Friday, July 29, 2011

Silver Lining

As many of you know, an empire of mice has set up shop in my basement.  I'm so clueless -- I didn't even notice until there were mouse droppings on my desk.  Of course, neither did the Orkin man who is paid to come once a month and notice such things.  He had the good grace to be embarrassed about it. 

Although, in an excess of zeal, I did take pictures of both the mouse droppings and the dead mice, I'll spare you, and, instead, I'll share the good that has come out of the evil empire of mice.  

My basement has been a disaster for years.  It's the place where unwanted and seldom needed things go to die.  Don't tell me you don't have one.  I know you do.  A few years ago, I cleaned up the finished side and installed my office and all my wool stuff there.  Of course, all the other junk just got pushed to the unfinished side where it posed a hazard to any workmen attempting to access the heat pump or the hot water heater.  

I used to say I was part of a federal program to improve neighborhood morale. I received a federal grant to keep my house messy so that my neighbors could say to themselves "at least my house isn't as bad as theirs."  It was a public service. 

Messy storage area

Apparently, it's been a public service to the mouse population instead.  

Cleaned, disinfected and
organized shelves with dog
So, now, for the bright side.  Having found six dead mice spurred not only me but the two girls to action.  We've been working together a few hours a day for over a week to clean out the basement storage area.  We've taken loads and loads of stuff to Goodwill, to offsite storage, and to the curb.  We've discovered old treasures and baby toys and decided what we really value and what we can let go of.   It's not nearly done yet, but I'm starting to see the end. 

I NEVER could have done this without the girls' help.  They needed to be involved for several reasons.
  • First, it's a big job and I couldn't handle it alone.  Even with three of us, it's overwhelming.
  • They're part of the family and I should be able to expect them to contribute to its welfare.
  • A large percentage of the stuff is theirs -- their old toys and their keepsakes.  I couldn't make good decisions about what was precious to them and would probably throw out the very thing they loved most (and store forever some old trash).
  • Another large percentage of the stuff is family stuff -- I hesitate to say "heirlooms" but stuff like that.  By going through it together, they know where the good china and crystal are and that we actually have silver trays and chafing dishes (God knows I never use them).  They were able to express their interest in several items and I marked them so they can have them when they need them. 
So, in the end, the mice moving in will result in a large albatross being removed from around my neck.  What a relief it will be to be able to walk freely in the storage area and actually find the stuff I need (instead of throwing my hands up and buying a duplicate).  We may actually use the good china one of these days! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The First Tomato

Today's good thing is the first home grown tomato of summer.  This year I planted five tomato plants, and -- surprisingly -- they're all doing great.  I think the wet spring must have helped because usually my tomato plants shrivel up or sucumb to some disease or just act puny.  This year they look robust and bursting with life. 

I admit, I did lose one to the rabbits (or something).  When it was just small, something ate it right down to the ground.  But, undetered, I replaced it with a Better Boy from Walmart and the replacement is doing fine.  Four of the five (not the Better Boy) are heirloom tomatoes.  I've got two Cherokee Purple and a Principe Borghese and an heirloom bush tomato that I threw in the cart when I bought the Better Boy. 

Jeff loves caprese salads made with fresh sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, and in a few weeks he should be able to eat them to his heart's content. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Many Happy Returns

Just a quick note today to say "Happy Birthday" to my man.  I'm glad you were born! 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kathryn's House, Part 5: Saucer Magnolias

Today's good thing is no new mice in my traps and no new mouse poop on my desk.  Was there only one mouse?  Nope, I take that back.  Three new mouse poops on my desk.  The war goes on.

This is the last installment on my trip to Kathryn's house.  I figure I can milk a weekend trip for only so long. 

This posting is about heritage and tradition and keeping a flame alive ... maybe. 

Ernest & Cordie Wright Parker
My Grandmother Parker was a remarkable woman, although I never appreciated it until after her death.  When I was a child in the 60s, she was sort of frightening ... a plump woman with frizzy gray hair who was frequently without her dentures and had loud opinions on everything from the obscene shortness of my cousin's skirts to those "niggers" who were getting uppity.  She seemed to talk endlessly of death and tragedy.  Unlike my maternal grandmother, who was soft and sweet-smelling and spoiled her three grandchildren at every opportunity, Grandmother Parker had dozens of grandchildren and couldn't keep all of us straight.  Her delivery of a silver dollar for each birthday, couldn't compete with Grandmother Isenberg's lavish gift giving.

As I grew older, though, I had more appreciation for the strength and courage of this farm woman.  In 1933, in the middle of the Great Depression, she was left to raise ten children on a farm alone.  My dad was nine years old when his father died, and he was about the middle of the children in age.  At the age of 39, as a woman alone, Cordie Parker managed to keep her family of ten fed and clothed, when others were jumping out of windows and despairing. 

Not only fed and clothed, but educated.  Grandmother Parker set a great store by education because she had always wanted to go to high school herself. In her family there was only enough money to send one of the daughters away to high school, and Cordie's crippled sister Ada was the logical choice.  Cordie made sure that all of her children graduated from high school and most of them even went to college -- and she was so proud when my father received his Ph.D.  

We grew up on family stories about the children picking cotton and Grandmother Parker baking wonderful bread and selling it at the roadside.  When the family cow had a calf, my father was given the calf to raise and was able to sell it to make his first college tuition payments. 

We have a legacy of a close and loving family.  And they're still close.  Although Dad is now 87, only two of the seven brothers and none of the three sisters have passed on, and they stay in close touch with each other.  

Kathryn's old house in Paducah.
The magnolia was planted at the corner
 on the right of the picture.
To finally get to the crux of my story:  Grandmother Parker was known for her green thumb.  She could get anything to grow.  At the old family farm in North Carolina, there was a lovely saucer magnolia tree and, at some point, my Dad and Mom took cuttings from it and planted them in the front of our house in Lexington.  The tree grew large and when Kathryn moved to Paducah, she took a rooted piece of it and planted it in the front yard at her old house in Paducah. And it grew there.  Now that she's moved to her new house, she's rooting cuttings of the old tree to plant at the new place. 

Rooted cutting of Grandmother Parker's
saucer magnolia

"Greenhouse" for three of the cuttings
we hope will root in
about a month.
 She generously gave me one of the rooted cuttings and we started 10 more in hopes that some will root.  I've got them down here in the basement under my plant lights and I've got my fingers crossed.  These aren't just ordinary plants -- they're a piece of my heritage.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Kathryn's House, Part 4: The Chickens

Today's good thing is air conditioning!  It's supposed to be in the mid-90s today and it will feel like it's over 100 degrees.  It's a bad day to be an outside angora rabbit.  I put ice water in their water bottles and put frozen 2 liter bottles in their cages to help the bunnies stay cool.  Here's a picture of Genny next to her ice bottle.  Andy seems to avoid his, but surely it provides some relief for him -- if only by cooling the air around it. 

One of the most amazing things at Kathryn's house was the chicken house.  She decided that she wanted some egg-laying chickens, so she researched it, came up with a plan and got some plans for building chicken coops.  Her husband said she couldn't possibly build it herself -- so then, of course, she had to.  Isn't it amazing?!  The things a biochemist can do when she sets her mind to it!

I forget what kind of chickens they are, but they're hybrids and, when they're old enough, they'll lay brown eggs.  They're so much fun to watch -- Ally really got interested in them.  They make a noise like they're questioning all the time. 

The coop is built to provide shelter from the elements and predators, while at the same time allowing the chickens to graze on the ground.  The whole unit is scooted across the yard -- one length every week -- and it leaves behind a trail of slightly greener grass due to the fertilization.    
I still can't believe that she built this elaborate structure all by herself.  She's amazing!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Kathryn's House, Part 3: The Fish

Today's good thing is that my 20-year-old daughter drinks her coffee from a Star Trek mug.  It's my Star Trek mug ... from Ten-Forward on the Enterprise ... you know, the starship mess hall.  She could so easily think I'm completely lame -- and probably does, in other ways -- but she shares my love of geek-dom.  Live long and prosper. 

The third installment about our trip to Paducah is all about the fish.  Kathryn has a large pond on her property and a few years ago they stocked it, first with bluegill and later with largemouth bass that eat the bluegill, and they also added a few catfish for good measure.  However, they had never attempted to catch any of the fish -- until we arrived.

We got some worms, two old fishing poles that belonged to John's Dad, and an inexpensive "family" fishing set of two poles, one short and one long and both completely nonfunctional, and set out for adventure one evening.  Ally had hardly thrown her baited hook into the water when she got the first strike, a bluegill about 6" long.  The "family" fishing rods didn't work at all and we had trouble operating one of John's Dad's rods, but that didn't stop us from catching a whole bunch of bluegill.  I think Ally caught three by herself!  We threw all of them back because they looked too small and later learned that bluegill only get about 6-8" big. 

The next day we were ready to fish!  We went to a sporting goods store and bought another rod and several types of artificial bait and hooks, all based on the advice of a professional fisherman.  Ally couldn't wait when we got home and trotted out to the pond in the middle of the afternoon.  In a few minutes, she trotted back with a large bass in the her hands!  We filled up a cooler with water and put the bass in it -- still unsure exactly what we were going to do with it.  We told Ally not to name it because we might eat it -- so we named it "Sandwich." 

Ally and Sandwich (lens fogged from bringing it out of the cold house)

Sandwich makes an unsuccessful bid for freedom

At that point, we told Kathryn's husband, John, that we were going to have fish for supper and he laughed.  We took our three good rods and new bait and hooks out to the pond and began to catch fish.  It was ridiculous!  Fish were practically begging to be caught!  We ended up with five nice sized bass and two catfish (we threw two more catfish back!) and one bluegill, just to try.  We caught fish even though Ally jumped in the pond to retrieve a bobber and swam around for a while.  I was the worst fisherman of the group and even I caught a bass and a catfish. 

Then came the nasty part -- killing and gutting them.  We decided that killing them by freezing them was the most humane, so we added ice to the water they were in.  I watched a couple of videos on youtube showing how to clean fish and then we spread a plastic cloth on the tailgate of the pickup truck and started in.  As a former biology major, I started the dissection.  After the first fish, I wasn't grossed out but it was hard and messy work. Fortunately, I didn't take any pictures.  Jay and Kathryn pitched in and eventually we got them all cleaned. 

Kathryn cooked the five bass and bluegill with sort of a poaching method using lemon and herbs.  I cooked the catfish by breading and frying them.  They were all delicious and there were no leftovers.  But Jay says that he's cleaned his last fish ....

Ally returns her catfish to the pond
Jay with a catfish

Jay looks like he knows what he's doing
Ally retrieves her bobber
Kathryn with a bass
Ally and her catfish

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Kathryn's House, Part 2: The House

Kathryn's new house received the coveted Engineer's Seal of Approval from Dad.  He was really impressed with how solidly the house was built.  I was impressed with all the woodwork!  The floors are a beautiful cherry hardwood throughout.

And Amish built cabinetry!
With pull-out shelves!

There are also beautiful granite countertops throughout.

And one of the coolest things was this display cabinet above the regular kitchen cabinets.  It lights up and displays your fine pieces in a space that ordinarily doesn't get used very efficiently.  It's sort of like a china hutch, but doesn't take up floor space.  Brilliant!

Kathryn is almost always very practical, so this is really a whimsical extravagance: a pedestal sink.  No storage, pure beauty.  I'm glad she got it.

Of course, there were many sentimental favorites.  I didn't get a picture of the massive oak table that seats 12 that came from the house I grew up in.  I did get a shot of this old stove that we used to have in our sunroom when I was growing up.  Kathryn has built a special home for it and had parts of the stove plated with nickel to add to its beauty.

These pictures used to hang over my Mom and Dad's bed in the old house.

And here's a bookcase that Dad built for Mom about 45 years ago.

I made this stained glass lamp for Kathryn a few years ago.

I'll end the tour with a couple of random shots.  One shows their living room -- they haven't picked out the permanent furniture for it yet, but the fireplace is lovely.  One shows the french doors out to the downstairs patio.  Beautiful!

Here we all are in lineup picture in front of the fireplace:

Dad, my nephew William, me, Ally and Kathryn

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Kathryn's House, Part 1: The Farmer's Market

Ally and I had a fun Fourth of July weekend.  Jeff and Kate may be in Japan and Korea, but WE got to go to Paducah, Ky. We drove down to Lexington on Friday and picked up my Dad and then drove to Paducah to stay with my sister, her husband and my two nephews in their new farm home.  This home has been in the works for years and finally got built and they moved in last November -- and neither Dad nor I had seen it yet!  So we invited ourselves on down.

Kathryn and Dad in front of the house
We had such a good time!  Their new house is fabulous and sits on 80 acres of gently rolling farm land.  We did so many fun things that I'm going to split this blog into several parts and address them separately rather than try to create a huge blog entry.  Today:  the farmer's market.

We arrived late on Friday evening and promptly kicked my nephew Jay out of his room so Ally and I could take it over.  He was very obliging.

Saturday morning, Kathryn and Dad and I took off for the Paducah Farmer's Market.   

I'll let the pictures of the produce speak for themselves:  
We got some corn and apples and watermelon and tomatoes and squash and I'm not sure what else.  Here's a picture of an expert watermelon thumper, my Dad, choosing a watermelon:   
It was a good time, but Kathryn seems unusually excited about that sweet corn she just bought ....