Sunday, October 20, 2013

One door shuts and another opens.

I've always believed it and I've always lived by it. But something is way off kilter in my life when doors are slamming shut all around me.
I've decided to take all the time I need to see if I can figure out what an open door even looks like.

Addendum: I did not mean to give the impression that this was about romantic relationships. I wish it were that simple. I will be back when I can.

Friday, October 18, 2013


Is it just me, or do the cute kitties weaken the posted "Beware of the Dog" sign?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

There are limits to my hospitality.

It's been a bad summer here for bugs.  Or rather, a good summer for bugs and a bad summer for those of us who aren't fond of them.  One morning I stepped out through the front door and found these wasps building a next right above my head.  No.  I'm sorry, but No. In general, I take a live and let live approach to bugs, but not when they place themselves where I am sure to get hurt.  I took the picture through the storm door and then told them, "Enjoy your day, guys. Because tonight while you're sleeping, I'm going to kill you all."
Just before dawn, I covered them in wasp spray.  I don't know why this one stayed attached, but he and his comrades were throughly dead.
And then one day I went out to work in the bed by the garage.  Kneeling in the periwinkle to weed, I suddenly noticed movement around the spirea bush a couple of feet from my face.
Well, holy hell.  A cleverly camouflaged hornet's nest.  Beach-ball sized and buzzing with many, many bald-faced hornets.  I called an exterminator to give me an estimate for removing it, because I had no interest in the helpful "use a flame-thrower" ideas people were giving me. We had the discussion about removing the nest standing right by it, which meant both of us had to keep ducking as hornets zoomed by our heads. He said the nest was a good three months old and and wondered how I'd missed it. All I can say is that I like the bumble bees and honey bees who hover around me when I garden, so a little extra buzzing just escaped my attention.  Besides, you can hardly see the damned thing.  I brought my neighbor over and he leaned in to look and then took a quick step back and said, "Whoa!"
The after.  I was so impressed that they were able to take care of it without destroying my spirea.  I don't know what sort of protective gear the guy wore, but before I called the exterminator, I looked up directions for DIY hornet nest removal. They strongly recommend protective clothing, including a bee keeper's helmet. Of course, a bee keeper's helmet! Part of any standard wardrobe. And so versatile, too! I mean, sure there's bee keeping and hornet nest removal, but also useful for hiking, sea kayaking, motorcycle rides, casual Fridays and evening wear. Who WOULDN'T have a bee keeper's helmet in their closet?
Scraps of the nest now litter the shrubs like confetti, and look to me like small renderings of the Painted Desert in Arizona.  Hornets are aggressive and will sting repeatedly when threatened so I could not leave them in my garden.  But I have to admire the artistry of their papery home.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Money well spent.

A couple of weeks after I'd taken the mushroom foraging class, I pulled into my driveway and spotted a flash of orange on the ground in the woods.  I thought someone had dropped a piece of bright plastic, so I walked in to pick it up.  Instead, I found these fungi growing from the stump of a rotting tree I'd had cut down.  The bigger one on the right is 16 inches across. The pattern looked like "turkey tails" (trametes versicolor, if you were wondering) but wasn't the right brown/tan colors, so I snapped a picture and sent it to the mushroom guy, Whitey.  He said they were a dead ringer for the edible "chicken of the woods" and suggested I cut a sample and bring it to his both at the farmer's market for a definite ID.
Off I went, past happy dancing toddlers and booths of crafts, produce, baked goods and the mushroom guy.  Laetiporus sulphureus, or chicken of the woods, is apparently one of the "foolproof four" mushrooms for which there is no toxic look-alike.  Whitey had some at his booth, for $12/pound.  I found them on-line for $16.   I told him I'd found several pounds and he smiled at me and said, "You just paid for your class!"
After discussing how to prepare and freeze them, I went home to get my knife and bring in all that I could find.  My initial harvest was over five pounds, and then I went back into the woods to look around a little and found another two pounds or so on a nearby log.  Even after cutting off the tougher parts, I still had way more than the $20 I'd paid to take the class.
Getting them ready to freeze was easy - you just wipe them off, cut off the thick stems, slice them into strips, and pack into ziploc bags.  I read up on them and discovered that some people have a mild reaction, so to try a small it first.  I sautéed up a batch in olive oil and my younger son and I each ate a couple of bites.  Nothing.  Next weekend he's here, I'll make an omelet with some.
Ironically, cooked mushrooms are on my no-go list of foods.  It's a texture issue.  For me, it's like biting into a slug.  Which is even more ironic since I actually like escargot.  But with this bonanza I decided I was going to un-learn this particular food phobia.  And they were good - the texture is meaty and they have a taste that is vaguely lemony.  My son said they tasted like eggs to him.  But there is no hint of the icky texture of the canned mushrooms I grew up hating, so I'm definitely going to be eating these.   After all, how often does your yard hand you about 80 bucks worth of gourmet mushrooms?

Thursday, October 10, 2013


On my blog break, I also signed up for a mushroom foraging class at a local nature center.  After a video presentation and some guidelines on harvesting mushrooms, I took my basket and knife and I followed the instructor into the woods.
We were charged with collecting any mushroom or lichen we could find, digging them from the soil to preserve the bottoms if possible.  I later learned that these brightly-topped mushrooms are russula.
We started out in a big group, but eventually broke into small sets of two or three people.  The folks I walked with were friendly and we would call each other to see clumps of mushrooms so each of us could gather a bigger variety.
When we got back to the meeting place, the youngest member of our group had managed to find some very toxic Amonita.
This is terribly out of focus, but I did find the tiniest specimens of the group. There is actually a third impossibly minuscule mushroom by my thumb.
We grouped the mushrooms by type and then spent time with guidebooks trying to classify them based on features of the stipe, cap, gills, coloration, remnants of the universal veil, and so on.
When you cut mushrooms you can find out other things about them - if they secrete a milky substance, for instance, or if they stain another color when sliced or bruised.
With each identification, I'd ask the most important question: "So, is that one edible?"  Apparently this slug thought so.
At one point when I asked about edibility, Whitey (the mushroom expert) handed a piece of one to me and said, "It won't hurt you, but it's listed as 'intensely bitter.' Taste it." I did, and it was. He handed me another mushroom and said, "Taste this one, it's bitter in a different way." I said. "What, am I the official taster now? How do I know this one won't kill me?" So he popped a big chunk in his mouth and started chewing it, expressionless. I tried a piece. I will not be adding any of those to my salad anytime soon.
My personal haul from the foraging trip.  I still have only a rudimentary idea about how to identify mushrooms, but I will sure be noticing them on my walks from here on out.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Lunch with my father.

My younger son and I went up to Kentucky to take my father out to lunch for his birthday yesterday. In the midst of a story, he lost the name he was looking for and paused for a long moment, trying to remember. Then he shook his head, laughed and said, "I have dementia, if you haven't noticed."

He is 77 now and seems so small and frail. We walked veeeeery slowly in, with him holding me with one hand and a cane with the other.  A far cry from his hiking, marathon-running, soccer-coaching days when we were growing up. He was always a man of contradictions and being his child was not easy.  He was bright and funny and affectionate, but also abusive and demanding.  The Alzheimer's seems to have drained every last bit of rage right out of him.  I feel like I'm now seeing the personality that would have developed if he'd not had a brutal childhood himself.  It's as if that terrible disease has uncovered his true nature.  He told me he has a nanny at home now, and said he liked her.  He also talked about running into a man from the day program he used to attend and their Annapolis-West Point rivalry.  And he was pleased to hear about my son's plans to get his degree in mechanical engineering, having gotten his own at MIT.

I can tell a noticeable decline in his memory since the last time I saw him, though. Some of the stories we'd talked about on my last visit, he could no longer remember.  And when I told him about going to see our old home in Massachusetts he was confused about that and a little surprised to hear we'd spent a summer on Cape Cod.  When we talked about my siblings, he said, "When you have six or seven kids, it's hard to keep up." He struggled to recall the relationship with his nieces and nephews, saying that he knew they weren't stepchildren but wasn't sure who they were.   And at one point he asked after my mother.  I told him that she was doing well and that she hadn't had any problems with her breast cancer in years. He said he hadn't known she'd had breast cancer, or about her mastectomy, radiation and chemo. He also hadn't known about my cervical cancer although that didn't surprise me since it was recent and I never really talked about it with him.  But he was looking concerned so I said I was fine and that, after all, he'd had cancer himself twice. He was shocked. "I did?!" I said, "Well, yeah, you had prostate cancer." Still looking astounded he said, "Who told you that?!!" I said, "You did!" And I reminded him about having the radiation seeds implanted.  Nope.  Didn't remember that at all. I foolishly persisted, "Do you remember having a melanoma?" And he was shocked again. "I did?!  Who told you that?!!" And again I said, "You did! And you showed me the scar on your back!" Clearly distressed now, he said, "I don't think we should go any further with this conversation." Oh, my. I put my hand on his and said, "Dad, the important thing is you're fine now - no more cancer, everything's okay." That seemed to reassure him and we moved on to safer topics. What a strange experience that must be to lose so much of your memory and yet retain a sense of who you are.

When we first sat down, after determining that my father wanted red wine, I had this conversation with the waitress:
Me: "What do you have as a house red?"
Her: "We have a Somethingorother Rosa."
Me: "Is that a rosé?"
Her: "Yes, I was just pronouncing it wrong."
Me: "Then no, a red wine."
Her: "Well, it's sort of red."
Me: "Not really."
Her: "You mean like a moscato?"
Me: "No, just a dry red wine."
Her: "Did you want a sweet wine?"
Me: "No! Just a regular red wine. A cab, a merlot, a red zin - something like that."
Her: "We have a chardonnay."
Me: (laughing now): "No, a RED wine."
Her: "We have a red chardonnay." 
Me: "You what?! (finally grabbing the menu) Okay, we'll just take a couple of glasses of the pinot noir." 

As she left with our order, my father turned to me with a smile and said, "But are you sure it's a red pinot noir and not a white pinot noir?" 

That's the Dad I remember.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Have I mentioned that I've been doing a bit of hiking?

September 15th, I went with a group of folks to hike the Middle Prong Trail in the Smokies.  The Smokies which are currently closed because of the government shutting down. But that's another issue altogether.
For my money, this is actually more of a walk than a hike since it's pretty flat the whole way.The hike is along an old railroad bed, used by a lumber company until the 1930's.  For much of it, there is a steep rock face along one side and the Little River along the other.
There are several falls and cascades along this trail.
The persistence of nature - this tree is sitting on a boulder, but manages to snake its roots around it to find bits of earth to anchor to.
This time of year there are signs of fall amidst the bright Spring-like greens.
I added a tiny rock to the very top of this cairn.
The Great Smoky Mountains are a temperate rainforest, so you are always surrounded by lush scenery.
Another waterfall - I believe this one is Lynn Camp Falls.
I was walking with a friend and catching up, since I hadn't seen her in a while.  We walked about seven miles on this hike, too.
A brick chimney is all that remains of an old pioneer homestead.
You pass over some small creeks on lovely moss-strewn bridges.
We also passed the rusting skeleton of an old Cadillac.
And then back to the parking area.  I could get used to this hiking on the weekends thing.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How traditions start.

Yesterday, I sent my mother an email asking for the exact time of my birth, and her response was a reminiscence about my birth in New London, Connecticut.  Since it was a Naval Hospital, young corpsmen served as the nursing staff.  I was my parents' third child, and her mother (who we grandchildren all called "Gangeen") had come up to help.  I've heard my birth story many times over the years, and now tell my own kids the story of their birthdays.  When my older son was a little boy he used to listen raptly, then when I'd finished, say, "Tell me again!"

My mother's email about my birthday:

Here's what I remember about the day you were born. We were living in Ledyard in a rental house, waiting for base housing. I was 23. Gangeen had come to help me after you were born. Unfortunately, the doctor, when I asked, told me that she would need to be there by the 13th (funny how I remember that so clearly) even though my due date was the 26th. He thought you would be early. His name was Harry Pine, and he wrote on my folder to call him when I went into labor, though there were several obstetricians on staff at the Naval Hospital. Looking back, I don't know why. He also delivered [your brother], same deal: "Call him." So Gangeen came up on the bus from Chattanooga, and we waited. And waited. She watched me all the time for signs of impending labor. She passed her time toilet-training [your sister]. The morning of the 29th, [your father] had the duty, and went in to work, taking the Karmann Ghia. And I started having contractions. Around noonish, I think, we called Tina, the next-door neighbor, who was also my landlord, and she brought her car into our driveway. Gangeen ran out, carrying my suitcase, which had been packed, literally, for weeks, and clutching [your sister] by the hand. They all piled in the car, and Tina started backing out. I yelled, "Wait for me!" You were the prettiest newborn I've ever seen. All the corpsmen thought so, too. They misunderstood your name, and made a little sign for your bassinet in the nursery that said, "Candy." None of the other bassinets had labels. And from somewhere they found a little ribbon (red) for your hair. When they brought you to me to go home--two young men--they told me they didn't want to let you go.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Back to catching up.

The next day of my sister's visit, we went with younger son out to a nearby state park for a hike. This time we parked near the boat dock and I let my younger son pick the trail and navigate for us.
It starts along the edge of the lake and then into the woods.
Found art.
At one point, my son stopped short, pointing to the black snake crossing the path in front of him.
My son gently guided him off the path with the stick and we all stood and watched him glide off across the leaves.  Not a snakephobe in the group - we all thought he was beautiful.
We found lots of feathers on the walk, but I wasn't sure what bird this one belonged to.  Something biggish.
All told we hiked about 6 miles, on yet another perfectly gorgeous day.