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Just in time for the summer cooking-out season, the Hormel company has now fessed up to producing ten–that’s 10 different kinds of SPAM.  Well, who’d a thunk it? 

It wasn’t pretty.

The brain trust here at the Weekly Villager sallied forth to adventures in orthography by participating in the22nd Annual Community Spelling Bee for Literacy, co-sponsored by the Portage County Literacy Coalition Community Partners at the NEOMED Conference Center on Friday, May 24, 20013.  And fourth…maybe fifth… was about where we wound up…out of five.

That was a fine old time!

Well, if you weren’t trying to get anyplace in a hurry, that is.  The annual Garrettsville community garage/yard/porch sale seems to have attracted quite a crowd for most of the weekend.  Some of the narrower thoroughfares were a challenge for those just trying to get into their own driveways.  Down Park Ave. some savvy shoppers parked up at the Intermediate School then walked down to peruse the situation on Park and Liberty–maybe even Maple and Water, for all I know–before hauling their treasures back to the cars and off to new homes.  

`You thought that spring had come, just because you looked at a calendar and got out your flip-flops and sunscreen (I wear sunglasses all year, so that’s really no indication), not to mention making pool plans.  Think again, Hummingbird-watcher.

I DID hang out four loads of wash on the line to dry; they didn’t even freeze.  Planted several new flowers–I did break down and cover them up when the frost warnings went out, though (Jeez! How could you NOT to that for a Maidenhair Fern?).  Also covered the teeny-weeny tomatoes that are out in my west side pots (I cheated and bought a ”Bush Goliath” plant with a blossom already on it at Home Depot a couple of weeks ago.  Another precocious “Patio Giant” plant has a tiny green orb about the size of a chocolate chip.  We’re going for speed here.).  All of the other greenery has to fend for itself and seems to be doing all right so far.

Just dealing with the medical and insurance issues is enough to send a rational individual(That would be me…no snickering out there) around the bend.

I will be the first to admit that my medical and insurance issues are–knock on wood–WAY less fraught with difficulty than many other folk out there who have to deal with catastrophic situations and illnesses.  BUT… having just spent close to an hour on the phone with some hapless minions caught in the toils of some humongous healthcare corporation recently formed by the consolidation of two merely large healthcare corporations ( The two of them, apparently, unable to get their data systems synchronized), I must say that I miss the “good old days” when I could trot down to  Pelsue Drug in about five minutes, where I could  get something to cure what ailed me in about two minutes and if there was anything untoward about the whole transaction, the friendly, well-informed local pharmacist (Donn Olin or Gary Benes, usually) would call somebody up and get things straightened out before sending me off on my appointed rounds.

The Ohio State University extends itself into every county in the state–all 88 of them.  These are called–what else–extension offices and they offer information, advice and services to local residents.  This can cover agriculture & natural resources, community development, nutrition, family & consumer science, 4-H programs–a whole bunch of things.  It’s the largest non-formal education system in the world.  You can learn a lot there!  

The Kiko folks have taken to putting up signs of this nature along roads where one of their commercial activities is going on, and with good reason.  These secondary highways are plenty full of just plain drivers, let alone the avid auction-goers looking for a place to park–without sliding into a ditch or quicksand (as I found to my dismay).  

Good Grief!  Polar Fleece and long johns, peeps and bunnies with frost on their little noses…er…beaks…er …whatever.  Deep frozen chocolate eggs and jelly beans, rock-hard marshmallow anything.  How crazy has this season been so far?  This is Spring from the old days, the ones where hardy ancestors walked two miles to school every day, uphill both ways, rain or shine, tunneling through drifts, carrying brown-bag lunches that only contained fatback on biscuits but weighed  five pounds, not including the fifteen-pound bookbag.  Those were the days!

How’re you liking Spring so far?

Yes, indeedy, the official astronomical beginning of Spring was on Wednesday, March 20 at 7:02, EDT ( Or 11:02, UTC).  Actually, I lied; according to the Farmer’s Almanac there is no “official” start to any of the seasons.  That all depends upon the climate of an individual country.  It IS, of course, the Vernal Equinox, the date  on which the daytime and the nighttime are roughly the same, at 12 hours each.  It is the date on which the sun rises due East and sets due West.  It is the date on which the sun is directly overhead at noon on the Equator.  It is the date on which the tilt of the Earth’s axis relative to the Sun is zero.  We’re still tilted but the effect of THAT is really what the summer and winter solstices are about; we’re waiting for June 21 now.

Well, going to an auction is often an adventure.  This last one, though, was more than I had bargained for.

First of all, it was being held at what must, surely, have been the last–or nearly the last–farm in Aurora.  I saw a sign –kind of faded–that seemed to indicate that this was once the location of a working sugarbush .  There was at least one good-sized barn and a TON of cars and trucks of all sorts and sizes parked all along Townline Rd., stretching nearly to the horizon where the pavement went up and over a hill.  Vehicles were parked all along the west side of the road; there were signs on the other side directing attendees NOT to park there.  Any utility driveway or flat space was being used as a parking area and there was a driveway heading off through a field with a warning sign saying “4-wheel drive only”…an omen if I ever saw one.

How do I get on these lists?

Bad enough that I get pleas from every animal rescue organization on the planet–puppies, kittens, polar bears, horses, donkeys, whales, big cats, farm animals, exotic animals (I tend to hope that abusers, traffickers and slaughterers will all fry in hell), you name ‘em.  I also get tree-hugger stuff–parks, water, trees, natural resources, pollution control, environmental damage restoration.  Then there are the health issues–Susan J. Komen for the Cure, March of Dimes, American Heart, NAMI, diabetes, cancer, kidneys, blindness, University Hospitals, Summa Health, disease-of-the-month–I get them all.

Well, I just hate it when electrical things get weird and I have to do something about the situation without having a CLUE as to how to approach the problem.

So, I go to start writing another of my pieces of deathless prose for inclusion in The Weekly Villager ( This is something that I do on a regular basis , generally at the very last minute when The Muse–whichever of the nine was on the schedule for that day–shows up to inspire some really fast typing) and –CURSES–the computer had died!  Nothing could induce it to even turn on…not plugging and unplugging, not wiggling plugs, not looking for signs that some cat had loosened–quite unintentionally, surely–some vital connection…zip, zero, nada.  The contraption was as dead as a doornail.

Well, yes, it IS that season of the year when all sorts of disparate groups have their annual Christmas parties.  The barrage has begun already.

Hiram College hosted a seasonal soiree last week for Friends (That’s Friends, with a capital F), faculty types and festive individuals of all stripes, featuring a number of  tours de force by AVI, their supplier of campus food services.  Those folks can whip up a  mean truffle or two…or three or four or five, for that matter–nice selection; they do hand-carved beef or turkey sliders as well, and little savories worth looking for on the circulating trays offered by students working their way through the academic world (Full disclosure : I skipped the opportunity to get better acquainted with the possibilities of Brussels sprouts…saving room for the truffles and cheesecake.)  The jazz combo kept things lively and it’s a high-class affair indeed when the piano player has a Ph.D.(and no tip jar).

Omnishambles.

That, declares the Oxford English Dictionary–OED, to friends and family–is the word of the year, 2012, presumably, though it seems to have got its start in 2009 on a British political satire TV show.  I’m sure you’ve used it countless times since then, right?  It did manage to gain some currency in Europe after Mitt Romney’s goof-prone visit there but was transmogrified ( Isn’t THAT a great word?) into “Romneyshambles”.  

Here comes the Crocodile!
In my role as drama critic for the Weekly Villager (No rest for the wicked, as my father used to say), I recently took in the Baldwin Wallace University Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan”.  Quite an evening!
One of the motivating factors for this drama excursion was, of course, the appearance onstage of a “local boy made good”, the inimitable Luke Brett, as Captain Hook.  

So here I am at the BIG FANDANGO at the Longaberger Basket Outlet Store at Aurora Premium Outlets and I’m making a basket…me, Little Miss Craftperson, whose biggest venture into crafts was probably when I used to make  molds out of modeling clay and pour plaster-of-paris horse heads, later hand-painted, as gift items for favored individuals (Mom still has hers).  No, it was not last year. Anyway, there I was, and it was pretty cool.

Avast, me hearties…and a “Yankee Doodle” doo to you!

It’s Navy Week.  It’s Navy Week and it’s being observed in Boston by the first sailing of the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy, the U.S.S. Constitution–“Old Ironsides”– since 1997 (It’s been tugged to a few places but this is the first time under its own sail power since its restoration.).  This commemorates the 200th anniversary of its victory over the British warship, HMS Guerriere in the War of 1812 (The nickname came about when, supposedly, cannonballs from the British ship bounced off the oaken sides of the American vessel).

Curiouser and curiouser…as Alice said during her adventures in Wonderland….

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)’s Mars Science Laboratory has just succeeded in landing the spacecraft Curiousity on Mars, the culmination of more than three decades of planning and building, theorizing and research, not to mention scrounging for money.

Awwwrighty-tighty, here’s the plan.

Dick, Larry, Casey….  Listen up!

What you need to do is put the entire village of Garrettsville under roof, hire all or nearly all of the inhabitants and you can play in the big leagues with the Hartville Hardware which just had its grand opening last weekend.

June 5, 2012.  LOOK!  Up in the sky!

Nah. It was not Superman.  He’s out making movies with the other Superheroes.

It was the transit of Venus…and don’t think that if you missed it last week, you’ll just see it the next time. Because of the way that Venus and the Earth orbit around the sun–not in the same plane but at an angle to each other–these events only take place in pairs that are eight years apart and separated by a century.   Next time will be in the year  2117.  The next one to be visible in the Midwest will be in December of 2125.  Don’t hold your breath.

So, vacation time is here.  What to do?  Where to go?  How about museums–educational, right?–of culinary phenomena?

You could start with the National Mustard Museum( formerly the Mt. Horeb Mustard Museum) in Middleton, Wisconsin, found on the National Registry of Hysterical Places, perched atop the Condimental Divide.  It features over five thousand various mustard-filled items from some sixty countries and in flavors as diverse as chocolate( chocolate mustard?), bleu cheese, cranberry, tequila and wasabi, to name a few.  Regular performances at the Mustardpiece Theatre will give you more information than you probably ever wanted about the uses, history and varieties of mustard.  Try to be there on National Mustard Day, August 4.

And speaking of graduation….  Well, isn’t everyone?

High schools…colleges…pre-schools& kindergartens…wait…pre-schools & kindergartens?  Yup.  Saw it in the R-C picture congrats.   All very well and good, I suppose, and grandparents like to get in encouragement wherever they can but what’s the kid have to look forward to if they’ve already done graduation at age four?  Little tykes are going to have to work especially hard to maintain a focus on accomplishment “above and beyond” if they never get a bigger picture of challenges to be faced and overcome.

So… I’m out playing caretaker here at the Manse and I’m deciding that what we’re running at this location is the animal equivalent of the food court at the mall when a whole cohort of teenagers–boys mostly–shows up to attempt to fill their hollow legs.

There are funny things out there, folks. A radio program the other day had on it a gentleman who had just had a new book published; its title was : The Pun Also Rises… a great play on words itself.  I’ll have to get it and treat you to some real groaners.  The late, great Donn Olin would have loved it.

Now that the baseball has officially started–with a few fits and starts as well as a false spring heat wave–you might notice a few things different from last season. Sure, sure, there are new players; that happens every year, more or less. No. Look at what they’re playing WITH…new bats. Not just new, as in “We bought these this year,” but NEW, as in “These meet the BBCOR regs.” What’s up? The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFSHS) has up-dated its equipment standards to be congruent with those of the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), following a research study by the NCAA concerning player safety. First, it was wooden bats, next, the move was to aluminum and then to composite bats. They got lighter, the kids got more powerful, the hits were longer…and anybody that got hit by a batted ball was, most likely, in a world of hurt, especially pitchers. This was because the composite bats had a higher BESR–ball exit speed ratio–the material of the bat itself caused the hit ball to go like the Olympic motto : Citius, Altius, Fortius–Faster, Higher, Stronger. It was a bonanza for hitters; for pitchers and fielders, not so much. Scores in the College world Series reached unheard-of totals. Injuries rose. What to do? Enter the new bats with a lower BBCOR–bat ball coefficient of restitution. The material of the bat will not produce the “boost” that was giving sluggers the upper hand. The “sweet spot” will be smaller; the balance will be different. Starting in 2012, all non-wood bats must meet the BBCOR standard set in NFSH regulation 1.3.2 in order to “minimize risk, improve play and increase teaching opportunities.” That’s the point made by Garfield’s Coach Norton. Play will be safer; practice will shift to more fundamentals and emphasis on defense, more practice on bunting and placement. There will still be home runs but they’ll be big deals, not ho-hum non-events. There’ll be more emphasis on RBI’s (runs batted in); no more cheap base hits. These things don’t come cheap, of course. The new bats will be priced in the $200-$300 range, for the most part, with bargains here and there and gold-plated ones for the elites. One of the things that got the kibosh put on the earlier composite bats was the fact that they could snap when hit just right (Or wrong, depending on how you look at it). Another was that over time, with use, the bats would slip out of compliance and exit speeds (BESR) would increase by as much as 10-15mph–DANGER! DANGER! Listen for the new sound too. Play Ball!

Lots of it was just stuff. You know, things that have to be done but really not planned for except in a sort of fly-by-night fashion–medical events, grocery shopping, yard work– that kind of stuff. Then there were actually scheduled activities –lunch with the Nelson Literary Musical Club (All decked out in green they were; I wasn’t), choir practice, 20th Century Club meeting at the James A. Garfield Historical Society ( Some of the members are as historical as the exhibits). Then there was the good stuff. On the spur of the moment I drove up to Middlefield to the Dutchland (a reference to the Amish as “Pennsylvania Dutch”, presumably) Hunting and Fishing Show and Sale up in the old Paul’s building in Middlefield. Interesting. The ad–in The Villager, natch–said : hunting equipment 50%-75% off ( Like I would know the difference!), fishing equipment, boating, camping, seminars on fishing, food plot management (Do you suppose that’s a garden?), deer, turkey, coyote hunting seminars. Just the kind of thing for me, right? How could I pass this up? No activity like this is without merchandise for sale. There were T-shirts (I seriously considered one that said “Pro Staff” on the front…. Didn’t say “Pro” what, now did it?), fishing tackle–lures & hooks, rods & reels, tackle boxes, fishing line guaranteed to be strong enough to haul in Moby Dick, knives–oooh, lots of knives– plain and fancy, Native American tschotschkes of all sorts (Ever notice that Native American faces on these things always look like us WhiteEyes with really good tans?), blankets & leather belts, decoys, deer lures, outboard motors, camo wardrobe improvements, archery equipment with compound bows that Hiawatha never would recognize (some of them were pink), other items that I could only guess at. Plenty of booths touting outdoor adventures–big game, just regular game (bear, bobcat, deer, coyote), Maine woods trips, charter fishing (Lake Erie, Pymatuning, points north, like Quebec), the Trumbull County Rod & Gun Club, the Trumbull County Beagle Club, a bear skull, plenty of displays of the taxidermist’s art (one cooler chest full of plasticized fish,) the U.S. Coast Guard. There was a video shooting simulation; there were turkey calls (being tried out by all and sundry–it was noisy in that part of the building), there were targets and stands, raffles and giveaways and seminars. There were wonderful names : Lucky’s Jerky, Tru-Trip Deep Divers for walleye, crappie jigs, Froggy Toggs. And a few incongruities : Bath Fitter, Ohio State Water proofing, Tom Warren, running for state representative–those politicians will go anywhere. My personal favorite was the display by Birds in Flight Sanctuary, Inc. They had there several rescued sick, injured and orphaned raptors which they had cared for. Gotta love owls! And the food! Amish bakery goods! Hungarian Pepper Relish! Meatball wraps! Bowl-O-Meatballs! One stop had Hickory Syrup. Hickory Syrup? The ingredients list said: Hickory, Sugar. Was it the bark? The wood? Nuts? Interesting flavor. And speaking of nuts…. St. Patrick’s Day in Garrettsville was a big green success. Anything that could be even remotely connected to the Auld Sod was being played, displayed, photographed, eaten or drunk…happily…for most of the day. Sam Bixler and his big Shire horses were taking wagon/carriage-loads of merrymakers on trips around the downtown area. Jason Adkins, the Balloon Dude, was making fantastical creatures (He says that he was not responsible for Leppy and his crew; lets hope not). Most of the restaurants in town were doing a land office business in corned beef in all of its many permutations–hash, sandwiches, with eggs or potatoes or both, even as reubens. Green was the color of the day, of course, though orange would have been equally apropos, unless you’re inclined to discriminate against Northern Ireland and/or Protestants. It went beyond Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham to green beer and Grasshopper Pie, maybe Key Lime, in a pinch. Guiness was flowing like water; several partakers subsequently required pouring into their respective beds later in the evening, which went on for quite a while. The streetscape patio at the Main Street Grille and Brewing Company (AKA, The Mill) was buzzing from early until late; ditto for Sean’s Pub, Slim & Jumbo’s, Sky Lanes…you name it. I got to sing an Irish ditty about a little red fox with the musicians ensconced in the Bookstore playing on guitar, harp, flute, buttonbox concertina, whistle and the Uillean pipes (That’s one Irish take on bagpipes; most of us only know the Scots version. Virtually every western musical culture has some variation). Maith thu’! And in there somewhere, I stopped for pancakes with the Garfield Middle School football program, courtesy of Coach Apple and his expert flapjack flippers. Great syrup and they did a special-order stack of wheats that landed with a thud and stayed with me all day. Great stuff! Bigger and better next year…if the weather repeats. Dia ar sabhail!

Can we please have a rest until closer to November?

Good Grief!  It got so that I was seriously thinking of just letting the phone ring–I never do that–until the machine picked up or the caller got tired–no caller I.D. here, Chatty Kathy, no screening of calls.  In the end, I did not do that; I’m always worried that I might miss something or be accidentally rude (If I’m going to be rude, I’d rather be it on purpose).  But, boy, it was a temptation  when the political calls were tracking each other–Bam–Bam–Bamm–at lunchtime, at suppertime, Sunday afternoon, Monday morning, all of the above.  Whoooee!

And the resemblance to Middle School social interaction was unnerving : He said this ; He did that; I’m smarter; He’s ugly; I’m going to….; He won’t….; This person likes me better; That person is on his side.  Lordy, Lordy, you could tune in to this kind of stuff in any locker room in the country…with a comparable basis in fact and relevance.  Could we please try to raise the level of public discourse somewhat above this juvenilia? Puts me in mind of an old saying by Abraham Lincoln, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Some of these dudes should have just shut up. But that would be too much to ask, given that the means of communicating has expanded so amazingly.  You’ve got your landline telephone, your cell phone, your Blackberry, your Facebook page, your Twitter account, your email, your “snail mail” box –filled with flyers–at the house or at the post office; there are posters on poles, posters in yards, posters at every intersection.  The robo-calls and polls and testimonials are irritating to the maxxx; they always come in when you’ve got other things happening…or trying to.

I can’t speak of TV ads, since I don’t see them, but I can’t imagine that there is any relief to be found there.  One radio report that I heard said that some “Super Pac” had spent 25 million on such advertising in one state.  Whoooeee!
And that’s another thing…the names of these groups.  Their names are all uplifting and patriotic and do-gooder-sounding but they get your attention almost solely to savagely attack anyone not in lock-step with them and them alone.  Think you might like to have a view of your own?  Think that there might be a question about the veracity and accuracy of the charges being made? Think that there might just be a “fly in the ointment” of the proposed miraculous solution?  Forgetaboutit!
And yet….  And yet…..

When you get right down to brass tacks ( and brass knuckles too, at least figuratively speaking), there have been worse times in the political history of the republic.  Oh yes, pretty ugly stuff.
George Washington may be just about the only President who escaped vilification and cruel rumors (though there were snide remarks about his expense accounts while commander of the Continental Army, the wine, you know).  John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and their supporters verbally duked it out in the election of 1800, calling each other vicious names(“blind, bald, crippled toothless, hideous and hermaphroditical, seeking mistresses and to marry his son[--that would be John Quincy--]to the king’s daughter…”; “would bring murder, rape, robbery, adultery and incest to practice in the land …soaked with blood).  Heck, Sen. Stephen Douglas called Abraham Lincoln, “a hatchet-faced nutmeg dealer”…and you thought he was just good at debating!

Probably the worst in terms of physical violence was the Sumner/Brooks Affair.  Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was anti-slavery to the bone and made a vitriolic speech in 1856, ridiculing slave owners as pimps for “the harlot, Slavery” in the “Crime against Kansas” and calling Senators Andrew Brooks and Stephen Douglas–remember him?–.  “noise-some, squat and nameless animal(s)”.  Nice talk!  Rep Preston Brooks of South Carolina, a cousin, took umbrage and proceeded to walk onto the floor of “the world’s greatest deliberative body” and beat Sumner with a wooden cane, nearly to death.  Brooks resigned to avoid a censure resolution; his district re-elected him.

The advent of mass communication did not bring about a conversion to civility either.  For example, the “Daisy” ad of the campaign  in 1964 used a little girl and a flower leading into a nuclear count-down to slam Barry Goldwater as a warmonger (There was also a dust-up about him being born in Arizona when it was still Indian Territory.  Was he really a citizen?).  Michael Dukakis popping out of a tank was an object of ridicule. The patriotism, parentage and sexual proclivities of just about everybody have been called into question at one time or another; we didn’t all have to listen to it or see it so much, though.
Only eight months to go.  Hang on to your hats.

I also love seed catalogs.  They’re coming in now and probably will continue until Memorial Day; Hope springs eternal!

I used to get lots more.  That was before somebody apparently tipped off Burpee’s Seeds and Plants,  Stark Bros, Gurney’s, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Park Seeds, et al. that I had a particularly virulent “black thumb”.  Yes, sadly, for green things large and small, I am a chlorophylliate “kiss-of-death”.  Once-upon-a-time, single-handed, I caused the demise of an air fern.  Jungle Girl, I am not.

Seed catalogs are so hopeful.  One gets the feeling–planted by those wily horticulturists–that if the sun will just come up on a regular basis, fruits and vegetables will overflow all of the containers available for them and the neighbors can rely on your largesse for regular infusions of Vitamins A, B–all of them–C, D and probably E and K.

It’s all reminiscent of the early days of settlement in Freedom Township:  The proprietors of large tracts of land wished to sell much of it at a profit, so they put it about that this acreage out in the wilds of the Western Reserve was a veritable Eden of the West, where crops would grow with amazing abundance and rapidity.  When planting, the sower would have to be nimble about dropping seeds in the ground, lest they spring up and deliver a sharp rap on the chin to anyone lingering to observe them in the ground.  These early real estate entrepreneurs neglected to mention the “Great Swamp” in the middle of Portage County (Not connected, but not unlike the Great Black Swamp over in western Ohio which slowed “Mad” Anthony Wayne on his way to the Battle of Fallen Timbers but encouraged the growing of just about every kind of agriculture once the place had been mostly drained.).  One lady who had trekked all the way out from Massachusetts expecting to find Paradise; when she got here and saw what she saw, she wrote back to her sister, “If this be the Land of Freedom, I would like to know what the Land of Bondage will be.”

Anyway, the same people who come up with the titles for the little sample cards in the paint selection department work on the side coming up with names for new varieties of plants.  “Snow Sweet”, “Dwarf Wonderblue”, “Pinky Winky” (It’s a hydrangea),”Serendipity”, “Sugar Daddy”, “Buttercrunch”.  Do they sound luscious or what?  Then there’s “Green Arrow”(green peas), “Mucho Nacho Hybrid”(jalapeno), “Mammoth Sandwich Island” (Salsify…whatever that is), “Kong(as in ‘King’) Hybrid Sunflower”(12 feet).  One of my favorites is the “Firewitch Dianthus”, another is “Incrediball Hydrangea”.  Where do they get these things?  Great stuff!

Somehow, I got on a mailing list for Growers Supply–a division of FarmTek.  These folks obviously don’t know who they’re dealing with.  They’re peddling complete hydroponic systems, Solar Star Greenhouses, E-Z Haul wagons and carts, seedling heat mats and Tex-R Geodiscs for weed control.  Whoops!  They’re touting all of this wonderful stuff to someone who’s got beavers chewing down the last, remaining   semi-dwarf-gone-berserk apple tree in the backyard.  Tough sell.

Still, I usually fall for at least one of their blandishments and attempt to make some new green thing grow someplace.  Bob the Landscaper Dude will tell you that I will give it the old school try, but  our nemesis is shade.  I have lots.  All of the bright, colorful plants–perennials, I have no truck with namby-pamby vegetation that can’t survive on its own–come with directions to plant them in “full sun”.  Not much of that around here.

The other siren song that I often fall for is the “heritage” label.  Makes me think of our orchard at home. Lots of old, old varieties of fruit–Yellow Transparent I remember.  Maybe Baldwins?  A little yellow plum, about the size of a Bing cherry– sweet, sweet, sweet–grafted onto a larger plum tree.  Birds always got the cherries before any of us could.  Calves and chickens and pigs and sheep scarfed up anything that hit the ground.

I do hope that somewhere in a seed bank( Like the one up in Norway on the island of Spitzbergen, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault) or world-wide gene bank all of these “old timers” are just waiting to be rediscovered, re-used, re-purposed and appear again to be enjoyed.  Plants need a “Noah’s Ark” too, to protect against a loss of diversity, whether by accident or natural disaster or disease.  When we get down to just a few varieties–all of our eggs in one basket, if you will–we’re just tempting Fate, setting ourselves up for some really hungry times.  Funny, isn’t it, that perhaps the survival of the vast majority of our food crops may depend on a storage vault 810 mi. from the North Pole, chosen for its lack of tectonic/seismic activity and its permafrost–the place is kept at 0 degrees.

Clarence Birdseye would be proud.

I sure hope that I get the hang of this “Christmas shopping” thing soon. I always think that I will get a head start on it –August, say–and have gifts all wrapped and ready, tucked away somewhere (Attic? Basement?) so that the holiday rush will be a thing of the past. Well, so far what’s passed is the time for getting all of this done…without a whole lot to show for it. I have checked out and purchased a fair amount of stuff locally and am still on the lookout for the odd one-of-a-kind item or two (Shaker Tree, anyone? T & B Tools?) but there are some large gaps that are going to need to be filled pretty jolly-well quick or there will be “blood in the saddle”, so to speak.
The big trouble is that a very high percentage of the items that now strike me as being just the perfect thing for so-and-so or what’s-er-name turn out to be things that should have been ordered or purchased several whiles ago. Time to go to Plan B…or C…or whatever. Unfortunately, those plans appear to be a bit hazy too.
“Re-gifting”, while tempting, isn’t really a likely option in most situations…number one, because I’m not really positive who was the original gifter or, number two, I really like the item but haven’t quite figured out what to do with it or where to put it, or, number three, the color is just NOT going to fit just anywhere. Perhaps I should take a cue from the Rotarians, who have a White Elephant gift exchange, wherein they drag out idiosyncratic curios from the back of their closets or sale racks at some low-end Half Dollar Store, wrap this dross prettily and try to inveigle some unsuspecting counterpart into getting stuck with it…at least until the next exchange…and better wrapping. There are some exchanges where the same utterly ridiculous heirloom has been going back and forth for decades–sort of like fruitcake.
Sometimes getting out of town will work–just for new ideas, like reading up on the Neiman-Marcus catalog about the offered sequin tank tunic (Been there, done that), the ten Hacker-Craft speedboats or Ferrari FF models, the $75,000 luxury yurt(Don’t go for any yurt unless it’s a luxury model; Kazakhs and Kyrgyz tribes use them in Mongolia and Siberia–it’s about sheepskin and/or felt )–keeping in mind that $5ooo of your yurt money will go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (Check out the shape). You could also purchase a $1 million “dancing fountain or get a $5000 private tasting of Johnny Walker (No relation. My WCTU ancestors would be appalled.) or a custom-designed library with seating, shelving, objets d’ art, floor and wall-covering and 250 selected books in your preferred genre. That one will also get you a donation to First Book, a non-profit organization devoted to getting books into the hands and homes of disadvantaged children and youth. N-M aims to offer “once-in-a-lifetime experiences that evoke beauty, culinary perfection and whimsy.” Well,…me too.
So, I did head out of town, to an up-scale shopping mecca. Did I see solutions to my shopping dilemma? Did I see perfect gifts for all and sundry on my list–which I made and checked MORE than twice–clutched in my hot little hand? Alas, no!
I saw one chick in a spiffy car boppin’ out on some sort of in-car music system…didn’t appear to be Christmas carols, but she was really getting into the tunes.
I saw women wearing 4-5-inch heels walking around on pavement in shoes that were simply astounding. Don’t their toes get cold? Don’t their calves cramp up? Don’t they occasionally pitch forward into the Salvation Army kettles? Goodness gracious! Shopping requires track shoes and arch supports, not to mention coats and jackets with many pockets.
I saw children who should have been at home being dragged past things that they wanted but couldn’t have, past things that they didn’t want anyway, past other kids who were being disgruntled at the top of their lungs. They were not enjoying the sight-seeing. They were not enjoying much of anything. There were other kids clinging and crying, still others whining and wheedling, and the really upset ones were screaming like banshees. Not inspiring.
BUT….
The music is still out there. The red kettles are still filling (Somebody put in gold coins; another somebody dropped in a diamond; others gave what they could). The People Tree and Shop-with-a Cop and Fill-a-Cruiser and such programs are still working their magic…quiet magic, but magic all the same. Same old tunes, new hearts to hear them. Hallelujah!
Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

So…I missed the Rotary meeting on the 24th.  They were working away at their Reverse Raffle and Silent Auction…as they have been for some time;  get your tickets now.  The array of donated items and services  should make for spirited bidding and a good time for all.  It’s a regular social event around these parts, starts off the holiday season and more holiday-minded folks are always welcome.

So why did I miss the meeting?  The Amazing Amishman was working in my trees again.  It was quite something to watch him climb up and stand on some spindly branch that I wouldn’t send a cat out on (And I have several who might volunteer) then lop off limbs of all sorts and descriptions–leafy, dead, gnarled, etc.–and let them either drop to the ground or be swung down on a rope.   All the while he’s managing various belts and tools–including a chain saw which he sometimes wield with ONE HAND–and climbing around the trunk of the tree being dealt with using a belt that sort of ratchets him upward and a pair of spikes fastened at the knee and ankle and featuring a grip-point at about the instep of his foot…and a safety rope (didn’t look all that safe to me from my perspective on the ground).  Wowzaa!

This is all going on in my side yard where a number of “junk” trees were about to go to that Big Wood Burner in the Sky…and in the back where some very mature trees needed to lose some weight (Don’t we all?), namely a selection of truly dead wood that was doing no one any good and possibly threatening the rhododendrons, poor babies.  One dead limb had actually leaned against a large neighbor for so long that the healthy tree was starting to grow bark around the freeloader to hold it up; dead branch had to be pulled out of the notch it had created, even when it was cut off from its base.   In addition, I needed a place to plant the newest addition, a young pawpaw bush that’s gone in as a companion to the one which did really well this summer.  They’re apparently not able to produce fruit unless there are at least two of them within pollinating distance of one another…and the whole purpose of planting fruit trees is–wait for it–to get fruit, right?  “Way Down Yonder in the Pawpaw Patch” will now be on the east side of the house.  Actually, I have no idea at all what pawpaws taste like; this is just another “go native” effort in landscaping.  I might try for a Rattlesnake Master or Queen of the Prairie next, now that there’s so much sunlight available.  Of course, what I might really get with the newly-opened space is more poison ivy.  It nearly always homes in on edge spaces like this…and hardly anything stops it.

Additionally, I made an effort to get the hatches battened down for winter(Boy, aren’t we glad we’re not in eastern Pennsylvania or anywhere along the eastern seaboard).  Took the cushions off the front and back porch furniture, stashed chairs and cushions in the basement.  Put the kitty condos on the front porch (They’re worm boxes from Garrettsville Hardware; the worms weren’t using them now that they’re in some fish gullet somewhere), attached the heating pads for those(No cool kitties around here).  Rounded up the lawn furniture and swept the deck.  Planted one lone Jack-in-the-Pulpit bulb.  This is as ready as I’m going to get.

As for what we’re going to get, who are you going to believe, some nice old farmer from Vermont or the Accu-Weather   people?  If so far is any indication, it could be a toss-up.  The old guy was saying early, mild and moist, with a bear of a February.  Officialdom says wicked cold and wet and/or snowy.  We’ve had near-record rainfall and  an early nor-easter.  How long is this going to go on?  Hang on to your hats–also earmuffs, long johns, boots and woolies–it could be a wild one!

October is my kind of month.  It’s interesting.
The harvest is winding down; those shocks of corn so prized by decorators are actually passe’ .  Nobody uses them any more, unless they’re Amish, of course.  Corn pickers are where it’s at as far as harvesting corn is concerned.  They’re also one of the reasons why farming has always ranked as one of the most dangerous occupations.  Somebody is always tempted to just reach into the machinery to pull or loosen or wiggle some little glitch in the feed-in stream, just real quick, just a twitch…aarrgh!  Lotsa farmers named “Lefty “out there.  Of course, the alternative is to leave the corn standing in the field and go out with a wagon to pick the ears by hand and toss them into the wagon.  Sometimes this doesn’t happen until ‘way into the winter and it’s a very cold way to spend a day.  One of my most vivid memories was of being the driver (at age seven or thereabouts) of the tractor pulling the wagon while my dad walked along picking ears of corn–probably husking them too–and tossing them into the box of the wagon.  Coldest I have ever been in my life!  Holy Schmoley!  Thought that my fingers and toes were going to snap off like the icicles they were to rattle around in my mittens and boots like the pebbles in a pair of maracas.  Cold!
It IS the season of the pumpkin harvest though, and they’re everywhere around here.  New England, now, the whole northeast, actually, is suffering from The Great Pumpkin Shortage of 2011.  The heavy rain and subsequent flooding delayed the planting in the spring.  Then a fungus called phytophtora–which just happens to thrive indampness –appeared to wipe out a lot of patches.  Then Hurricane Irene administered the coupe de grace and knocked out whatever was left.  One farmer said that he watched his entire crop–15,000 to 20,000 of the orange orbs–washed into Lake Champlain.  Uh, oh!
We don’t have to worry about that.   Neither did the guy in Rhode Island who grew this year’s biggest pumpkin, 1,661 pounds (150 lbs. short of the world record 1,810.5 lbs, raised last year in Wisconsin).  It must have been feeling a little peaked after all of the surrounding disaster. There have been rumors of some unscrupulous types hauling truckloads of “hot” pumpkins to some of the more deprived states : pumpkin profiteers! Anyway, some of the more creative folks deprived of their usual carving canvas have suggested squash-o-lanterns or watermelon-o-lanterns…. How about  going historical and carving scary faces on turnips as the original folkloric version has it, long story about a guy named Jack who tricked the Devil–not an easy thing to do–then was tricked in return and had to wander the earth looking for a place to rest, since he could not get into Heaven and he’d made the Devil promise not to take him to Hell.  He asked the Devil how he could see to wander about at night so the Devil tossed him an inextinguishable coal from Hades and Jack carved out a turnip–his favorite vegetable–to put the light in and he roamed the earth looking for a resting place.  Some times the ignis fatuus or will-o-the-wisp phosphorescence of the swamps is thought to be Jack, still out there looking.
And speaking of fungus…that was in a paragraph up there someplace, right?…the mushrooms are really something this year.   In the woods, on the lawn on the backside of rocks, on the trunks of trees, yellow ones, white ones, big ones, small ones, wow, what an assortment!  (See scientific descriptions elsewhere.  DO NOT eat just to see if you can.  Could be hard on your next of kin)

And October is National Cookie Month!  What’s not to like?

The Settlers “Ye Old” State Renaissance Faire has shuffled off into history once again, leaving bags of gold for the Middlefield “Shop With a Cop” program and the “Middlefield Cares! Food Cupboard”.  Generous supporters included the Nauvoo Family Market, White House Chocolates, Alley’s Grille,  Mary Yoder’s Kitchen, Zeppe’s Pizzaria, EarthLight Art Source, Mangia! Mangia! and The Ghosts of Burton Historical Tours as well as the Vancura Gallery of Fine Art and Framing and the other businesses of Settlers’ Landing in Middlefield.

The grounds were peopled by minstrels and bards, gypsies and pirates, jousters, blacksmiths, costume outfitters, purveyors of jewelry sword-fighters (who occasionally had to visit the blacksmith for repairs), highlanders of various clans (sometimes “tossing the caber”), ponies and face-painters, Tarot readers, a riot of thespians, knaves and wenches of every description.  No varlets were   spotted.

What was spotted was the imposing sculpture of a Holstein cow on the front lawn, created largely of recycled car hoods (Its eye was a baseball, I think)  by Chris McConnell.  There was a contest during this particular edition of the Faire to select an appropriate name for the striking bovine.  Tapping into what is likely the most-recognized Medieval/Renaissance/Romantic meme  (the latest buzzword, dontcha know), the winner submitted “Muliet” (As in “Juliet”… no “Romoo-eo”  was in evidence, alas).  Maybe the beast will get a cowbell with her name on it.

The talent show at the Pavilion Stage was won by a buxom lass singing a naughty little ditty about the uncertainty of paternity.  She was awarded the $200 top prize.  Standing second was a stalwart sort of chap who demonstrated his prowess with a black bullwhip, with fearsome cracks and the snapping asunder of a water-filled cup.  The tale-telling blacksmith brought a narrative on the encounters of the Picts and the Scots (both an anathema to the Romans who were intending to “civilize” them and ended up just building walls to keep from being attacked by them.  Maybe the fact that the Picts went into battle naked and painted blue with a hallucinogenic substance had something to do with it).  Another singer and a storyteller stepped up to the microphone to perform. A nine-year-old singer took the youth division.

Judging the competition were local notables : a bit-player in royal garb from Garrettsville, the police chief of Middlefield in a kilt, looking perfectly capable of tossing a caber…or anything else that got in the way of his enforcing the law, the mayor of Middlefield in  jester’s motley (All politicians have these at the back of their closets).  The “cow stage” in front featured various farces and divertissements through out the day and the players were about the grounds when not on stage; the buffoon with a codpiece made an impression, certainly.
The Chinese auction (Do Chinese groups have American auctions?) was held at 5:45 to close the day and cap off the funding for the sponsored groups.  Well met!

So…my question is, if bats (Myotis lucifugus–lucifugus means “flees the light”) are supposed to have such a great echolocation system in their little heads where they emit sounds and then decipher the rebounding sound waves to avoid obstacles and catch their dinner, why can’t they figure out the fact that my front door is wide open so they can just wing their way our instead of circling the living room one hundred an fifty-four times while I sit on the porch waiting for their exit?
Just as I had–with some trepidation–been congratulating myself at having got through the summer (Well, it is almost over) without a visitations from die fledermaus , an occurrence that has been a pretty regular thing for quite a while.

It must be me; even when I lived in a two-and-a-half room apartment, there were bats in the basement who tried to come up from the basement into the living room through a knothole in the floor (the apartment building being even older than my present residence).  The rental agent at that time was the mayor of Garrettsville and he solved the problem by nailing a tin can lid over the hole…nice decorative touch.  But, of course, they were still hanging around–literally–down there and once when I went down to see about some laundry, one of them started whizzing about  in a typically scary fashion (I think it’s scary because it’s so erratic, not because they’re actually attacking).  Anyway, I crouched down–you know how one does– and headed for the stairs to escape and ran, full tilt, into the bottom edge of the handrail with my head.  MAJOR PAIN !

The pet of the moment was a toy poodle of mixed ancestry (Mother : an indiscreet apricot toy poodle; Father : a traveling salesman with an interesting line of goods) and she sat on the floor watching as I did my piggybank imitation with a slot in the top of my head, no doubt wondering her little doggy-brain, such as it was, why I wasn’t getting up to get her a treat instead of just bleeding and whining like some sort of cat, for goodness sake !

Any way, it was a while before I got that load of unmentionables out on the line, it was pretty quiet for a while and my ventures downstairs took place mostly in the daylight.  One day though, I went down to the big deep sink to get water for something and discovered a petrified bat in a plastic bucket.  I figured he had dropped in for a drink and the sides of the bucket were too slick for him to climb out; he just croaked …unfortunate for him, fortunately for me , I hadn’t decided to fetch a bucket of water to do the floor or something ( I knew that cleaning was dangerous!  I’ve sworn off!).

So then I moved down the street into a house with a checkered past(Somebody living here had an association with Harbison-Walker, there was a ton of fire-brick allover outside and in the garage foundation), a floored but unfinished attic, a just-barely floored basement and a suspect chimney.  And guess who showed up in the dark of night–hint : it wasn’t the Welcome Wagon–to do a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” flight over the bed?  And they kept welcoming me…about once or maybe twice a summer, even as I blocked off the chimney, replaced the windows, dry-walled the attic, remodeled the house…persistent little devils.
The dog was replaced eventually by cats and they were of no particular help at all.  I think that they cornered one in the bathtub once but he escaped and took his own sweet time about leaving altogether.  In fact, I’m not sure that he left under his own power because later–never mind how much later–while vacuuming, I lifted the corner of the rug to sweep and found  that what I had thought was a missing cat toy was, in fact, a petrified bat.  Had he been hiding or been hidden for later entertainment?  The cats aren’t talking.
I  haven’t even got to the episode where the County Health–pitiful as it is–insisted that I get the standard series of rabies shots (That’s five shots in the fundament…not to  be confused with “fun”) since there had been a bat in the house.  Both Dr. Liu and I argued that it really wasn’t necessary but, when it comes right down to it, what am I going to say?  “Oh, no thanks, I’d rather get hydrophobia and die”?

Mostly, I just open the doors and wait for the little devils to flutter out (This doesn’t work so well in the winter–yes, they do show up in winter).Which, of course, means that plenty more lunchmeat on the wing drifts in from the outside for my little visitor to snack on as he swoops through the house.  I have carpet burns on my knees and elbows from crawling to the door to open it.   The cats think this is hilarious and chuckle as they join me on the front porch to wait until the swooper finally leaves.  They also take the opportunity to attempt to escape into the night themselves; they know that I’m not about to go back inside–I’m probably lucky that they don’t decide to shred the furniture.  Additionally, there’s a fishnet for last-ditch efforts to capture the little blighters if necessary, stashed next to the bed, and–if anyone did notice it–they’ve been polite enough not to ask about.  Nothing kinky, honest!
This whole, on-going drama might call to mind the last musical number in the Strauss opera : “Oh bat, Oh, bat, at last let thy victim escape!”

Holy Schmoley!  It’s-a some kinda hot out there!  How much more of this is there going to be?  We get a sort of “teaser” when the temperature is just hot–not an inferno–and then the whole thing turns on us and you can start looking for the hinges of H-E-DOUBLE TOOTHPICKS again right across the road.  Wheww!

Leaving aside the fact that a whole lot of people don’t understand the difference between climate and weather (Weather–as I used to tell the seventh grade–is what you see out of the window or feel in your hip from an old football injury or hear on the nightly news; accuracy is not part of the equation.  Climate is   average weather over a long period…ten years, a hundred years, whatever.  Weather is directly observable phenomena–rain, wind, temperature, air pressure, tornado, sunshine, cloud cover, etc.  Climate is all about trends and “big picture” stuff.), It would seem to me to be quite clear that there is something big going on in the way of climate change; warming is only part of it.  It’s all about extremes : hottest temperatures since the 1930’s, record snowfall in Colorado, worst flooding since 1913, drought in the southeastern U.S. stretching across Texas and into the southwest, famine in the Horn of Africa,  record low temperatures and snowfall in Europe.  The permafrost is thawing, the birds come back to find that the stuff that they eat has bloomed and gone or moved north to a new habitat.  Poison ivy is flourishing, along with mosquitoes.  The “good old days” were only about eighteen months ago, weatherwise; the changes are upon us.  Batten down the hatches.

And who’s responsible for all of this…well, the biggest part anyway?  Somebody roll out the big mirror!

Sure, sure, there have always been changes in climate caused by natural and utterly uncontrollable events–Volcanoes and/or earthquakes throw millions of tons or dust and ash and who know what else into the atmosphere (causing things like “the year with no summer” in 1815 after Krakatoa blew up in what’s now Indonesia), they change landscapes too, leading to heaven-know-what other alterations; comets and asteroids and various chunks of interplanetary debris smack into us from time to time (causing mass extinction of species, not so much because they were all directly struck but because their environment was irrevocably changed; solar flares and cosmic rays probably have their effects as well…haven’t you read the Superman comic books?

But for good old rapid-fire, cataclysmic, blind, “devil take the hindmost” alteration of the earth and anything on it, you can’t beat Homo sapiens.

No sooner did we master the whole agriculture thing–“Look, I just drop these little round tings we’ve been eating into holes in the ground and wait until new plants come up    and I have more to eat!”–and the animal domestication thing–“Say, I’ll bet that  whatever it is that baby animal is getting to eat we could eat too.  C’mere, little critter.  C’mere, mama beast,” than we start changing the landscape, changing the plants and animals themselves, herding and breeding, eating and moving all over the place, shaping land, altering watercourses, saving some things, wiping out others…sort of like fire ants.

Then comes fire, the real stuff.  First thing you know we’re chowing down on roast beast, then building steam engines–time flies when you’re having fun.  Burn up those forests!  Ignite those black rocks!  Boil down those right whales!  Light up the Seneca Rock Oil!  Burn, Baby, burn!   Smoke?  Soot?  Particulate matter?  Carbon Dioxide?  Aaaah, the wind will take care of that.  Not our problem.

Well, no, not right away, but researchers studying ice cores from wherever there’s year ‘round ice find layers of the stuff, beginning around the time of the Industrial Revolution.  Dendrologists–they study trees–find signature rings in ancient trees indicating that things they are a-changin’…and not necessarily for the better.

For better or for worse–I’d put my money on “worse”–there is NO MORE earth being made, no more coal or gas or oil…or water (Trees are trying to hang on but we’re decimating forests at a great rate).  Seems to me that it behooves us to get our heads around the idea that we’ve got to stop using up every last jot and tittle of the finite resources on the planet (mountain top removal, fracking, long-line fishing, etc.) and redouble our efforts to find new, safe power sources and resources of all kinds, for all kinds of uses.  In the New Testament we learn the “the meek shall inherit the earth”; that may be because they’ll be the only ones not complaining about the shape it’s in.

Thus endeth the rant for today.

So here we are in the Fun Season…the Fair Season. Everyone comes up with a reason to promote hot grease and sno cones and enough sugar to sink the island of Puerto Rico. On any given weekend one can drive across the Buckeye State and catch a whiff of the abovementioned gastronomic outrages at nearly every turn. Garrettsville’s SummerFest, Windham’s Bicentennial, Art on the Hill, Raccoon County Anything, St. Joseph’s Ox Roast Fair–we’ve all got ‘em. And we’re not the only ones!
State fairs are renown for being in the forefront of this stuff. There are lots of fairs but the State Fair is the big Lollapalooza when it comes to culinary cuckoo bites. In many places the vendors must “try out” their offerings before a panel of tasters before they’re allowed on the midway. This year Texas and Minnesota–by ByGolly!–seem to be in the lead when it comes to the fried and furious sweepstakes. Read on :
The land of Ten Thousand Lakes, the Land of Blue-sky Waters weighs in (literally) with spaghetti and meatballs on a stick tucked in a batter-ball and deep-fried (For brevity’s sake we will henceforth refer to foods as OAS–on a stick– or DF–deep-fried, where applicable). You can also get (Ho Hum) shrimp OAS or–we’re getting global here–camel OAS. Yup. The humped ones. Of course, Minnesota always features as well a Dairy Princess sculpted in butter (She sits in a rotating freezer wearing a parka while the sculpting is being done; people watch). But there’s competition.
Texas comes out swinging with beer in pretzel dough, DF, deep-fried bacon and, for the gourmets in ten-gallon hats, chicken-fried bacon. So there!
There’s more. In Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland, you can find chocolate-covered bacon OAS (Take that, Texas!) and Irish stew in pastry. Bet there’s a butter sculpture somewhere in that crowd too. California comes through with the DF White Castle cheeseburger at the Orange County Fair and tops it in Sacramento with, of course, avocado, corn dog-style, served with either ranch dressing or an herbed-oil dressing…like…gnarly! Pickle pops are available in Kansas. Koolickles–that would be frozen Kool-Aid, OAS, DF, in many colors and flavors make an appearance in North Carolina. In Florida the retirees can feast on a milkshake burger; that’s a cheeseburger with DF ice cream. Not to be outdone, Indiana offers a hot beef sundae: marinated beef with mashed potatoes, gravy, cheese, corn, and a cherry tomato on top. Massachusetts–they’ve apparently overdosed on baked beans up there–has a jelly bean funnel cake. Arizona has probably the funkiest item out there so far–selling briskly, by the way–a caramel apple rolled in–not chopped nuts, that’s for sissies–rolled in mealworms, frozen, I think, the very same things that get fed to the birds and fishes. Tweet tweet!
And I couldn’t even find where the frozen coffee OAS or the DF Norwegian Banana Split were to be found.
Maybe it was in Montana where one can taste the ultimate : Deep-fried Butterballs.
Careful, you could wind up with too little blood in your cholesterol stream!

So…there’s this big birthday party at my house, see…first big event here since Christmas, see…significant birthday, see.  Oy, oy, oy…such a party!So, the party is to be utilizing the park-like backyard and the covered porch and the custom deck and the flagstone patio and the flood-lit arbor (I told the local photographer, Ronda Brady, that the place was “wedding ready”) that had been just waiting for  an appropriate occasion.  But, of course, the inside of the house has got to get at least “a lick and a promise” to come up to snuff in case use of ”the facilities”  came to be necessary–doesn’t it always?  Now I clean my house once a year, whether it needs it or not, but this was going to require extraordinary measures!  Things moved, things were dusted,  surfaces were shined (Some, of course, refused to do this), curtains went up, cobweb came down, spiders were displaced.  The vacuum roared and the cats disappeared. The litter boxes in the basement even got an update.And, of course, the lawn had to be mowed and the new plants had to be watered so they didn’t look like some pitiful horticultural refugees and the weeds had to be–insofar as possible–banished and the hungry caterpillars who’d taken up tented residence in the crabapple tree had to be evicted. Every plant with buds on was encouraged to flower by 7:00 on Friday.  Hop to it, little chlorophyllites! No twiddling of green thumbs here!  I was still poking little, orphan, clearance-sale annuals into their beds at 4:30.  ‘S truth!Food?  Yeah, maybe a bite or two…the usual food groups…beef, pork, chicken…potato salad, pasta salad… on real plates…desserts.  Ah, desserts….The chocolate fountain became a chocolate pond but was still pretty popular, since there were plenty of items–fruit kabobs, angel food cake, pretzels–no fingers, please!–to dip. Beverages–adult and juvenile( Doesn’t hurt to have a guest who’s a wine importer)–had their own serving stations and ice chests The birthday cake was a three-tiered extravaganza with a forest of candles ranged around atop the lower level(twenty-four inches across).  It required the services of two–count ‘em, two!–“Maidens of the Flame”  wielding mechanical torches to get these all going before the first ones lit melted to puddles or the neighbors called the fire department to put out the conflagration.  The noise pollution people were speeding toward the gathering when the singing of “Happy Birthday” ended.The attendees were a mixed bag (Not you, Sis)–an up-scale bag such as Tiffany’s, no doubt:  Family, friends, neighbors, undercover agents for the FDA, business associates, a nine-month-old, two French bulldogs, heck, may be the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were that couple sitting in the back by the serviceberry tree.  Surely their invitation made it to London in time!  It was an intimate gathering of  something over a hundred and twenty-five.  Nearest and dearest, don’t you know!  Only the immediate world.Conversations were pretty mixed too.  One local light has taken up rowing crew on the Cuyahoga River–how cool is that!  One intrepid couple came in from Michigan…presumably, they did NOT discuss football with any of the locals–they were undamaged when they left.  Youth was served by representation of the under-thirty set (and the nine-month-old) and my mom, perking along at ninety-one, held her own.  Two party-goers were going to head  off next month to see my favorite county fair( Lorain) in Wellington…something to do with cows.  Geez, I couldn’t listen in on everything…but I gave it the old school try.Now, of course, it’s clean-up time.  I don’t do clean-up well, as anyone who’s been in my house during “down time” might notice.  I tried to talk the Tooth Fairy into this gig, whisking away the unwanted, but there’s been an outbreak of  emergent incisors to deal with so that’s out.  Actually, the tables are mostly folded up, the chairs are mostly stacked, the chafing dishes are mostly clean and ready to go off to their regular storage places–not here, thank goodness–the tablecloths are washed, the re-cyclables are bagged and ready–glass, aluminum, cardboard–the cats are recovering.  Man, they were out of sight for most of that evening.  Only one of them is truly anti-social but it was a case of “too many, too much” for about a week there and they all decided to “lie doggo”, so to speak instead of complicating the festivities.  Had one of them decided to investigate the serving table, things could have gotten ugly…literally!  The enormous, full trash bags are in the garage, waiting for the next pick-up( Local critters did some sampling on the lawn before the recovery began but they haven’t been able to open the garage door.  The space smells like potato salad.  Could be worse)And you know what?  IT WASN’T EVEN MY BIRTHDAY!.

The Biggest Game in Town came up aces for virtually the entire SummerFest weekend.  The brief, scattered showers didn’t seem to have deterred any of the fun-seekers who turned out morning, noon and night to enjoy all of the available activities.The opening of the Windham St. bridge provided a venue that was not available in 2010 and the Lions, the Boosters, all kinds of folks stepped up to make their presentations.  It was also a great spot to watch the duck races on Sunday and to pick up a ride on the ChooChoo which chugged here all the way from Indiana.Anyone who went home hungry just wasn’t looking very hard.  Maple dogs made their appearance once again–tasty!  The usual lemonade shake-ups, hot dogs, deep-fried cheese–gooey– and French fries–desperately greasy, hot and deelish–funnel cakes in an explosion of powdered sugar, slushies in jewel tones of syrup competed with and were complemented by the stromboli (veggie ones, even) the Louisiana pulled pork, the jerky ,the ice cream made on the spot in giant, motor-churned freezers, the Fudgie-Wudgie table, the fine dining at the Main Street Grille and Brewing Company, the pizza, the DQ Blizzards, McDonald’s old stand-bys, hot or cold.  Miller’s early riser specials probably got a spike, maybe even the B.A. breakfast and Cal’s saw more than the usual crowd.  The place was jumpin’!…and eatin’.  And there were still –mostly younger, emptier–people in the eating contests?  You betcha!Contest, yes, there were contests.  Besides the aforementioned duck races, the more active among us could participate in the canoe races for all ages and abilities  (I drove the Press Canoe in one of those–Long Ago and Far Away).  Runners and walkers (present company excepted; I was in church reporting on the recent Big Meeting) were out on the course, picking ‘em up and putting ‘em down to support the Friends of Melana (who were also on the main concourse in town) in their drive to support research into brain cancer in children.  The James A. Garfield Marching Pride ran a local permutation of the TV game show “Deal or No Deal”…lot of audience-participation in that one.  And that’s not even counting the Big Deal contest for Garrettsville Idol or the drawing for the Chevy Cruze on Sunday night.Parades, there were parades.  Saturday’s Tractor Parade, sponsored by Century 21 Goldfire Realty, was a hoot…or a toot or a braqaaakkkk in tractor-speak.  Big ones, little ones…red ones, blue ones, gray ones, green ones, orange ones, some with virtually no paint left…shiny, new ones, a couple who fought the cow and the cow won…a couple of the really enormous ones could have been lived in by the entire population of Quattar…there were little guys sitting on their dads’ laps and waving–tickled to death, ladies who knew a thing or two about the business end of a drawbar or power take-off, Jim Turos on a high-rise…it was amazing!  Upwards of one hundred and seventy, maybe as many as two hundred tractors wheeled down the road from the high school, all the way to the light and around town to the cheers of the assembled multitudes, many with drivers or riders sporting fluorescent yellow shirts– most of these had big grins on their faces.Sunday’s Grand Parade, organized by the super-competent staff over at the Middlefield Banking Company was no slouch either (Colleen knows her stuff).  We had the Mayor and Mrs. Mayor and a passel of grandchildren riding in a carriage/wagon driven by Sam Bixler, the Younger (with Karen and Sam Bixler the Elder), displaying his offspring as well–great families, great horses. What’s not to like?Irv and Hallie Higgins, the Grand Marshals, rode in the Chevy Cruze which was this year’s raffle prize, receiving recognition from the community  they’ve done so much for…and with.  Village council members were   there in all kinds of vehicles–Steve Hadzinsky was touting JAG Appreciation from the driver’s seat in a truck.  We had the newly-married couple who had just tied  the knot on Saturday (They were probably still humming “Goin’ to the chapel, and we’re gonna get mar-a-a-ried….”).  Garrettsville Idol contestants were there, as was our Ohio State Representative, Kathleen Clyde, waving like a trouper to all constituents and supporters.   Our guardians of public health and safety, the police, fire and emergency medical forces were in the thick of it and so was public education, when the James A. Garfield transportation department, Marching Pride Band and really loud cheerleaders got into the act.  There were churches, there were businesses, there were the Masons (since1854!), ball teams, antique fire trucks, antique Roger Angel of the DQ, dancers, jeeps, an excellent excavator,  F&S Automotive with some machines that could have hauled away the north side of town on a roller skate, horses…and the indispensable clean-up crew, Tim & Roger Farris, three party buses and the party organizers, Gretchen Cram’s crew of merry maids of the Middlefield Banking Company.  Whoooeee!  That’s-a some parade!The only untoward event that I heard was of an Amish buggy horse who was not a real big fan of the amazing fireworks display on Saturday night.  Whoa, Nellie!  The first boom went off, the first multicolored shower of lights illumined the sky and it was…”I’m Outta here!”  Head for the roundhouse, Nellie, they can’t corner you there!  Well, eventually they did corner her, after only minor damages and the show had gone on anyway.
Aaron King and committee, ya done good!  What’s for next year?

Well, it hasn’t been quite like that, but close.  The rounds of graduation open houses continues apace.  What shindigs!

Back when I graduated (There was parking for the dinosaurs out back of the barn and we had to rub sticks together to cook the roast beast.), it was pretty much a given that if you had an open house to celebrate your graduation, it would be held shortly after the ceremony, after you had got out from the auditorium with your robe and funny hat (I don’t recall anyone throwing them either) and headed on home to where the relatives had set up the punch bowl and put out the sandwiches and cut the cake (decorated in school or class colors–ours were maroon and white/ turquoise and black…now there’s a combo).  Graduates generally had to forego attending each other’s fetes to stay at home and murmur thanks for gifts and talk to Aunt Faye about college plans or what was up with the local news.  Besides, who had cars of their own to gallivanting off to eat somebody else’s sandwiches and cake?  We ate that stuff for weeks afterwards. I do seem to remember trays of nut bread and punch…maybe mints and/or nuts…but it was all pretty sedate.

Boy , is that ever OVER!  I quite sympathize with anyone who rents a hall to host the festivities.  The very thought of trying to clean and cook and communicate in a civil fashion with the people wandering in and out of the house during the weeks and days and hours before graduation gives me the willies.  Besides, having an indoor venue means that one does not have to be quite so obsessive about checking (and occasionally cursing) the weather person.  This can, of course, be done at home but when one has to seriously consider icing down the cat dishes for stashing chilled beverages or setting up chips & dips on the ironing board (It’s an antique!), it means that you either have too many friends (NEVER) or a too-small house to consider a plus-size party for this occasion.  And you don’t have to mow the lawn (Who’s been able to count on doing that , with the weather we’ve been having?) if somebody else will be taking care of that…and the parking is not your problem.

So, lately, the thing has been to go with a theme…something beyond “Thank God she made it out!” or “My bankroll can’t take much more of this–and there’s college yet to go!”  One very pleasant tropical-themed one recently introduced me to lychee fruit, of which I had read/heard but never tasted .  These are tropical/subtropical fruits (the only member of its particular genus of the soapberry family…doesn’t sound promising, does it?) that made it into the Charlie Chan movies because they began to be cultivated in China somewhere around 2000 B.C.  What are called “lychee nuts” are really just the dried fruit rinds that are red and kind of bumpy.  The actual fruit is sort of translucent, sweet and slippery–an odd sensation to say the least–that’s been removed from the rind, looks a bit like scallops in a bowl–totally different taste and texture.  Anyway, the funny little guys fitted right into the whole party, with the pool open and the sun shining and the water splashing and the locals coming and going in their native costumes.

There is, of course, plenty of down-home, y’all come entertaining out there as well.  I requested a recipe for one humungous salad-type dish that had–I inspected it closely–beans, corn, black olives, bacon, sour cream, cornbread, I think, and salsa or plain tomatoes, I’m not sure which.  Tasty stuff and a nice contrast to the peanut butter-chocolate fudge bar found at another location.  You’ll notice that I was grazing my way through these gatherings, trying to pace myself and not O-D one any one particular culinary offering.  It’s one of the hazards of the season.  This is all on top of the southern barbeque and Greek delicacies featured last week.  So far no one has thought to go for an Alaskan Cruise or North Pole Party…probably has something to do with the shortage of whale blubber or seal steaks in the local IGA…walrus liver too, I’ll bet.

Anyway, more power to ‘em, I say.   There is still one question that I have about such gatherings.  If it’s an “open house” why are the initials R.S.V.P. (Respondez S’il Vous Plait–Reply, If You Please) on the invitation?  Is this a ploy to keep out the riff-raff so that not every one within the immediate area doesn’t show up looking for dinner–or at least a hefty snack?  Is it a heads-up to the party-throwers to order up another vat full of jo-jos?  Is the house open or not?   Do we attendees have to have the secret password in order to sneak a peek at the living room or the downstairs bathroom?  Whatever.  I get to as many as I can to wave goodbye as the train pulls out of the station headed for a new leg of life’s journey.

 

Bon Voyage!

 

 

We think that the second dove has not returned to the boat (Genesis 8:6-14) so we might be able to begin thinking about returning to what passes for normal around here.Normal  is  a pretty flexible term.  It included the annual academic awards program, recognizing just rafts of outstanding individuals, many of the usual suspects who’ve been raising the bar in accomplishment from the very beginnings of their high school careers, and some surprises, people who found one specific class or area where they could take their first real step into the spotlight of achievement.  As they say “Down Under”, “Good on ya.”The Seniors of the Year–Emily Hartman and Josh Lawrence–were unveiled,  top ten students introduced, departmental honors awarded, scholarships announced; there was recognition galore!  Solemnity and loss shadowed the presentation of the Logan Sanders Memorial Scholarship, given in memory of a much-missed recent graduate.  Coach John Bennett, who made the presentation, urged all in attendance to actually talk to each other more without the filter of electronics and with the awareness of the precious connections we all have and need.  A near-tornado raged outside and rain could be heard on the roof; administrators quietly checked on shelter areas; lights flickered but by the time the ceremony came to an end, the weather was in remission and everyone made it home safely.With the sun finally making some of its scheduled appearances, a number of other things began showing up as well.  The first Cruise Night–opening the line-up of special events for the summer–took place on Main St. on Saturday evening.  Attendees ranged from very small children and  dogs who were there strictly  because somebody else brought them, to major motorheads who admired the deeply-shining paint jobs, the amazing chrome and the attention to detail in many of the restorations.  I loved the rumble seats.  I seem to remember that somewhere in my ill-spent youth, my aunts had a runabout of some sort (Was it a Model A?  I know that later we had a Model A truck…of which more some other time) with one of those accommodations–too cool!  Almost as much fun as getting to ride on the –very high up–backs of Grandpa’s draft horses(Dick and Betty) coming in from working in the fields and heading for the water trough.  Anyway, Jerry and the band were parked opposite High St. and alternated toe-tapping tunes with giveaways and promotions for the strolling crowds.  The new tables down at the Main Street Grille and Brewing Company seemed to be popular.  It was a nice evening to be out and plenty were.Weeds have fared rather better than purposely-planted green stuff.  I figure that if it has a taproot that goes straight down and turns left at China (rather like a wisdom tooth that I had “Duke“ Pesicek remove from my jaw many moons ago), it’s probably a weed.  All of the more desirable greenery seems to be more delicate, with a tendency toward having a fit of the vapors when it’s too cold or too hot or too…something.  The weedy guys often have other undesirable characteristics as well : they’re smelly or they’re scratchy or they’re sprawly or they spread like wildfire and choke out the wimpy hybrid types that are not ready to duke it out for control of the perennial border space.  Anything green around here better be prepared to take on all comers for territory–survival of the fittest!  I will only give aid-and-comfort to the shy little woodland sorts that are used to hiding under big leaves and bigger trees.  Those appear to be hanging on O.K. and even popping up in some places where I had not expected them to get a toehold.  Still need some more hostas  to stick in blank spots but those are nearly always available…hardy too, the ones planted last year have all survived, even in inhospitable territory.Along with the greenery, the insects seem to have been revived, especially the mosquitoes.  Luckily, we do not usually harbor the really mean ones like the Aedes aegypti that spreads yellow fever, although in the early days that disease truly was a menace, ditto for the Anopheles, which spreads malaria.  Pioneers had those hazards to contend with that we never give a thought to.  Anyway, sitting on the back porch is going to be much more enjoyable once I lay in a supply of OFF or citronella candles.  Most of the critters that I’ve seen so far have been big enough to spot from across the street, so maybe I’ll just go after them with a baseball bat.  If mosquitos are here ,can Junebugs…cicadas…ants…etc. be far behind?  Something to look forward to.

O.K.  So I want to invite everyone to the second annual M-O-M / T-A-T (Machine -O-Mania / Touch-A-Truck) coming up–rain or shine– on Sunday, May 22 from 10:00 to 2:00 at J. A. Garfield H.S.; admission: adults–$5.00, kids–$3.00. It’s a fund-raiser for the Garfield Academic Challenge team, the QuizMasters, and gives kids of all ages a chance to see fire trucks and eighteen-wheelers and the dragster, Time Bandit, bucket lifts, the Portage County Emergency Management Mobile Command Center–giant wheels and engines of many kinds and colors.  There will be sirens and bells and noise…what’s not to enjoy?  Make it your finale for the big community-wide yard/garage sale this weekend.So you’re invited.  You should come…provided Sunday actually comes, that is.See, there is a group of people, a sort of amorphous group, actually, which believes that there will be no Sunday…or at least not one that most of us would choose to experience.  Their belief is that on May 21 will come the beginning of the end, terrible earthquakes and all the attendant death and destruction, the beginning of “the Rapture” wherein    the saved will be taken up into heaven while the ones “Left Behind” (Remind you of a fictional series?  A movie?) suffer unimaginable pain and torture until THE END–really, of the whole thing–comes on October 21.  Oh, and Jesus will return in 2050.All pretty scary stuff.  It’s pretty largely based on the pronouncements of one Harold Camping, who claims to have unlocked the Biblical code which describes all of this ( Of course, using the proper code, one could probably prove that Queen Victoria was Lady Gaga’s grandma and Newt Gingerich is the Great Satan  Oh wait, that one’s true).  Now I’m sure Mr. Camping is earnest in his intent and beliefs but he has been wrong before.  He previously announced that the world would end on September 6, 1994; his research was incomplete, he now says.Of course, the end of the world has been predicted before.  Quite a few individuals have pointed out that the Mayan calendar (which was better than anything your ancestors or mine had at the time) ends with 2012  In 1844, the Millerites sold their goods, donned white robes and gathered on hilltops on October 22 to await the end.  Since you’re reading this now, you can see why it was known as “The Great Disappointment.” Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted the end in 1914.  In 1925, a Margaret Rowan claimed that the Angel Gabriel had set the date for February of that year.  Disappointment again.     Now since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, many feel that the signs pointing to the “end of times” are being made manifest right and left–wars, rumors of wars, destruction of all kinds–earthquakes, floods, etc.  But there are some free-lancers out there, like a certain Dorothy Martin whose contact with extraterrestrials led her to announce that the east coast, England and France would be swept away, believers would be transported and the planet was doomed.  In 1997  the Comet Hale-Bopp prompted some mass suicides by persons believing that a spaceship shadowing the heavenly visitor would take them all away while the planet was being cleansed and rejuvenated.  The Church of Subgenius–headquartered in Cleveland, OH, can–for $30–give you permission to live forever, no matter what.Dr. Jimmy DeYoung of “Prophecy Today” and a Rev. David Jeremiah, presumably with a connection to Family Radio Worldwide where evangelist Camping holds sway, are both on board with this and are probably out there right now running up their credit card bills since they will never have to p[ay them off.Anyway, the Bible says that the saved will be twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes of Israel.  That’s one hundred forty-four thousand, right?  There are already more Jehovah’s Witnesses than that.  Is there going to be a Great Duking It Out to see who’s really on the passenger list?  This could get ugly.And besides, Jesus said that no man would know the day or hour…of the end and the return.  They’re going to argue with Jesus???So Happy Birthday, Mom.  If the card doesn’t get there, you’ll know why.

You missed it!  You missed the LAF/SOMe bus trip to the Dunham Tavern Museum and the West Side Market.  What a hoot!

The museum was neat; it’s an oasis of green on concrete and steel Euclid Ave. With the main building, a reconstructed log cabin, a barn suitable for larger group activities and actual garden space out back and at the side, it’s an anomaly in the area and a welcome one.  The docents knew their stuff and were able to impart considerable information about early Cleveland.  The furnishings depicted a simpler, smaller, time(The beds and chairs were shorter, narrower, harder than anything we’d put up with now…or fit into.).

Then it was off into the bowels of Cleveland, through the Euclid Renewal Project, past Playhouse Square and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument and the big sports venues, across big bridges.  And there we were!

My Grandpa Walker used to get up at 2:30 a.m. to deliver fresh produce (from then-bucolic Avon and/or Avon Lake which are now both suburban, with a capital URBAN) to the West Side Market and I venture to guess that, whatever has happened to suppliers, the market itself is very much the same.

The variety of goods on offer is simply staggering.  The produce venue is not completely outside, although when the weather gets better(How long, O Lord, how long?) some vendors may well be in the fresh air and on the ground.  For now, they’re kind of chilly but under cover on raised areas on either side of the walkway.  Samples and prices are offered–One dollar a basket!  One dollar a basket!  You wanna try?  Here , lemme show you!–for all kinds of things, fruits, vegetables, nuts, flowers, you name it.  The signage was amazing!  Some of the most amazing and creative spelling that I’ve ever seen…and reading seventh grade papers all those years, I’ve seen plenty…to wit :Rhubbarb, Tangerins, Mutzu, Baking Pottoes (Those are the simple ones), Brusselle Sprouts, Koussa Squash (Is that misspelled or just one I don’t know?), Aspargus, Gaurenteed, and my favorite, Golden Deliciled.  Speaking of which, if you run across a new variety of apple called Pinata, give it a try, very tasty, much like Honey Crisp.

So then go inside, where you can get the protein quartet–meat milk, fish ,eggs– in a multitude of forms,  bakery goods unlimited, beverages in bottles Coke never dreamed of (nor the ingredients, either, for that matter; there was one that had basil seeds with honey), ethnic eats from at least four continents…maybe five (I wasn’t really counting on Antarctica to come up with much), sauces, condiments (How about some Liquid Stoopid? That’s a hot sauce, as are Toad Sweat and Asbirin.  Maybe you’d prefer Saffron Threads or Ground Noni?  Saffron, I know is crocus pollen, but Noni?  Got me.); one stand specialized in nothing but extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and balsamic vinegar.

Hungry?  Lay your lip on bratwurst with sauerkraut, fresh-sliced gyro meat on a warm pita with tzaziki sauce, chicken satee, a Cornish pasty (pronounced PAST ee) or a pasty of some other nationality if you prefer.  Have a Fern Cake, a Lady Lock (I have fond memories of those from the Kaase’s Bakery, puff pastry baked in a hollow cone shape and filled with ooey-gooey, marshmallow-y cream filling.  Mmmm! The lady locks here just about equal the ones in my memory–a pretty tall order. Wash it all down with Lemonata, San Pelligrino or Aranciatta .  Or you could simply hit the café’, where the selection was good and the service remarkably fast, considering the crowd.

Looking for something to take home?  How about a jar of guava paste for your Central American treats?  How many kinds of rye bread can you carry?  One sign said, “Mossman tried the best cannoli in town, you should to [sic]” I don’t know who Mossman is but the cannoli looked pretty good , especially the Triple Moose ones There was also Ping Pao–whatever that is–available to go.

You want to cook it yourself?  Fine.  Hit the fish market.  Plenty of fresh stuff there…if you don’t mind your dinner looking back at you.  The butcher shops have everything from backs, necks and gizzards to tripe, hocks and trotters, ribs and drumettes through lamb shanks, young goat shoulder and ground chicken thighs.  I saw one gentleman toting home several pounds of peeled chicken feet.  I resisted the urge to ask just what one does with peeled chicken feet…wish I hadn’t, you never know when that information might be useful..not likely at my house, I’m just sayin’….

Interesting day.  Interesting place. About the most fun you can have with your clothes on. . Watch for the next adventure.

 

Green things are appearing here and there about the estate.  Except for the crocuses–or is it croci, plural, you know–most of these items are a mystery to me.  No, I lied; I recognize the snowdrops too.  Pity they had to bring snow along as well.  This green outburst is certainly welcome, after I spent time last fall poking bulbs into the ground at various and sundry locations.  The next step will be to find the wrappers that the bulbs came in so that I have some inkling as to what these chartreuse cuties might be.    It is   a comfort to know that at least the squirrels and other hungry rodents did not get to serve them all up as appetizers at the big winter pig-out before hibernation.  There certainly were trilliums involved, red and white( the Ohio state wild flower, Trillium grandiflorum). Dutchman’s Britches are out there somewhere and so is something called Butterfly Weed.  Might even be some anemones.   I’ve been looking for the battered Jack-in-the-pulpit population…they got moved and mulched and generally subjected to stresses that shy little woodland types don’t do well at.  Hope that at least some will turn up in a few quiet spots.  The bloodroot and hepatica or liverwort (so named because the leaves are three-lobed, like your liver) have not yet shown their faces but the ferns are starting to stir themselves; the ones which hung tough all winter are looking even greener and the ones that went under cover are sending up knobby scouts to check out the status of temperature and daylight.  I’m hoping that the spring beauties return; they were plentiful in the front yard but the front yard underwent  a major transformation, with dirt being shoved hither and yon,  grass seed being introduced ( “How do you do. I’m here to beautify as much of this clay wasteland as possible”) and new shapes and shades appeared from one end to the other.  The weeping white spruce is starting to straighten up so that it doesn’t look so much like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and it has acquired a young cousin out in the back, replacing the blue spruce that was here just to give the place some class during the Christmas Walk.
The cherry laurel at the corner of the porch has gone to the Big Woodpile In The Sky, to be replaced by something else–birch? locust? dogwood?– that does not have little, black, juicy, POISIONOUS fruits that don’t match the colors of the carpet that they get tracked in on.  All of the horticultural descriptions mention that the tree is fast-growing, easy to grow, etc., etc.; nobody pays attention to carpet.  I have carpet.  The fruits did not appear until the tree was mature.  It looked good, shaded the corner of the porch, had nice fall color…all good…then, presto, there was fruit…messy!  Someone is going to have to make it clear to the next specimen to adorn that spot that mess from outside will not be tolerated; I have plenty of mess inside already.
And besides checking out the situation outside, I took a look–actually, it was more of a sniff–at the inside, the inside of the oven.  I was forced to do so when preheating the oven and opening the door to put proposed baked goods inside resulted in having the smoke alarm go off, startling me and the cats until the exhaust fan could “suck it up and blow it out”. The short-term solution is to fan the fumes away from the device but that’s not for the long haul. Blue clouds rolled out–could have been black raspberry cobbler or cherry pie juice, with cheese and / or pizza leaks a distinct possibility–and the whole house reeked of charred sugar for quite a while.  So…something had to be done before the GFNVFD showed up at my doorstep with hoses at the ready.
But that’s all in the past. We got “down and dirty” and cleaned the oven
The self-cleaning function is kind of a misnomer; the instruction booklet says to wipe up spills as they occur.  If I were going to clean the thing on a regular basis, why would I buy a appliance that purported to do the job itself?  So, anyway, I wiped out the crunchy stuff, vacuumed the crumbs, set the timer, locked the door…and away it went.  Smelled funny but not awful.  Took two hours to clean, one hour to cool down.  If I’d had the presence of mind to think ahead about the process, it would have been a fine opportunity to set some yeast rolls on top to rise; the top got pretty warm.  Maybe next time…assuming there IS a next time.  Cleaning is not something that I rush into, willy-nilly.  These things require thoughtful contemplation…planning…procrastination.  Either that or my mother plans a visit.

I know; this may not be news to some but I was sort of hoping to avoid a swift descent to the fiery furnace for another decade or so, maybe more if I kept moving and eating enough  dark chocolate.

This assessment has been confirmed by finding in yet another slick magazine in my too-wide assortment of subscription reading material( It was some kind of a package deal that brought me publications ‘way outside my usual selections.  Martha Stewart heads out to commune with her two alpacas, five cats, three horses, four goats and eight cows in the back forty whenever someone mentions my name being on her mailing list).  All of these publications, even Popular Science, are prattling on about getting organized…weeding out your closet, straightening up your file drawers and/or cabinets, classifying the victuals in the pantry, arranging the linen closet and the workbench, boxing and storing the Christmas stuff.  It never ends!

Actually, at my house, it hardly even started…ever.

I’ve decided that it must be genetic.  I’m missing the “tidiness gene”.  Some chromosome took a wrong turn and wound up in the Save-A-Soul Mission to the Acutely Disjunctive instead of lined up neatly waiting to jump into my gene pool.  And now look!

I should look into the possibility of installing one of those track systems like they have at the dry cleaners in every room in the house.  In the kitchen–push a button–zoom, zoom here come the plates, zoom, zoom, there’s the sugar, zoom, zoom, cereal on the way, zoom, zoom, say, grab me some ketchup there.  If you didn’t recall just exactly what it was that you wanted, you could have the whole shootin’ match go by again until you either remembered or decided on something else.  Ditto for wardrobe.  Have the shirts go by while you hold up the pants to check for color match or available socks or whatever.  If you can click the remote to skim through available programming on the TV, why not broaden your horizons on the domestic front?  Might not function real well in the bathroom.  How many choices of towels does one need, after all?  Cosmetic and “personal care” products might work but you’d have to be aware of the speed of the mechanism.  Too much and you could wind up flinging “Tangee Purple Passion”  at the shower curtain…with unfortunate results…or  splashing Listerine on the cat who wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time (Cats do that); the  draft from the passing robes and jammies might not be what you’d desire while standing there in the altogether after a nice warm shower either.

There’s probably a Twelve-step program somewhere for those afflicted with this problem but I’ve no doubt lost the information on it.   There’s no hope.

My grandma used to say that if you saw a shooting star and said , “Money.  Money.  Money,” before it went out, that you’d be rich.  Well, that may be, but it has–at long last, after years of frustration–finally occurred to me that if you’re the kind of person who has the presence of mind to think of saying, “MoneyMoneyMoney,” upon catching sight of one of these celestial spectacles, instead of just thinking, “Oooh, loooook!” then you’re likely to be the sort of person who will have the focus to get rich on your own hook, without resorting to lucky chants.

Sooooo… “Ya pays yer money, Ya takes yer choice”.  I kind of think that when that last school bus pulls out with me on it, I’ll not be heard muttering, “Should have run the vacuum more.  Needed to scrub the shower more often.  Polish!  I left things to be polished!”

Nope.  As long as the neighbors and the Health Department (Ha!  This is Portage County, we’ll have starved the Health Department to death before that.  There’ll be germs the size of draft horses camped out here by then…heck, maybe by next year) don’t come in on a kamikaze raid dropping  Clorox bombs on the front porch, I’m most likely to muddle through another year as usual.  It can’t be Christmas Walk all of the time.

Was that it?  The Spring Thaw…New Year’s Day was the whole thing?  When the subject comes up for the rest of the season we get to say, “ Been there. Done that.”  Doesn’t seem right somehow.  We ought to get a chance to get out and wash cars or something; mine is middling filthy–salt-splash and  mud-luscious décor bumper to bumper, not to mention the detritus piled on the floor and seats–plenty of melted snow and just-in-case stuff like extra boots or mittens, at least one spare snow scraper, a couple of blankets, flashlight, umbrellas, raincoat, spare water bottles, a reeeeeal old Quaker Oats cookie bar( never know when a person might be stuck in a ditch somewhere).  I’m thinking that a lot of this could be considered superfluous if  I’d just remember how to use the cell phone…or to have it with me all of the time.  I’m working on it.

I’m also working on summoning up enough gumption to begin thinking about possibly starting to commence planning  the removal of most of the remains of the Christmas Walk 2010.  Finding all of the boxes and containers of various sorts that things go in is going to be a challenge, seeing as most of that prep stuff had been tossed into the attic or the basement to meet whatever fate was in store.  Staying “in the mood” for over eight weeks has reduced my cheeriness capacity considerably at this point and the youngest of the resident felines has decided that all of the  foreign items introduced here are about to be “naturalized” and subject to exploration or demolition; more and more shiny objects are appearing on the floor, behind furniture or beneath cushions.  Something periodically rattles in the corners; the poinsettias have all turned up their little botanical toes and are on the way to that Great Greenhouse in the Sky (Honest, I did water them, it was the lack of sun what done ‘em in).

The other greenery  is holding up about as well as could be expected…which is to say that the real stuff went some time ago from inside the house, to be replaced by some perfectly respectable ersatz pine on the mantel and over the doorway…at which time, the original stuff could have been more truthfully be described as “brownery”.  The outdoor décor–done by Art-N-Flowers–is amazing, all things considered, still pretty verdant in the back  where it’s been protected from the sun, toasted-looking around the garage door where it hasn’t.

The red and green spotlights in the rear elevation are going to go soon; the neighbors have probably had about enough of that display.  From Center St. it must have looked like a landing strip for an Elf-O-Copter.  The elves have all gone back to the North Pole so we can close the facility down.  The front porch still is pretty festive but is suffering from MAJOR droop; the mailbox is about to lose its bow and spruce swag–don’t want to create a hazard for Dan the Mailman.

And–God knows–we wouldn’t want to add to the impediments already out here : snow, rain, heat (not right now, check back in August), gloom of night, etc.  Gotta keep the way clear for the delivery of tax documents…which have begun and will continue through the month of January.  The first batch that arrived met a watery fate of some sort ; apparently the rear door of the aforementioned mailbox got bumped opened on one of those duck-friendly days that we had. Anyway, most of the mail was soaked and had to sit on the bathroom heat source to recover (My village sewer bill will be suggestively wrinkled when I pay it; they may want to use tweezers).  The IRS has never been squeamish about such things, however, as long as the paperwork is in on time.  More about that later, I imagine.

In any case, in that same vein, if you’re a resident of Romania (This just in from the Associated Press), watch out, the labor laws have just changed to crack down on wide-spread tax evasion.  Astrologists, embalmers, valets, driving instructors and witches are now considered to be working real jobs, subject to income tax.  At least one of the affected witches has threatened retaliation.  Now there’s something to think about.  Sort of on a par with the thought that the United States–or at least the Smithsonian Institution–now owns the Hope Diamond and there’s supposedly a curse on that fabulous stone (Who comes up with these things anyway?  Ancient traditions are constantly popping out of the woodwork…prophecies…predictions…National Enquirer stories…all about the same credibility on the Truth-O-Meter, if you ask me.  No one has.).

So we’re off on another year.  Let’s try not to do as the cheerleaders used to encourage after somebody sank the front end of a two-shot free throw .  They’d chant : “Let’s have another one, just like the other one!”

We can do better.

Wholeeee Snowleee!  When the real thing hits, It’s gonna be “Bessie bar the doors!” if this is just the preview.  Wouldn’t you know that this exercise in inclemency–weather division–happens in the year that the powers-that-be down in Columbus, where the sun never sets, have decreed that there will be only three snow days.  Kiss the early end of school goodbye…or Presidents’ Day off…or spring break…or whatever…if this is the model for the rest of the year.

And we owe this, at least partly to the fact that the fall was so balmy that Lake Erie didn’t get anywhere near freezing early-on.  So now, when the Alberta Clipper or Sasquatch Saskatchewan or Manitoba Snowmobile or whatever comes whooping down from the north, it sucks up enormous amounts of warm-ish moisture from Our Great Lake, hauls it as far as the highland rim of the lake ( They’re not called Cleveland Heights, Cuyahoga Heights, Shaker Heights, Kirtland Hills, Highland Heights, etc. for nothing, you know), where it gets colder as it rises, then starts dropping the stuff in the Snow Belt…and the Secondary Snow Belt(That’s us, son)…and as far south as the supply holds out and the temperature stays down.  So…basically, we’re going to continue to get this drubbing by the Jack Frost Frigid-Air until the lake freezes over.  Then we can start worrying about warm moist air coming up the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys and striking the Horripilation Howlers full of cold air from our Canadian friends and creating a reprise of the Blizzard of ’77-’78.  Now there’s something to look forward to!

And how are procrastinators like myself supposed to get out and boost the national economy, putting our cash in circulation by purchasing Christmas presents( It’s all about patriotism)? Most likely, it’ll be Internet to the Rescue for a lot of folks: let the Fed Ex and UPS people figure out how to get packages where they need to be when they need to be there.

In case you’re looking for some last-minute items, the web has a few juicy suggestions:

Check out the Husqvarna ‘luxe lawnmower, a high-end robotic garden tool if there ever was one, sort of a “Roomba for the grass” at only $2700–$300additional for solar power.  Mom, this is for you!  The John Deere could be history!

No?  O.K., so you’re artistic with a camera.  How about the Leica M9, featuring a titanium body, with Nappa leather and a sapphire crystal screen     ?  A steal (Well something’s missing anyway) at only $26,500.

The Herman Miller Sayle office chair could be a stocking-stuffer for the ecological set.  It’s a design knock-out, PVC-free, made of  93%   recycled materials and going for only $679…hard to fit in those little canvas shopping bags though.

So maybe you want to splurge (Or have somebody else splurge on you, that’s usually better), here’s the ticket.  The 2011 Veyron Super Sport by Bugatti boasts(I’ll bet somebody does!) 1200 horsepower, put out by 16 cylinders cranking along in a quad-turbo engine (Whatever that means)and rolling smoothly on handmade Michelin tires ($42,000, the set).  Can get up to 258 mph…no mention of how many mpg, probably not comparable.  At 2.5 million, wouldn’t that look good under the tree (A very tall tree, of course)?

If you’re looking for entertainment, try a holiday wrestling meet/tournament.  The matches are engaging but watching the coaches is a hoot!  Some of those guys could get Emmys or Tonys or Oscars or something…I’d include Grammys but they mostly just bellow…no beat, not dance-able, as they used to say on the American Bandstand Show. Basketball coaches usually spiff up a bit, you know, DRESS, a tie, maybe even a button-down shirt; none of that here.  We’re talking BASIC : school colors are about the max  They do their own stunts too.

Heaven only knows what’s in their stockings!