Sunday, August 30, 2009

Food-A-Thon III: The Ant & The Grasshopper

It was starting to get a bit crowded in the kitchen.

Saturday a weekend ago - warm and sunny - seemed like a perfect day to pull the broccoli plants. They had hogged the sun long enough. While I was pulling the broccoli, I thought I would pick some tomatoes. And the onions looked ready to pull too.

Remember Mrs. Hough's garden? She still had tomatoes. So on the heels of the Saturday home harvest, Warren and I picked about 100 pounds of them. (Really! That bucket and torn sack each ran about 30+ pounds, and there was another sack to boot.)

Needless to say, some canning was in order. I canned tomatoes that Saturday night. That Sunday was Sam's last day of vacation "back home." He spent most of it with friends, but came over Sunday to help make tomato sauce - six quarts of it.

Early in the week I canned another seven pints of tomatoes and froze four quarts more. Then the week fell to pieces at work and everything came to a big screeching halt in the kitchen until Thursday night, when I finally had the space and time and peace of mind to turn to the produce again.

As Warren and I well knew, you cannot let huge quantities of produce sit around without consequences. There were some losses along the way. Good thing I am not (too) squeamish when it comes to handling rotten tomatoes. We lost a handful of peppers and about 15 pounds of tomatoes. Not bad considering we started with over 125 pounds of tomatoes and who knows how many peppers.

Last night Warren ran peppers and onions through the food processor for over an hour. I started mixing it together this morning. When I started typing this earlier today, there was a pot of sweet pepper/onion relish cooking down for canning. As I wind this post up, I just took 11 half pints of banana peppers out of the water bath. The lids are already starting to pop.

And now we are done with all the produce. Done, done, done! Gloriously done!

Well, done except for all the tomatoes in my garden that have ripened since last weekend, and the sweet corn at Donna's farm stand that we will be buying and freezing, and the basil that I want to pick and process, and the first eggplant of the season, and…and…

My friend Margo recently compared herself and me to the ant and the grasshopper, with me firmly in the ant role. I have thought about that comment as I work to lay up the gardens' wealth. Margo is the least grasshopper-like person I know; her weekly schedule often makes my head spin. I know what she meant: here I am putting away enough food to eat all winter long regardless of what the weather or the economy holds in store for us all.

Among the vast Formicidae (ants) family is the Messor genus. These are harvester ants of one type or another, known especially for their granaries. Clearly I have something in common with the Messor line. Every time I trot down the basement stairs to put another bag of something in the freezer, I can almost feel my antennae twitching.

Aesop's ant turned its back on the grasshopper when winter set in and food became scarce. Margo knows me better than that. Warren and I are already looking forward to sharing our bounty at many a winter table to come, including with Margo and her husband Gerald. They are just about our favorite people with whom to share a meal and an evening. I am anticipating many a happy meal, the table graced with the fruits of our labors, the conversation rich and the friendship deep.

My antish antics of late should serve us well.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Curveballs and Zucchini Bread

I spent all day Thursday at a grant writing seminar at the Ohio Judicial Center, home of the Ohio Supreme Court. The Center is an Art Deco masterpiece originally built in the early 1930s for the Department of Labor. Used heavily by Labor and other departments, the building was finally decommissioned and sat crumbling and decaying, slated to be razed, until Chief Justice Moyers had the foresight to say "this will be the Court's new home."

After a magnificent and award-winning restoration, the Judicial Center is the crown jewel of Ohio's, if not the nation's, public buildings.

It had been a raggedy week. Because of a programmatic and ideological problem at my job, I arrived at the end of each day utterly drained. Wednesday was particularly bad with the phone ringing all afternoon while I was trying to make a lemon tart for my mom's birthday the next day. I was so rattled by the barrage of calls that at the point I was straining the seeds out of the lemon juice, I started to pour the juice down the drain rather than into the bowl.

I yelped, albeit to an empty kitchen, and corrected my pour immediately. I had enough lemons left over to make up for the lost juice, and held my breath and my focus until the tart slid safely into the oven.

By the time Thursday rolled around, I was tired and sad and numb from the fallout. The thought of spending a day in a seminar, when all I wanted to do was nothing, did not thrill me.

All the same, my spirits lifted when I walked up to the Judicial Center. Magnificent architecture will do that for me.

Life throws curveballs, be it a baking mishap or something more substantial. I used to be much better at hitting them. This week I just happened to be in the batter's box with no one up to bat after me. My tolerance for fast pitching is a lot less than it used to be and there was no umpire to call the count.

Full count? I'll say.

Lost in the shuffle was having time: to write, to reflect, to catch up. The zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers we picked last weekend have sat in heaps on the kitchen table and floor all week. There has been no time and less energy to turn my attention to them.

And lost in the shuffle was the sweetness of my daily life. The rhythm was all off. Warren patiently waited while handling his own daily adventures. I couldn't listen to him when the phone was ringing. I was edgy and paced a lot. While Warren knew he was not the source of the week's discord, it rolled into every corner of our home.

Last night, renewed by eight hours in Art Deco heaven, I found some reserves I wasn't sure were still there. I sat through dinner and easily talked and shared the day with Warren. Afterwards, I started in on the zucchini, cutting and bagging. 12 quarts of slices and two loaves of bread later, all the zucchini was done except for a small one for cooking tonight. Warren joined me later and together we cleaned and cut peppers. There are still tomatoes to process and tonight we will make sweet pepper/onion relish, but the piles are finally disappearing.

And I'm out of the batter's box.

There is more to write, especially since I have photos of Food-A-Thon III. In the meantime, because Christine asked for it, here is the zucchini bread recipe I always use. I've been making this recipe for years and have made so much this summer I don't even need to look at it while I bake!

Zucchini Bread
Recipe from
Amish and Mennonite Kitchens, by Phyllis Pellman Good and Rachel Thomas Pellman

Makes 2 loaves

3 eggs
2 cups sugar (Note: Amish baking tends to be heavy on sugar)
2 cups zucchini, shredded (Note: I find that you can go over this amount - 2 HEAPING cups - without ruining the recipe)
1 cup cooking oil
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon (Note: I use heaping teaspoons)
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cloves
(Note: I also usually add ¼ tsp ginger)
½ cup raisins (optional)
I also usually add ½ cup crushed pineapple, drained, even though the recipe does not call for it.

1. Beat eggs until foamy. Stir in sugar, oil, zucchini, and vanilla. Note: I use a beater for the eggs, then do everything else by hand with a wooden spoon.
2. Gradually add dry ingredients, including spices. Note: I have found that just dumping all the dry ingredients in on top of the first mixture and stirring well (with that wooden spoon!) does not affect the quality or consistency.
3. Stir in raisins and pineapple if you are using them.
4. Pour into bread (loaf) pans, which have been greased on the bottoms. Bake at 325ยบ for 60-85 minutes. Test with a knife blade - when it comes out moist but not with batter on it, it's done! The recipes says cool 10 minutes and remove from pans, but I find that I remove it that quickly, the bread often pulls apart on the bottom. I have left it overnight in the pan and had no trouble removing it the next morning.
Note: this bread has a good shelf life if kept in the fridge. It also freezes well. It is excellent with cream cheese frosting. If you want muffins, the above recipes makes 24+ muffins or a tin of 12 and a separate loaf.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Another Chance

This morning we both left the house at the same time. Warren was headed to his office; I needed to run to court to pick up a fax. When we head out the same direction in different cars, we always make a point of waving as one of us turns off. Usually, there is a shared stoplight or other moment to pull up side by side, roll down the windows, and yell "I love you!" from one lane to the other.

This morning, we didn't quite sync our routes. I turned one block before Warren was thinking about it and while I waved, he drove on.

When I got home, I had am email from him. (We send each other a daily morning email Monday through Friday.) He wrote in part:

I was going to wave to you at William St not knowing you were turning on Winter and I felt bad about that. I thought how I wanted another chance.

I got tears in my eyes just reading it. I answered:

It was clear we missed signals at Winter. I was hurrying to catch you and wave - and then I realized you didn't know I was turning to court. But don't worry about not having enough chances with me: there will be more chances, always, for as long as we are both in this world. Maybe even afterwards. There will be another corner to turn and blow kisses to one another.

Warren's sentence - I thought how I wanted another chance - is sweet and faintly sad. It is haunting me this morning. On the one hand, it was just a missed signal as we drove our separate ways. On the other hand, Warren and I have been about wanting another chance since we were in high school together.

Warren and I "kinda" dated one another the summer after his senior year in high school. Today we would call it "hanging out." Neither of us had the courage to say "I like you A LOT," but we always gravitated towards each other. I out and out adored him. So much so that when he started college and without a word stopped dropping by to go out for ice cream or take me home after a football game, I was devastated.

All I wanted was another chance.

For a long time afterwards, our paths would only very occasionally intersect - a snowball fight at a friend's house, a chance meeting on the OSU campus, a piano recital by his brother. I was always thrown off by these random meetings. And even though I had moved on - to school, to other boyfriends, I always had a little pang when we would meet. After all, it was Warren.

What can I say? He always lit me up. What would have happened if I had had another chance?

When I moved back to my hometown in 1990, Warren was living here with a family and a business and the Symphony. I served on the Symphony board for a term and was legal counsel to the group for a decade. I got to know Warren as more than just the guy I had known in high school. We became good friends and, in the Symphony arena, good colleagues. I respected and admired the man Warren had become.

Our families even socialized together for a brief time until problems in my life brought all socializing with anyone to a halt. I lived through a lot of years that, in looking back, I can only brush the memories away and say "they're in the past now." There were some wonderful moments, especially with my sons. There were a lot of terrible moments that I try not to revisit.

Eventually, painfully, I left my marriage. There were horrific costs to that decision - financial, emotional, physical, personal.

As I constructed a new life for myself and my sons, I continued to run into Warren here and there around town. I was always glad to see him. I was always interested in hearing about his family or the Symphony. What I didn't realize is that his own life was developing major fault lines and fissures in it, a process that only accelerated after his parents died within weeks of one another.

A lot of Life happened to us both in very separate spheres in a very short time. I moved to Cancerland. Before I got through the immigration process, living there wreaked a lot of damage - physical and financial. But moving there also filled me with hope and brought me support. I wanted another chance, any chance at all, to go on living in this amazing world.

In another part of town, Warren's marriage and family life started to crumble much in the way an earth dam fails: some crumbs of dry dirt tumbling down the slope at first, a hairline crack following, and then, finally and terribly, the walls splitting open as the torrent pours through with a roar. Before that final total failure, Warren made the difficult decision to abandon rebuilding it.

The failure of the marriage, like the failing of a dam, left devastation and wreckage - financial, emotional, physical, personal - in its wake.

There are photos of Warren from his prior marriage, as I know there are of me from mine, where he is clearly happy. I'm glad there was that joy, because I've seen the ones in which the pain and hollowness in his eyes burn through the film. They are photos of a man watching the dam he is standing on give way.

When Warren first told me he was interested in me, I was cautious to the point of being wary. Marital matters that needed untangling aside, why me? I was bankrupt, I had a chronic, unpredictable disease, and I was not the same person I was before - professionally, financially, emotionally, or physically. Truly, why me?

Warren said that all he hoped was that he had a chance with me. That was all: just a chance.

That was all it took.

Both of us are still a bit stunned at the wonder of being at this point in our respective lives and being together. Both of us are in awe that all we both wanted was another chance with one another.

And got it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Time On My Hands

Last Friday night we took what has become a rare happening this summer - a night off - and drove down to Columbus to the stunning Ohio Theatre to watch the movie "Wings," a 1927 silent film which has held up well in the 80+ years since it was released.

The Ohio Theatre is a 1928 movie palace that was saved from the wrecking ball 40 years ago and is now touted as an early example of the public and cultural value of historic preservation. Over the years, it has been restored to its original appearance. Entering the auditorium is a visual feast.

Add to the setting the brilliant playing of house organist Clark Wilson on the Mighty Morton theatre organ and we had a wonderful night. The Morton, original to the theatre, was also restored along the way. In fact, Warren, who has run a small business for over 30 years doing custom restoration and building of percussion instruments, has worked on the "harps" of the organ - the marimba, xylophone, vibes, and orchestra bells - by rebuilding the mallets. The organist made heavy use of the percussion during the film, and I squeezed Warren's hand more than once when I heard the bells.

This post is not about the Ohio Theatre, theatre organs, Wings, or even historic preservation, a topic I can write oodles about. It is about making time when I think there is none to be had.

It has been an unusually busy summer around here. This is our first summer in this house - Warren's house - and there has been a lot of yard work even before you count the gardens (which were my doing, of course).

Add to that both our jobs - his full time and mine not (thankfully, gratefully), volunteer activities (primarily mine), concerts, Warren finishing off two percussion orders that had to be shelved way too long as we made the move into this house last fall and set up his shop this spring, children coming and going, my medical appointments, and just the daily tumble of life.

My plate is heaped to overflowing and even though I am holding up my hand saying "no thanks, I really don't want any more mashed potatoes," Life has a full scoop of them ready to plop down right there between the broccoli and the lamb cutlets.

When Warren and I started seeing one another, we had long talks about our schedules and our wishes when it came to a relationship. We both put a high priority on making sure we have enough time for one another that does not always consist of comparing notes across a late night snack because one or the other of us missed dinner because of another commitment.

We have held pretty well to that, but I have noticed our meals and down time becoming more clipped and businesslike lately as the pressures mount and time becomes a precious commodity.

I am plagued (or blessed) by a strong sense of personal time left. As I get older and given my permanent move to Cancerland in 2004, I feel more and more that there is only "so much" of me left. I want to live deliberately. I want to savor as many small moments of great reward for as long as I am able.

I want to watch a movie while holding Warren's hand.

I keep notebooks of quotes and more than a few of them have to do with time. Apparently, this is a recurring theme in my life. There is one by Susan Marsh that fits my mood today: …there is no thick of things. We just create a whirlwind of activity for ourselves and spin around in it until we're tired and dizzy and want to leap off.

Marsh ended by saying she was in the middle of a leap.

I wish I was.

I think I need to be.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, whose letters and diaries have graced my life for decades, also wrote about time. In Gift From the Sea (a timeless work), Anne wrote:

There is so little empty space. The space is scribbled on, the time has been filled. There are so few pages in my engagement pad, or empty hours in the day, or empty rooms in my life in which to stand alone and find myself. Too many activities, and people, and things. Too many worthy activities, valuable things, and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives, but the important as well. We can have a surfeit of treasures.

I told Warren last night that I feel that lately I have not had time to decompress and pull my thoughts together. There is so little empty space. This week and next are full and while it is easy in theory to say "so cut something out," the reality is much harder. Even if I can shift a meeting by a week, there is still the zucchini in the refrigerator.

And shifting a meeting by a week sounds suspiciously like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

In the end, I am the one who controls my time, despite wanting to point to anything else but me and say "Oh, there's the problem!" I know that. I'm just having trouble facing up to it.

Many years ago, my first year torts professor told us "a man with one watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never quite sure." He was talking about reading the law, but the analogy fits my life today.

I know what time it is. It is time to take off my watches.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Food-A-Thon II

The beans are gone, blanched, packed in quart bags, and tossed in the freezer. I knocked them off yesterday afternoon.

The tomatoes, joined by more from my garden, are gone. 16 pints of cut tomatoes; seven pints of salsa (which also made a small dent on the sack of peppers we have yet to process).

I found an option for the beets. I peeled, cubed, blanched and froze them for roasting later this winter. (Note: I am not a beet eater. Nor is Warren. If the recipes flops, the rest of the beets are exiting the house midwinter.)

The zucchini has grown in number since yesterday, despite my best efforts. Sam is back for a nine day visit. Before heading to his old apartment to spend the night with his friends, he asked me for my recipe for zucchini bread, as Dylan (his former roommate) wanted to make it.

In a flash of inspiration, I sent not only the recipe and an uncut loaf I had baked a few days ago, but I also sent over one of the many zucchini currently lounging in the refrigerator.

"Tell Dylan to have fun," I said as I dropped Sam and the zucchini off.

A lot of zucchini minus one largish one should be a slightly smaller quantity, yes?

Yes, until I opened the front door this morning and found four sitting on the porch, courtesy of my parents. Well, I had said "give me all you have." (And dad did leave one of his cantaloupes, which are just ripening, so I feel better about the zucchini.)

American poet Edgar Lee Masters wrote the evocative Spoon River Anthology, in which the dead of the small rural town of Spoon River speak of their lives. One of them is Lucinda Matlock, a strong women who had lived a full life. She lectures the reader:

What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you--
It takes life to love Life.

I thought of Lucinda as I worked today. Canning in August is not for the fainthearted. Today is in the 90s and we are trying to go all summer without turning on our air conditioner. Canning on a day like this is like what I imagine working in a laundry must be like - hot and steamy.

Ma Ingalls canned without air conditioning. So did my grandmother Nelson and so did my mom when she was younger.

And so am I this summer. I think even Lucinda would approve.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Food-A-Thon I

Dad and I picked vegetables in Mrs. Hough's garden for about 45 minutes yesterday. We picked tomatoes, green beans, and peppers, and pulled some beets. I don't even know if I can find a recipes for beets that I will like, but pulling them was fun.

There's more where these came from. Plus between dad's garden and my garden, the zucchini tide keeps rising.

Let the games begin!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mid-August Garden Update

The gardens are looking dramatically different from a month ago as we head towards the Ides of August.

The broccoli bolted. (That is such a great phrase: it bolted. The broccoli plants are the size of four year olds, and I have visions of them suddenly dashing across the backyard to hide behind the shed.) I haven't yanked the plants yet, but will probably do so this weekend. Then before next year, I need to figure out where to plant it so it doesn't overpower everything within its shade line.

While the broccoli was bolting, the tomatoes decided it was time to turn red. Fortunately, given the numerous tomato plants, they are not turning red all at once, but they are following close upon one another's heels. Meanwhile, the peppers and the eggplants are finally responding to the warm days and starting to produce. Well, they're trying to, at least. I have picked a handful of peppers so far and am eying a small (very) eggplant, wondering if it will grow large enough for two to share. Only time will tell.

I don't think I will get any artichokes. While the plants are spectacular, there is no sign of a flower and at some point the weather will start to cool down too much to make a difference. However, the onions are ready to pull and the basil needs picked and processed. Next year, I am planting more basil and less of every other herb. I love fresh basil.

Down in the sod garden, I am picking zucchini every few days. There are several green pumpkins and a couple of adolescent cantaloupes. I am trying to be patient. Before leaving last week, I shoveled a half cubic yard of compost onto the potatoes at the one end of the sod garden to encourage more potatoes. This caused my backyard neighbor Kris, a prodigious gardener, to ask "do you have any idea how many potatoes one plant can produce? And you have how many plants, April?"

I guess I will find out soon.

Tomorrow my dad and I are going to Mrs. Hough's house to pick vegetables. She is a nearby neighbor of my parents, living just up the road and over the railroad tracks. Mrs. Hough is in her 80s, and apparently has a homestead sized garden, planted with great zeal and proficiency by her son. She called my mother a few days ago asking if mom knew anyone - anyone! - who was interested in beans, tomatoes, and the other delights that were inundating her garden and her kitchen.

So dad and I will pick while mom visits with Mrs. Hough. Everyone is thrilled with the arrangement, especially Mrs. Hough, who cannot bear the thought of all that good food going to waste.

Neither can we. I have been filling the basement freezer with zucchini and green beans, and there is still so much to come. The sweet corn is ripe and we will be buying armloads of it from Donna. Warren and I are discussing buying a second freezer as one of the bailiffs at court has one for sale cheap.

Even if we go that route, I know there is a lot of canning in my near future. When I shared that news today with Margo, she responded: And speaking of canning, you're a far, far better woman than I. I might do a little freezing when the spirit moves me, but canning! I'd sooner walk a wire across Niagara Falls.

Margo cracks me up.

I enjoy canning. It is one of those activities that has a rhythm of its own, like baking. There are a lot of canning women in my background, all on my father's side except for my mom, who learned it from her mother-in-law. I grew up watching relatives - always women - can. I still remember as a little girl loving to wear as many canning rings as I could slide up my arms as bracelets.

Mom canned intermittently throughout the years, more or less abandoning it for freezing most of the produce they grew. When she finally decided she didn't want to can ever again, I got the pressure canner, the tongs, and more canning jars than most local stores carry even at this time of year, as I inherited not only all of mom's jars but also all of Grandma Nelson's jars.

I keep a couple dozen of them here at the house; the rest are out at my parents' house, tucked away on the second story of a garage until they are called into action. This may be the year when they are called up for service.

This Saturday, Sam arrives for a nine day visit. Sam was very excited about the garden back before he decided to move to Oregon and I imagine he will do cartwheels (figuratively, not literally) when he sees what has happened.

I emailed my sons and Alise (my almost daughter-in-law, engaged to Ben) my recent medical news, then asked whether they wanted me to send zucchini bread back with Sam. Ben answered quickly: I would love some Zucchini bread.

Zucchini bread it is then, from me to them, full of spices, raisins, and love. It should travel well. Love always does.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thankful and Thank You!

I meant to write about the mid-August garden, but that post will have to wait another day or so. A few things have happened recently that overshadow the tomatoes.

Thank you, Sharon (Musings of a Midlife Mom), for naming me and seven others as recipients of the Humane Blog award:

"The Humane Award honors eight certain bloggers that I feel are kindhearted individuals. They regularly take part in my blog and always leave the sweetest comments. If it wasn't for them, my site would just be an ordinary blog. Their blogs are also amazing and are tastefully done on a daily basis. I thank them and look forward to our growing friendships through the blog world. Link back to the person who gifted you with the award and share the love with other bloggers."

I read Sharon's post and thought "how fun is that?" before I realized she had listed me as one of the honorees. At which point I went from thinking "how fun is that?" to "Awwwwwww, Sharon, you are so great!"

Sharon's act, along with the responses I have received to my most recent posts, makes me thankful for the community of Blogville. Look at how much we share through one another's blogs! In addition to my electronic friends, living in Blogville has given me a different forum through which to share my life with local friends and family. Between the comments posted online and the ones received through email and Facebook, I have had the strong support of my friends - all of you - as I struggled with medical issues recently.

All of it is wonderful and I am so thankful for the presence of all of you in my life. I was not expecting a community to form when I started blogging, but that is the great thing about making a community. You hit a critical mass and there it is!

There is something else I am thankful for and that is on the medical front. I went and got copies of my tests today. Skeletal survey: absolutely normal, which I knew it would be. As to the further lab test: results a little on the high side but not so high to make me drop the papers and say "what's that?" in a falsetto voice. In short, I feel comfortable in waiting to see my regular oncologist in October and letting him go from there. In the meantime, I go on with my life as I have been: fully and completely.

When Sharon named the recipients of the Humane Award, she charged us with naming eight other blogs and bloggers that we feel deserve recognition. My first thought was "I don't follow that many blogs!" But between the blogs I read regularly and the friends who have responded directly, I can make my eight and then some. The bloggers are:

Sharon at Musings of a Midlife Mom
Christine at Monkey Funk
Ellen at Within My Means
Jayme at Tales from the Coop Keeper
Jennifer at This & That Homestead

To that list add Margo, Cindy and Suzanne for your wonderful email responses to "I Paint What I See," Judy, Linda, Ben, and Alise for your heartfelt responses to the medical posts, and, as always, my very dear Warren, who lights me up each and every day.

I am so thankful you are all in my life. Thank you, thank you.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I Paint What I See

The afternoon before we left on our Road Trip, I received an email from an old acquaintance (OA) with whom I stay in touch on an occasional basis. OA wrote:

I [only] just read your recent health news because I have become an intermittent reader of your blog. I started out looking at it frequently and reading everything but eventually I realized I don't much care about your garden, the shed, and the orchestra. I don't say that to discourage you from writing about them -- a blog is a letter to everybody, so it isn't going to be tailored to the interests of each reader.

Well, there's a conversation stopper.

After I picked myself up off the floor, all I could think of was a quote attributed to Diego Rivera: "I paint what I see."

I write what I live.

I thought about OA's statement while canning some dill pickles. I chewed it over with my friend Cindy by email all afternoon. Warren and I talked about it that night and then again as we drove the next morning to Chicago.

Let's face it: it stings to hear someone say to my face (well, my electronic one) that "I don't much care about…" some of the topics nearest and dearest to my heart (the Symphony, my garden). Obviously, I can't make OA (or any other reader) care about the topics I choose. Any writer - be she blogger, columnist, or romance novelist - always has that hurdle.

But I also thought "what do you expect?" It is not like I have ever disguised the content of this blog and pretended it was something it wasn't. There are three content labels in plain view the moment you log onto it, before you read one single post.

The first one is the title: Small Moments of Great Reward.

Not "Great Big Honking Moments" or even "Average Sized But Still Plenty Big Enough Moments."

Small moments.


Other than the local readers, hands up if you know where Delaware is. Or anything about it other than it is located in Ohio.

We're a community of around 28,000, about 20 miles north of Columbus. Our biggest annual event is a harness race. We have a local college, a daily newspaper (although it is not locally owned any longer), and, oh yes, a local Symphony. A wonderful local Symphony. A wonderful local Symphony with a very gifted executive director, I might add.

But we're not Chicago or New York. I don't pretend that we are and I don't write as if we are. Delaware is the kind of place where trips to the grocery are lengthened not by the numbers of items in your cart but by the number of people you know in the aisles.

The final content advisory is in the sidebar "About Me," where I note that "every day for me is a gift, filled with small moments of great reward."

Sound familiar? We're back to those small moments again.

"I paint what I see."

I write what I live.

My life is full of small moments and that is what I try to capture in my posts. The fact that my heart lifts up when I behold the bees hovering over the rudbeckia is an example of one.

That does not mean that I have parked my intellect at the door. Or that my life is trivial.

This blog is not a forum in which I muse upon world developments or pithy intellectual inquiries. Even when I do write about the topics of the day - hunger, health care, the Great Recession - it is about how those topics play out on a local and personal level. I do not write about my political views generally or even about the books I am reading (and rest assured that my reading list ranges far and wide, from the serious to the goofy, from the thoughtful to the banal).

I write about the community activities I care most about: our Legal Clinic, our Farmers Market, our Symphony. (There I go again about that Symphony.) I write about my home life: the garden, the shed, and, oh yes, the Symphony. (After all, I am married to the Symphony.)

These are all part of the daily fabric of my life. As are the tomatoes, as are the bees in the pumpkin patch.

I don't feel that my writing is marginalized somehow because the topic is the tomatoes. Or the Symphony.

As a history major many years ago, I quickly decided that the appeal of history was not in analyzing the Big Events but in studying the small, personal moments framed against those Big Events. (Incidentally, that is a lesson that filmmaker Ken Burns has learned to use for his and our benefit. What do you remember most from his Civil War series? Sullivan Ballou's love letter to his wife Sarah written before he is killed in battle, I bet.)

It is the small moments that tell the story.

OA's note has made me a bit defensive and self-conscious. Neither of those moods suits my writing style. I need to take a deep breath and step back so I can get on with things.

We returned home last night to a garden full of ripening tomatoes and I picked a dozen or more just on one quick swing as dusk fell. I see canning in my immediate future.

"I paint what I see."

I write what I live.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Road Trip

Next Wednesday, we are piling into the car early and heading to Chicago for the day, then spending the night in Racine, Wisconsin. "We" in this case means Warren, his son David (19+), his daughter Elizabeth (15+), and yours truly.

We'll spend Thursday morning touring Wingspread, a Frank Lloyd Wright residence built for the Johnson family (the Johnson Wax Johnsons) in the late 1930s. After that, we drive on to Madison to spend a few days with Warren's brother Brian and his family before barreling back to Ohio on Sunday so Elizabeth can start marching band camp the next morning.

In short, we are taking a Road Trip. It may be disguised as a short family vacation, but it is really a Road Trip.

And I am an inveterate Road Tripper.

My first Road Trip was when two other Chicago students and I jumped into a VW Beetle and drove cross-country to California in the middle of the winter of my freshman year. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.) I have been hooked on Road Trips ever after.

More than once when I lived in Portland, Oregon, I drove the door to door, no stops except bathroom, gas, and food (eaten in the car), cross-country Road Trip. If you had three drivers, it was 48 hours from my front door in Oregon to my folks' back door in Ohio.

For a long time, there were parts of Ohio I only knew at 3 a.m. at high rates of speed.

My favorite part of that Oregon to Ohio marathon was always Missoula, Montana. For some reason, no matter who I was driving with, I-90 was preferred over I-80. Maybe that was because I-84 (then I-80N) was an awkward and not yet completed connection from Oregon to Salt Lake City.

And maybe it was because I-90 took you across Montana and Montana was just a way cool state to drive across. It really is Big Sky Country. To get to Montana, you would leave Portland on what is now I-84, drive to Pendleton, then cut up to Walla Walla to pick up US 12. US 12 would take you over the Lolo Pass across Idaho, then drop you into Missoula, Montana, where you could catch I-90. From there it was a long, straight shot to Chicago, and then a mere jump to Delaware.

Once I drove into Missoula from the Lolo Pass on an early summer morning. US 12 entered Missoula's backside on town streets and not throughways back then. Maybe it still does. The lawns were thick with dew that was just starting to spangle as the sun came up. There was a bike on a sidewalk, dropped the night before in front of someone's porch. It was so carelessly and comfortably thrown that I was suddenly hit with a strong pang of longing. I wanted to live there; I wanted to throw a bike down and have it waiting for me in the morning. That scene has stuck with me all these years, even though I was last in Missoula in 1983.

I had recently finished law school when William Least Heat Moon wrote Blue Highways about his cross-country Road Trip. I read it from cover to cover and still read it from time to time. It is a beautiful book. Least Heat Moon calls back roads "blue highways" because on old road maps they were represented by blue ink lines.

Warren and I prefer blue highways when we travel. We have taken some wonderful Road Trips through Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. We have sampled local bakeries and diners, roamed through cemeteries, stopped at small independent groceries, and explored little byways on our different trips. There was a magical December night in Hastings, Michigan, when the snow came down so heavily that the downtown soon looked like the scene in "It's a Wonderful Life" after Jimmy Stewart realizes he wants to live again and goes running through the snow, through his hometown, shouting "Merry Christmas!" as he slips and slides his way home.

Warren recently suggested that we start exploring the original Route 30, the Lincoln Highway, this fall. Much of it has been repaved or rerouted into divided, limited access highway, but pieces of the original road still remain. That is a blue highway Road Trip if ever there was one.

On our upcoming Road Trip, we will combine blue highways and interstates to reach our various destinations. Leaving from here in the early hours, we will thread our way across Ohio at an angle towards Lima before picking up US 30 in Delphos to cut across Indiana and towards Chicago.

We could pick up Route 30 much sooner by heading north out of town and catching it in Upper Sandusky, but that would spoil the trip. This way we drive through sleepy little crossroads like Raymond and Pharisburg. This way we get to stop at Mello-Cream Doughnuts in Lima, a doughnut shop that has been in an old Pure Oil station for decades. The doughnuts are made on the premises and a service bell still rings inside when a car drives over the air hose outside. Wednesday morning, we will all get to stand at the doughnut case and ponder what flavor breakfast will be.

In Blue Highways, Least Heat Moon wrote "Life doesn't happen along the interstates. It's against the law."

I agree. Life happens at Mello-Cream Doughnuts when the cinnamon buns are still warm and the service bell rings.