Archive for June, 2015

Zombies and Zucchini

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.

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The Orange

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.


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Sauna Day

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.

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Horse Hockey

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.

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