TMI

I’ve taken myself off Facebook and twitter, not that hardly anyone would notice. Except of course, me, which was the point.

I have shut the door to the party. Once, when I was a teenager, my mother and I were driving into Hartford and we passed by the huge brick Aetna building, I said to her: “I would like to live there so that I could have a party in this part—“ I indicated the vast right-hand wing, “but my room would be here—“ I indicated the equally vast left hand-wing “so I could be alone.” Naturally, she looked at me oddly. But what I was trying to say was that I love people and I love doing things to make them happy, but I find them overwhelming.

So that’s that. Despite FB telling me that so-and-so really misses hearing from me (doubt it) I’m sticking to my decision. Fact is, I don’t miss the party. I do wonder slightly if I am like the ostrich, but then again, I do my bit in my own way, so I feel okay about that.

Interestingly, E.B. White felt the same way about the effect of television: “When I was a child,” he wrote in One Man’s Meat, his book of essays published in 1938, “people simply looked about them and were moderately happy. Nowadays they peer across the seven seas, bury themselves waist deep in tidings, and by and large what they see and hear makes them unutterably sad.”

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The Call of the Wild Rice

Let’s go gather some wild rice. After all, it grows on the fresh water tidal inlet very near where I live. What? You’d rather go to Costco? Naw, we can’t go to Costco, not while there’s abundant wild rice just begging to be harvested. Do I know how to do it? Of course I know. How do I know? Well….I read about it and really, there’s nothing to it. You get in canoe, one person paddles around in the rice, the other person whacks at it with a stick and before long, wild rice is piling up in your canoe. Then what? You take it out. Obviously. There’s nothing to do after that?

Well. Probably. But I’ll find that out when we’ve gotten all the wild rice.

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Me, ricing

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My sister, paddling.

Not much rice is in the canoe. We decide the birds are eating it all. (There are a lot of red-winged blackbirds. Hundreds. They are on the rice stalks. This mollifies my sister somewhat since it tells her that this stuff we are attempting to harvest is, in fact, edible and not another one of my sketchy ideas.)

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Our harvest.

Obviously, the canoe did not get filled up with wild rice.I research what happens next. My sister goes to her house to take an allergy pill. Turns out she is allergic to nature. I dry the rice, as per YouTube instructions.

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I dry and parch the rice.

I parch the rice, ditto.

 

Next the rice needs to be hulled. YouTube says Native Americans stomped on it with soft deerskin thingies on their feet. That seems difficult.

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I squish it with my hands. Ouch. I don’t have soft deerskin mittens.

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I rub it with a rock I picked up on the Maine seashore. That seems to sort of work. But not really.

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Maine seashore rock.

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With hull.

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Without hull.

I hull the frickin’ things one grain at a time. I invite my sister over. She declines.

 

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The almost finished harvest.

I have taken “Gather Wild Rice” off my bucket list.

Whist With the Ladies

Every week I play whist with the Ladies. It started in February of the winter before last. The one where even hardy New Englanders nearly lost it. So much snow, such bitter cold. But an afternoon of whist, we discovered, soothes even the most weary of souls and so every week we met to play, forgetting, for a little time, that there was five feet of snow piled up and that the temperature would go down (again) to minus twenty that night.

Now it’s spring and the leaves are that fresh green that is not yet tired of being green, the birds are calling out their territory, and we play our weekly whist with the doors and windows open.

The Ladies are not young; they have middle-aged children and grown grandchildren and often the conversation as we eat our treat before the game begins is about doctor’s visits or who died. This is not as grim as it sounds, because the Ladies have a solid and sensible cognition of living: things happen, you deal with it, and look for the good.

Recently, I was talking on the phone to one of the Ladies and complaining about something that threw off my carefully prepared schedule. On I went about the list I had made—a list I was proud of—for each day’s activities that now had to be all changed because of this one thing. She listened, making the occasional sympathetic noise. Then she told me about her day. “I went to the funeral today of a friend of mine.”

A pause.

“So things are not as bad as they could be.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. She laughed too. It was the perfect antidote to my vexation.

Vexing things are a part of life; death is a part of life. And really, the most important thing is to enjoy what you’ve got when you’ve got it, which in my case, most certainly includes whist with the Ladies.

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Descended from Wolves

My dog, Buddy, is a Maltese. It’s an ancient breed—two thousand years old. And since the Maltese wasn’t bred for anything but to be a cute companion, that’s two thousand years of lapdog-ness. In a dog-like devotion to please, he fails utterly. He doesn’t care one whit whether you approve of him or not. He is also not keen on taking walks or obeying. He’s kind of like a cat, actually. He is very cute, though.

One day, I went for a hike in the woods and I took Buddy. Once we were away from the road and in the woods, I took his leash off and he seemed puzzled.

“Okay, go run along the trail like a dog,” I told him.

He looked at me as if to say, “What part of ‘lap dog’ are you not understanding?”

I began hiking along the trail. Buddy followed, reluctantly. Then he started to get the gist of it. Oh! Sniff at stuff! Eat deer poop! And that’s when Buddy, ancient breed of luxury, began to let his wolf DNA filter through.

“Yes!” I told him, “you are descended from wolves!”

Now that he’s figured it out, Buddy loves to hike. He gallivants along the trail ahead of me. He sticks his little white head into crevices to scare chipmunks. He laps water from streams when he is thirsty. He hops from rock to rock with insouciance. And once, forded icy cold water up to his chest. He comes alive in the trying of new things.

Often I think we get too comfortable staying within the parameters of what we think are our boundaries—those things we think are our reality. But it’s all a big catch 22.

“Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe… What we believe determines what we take to be true.” David Bohm, physicist.

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Thick and Thin

Yesterday I decided to make my version of Thai noodles and so I brought out the old Cuisinart food processor, remembering as I did so, the woman who gave it to me. Lisa and Nick are my husband’s oldest friends—really his mentors and surrogate parents. They decided to move north after retirement and she, an enthusiastic cook, wanted to start fresh with pots and pans and such in her new kitchen. So she gave me some of her old stuff.

At that time I had a view of meal creation that was less about creation and more about check-off-the-box. I had lived on a farm where I grew most of my food, meat included, and the growing and processing of it took up most of my time outside of my going-to-work job.

My favorite cookbook then was a Mennonite cookbook and it was all about large quantities and efficiency. I would prep ingredients for the week on Sunday and stick them in the freezer. When I got home from work (a fifty mile each way commute) I would look at the schedule (yes, a schedule!) on the refrigerator, (“Monday, chicken casserole, Tuesday: veggie medley, etc.) pull out the appropriate packages from the freezer and assemble it.

But life goes on and the farm and my life on it became history, and now here was Lisa, giving me some really nice kitchen things. There was the Cuisinart, copper saucepans, and Le Creuset skillets. I didn’t know how wonderful these things were at the time, being more familiar with meat grinders and such. But over the years, as I continue to use these substantial, solid kitchen tools—the very antithesis of planned obsolescence—I marvel both at Lisa’s generosity and at her intuition in knowing that someday I would expand my creativity into cooking.

There are gifts that are brief moments of thought, and gifts that are a fulfillment of an obligation, and then there are the gifts that abide through time and thick-and-thin, and enduring friendship is the best of those.

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Unlimited Life

I saw the first wood duck of the spring this morning, as I was sipping my tea upstairs. My eyes are not what they used to be, so I needed the binoculars to confirm. Yes. A male wood duck in breeding plumage. Which, if you haven’t seen one, here is a picture.

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Beautiful, isn’t he?

Wood ducks are small and self-possessed. They swim in a quiet, deliberate, earnest way, keeping to the brushy part of the pond, because they are very shy. Even my figure at the glass windows forty yards away can spook them. It is always a thrill to see one.

Another special moment occurred last week when I spied an unfamiliar duck pair. Out came the binoculars. I stared to see how large they were, if they were diving or just dabbling and their coloring (this one seemed to have a black and white beak.) When I had enough information, I put the binoculars down and got out my Sibley’s Guide to Birds. I flipped through the pages, and it turned out that, without a doubt, I was seeing a pair of ring-necked ducks. Something I had never seen before.

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Here’s what I think. I think that a life of limits becomes an unlimited life when you slow down enough to see the richness around you.

Amaryllis! Amaryllis!

What with the world going to hell in a hand basket, I thought maybe you’d like to read about something uplifting this week.

Two years ago, I took all my individual amaryllis bulbs (always save your amaryllis bulbs; they are very easy to grow to re-bloom) and planted them, with plenty of space between them, in a big blue ceramic pot.

I let the bulbs grow their foliage in the pot all summer, in full sun and I watered and fed them occasionally. When the frost nipped, I cut all the foliage back to the bulbs. Said bulbs, I noticed, were making new little bulbs and now generally being obstreperous and crowding with each other. I hauled the pot into the cold area of the dining room where it sat in the dark, with no watering, for about six weeks. When I saw the bulbs beginning to grow on their own, I hauled the pot (I keep saying ‘hauled” because it is a heavy, large ceramic pot and I want you to appreciate my strength and effort) to the sunny windows of the living room and began to water. And now look. Each bulb has sent up one to two stalks and each stalk has six flowers. That’s a lot of blossoms, each six inches across, and more coming. It’s been blooming for three weeks now.

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So. Save your amaryllis bulbs after they’ve had their flowering. Plant them all together in a big pot. In the summer, let the foliage grow like crazy. Keep the pot watered and feed it once a week with a balanced fertilizer. (I use, I’m afraid, the blue stuff. It just works better for flowering houseplants.) When the nights get nippy in the middle to end of October, cut all the foliage back (ALL of it) to the bulb. Don’t cut the bulb. Put the pot in dark-ish, cool-ish spot. Don’t water. After six weeks or so of this rest, the bulb will start sending up a green leaf or flower stalk. As soon as you see this, bring it out to the light and begin to water. Don’t feed, since the bulb supplies all the nutrients now for the flowers. And sit back and enjoy your own Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (While the rest of the world largely ignores the beauty that is theirs to create.)

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