Black eyed Susies

Black eyed Susies

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Everyone is shocked and saddened at the untimely, seemingly senseless death of Robin Williams. Me, too -- saddened, I mean. Really, really saddened, because he was one of the most talented actors ever. The brilliant gift he had, the ability to be comic, almost beyond funny, in one minute and to turn it into tragedy/pathos the next instant -- yes, I'm truly sad for the loss of such an immense talent. How few there are with such a gift! But I'm not shocked, nor am I even surprised.

It was in his eyes, even when he was being hilariously, uproariously funny, the sadness that was at his core. When he was still, you could see it. He made others laugh, but he wasn't sharing in our hilarity. It's the look of a true manic/depressive, a person with bi-polar disorder, whatever you choose to call it. When things are good, they are very, very good; and when they are bad, it's just beyond awful. The ones who have it the worst are the most genuinely gifted -- and suffer the most when they fall.

If you've been close to someone with bi-polar disorder, you know what I mean. If you haven't, perhaps you just write such behavior off as a weakness, a lack of self-control, laziness, a tendency toward melancholy, or a need for dependence on something. Most of the people who have this disorder do also have dependency (self-medication) issues. How many times does alcoholism, drug abuse, obesity -- any behaviior that seems to indicate a lack of self-control -- mask a much deeper, darker problem?

Surely the death of this genius actor will cause a new focus to be directed to the mystery and the questions surrounding mental illness. And maybe it will help some sufferers to get the help they need. In that respect, maybe his death won't have been in vain nor seem like such a useless waste of a bright mind. Perhaps we will think of his senseless death and begin to look at those around us with new eyes, to try and see into their inner beings rather than just the outward appearance which may present as disregard or even nonchalance. But no matter how much help is available or how much others care, it will always be up the individual with the problem to accept help. Therein lies the hardest part of this problem. It's a tough problem -- too tough for Robin Williams. What about those you know -- or you? Surely death isn't the only answer.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Relic

 
Someone is out standing in his field, yes he is. Truly outstanding.
I'm always glad when he asks me to go along on a ramble. This morning we were heading out to a remote location, but first we stopped to check the green-graze. It's nearly ready to harvest, to be turned into juicy silage for next winter's feeding. That will happen near the end of this week.
 
 
It was a beautiful morning, and we needed to go to the way-to-the-back-of-beyond place to close some gates in preparation for getting up cattle the next morning.


Sadly, not all the wildlife in our country is desirable. Wild hogs are becoming a terrible scourge. The conservation department is working to help get rid of them, and they've trapped quite a few off this place. Lately they are trying something new. Believing there are 30 or more staying in this locale, they've set up this big net.


See the pile of corn around the base of the center pole? It looks like something has been scratching in it...hope it's hogs and not just coon. It's an awful big net just to catch an ornery coon or two.


There is something surprising near the silos.



Usually, the farmers in this family are diligent about cleaning up the pastures of debris, but I guess this was sort of unique. It has been sitting in this same spot for all of the 50 years since our family purchased this farm. All this area was brush and woods at one time, but as the clearing and grass planting and pasture establishing progressed, this relic was left to sit, a reminder of days gone by.


Looking into the hopper of the old pull-type combine, the only harvest it now anticipates might be a few wild blackberries.


Ripe ones are few and far between yet. See the one lonely black one?


Model no. 76, McCormick. Wish I knew what year it was made.


The guys have worked hard to get rid of blackberries, which are invasive and a nuisance to deal with, but I'm always glad to find a few still surviving. They aren't quite ripe yet, but there's a pretty decent crop coming on.


My morning snack.


We didn't see any sign of cattle as we progressed toward the big mountain to the west ...


... nor as we looked south toward Caney Mtn.


This is why. Mamas and babies were all congregated in this oasis, where there is welcome shade from the hot sun and a supply of fresh, cold spring water.


The cattle know how to find the best water.


The stream gets low in the middle of a hot summer, but this year, because we've gotten consistent rains, the flow is strong.


Such a cool, inviting place -- no wonder the cattle gather here and stay during the heat of the day.


You've all heard of Watergate? Well, this is a homemade one.


He's pulling some fencewire a bit tighter where it has gotten loose.


These walnuts are already nice and big, and the trees are really loaded. A good crop this year ...


... but not many gooseberries.


As we were leaving this farm, I saw this reminder of the farmwife who lived here long ago -- common daylilies were scattered all around the old homesite, all that is left of her handiwork. There was once a lovely white lilac here, but it died a long time ago. When it was still living, I tried digging up a start and took it to Mississippi, but it didn't make it. Dug at the wrong time of year to transplant. Still, I remember.


Masses of fleabane grew around the gate, having escaped a hard-working farmer's efforts to eradicate weeds. Do you think there is some flea-repelling property to this pretty plant, to have given it such a name? Most people just call them weeds, but I think they are so sweet and pretty and daisy-like.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

While you were sleeping ...

 
It was a foggy morning as the sun arose over the hills, so the fellows had to wait a little while before heading out to gather cattle. 

 
Finally, they were off! There he goes, on his trusty steed. The real steeds are livin' the life of Reilly these days, spending all their time sleeping, eating, sleeping some more -- Lucky, Peppy and Smoky retired two years ago when someone's back decided horseback was no longer an option. We don't hear them complaining. 

 
While I waited, I noticed that while we'd slept the night away, some workers had been busy. The field and roadsides were positively bedecked in thousands of small webs. Some were very intricate and closely woven

 



Some were cup-like, as this one was, and made of the finest gossamer.

 
 
Most were suspended from one stalk of fescue. The dewdrops made them visible, like the tiniest strings of pearls.
 
 
I am just amazed, over and over again, at the weaver's skill.
 

 

 

 


 

As the day dawned, other creatures began to get busy, as well.
 


Webs weren't the only lovely things to behold around me.
 

 
Blackberries are beginning to swell on their prickly vines.
 
 


Gooseberries need to be really ripe before I take a bite.

 

The cool green of these delicate ferns is one of my favorite gifts of nature.

 

 
Mother Nature creates the loveliest bouquets.
 
 
Here they come -- 75 mamas and babies, and my job is to turn them in to the corral that is behind that truck. I'm glad to say there were no ornery ones this morning, and they did just what I wanted them to do.
 
Day three of summer cattle working is now in full swing. Only another four weeks of these early, early mornings! I don't like to get up before daylight, but once I'm up and out there, I'm so well rewarded by all there is to see, if I just look around.
 
Friends, take time to look!


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Humble desserts


Another winter storm, another morning in the kitchen – at least, that’s what it means for me. In fact, it’s been a recurring theme this winter. Cold, inclement weather just seems to inspire me to cook, bake, read recipes, cook some more and eat. And there is ample evidence to prove it – and that’s all I’m gonna say about that!
Church services were cancelled this morning (a good thing, since the ground and the roads are covered in sleet) so off to the kitchen I sailed. Hmmm, what to make? A cake? Cookies? I opened the refrigerator for inspiration and this is what I took out:



Beautiful, fresh eggs from a friend’s flock! Thank you, Michelle Pointer, for being so generous with your cackleberries. There’s just something about a full tray of fresh eggs that makes one feel as if anything can be endured.
And with just a little fixing up, not only can one endure, one can be transported to the very heights of culinary delight, at least to my way of thinking.



I’m talking about pie, of course … my favorite, custard pie.
I seem to lean toward humble desserts (an earlier post raved about the delights of bread pudding.) And what pie is more humble than old-fashioned custard? Eggs, milk, a bit of sugar, a sprinkle of nutmeg, a pinch of salt, a generous dose of vanilla and you have the makings for the quickest, easiest (an electric mixer is not even needed), healthiest (my personal rating) pie on the planet. Most any old time these items can be found in my cupboard and fridge, so it is my go-to pie.

But the best thing going for custard pie is that it is positively delicious!
I’ve been in love with Dear Custard for the longest time. I remember my great-granny making it with her own fresh eggs and milk when I was a very little girl, sometimes in a pie shell and sometimes bare naked in custard cups, baked in the oven of her wood-fired cookstove.

Granny’s farm was smack-dab in the middle of our little town, but that didn’t stop her from having 300 hens, from which she sold eggs to the local grocery stores, and a milk cow which lived in her barn on the south side of the highway, the busiest east-west thoroughfare in southern Missouri. Granny, in her old-lady way, would trot across the highway morning and evening to milk her Jersey cow, getting the richest, sweetest milk in the world. When it became obvious that Granny was a threat to traffic (or vice versa -- her trot had slowed considerably) my dad had to sell the cow and Granny was forced to resort to grocery-store milk. She wasn’t a happy granny, and she held on to her precious hens as long as she lived in her big, old farmhouse-in-town.

Back to custard: I think I had to cultivate a taste for custard pie. As a little-bitty girl, I wasn’t fond of the texture. But magically, my palate matured, and by the time I was old enough to understand about quality food I realized this was near to perfect. A flaky crust, a tender, slightly-sweet filling giving off the delicate aroma of vanilla and nutmeg, best served when still slightly warm – all the makings of divine delight.

It took me 35 years to learn how to make my favorite pie. If Granny gets the credit for inspiring my affection for custard, Barbara Pettit deserves kudos for indirectly teaching me how to make a good pie pastry. She was the home economics teacher to both my daughters, and they learned from her and came home and taught me how to make a simple yet successful pie crust.


I still have a little piece of paper taped inside my cupboard door with Ms. Pettit’s recipe, written in Susannah’s high-school handwriting: “2 ½ cups all-purp flour, ½ tsp salt, 1 cup shortening, 8-9 tablespoons ice water, 425.” After all these years and after trying a dozen other pastry recipes, some with butter, some with vinegar, or egg or etc., this is the one I go back to for ensured success. Thank you, Barbara Pettit, for teaching my girls and allowing them to teach me.

 

I roll my pastry onto an old-fashioned tea towel (not terry but smoothly woven) which I’ve covered with flour. This method works well because the pastry won’t stick to it AND because you can lift it with the towel to drape over your hand to transfer it to the pie plate.

Ms. Pettit’s recipe makes two generous crusts, one of which I freeze (Hooray! Next time I need dessert in a hurry, I’m halfway home!) and one of which I immediately fill with custard. Here’s how I make the custard:

4 fresh, large eggs

2/3 cup sugar

2 2/3 cups milk (whole, or if you have skim, use 2/3 cup cream and 2 cups milk)

¼ teaspoon (or a little more) ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla (and spilling a little extra into the mix doesn’t hurt one bit)

Mix all with a whisk, carefully pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake for 15 minutes at 425, then another 25-30 minutes at 350 to come out just right. Check for doneness by inserting the tip of a sharp knife into the filling near the center – it should come out clean.

 

Since I’m crediting inspiring women, I should give Betty the credit for the custard recipe. Ms. Crocker has taught me a lot through the years. I’m dreading the day when her tome comes completely apart. My good friend, Sue Ann Luna Jones, gave Betty to me when I got married. Sue Ann claims she has never read Betty, but I don’t believe her. We’ve always liked the same books.

So, I just made a pot of coffee (Southern Pecan, from Ozark Mtn. Coffee Co. in Ozark, Mo.,) and have cut my favorite farmhand a piece. We’re ready to sit back and watch the sleet pile up and contemplate the blessings of our simple life, over our simple dessert, on this simple Sunday.

 
Honestly, I feel pretty rich!

And that’s my sermon for today …

Friday, February 14, 2014

 
 
 

A special memory...


A precious keepsake of mine is this valentine given by my grandfather to my grandmother in the early 1920s. They were in high school together in Gainesville.
After Grandmother died at a much-too-young age (three days before her 60th birthday), Grandad added this notation below the card’s printed message: “This was the first valentine given to my darling Fay.”
It folds down to become three-dimensional.
On the back of the card Grandad also wrote: “This card was handed to Fay one morning behind the old round heater in the old block high school – perhaps 1922 or 1923. I was too backward to give it to her in public.”

Grandad gave me a small wooden box of Grandmother’s things about the time I graduated from high school. I have their high school and college class rings, some diplomas, a couple of their picture albums and other meaningful items that tell me so much about the young couple they were.

 Grandad and Grandmother were school teachers and very career-minded people who loved teaching. I guess it is appropriate that their romance started in the basement of the old school where they also began their life’s work. Their genuine love for each other surely spilled over into their obvious love of life and love of their work, which influenced many young people through the years…including me. My grandmother gave me the gift of good books and a love of reading and encouraged my faith. My grandfather had a delightful sense of humor, loved sports and inspired my interest in genealogy, all wonderful gifts.



Even though Grandad eventually remarried (to a very dear lady), my grandmother was forever "his darling Fay." Lovebirds till the end, a true Valentine’s Day love story…

Saturday, February 8, 2014


I love winter. I love snow. I love cold weather.

 

I love winter clothes, wearing warm sweaters, warm socks and warm boots. I like bundling up in layers, turtlenecks and wool jackets, like my favorite old gray wool peacoat. These things never wear out; they just increase in character, as edges soften and fray.

I love to be cooped up in the house, and I love to knit warm, woolen scarves and to sew warm, cozy quilts. Colorful yarn and bright, printed fabric provide some just-right color on drab days.



My happy heart sings as the sewing machine purrs, stitching up a cozy topper that will warm my granddaughter’s bed.

I love to keep the tea kettle almost whistling on the back burner of the stove, and I love to hear my husband, bundled up like a bear,

 

come in the back door. I love to make him a cup of strong, hot tea and to see him warm up and relax.

I love to make a big pot of warming soup or stew and let it gently bubble on a low burner for a long time, making the house smell so good for hours. How pleasant for someone coming in from the cold, to enter a delicious-smelling kitchen and know that a wonderful treat is in store for them!

I love to put on lots of layers and head outside into a winter wonderland. I love to see the bare branches of trees silhouetted against a brilliant blue sky.



When those branches are tipped with crystalline ice, it’s just the best, the prettiest sight in the world!

I love to see the snow outlining the branches of bare hardwoods
 
and draped across the arms of evergreens. Cedars and pines are prettiest in this winter garb.
 
I love to come across a wild holly,




 
its red berries providing a lovely counterpoint to its pristine setting.
 
 

I love to drive down a dirt road in the snow, making the first tracks along its pure whiteness. When I stop the truck and get out, the quiet of winter penetrates and quiets my busy mind, the only sound that of the birds twittering and chirping in the thickets that line the way. They scold me for invading their bird-place, but they are also curious, asking each other, “Why is she here?” What human likes to be out in winter?” I hope they know I am a friend and that I’m only there to admire them.

 

I love to crunch through the snow down to the creek. I admire the rugged, beautiful bluffs above, dripping with icicles. I love to see the clear, cold water tumbling over the rocks in the creek, and I love to look for all sorts of tracks in the snow or the mud along its banks.

 

If the roads are too bad for me to navigate them alone, I love to be asked to go for a ride with my favorite farmer to deliver bales of hay to the cattle on the backside of beyond.



I love to see the baby calves in their thick, warm coats, frolicking as they follow their mamas eagerly rushing to the breakfast buffet. Their breath comes out in frosty puffs, and the winter seems to make them bolder and braver, as they curiously examine the truck, sniffing and snorting, then romp away when the camera clicks.

 

I love when he has time to explore a little more on this cold, winter’s day. My favorite thing is to come upon the remains of an old homestead, chimney leaning and doors askew on rusty hinges. I like to think about the pioneer woman who made this a home, who stitched quilt blocks by lamplight on a cold winter’s evening, as her husband read aloud to her or carved a toy for the baby in the cradle.

 

I love to tromp around and look into her cellar, now filled with debris but once her pride and joy. Come fall, its shelves lined with crocks and jars filled with good things to see her family through till spring. Baskets of apples and big heads of cabbage would have provided a taste of something fresh when snowflakes swirled.

 
I love an old barn in winter, its sturdy bones still strong, a reminder of when it sheltered precious livestock, milk cows, draft horses, squealing pigs and bleating sheep. It was the first structure built here that long-ago summer; the family camped out while this most-important part of their livelihood took shape. What an adventure they were living out!


I love to ask my farmer-husband about going to the one-room school when he was a little boy, on a day like this. He and his school-mates were the last generation to get to go to the old school. I love to hear him tell about all the children drawing their desks up close to the pot-bellied stove to keep warm, and the teacher who would play with them at recess as if he was just a big kid himself. I love to hear him tell of taking a big knife to school to cut down saplings during recess and build forts in the woods around the old schoolhouse. And I enjoy the stories of the “bus”, a parent’s old station wagon, getting stuck trying to navigate icy, snowy roads. The boys would get out and push the “bus” out of the ditch. A little snow didn’t shut school down in those days!

 
Today we tune in to a sophisticated weather forecast and know days ahead to prepare for a coming winter storm. We have snug, solid, well-built homes to shelter us when it comes, warmth at the touch of a button, resources to keep the power on in case of an outage, and four-wheel-drive vehicles to take us out and about when we really should stay in.

I, for one (and I know I’m in the minority), say, “Let’s enjoy it.” Every season has its beauty, and winter is no exception. We only need to look to see it.