Monday, January 30, 2012

Rural Route To Nowhere...

Okay, so maybe I'm a little nuts and have an overactive imagination, but doesn't this photo look like something we've all seen?

On the north side of Ridge Road at Le Rustique

To me, this looks like a mailbox post on a rural route, minus the mailbox. And if you look beyond this one (at about 1:00), there's another one just like it.

As soon as I saw these my imagination created a little story about the animal families that used to get their mail along this ridge, before powerful straight-line winds came roaring through and wiped out their little rural community. I wonder where they've moved to and where they get their mail now?

If you'd like to add a bit to this goofy story line, please feel free to do so. Let me know I'm not the only one who's afflicted by anthropomorphism.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dumpster Diving vs. Dump Diving...

In St. Louis city we have Dumpsters in our alleys for trash and recycling. In addition to twice-weekly service, once a month the city comes through and picks up bulk items that have been discarded but don't fit into the Dumpsters. It's fun to drive down our city alley behind the house and discover that someone has set out for bulk pickup exactly what we "need" - and it's FREE!

Once, right behind our garage Big Daddy found a long and narrow picnic table made of thick wood planks. One leg was broken off, but a quick trip to Home Depot fixed that, and voila I had the perfect sewing room table. It's long enough to fit both my sewing machine and serger with plenty of space left over to handle big projects like duvet covers, and so sturdy that no amount of speed sewing can make it shake.

Shortly after we bought Le Rustique, we were scrounging for enough furniture to fill the farm house that came with the property. We found a few Dumpster diving goodies, including this wheelbarrow.
Big Daddy showing just how giddy he was at finding the wheelbarrow.
Thanks to our alley neighbors for providing  their garage as backdrop.

For the cost of one obscure-sized tire tube and some Gorilla Glue to fix a handle, we had a spare wheelbarrow. And since we didn't want to find ourselves needing a wheelbarrow in the city only to remember that it was at the farm, or vice-versa, a nearly free second one made us downright giddy.

It's amazing how little it takes to thrill us!

Another alley snag - still considered a Dumpster-diving find even though it never quite made it into the Dumpster - was this sort-of Morris chair. It's finish was peeling, and there were no cushions, but I figured I could easily fix those shortcomings.

The bad news is that the big, boxy foam cushions and fabric were so costly that I could save money by buying a brand new chair instead. Ah, but the good news is that a turn down the "wrong" aisle in Target took me right past a shelf with nothing on it but two clearance cushions (marked down from $25 to $5 each) - exactly the right size, and in a neutral corduroy that worked perfectly for the farm house. Obviously they were waiting just for me.

Alley Find -  barely sanded for a shabby look. Target clearance cushions for a comfy side chair next to the kitchen peninsula. Note the 1965 linoleum, probably much more appreciated in its day than I'm feeling for it now. 
There's a place at Le Rustique we call The Old Dump. For rural homesteads where there wasn't a landfill nearby, nor usually any trash hauling services, people found a place on their property to dump items that they couldn't burn or re-use. On our property it didn't take us long to find the place, because it was well marked with an old pickup truck shell.
You can barely see Big Daddy on the far end lifting the old shell to see how much trash is
underneath.  Luckily for us, there were only a couple pieces of scrap that had fallen off it.
In addition to the bigger items, we gathered a couple large bags of discarded stuff, mostly cans. The most worrisome things were odd metal parts and paint cans, and of course the more recent beer cans. Apparently a neighbor kid has discovered his favorite place to sneak away from supervision, and he may be the guy recently captured on a game camera (unfortunately too distant to make positive identification).

We found a number of Ball/Mason jars, and I brought home the ones that weren't broken. I sent a bunch of small bottles dating from mostly the 1930's to Bumper B (whom we didn't previously know was a bottle collector), but I must have inadvertently deleted the photos I had taken of them.

So which one wins? Dumpster or Dump?
There is some sort of fern towards the bottom of the bottle, and some sort of cress at the mouth.
I put the terrarium outside in the front garden where it'll get plenty of winter sun. I hope it survives until spring.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Had A Dream, Too...

Over a decade ago, I won a writing contest (yeah, I know - it's hard to believe) and was invited to write a quarterly column for our city newspaper. I'm sharing one of those old columns today in honor of Martin Luther King's birthday. Once you've read it, I'll tell you what happened as a result.

When I was a junior-high student at a school for American military dependents in Germany, I sang in a German-American youth choir. Some songs we sang in English, some in German and a few in both languages. One simple song sung in both languages especially touched us all. For this one, we moved from being grouped by voice and positioned ourselves so every child stood next to one of the opposite nationality. Whenever we sang it, a spontaneous chain of squeezing hands would wind through the choir.

"Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me," we would sing, and a powerful energy would course through the air, touch every ear present, then seem to flow straight to the listener's heart. We would watch as one person after another in the audience would form a smile, look to the people nearby, and begin nodding to the rhythm of the music. We felt like junior ambassadors while singing that song, and we could clearly see that our cause had an effect. It was there I began formulating my dream of world peace that would "begin with me."

I saw firsthand the telescoping effect of fifty American children befriending fifty German children, whose parents then befriended one another. I saw the profound effect when one child of an American WWII vet befriended one child of a German WWII vet, and one day their warrior fathers shook hands and even drank beer together.

When we lived stateside in the deep south, I watched my parents befriend a black family from, literally, the other side of the tracks. I watched and learned as my neighbor kids, one by one, eventually came back to play at my house when my new black friends were visiting. I saw the adult neighbors, at first horrified that my parents would strike a friendship with a family of color, gradually begin speaking to them again. It didn't take long for an observant child like me to see that some form of peace could surely begin with one person, one family, one neighborhood.

My career-officer father and his fellow U.S. soldiers worldwide swore a dedication to peace as defined through their military mission. Everything they did seemed to have far-reaching influence, and they worked toward world peace as a massive, single unit of power. They truly had a global outlook. I, on the other hand, felt overwhelmed by world diplomacy and began defining a micro-philosophy and peace plan for myself to live by that has worked for me. My micro-world is at peace.

But I live in the city of St. Louis, and the divisions seem wide. There is a disparity of economic status. There is animosity and distrust between blue- and white-collar workers. There is north-side/south-side xenophobia. There is nearly palpable racial tension. There is constant political intrigue. The children who could bring some small form of peace, as did those children of the German-American choir of my youth, don't even go to school together anymore.

When I daydream, I dream of the peace of my micro-world somehow expanding to include the whole city of St. Louis and its metropolitan area. In 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr., had a dream. In 1997 I have a dream, too. I dream for the friendship of one black woman from the north side of St. Louis. I dream that, through our friendship, our families get to know and trust one another. I dream that our two families set a contagious example for our collective neighborhoods. Yes, I have a dream, too. Now where, oh where, is my imaginary friend?

Shortly after this column, including my photo and byline, appeared in the paper on Sunday, June 15, 1997, and again on Wednesday, June 17, 1997, I got a few phone calls from people I know from my own neighborhood. Most shared my frustration that white and black women in this city didn't seem to make friends easily, and all were thankful that I had taken the initiative and the opportunity to speak out.

I got a personal letter, forwarded from the newspaper's editor, from a black man who was anxious to offer his wife as my new friend. Unfortunately his wife was angry at him for not consulting her first, and she let me know she "didn't need any new friends."

Eventually I did happen to meet a woman my own age who had lived on the north side all her life. We worked together for a while, and even though it took some time to warm up to each other, we became friendly enough to have some great dinner conversations together. After that job ended, we saw each other about once a year until she moved to Texas to follow a man. We've since lost touch.

The most satisfaction I got from writing this column, though, was the day I dropped by the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Bureau office to pick up some brochures they had funded for our neighborhood's commercial district. When the woman brought the brochures to the reception area, she stopped dead in her tracks and exclaimed, "Oh my gosh. You're THAT woman!" I was a little stunned at her response, but she insisted I had to go with her to the back office and meet the other folks there. Framed and hanging on the wall in the common area was this column and one other I had written earlier. I felt that a whole room of white and black women were somehow going to "let peace begin" with each of them. Warmed my heart, indeed.

If you've had a "micro-experience" that you feel has planted a seed of "macro-change" in your life or community, I'd love to hear about it - either here in the Comments section or in a private e-mail. Peace be with us all.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Night We Burned Down The Garlic...

Most holidays bring some lasting memories, but this most recent one spent at Le Rustique spanned the gamut.

For the first time ever Big Daddy's mother, known by all as GmaGlo, left her Wisconsin home and home-based progeny to spend Christmas with her Missouri-based children (Big Daddy, her eldest - and AuntS, her youngest), her grandchildren (aka the Cousins) and her great-grandchildren (aka the Bumpers).

Her presence alone would make this year memorable, but we also miraculously had #1Son and FaveDIL and their dogs for the second year in a row, a gift not always possible considering today's military life. #1Daughter, FaveSIL and their two Bumpers sacrificed their tradition of serving Christmas Eve mass at their parish church in St. Louis in order to spend two nights at LeRustique. AuntS and UncleL drove out from their St. Louis home as well.

Eleven people and four dogs in a house that comfortably sleeps eight made for some strange antics by the Foolish Family.

The first antic surfaced when UncleL started snooping around in some of the food gifts left in the living room on Christmas Eve, apparently looking for a little treat that could be snatched and quickly eaten without being missed. When AuntS appeared from around the corner, UncleL pulled her aside, pointed at a bag of cookies and whispered, "Whatever you do, don't try one of those little cookies with the icing and sprinkle things. They're HORRIBLE!" AuntS just stared in disbelief before announcing to UncleL, "Those are dog treats."

No doubt AuntS will work that incident into her spot-on stand-up comedy routine at the next bi-annual Foolish Family Follies.

I won't bore you with all the goofy stuff, but I do feel the need to vent a little about the final antic of the holiday. Bear with me, as it needs some setup.

This branch of the Foolish Family is famous for its love of FIRE. We often gather around a big flaming firepit well into the night. Big Daddy and I bought this property in part to have a place to shoot firearms. And three generations of our men will shoot off fireworks to celebrate darn near anything.

Side trip here - bear with me, it's still part of the setup. In addition to fire, we also love our garlic and always have plenty on hand.

Once our siding project was finished this fall, I decided to adopt a habit of my late mother and plant garlic on the south side of the house. I followed these directions from Organic Gardening magazine
and planted all the toes from two or three whole bulbs for my first test plot.

A week later, the garlic had already sprouted and was showing green above the ground.

And a week after that, the shoots were tall enough to cover with straw. I didn't have any straw, but I have plenty of dry hay, so I used that. (I hope I don't have a tiny hay field to contend with in May!)

End of setup side trip - back to FIRE setup for the finale...

Christmas night the Green Bay Packers played football, and with a house full of cheeseheads, we all gathered round the TV (hey, we may be "camping out" in our farm house until we can move there permanently, but DirecTV can reach you anywhere!). #1Son set off a round of fireworks from the back yard every time the Packers scored, and the rest of us ran out on the deck to watch and hoop and holler. I'm sure we could be heard through the woods, down six or seven draws and across two creeks, but we were having fun. After the fireworks following the third touchdown, AuntS and UncleL decided to trust Aaron Rogers to win the game, and they went to bed.

After the fourth touchdown, #1Son put the torch to the fireworks, and a great ball of fire took a dangerous trajectory right up to the deck, past my head and around the corner of the house. BumperT, who was filming the whole thing with his new iPhone right next to me, jumped about six feet backward and missed catching the flame on camera. No one was hurt, and we went right back into the house to watch the rest of the game.

It wasn't long before I said, "It smells like something's burning. OMG, I BET IT'S MY GARLIC!" We all ran out the front door and around the side of the house where the ball of flame had, indeed, caught the hay covering my garlic test patch on fire. Big Daddy ran to the garage and gathered rakes to pass around. Those who were wearing shoes instead of slippers stomped out embers on the ends. #1Daughter and I got the hose out of winter storage, hooked it up to the well head spigot and drowned out any residual embers. Smoke poured out of the whole garlic bed, but everything was under control.

The next day, things didn't look as bad as we thought they would,  but the hay was  blackened and a little sparse. At least half the green shoots that once stuck out through the hay were scorched down to just about ground level.

GmaGlo, who always accuses AuntS of being Henny Penny (aka Chicken Little of "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!"), went back inside and knocked on the bedroom door, calmly telling AuntS and UncleL, "You guys better get up. The house might be on fire." And then we all went back to watching the football game. When the Packers made their fifth and final touchdown, we all kind of looked at each other and stayed put.

I only hope my poor garlic can rebound. But maybe some good came of the fire after all, as I'm thinking the seeds lying dormant in that hay probably won't be sprouting come spring. Oh, and one more thing - the next time the testosterone-laden members of the Foolish Family want to set off fireworks at Le Rustique, they better be prepared with rakes and hoses ahead of time.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Santa, You Looked A Little Waxy This Year...

For the 26 years we've shared Christmas, Big Daddy and I have had a Santa picture taken, sometimes with kids and sometimes not. When I get all the pictures out each Christmas, they make a mini-montage of our lives together. There's no denying the aging process has been hard at work, and there's quite an array of hairstyles and hair color captured for posterity.

And then there are the stories the photos evoke. One of my favorites is of the year my parents were visiting from Wyoming in time to be included in the Santa picture. Big Daddy, a costume-loving nut case, decided we were all going to wear a hat in the picture. He dug through closets and boxes until he had a dozen or more hats for the six of us.

We had an appointment with Santa at St. Louis Center, and Big Daddy was trying to herd us all into the car to get there on time. My dad, a somewhat crusty and absolutely hard-nosed retired Army colonel announced, "I'm not going to have my picture taken with Santa." As the kids began to sweetly coax him, my mother interrupted. "Charles," (She only called him by that name when she fully intended to usurp his 'authority' and take charge herself.) "You're going to have your picture taken with the rest of us. Now get in the car."

Once in  the car, my dad announced, "I may be going with you, but I'm not having my picture taken with Santa." No one responded.

Once at the mall we stood in a long line of others with reservations, inching our way up an incline into a private room with Santa and his crew of elves and photographers. Big Daddy began passing out hats, and he handed one to my dad, who said, "Well I may be having my picture taken, but I'm not wearing a hat." Which prompted my mom to say, "Charles, choose a hat. You're holding up the line."

So my dad chose a hat. Several, in fact, and we still have some of the pictures to prove how much fun it was. I remember that it cost us a fortune in photo charges, but we had a great time repositioning ourselves around Santa each time we switched hats. My parents kept their copy in a little frame on a side table year-round. Long after my mom had died and my dad had moved into a nursing home a few blocks from our house, that photo hung on a cork board next to his bed, right along with others showing highlights of his grandkids' lives.

As we've gotten older, Big Daddy and I have taken a few shortcuts to keep the tradition alive, no longer having the patience for the mall Santa fiasco. Last year, we were Santa.

And this year we just stepped into the decor at the company Christmas party. This Santa's forever jolly, but don't you think he's looking a little waxy?