Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I pulled up to the house and re-read the directions. Huh! Looks right. I glanced around. I didn’t see any cars. I prayed they were home; I did not want to make this trip again.

I got out of the car and walked toward the house. The walk angled around to the back. As I approached the backdoor a large Dalmatian lunged out of its house and strained at the end of a chain barking ferociously. I stepped onto the grass to be further away from the jaws. Definitely not friendly. When I rang the bell more barking ensued from inside.

The door was flung open and a large black sheep took up most of the doorway. It took one look at me and started to bark in tandem with the Dalmatian outside. I looked on bewildered. A woman’s hand pushed the sheep out of the way as she peered around the door.

“Yes? Can I help you?”

“Hi. I called. I’m here to see the cat.”

“Oh yeah, come in. My husband’s not home right now.” I stepped into the kitchen.

She was holding the big black dog by the collar. “Why don’t you go into the front room?”

I looked around uncertain.

“Just step over the baby gate. I’ll get Scooter.”

The formal living room had been freshly cleaned. The lemony scent of Pledge still lingered in the air. I sat gingerly on the edge of a chair looking around. The woman tromped down the stairs with a large yellow tabby cat tucked under one arm. She handed him to me. She opened her mouth to say something but at that moment the phone rang. She hurried off to answer it and left me alone with Scooter.

I sat and stroked the big cat. I could feel him trembling every time the dog barked. He was such a love. He didn’t hiss, or squirm or claw. He was clearly miserable living in chaos.

The woman popped her head back around the door.

“That is Scooter. My husband’s parents moved to Florida and didn’t want to take him. They took the dog though. So Jimmy took him. But it is not working out here. There are the dogs, we also have 3 other cats and my daughter is 4. I think there is too much activity here. He is living under our bed and never comes out.”

By this time the cat was purring and butting his head against my hand. I looked down at him. I absolutely could not leave him here. I stood up.

“I’ll take him with me.” I gave him back to her to hold. “I have a carrier in the car.” I hurried out past the still-barking dog. I grabbed the carrier from the car, hurried back inside, stuffed in the bewildered cat and got out of there as fast as I could.

He just sat huddled in the carrier all the way home. When I reached home an hour later, I brought in the carrier and gently put it down in the basement next to the litter boxes. When I opened it, he crept out, sniffed the litter box, and then bolted up the stairs.

He spent the next 3 weeks hiding in the 4-inch space under the couch or squeezed between the couch and wall. I changed his name to Oscar because he was such a wienie. But everyday it got better. I adopted 2 other abandoned cats. Bourka you have already met and I will blog about Winkie in the future. They were as timid and traumatized as Oscar.

That was 4 years ago this month. Look at him now. He sleeps on the furniture not under it. If you are here long enough, he will be sitting on you. He is a different cat now-confident, loving and a perfect companion not only for me but also for the other 3. You remember there are 4 right? Stay tuned….

Wordless Wednesday

"Look! There's a spot!"

Sunday, August 26, 2007


murmurings from the circle in the forest

An unexpected cold front has triggered my fall instincts to hunt and gather, and prepare my nest for the coming of winter. Never mind that it is only the latter part of August with several weeks of summer left. The gray squirrels are poking fallen acorns into the ground, and I am packing the freezer with this year’s bounty of corn, peaches, tomatoes and green beans.

I drove to the Farmer’s Market because that is the place to buy the great Garden State vegetables these days: Red tomatoes, creamy-golden corn, fresh garlic and onions and shiny onyx eggplants that we used to buy from the neighbor’s homemade stands, leaving payment in a cardboard cigar box. Since canning is a long and arduous process requiring quart jars, screw-top lids, great boiling kettles with wire racks, not to mention hours of sweating in the kitchen, I chose the quicker (and easier) freezer method. I boiled corn on the cob, and then sliced off the kernals into plastic bags. Peeled pounds of sweet peaches and sliced them into bags, each one holding enough for a pie (to be baked during snow storms).

There is something soul-satisfying about this work. Like kneading bread dough, a little of my life energy is added to the food. Ready-made dinners cannot match this gift. They feed the body only. Nourishment is one-dimensional. We are not involved with our food. We did not plant it, water it, weed it, protect it, pick it or prepare it. Having a relationship with your food affects its taste. I call it the Gratitude Factor.

I have a small backyard garden. When I pour a bag of silky seeds into my hand and push each one into the earth that I have tilled, amended, fertilized and mounded into beds, it seems crazy to expect food to come out of it. It feels senseless to pour water on dirt. It’s not reasonable. But it never disappoints. The seeds sprout from their underground secrets. It thrills me each time a timid yellow-green curl breaks through, sometimes balancing the seed casing on its head like a sport cap. I feel proud, like I’ve just given birth. In a few weeks, their leaves unfurl and their mission becomes clear: Make more of themselves. As they slip into production, I intervene, picking beans, peas, tomatoes, squash in their turn and use them to feed my own kind. Human beings have the same mission as a vegetable, only the green beans have not yet learned how to fight.

The vegetables pile up in my harvesting basket, a bounty from my own back yard. I thank each plant for its miracle. They are often consumed on the same day, so the flavors of green and gratitude leave me with a sense of fulfillment that just doesn’t come from opening a can.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

What’s in a name?

Some people insist on using their full given name (Mary Elizabeth). Other people are called by the classic shortening of their given names (Bill) and many go by their middle names (Gale). And there are a few that only use their initials (LJ) or a suffix (Jr.). Still others get saddled with a nickname from childhood that will be with them for life. For example, my mother’s brother was called Uncle Punk. He had been called Punk from childhood.

I have been called various things during my life depending on who it was, where I was living, or why I was in a situation. When I was born my 1-year-old cousin could not say my name. Instead, he said Bubaly. My family thought it was cute and has called me Bubby ever since (my nephew still calls me Aunt Bubby or just Bub—he is 32). When I went to college, I studied Spanish and was called Conchita. After college, that changed to Concha. Some of my oldest friends still call me that. I have also been called Bink by some friends (a nickname from their children) and most recently just B. I usually sign notes or emails as B.

You can tell the length of my friendship with people by what they call me. Recently there was some discussion among my friends on who knew me the longest. I thought it was obvious. Once you get to know someone, it is hard to switch names and start calling them something else. I have had many people say to me “You are so totally a Concha.” And then others; say, not.

Do nicknames exist anymore? I do not know any children that are called by nicknames. For that matter, I don’t know many adults that have nicknames. Maybe it’s regional- or-is it something that we acquire over time?

I answer to many names. “Hey you,” works too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

Is it me or is this boat smiling?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Manage Expectations

Manage expectations, not disappointment. This is something my former boss and good friend Marion always used to say. And it is true. I always try to do it. But this time, it didn't work.

The ad in the paper said “Come to Greece this weekend!” Festival starts Friday night at 5 and goes through Sunday. I checked the schedule. It looked there was a lot happening on Saturday—folk dancing, music, food, crafts, rides for the kids. I called my friend Louise, “You guys wanna come up this weekend? There is a Greek festival.” “Come on Saturday. We’ll go over for lunch.”

They drove for an hour and a half.

As we went into town, we excitedly talked about all of our favorite Greek food. I wanted a Gyro. I had missed out on them at the fair. We guessed what might be available: Souvalaki, or dolma, mousakka, spanikopita, probably baklava. My friends met years ago folk dancing, so there was also some hope that there might be audience participation in the folk dancing. WE were ready.

As I got near the festival location, there was no traffic. Huh. But there was a cop standing out by the street; I image for crowd control???? As I pulled into the lot, I saw it was almost empty. Uh-oh. What the…There were very few people there. There was tinny music coming from somewhere. The food wasn’t ready yet. There were 2 whole lambs turning on spits. The only thing coming out of the kitchen was a spinach pie and a cheese pie. There were 2 big tents with tables and lots and lots of chairs. No dancers, no live music, no crafts, not even a donkey.

We left and went to a diner for a Greek lunch. (The local diner has fantastic stuffed grape leaves.) We decided to return to the festival after lunch and hopefully they would have had time to get it together. When we went back at 3, there were now maybe 10 people there, a guy playing a lyre, and 1 table with T-shirts on it. We hung around for about 15 minutes feeling awkward. There was no reason to stay.

Remember that they drove for an hour and a half?

Gad. What to do? What to do? I needed an alternate plan and I need it quick.

I started to drive to the next town over the mountain. It is a quaint little hamlet with a lovely main street. We were all complaining about how dreadful the festival was. Then a brainstorm! (A little scary since the festival was my brainstorm too.) Up the road a ways was a winery and they had never been. So we ended up whiling away the afternoon sampling wine, then buying a bottle to share. We sat there with lots of other people (Greek festival refugees?) and listened to live music for several hours. Then we went out to dinner with more friends and ended up eating Starwberries Romanov on a candlelit deck laughing about the day's events.

So while I was managing disappointment about the festival, the weather was superb, friendships were still firm, and the winery a hit! Whew! They may even come back for a visit. There is an apple festival coming up in the fall. It's huge, I have been there before. Really.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

BYOB-Bring your Own Bag

Murmuring guest from the flatland

Last week in the flatland, we got two inches of rain in thirty-six hours.
The entire garden is doing the happy dance and the green beans have taken off.

Now, when I say green beans that is a generalization. My beans are green, purple, yellow, green with rose streaks and ivory with purple streaks. And, I am growing for the first time--yard-long beans. They seem to come in 2 colors, green and red. I am, of course, growing the most unusual kind. The red yard-long beans are not a yard long, but closer to 2 feet. I was disappointed in the beginning. I kept waiting for them to grow longer, and instead ended up with thick fat lumpy beans.

What was I thinking? What am I to do with them? It looks like one bean can feed a family of four. Kidding…but not by much. It is way too hot in the house to can them.

Coming in from the garden last night I noticed some of my neighbors sitting out on their porch, so over I went with bag-o-beans in hand. I was thoughtful enough to supply empty grocery bag for them to each fill with as many as they wanted. They only took a few.

I broke down and brought another plastic grocery bag stuffed full of beans to work. I shunned the zucchini traitors and just set the bag in the break room. Everyone could fend for them selves. They all know just by looking who brought the beans.

This is a bushel of beans. When they are cooked they keep their color. How fun is this. Want some? I got plenty.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


The neighbors and I were lying on blankets on my front lawn watching the Perseids meteor shower. On the mountain, we have no streetlights so it is pitch black. We were pointing out constellations to each other and we could even see the Milky Way. These are snippets of overheard conversation in the darkness.

“If you see a falling star, you have to make a wish.”

“The best way to cook corn is to use the microware. You do not husk it or anything. Just pop it in the mic for 7 minutes and voila. It is the best ever. You know the silk is the life blood of the kernel.”

“Look at that one!”

“Edamame is the Japanese word for soybean.”

“You used a snow shovel to move the snapping turtle from the road?.”

“Ohhh, long tail on that one. Crap, I was looking the other way.”

“No, no Katydids are green and look like grasshoppers. They are not the same as cicadas."

"Look, look it's a satellite."

“I almost got poked in the eye by an angry hummingbird when I went to close to the feeder to water my flowers.”

“Has anyone see the new baby recently?”

“There goes one.”

“Honey, you have to look up at the stars to see anything.”

"Are you cold? Want me to get another blanket?"

“The dew point must have been early. The grass is sopping.”

"The Big Dipper is called that because years ago they used to dip water from a barrel with a long handled cup called a dipper. Can you see the long handle and the cup on the end?"

“Are you going to the farmer’s market tomorrow?”

"I made up the recipe. I stuffed the poblano peppers with a picadillo and made a chipotle sauce to bake them in."

“I have been all over Flickr looking for that photo. What did you call it again?”

I heard that if you rub a Bounce dryer sheet on you the mosquitoes won’t bite. Hmmm, I heard it was a Downy sheet. Or maybe that was for ticks."”

“Will this be happening again tomorrow?”

Yes, same time, same place.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Use with SPF 15.

Do you wear a hat?

I am a hat wearer, but not everyone is. How many times have you seen some shake their head and say, “I don’t look good in hats”? I ask you, what is that about? Some of the people I know wear them but more wouldn’t be caught dead in a hat. Is it the fit or the look or the convenience? People, people, we are having ozone issues.

Well, I for one adore hats. My problem is that I wear a small hat size. Yes, I have a pin head. Go ahead, say it. I generally shoot for a 7 or the smallest one on the rack. Every time I am at a store where they sell hats, I try them on. Most of the time, they just fall down over my nose. If there is a hat that won’t blow off in the merest whiff of wind, I buy it (stiff winds doesn’t count). My mother and sister and I try on hats as entertainment. If we are in a store that sells hats, we try them on each other and laugh uproariously. Many times we have laughed until we cried at Walmart. That having been said, I do own a lot of hats. I have broad-brimmed and ventilated ones gardening; summer ones, winter ones, fancy ones, and everyday ones.

I bought a red straw one in Las Vegas once because it was 120 degrees and I felt like I was frying. I bought a straw pork pie kinda thing at a folk festival since I had forgotten mine and I was afraid of heat prostration. I got an oil cloth Australian number (I am making that assumption because the sides snap up) in Texas at the King Ranch store (good for birding--the hat not the store). I also bought a wooly one in Alaska back in May (it was cold out on the water—the hood--not cutting it). I have 3 in the car at any given time; another 4 or 5 in the hall closet; 10 or so ball caps on the landing to the basement and some stashed in the winter box. You never know when someone will need a hat. I had a friend visit over the holidays last year. It was really, really cold and he lives in the desert where it is not. “Hold on,” I mumbled from the depths of the closet, “there must be something in here you can wear.” And sure enough, although he is of the large-headed clan, there was.

So, why am I going on about this? I wore a huge brimmed number to the state fair this past weekend. The day started out breezy and cool but by afternoon it was blazing hot. My friend had no hat, but bought her daughter a lovely cotton bucket hat. She told me that her daughter “looks good” in hats and likes them. I think she is cute as a button in a hat.

A new generational of hat wearers is coming up. All you milliners out there, take heart, the ozone is giving out and we need you.

I have only 2 negative points about hats. It is hard to drive in a big hat because of the headrest and it does cause hat hair. Oy, I will leave that for discussion at another time.

Friday, August 3, 2007

We all know--what can happen with zucchini

Uh-uh. It won’t happen to me.

I only planted 2 of each kind. (regular green zucchini, yellow straight neck, two new kinds of green 8 ball zucchini and Zephyr, a yellow squash with a green tip)
Yes, it has been pointed out, that this is eight plants. But, two of them were unknown to me, and--you never now.

The rule is: one of each kind for the Vine Borer and one for me. All in all, I thought that I was on top of it.

I have a very large group of garden devotees gathered over the last 10 years. I pick my veggies on the weekends and on Wednesday nights. So on Mondays and Thursdays, I walk into work with bags of goodies. Generally, whomever I see first gets first dibs; sometimes I have even had a line. I pick my squash young and small so there has not been a problem with dispersal. I always run out every time.

Yay!! The plan is working!!

Today, however, I found out that there has been some devotee theft. There has been some whining because I have occasionally run out of goodies and the news has spread far and wide.

As usual, I brought in my extras and to my surprise, no one wanted any.

Some people said that they still had squash at home (“All Squashed out”), others said that they had gotten some from a friend or a family member. One lady whose brother-in-law is now dumping zucchini ball bats on her; wouldn’t even look me in the eye when she said “no thank you…but, I will take any extra tomatoes or green beans.” “Did you say you were going to have new potatoes?” Her brother-in-law (he of the gigantic zucchini) did not think that he would have any of those to share.

Well, they can’t do this to me!!

They must take the squash! I am depending on them!

Well, maybe, I won’t bring in the extra beans or tomatoes!!

I ‘spose---I could make zucchini relish or pickles.
But, if they force me to do that, I won’t have any more to share….

Stay tuned to the unfolding drama from the flatland.

Murmuring guest from the flatland

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

I never knew that Ibises were attracted to garbage. The shadow in the shot is a garbage can, artfully excluded.