Oddments

In search of story


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July 22.19

ELEGY IN A KITCHEN GARDEN

My poor beautiful tomato plant,

victim of its own vitality

lies helpless, hapless,

like my old Christmas tree.

Don’t tell me what I should do

or shouldn’t.

Doing isn’t feeling.

I tried but couldn’t,

and that is everything.

 

 

If you are a gardener, dear reader, you know that lessons grow in the garden, some of them dismal. Yesterday a rambunctious wind announced the coming of today’s blessed, cooling rain. I tried desperately to right my gorgeous Beefsteak, but my two hands and two feet were not enough. And the thunder growled.  It was with real sadness I had to abandon the rescue. If you are a gardener, you understand the feeling. It isn’t about what to DO.


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July 20.19

How long, dear reader, since you shopped for a major appliance? Say a refrigerator? For me, it’s been a long time and my memories were shaped by the days when one went to an appliance store where one could inspect the actual appliance. If purchased on the occasion of a firstborn’s christening, it would last until that firstborn left for college.

I was, therefore, ill-prepared for my recent search for a new refrigerator. I didn’t want frills. I just wanted to avoid ptomaine. Ice would be nice. Actually, anything frozen would be nice. (The freezer went defunct a while back.)

Today one goes to the Internet and to various “big box” stores, where one might find someone with answers to questions. The sales people — when found — are very nice and consult temperamental computers. (I can do that at home.)

Online, one opens a virtual appliance, and reads things called “reviews.” There is no want of opinions on the Internet. I was awash in them. It took about three zillion of them but I eventually discovered patterns: short-time owners ecstatic; long-time (three years) owners despondent. One adjusts one’s expectations.

The refrigerator gasping its last in my kitchen is a 20-year-old Amana. I make frequent runs to the grocery store to buy bags of ice to keep its insides cold, and it is giving its all to keep going until the new one arrives at the end of the month.

Now you know why we’re having this heat wave.


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Fourth of July, 2019

 

All the problems we face in the United States today can be traced to an unenlightened immigration policy on the part of the American Indian. 

—- Pat Paulson, presidential candidate, Smothers Brothers Party, neither right wing nor left wing but, as he said, middle of the bird, in the hallowed ’60s.

 

Happy Birthday, America!

We salute imperfect you!

Blessings on your Ship of State

from your ever motley crew!

 


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May 21.19

I grew up in northwest Indiana, just outside Chicago. “Da Region.” Steel mills and oil refineries, cinders and soot. And earthquaking freight trains. Charging, bellowing behemoths, lifeline of thriving industry, they snarled traffic with sadistic impunity.

Mindful that then our phones were back home, attached to a wall, you will understand that life stopped when those behemoths blocked our ways. So there was nothing like the excitement of spotting the caboose. Life could resume! What cheer to the soul! What revving of engines! Until it stopped in the middle of the crossing, taunting us with half a road.

The caboose had the power to make people happy or homicidal.

If you were a kid and lucky, you got to wave at the man in the caboose, and he would wave back. To be noticed by the genie in the caboose was high living tinged with envy: who wouldn’t want to live in a caboose?

Every once in a while, a caboose would show up in some incongruous place, like someone’s yard. Here was mystery. How did it get there? Is the genie still in it?

It was my early introduction to garden art. A caboose in a yard was never mundane. Nor was the occasional non-red caboose, like the jarring countercultural yellow.

As symbol of time and place, the caboose is nonpareil. And when the train is gone and the caboose stands alone in the quiet of clover and vine, what does the caboose tell of the old time and place? Since I am the caboose, I must ask and answer that question.

 

Many thanks to photographer D.J. Berg.

Part Three

 


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April 28.19

The news makes me rabid. The endless rain makes me squishy in the head. Aging plagues me. And to make the world an even drearier place, our excellent local art supply store has been bought out and now closed by Michael’s. Another valued small business pulverized.

I dwell in the doldrums. My only hope is cookies. There is no other way to find good in the world.

In my childhood I learned about the good in cookies. Mom and Grandma O’Hern were cookie-bakers. Not that they didn’t bake other things, but they were believers in cookies, and thank goodness. A cookie fits in your hand so much more easily than a piece of pie or cake (though it’s quite possible to eat either from the hand if you aren’t too fussy).

Besides, there was “Raggedy Ann in Cookie Land,” one of my all-time favorite stories. Cookies that walked and talked and lived in a cookie house? You’d think such things would keep me from ever eating another cookie, but it didn’t work like that. It just added to the magic of cookies.

Maybe you also, dear reader, are driven to the doldrums by the news and by trying to deal with losses and worries in your own life. So I offer you my most favorite of favorite cookie recipes, my drug of choice, my portal to Nirvana. It is based on the old (not the current!) recipe for “Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies” on the Quaker Oats lid.

 

Better-Than-Phoebe’s Oatmeal Cookies

1 C. butter (no substitutes)

1 C. firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 C. granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 t. plus a tiny dribble Penzeys vanilla

1 1/2 C. all-purpose flour

1 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1 t. plus a pinch of Penzeys Korintje cinnamon

a few grinds of fresh nutmeg

3 C. Old-Fashioned Quaker Oatmeal (don’t be generous)

1 C. dark (not golden) Sun-Maid raisins

1/2-1 C. chopped dates (the best are the ones you chop yourself)

1/2 C. Heath toffee bits without chocolate (my grandchildren’s brilliant idea)

Whisk dry ingredients together. Beat butter and sugars, then add eggs and beat some more. Mix in vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix well, then the oatmeal, raisins, dates and toffee bits. Dough will weigh a ton.

If possible, refrigerate dough at least overnight. Bake at 350 for about five minutes, then turn cookie sheet and bake another four minutes or so, depending on your oven. Cool on wire racks. Makes lots but never enough.

 

These are called “Better-Than-Phoebe’s” because of the episode of “Friends” wherein Phoebe says her oatmeal cookies are the best so she doesn’t bake them very often because it’s not fair to the other cookies.

I mention brand names so you will know exactly what I use.

If you want really chewy cookies, add coconut. Dark chocolate chips are another acceptable addition. However, such additions risk changing the nature of the oatmeal cookie, and that is unseemly to purists.

Wishing you homemade cookies, dear reader,

Maureen


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March 5.19

Of all the rites of spring

as sure as tulip spear

the forty days of Lent

anchored budding year.

Forsaking sweets (so saintly!)

with purpled liturgies

we plodded ash-benighted

with callouses on knees.

Fish and macaroni

— with a ho, for purgatory! —

we loved and gobbled up

in pleasure gustatory,

and through the season’s sackcloth

on temptation’s slippery brink

cinnamony hot cross buns,

penitential wink.

I laugh at memories ancient

and admonishments infernal

but I don’t laugh at the lesson

that spring can be internal.

 

 Whatever your traditions, dear reader,

may Shrove Tuesday bring you spring!

 

With more thanks to photographer S.W. Berg.


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March 1.19

The season of soup slips behind us —

we can’t let it pass unobserved;

the kettles and bowls warmly bind us

with elixir drippingly served.

Here’s to you, soup,

you wondrous admixture,

the winter’s cozy

regular fixture,

steaming mosaic,

ad-libbed enterprise,

like flannel to bones,

old friend to our eyes.

 

 

Yet more thanks to photographer S.W. Berg.

And thanks also to Anna’s Pizza in Buckroe, Hampton, VA,

creator of this minestrone and presentation thereof.

(Do you, dear reader, like me, have the urge to grab a spoon?)