A RAMSEY, ILLINOIS Pit Stop in Late April

Driving home from Illinois is no longer a one day trip. This past Tuesday, I left Bloomington at 5AM heading to my son’s house in Tennessee. I am NOT an interstate driver, so I had my two-lane course planned out. I could leave Bloomington heading South on US 51 South and drive all the wayyyyyyyy thru Illinois and a tiny bit of Kentucky, before getting on a different road.

About 7AM, driving thru Ramsey, Illinois, I decided to look for the local pickup truck drivers. I watch for them parked at a cafe and know that is a good spot to grab a meal. Sure enough, I spied a half dozen trucks parked and stopped in. Upon entering, there are two tables of guys  and I am certainly not what they were expecting to see over morning coffee. [I have my hair colored at the beauty shop in a most beautiful and unusual shade of purple….really, it is lovely…..but unusual.]

The easiest way to meet their stares is with “Morning guys” to them all as a group. It’s the ice-breaker. I order from the waitress and they have asked how I came to Ramsey. I say and one of the guys points to a baggie on the table asking what I think of its contents. I reply “why, you lucky dog. If you aren’t careful, I may just slip out of here with that and be thrilled to do it.” He has a bag of morel mushrooms that another guy at the table brought to him.

Morels are the prize mushroom of our Illinois world. They are to brag about, divvy up one at a time and never tell where you found them or whose property you had to trespass to get them. Supposed to be in Georgia, but I have never found any.

Best line ever, came a few minutes later when another guy at the table, said to me that Gary [the mushroom sharer] was selling morels for $5. a pound [if someone will sell, they go far higher than that], “you pick”.

It will forever be a classic line. I couldn’t help busting out laughing. And I can’t help sharing the story.

NOT YOUR REGULAR RICE

I like to go to my local health food store in Franklin, NC.  I buy luxury items. I buy things I don’t even look for in my regular grocery store and sometimes I buy something novel to try. I have a few standbys’ that are luxury, like walnut and grape seed oil by La Tourangelle. I buy chocolate bars if they happen to be on sale – dark, of course. Occasionally I buy specialty pasta [John was born with a pasta gene] and sometimes bulk items.

On one of my town trips, I stopped in to browse the healthy stuff, the supplements, my oil and the goodies, set out to entice me into spending.

In the bulk area that day, I noticed black rice.

At our house, wild rice – the absolute real deal – is a staple and as black as I had ever cooked.

SIDETRACK:  I order it in bulk from Wisconsin, 5 lbs. at a time; repackage and we eat it often. I give it as gifts too. I can blame my Northern sister on developing our ‘wild rice taste’.  It takes a long time to cook, but always worth it. No family holiday meal would be complete without wild rice. [Boil in water to cover, a cup or more plain wild rice till tender to taste – it does NOT have to be puffed and open, just nicely tender. Drain. Into a skillet, using scissors, cut ½ lb. bacon and fry till crisp. Remove bacon, and add, give or take, 1 cup of chopped onion, 1 ½ cups chopped celery, ½ cup slivered almonds [she adds sliced mushrooms-I would never]. Saute several minutes, add back your drained rice and bacon and serve. You will notice I never said to pour out the bacon grease, but you can adjust and / or include some butter as you like. Some bacon makes lots of grease, some not so much. This reheats nicely. I will eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack.

Back to the health food store:  I checked out this black rice and moved on down the aisle. Soon I was back, checking the price and wondering how to cook this rice, when another customer in the store quietly said to me “you can’t buy that, of course,…..it’s Forbidden”. He was right too. The rice was called “Forbidden Rice”, plain as day on the label.  So, being a shopper AND female, it was pretty much a given that I would be buying “Forbidden Rice”.  It might end up tasting like sewage, but how could I be deterred?

I bought a ½ lb. of Forbidden Rice and took it home to sit for ages in my cupboards along with my plain white, my basmati, my rice-a-roni  [yes, I buy that too, sometimes] and my wild rice. I shelved it to the back a bit, not prominently to the front of the shelf. Because…..you know why……it was Forbidden. What if someone saw it? What if I had to explain buying that particular rice? What the heck was I going to do with it?  What recipe would disguise that it was forbidden? Dare I serve it to company? And tell them!

Turns out Forbidden Rice is just black rice – no special flavor. I know I cooked it, but whatever I cooked wasn’t the standout recipe that would stick in my mind.

The very best attribute to that rice was its name – and all the fun of it; being warned in the store, admitting to the purchase at the register, storing it at home and serving it, too.

This just goes to show a number of things.

1] I will talk to any stranger at the store, even when the talk turns to “forbidden” things.

2] It doesn’t take much to get me to part with money.

3] I can stash food for months before digging it out to cook.

4] If something is “forbidden”, I just can’t leave it alone.

5] If I can write a blog post about rice, I’ll probably write about anything.

If you go shopping your local health food store, you should be aware there could be forbidden things just waiting to accost you. And you have my permission to warn any other purchasers, “THAT RICE IS FORBIDDEN, I’ve read you shouldn’t buy it!”

ARTHUR AND MARIE

He was born in 1910. She was born in 1914. It’s an old story.

I wish I had been curious and wise enough to ask the right questions, to draw out their love story and lay it out for you here. I didn’t and I can’t.  Their story is timeless and painful.

I met them in another life when I was living out my first love story. It was a time when I was young and barely concerned with the complications of real life. I married into a family of rare generations, both fascinating and confusing. Because I was genuinely self-centered in those years, every family reunion was spent relearning who belonged to whom, their places in the family structure and trying to appear as if I knew everyone when I only saw them once a year. They all knew my place and probably knew my character flaws as well.

Anyway, I married into the early end of the lives of Arthur and Marie. Arthur, nicknamed Poddy, was my husband’s uncle, his Mother’s brother. We visited Poddy and Marie on occasion. Poddy was soft spoken, with a nice smile and he was a skilled craftsman in his wood shop. Marie was a homemaker and not soft spoken, with no smile and a sour disposition. No matter how friendly your attempt, she didn’t seem to care. I wrote it off early on, as old age.

How wrong I was! We learn life lessons in jarring ways..

Their marriage produced three children, a son and two daughters. The first was Shirley, born in 1936. Next came Freddie in 1938 and lastly Connie in 1945. In my imagination they must have had a pretty lively household with two toddlers, probably during some lean years. I like to think they were made of grit and grace, an average family, living life. Along came Connie and made her place as the baby.

Living life should be so normal and uncomplicated, but sometimes living life is just about the most cruel ordeal no one can ever prepare for. Such was the case for Poddy and Marie.

I can’t begin to dress down the tragedy of their lives. Some people just face more than should be endured…. I haven’t the details; they hardly matter. The facts are that Shirley died of rheumatic fever in 1949. She was 13. In 1952, at the age of 14, Freddie died during an operation.  In 1964, Connie died in a car accident – age 19.

And in some miraculous way for Arthur and Marie, their hearts continued to beat.

R A

RA is the acronym for rheumatoid arthritis. I have it in both wrists. Meds make life normal.

Acronyms are wide spread these days. All our government departments have been reduced to a few capital letters. Our social media is a jumble of acronyms, enough to make actual typing and spelling obsolete. I think acronyms are reasonably common in our business lives too. Here are three examples to back up my hypothesis.

Example 1]   I do the drive-thru at MdD’s for breakfast. I order two sausage patties, two hash browns and one milk. After I get the sack opened, I discover two sausage/egg McMuffins and milk. So now, I have to park and go inside for ‘the confrontation’. It should go like this: McD employee,”‘Oh my, I see that you are suffering from RA this morning, that you are Rather Annoyed. Let me correct your order and here is a fried apple pie as a sorry-for-the-mix-up token”. Of Course, it doesn’t, but it should! [AND this happens ALL the time at every drive-thru- Ugh]

Example 2]   We were vacationing by camper and stopper overnight at a state park, with signs referring campers to the lodge to register. We asked if we could pick our site and the young lady replied ” you just register here, pay your fee and choose any site available over at the campgrounds.  What card will you be using to pay?” I said, “I am paying with cash” and she said, “in that case, I will need to see id.” And I said, “Excuse me….I think I will need to speak to a manager. You can’t seriously tell me you need id to take cash?”  Along comes a manager who could clearly see that I was in the throes of RA [Really Angry] and assured me that, “No, they did not need id to take cash.”

Example3]   Let me preface this example with some facts. For 16 days in June of 2018 we were without phone service from our local provider. We live in an area without cell reception, so our landline is it. We did have internet and I had numerous online ‘chats’ regarding a repair.  My husband tried calling from work, all to no avail for half a month…..which I refused to pay for, so late charges accumulated.

On with my example. In October, after some serious storms, we were once again without landline beginning on the 13th. Still fuming to get my billing from June corrected, my online ‘chat’ acquaintance said that they could NOT schedule a repair until after October 31. WHOA! I explained this was our only source for emergency calls, said my husband has a pacemaker. Asked how would I call an ambulance, a cop or the fire department? He said ‘no repair till after October 31’.  Breathing fire, of course, I sent an email to the office of the phone company president, then I filed a consumer complaint online with the state. Next I emailed a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. Finally I emailed a second letter to the president’s office with the consumer complaint and the letter to the editor as attachments.

In two days our phone was repaired. Soon after, I got a call from a lady in the president’s office wanting to confirm my billing correction for June and my present outage credit.

She didn’t mention it, but I think my account is flagged RA…….Royal Ass.

BUYING A FINAL HOUSE?

So we are buying another house? The question mark is because, in point of fact, we want to buy another house and our funds are  L I M I T E D and so the buying on our part is  L I M I T E D by the sellers motivation and willingness to sell for less than they want – if they don’t agree to our offer, we are pretty much out the door.

Isn’t that the path of life? What we want is mostly governed by whether someone else is standing in our way.  We want independence and our parents are certainly a roadblock.  We want a car, a particular that-looks-good-on-me-car and the cost skyrockets in direct proportion to our desire – they see us coming a mile away.

We want to date that guy or girl, the one over there, looking really cool and smart and …….oh no, he’s holding her hand or she’s wearing a ring.  Damn! Is there a hex on me?  I’m getting nowhere.

So, I have learned to just plan for second place. I want this, I’ll settle for that.  I want that, this is what I’ll get. It’s life. Like it or lump it.

Move along, play your best hand and accept what comes.  You can live a whole life on the terms of second-fiddle, second-chances, second-string, second-place. It becomes habit. Money is my benchmark. Money over matter, if it matters, money is my deciding factor. Cheaper is my benchmark. Better is limiting. If it’s better, it’s not going to be cheaper and money equals benchmark. Second place is comforting and secure and where I have settled. It is my zone, a very familiar place of protection.

When we moved to our 5th wheel, at my nagging and rationalizing, I hoped to nudge him into retirement. Our chance to explore, travel and have some partner leisure. That was my goal. We sold our house, we moved and 60 days later after a nice vacation, my idea of dual retirement was just mine and he was back to work. I was sitting again at second-string, second-place.  Damn.  How does this keep happening?  Live with it, get busy and “be happy”!!!

Projects come and go, interests take center stage, time fills and I am productive and in my safety zone.

A big anniversary rolls around.  We are getting along very peaceably and a week in Florida with some warm and sunny weather is just what we need after a cold, wet winter. His conversation has been heading in the direction of buying a property where it’s warmer, that we could vacation to and move “eventually”.   When that might be, is certainly not up to me, but hey, if I have a place to visit, I can visit solo on my timeline.

Our fun week, somehow, turns into the proverbial hunt. We are good at the hunt and enjoying our week.  We find a first possibility  – projects galore. We offer. Owner has delusions of value. We pass.  We find a 12 on a 1—10 scale.  It is out-of-the-park, magazine-worthy and nothing we can afford.

Finally, we find the second place slot that matches the money factor.  And would you believe we were shot down because our dogs didn’t weigh 15 pounds. Oh My G.!!!!!! Who would pass on asking if we were prison parolees, bankruptcy pirates, bad check writers, etc. when they could ask “how much does your dog weigh”?

Next, driving home, we saw two places that could have been salvaged with a gas can and matches.

AND THEN, sort of in our backyard, we found the right place, but I say that with lots of reservations. We found a number 9  place, sitting right next to a number 5 place on the 1-10 scale. I am not in the habit of claiming any number over 7.  [It’s that second-place mentality]. Any other number is more my comfort zone and I always say, I can make any place better and money is the factor in my book and hey, we are looking at number 9 at this PRICE and number 5 at this price, so I know where I belong…….and I also know where I want to belong.  This could be my last chance to choose or try for the ‘brass ring’.

We made an offer; it is not lowball, but could be offensive if they are sensitive. It isn’t all our money, but close and we wanted to hold back just a smidgeon for comfort. It needs exterior work…and we can do it, but it will require dollars and labor.  The inside is absolutely perfect…..already scary, just saying that.

I mean, two remodeled awesome bathrooms, a master with a king size bed, which we can replace with a full or queen, a walk-in [walk-innnnnn] closet, another bedroom, both with nice carpet. The main portion, the great room, is dark hardwood with the coolest appliances [they shouldn’t matter so much….BUT THEY DO], a three door stainless fridge, a dishwasher I don’t need, and BOTSCH stack washer/dryer….BOTSCH –stainless tubs; they are lovely enough to put on my Christmas card, he and I on each side, a pet in each tub – what a card that would be with no nonsense writing. Friends and relatives would be relieved. May I add, this is a single wide manufactured home….with lovely front and back porches, a postage stamp yard and the piece de résistance, a noisy mountain branch [southern for trickle] about 4 feet from the back deck.  I AM IN LOVE !

BUT,  the number 5 house is sitting right next door, ogling me, nagging me. It chants “you belong to me – I belong to you” continuously.  ” Remember that price, Deb. Remember your standards, remember..….you always settle”.  It seems to beckon, as if knowing our offer was nigglingly short of what the sellers of the great number 9  will accept and 5 is waiting in the wings. Damn.

Could be my last house ever, discounting a ‘community house’, worst case scenario.  How about I get this number 9? The chances are low, low, low.

What can I do to focus elsewhere and leave this in God’s hands? He handles everything so much better than I, of course.

I will just write an addition to my blog………see where that got me!

 

UPDATE – EMERGENCY UPDATE: as I am proofreading this blog post, my phone rings. It is the seller’s realtor.  Ugh!  I so want to answer and I so don’t want to answer.  She says if we are willing to add in the ‘smidgeon’ we had held back, the sellers will agree to the sale.  I just had to AGREE!  We are going to move to the number 9 house.  It’s NO SECOND PLACE !!!!!!

 

I LOVE BACON

No…. I don’t like bacon, don’t mind bacon, don’t approve of bacon, I LOVE BACON.

Jews who consider Jesus a rabblerouser and do not have reverence for the cross, also do not eat bacon. I don’t think these characteristics are equal in importance but I would put them in the top three reasons I couldn’t be Jewish.

B A C O N is wonderful. It has become expensive,  but I can stock up when I find a bargain. It must be cooked correctly, not limp, not super crisp, but absolutely done. I gave up, long ago, trying to fry flat strips of bacon. It is meant to curl as it creates fat and the water steams out and the edges begin to crisp and the turning starts, to get it to the perfect degree of done.

Bacon sandwiches are my favorite…and the hardest thing to order in a restaurant. I want bacon and whole wheat bread…fresh bread, not toast, never white, and not cut …. The bacon belongs on one side of the bread, then you fold the bread in half and smash nicely with your hand and eat. Two will make a perfect breakfast. Restaurants want to toast the bread, cut it in half for you or offer bread that was fresh last week. Their bacon is always suspect as well, either too crisp or not crisp enough. It is because they fry it on the grill instead of in a skillet where the grease actually fries the bacon, not the heat. I can fry bacon perfectly! I can make the perfect bacon sandwich. I can make a bacon and egg sandwich although that seems a waste of a good egg and almost the ruin of a bacon sandwich. The reason being that I love the bacon. Why spoil a perfect food!

The other reason I love bacon….wait for it….is the bacon GREASE. I know, I know, I know. Yes I use EVOO, well mostly, OO, but I also use walnut oil and peanut oil. I am adamant that cholesterol is not the be-all, end-all to heart disease.  Some doctor, somewhere said so and I believe him/her. It is not in my dna to make a pot of green beans without adding bacon grease. I make delicious pinto beans that require bacon grease. Good gravy for mashed or boiled potatoes starts with bacon grease. My first wonderful Mother-in-law taught me the art of gravy and I learned well. My American potatoes are fried in butter [don’t go there either], but the scrambled or fried eggs to go with, need bacon grease seasoning. How about biscuits? I am not a biscuit fan, but I certainly know how to turn them out and I learned from a sourdough cookbook that they need bacon grease brushed on all sides and to rise over boiling water for 30 minutes before baking. If you doubt the wisdom, you should taste my biscuits.

I just put a pot of pinto beans on for supper. The smell is as good as the beans will be later today.

Food is absolutely part of the love affair with life. Some diet people and health experts recommend that we should view food as fuel and eat accordingly, forgoing the flavor, texture, delight and occasional binge. I know a kid or two who thought gasoline smelled pretty good and we know where that can lead. I’m 70ish, I don’t plan to abandon bacon. Its too good and I’m not.

 

A MEMORY FOR TRAVIS AND MISTY

This story is for my children.

When I was very young, my Dad’s two brothers were living at home on a tenant farm and still in high school. The house seemed big and old. It was a two-story, surrounded by a large garden, an outhouse, a pig lot, a barn for hay storage and milking, outbuildings, cribs and fields farther out. Both boys’ rooms had shelves of trophies and ribbons from 4-H adventures at the county fair. I went to the fair and watched with envy. It was my dream to be just like them.

When I was older, I joined 4-H, but we were town folks and girls were only encouraged to cook and sew. I did a bit of both, but it wasn’t what I had envisioned.  I wanted livestock and trophies and ribbons!

Years later, when my young family moved to a rented acre in the country, I determined my kids were going to have what I had longed for. They were going to get a taste of 4-H and farm.  So we embarked on the 4-H / homestead journey of raising animals, growing gardens, learning self-sufficiency and earning those 4-H badges, as proof of their achievements. We had farm neighbors who understood our enthusiasm and offered help often. We enjoyed growing our kids as they grew their interests and we met great 4-H leaders and other families who spent their vacation days herding, kids and animals alike, to the local county fair each August.

Our family tried lots of homesteading projects in those 4-H days and my farm bible was “Carla Emory’s Old Fashioned Recipe Book”. If my grandparents instructions left out a step, Carla could be counted on to fill in the blanks for every endeavor necessary to survival on the farm. I still have a comforting copy of the “Recipe Book”.

All this information is an introduction to the following story. I wrote it a hundred years ago, late one night, and kept a yellowed copy that was obviously typed on a real typewriter. With a bit of rewriting and editing, this is for Travis and Misty.

THE FIRST FARROWING

If you live in the country and harbor secret thoughts of self-sufficiency [and 4-H trophies], your thoughts will eventually turn to pigs; mortgage lifters they used to be called. Cheaper to raise than beef, they require less space and are barely more manageable. And you can fill your freezer with fresh, home-produced meat as was your intention all along. Those 4-H kids soon latch onto this pig idea as if it was their own and they are beyond excited to buy a handful of newly-weaned feeder pigs. These lovely pigs grow, well, like pigs and travel to the county fair and garner some 4-H awards and our freezer fills. Not entirely self-sufficient, but at least self-produced.

A year or two goes by in this way, projects completed and freezer refilled. I even survive the days I long for any steak that isn’t pork. One day, when listening more closely than usual, I pick out words like heat, breeding, farrowing and litter. I don’t think they are talking road-side cleanup either. I casually mentioned that their conversation was boring and they immediately exclaimed over my enthusiasm.

Before I know what has happened, one of the shapelier gilts in the pig pen has been carted off to meet a reputable and discerning chap with a staggering track record for producing offspring.  From the reports home, it seems the gilt was no happier with this idea than I was. In a couple of months, she is back and doesn’t seem to be harboring any grudges.

She is now due to produce her own family of squealing, pink, perfectly formed, I-just-love-baby-piglets in about three months, three weeks and three days. This lady becomes royalty. She gets special feed and plenty of it and she blossoms considerably.  With this wait [and weight] on our hands, talk turns to birthing arrangements; pen vs crate, a-frame vs barn, day vs night, etc., etc. Nothing could be left to our mother-to-be and the conversation was periodic and seemed unresolvable. I was for A-frame, pen, daytime. The WINNERS chose crate, barn, anytime.

The due date is Friday, Feb 18. Apparently no one bothered to consider arranging for a birth sometime in warm May or probably that didn’t jive with county-fair-in-August timing. All advice regarding farrowing early [or late], determined that she should be in-the-crate a few days prior, to get adjusted, so we decided the Saturday before the 18th would be moving day.  Just withhold food that morning and she will graciously follow the feed bucket into her new quarters that afternoon, so “they” advised.  Hah!  After more than an hour of thin patience and an inappropriate amount of her food, goat food, calf food, chick food, apples and milk, she graciously entered the crate. It was not a second too soon, for all concerned.

Now if we could have just worried that litter of piglets out of her, everything would have been a snap. She got more attention and poking and prodding than a woman delivering triplets by cesarean. She was inspected by each of us a dozen times a day and by every visitor to the farmstead, whether they had ever even seen a crated gilt before. Our mailman inspected. My Mother inspected and she was NOT farm oriented. The school bus driver waved off when we mentioned “farrowing” to her.

The 18th came and went, no piglets. We endured thru the 19th and the 20th all while our ‘Miss Piggy” was literally wallowing in the attention. We checked her morning, noon and night. Sunday night at 8pm, my husband came on the run, from checking, bursting in the house with the shaky news that we had a disaster in the barn. She had killed the first three piglets she’d had so far. I headed to the barn, as he phoned a more experienced friend for help. Everything we had read, all the advice we’d heard and all our questions asked, hadn’t prepared us for this situation. Even the gilt had lulled us into a sense of security with her docile nature and cooperative temperament. I removed the three piglets, before the kids got to the barn. I was quietly trying to get the gilt to lie back down, but she wasn’t having it. The friend determined that if she wouldn’t lie down, we could tie her down. At this point, I am appreciating that darn crate.

As new piglets began to emerge, Misty was busy scrubbing them clean and dry, while Travis was busy counting arrivals, with the marketing potential gleaming in his eyes. By 1 am, 7 lively, darling piglets were nursing eagerly while we supervised, never letting them near their Mother’s head. She would snap and grab for each that dared in her direction. She was definitely a force to be feared; thank goodness for the crate.

By 3am everyone was exhausted, the now-sow [having a litter transitions a gilt to a sow – it’s a farm thing] was no more loving and we decided to move the babies to another stall and heat lamp to get a little sleep ourselves. And little sleep is what we got, as we were back in the barn at six am for another round of feeding. The great mother was still not interested in mothering those babies and I had visions of being a round-the-clock nursing supervisor for 8 weeks. Daytime supervisor wasn’t entirely out of the question, but night supervisor didn’t flicker on my radar. This obstinate and very capable mother was not going to dictate sleepless nights for me.

By noon she was no friendlier and I was a lot more tired, so I decided that if I could shut her mouth and keep it that way, she might learn to put up with her adorable babies and they wouldn’t get hurt. It was her job to do the providing and I intended for her to provide.

I fashioned a muzzle of sorts using a goat collar, part of a calf halter and some baling twine. Ever grateful that she was in that crate, I ver-r-r-y carefully slipped the makeshift muzzle onto her and tightened it down. Next I got one daring little piglet by his back leg [which triggers auto squealing] and let him squirm in the general direction of her head. She snorted and grunted, but that mouth was secure. Lunch time kids; I let them all in to latch on and watched.

We think she was so isolated on our place; she was after all the one and only queen gilt, that she didn’t “know” other pigs, especially newborns. After 24 hours, we were able to remove the muzzle and she was the wonderful mother we had expected.

With 7 babies to choose from, Travis picked his choices for county fair exhibition that fall. He took Reserve Champion Chester White barrow at the Illinois STATE FAIR that year. It was a wonderful outcome for newbies to the farrowing world.

More farrowing was mentioned but we must have sensed once was enough. We did have more pigs. We were all suckers for baby pigs!