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Listen to the music

“Let the music be your master” ~Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page/Robert Plant)

 When my daughter was a teenager in the 90’s, she and her friends would take the portable CD player outside and listen to Britney Spears or ‘N Sync loudly while they soaked up the summer sun by the pool. I often asked them to turn it down so the neighbors wouldn’t be disturbed. At the time, I never confessed that when I was growing up in the 70’s, I would put the stereo speakers in the open window of my bedroom, stack a few vinyl LP’s on the record player and play Led Zeppelin quite loudly out the window while my friends and I sat outside in the summer sun. I’m sure the whole neighborhood loved it, or maybe not, because my mother would often ask me to turn the volume down…way down. Led Zeppelin just doesn’t sound quite the same when played softly. My mom enjoyed her own music as a teenager,  but the way it was delivered was different. Of course, the family had a radio, which my grandmother listened to while she ironed clothes for those who had enough money to pay someone to do their ironing. Small transistor radios hadn’t been invented yet, so portable music was only a dream. My grandmother was widowed, it was the Great Depression,  and there wasn’t much money for frivolous things like a Victrola to play the latest hits of 1939. My mother turned 14 that summer.  The family did own an Amberola, which was a record player invented by Thomas Edison that played cylinder type records made of wax or celluloid and plaster of Paris. The records would play only if someone cranked up the Amberola using the arm,  which was located at the side of the player. No batteries were needed, which was a good thing, since many homes had not yet been wired for electricity. Mr. Edison helped out with that, also, by perfecting the incandescent light bulb.  When Mom was a teen, she and her friends lugged the Amberola to the lake and put it in the boat along with a picnic lunch, where they cranked it up and enjoyed (kind of) loud music while they sat in the summer sun. I have no idea if Glenn Miller or Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm Orchestra had music available on Amberola cylinders or not. I do know that there would have been no money to buy them if they did,  so Mom and her depression-era friends made do, just as they always did, and listened to the old music of her parents’ era. Since I have both the player and the cylinders, I know that the collection contains lively tunes sung in Swedish, hymns, and Sousa marches. All of them sound tinny and scratchy to my ears, but the thought of somebody figuring out how to get music to play from a wax cylinder is pure genius. I am privilaged to be the keeper of this family heirloom, which still works despite three generations of young hands that have cranked it up and laughed hysterically at the scratchy Swedish songs. I kept the Led Zeppelin album, too. I wonder if someday, my own grandchildren will laugh at the scratchy sound of the music. 

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Zucchini Soup

Even though I have downsized the garden, I managed to squeeze in spots here and there for four zucchini plants. If two of them manage to live through the scratching chickens around here, it will be fine. If no zucchini plants survive, it will still be fine, because as you know, by the end of summer folks will be begging you to take it off their hands. HE won’t touch the stuff. Never has and never will. I shouldn’t even mention the time I made several loaves of cinnamon zucchini bread for the freezer, which he polished off without ever knowing the ingredients. If you don’t say anything, I won’t.  Not including HIM, this recipe is a family favorite passed on by my mother. As with everything,  I have tweaked it a little to make it my own, which is probably exactly what my daughter will do when she makes it. Our mothers taught us well.  This healthy soup manages to taste creamy without the addition of cream, doubles easily, and freezes well. You can make it with those bags of zucchini cluttering up your freezer that you have no idea what to do with. It also is a way to use up those submarine-sized squash that seem to show up in your garden overnight. In a good gardening year, I am so tired of zucchini that I toss those to the chickens. 

Here is the recipe, which serves four:

2 pounds (about 4 medium) zucchini, scrubbed and sliced     1 medium onion, diced    4 Tbs. butter or olive oil

2 cloves chopped garlic     2 tsp. curry powder    1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes      2 cups  chicken (or vegetable) stock     1/2 cup water

salt and black pepper to taste     grated parmesan or romano cheese as a topping, if desired

Heat butter or olive oil in a saucepan, add onions and zucchini and cook until onions are carmelized. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the zucchini is soft, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly and blend with an immersion blender (Has anybody seen mine? I can’t find it ever since I reorganized the kitchen!)  or place in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Bring back to a simmer before serving. 

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The birds and the bees

“Familiarity breeds contempt~and children.”   Mark Twain

All parents know it will happen sooner or later. The question.  THAT question. You know the one: “Where do babies come from?” Inquiring minds of sweet innocent children all over the world want to know. My own sweet child had a very inquisitive mind.  She thought long and hard about things, and tried to figure them out for herself. Still does, in fact. I had always said that as a nurse, I wouldn’t tell stories like “The milkman brought you,” or “You were found under a cabbage leaf in the garden.” I would always tell her the truth about everything. Well, not EVERYTHING. I didn’t tell her that Santa Claus wasn’t real,  but I should have, because a little boy in kindergarten blabbed and ruined the surprise anyway. She figured out the Easter Bunny on her own shortly after that. When she asked the question,  I explained it as simply and as age appropriately as I possibly could. She listened intently, nodded her head and said, “Can I have my snack now?” Whew. That was easy. After telling her that she could always come to me with questions at any time, we went about our usual business after I gave myself a small pat on the back about my parenting skills. That was probably parenting mistake #754:  Don’t pat yourself on the back or it will come back to bite you on your biggest asset. Flash forward a couple of weeks. We were in line at the grocery store on a Friday afternoon. It must have been payday, because all the lanes were filled with weary people and overflowing carts. It was in the days before everybody and his grandmother had a cell phone, so people were quietly chatting, looking at the ceiling in boredom, or tapping their feet impatiently. My daughter was doing her usual begging for a candy bar or a bag of Skittles, or whatever sugary temptation that some marketing genius put there just to drive parents stark raving mad by constantly having to say, “No.” “Because I said so!” “No.” “Because I said so, that’s why!” Anyhow, my sweet baby girl, in all her innocence, picked that exact moment to ask for more details about the birds and the bees. In a sweet, clear, and loud voice, she asked, “So I’ve been thinking.  If there is an egg and there is some fertilizer, just how does the fertilizer get to the egg to make a baby?” The busy, payday Friday afternoon noises at the grocery store quieted, then stopped altogether.  All eyes turned in our direction and all the cash registers stopped their busy noises.  I swear, if there had been a spotlight, it would have shone brightly down on me as they waited for the answer. I swallowed hard, my mind racing. I began to perspire. “Well…, ” I said, “Well…in a very…special…way.” I quickly grabbed the biggest candy bar I could find and shoved it into her hands. Thankfully, she took the bribe. Everyone must have been holding their breath, because there was a loud collective sigh that seemed to echo throughout the store. Perhaps there was a smattering of quiet applause, or was it the sound of my first grey hairs popping through? We’ll never know. 

“The proverb says that Providence protects children and idiots. This is really true. I know because I have tested it.”  Mark Twain

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Out of the blue

When we got married nearly 40 years ago, I was a young bride and not such a great cook. Oh, I could throw together a hotdish (aka casserole for my southern readers) or a dessert, but I had a lot to learn. Unfortunately for HIM, I seemed to learn better by my mistakes. I cried the time I tried to make hard boiled eggs by putting ice cold eggs from the fridge into boiling water and ended up with scrambled soup. The cookies that I rolled too large and put too close to each other on the cookie sheet until they became one giant cookie were not pretty, but tasted all right.  I proudly served a big plate of homemade barbecue baked beans and cornbread, thinking they were the same as his beloved pinto beans. I didn’t cry, because even though he disliked baked beans, he ate every bite. (I admit to sniffling a little bit when he gently suggested that I ask his mother how to make them.)  I didn’t even admit for years that I nearly flunked piemaking in high school Home Economics class because our group’s banana cream pie turned into banana cream soup due to an improperly sealed meringue. Miss Huset gave us a “D” because it tasted good, and we sat around the table and ate it with spoons. I haven’t made meringue since, and I rarely make a pie from scratch. (I have been known to wheel and deal and barter for a homemade apple pie, since it is HIS favorite next to chocolate pie with MERINGUE.) My cooking skills have improved over the years, thank goodness.  One food that I have prided myself on has been my potato salad. Making potato salad is an art, and since I have always gone by taste, there is no recipe,  but it is a combination of the way both HIS mom and my mom made it. It is not hard to make, but tedious. The potatoes have to be sliced just so after they have cooled. Not too thick and not too thin. Just a touch of onion, and not too much celery. Finely diced pickles or pickle relish, and the dressing made with real mayonnaise and mustard and thinned with a little milk. Salt, pepper, and celery salt are added, and hard boiled eggs are folded in as well as sliced on top. (See how NOT to boil an egg, above.) I always made a lot, but personally didn’t like it after the first day, so he would always eat it until it was gone. All was right with the world until I gave up potatoes in my diet. I  kept on making potato salad for HIM, because he enjoyed it so much, or so I thought. One day, out of the blue, HE informed me that I didn’t have to make it any more. “I don’t really like potato salad all that much.” Wait. What?? Thirty nine years of eating potato salad and he informs me that he doesn’t like it! I wonder what other secrets he is keeping from me? 

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Garage sale, part II

HE says I have too much stuff. Except he doesn’t exactly call it “stuff”, but a word not suited to a family-friendly column. I don’t agree. My stuff is an interesting and nearly historic collection of antiques and vintage items, books, and old magazines. HE has a closet stuffed full of old golf shirts, and won’t part with any of them, even when I loudly announce that I am making a donation to the veterans’ clothing donation bin. “I’ll get to it”, he says, and never does. He also didn’t want to part with an iron fireplace poker found in the garage, even though we have a whole fireplace set in the living room, so there it will hang for another 10 years. I don’t think he wanted me to touch the “stuff” on his workbench, either,  because he just said “I’ll take care of it.”  He didn’t complain when I removed the old leaf blower, since for some reason, he bought another, even though this one still worked. The workbench wasn’t cleared off, either, so I covered it with old sheets so people wouldn’t pick through it, but believe me, I was tempted to allow it and offer them a free golf shirt as a bonus!  It was a good sale, and I think I got rid of perhaps 2/3 of my things, all of them to good homes. For some strange reason, that is important to me, but being able to let it go in the first place should take me off the Hoarder’s List.  I hated to see the stuff go, but it was time. When it was all over but the complaining about my aching back, I sent my last customer home with plenty of free items. A few things went to the fire pit,  like a beat-up old wooden picture frame that nobody wanted, even with a “free” sign on it. Books will be given to the hospital volunteers for their fundraiser, and all the rest is boxed up for donation and ready to deliver.  Well, almost all the rest. I brought just one item back into the house. Aren’t you proud of me? Just one! It was a large plastic tote, and it wasn’t even full! I’m pretty proud, myself. I’ve created so much extra storage space that HE won’t even notice, not unless YOU tell him. 

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Cheap Sunglasses

I usually purchase at least one pair of sunglasses every year. Nothing fancy or expensive, because I almost always manage to misplace, lose, or break them. This year was no different. I had two pair of cheap sunglasses, one for my purse and one for the car which I kept in that special little compartment above the rear view mirror made just for sunglasses. Kind of like a sunglass garage of sorts. Out of habit, I always park mine on top of my head and therefore, they never make it into the garage.  They never seem to make it back into my purse, either, which is why I was down to not having any.  As a side note I’ll have to admit that I probably can’t find them because my house is in disarray at the moment, since I have emptied out all the closets and cupboards in preparation for a garage sale and there are both trash and treasures spread all over the table and countertops. HE is getting more than little crabby over this, too. Sheesh, you would think he would be happy that there is finally some room in the closet! Anyhow, my attention finally moved to the garage, (the one for cars, not sunglasses ) and I was about halfway finished and on a roll before HE came home, and I had to play 20 questions: “Why did you move your tools to my side of the garage?” “What is in this box?” “Can you move this stuff out of the way so I can powerwash the floor?” Etcetera, etcetera, ETCETERA!  Those of you married for four to forty years will understand. I was quite surprised as I cleaned the shelf on “my” side of the garage to find a cache of sunglasses. Seven pair, to be exact, and I recognized them all. I know that I didn’t put them there. Either I am going crazy, or the squirrels that sometimes get in there are squirreling them away. It is probably the former rather than the latter, because as I was muttering to myself about the mystery, the ZZ Top song about cheap sunglasses kept going though my head over and over. Some of you might be a little older or a little younger than I am and don’t have any idea what I’m talking about. The rest of you will understand why I played a little air guitar and hummed an old song of my youth and made a dirty, dusty, squirrely day go by a little more quickly.  Thankfully, I won’t have to buy any cheap sunglasses for a long, long, time!

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The next time our local hospital volunteers have their annual book sale, would someone please distract me so I stay far, far away?  It is bad enough that I have to be there on the first day, digging through the stacks for old books, first editions, and best sellers for a mere dollar each. On the last day of the sale, they have the “fill a bag for a buck” special to move the inventory out. One dollar for A WHOLE BAG of books. Last year, I spent three dollars on the last day, and believe me, there wasn’t an inch of space left in the bags, either. I won’t even tell you how much I spent the first day, but it was for a good cause, after all. This year, they decided to make it a semiannual event, so the date came around sooner than I had expected.  I was nowhere near finishing the  books from the year before.  I tried not to go, but found myself hovering around the sale area, especially during the “bag for a buck” day.  I only spent a dollar…the first time through. I managed to fill another bag during my lunch hour and one more after work. I also brake for garage sales, and always find myself heading over to the book box or table…almost everyone has one.  I simply can’t resist all those hours of reading pleasure for the simple price of one quarter. If they ask more than that, the book has to be a special one, because I am pretty cheap. I have a small problem, however. I mean, besides obvious problem of being a cheap hoarder.  I simply don’t read as many books as I used to. As technology advances, even an old Farm Woman can keep up, at least a little bit. I can no longer say “there is nothing good on TV” because I record all of my favorite programs and movies, and the list is long, and a fact that was a surprise to me, I can watch it on my smart phone.  There’s also Pinterest and social media, both of which are literally at my fingertips on my phone. I think that perhaps that is part of the problem in our world these days. Everyone is constantly staring at their phones in restaurants, while walking, while travelling, and sadly, even at their jobs. Nobody looks up and smiles anymore, not to mention carrying on a conversation with an acquaintenance, stranger, or even a friend. The constant sensory overload of computer games,  breaking news alerts, and texting is changing the way we think and act toward each other. Perhaps the Zombie Apocalypse that we all worried about is finally here and we are it. There is a new word do describe these people already: Smombie. A Smombie is a person who walks slowly while focused on their smart phone. I read it on the internet, so it must be true.  I think as a Zombie (or Smombie) preventative measure, tonight I will choose from one of the many books on the shelf and get lost for a little while. 

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