock

Forty-five years ago, my mom purchased a mantel clock. I don’t remember if she saved money or saved Green Stamps to get it, but she loved that clock almost as much as she loved us. We couldn’t touch the clock except to gently dust it when it was our turn to wield the feather duster, and if you know kids, you know that happened as little as we could get away with. We weren’t allowed move the clock, just to dust around it and on top, for fear that we would somehow knock it off the mantel and break it into a hundred pieces. Nobody wound that clock except Mom. Not my sister, not my father, and especially not me, whose middle name used to be “Oops!”. She wound it carefully and lovingly every other day by opening the door on the front, putting one hand on top to keep it from slipping, then placing the key into each of three holes, winding ever so carefully, just enough and not too much. I watched her do it so often that I could have done it in my sleep, but still wasn’t allowed to wind it until I was about fifty and even then she gave me step-by-step directions from her chair as she was recovering from surgery. I may have been fifty, but in Mom’s mind I was twelve and still an accident waiting to happen. The chiming sound would be stopped when we had overnight guests, but the rest of the time, the gentle ticking and chime on the quarter-hour was the background music to the hubbub of ordinary family life, Cribbage games, and waiting for teenagers to come home. I’m sure that as each of us grew up and left home, the ticking seemed louder, but after my father died, the familiar sounds probably made the house seem not so empty. Last December, my beautiful mother started to fail. When nothing else could be done, she chose to spend her last days at home with her family, surrounded by what was familiar. Although these days were hard and we knew the time we had left together in this world was limited, it was also a joyous, memory-filled ending to a wonderful journey. Funny thing about that old clock, though. Somehow, during those last few hours of my mother’s life, the clock started slowing down, too. Little by little, it started losing time. First a minute or two, then ten, then thirty. My sister and I found it kind of strange, remembering a childhood song about a grandfather’s clock that we used to sing on family car trips. We wound that clock as carefully and lovingly as we had seen so many times before, but it stopped working altogether shortly before she died. I don’t know if it was just a coincidence or something stranger than that, but I do know some things for sure: 1) Your mother is always right. 2) No matter how old you are when you lose your mother, you feel like a twelve-year-old orphan. 3) Even without speaking aloud, your mother will always manage to get the last word in, and it will probably be “I told you so!”

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The Stink Eye

Chickens are fickle creatures. In a perfect world, they are supposed to eat, lay eggs, and hatch dozens of cute little fluffy chicks every spring. My world, as we all know, is far from perfect. For the last five years, the chickens in my coop have managed to hatch just one cute little fluffy chick, which turned out to be a big fat rooster. Just my luck. Every spring, the girls start laying eggs in a hidden nest, thinking they’re hiding them from the human who gathers them every day. At least I think that’s what they’re thinking. Every spring, I pretend to ignore the hidden nest and wait for someone –anyone- to start sitting on that nest. Nobody ever does. Every spring, one by one, I throw a basket of rotten eggs into the swamp. After last year’s rooster, I gave up. I decided to change my way of thinking, purchase my baby chicks every year from the farm store and not worry one bit about the birth rate in my own coop. There’s nothing wrong with that. You can always choose laying hens of different breeds, unless you’re unlucky like me and manage to pick the one baby rooster that was put there by mistake among the dozens of hens. I won’t have to ignore the hidden nest anymore and that means more eggs and less waste. Two days ago, when I went to gather eggs in the evening, one of my younger hens did not jump out of the nesting box to greet me like she usually does. When I reached under her to gather the eggs, she glared and squawked at me, but let me take an egg. Yesterday, she glared and squawked again, but when I reached under her, she pecked me. Hard. Hard enough for me to feel it though my winter jacket. Hard enough to hurt. Today, she just glared at me when I walked into the coop. Now before you think that I am just some crazy Farm Woman who has had just a little too much of a very long winter under her belt, I am here to tell you that a broody hen CAN give a stink eye that can put you right in your place. This time, I know exactly what she’s thinking, too. “DON’T. TOUCH. I’ll draw blood next time.” Yes, Ma’am. I think I’ll leave Mama alone and let nature take its course, but I will not, under any circumstances, count my chickens before they are hatched. Well….except to send a small prayer heavenward that there will be no more roosters. Think pink.

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The Dream Houses

I will be the first to admit that I watch way too much television during the winter months. Besides classic movies and cooking shows, I love to watch people on the hunt for their dream houses. Using my DVR, which is the next best thing to chocolate, I can record any number of these shows and find out how the rest of the world lives and watch them any time I want to. I’ve discovered why the rest of the world laughs at Americans. Here a couple of typical scenarios: A young couple in their twenties are lucky enough to have a chance to live in Paris for a few years. Their monthly budget is more than I would ever dream of in my lifetime, even if I wanted to work overtime every single day plus holidays, which I don’t. They walk into the quaint little Parisian flat and with a disdainful look around the kitchen say, “This is way too small, and the entire room needs to be gutted. Where are the granite countertops and stainless steel appliances?” Or a recently retired couple who are looking to downsize. They appear to be years younger than we are and I admit to being more than a little jealous and wonder just how they managed to retire while paying for their current palatial home in the suburbs. Their idea of downsizing is a 5000 square foot home with four bedrooms, room to entertain, and (you guessed it) granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Some folks are even looking for vacation homes in countries with armed guards at every corner just so they can have a oceanfront view but insist on modern conveniences while the poorest of the poor exist just down the road. Maybe the shows are staged, and maybe they’re not. I am a little naive and tend to believe everything just because it is shown on TV. I am going to offer a suggestion to the producers of these programs. Show us some real Americans on real budgets. Show us how to squeeze a family of five with two dogs and a gerbil into 1200 square feet and one bathroom. Show us a retired couple downsizing so they can afford to pay their property taxes on what they earn from Social Security. Show us city neighborhoods, simple country cottages and farm houses. Show us the real world. I am living in my dream house right now. Our home is what those TV people would call “tight”. It is the perfect word that not only describes our square footage but also our budget. I can hear the horrified gasps from here, but my appliances are white. My kitchen cabinets are from the mid-century before mid-century became a popular catch-phrase, and they will be refinished when I have the time. Right now they have bumps and bruises and plenty of character. Our dining room is painted bright yellow to ward off the winter blues, and right now there are dinosaur stickers all over the front window. Thankfully, there will be no television crews at my house any time soon…at least I hope not.

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I promised myself that I would not write about the weather or the cold temperatures this week. What I will do is offer you a spicy soup recipe that is sure to warm you right down to your toenails. It’s also fairly inexpensive to make, so that should help you when it comes time to pay your propane or electric bill. Since I can’t be outside in the garden, I often spend Sunday afternoons experimenting with recipes using what I have on hand. HE prefers plain country cooking and eats neither rice, beans, nor kale, so I’m sure he was relieved when I told him this soup was just for me…and for you.

Spicy Black Bean and Rice Soup

1/2 pound dry black beans 2 cups water

1/2 lb. dry-type sausage in casing, diced (andouille, chorizo, smoked, or polish will work, but the spicier the better) 1 medium green pepper, diced 1 medium onion, diced 1 carrot, diced 2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 10 oz. can Rotel diced tomatoes (may substitute a 14.5 oz. can regular diced tomatoes if you prefer it less spicy) 5 cups water 2 t. Cuban seasoning (or 1 t. dried oregano and 1 t. dried cilantro)
2 t. cumin 2 cups chopped fresh kale or spinach 1 cup cooked brown rice (leftover rice is fine)
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse beans and cover with 2 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil. Once beans come to a boil, turn off the heat and leave covered for about 20 minutes. Drain.
In a soup pan, saute diced sausage until lightly browned. Add green pepper, onion, and carrot; cook for 5 minutes. Add crushed garlic cloves, drained beans, tomatoes, water, and seasonings. Simmer on low heat until the beans are soft but not mushy, approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Add kale and cooked rice the last 15 minutes of cooking time. This may be assembled and put in the slow cooker for about 6-8 hours, but don’t add the kale and rice until 30 minutes before serving. Serves six.
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