Saturday, June 30, 2007

Farmers Market Saturday

Janesville has a Farmers Market every Saturday in the summer. Today was glorious, sunny and not too hot, so my husband and I headed downtown. It became clear that we have very different objectives for our time at the farmers market. He makes a beeline for whatever he wants to use in meal preparation. I meander, taking pictures, sipping hot coffee, stopping to socialize with people I know. He bought lettuce and tomatoes; I bought parsley and basil plants. He got impatient; I reminded him this was not a grocery store, but rather an event. I think next time we'll go separately.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Remembering Dad

Ralph and Gene Pierce, about 1933

Ralph Pierce, about 1936

Ralph Pierce and Carol Tess, about 1946

Dad and Mom 1982

I tried to write a post on Father's Day, but I couldn't do it. I've been scanning old family pictures and storing them on the internet because I am afraid that some day we'll have a disaster and all those family records will be lost. When I started going through pictures of my dad, it was overwhelming.

My parents were just twenty years older than me, and I imagined that when I was a retired lady (like now) we would all do things together. What, I'm not sure. As a family we didn't take vacations, both because my dad was a dairy farmer tied to his work, and because my mother's attitude was "There's no place like home." I just thought that we'd all reside on planet earth into our old age. Dad died in 1983 of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, aged 52. Mom joined him in 2005.

My dad was a farm kid who took over the dairy operation when he and Mom married in 1949. He used to ride a Harley back then, but Mom convinced him to sell it to a friend once they started a family. At Mom's funeral the friend confided that he still has Dad's bike, which must be worth a fortune these days. Anyway, despite ulcers and bad knees, Dad milked until about 1967, when he sold the herd and went into business with the friend who bought his Harley, and they sold John Deere equipment for several years. When the business was sold, he became a parts manager for another Deere dealership, and that was his job until his death.

I always thought that his cancer might have been caused by all the chemicals on the farm, all the herbicides and fertilizers that were poured and spread and sprayed on the fields, but his oncologist thought otherwise. I suppose it doesn't matter now, but I think about it.

I had a terrible time coping with his death, but an interesting thing happened. About a month later he came to me in a dream. I had been depressed, thinking I saw the back of his head in pickup trucks ahead of me in traffic, what people do who lose people they love. In the dream the bedside telephone rang, I picked it up, and it was his familiar voice. He said, "Sherry, I'm fine. I want you to stop worrying about me."

I woke up certain in my heart that the voice was real, though in my head I knew I couldn't be. Still, something changed. The grief softened, and I started to live my life again. He was fine because he said so; I could be fine too. I still miss him though, every day.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Gone Fishing

I caught my first fish today.

Actually, it was the second time in my life that I went fishing. The first time I was seven, and my dad took me along in the row boat, but I don't remember having a pole. I remember he had a cane pole, and I remember it was hot on Lauderdale Lake. Dad had chores to do on the farm, so we brought the bluegills home in a pail, and he dumped the fish into a stock tank, thinking to clean them later. Unfortunately for us, the heifers, and for the bluegills, it was a hot day and the cows were thirsty. By the time Dad got around to collecting the fish after milking the stock tank was dry and the fish had expired.

Fast forward fifty years. I recently admitted to an outdoorsy friend that I had never gone fishing, or at least had never caught a fish. So over the weekend he called to ask if we had a joint husband/wife fishing license. A what? I asked. Anyway, the license was bought, and we got up at an ungodly hour to drive to his house. My first impression was that it takes a whole lot of equipment to go fishing. What happened to the cane pole and worms, the row boat at the lake, and the galvanized pail? This was a motor boat with comfortable seats hauled behind an air-conditioned truck, with tackle boxes, nets, rods and reels, a cooler, and I don't know what all. I am not complaining; I just did not realize all the stuff a fisherman has. It was beautiful on the lake, hazy, the air thick with humidty, birds and dragonflies everywhere. The view of the Monona Terrace and the state capitol building was stunning. The mood in the boat was congenial.

It's fortunate that I was enjoying the scenery and the company because it became clear that I was not winning any prizes as a fisherwoman. In fact I only caught one bluegill, though the three of us reeled in enough for supper.

The other part of my fishing experience is that I learned how to clean a fish. I had never approached a raw fish with a knife before, and this was an event about which I had uneasy dreams. I imagined the fish's resentful glare, and I feared an accident similar to the one in an art class involving wood carving, and resulting in four stitches in my left pointer finger. I have a nifty scar to this day. Instead I just took a deep breath and went to it. My more experienced fishing friend did me the favor of filleting the bluegills, to prevent me from mangling the few precious fish we did catch.

The end result was I had a great day, and an even greater supper. My husband, who decided not to learn to gut fish, did a marvelous job of pan frying them, with sides of homemade potato salad and grilled asparagus. We're looking forward to some fresh raspberries later on. This was a good day.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Commonplace Entry - Thirteen Moons

I just finished reading Thirteen Moons, Charles Frazier's second novel. I adored everything about his first book Cold Mountain, the setting, the characters, the epic journey of Inman home from the Civil War to his love, much like Odysseus overcoming obstacles to return to prudent Penelope.

This book had many of the same elements, a man with a passion for a woman, but who is caught up in historic events that shapes his life in ways not always his own choosing. The setting, the Great Smokey Mountains, is the same, and the journey, peopled with an assortment of mountain people, Cherokees, politicians and scalawags. Or am I repeating myself? The lyric language is there, the violence, the sweep of history. But this second book dragged a bit for me, the main character, Will Cooper, just didn't have the appeal that Inman had, especially in the later parts of the book. Perhaps because he lives old age, he comes to much more regret and sadness.

Nevertheless, the book had passages that resonated with me, and that went into my commonplace notebook. There are a couple:

"There is no scathless rapure. Love and time put me in this condition. I am leaving soon for the Nightland, where all the ghosts and animals yearn t travel. We're called to it, I feel it pulling me, same as everyone else. It iss the last unmapped country, and a dark way of getting there. And maybe not exactly Paradise at the end. The belief I've acquired over a generous and nevertheless inadequate time on earth is that we arrive in an afterlife as broken as when we departed from the world. But, on the other hand, I've always enjoyed the journey."

"There was plenty of time for thinking in the winterhouse with the snow banked up to the low eves and the world as silent as death except for the little trance provoking sounds of the fire. I decided that many of Bear's stories and comments shared a common drift. They advised against fearing of all creation. But not because it was always benign, for it is not. It will, with certainty, always consume us all. We are made to be destroyed. We are kindling for the fire, and our lives will stand as naught against the onrush of time. Bear's position, if I understand it, was that refusal to fear these general terms of existence is and h onorable act of definace."

"In the old days Granny Squirrel's recollection, before the arrival of the Spaniards and their metal hats, living long was different. Little changed during your span of time, birth to death. Individual people, of course, came and went, that's the unfortunate transitory nature of people. The physical world surrounding you, though, remained about the same from start to finish. Short of utter apocalyse, the landscape was what it was throughout one's brief life. Animals all the same. No unexpected pigs or elephants erupting confusingly into the world. Food was food. Clothes remained clothes. Meaningless innovations in hat styles had not yet occurred. All that you had learned in childhood remained largely in effect lifelong. When you got old and approached death, it was not an unrecognizeable world you left, for we had not yet learned how to break it apart. Back then, about all that changed was that a few big trees had fallen and many new trees had grown in their places... Does overwhelming change, the annihilation of all you know, create an intensity of memory that would not have existed otherwise? When all you know is lost and gone forever, does it make you want to let go or hang on tighter?

All I can say is that we are mistaken to gouge such a deep rift in history that the things old men and old women know have become so useless as to be not worth passing on to grandchildren."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Poetry Sunday

An Introduction to My Anthology
by Marvin Bell

Such a book must contain—
it always does!—a disclaimer.
I make no such. For here
I have collected all the best—
the lily from the field among them,
forget-me-nots and mint weed,
a rose for whoever expected it,
and a buttercup for the children
to make their noses yellow.

Here is clover for the lucky
to roll in, and milkweed to clatter,
a daisy for one judgment,
and a violet for when he loves you
or if he loves you not and why not.
Those who sniff and say no,
These are the wrong ones (and
there always are such people!)—
let them go elsewhere, and quickly!

For you and I, who have made it this far,
are made happy by occasions
requiring orchids, or queenly arrangements
and even a bird-of-paradise,
but happier still by the flowers of
circumstance, cattails of our youth,
field grass and bulrush. I have included
the devil’s paintbrush
but only as a peacock among barn fowl.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Black and White

The Kit Cat Clock

Salt and Pepper

Bucky Cat

It is the solstice, the first day of summer. However the sun is behind clouds here in southern Wisconsin, and it looks like it's going to be a rainy day. I had intended to have photos of summery things, ice cream, flowers, swimming holes, but instead all the black and white cats and in my house called out to me.

The Kit Cat Clock was a gift from my husband. Unfortunately the kitty no longer wags his tail or rolls his eyes, so I'm thinking that he may be retired for a livlier model. These goofy cats have been around since the 1930's, and according to the official Kit Cat Clock web site, this is the 75th anniversary of their production. I remember back in the 1950's when my grandpa Pierce would occasionally take us all out for a Sunday dinner. I was young enough that someone was cutting up my meat, but I remember a black and white cat clock in the diner. I couldn't take my eyes off it. These days you can order them in neon colors, with rhinestones around their eyes, or wearing football helmets. I'm sticking with the classic, tail swinging or not.

The salt and pepper set was a birthday present from my mom. I like novelty salt and pepper sets, but my husband thinks they are tacky. Tacky? To me they are just fun, and their colors make them perfectly easy to use. Which one do you grab when the shakers are in the shape of chickens (I have those too), or ears of corn? No counting the holes or shaking a sample into your hand with these.

Then there is Bucky, the circus cat. What a tightly wound machine she is! She sings for her morning milk, leaps into the air for no apparent reason, and is our personal lap warmer. She also keeps the house safe from birds by scolding them from the window sill, and occasionally launching herself at the glass. I have been reading a book called Fifty Show Biz Tricks You Can Teach Your Cat. With the aids of the little brass bell and bits of aged cheddar cheese I have taught Bucky to sit, stand, and shake on command. Well, most of the time. Right now every time she sees me she sits, lifts her paw, hoping for a treat. The book went back to the library, but one of these days I may teach her to jump through a hoop.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Home Again

The harbor in Algoma

Goats on the roof of Al Johnson's Swedish restaurant in Sister Bay

I don't seem to stay home much these days, even though this time of year is one I enjoy in my house and garden. I drove north Friday with goals to meet up with friends and family, to do some doll shopping and some gallery hopping. I hate to use the phrase, but mission accomplished.

On Friday I packed my bags and drove to the Fox River valley to meet an online friend, a woman with whom I have discussed books on AOL. She wasn't the first; over the past decade I have met a dozen or so fellow readers in person. It was frightening initially, and exciting. Would I recognize this person? Would we get along? Was the individual actually who he or she claimed to be? But my worries have disappeared as each person has turned out to be very much whom I expected, and in each case it was a matter of meeting an old friend for the first time. This time too we fell into talk of family and books that lasted through lunch and on into the afternoon.

Saturday was the Algoma doll show, an event I have attended the past several years. Usually the show has been in July, but the earlier date suited me. For one thing, the Door County area becomes clogged with tourists about the 4th of July, so this time was less crowded. The show was only one day this year and there were fewer dealers, but I still managed to find a pretty little composition Shirley Temple. I also drove over to Forestville to buy some dried cherries and some chocolate covered dried cherries for snacks. Later on my aunt and I managed to get in some catching up, some eating out, and some girl time together.

Sunday I headed out to do my annual tour of Door County art galleries. The trip started out with a first. As I was driving the county road headed toward Sturgeon Bay I had to put on the brakes. Traffic both ways was stopped, and it took a moment to realize why. A fawn just losing its spots stood uncertainly at the side of the road, considering whether to sprint ahead or to turn back toward the field and distant woods. Four cars waited and watched, and the fawn turned chose the field. Everyone was on her way. I wandered through several favorite galleries in Fish Creek, Ephraim, and Sister Bay. It's inspiring to me to visit art galleries, to occasionally recognize favorite artists, and to wonder if my own work might ever measure up to some I saw exhibited there. At the end of the day I planned to drive to my brother and sister-in-law's house. They currently live in the Milwaukee area, and have been building their retirement home in Door County for years. Recently they added a garage and master bedroom, and my goal was simply to see the progress. I was really surprised to see their name on the marquee of a local tap, announcing a family reunion. So I did a U turn and crashed the party. My trip to see their empty house turned out to be a good visit and a full tour.

I never like driving home on Sunday because of the heavy weekend traffic, so Monday was my travel day. I love to take the scenic route home through small towns and rolling countrysides. There is a beautiful view of Lake Winnebago from a wayside on highway 151. The road drops away, and the wayside shows a vista of farms, trees, and the lake in the distance. I have stopped a dozen times to snap pictures that I later tried to paint. Monday I just got out and sketched for a half hour. I told my aunt about this place last year, and she startled me. Her grandmother, my great Grandma Smith, had a summer vacation home on the shores of that same lake. I wonder where it was. I like to think it was near my favorite spot.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Headed Out (EDM #37)

This morning I'm headed out of town, for my annual solo journey up to Algoma to see my aunt, attend a doll and teddy bear show, and tour the art galleries of Door County. The pen and ink drawing is of my key ring, complete with Bucky Badger. I love this yearly journey, a chance to savor the beauty of Wisconsin, from rolling farmland to the sparkle of Lake Michigan. My aunt, whom I have always loved, is my surrogate mom now that Mother has passed away. A former phy-ed teacher, she knows everyone, still loves to do water aerobics, and is perfectly willing to sit up late to talk and join me in an old-fashioned (recipe follows), and a snack of crackers and cheese. She always bakes brownies for the doll show, which is fund raiser for her church. I have bought lots of old Barbies, Kens and Skippers from her basement, the ones my cousins left with her, and no longer have any interest in. Even though I am trimming my own collection these days, I wouldn't miss the chance to visit, talk dolls and family, and sip a summer cocktail.

Aunt Ellen's Old Fashioned Cocktail

Take a bottle of bitters, and shake enough in to cover the bottom of a tumbler.
Fill the glass with ice.
Add a shot of brandy.
Top off with diet Sprite.
Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


When I turned fifty, I was a little startled to open a mailed invitation to join AARP, which seemed to suggest that I was turning into a blue-haired little old lady. I mean, really. Just because I clearly remember Howdy Doody and the day Kennedy was shot, doesn't mean I need a rocking chair. I work every day on keeping my image relatively youthful. I have a good relationship with the woman who colors my hair, and the one who removes the brown rust spots from various parts of my chassis. I work out at the gym with an iPod in my ear, but try not to wear my athletic shoes outside the gym or the back yard. I am, perhaps, in denial about my elder status. We won't even consider how my hips an knees feel every day when I roll out of the sack.

But one day while cruising around travel sites, I started looking at Elderhostel trips. I signed up for catalogs, and all winter we drooled over trips around the United States and far away foreign destinations. The catalogs kept coming, and we kept looking. Finally we decided to sign up for two, and see what we thought about touring with a group, something we seldom do. Our thought was to try something near enough that we could drive, something short enough so that if we didn't enjoy it, we wouldn't suffer long. You can see we're not big risk takers.

So, this week we experienced our first Elderhostel trip, a one day cruise on the paddlewheel riverboat The Spirit of Peoria, and a day of hiking at Starved Rock State Park, outside Utica, Illinois. To go on an Elderhostel trip you must be at least fifty-five years old, and that meant that the majority of our fellow travelers were our seniors, many our parents' age. That was the first adjustment we had to make. For a couple (besides us) it was a first Elderhostel trip, but many had been taking these trips for years. One lady had taken twenty-three trips (her Eldhostel Passport was about filled up). Many had been to places like China, Morocco, and the Ukraine. To be fair, these folks were in good physical shape, and were interesting; there were no stragglers. There were former teachers, engineers, architects, all sorts of folks. Another adjustment I had to make was going from being an organizer of groups (as a former teacher I know how to organize and run field trips), to a participant. It's nice not having to shuffle papers, make phone calls, count heads and settle problems, but it felt strange. Since I retired I have gotten really accustomed to making my own decisions about what to do hour to hour. This trip was planned up from breakfast buffet to supper. Which brings me to food. A nice thing about Elderhostel trips is that all meals are included, and no tipping is allowed; think all-inclusive resorts The trade off for that is there were few interesting food choices; the buffets tended to be pretty basic. What can you expect when trying to feed fifty? My understanding is that most groups are smaller than this one. Finally, I had to get used to wearing a name tag, something I was happy to stop doing once I left teaching. Still, it was nice to be able to call strangers by name, and to have folks call me by name as well.

Here's what we did. The first day we checked into the Holiday Inn at Peoria, received our very complete and well organized packet of materials, and had an introductory buffet dinner. A local storyteller did a presentation about the geology and Native American culture of the area.

The second day we boarded the paddlewheeler The Spirit of Peoria, for a one day cruise up the Illinois River to Starved Rock State Park. The boat folks took all our luggage directly to Starved Rock, so all we had to do was don our name tags and get on the boat for breakfast (and lunch, and wine and cheese, and dinner). My husband and I have taken river cruises on the Mississippi Queen, and while this is a much smaller boat with no staterooms, the experience was similar. The main thing you do is sit and watch the shore pass by, look for birds and turtles, comment on bridges and little towns. There is some music, a "riverlorian' to fill passengers in on local landmarks and history, and a bit of entertainment. In this case the entertainment was some storytelling and a sing along. At the end of a relaxing, warm day we arrived at Starved Rock, were trolleyed up to the CCC built log lodge, and treated to a short presentation by a Mark Twain impersonator (sort of Hal Holbrook lite).

The third day started with the usual buffet, and a hike to the actual Starved Rock. That was followed by a couple short introductory films about the park and the CCC at the visitor center. Then it was back to the lodge for a presentation by a show and tell lecture about local Native American culture by an energetic retired botanist. Another buffet. I skipped the second half of the lecture and a Native American dancer to do some sketching and take a longer hike back into a couple of Starved Rock's beautiful green canyons. I felt the need to make some personal choices about my time, and to be briefly away from the large group. We had a nice sit-down dinner, including a cake for a couple celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary and a woman who turned eighty (she didn't look it). After dinner a couple who rehabilitate raptors described their program and showed us an injured bald eagle, a peregrine falcon, and a great horned owl. I found that talk to be fascinating, and I had trouble taking my eyes off the owl, who swiveled its head better than Linda Blair.

Wednesday we took a bus to one of the eight locks on the Illinois River, and saw another film about the development of the lock and dam system on that river. We also watched two sets of barges go through the lock, something about as interesting to me as watching paint dry, but it fascinated many of the men, so I just stared across the water to the beautiful limestone cliffs on the opposite shore.

We drove home yesterday to a pile of mail and a lonely kitty. Our next Elderhostel trip is scheduled for September, to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington, where my grandmother lived as a child. After that we'll decide if we need to wait a few more years to enjoy what this group has to offer, or if we want to try another excursion further afield.

I'd be interested to hear from other people who have taken Elderhostel trips.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Poetry Sunday

The drawing is of coins from a collection my Grandpa Pierce gave me when I graduated from college in 1973. It was a wooden cigar box labeled "Standard Whiffs" filled with a crazy assortment of foreign and American coins, even Confederate scrip. Here are a couple silver dollars, a wheat penny, a Civil War token that says army and navy, and a cent from the 1800's. I didn't draw a nickle, but that's what todays poem is about.


an introductory lecture

This morning we shall spend a few minutes
Upon the study of symbolism, which is basic
To the nature of money. I show you this nickel.
Icons and cryptograms are written all over
The nickel: one side shows a hunchbacked bison
Bending his head and curling his tail to accommodate
The circular nature of money. Over him arches
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and, squinched in
Between that and his rump, E PLURIBUS UNUM,
A Roman reminiscence that appears to mean
An indeterminately large number of things
All of which are the same. Under the bison
A straight line giving him a ground to stand on
Reads FIVE CENTS. And on the other side of our nickel
There is the profile of a man with long hair
And a couple of feathers in the hair; we know
Somehow that he is an American Indian, and
He wears the number nineteen-thirty-six.
Right in front of his eyes the word LIBERTY, bent
To conform with the curve of the rim, appears
To be falling out of the sky Y first; the Indian
Keeps his eyes downcast and does not notice this;
To notice it, indeed, would be shortsighted of him.
So much for the iconography of one of our nickels,
Which is now becoming a rarity and something of
A collectors’ item: for as a matter of fact
There is almost nothing you can buy with a nickel,
The representative American Indian was destroyed
A hundred years or so ago, and his descendants’
Relations with liberty are maintained with reservations,
Or primitive concentration camps; while the bison,
Except for a few examples kept in cages,
Is now extinct. Something like that, I think,
Is what Keats must have meant in his celebrated
Ode on a Grecian Urn.
Notice, in conclusion,
A number of circumstances sometimes overlooked
Even by experts: (a) Indian and bison,
Confined to obverse and reverse of the coin,
Can never see each other; (b) they are looking
In opposite directions, the bison past
The Indian’s feathers, the Indian past
The bison’s tail; (c) they are upside down
To one another; (d) the bison has a human face
Somewhat resembling that of Jupiter Ammon.
I hope that our studies today will have shown you
Something of the import of symbolism
With respect to the understanding of what is symbolized.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Fun and Games

In general I am not much of a game player. I don't play cards, so when friends or family sit down to poker or sheepshead at the holidays I am out of it. I don't even know who to play solitare. As a child I liked Chutes and Ladders and Candyland, and later Monopoly and Life, and sometimes Clue. But really I haven't played those since college, since I don't have children and there isn't much call in day to day life to sit down to board games. I remember for a while in the 1980's we played Trivial Pursuit with the brothers and sisters-in-law, but at heart they are sheepshead players, and were just trying to be nice to cards-impaired me.

One one game that my husband, who is also a former English major, and I play is Scrabble. Sometimes we play at home, but often it is something we do away. We've played in motel and hotel rooms, in cabins, on the beach, cruises. Because Scrabble has become part of our vacation mindset, play aften becomes tied up with liquid refreshment, margaritas, say, or rum punch. There is strategy here, whoever loses a game (usually we play three games) buys or makes the next round. Occasionally there are other penalties for losing which I shouldn't go into here. We are fairly evenly matched, though he earns winning scores slightly more often than I do. My secret plan is to start playing online and sharpen my skills, but playing online doesn't have the appeal of a face-to-face challenge, and some serious psyching-out. We typically score in the 300's, which I know is nothing special compared to Scrabble experts, but we're happy. When you're playing Scrabble for a few hours with your sweetie, everyone wins. The photo is of my last winning game board.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Sidewalk Art

"All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."
- Pablo Picasso

I think I enjoy about being retired is that I can take walks without worrying about what else I should be doing instead.

No more "I should be planning finals."
"I should be cleaning and doing laundry"
"I should be grading that set of ninth grade essays."
"I should be working out."

I have time to keep my house and laundry acceptably clean, and I call my walking working out at least part of the time. I try to remember to take my camera with me just for chances to take pictures like this one. Three little girls in the neighborhood like to do their artwork on the sidewalk. I think their pictures are charming, direct, colorful, honest. They aren't worried if the pictures are good enough, or if they'll sell. They are just a joyous expression of life. That's something to consider next time I start fretting about my own drawing and painting. Sometimes it's good to just relax and just have fun.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Windows of the Soul

Everyday Matters #33, Draw an Eye

This is my sketch of an eye, not my own. I found a book at the library on drawing eyes, then clipped some photos with eyes, and worked from one of those. I'm pleased with the result.

My eyes have given me grief for years. I was a first grader when I got my first pair of obnoxious cat eye style glasses. Nearsighted. Mother said it came from sitting too close to the television, but I am sure I sat close to see the picture better. Maybe it was from a particularly nasty case of measles I had. I don't know. But my nearsightedness worsened every year, requiring thicker and thicker lenses. In high school I tried contact lenses, with limited success. In college I tried soft lenses, a bit better, but it uncomfortable with all the reading I did as an English major. Finally about twelve years ago I had RK surgery (this was before Lasik), and that seemed to solve my problems. No more heavy glasses, no more fogging up in temperature changes, no more being blind in the swimming pool. I felt safer, because I didn't need glasses to find my way out the door.

Then in 2002, near disaster. I was eating lunch when I painless fireworks exploded in my right eye. Bright sparkles, followed by ominous swarms of black dots, followed by a dark fog. It was a detached retina, a danger for very nearsighted people. I had emergency surgery, and woke up looking like the pirate queen, with bruises and a spectacular eye patch. I had a shelf of antibiotics and other medications, and I had to hold my head sideways, almost on my shoulder, to keep a gas bubble the surgeons injected in place. I slept sitting up for weeks.

Gradually the post surgical pain lessened, the fog began to clear, and I began to heal. Today I can see pretty well. I have a few floaters that are mine for life (I named one Casper), but I can read, watch movies, do my artwork, carry on with my life. I have a half dozen pairs of reading glasses scattered around the house, but I am happy to be able to see my little corner of the world. For that I am very thankful.

Monday, June 4, 2007

June is Dairy Month

June is Dairy Month in Wisconsin. I grew up on a dairy farm which meant for eighteen years I drank gallons of whole milk, ate lots of cottage cheese, real butter, and had my hamburgers with cheddar, my baked potatoes with sour cream. I can only hope all this emphasis on dairy was good for my now middle-aged bones; it wasn’t so good for my waist and hip measurements. I didn’t taste skim milk or margarine until I went to college and roomed with a houseful of calorie conscious women; it was a real shock. I digress. Back in the 1960’s I was also a 4-H member, and we always did displays in local businesses for Dairy Month, poster about the health benefits of dairy, usually decorated with cheerful Holsteins. There was usually some sort of recipe contest featuring milk, cheese, or other dairy ingredients. This was pretty much before yoghurt was popular, so I know I didn’t have recipes featuring that. Buttermilk was as exotic as my family got.

I remember one dairy cooking contest I entered with my neighbor, a woman who lived a half a mile away in a house across the road from the end of our long gravel drive. Her goal was to sneak in a cake that featured butter flavoring instead of the real thing. I had a sour cream coffee cake I llked, though on contest day I accidentally doubled the butter (no fake stuff for me). I won in my area with the buttery coffeecake, and I think maybe the neighbor lady won something too. Five dollars each, and we got our name in the local newspaper.

Today I don’t overdose so much on butter or sour cream, but I find it hard to resist berry smoothies for breakfast. There are lots of possible variations, but this one is good. The amounts are variable, and a person can use any fruit in season. Put everything in a blender and drink up. This makes a couple big smoothies.

Banana Strawberry Orange Smoothie

• 1 banana
• 1 handful of strawberries
• 1 cup yoghurt
• 1/2 cup milk
• 1/2 cup orange juice
• a handful of ice cubes

The pen and ink drawing was done last summer at the Janesville Oasis. Bessie is a giant Guernsey cow made of fiberglass. She is something of a local tourist attraction, though the Oasis with its cheese shop fell to a bulldozer, soon to be replaced by a Menards.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Poetry Sunday

Colors Passing Through Us
by Marge Piercy

Purple as tulips in May, mauve
into lush velvet, purple
as the stain blackberries leave
on the lips, on the hands,
the purple of ripe grapes
sunlit and warm as flesh.

Every day I will give you a color,
like a new flower in a bud vase
on your desk. Every day
I will paint you, as women
color each other with henna
on hands and on feet.

Red as henna, as cinnamon,
as coals after the fire is banked,
the cardinal in the feeder,
the roses tumbling on the arbor
their weight bending the wood
the red of the syrup I make from petals.

Orange as the perfumed fruit
hanging their globes on the glossy tree,
orange as pumpkins in the field,
orange as butterflyweed and the monarchs
who come to eat it, orange as my
cat running lithe through the high grass.

Yellow as a goat’s wise and wicked eyes,
yellow as a hill of daffodils,
yellow as dandelions by the highway,
yellow as butter and egg yolks,
yellow as a school bus stopping you,
yellow as a slicker in a downpour.

Here is my bouquet, here is a sing
song of all the things you make
me think of, here is oblique
praise for the height and depth
of you and the width too.
Here is my box of new crayons at your feet.

Green as mint jelly, green
as a frog on a lily pad twanging,
the green of cos lettuce upright
about to bolt into opulent towers,
green as Grand Chartreuse in a clear
glass, green as wine bottles.

Blue as cornflowers, delphiniums,
bachelors’ buttons. Blue as Roquefort,
blue as Saga. Blue as still water.
Blue as the eyes of a Siamese cat.
Blue as shadows on new snow, as a spring
azure sipping from a puddle on the blacktop.

Cobalt as the midnight sky
when day has gone without a trace
and we lie in each other’s arms
eyes shut and fingers open
and all the colors of the world
pass through our bodies like strings of fire.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Lost and Found, EDM Challenge #4

I was married in 1975, and one of my wedding gifts was a set of Noritake china from my Grandma Tess, the set she got when she married in the 1920’s. The pattern is Sultana, and there are cups, saucers, plates and bowls of various sizes, as well as serving pieces, for twelve people. The pattern has a yellow band decorated with white flowers, and black medallions with roses. Each piece is trimmed in gold, much worn these days. On most Sundays when I was a child our family drove to Elkhorn for a noon meal with my grandparents. It was never a dinner because my dad had to milk cows around 4:00 PM, and the timing wouldn’t work out. These noon meals were always served on this china. When I received the set I noticed there were eleven china cups, and one odd one. It turned out that my great grandmother, Grandma Smith, had broken a cup, and replaced it with one in a different pattern to make up for the accident. So, for years I searched around for a matching cup, flea markets, antique stores, later on the internet. I subscribed to, and finally this month the cup became available. So after years and years I have the complete set. Nobody had better break one of those cups! Actually it is very unlikely, considering we only use china once in blue moon. The sketch is done with Micron pen with Plume markers.