Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Two Women

Recently I stepped into a rural cemetery to see if I could find the gravestone of an old neighbor.

She hasn’t been thought of in such a long time. Suddenly she seemed important to find out about.

It’s as when my sister brought up a forgotten neighbor. It generated much discussion for awhile as we reminisced. We wondered where the family moved and what their further story might be.

The woman whose grave marker I was seeking was largely unknown to us, like the other neighbor thought about out of the blue.

This woman was a widow. She had an adult daughter who wasn’t quite right. I'm sure I was some years along before I realized this. 

A little slow is what she'd have been called. There was kindness if not an actual concept of the nature of her condition. Things like that weren’t talked about. 

She was always with her mother. She was neatly dressed, perfectly polite.

They had a farm off a gravel road we seldom used. I suppose the two coming alone to church Sunday after Sunday made an impression on me.

The mother was well past middle age. She was weathered but not worn down. You felt she could master any situation.

It was a strength held in common with the farm women of her generation. They could meet anything, deal with it and survive. They were very elemental.

She was self-sufficient and sporting as I took her in. She competently drove what surely was a 1946 Hudson sedan.

It was a beauty. It was big old classic. It was recognizable as her car as it turned into the church parking lot.

I recall going by their place one time. The Hudson was poised at the entrance of their long farm driveway as we came along.

Township roads didn't see a lot of traffic. There wasn't a whole lot of passing cars or getting behind a moving tractor. Meeting a car pulled up in a driveway was therefore pretty exciting.

This was as close to a traffic moment as this road had. On top of that we knew the driver. Score another point we thought from out of our admittedly small fund of worldly experience.

The two were on their way somewhere. This seemed neat to me. It was a glimpse of their life which can be like pushing back shutters. A little can reveal a lot.

Mom knew that this woman lived here. For me it was different. The idea of people living separately from the places you associate them with, which was church in this woman's case, was just beginning to sink in.

We were on this particular road so seldom it really was a chance meeting of cars. The flash of her face through the windshield, and the daughter alongside in the front seat, sank in deep.

Their last name, and this one sure memory, is about all I had on her. My family was approached to see what they remembered.They drew blanks. 

Brothers latch on to other things or recall not at all. My sister in this case couldn’t be of help. It was up to me to connect with this person as best the trail led.

The cemetery visited is small as laid out. There are neat rows, not too many, which made the search somewhat simple to carry out.

It’s peopled, if the term is correct, by families known to me. Almost all the names mean something. 

We’re connected by geography, faith and time. We’re largely a flock that hasn’t gone far from home.

The years of birth and dates of passing make the former neighbors a true and ongoing part of the countryside.

Their span of time registered in the churchyard signifies their living years. Remembrance is palpable in the stillness of the green plots aligned within sight of their church.

Emma’s gravestone was come upon as I was entertaining the possibility that her resting spot was elsewhere.

By the dates on her gravestone she lived into her 90s. Helen, whose name I learned along with Emma's, preceded her mother by ten years.

Helen’s birthdate indicates she was born much earlier than I guessed. 

As a girl I assigned no age to this constant companion of her mother. She wasn't a girl even though she had that as part of her. She was a woman who didn't grow old.

She had the same day of birth as one of my brothers. It was noted because common ground suits me.

I think back to those long ago summers. I like to think of a decorated cake set out for Helen in a hot late August kitchen. 

There, and at our place across the lake, it's similarly a day for cake made festive with icing and candles. Mutual birthdays and we had no clue.

You think of folks from your early years, maybe especially those who fill a country church with you. It’s a happy addition to include Emma and Helen among those we once knew.  

Ro Giencke – July 24, 2012




Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Our pot of tomatoes on the deck is showing off early thanks to the heat. 

One tomato was perfectly ripe when we came back from a few days in the country.

Dragging in laundry to wash, and the additional bags of paraphernalia you gather on even short stays out of town, we were predisposed to an easy supper as the vacation clothing went directly to the washer.

Maybe it was the tomato, noticed when we first got home, that made us think of ordering in pizza.

The tomato looked too pretty on the vine to pick when first exclaimed over. Then we forgot about it in the throes of unpacking. 

We ate the pizza unadorned except for the cheese and bacon toppings with which it arrived. 

The tomato, fixed with some basil, could have been an excellent pizza garnish. Instead the juicy red globe gained some extra minutes in the sun. 

It was eaten later with a shake of salt. Tomatoes taste best fresh and on the spot.

We sweltered the whole time we were away. One assumes it’ll be cooler leaving behind the asphalt and diesel fumes of the city. That's not always so.

The hot air dome is a tight cap over the Midwest. Whether it's skyscrapers or silos out your back door broiling temperatures this month are pretty much the case.

Most of us can deal with the heat. It’s harder with sticky hot. If you’re outside any length of time you’re dripping wet. Dew points are the points of reference picking away at our summer enthusiasm.

We aren’t letting the inconvenience of major perspiration outbreaks get in the way of our planned activities. Summer is over too soon to get reliant on central air and stale TV reruns.

It feels good to be on the move outside even in dew point country. We go slower, find shade and drink plenty of water.

This was our strategy at a recent outdoor art festival, which has the good fortune to be set  along one of our cool flowing Minnesota rivers.

The white tents arranged under the trees gave the aspect of a medieval fair. It looked jaunty as viewed on approach.

I expected to hear the clank of armor or see the flowing gowns of fair ladies of the castle with wide baskets strolling through the archaic lanes.

It was only a dream, however. The brisk business of buying and selling materialized with the opening of the admission gate.

My method with any outdoor emporium is to cover the grounds swiftly, get a feel for what’s there and zero in on what attracts me. Familiarity with the general layout helps me scope out my interests and saves time with the rest.

Many depend on the map handouts for orientation. For me nothing takes the place of scouting with your own set of eyes. Eventually the handout is referred to but it's held in reserve as used by me.

An abundance of merchandise with an up North theme was immediately noted. Possibly the pieces stand out because they fit so well with the distinctly bucolic setting.

If you don’t own a cabin or lake home these items make you want to acquire lakeshore property pronto.

It’s hard to resist the breezy banners, cute plaques, carvings, Man Cave objects, stained glass suncatchers, wind chimes and assortment of wooden furniture from tiny benches on up.

They’re so suited for lake d├ęcor you can almost hear the waves as you walk by.  You can justify the cabin purchase on this basis alone. The artsy choices call for a relaxed second home they can spiff up.

You’re struck by the industry behind all these wares. You picture the studios or workshops or simple kitchen tables where these examples of skill and labors of love are conceived, prepared, completed and packed to bring.

Displays of handcrafted jewelry, meanwhile, take you in a different direction. They play on your dress-up whims which begin with your mother’s multi-strand pearls fastened around your neck when you're small.  

You admire the delicate designs or the bold workings of metal and stone or intricate beaded fabrications. 

You want to put on a raft of necklaces, or maybe just one perfect pendant, and slip into a caftan and sashay to a place that serves wine and outdoor poetry readings if you only knew where such a place might be.

With this same unique jewelry, but with towel and swimsuit tossed into one of the commodious carryalls also for sale (and which I virtuously resisted, my tote bag shelf being full), you might opt instead to a game of volleyball on the beach.

A large component of art fairs is the creativity that it causes to circulate. It begins in the mind, eye, heart and hands of the artist. It travels to those inspired by their work, each with the various influences derived from it.

A few tents offered books with the authors not exactly hiding behind the piles of their copies but likely trying to read interest on your face as the title makes contact with you.

Authors must come to book-signings with tight throats. They recognize their work is being sized up. The value of their product is established by the willingness of the public to buy.

The food tents and music and entertainment venues draw their crowds. Many of us were in the queues for drinks and refreshments as the steamy afternoon pressed on.

Certain members of my group were intent on one specific thing. They were here for the pork chops.

The cooked pork chops are possibly the festival’s biggest attraction. They’re cooked on location with a great deal of smoke and the smell of the meat to mark their territory.

Champing at the bit for pork chops my group managed to rein in their appetites until we could all be together. They made it longer than one determined gal.

Perhaps she’d waited all year for pork chops in the park. She was oblivious to all things as she sat over her pork chop, enjoying every bite of her forenoon chew.

We sat at the picnic table by the river with our pork chops. The smoke from the cooking area hung in the heavy air. It was in our hair and on our clothes and in our eyes. 

At the moment it didn’t matter. To avoid the smoke was to be absent from the festival. Having allergies or sensitivities can rule out many things. Smoke very much bothers me but here I was nevertheless.

Nearby was the music and we ate and enjoyed. And then someone thought of ice cream cones for dessert. Maybe an art festival is really the art of enjoyment practiced on a large scale.

Now for some summer fun nearer to home. We’re in the midst of the Minneapolis Aquatennial and it puts July in the city in lights.

Called the best days of summer the annual event has something for everyone. For us it’s the milk carton races on Lake Calhoun and also the fireworks that stream and blaze and arc high above the Mississippi River on the final night.

Summer rightfully is a succession of community celebrations and events planned to take us out and about in the embrace of nature at her best.

There’s no need to refer to the calendar for weeks on end. We cross off each event as it comes along and mark the next one we aim to attend.

 It’s a lovely way to do summer. Dratted dew points and all.

Ro Giencke – July 17, 2012


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Drumstick Month

It’s somehow a third way into the month.

Fourth of July celebrations nicely take care of the first week or so. It shortens all the rest.

A rather big group of us were together for the holiday already sliding into the past. 

This included the out-of-state contingent. They and the July heat arrived simultaneously.

It was a steamy 4th. We kept active despite the warmth. We jumped in the water a bunch of times and found room for all the good food and the watermelon besides.

After sampling smoothies made in the blender, and the salted nut rolls and banana cake, we talked once again of compiling a family cookbook. We advocate for it every year as we linger over the spread of items brought.

A collection of recipes from our different backgrounds was suggested when the cookbook came up this time. It was welcomed as a good idea.

The hypothetical cookbook would reflect a diverse heritage. The family has become a tasty stew seasoned with many nationalities.

My contribution to the get-together was a white bean salad made spunky with chopped red onion, feta cheese and fresh basil. It went well with the hamburgers done on the grill.

Triple digit temperatures melted parts of the state. We kept cool by remembering ice cream snacks enjoyed when young. 

Fudgesicles were mentioned. A trip to Dairy Queen was always a hit. For me you couldn’t top the Drumstick cone dipped in nuts. 

This is certainly a summer to indulge in ice cream or take a glass of lemonade into the shade with you. You beat the heat when you succumb to it, as dear friends of mine believe.

Sweltering weather isn't slowing visitors to the Arboretum from what I can judge, being among them. 

On more than a few toasty afternoons we've strolled the grounds, taking pictures and bending to admire the blooms. 

After several trips I feel a concentrated course in botany has been achieved. All the plants have been noted and studied. Everything is so beautiful.  

The daylilies in particular are stunning. Ordinarily they’re not my favorite flower. But this year an exception will be made.

The mild winter has boosted the local deer population. They’re everywhere and in broad daylight. Perhaps the pesky mosquitoes are driving them into the open areas.

We’re careful as we drive. We’re learning to expect deer  in front of us as happened last week. A doe leapt ahead of the car. 

She bounded safely across thanks to two sets of car brakes applied quickly. We were glad the other driver was paying attention as we were.

In the car after church a couple days later I pointed out another deer. It was reaching up to browse on branches.

“Sunday brunch” I said of the forenoon graze. “Tree pizza,” Al replied. His comment earned a laugh. 

All this greenery is free pizza to the deer. They must think that of our strawberries and hostas too. They help themselves liberally, such as the buck working on our strawberry crop in the garden.

On a walk about this same time I came past a large deer lawn ornament.

The artist got it lifelike entered my mind as I drew even with the yard embellishment. It must be a recent acquisition. I hadn’t noticed it before.  

With a start I realized it was a real deer. We were close. Only the fronds of a spruce tree shielded it from me.

The deer didn’t flinch. It was up to me to widen the distance between.

It stood bolted to the spot long after I went by. Like Lot’s wife in the Bible I turned back to look.

Ro Giencke – July 10, 2012










Monday, July 2, 2012

Rice Krispie Bars

It’s a sizzling start to my favorite month.

It's aiming for 97 degrees today which will break records and perhaps our hearts a little as we cede to  the press of the heat.

We’re not promised much letup. Get accustomed to it is the best of the advice we hear. The dog days of summer jumped the gun this year.

Tank tops I vowed never to wear again in public are working their way to the front of the closet. 

Suddenly as scrutinized they look more appropriate for the melting temperatures than gauged by the light of September when they were folded and put away.

Throw in the dew point and it certainly is lake weather. Many of us are at the lake already. 

The 4th of July gets things rolling and lots of people get a head start. It’s smart thinking to wrap a vacation around the national holiday.

Others of us find the lakes in our midst sufficient for all the picnicking, 4th of July barbecuing and chilling we plan to do.

Packing to go out of town to the lake when lakes are right here can perhaps justifiably be construed as more effort than one needs to go through.

It really doesn’t matter how we catch our refreshing breeze as long as we do. It can be the fast whir of the portable fan or the opening of the refrigerator door in response to a request for another glass of lemonade, please.

The 4th of July, as indeed all the summer, should be a time when we let the breezes play lightly and teasingly over us.

Wherever we are to be in position for the holiday we’re ready for a safe and glorious Fourth.

It was fortuitous, back in 1776, that the signers of the Declaration of Independence adopted Thomas Jefferson’s masterfully composed document on July 4. I can’t imagine celebrating in this grand style at any other time.

I make Rice Krispie bars every year with the first sticky outbreak. We’ve had a couple previous opportunities for the bars. Steamy conditions are gaining as a characteristic of this summer. 

We didn't then have Rice Krispies on hand. That’s a severe drawback for making the bars. Now I’m equipped.

It seems to me the recipe once was standard on the Rice Krispies box. It was as dependable a feature as Nutrition Facts (1¼ cups of cereal with or without milk provide 50% of your recommended daily iron)) or the Snap, Crackle and Pop boys.

Maybe the box has had a makeover. I don’t pay much attention as swift selection is made along the cereal aisle.  Often I don’t even notice the price. 

It was at home I noted the recipe is gone. It's not on the side panel. It’s not at the top or the bottom of the Rice Krispies box either. 

It was  turned every which way with no luck. I remembered it wasn't on the last box either.

There's not a hint of the recipe on the box. You can get the recipe at kelloggs.com, which is information on the box, but the web site could make the recipe easier to find.

I was prepared with a backup. The recipe is on an index card in my no-bake file. 

Perhaps I feared for this eventuality, the day when the Rice Krispie bar recipe would disappear.

Summer is a trifle cooler when you sit down to a plate of Rice Krispie bars. 

Today, with bars to serve, this theory gets tested. It’d be great if it makes it feel less a scorcher. Maybe it will pass for a mere ninety degrees.

Rice Krispie Bars

Melt 3 Tablespoons butter and 1-10 oz. bag regular marshmallows (about 40) over low heat. When marshmallows are completely melted remove from heat. Add 6 cups Rice Krispie cereal. Stir until well coated.

Press mixture into 9 x 13” greased pan. Cut into 2 x 2” squares when cool. Yield: 24 bars.

Ro Giencke – July 2, 2012