Community

I've been struggling to frame my thoughts on this subject for the last several days. As so often happens, tragedies around me put me into a quagmire of overthinking and a heart aching for the pain of people I might not even know.

The story made national news. Ten people were killed by a flash flood in central Arizona, near the town of Payson.

Payson was our home until last year. Sweet Hubs grew up there, and I lived there for 35 years. When I think of what makes a community special and admirable, it is clear to me that Payson has those qualities. It was a lovely place to grow our family and we lived there very happily.

The people come together to help neighbors and strangers alike. They care for strangers who have been evacuated from their homes. They support neighbors who have huge medical bills. In this particular case, people from Payson helped with the search, brought great support to the searchers and prayed with all their strength. Now they grieve with the survivors and families.

Maybe I am over-generalizing here, but it seems as if being part of your community for a city dweller consists of things like paying your HOA fees and maybe serving on the board, and attending assorted fundraisers to support the museums or organized charities you favor. Being a part of your community in Small Town, America means bringing a covered dish to the bereaved, cookies and Gatorade to forest firefighters, cash to the benefit to support the young family with the stricken child, blankets to your neighbor whose furnace went out and dinner to the elderly neighbor down the way. It is a personal, hands-on approach to helping others. You help them one at a time, as needs arise. It is not the same as donating money to a cause; it is putting your own actual hand out to touch another human being in need.

When you know the people who are affected by some tragedies, I think it opens your heart to hurt for and want to help the strangers who suffer other tragedies. Yes, Payson people (me included) often grumble(d) about the huge influx of summer visitors from the desert, the ones looking to cool off in the pine trees after spending all week in the cactus and asphalt. But let something like this tragedy at Water Wheel happen, and it doesn't matter that these were visitors. Payson people were there, searching, comforting, supporting, waiting, helping in any way they could.

So here we are, the "new neighbors" in rural Montana. I see the same small-town attitude toward community here, and I love that. It's good for my soul to see the generosity and kindness in people. It offsets the headlines by reminding me that people really are good and kind and caring. No, that isn't the kind of story that makes the headlines. It's the story of life. It's the story of community.






Of Ticks and Radishes

What a strange day it was!

I found a tick burrowing into the skin of my neck. Horrid little creatures. Have you ever noticed how, after having an encounter with a tick, spider or mosquito, we imagine every little twitch and itch must be another creepy crawly thing on us? Alas.

I also got a thistle sticker in one finger and slammed another finger in the door. These three things made me think it was going to be a bad day, but I was wrong. For the sun came out, I got to work in the garden a while and picked some radishes and salad greens.

Radish tops are lovely things, pretty as the bright radish root itself. It has always felt like a waste to me to throw those tops away, so I looked around for ideas. I tried roasting them like you would kale for chips. Total disappointment. Don't bother. The flavor is good, but the texture is just..... not.

Then I saw a recipe for radish top soup. Hmmm. I changed it up a bit, using what I had on hand, and bless my britches, it was good! Be advised that if potato soup makes you fart like a steer, this will too.



Radish Top Soup

4 good sized potatoes, peeled and diced.
About 4 cups of loosely packed radish tops, trimmed of the tough middle rib.
1 leek, well washed and sliced thin.
2 ribs of celery, with the leaves, diced.
About 4 cups of good chicken stock, homemade is best. 😉
1/2 cup of half and half or heavy cream.
Salt and pepper.
Two tablespoons or so of butter.
Chenin blanc to taste.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and celery and saute until translucent, while sipping some of that Chenin blanc. Add the potatoes and radish tops and saute until the tops start to soften. Sip some more. Add the chicken stock and simmer for about 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes are soft soft soft. 30-40 minutes should be ample time to finish your first glass of Chenin blanc.

Puree the cooked potatoes and radish tops in a blender or using your stick blender (my method). Return to the saucepan and bring back to a good simmer on low heat. This should only take about 5 sips. Stir in the half and half or cream, add salt and pepper to taste, garnish with a few thin slices of radish and serve with more Chenin blanc and some good bread.

Well, OK. You got me. I actually made my soup with Guinness to taste, but still......

I served this with grilled chicken drumsticks, a salad fresh from the garden and yesterday's sourdough bread. Strawberries for dessert and life is good.


Garden of Discrimination

I worked a while in my happy little garden.

Seeds are germinating, the transplanted tomatoes and peppers, etc., are settled in happily. Among these are three artichoke plants I am excited about having. I love artichokes!

I planted them in a bed of good soil, deeply dug and well drained. I formed a little well in the bed so that water will stay in the bed to soak in, instead of running off. I pulled weeds that were already showing up in there.

One of those weeds was a thistle. We have a lot of thistles around; they are a ubiquitous weed here. The irony struck me that I was battling thistles I didn't want in a bed of thistles I did want. Thistle discrimination is what that is. Right?


Help Me, Rhonda!

OK, so I went a little bonkers in the garden and am sure I overplanted it. If half of what I planted actually grows, it will be a jungle out there.

If anyone out there has a tip for how to just frickin' chill when you're deciding what to plant, I'd love to hear it. It doesn't help that I love vegetables and fresh foods and it's spring! Spring time makes me hungry for bright, fresh foods, green things, sunshine, tank tops and long, quiet evenings outdoors.

I look forward to the waxing warmth and coming summer every year. And every year, I look forward to the cool, crisp autumn with its beautiful change of color and light. Then I look forward to the first snowfall. This past winter, I sure was looking forward to the LAST snowfall!

The change of seasons, the seasons of life, growing babies, new adventures... each thing is a wonder to behold and I love seeing it all unfold.

Last night, Sweet Hubs and I were sitting on the porch looking down at the lake and I saw something I couldn't identify swimming out there. So I got the binoculars and had a look: it was a pair of Canada geese with their gosling. To quote my friend Alita, Oh My Giddy Aunt! That little fuzzball was swimming around with all the joy and abandon of childhood, mumsy and pops keeping a close eye for predators, and I was charmed right down to the marrow. Then Sweet Hubs pointed out another family of geese, and this one had five goslings paddling their little flat feet around that bay, little dabs of fuzzy yellow on the green-blue water. Naturally, I just melted into a puddle of goo at that point. Is there something out there that is cuter than a fluffy gosling or duckling?

It's easy to see that some of the deer are pregnant, the way their midsections are bulging unevenly, one side pushed out forward, the other side back and that sort of thing. Even after their fawns are born, we won't see them for a while. Mommas keep them carefully hidden for a good while. If you happen to stumble upon one, curled into a dappled red ball, the adorableness of it is almost painful.

I'm sitting here, drinking sweet, creamy coffee and watching the day wake up. My house is a mess, thanks to time spent in the garden instead of doing my indoor chores, and I have a long list of to-dos. That's a good feeling, because at the end of the day I know I'll be able to stand back and see what I accomplished. The pleasure of a visible result for your labors is one of my favorites.

But it's spring, and I really want to be outside.

Foraging and Other Dirty Stories

It's morel season in this part of the world and this was my first year scrounging around for the little yummy mushrooms. 

A nice, quiet walk on my own property, Sweet Hubs watching our four-legged furry babies, since the dogs kinda take all the peace out of it for me, and looking around for fungus. Aren't they a beautiful thing? I've found enough to have them with dinner several nights now. Morels are very expensive to buy. Finding some on my own patch of ground relieves me of the desire to buy some, just so I can experiment with how to cook them. Foraging is the most frugal kind of living of all, right? Oh, and just to be clear: yes we are hunters, and apparently gatherers, but I didn't collect the snail there to eat that, too. 


My darling Sweet Hubs has been working on a garden patch for me. He built the fence, put together the raised beds, and now all he needs to do is finish a gate since a fence is pointless with a giant hole in it, right?

Is there a more beautiful place in the world to garden than this? Wild berry bushes on the right side there, a view of the lake beyond and a screen of trees around me make this a favorite place. I will probably want to put a little bench near there so I can just sit and look. Happy, happy sigh.


I planted the seeds yesterday and my nails are stained that happy garden-dirt kind of stain. There is a bit of a mud hole right at my feet when I stand at this vantage point and our clay soil sticks to my shoes like crazy. It's dirty work, but that's a big part of the fun. 

Kudos to my Sweet Hubs, too, for his tact. He is a far more experienced gardener than I, but he is letting me try this on my own. He is sweetly answering my questions and giving advice when I ask for it, but he is letting my do it myself. I know that is difficult to watch a greenhorn try something and you see them making mistakes (which I am sure I am!), and letting them learn for themselves. How I love that man!

So my boots are all muddy and my nails are stained. I have sticks and things in my hair from pushing through trees to get at the mushrooms. Sweet Hubs pulled a tick from my hair before the little monster bored into my skin. It's a dirty, sweet life.

Mom

She doesn't know that it's Mother's Day. She still remembers that she has children, but doesn't always remember how many. She never remembers how old we are.

She loved the yellow roses, but she doesn't recall that she got them. Even when she sees them there in their vase, they mean nothing. When I call her, she won't be able to carry on a sensible conversation, but I'll call anyway. It doesn't mean anything to her, so I'll call for me. And I'll hang up feeling worse, but I'll call anyway.

There are thousands upon thousands of people like me in the country: people whose mother is still living, but who no longer have the mother they once had.

Who was the mother I once had?

She was complicated. She was strong willed, stubborn, creative and intelligent. She kept her feelings closely guarded and didn't generally allow people to get too close. She had her sister and her mother, all of them having gone through the war together, and so she never felt the need for any friends. She was both thrifty and extravagant. She was both selfish and generous. She was honest, and yet she was manipulative. In other words, she was just like all people: full of contradictions.

Mom taught me how to cook, sew, can and bake. She taught her children to not be wasteful, to try new foods with an open mind and be grateful for all that we had. And yet, she is one of the pickiest eaters I've ever met. We were allowed to walk in after school and tell Mom we were hungry, but say "I'm starving" and you'd get a lecture about what real starving was.

She left religion up to Dad. She also left breakfast up to Dad. She could pull off a Thanksgiving dinner for 40 people and no one brought anything, but she made the worst cookies. She was the tenderest nurse if one of us were sick, but I can not recall my Mom ever telling me "good job" or "I'm proud of you". Mom taught me how to look for the intent behind the actions, rather than having to hear the words. She taught me to do things for my own sense of accomplishment, rather than for the praise of others.

She was a formidable woman, who kept a sense of balance in her life that was worthy of a high-wire act. She was the strong one, the wise one, the one who wasn't nervous or full of anxiety. She was the best cook, the best seamstress, funny, witty, wise and bratty, too. She was an indoor girl of the first order. Going for a walk or tending a garden held no interest for her at all. But she loved to dance. She still loves to dance, come to think of it.


She insisted on excellent table manners, but she would sometimes tell a dirty joke. She never wore makeup but dressed to the nines for a dinner date. She had amazing legs (still does for an 87 year old woman) and exquisite nails, and hated the cowlicks in her hair.

In these late years, she focuses a lot on saying that she was a good mother. She has also said that her children think she was not a good mother. Is that dementia talking, or does she question her own parenting so much that it even affects her dementia? None of her children, to my knowledge, has ever said she was not a good mother. She was a good mother! She was not like any of my friends' mothers, that's for sure. Even with all the many years of hindsight, I still don't know if Mom intended to teach the lessons we learned, or if she was working out her own demons. She was complicated. She was profoundly affected by the traumas of her life, but buried those things and got her balance back. Somehow.

My Mom.

This and That

Have you ever noticed that, no matter how long the coffee has been done perking, when you pull the pot out to pour a cup, more coffee is going to drip onto the burner?

I bought a trio of these big beach-ball looking things that look like they have eyes, to hang on the porch. They were supposed to deter the deranged robin who was repeatedly attacking our windows until he was bleeding and puking all over the glass. The robin didn't mind the eyes one little bit. This morning, a hummingbird was sitting ON the ball. Bird deterrent, my ass. The only solution we found was to roll down the security shutters until this crazed bird got over his insanity. You would not believe the mess he made, though. Bird pooh all over the railings, the porches, the furniture out there.... sheesh.

The grocery store in Sandpoint, Idaho where I frequently shop has a lovely produce department with lots of organic and standard fruits and veggies to choose from. Last night, I opened up the fridge to decide what to make for dinner and was reminded again of how blessed I am. We have an array of good food options in this country, affordable and readily available. I bought broccoli, a beautiful eggplant, Belgian endive, carrots, apples, pears, mushrooms, onions, shallots, limes, tomatoes, kale and chard. I meant to pick up some beets, but forgot those. Between their produce department and my freezer full of game meat, I can come up with something good for dinner pretty much every night. Last night, it was eggplant parmigiana by a fire outside and a nice glass of Riesling to go with it. Life is good.

Why is it that the more revolting a dog food smells to me, the better the dogs like it?

My last post was about the wonderful miracle that kefir has worked in my life. I did want to mention that it appears to be something that I will need to continue to do as a regular part of my diet. I don't think it works to just drink some kefir, add those good microorganisms to your gut and be done. If I skip kefir for several days, I can tell that I have done that and my tummy starts bothering me again.

Sweet Hubs and I went to a local greenhouse/nursery and I fell headfirst into my spring fever. Flowers! Herbs! Veggies!!! This is especially silly because the garden patch isn't ready for planting yet, and it's still too early for a lot of things here. That didn't stop me, though. The nice folks who own the nursery were there and we had a brief chat. How fun would it be to have a job in a greenhouse? Except for the rogue mice who break in and nibble off the sprouting seedlings. I am excited for planting time; packets of seed are waiting for their new homes. Beets! Beans! Lettuce! Chard! Kale!And so much more. It's going to be a fun summer. I love being able to eat as seasonally as possible and you sure don't get any more local.

Rooster Cogburn has learned to love chasing a ball almost as much as Chloe loves it. He has a wonderful habit of bringing the tennis ball to the water trough, dropping it in there while he gets a drink, and then bringing this sopping wet, slobbery, slimy, filthy tennis ball to me. From behind. And pushing it on my butt to get my attention.

Which it does.






Happy Happy Pee Pee Dance

I mentioned in a previous post about my gratitude to my sweet friend Michelle for encouraging me to try kefir for my digestive issues. She had mentioned it a few times over the years, but being a doubting Thomasina like I am, I didn't really give it a lot of thought. Then Michelle twisted my arm up behind my back (a move she learned from her law-enforcement hubs) and told me to stop resisting.

OK, she didn't. But no one can resist Michelle for very long and I was getting desperate, so I tried it.

I ordered milk kefir grains from Amazon. There are a bunch of places to buy them.

The grains arrived in a little foil pouch, very quickly and with a complete instruction sheet. "OK," I tell myself, "Here goes nothing."

It took a couple of weeks for my kefir grains to revitalize, partly due to the fact that it was February and colder than a well-digger's patootie here, but I did finally get the thick, tangy, cultured milk product I was supposed to.

I've mixed it with strawberries and honey and vanilla. I've done a secondary culture on it with citrus peel. I've turned it into ranch dressing, kefir cheese and a coffee slush. No matter what I do to it, my taste buds don't appreciate kefir one bit. But my guts LOVE this stuff. As in L. O. V. E. it. Kefir still makes my tummy a little gurgly, but it isn't the oh-no-where-is-the-bathroom kind of gurgly. I honestly have not felt so good in my belly in twenty years.

So I called my brother. Mom is in a care home with dementia, and she has had IBS issues for as long as I can remember. You can imagine that this is an unfortunate combination for her and her caregivers. Brother started Mom on kefir (she probably makes the same face drinking it that I do). He called me the other day to tell me that the improvement in Mom's ... uh.... "bathroom habits" has been dramatic. No more accidents!!! I almost cried. No, really. I almost cried. Of course, I texted sweet Michelle and told her about it.

I told my friend Holly. I told my sister. I told the lady at the grocery store and I've talked to the dogs about it. I might get a kefir tattoo and change my name to "I ate a salad and lived". Holly said she is trying cultured foods and her tummy is happier. Sister is planning to tell some friends of hers who have issues with such things. The lady at the store got a worried look on her face and backed away rather quickly, but the dogs wagged their tails.

To my friend, The Patron Saint of Happy Tummies, I send effusive thanks and all my love. To the kind folks who mailed me this magical little lump of probiotics, I hope you are blessed for all time with good health and enormous wealth at selling this product. To everyone else in the world, even if you don't have any gut issues at all, please do add cultured foods to your diet today. Read about the microbiome of your gut and how it affects your overall health. I'm adding kombucha to my diet now and I hope to try my hand at lacto-fermenting some veggies, if I ever get my garden going.

It took some heavy-duty convincing to get me to try it. Now I can't stop slapping my head for not trying it sooner. Go kefir!