A Birthday Tale


Several weeks ago, the tail of my favorite horse, Miracle, disappeared.  When she died from colic after giving birth several years ago, one young lady at the vets took hairs from her tail, made a braid, and gave it to me.  Since then, it had hung in the hallway next to Dad’s spurs and a photo of the family farm above Dad’s parade saddle. Suddenly, it disappeared.  Where could it have gone?  No one had recently been to the house except Martina, my Italian exchange student, and me.  My daughter and grandson had stopped by, but no one else.  Nothing else had disappeared.  It was a mystery like the time I found a handful of dry dog food under the saddle.  I never solved that one and had given up on solving this one.  I had even considered looking for something else to hang in its place.

On my birthday yesterday, the principal walked to my room with a bouquet of flowers and a package.  The bouquet was from my grandson.  I opened the package. Much to my astonishment, there was Miracle’s tail, the top of the braid carefully and colorfully wrapped, a thin copper wire winding through it, and and then wrapped around the bottom.  My daughter had managed to take it without my seeing her do so, took it home, and had wrapped it so it would not come apart.  When I originally told her about it, she and my grandson commented how strange it was and made note of the dog food incident as if some mystery lurked in that particular place in my house.

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My grandson had picked out each individual flower.  He obviously knows my favorite color is orange.

Then to top off the day my son also sent flowers.  It dropped 50 degrees from yesterday afternoon to late last night, the wind shrieks, clouds loom dark and ominous.  It is a good day for bright flowers.

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An “Italian” Evening–Two


My daughter and grandson arrived shortly after six.  First course included nuts, cheeses, crackers, blue corn chips and salsa–I know, not Italian.  For the adults, Stella Rosa Black from Italy.  For the non-adults organic apple juice.

While we snacked on the first course, we created two versions of Pasta alla Carbonara, one for my vegetarian grandson and one without much parmesan cheese for everyone else.  Traditionally, this dish requires parmesan cheese; however, my daughter is lactose intolerant so we created the other one for her.  The rest of us just topped off our dish with grated parmesan at the dinner table.

We used conchiglie from Monastero di Montebello in Italy for the pasta and for version two, pancetta cut into cubes.  For the vegetarian version we used Morning Star bacon.  Here is the basic recipe for pasta alla carbonara:

cooked pasta

bacon or ham, cut in cubes or small pieces

whipped eggs, approximately one egg for every two people

finely chopped onions sautéed in olive oil–we used one large onion for four

grated parmesan cheese–1/8 to 1/4 cup per person (you can use half parmesan and half pecorino)

Saute onions until translucent.  If you are using any bacon except pancetta, cook it first but not until too crispy.  Add the bacon and heat through.  Add the cooked pasta and the whipped egg/cheese to the onion/bacon mixture.  Continually stir until thoroughly combined and the eggs are cooked.

When to start cooking the pasta so it is cooked and ready to combine with the other ingredients depends on the type of pasta you use.

We served this with a large salad:  leaf lettuce, shredded purple cabbage, chopped red bell peppers, onions, chopped carrots,  balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  We concluded the evening with three different ice cream choices for dessert.

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In case you are wondering why the Christmas tree is still there, well, Martina and I like the lights so we keep procrastinating taking it down.  I keep telling myself today it will be dismantled and then it is not.  Tonight it will come down–maybe.

 

 

 

 

An “Italian” Evening–One


Two weeks and one day ago, Martina arrived from Milano, Italy, to live with me until the end of the school year.  We have discovered astonishing similarities:  we both sing and play the piano, we love vegetables and fish, we read books.  Tonight my grandson and daughter are coming over for Italian food.  We went grocery shopping today, bought pancetta for pasta alla carbonara.  Because my grandson is vegetarian, we purchased Morning Star “bacon” and will make a separate vegetarian version for him.

As we planned this repast, I learned that in Italy everyone eats several courses unless in a very big hurry.  Course one includes various little goodies like cheeses, nuts, salami, often thought of in the US as antipasto, but it can include many other things.  Each person obtains a drink of his or her choice and snacks on the goodies and converses.  There are separate courses that follow:  pasta, meat or fish, salad, and finally dessert.  Italians eat dinner late, e.g. 9-9:30, which reminded me of Argentina where people also eat late.  I like to eat late unlike many people in the US.  However, we won’t eat that late tonight, more like perhaps 7:30 or whenever we get everything done.

Right now as we await the arrival of my family, Martina and I are sipping tea while she works on a dystopian short story she has to write for English class–she is a senior here–and I write this blog post.  The snow from last evening has mostly melted and the sun is setting.  Martina loves Panhandle of Texas sunsets and sunrises.  I will take photos of the food and post them tomorrow.

 

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A Season of Gratitude


It started Thursday with the Winter Solstice and the full moon:  the love, the presents, my astonishment.  You cannot go wrong with moonlight hanging over a canyon.  It never disappoints.

Then on Friday, astonishment.  Teachers never expect what I received.  I expect excellence and hope most learn something new, learn that books they will like exist, that they can do more than they ever dreamed.  We do not expect presents.

By ten on Friday, my classroom was covered with gifts and food.  Here is a list of some of the presents I received from my students:

frankincense and myrrh soap

a book about wine–yes, it seems they know me

a 4 by 4 black block that says Love, Smile, Enjoy, Laugh, Sing, Live

two gifts cards from a brother and sister for renting movies along with popcorn

a Picasso scarf

a thermal cup full of almonds–I received lots of almonds

all sorts of homemade candies, cookies, and other goodies

To top it all off, a mother walked into my room and handed me a bottle of red wine with this written on it:  “Our child might be the reason you drink so enjoy this bottle on us, Merry Christmas.”  I am still chuckling about this one.

My daughter and grandson are on a cruise and will get to see several ancient Mayan temples, my son is on his way here and will arrive around noon or early afternoon, I attended a beautiful Christmas Eve service last night, then came home and continued reading a fascinating book until late, and shortly I will make pumpkin bread using Mom’s old recipe.

The moon still shines, hanging in the Western horizon.  I feel grateful.

Happy Holidays to everyone.

Juliana

 

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Note:  The Christmas tree my parents gave me decades ago with a skirt, simple fabric brought from Africa many years ago.

 

The Sim Card


At exactly 8:28 this evening, after returning from dinner and Christmas light viewing with my daughter and grandson, I threw my purse and antique, red,  flip top phone on my bed, and let Athena, my dog, out.  Shortly thereafter, I inadvertently knocked the phone on the floor between the foot of the bed and my grandmother’s (the one I never knew because she died long before I was born) cedar chest.  Rather than moving the chest, I retrieved a long handled duster and gave it a swipe, thinking the phone would fly out intact.  Unfortunately such is not the case.  First, the back of the phone removed itself from the rest and flew out.  I tried once again and the rest of the phone flew out.  I picked it up and the notice read, “Insert Sim Card”.  I looked at the phone.  Sure enough, no Sim Card.  Subsequently, I moved the cedar chest, pulled out the bed, retrieved a larger duster and totally cleaned under the bed.  I even went to the garage, got the flash light, and looked under the bed everywhere.  Still no Sim Card.  Finally, in disgust, I went to the kitchen, poured a glass of zinfandel, The Seven Deadly Zins to be specific, and continued to read “There Will Be No Miracles Here” by Casey Gerald.  How apropos, except I have never suffered like he has (or if I have, I have conveniently forgotten), I am not black, nor male, nor gay, nor poor (he probably is no longer either), and, comparatively speaking, I am very old.

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The Christmas Tree


In childhood, no fake tree for us.

Just after Thanksgiving, the family search transpired.

Mom and Dad preferred Douglas fir, six feet tall.

Dutifully, we kept the tree holder filled with water,

never used real candles.  We put on lights, big ones,

blue, green, red, an inch long, then carefully hung on delicate,

colorful, round balls.  The most difficult task: the icicles,

long, silver, reflective.  They had to go on just so.

Years later, children gone, Mom and Dad bought an

artificial tree, fake Douglas fir, incredibly real in appearance.

 

When they left Missouri for Arizona every winter after harvest,

they abandoned Christmas trees, gave me the fake Douglas fir.

I still have it.  How long?  Decades, several at least.  State of the art

when they bought it, it requires work, assembly, strings of lights.

Every year, I tell myself it is time to get one of those new trees with lights

already installed, so much easier to take up and down.  I never buy one.

I cannot bear to part with Mom and Dad’s tree.  One year, annoyed with

putting on lights, I decorated it lightless.  I missed the lights.  Now every year,

decades later, I assemble it, take the time to string the lights.  Some of the lower

branches no longer stay, but I work around that, hang the colorful, delicate

Christmas ornaments I love, collected over years and years, wrap the base in

the red and white cloth given to me from Africa. On cold evenings, like this one,

I turn off the other lights, drink tea like my mother did, and remember my

childhood.

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You’re Gonna Eat That?!


This is the title of my newest book which currently resides at the designers for formatting, placing the photos in the correct place and position, making sure everything is just right.  The subtitle is:  Adventures with Food, Family, and Friends.  It includes family and travel stories, adventures, poems, and recipes. Here are a couple of food photos which will be in the book with recipes.

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Every Sunday until publication, I will post an update as to progress.  My goal is to have it available for purchase for Christmas presents for those who love food adventures.

 

September 1, on the Rim of Wonder


Sunrise

Dappled clouds

Owl hooting

Wren climbing

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Later, I graded papers and watched part of John McCain’s funeral, some of which almost brought me to tears.  I often disagreed with him but never did I question his passionate love of country, his courage, his willingness to buck the norm, to defy convention when he thought it was the right thing to do.  I think he and I shared certain values on which this country is based even if the country as a whole rarely lives up to them.  These include the conviction that all people are equal, that everyone deserves justice, and each person carries the right to find his or her own share of happiness without judgment and condemnation from others who may think differently.

Later, while working on the latest book I am writing, I found handwritten recipes written by my grandmother, my mother’s mother, Nellie Narcissus Duke (Kaiser),whose father came here from Switzerland as a child.  One, for dumplings, remains readable.  The other written in pencil on the front and back of thin paper is fragile.  It is for Strawberry Shortcake.  If Grandmother Duke ever made dumplings, I do not remember it.  Mother did–chicken and dumplings.  I wonder if she used this recipe.  I do remember conversations about the shortcake because Dad did not like strawberry shortcake even though he liked strawberries.  I took photos of these two recipes written decades ago in my grandmother’s handwriting.

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Black Raspberries


Mom filled the white bowl with black raspberries.

I pour Bossie’s white milk over them,

watched it form a pattern,

flowing around the raspberries–

a design in deep purple and white.

I thought it almost too beautiful to eat.

I was seven.

Now I rarely find black raspberries.  Red ones won’t do.  They lack intensity, the beauty.  Every year we went to Hunt’s Orchard north of Amazonia, Missouri, to buy black raspberries, took them home, sorted to discard the imperfect ones, then threw them way behind the garden next to the timber–huge trees, oak and hickory.  Eventually, these imperfections transformed into thriving black raspberry bushes.  We had our own patch, created from the discarded, the imperfect.

Mom fed us fresh raspberries for a few days.  The rest she used to create her famous pies, froze a freezer full.  Baked, they transformed a winter kitchen into the warmth and sweetness of my mother’s family devotion.

I bake pies, many kinds of pies.  I have never made a black raspberry pie.

 

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Note:  this will be published in an upcoming publication by the Story Circle Network.  In July my daughter, grandson, and I went to Hunt’s Orchard–yes, it still exists.  I asked about black raspberries.  We were too late; the season was over.  The timber behind the garden area was to the right in this photo.  The person who bought the land years later bulldozed down all the big trees.

Missouri Roadtrip—the Missouri River Bottom


My mother grew up in Fortesque, Missouri, a once thriving town which now contains 32 inhabitants. Mom’s dad owned a farm right on the Missouri River near the Rulo, Nebraska bridge. Then eventually, it was my grandmother’s and then belonged to Mom and her two siblings. We went to visit and found the river really high.

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For years we crossed the Rulo, Nebraska, bridge and came to a restaurant at this site to eat catfish, carp, and all the trimmings.  A few years ago a really large flood destroyed it. This is the new building but obviously it is closed because of high water.

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Back on the Missouri side looking across the soybean fields.  Strange sight to see irrigation proceeding at the same time the river is high.  The Corp of Engineers is releasing  water upstream where the river is really high. The bluffs in the distance are across the river in Kansas.

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Several times in my life I have seen water at least 15 feet deep from bluff to bluff.  A few years back I knew people who lived inside a big levee and for nearly three months had to go to and from their house in a boat.  Needless to say, that year no one raised a crop of anything.

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Without levees, the river would be over all the fields now.

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I walked down the main levee and took this photo under the Rulo, Nebraska, bridge.

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While in the river bottom we decided to take the loop drive through the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge.  The last time I was here five years ago, there was more water and fewer lilies.  The smell of their blooms permeated the air.

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Apparently, this is bull frog heaven because they were certainly actively croaking. In October and November approximately 400,000 geese and ducks migrate through here.

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At the north end of the drive through the refugee this beautiful sight occurs.

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The tunnel between the trees continues for several miles.

Later when we drove back to St. Joseph, we drove down to the nature center and the river’s edge there.

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No swimming in the Missouri River.  They warn people every year, but alas, people still try and drown.  The river moves fast and the undertow will pull even strong swimmers under.

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I was not happy out here.  Ema, my daughter, insisted.  If a person fell in, there is no hope.  She, however, keep bouncing around and playing on it.

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Even though I grew up in this area, I am always amazed at just how green and wet it is there even when they have a dry spell like now.  Plus the humidity–not like here in the Panhandle of Texas–it does not cool off that much at night in Missouri.