Friday, July 22, 2011

God Bless Mother Nature...

Ten days is a long time to leave a country property unattended, especially in central Missouri in mid-July. And especially this year where it really is the heat and not the humidity so much. But sometimes life dictates doing just that. Big Daddy and I were fearful that all our little efforts to actually grow something out at Le Rustique would have burned up in ten days with temperatures hovering around 100-degrees and no water.

But God Bless Mother Nature. When we arrived yesterday, I immediately saw life in my little herb garden in the front of the house.

And you can tell from this shot that even the edges of the leaves were in good shape.

Sure, the cilantro had bolted, but it always does that fairly early in the season. At least it's still growing.

I was most worried about the persimmon trees that I cultivated from recovered seeds and planted in a half-barrel on the south side of the house just before the first snowfall this past winter. If I lost them now, I'd be starting over from scratch in a few months. After checking on the welfare of the herbs in the front of the house, and finding them alive and well, I went out back to check the rain gauge. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it measured 1-1/2 inches! Where and when that came along is a mystery, because all the weather reports had been hot and hotter, dry and drier. So I braved the trek around to the side of the house, and voila!

There are nineteen of these baby trees. Four of them hadn't even been born yet when I left ten days ago. I'm so excited - and thankful. And so is Big Daddy. His tomatoes and peppers must have gotten some good runoff from the barn, because they're doing just fine as well. The deer stayed out of his garden, too.

Yes, God Bless Mother Nature!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Family Follies 2011...

We just got back from the Family Follies, a reunion of Big Daddy's mother, siblings and their next two generations. This tradition began in 1993 when we hosted it in our old Victorian city house. How we managed to sleep nineteen people here that weekend is still a mystery to me. I don't think we could manage it now, but thankfully we don't have to. Now we rent multiple condos at a resort area. The number of attendees has changed over the years, just like they have in most families from death, divorce, military deployment, other absences and the addition of another generation. This year we were twenty-five strong.

The highlight is the Family Follies, traditionally held on the last night of the reunion. This is ham-bone performance at its finest, and it provides this extroverted, party-hearty family an outlet for their creativity - with an audience, no less. All four generations participate wholeheartedly, some in multiple numbers. My favorite performances are usually the non-lip-synched songs with altered lyrics to pay tribute to or even spoof some family member or "famous event" that colors the family memories. The comedy routines, including AuntS's spot-on stand-up are often hilarious. Sometime during the evening at least one routine will reference growing up in the Fifties with seven people in a two-bedroom house that had one bathroom and a wonky septic system. Those whose childhood that describes laugh uproariously. That they can laugh and joke about it probably explains why they're all still so close.

My camera shutter failed on the very first picture I tried to take, so I can't show you the kayak races, the beach volleyball tournament, the morning 5K's on hilly terrain around the lake, the pinochle and smear games, the huge dinners (including the Mexican Fiesta hosted by the cousins who will no doubt carry on the reunion tradition long after the matriarch and original siblings are gone). But thanks to UncleL, I can show you this:

This is FaveDIL, BumperK, #1Daughter, BumperT and #1Son performing their spoof of tribute to Big Daddy, "I'm Too Sexy For My Shirt."

You see, the minute he wears out a good shirt, he cuts off the sleeves and makes himself a work shirt. He has so many that he didn't even miss these when I took them off his rack the previous week. I guess you had to be there to get the humor in this.

The Family Follies four-day extravaganza was fun, but it was a terrible time to have to leave Le Rustique to the mercy of Mother Nature. We're getting ready to head out there this afternoon, and I'm so afraid that everything that was alive when we left there ten days ago will be burned up from lack of rain. I know my basil and coriander will have bolted, and if the deer left us any tomatoes and beans, they are probably suffering, too. Maybe by next year we'll have some sort of gravity drip irrigation from a rain barrel - if there is such a thing. Wish me luck.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Old Cowboys Never Die...

Many years ago while living in Wyoming, I worked in the commercial loan department of a local bank. One of my responsibilities was working with the ranchers who had lines of credit to cover the daily operations of their ranches. I was tasked with verifying that they had all their brands registered with the state, and that all the livestock cited as loan collateral were properly branded. I filed with the state the bank's liens and releases on the livestock and made sure that no advances against the line of credit would exceed the loan's terms.

Since I was not part of the bank's loan board which gave a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on a rancher's request for credit, and I only worked with those who had already secured their loan, it was easy for me to establish good working relationships. All the while I had that job, I met a lot of cowboys - which most of the ranchers I dealt with proudly considered themselves. My absolutely very favorite one was a weathered old cowboy named VS. His knees were severely bowed from a lifetime of working from the back of a horse, and his hands were the color of tanned hide with knotty knuckles that had strung a lot of barbed wire in all kinds of weather. And he was such a gentleman.

His family were European immigrants, most of whom worked in the coal mines near the base of the Big Horn Mountains long before mechanical advancements would make their jobs safer and easier. Not wanting that particular life of back-breaking work for himself, VS got a job as a cowboy - equally back-breaking, but outside in some of this country's most beautiful land. For many years he was a hand for a couple who owned quite a spread of land, eventually becoming ranch foreman. Not only was he very good at managing cattle herds and cowboys, but he earned a widespread reputation as a saddle maker, even carving his own saddle trees. By the time I met him, though, VS had stopped making saddles, calling the work better-suited for a lonely young cowboy.

Young he was not, but why was he no longer lonely? Because some time after the ranch owner died and left VS to take care of his widow's land and cattle operation, VS married the widow. They were the sweetest couple, and even though they never had children together, they had each other. In the cold winter evenings, VS would craft miniature saddles to precise proportions, and his loving wife would knit patterned saddle blankets to drape over the tiny saddle racks he made. The little saddles were in great demand, but VS gave them as gifts rather than ever selling them. Eventually his wife died, and VS went back to being a lonely cowboy. He told me many stories about her and her graciousness whenever I would see him.

When I was moving on from the banking job and that small town in Wyoming, I hoped that all my favorite ranchers would come into the loan department before I left so I could say goodbye in person. When VS came in, he was carrying a small box, not wrapped, but presented to me just as if it were clad in silk moire and a big bow. Since he used to bring us hand-made brittle and Christmas cookies when his wife was living, I thought maybe he was giving me some of her recipes. But when I opened the box, my breath was taken away by the tiny little saddle inside.

As I teared up, VS apologized, "I made this for you. It's not very good, as my eyesight is getting bad, and my hands are too shaky to set the glue right. But I had one last little horse blanket that my wife had knitted, and I wanted you to have something to help you remember Wyoming." Not only will I always remember Wyoming, but I will never forget VS. And his gift fits right into the "Cowboys & Indians" decor at Le Rustique.

There is a tradition at one of the Serbian Orthodox churches in our city neighborhood where the name of every member who has passed away since the establishment of that church is read aloud once a year to ensure that no person is ever forgotten. I have taken on a form of that tradition myself, and every Thanksgiving during my morning meditation, I say aloud the names of those people I've known and loved who have passed away. In addition to my grandparents, parents, favorite aunts and uncles, there are the names of a handful of friends. VS is one of those. So old cowboys really never die, they live on forever in the hearts of those they befriend.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My New Ride...

Oh, man, this is so embarrassing. Last time I posted, I put up a photo of my souped-up Harley-Davidson DynaWideGlide which I sold to make room for more utile toys. I promised to post a photo of my "replacement" ride - and then one thing after another went wrong with the photos, the photographer, the camera, and the new ride itself. So much time passed dealing with those things, that the whole topic seemed moot, but quite a few of you let me know you were anxiously awaiting to see whether I got a horse for LeRustique, a Moped for the city, or even a new car (you should have known that was a silly guess!).

The reality is actually quite anti-climactic. I got a riding mower, a well-used and supposedly refurbished riding mower. I used it once for practicing all around the house. It got the job done, but things weren't right with it. Nothing that a trip to the small-engine hospital wouldn't fix, but that in itself posed a problem since we have no pickup truck or trailer yet, and the thing is just a little too big to drive into the back of the Tahoe. On the day the neighbor left her truck for us to haul it in, the mower wouldn't even start. And then the battery to the neighbor's truck died. And the whole sad story just goes downhill from there. But I did get a couple pictures of it just after my practice mowing session and just before my camera lens decided to follow the lead of all things mechanical in our lives and stick halfway between open and closed.

So, if you're still interested, here's how you know when you're an aging baby boomer... you trade 1580 cc's of screamin' hot big-girl bike for this: