Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Memories of Milking

In March's 'Book Report' I remarked how Anna Quindlen's writing in Miller's Valley reminded me of my own years growing up on the farm and how some passages were especially beautiful and evocative. This is one of those passages:

"You can tell time by a farm, a day's worth of time, a year's worth. There's a particular kind of quiet on a farm in the morning, which isn't really morning the way other people think of it. It's still dark with just the smallest idea of black sky getting lighter around the edges, and unless there's a moon the only light comes from the bare bulb hanging like its own moon from the center of the barn ceiling. It's a place where it's just as easy to feel lost as it is to feel contented. I felt lost most of the time now, but I never said so, even to myself: in that same way I knew it was odd for a grown woman not to leave her own home, I knew it was odd for a teenage girl to feel like there was a big rattly empty space between her stomach and her heart. But it made me wonder whether other people felt the same way without showing it.

It was always warmer in the barn than it was outside because of all the cows crowding together, breathing and snorting and farting, making a fug that hung in the place like cigarette smoke over the poker game my father used to have once a month. Cows at dawn are different than cows at dusk. A farm in winter feels different than a farm in summer. The whole year passed in front of me on the farm. The cornstalks with yellow edges that meant summer was over and the classroom getting ready to close around you. The pumpkins of October that squatted where the yellow flowers sprouted on the vines in August. The mornings when you could hear the cattle complaining like a bunch of old men with tobacco throats and you knew, you just knew that it was February and their water through was frozen solid and you were going to have to go out there with an old shovel and beat a hole into the ice until it fell apart like a broken window."

These are the cows I helped milk when I was the age of Quindlen's  Mimi Miller of Miller's Valley. How well I remember them and... The summer Mom and I did most of the chores while Dad and Ron were in the fields and I complained that milking was making my hands unattractive because my veins were standing out. How Mom could milk five or six cows in the same time I milked three. How the bare bulb and its string hanging down were black with fly specks.

Remember... Shooting streams of milk into the open mouths of waiting cats. Grabbing the milk bucket and moving just in time when the cow started to splash pee - or worse - or put her foot in the bucket. Crying over spilled milk when ole bossy did kick the bucket over just about the time I had it filled.

Remember... How at first the milk pinged on the bottom of the empty bucket then gradually whooshed as it filled the pail and how the rhythm of milking, the tranquility of the barn, the companionship of Mom being there only a cow or two or three away made it possible for me, unlike Mimi, to talk about feeling lost and the big rattly empty space between my stomach and my heart.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

How To Pick A Winner


Prior to the Kentucky Derby a couple of years ago, I decorated a hat and dressed up as though I were attending the Run for the Roses and not just watching it on TV.

I did not pick the winning horse, American Pharoah, that year. But I did earlier this month when I picked a dark bay horse.....

....and Always Dreaming won the 143rd Derby on a very muddy track.

Yesterday was the 142nd Preakness Stakes race at Pimlico. Per usual, we picked our horses. Always Dreaming was the odds favorite, but I did not pick him in this race.

I chose another dark bay, Cloud Computing, whose odds were 13-1. Always Dreaming and Classic Empire were running against each other at the front of the race until almost the finish when Classic Empire took the lead and looked like the winner until, wait, who was that taking the lead at the wire? Why, it's Cloud Computing to win the race.

The 149th Belmont Stakes, the third race of the Triple Crown series will be run June 10. Will I pick another dark bay horse in that race? And what are the odds I'll pick the winner again?

Oh, yes, how do I choose 'my' horses, i.e. pick a winner? I go by their names -Always Dreaming because I have always been a dreamer and Cloud Computing because I like clouds. I can't wait to pick a winner for the Belmont.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ruth's Rum Raisin



She complimented the color of my new lipstick
  Wondered how it would look on her
               Here, try it and see
Oh, I like it
   Would you get one for me

My tube of Rum Raisin was used up
   When she died in 2003
There was her's, almost new
   I've been wearing it ever since
Soon it will be gone - just like she

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mother's Day Booty

Even though I tell them "don't get me anything", my kids seldom listen to me. (Hm-m...a holdover from their childhoods?)

I always get a laugh out of my stepson's cards. That's his on the left with a Mother's Day Tip - "Empty wine bottles always come in handy when you need a vase for your flowers." Mark knows me well. Inside he writes loving sentiments which never fail to melt my heart.

Preston's card is next - from both him and Shalea. It came with the 'R' bookmark, a Walmart gift card, which I will use for plants and a Half Price Books gift card. I have several books on my 'want to read' list which neither of my libraries has. I can't wait to go to the city and browse.

I pictured Kari's card in the previous blog post which is why it is half-hidden in the back. Included with the card was the newly released El Dorado CD by a friend and former band mate of her husband's. (More about this in another post.)

She also planted this tiered stand at her home in Portland - her "Mother's Day project for Ramona" saying "Digging in the dirt and planting herbs and flowers always makes me feel close to my Mom." Ah, what a sweet sentiment and nice to know every time she snips some herbs, she will think of me.

The card on the right is a blank card Doug and Shelly brought back from their Caribbean vacation . It is from an original water color by a St. John artist called "Portal to Paradise". Shelly thought I might want to frame it - a reminder of my own long-ago trip to the Islands.

And, to carry on what has become a tradition, they brought me a beautiful hanging planter.

However, my best Mother's Day gifts were intangible. Doug gave me the good news that his last ENT appointment was 'great'. His Doctor said "I can't believe how fast you have healed in your throat." After the next time, he will only have to go for check ups every six months. That's a wonderful Mother's Day gift!

And Shelly shared this with me about my son: At one of his recent remodeling jobs, he learned that the homeowner had recently been diagnosed with cancer. Knowing first hand what it is like to receive that kind of news, Douglas discreetly donated his time on the project so the owner only had to pay for the materials. I'm so glad Shelly shared this as Doug would never have mentioned it.

In my last post, I admitted that I have always felt like I wasn't a very good mother. But now I know I must have done a few things right. 

 It was a wonderful Mother's Day! Every day is if you have children like mine!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Brown Eyes and Mother's Day

I've always been partial to brown eyes and have always assumed it was because my own eyes are brown. Then a couple days ago, thinking about Mother's Day, I had an epiphany....

....maybe the reason I like brown eyes are because the first eyes I gazed in were my Mother's brown eyes. As a babe, while I was nursing; as a toddler, when I was looking for direction or approval; as a teen, when I was looking for guidance and understanding; as an adult, to compare how alike our eyes were.

Thank goodness I had my mother's help and guidance when I became a mother myself at age 18. Not only did she help care for Douglas, she talked me through the 'baby blues', milk fever,  and the care and feeding of an infant. I was so possessive of my son, my mother was about the only one I would let hold him.

By the time I had Kari and Preston, I was a bit better about sharing them with others. I was also a little more confident in my own abilities - although I will admit that having so many years between Douglas and Kari was about like having a baby for the first time all over again.

I mentioned before about one of the surprises of being a mother was the overwhelming feeling of love and fierce protectiveness. I was once told I was "like a mother tiger protecting her cubs".

The first of this year's Mother's Day cards came a couple of days ago - this one from Kari. Her husband pointed the blank card out to her when they were at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, saying the painting had long been one of his favorites. ('Temptation' by William-Adolphe Bouguereau) She knows how I love artworks, but I wonder if she felt like this could have been a representation of the two of us when she was little? (Those curls!)

Mother's Day for me is always a dual reflection on being a Mother and having a Mother. And, oh, how I miss mine. She was the one person who was always there for me. I will never forget the last time I looked into her brown eyes. She had been in a coma for several days. I stayed at her bedside, holding her hand, talking to her, even though I didn't think she heard me. It was around four o'clock in the morning, the nurses came in to check on her. As they turned her to her side she opened her eyes and looked at me. It was only for a few seconds. I said, "Mom, Mom!", thinking, hoping she was going to wake up.
The nurses were surprised. They said someone coming to like that seldom happened. Mom died about twelve hours later. Her's were the first brown eyes I looked into and mine were the last she saw.

I never feel that I was a good mother when my kids were growing up - that I didn't do enough for them or give them everything - but maybe it is because I felt like my Mom was the perfect Mother and I could never be as good as she was. Maybe I have been a good Mom to my children. Maybe we all have the Mother we needed?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Trees Are Poems


"Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky."
      (Kahlil Gibran)


Early in March I took a picture of a tree across the railroad tracks.
There was something about its shape that caused me to wonder what kind of tree it was. My thinking at the time was that when it leafed out, I could identify it.

So here it is, all leafed out. Too far away for me to identify.

But my 20X Zoom brought it near enough to be reasonably sure it is a Poplar, possibly a Black Poplar. And look, it too, has catkins.

There was another tree I took a picture of today, this one down on the far side of the pond. The Chokecherries are in bloom.

Another zoomed in photo. I was trying to see what the light gray was amidst the foliage in one of the Willow trees in the wetlands behind the pond. It was just some dead limbs, but makes for an interesting picture.

It is so easy to take for granted the things we see every day - even the beautiful and wonderful things like birds, flowers, trees, clouds and sunsets. Regardless of the season, trees are poems written upon the skies.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Season Is Open


The weather seems finally to have settled into what Spring is supposed to be, sunny blue skies with airy white clouds and temperatures in the 70's. After a
l-o-n-g, cold, wet spell, today was perfect to begin planting.
The old mailbox of my youth on the farm has become my herb planter. This year it holds Sweet Mint, Sweet Basil and Lemon Balm.

"Yes, in the poor man's garden grow
Far more than herbs and flowers --
Kind thoughts, contentment, peace of mind,
And joy for weary hours."

The two deck planters as well as a large pot are planted with sun-loving Salvia in a light shade of apricot. Now that I've gotten started, each time I go shopping, I'll be looking at the plants and, most likely, bringing home more to fill more planters.

May 10 was always the magic date when I was learning the rules for planting as a child. That was the accepted date for all danger of frost to be past.

And by May 10 most of our regional birds have returned for another nesting season. I always hear the Orioles before I see them and hurry to get their feeder out. Within a few minutes they begin visiting.

We had lots of Catbirds on the farm, but this is the first year I remember seeing any here.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are always welcome!

The Brown-headed Cowbirds don't have a very good reputation, but I still think they are beautiful.

I did see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird the day I put up the oriole feeder, but I haven't seen it since, nor gotten a photo. And I'm hoping to be lucky enough to see and photograph the Indigo Bunting again this year. I'm also going to go out to Green Valley Lake in hopes of seeing a Kingfisher since learning there are some there.
So there is still lots of planting and bird watching to be done. The season is open.