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Pause to Listen

Rain drops pattered overhead and a long, low grumble of thunder followed the sharp crack of a distant lightning strike. As my brother Billy sank down into the chair across from me in the living room, he instructed, “Close your eyes and listen.” I stretched and rested my head on the sofa back.  

Billy questioned, “You know that when it rains on a hot summer afternoon, you can smell a beautiful, earthy scent sometimes?”

I nodded, realizing he had his eyes shut, too, I answered, “Yes, it’s the smell of clean, wet soil, or maybe the chlorophyll in the plants.”

There was another roll of thunder, but the rain on the roof had lessened. We became aware of the sound of water trickling down a rain spout. Somewhere there was a slow, steady drip of water falling into a puddle.

My brother jumped to his feet and took the storm CD out of his new radio compact disk player. He said, “My new Bose has the best sound of any radio I’ve ever had. I almost imagined smelling the rain. Right now, when I looked outside, it seemed like I should have seen gray rain clouds scuttling away.”

Getting to my feet to look closer at my brother’s new toy, I admired its sleek lines before stating, “I’ve been told these are quite expensive.”

Defending his splurge, he maintained, “Yes, they are. But you get top quality for the money.”

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Finally, Christmas Eve

Leaning against Mama, I whined, “Why can’t we put up our Christmas tree?” Longing for Christmas was beginning to make me feel sick. Hearing holiday music on the radio, listening to letters to Santa on the radio, knowing everyone in the family was secretly wrapping presents behind closed doors and talking about Christmas with my second-grade friends was nice, but I had an anxious, deep desire for it to finally come. In the past week, my longing for Christmas had started to feel more like pain than pleasure.

Mama sighed but patiently repeated, “I told you, we don’t put up the tree until Christmas Eve.”

I wailed, “Other people don’t wait until Christmas Eve! My friend Peggy said their Christmas tree was put up last week.”

“Peggy’s family has different traditions.” The look Mama gave me as she answered told me no amount of begging would change things.

December 24th finally arrived, but I continued to wait, pining for Christmas. Daddy and my brothers had time to bring the tree into our house before the noon meal. Mama wouldn’t hear of it. She insisted we sit down to eat first.

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Sweat Potatoes

Plump sweet potato tubers are supposed to be found directly below the vines. Not this year under my plants! The picture shows how most of mine grew. The skinny part was attached to the vine. The deeper it grew, the fatter it got. It broke off when I dug it up and I never found the rest if it.

A large, yellow and black bumble bee hopped from one catnip blossom to the next. I scanned the garden, happily breathing in its lovely, earthy smell. The unseasonably warm weather made the greenhouse garden look as if it was September. Nothing was frost damaged. In the first row, beautiful fat chrysanthemum bushes bloomed in, yellow, purple, and rust. The lavender plant, red and white geraniums, pink petunias and red tea roses were all blooming as if it was a summer day.

Whenever I had time the last week or two, I’d worked at preparing the garden for the winter. One day I pulled up the beans and cucumbers. On another day I took down the cucumber support fence and pulled up the pink flowering buckwheat. Today, I planned to dig my sweet potatoes and pick cherry tomatoes.

Progress is slow because my left knee has been hurting, and I’m a firm believer retired people should never be rushed. Out of necessity I’ve learned to work while sitting on a garden stool. Placing the stool firmly next to the first vined plant, I sank down on the seat. Not wanting to damage the irrigation line, I carefully inserted a small shovel into the ground alongside the sweet potato and pried up. Letting go of the shovel, I gathered all the vines near the loosened soil and pulled.

First came the disappointment. There were no large tubers attached to the stem, then came the frustration. The plant had long vines intertwined with every other sweet potato vine in the garden. Why I have a long-held dislike of digging potatoes came rushing back to me. It’s hard work with a low satisfaction rate.

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Sealed Air

Currently, Amazon ships 2.5 billion packages in the United States annually. Fed Ex ships 3 billion packages and UPS ships 4.7 billion packages.
Try to imagine the unbelievable amount of Bubble Wrap all those packages need!

Intended to be an edgy version of wallpaper, Bubble Wrap was invented in the late 1950’s by Al Fielding, an engineer and Marc Chavannes, a Swiss inventor. Textured wallpaper was all the rage at the time. Alas, the public didn’t take to the idea of living in rooms with padded walls.

The inventors knew they had a fantastic product, they just had to find a good use for it. Frederick Bowers, the marketing expert at their manufacturing plant, Sealed Air, heard IBM was planning to ship their latest computer models to customers. At the time all that was available to cushion delicate shipments was newspaper, sawdust and horsehair. He offered Sealed Air’s bubble wrap and the rest is history.

Sealed Air’s factory is in Elmwood Park, New Jersey. The company also makes other products, such as Cryovac, the plastic that shrinks with heat around produce. The machines at the factory use resin heated to 560 degrees to manufacture the bubbled sheets, making the air in the factory very hot. If you get heat rash when the thermometer goes above 75 degrees, don’t bother applying for a job!

Bubble Wrap is used by artists to do paintings and by chocolatiers to produce a lacy imprint. You can order Bubble Wrap with bubbles shaped like letters or hearts. There’s a Bubble Wrap calendar, where you get to pop a bubble each day. I’ll buy one when the calendar provides a whole sheet to pop each day. There is a Facebook group under the name of “Popping Bubble Wrap” who claim over 460,000 members.

In 2011 Rhett Allain postulated 39 layers of bubble wrap would prevent injury when jumping from a sixth-floor window. No one has tested his hypothesis. What gave him the idea? Probably a pumpkin dropping contest a decade earlier in Iowa, where an 815-pound pumpkin was dropped from a 35-foot crane. The even organizers padded the giant’s landing site with Bubble Wrap; no word on how much was used. “Gourdzilla” landed completely intact.

Bubble Wrap appears in several popular movies. Even when you don’t see it, it’s there. Movieland’s school-attending children have their backpacks stuffed with Bubble Wrap so they don’t have to lug around heavy books as they act. If you enjoy reading about all the crazy uses of Bubble Wrap, buy The Bubble Wrap Book, written by Jim and Tim Berg, the guys famous for writing a book about the many uses of Duct Tape.

Bubble Wrap is most famous for is the good feeling people have when they pop the bubbles. In 1992 psychology professor, Kathleen Dillon did a study where she found subjects were more relaxed and less tired after a popping session. In 2012 a Bubble Wrap brand “Pop” poll survey found that one minute of bubble-popping provided the stress relief equivalent of a 33-minute massage.

I think the inventors of Bubble Wrap knew this. The New York Times reported that each Sealed Air employee received a small box of individual squares of Bubble Wrap to keep at their desk for emergency stress relief.

In 2015 Sealed Air began manufacturing iBubble Wrap, which has deflated bubbles. It’s said to be as effective as the inflated type for shipping. When Elon Musk heard about iBubble Wrap, he claimed to fear non-popping Bubble Wrap was a ‘sign of the apocalypse’. 

I think I agree with Elon Musk.

Mike the Chicken

Mike, a five-and-a-half-month-old male Wyandotte chicken belonged to farmer Lloyd Olsen of Fruita, Colorado. On September 10, 1945, Lloyd’s mother-in-law was coming for a visit, so Lloyd decided to chop Mike’s head off and prepare him for supper.

The axe didn’t fall true. Mike’s head was cut off, but the axe had missed his jugular vein, left one ear and most of his brain stem intact. All chickens flop and flutter around after having their heads chopped off because the pressure of the axe causes a burst of electricity to run down all the nerves leading to the muscles, telling them to move even though They are already dead.

But Mike the chicken didn’t die. He was able to balance on a perch, walk clumsily and tried to preen, peck for food and crow. He could only make gurgling sounds.

Instead of finishing the job he started, farmer Olson decided to take care of the bird. He fed Mike milk and water with an eye dropper. He also gave Mike worms and small pieces of grain.

Lloyd toured the country with Mike the headless chicken to display him at side shows. Mike the headless chicken became famous. The income he earned the Olson family amounted to a lot more than chicken feed.

     One night when Mike was two years old, he choked to death on a kernel of corn. That still wasn’t the end of Mike, though. The town of Fruita, Colorado celebrates “Mike the Headless Chicken Day” each May with a “5K Run Like a Headless Chicken Race”, egg toss, “Pin the Head on the Chicken”, “Chicken Cluck-Off and “Chicken Bingo” in which chicken droppings on a numbered grid choose the winning numbers.

I hope Lloyd shared his new-found wealth with his mother-in-law!

Your Diet

There are diets, and then there are diets

I cheerfully greeted the patient in the wheelchair with a big smile as the admitting department employee pushed him into his assigned room. Opening the bed, I helped the man up from the chair before taking his vitals and recording his personal belongings.

Just as I completed the nursing assistant portion of his admission, the dietician walked into the room. The patient grumbled, “This place feels like a refrigerator. Could you give me a blanket? I’m cold.” Noting several other supplies that would be needed, I left the room.

A few moments later I returned with a blanket, gown and a pitcher of water. Opening the blanket to wrap around the patient, I heard the dietician ask, “Please tell me about your diet.”

The patient reacted to the request as if gasoline to open flame. His face turned red and he shouted angerly, “I’m not on a diet, and you’re not going to shove some stupid a—-diet down my throat!”

Calmly looking up from her clipboard, the dietician wearily explained, “What I want to know is what types of foods you normally eat every day.” Her unruffled demeanor made me want to giggle. Undoubtedly, she’d experienced this conflict in word definition before.

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Meringue Mushroom Candy Recipe

This recipe turns out the best when made on a sunny day and the humidity in the house is low.

4 egg whites at room temperature

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

¾ cup of sugar

½ teaspoon almond extract

Grease and flour jelly roll pans or cookie sheets

In a medium bowl beat egg whites on high. Add the cream of tartar. Then slowly add the sugar. As the egg whites thicken, add the almond extract. Beat the egg whites until they are very firm.

Place the whites in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and cut a small hole in one corner. Pipe the meringue onto the pans. For the caps, squeeze with the bag opening about ½ inch from pan until the cap is the size you want. For the stem, slowly pull back as you squeeze until the stem is as tall as you want.

The number of mushrooms you get from this recipe depends on how large you make the mushroom caps. I get 65 to 80.

To make the mushrooms appear to have toadstool freckles, I sprinkle a little cinnamon and nutmeg on the caps.

Heat oven to 200 degrees. Place pans in oven and leave them there for 1 ¾ hours. Turn off the oven and leave the pans in the oven until they are cool.

Carefully remove the meringues from the pans. If the pans weren’t oiled and floured right, they might be hard to remove/or will break. (One year I heated the bottoms of the pans to get the meringues off!!)

Take a small knife and scrape shiny flour/oil off bottoms of caps. (One year I didn’t and the chocolate ‘gills’ fell off.) As you clean the caps, make a small hole in the middle of the cap underside.

Melt chocolate and spread it on the bottom of the caps, then before it hardens, take a stem and gently push it into the chocolate covered hole. The mushroom candy will stand upright when you set it down.

Leftover Summer

I placed a garden stool next to a tomato plant. Although some of its leaves were crisp from recent frosty nights, I spotted a few yellow blossoms deep within the plant. A few big tomatoes on the plant were faintly tinged red. Knowing they would finish ripening in the house, I put them in a box before cutting the plant down to a stump. Methodically, I processed each plant in the row, enjoying the beautiful, earthy scent of my garden.

Finally the only tomatoes I had left in the garden were the cherry tomato plants a few rows away. Less affected by the past few cold nights, each plant bore many clusters of perfect, but still green cherry tomatoes. I knew they would slowly ripen in the house so I put them put in a box, too.

As I worked, my daughter Tammie entered the greenhouse. She excitedly informed me, “The apple tree behind the greenhouse is covered with hundreds of beautiful red apples.”

With a smile I playfully questioned, “Guess who’s going to help me pick them?”

Loving to do things with me after her workhours are finished, Tammie enthusiastically responded, “I’m looking forward to doing that but will the apples be okay? We had a killing frost the other night.”

“They will be fine,” I assured her. “These are late apples and I always pick them after the first frosts in the fall. They’re like these last tomatoes in the garden. All the summer’s warmth turned into plant sugars for us to enjoy after the growing season is over.”

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Hot Vinaigrette

I stepped out onto my back deck and admired how nice my yard looked this spring. New blades of grass glittered in the sunshine as a gentle breeze lovingly caressed them. Tree branches that had been winter-bound for so many months were finally beginning to unfurl their pink and green buds. Bright, yellow daffodils gracefully swayed in the new flowerbed by the driveway.

My loving scan of the crescent-shaped flowerbed came to an abrupt halt when I spotted what remained of the four hosta plants planted there. I’d been enthusiastically watching them grow new leaves for the last several days. My daughter Tammie joined me on the back deck just as I let out a squawk of protest and stamped my foot.

Turning to look in the same direction as I, she inquired, “What do you see that’s making you so upset?”

My response was more of a yelp, “My hostas! Look at them!”

After staring at the new flowerbed for a moment, Tammie asked, “Where did they go? Just yesterday afternoon they each had a nice cluster of new leaves.”

I said, sighing wearily, “The deer were here last night. Does are especially hungry now that winter is over and they have fawns to nurse. Besides that, I’ve heard people describe hostas as “deer candy”. It’s their preferred treat to eat when foraging a landscaped yard.”

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God’s Time

The radio in Mom’s kitchen was tuned to a music station, just as it had always been from morning to night during my growing up years. Although in my early fifties, when I visited Mom, I still felt like I was a child, cradled in a time capsule. The many years which had passed since my childhood had taken their toll on her, though. Mom’s vision was gone and she needed my help to bathe, change her bedding and pay bills.

After I had washed and set Mom’s hair that afternoon, she settled down in her rocking chair. I sat nearby at the dining room table to pay her bills. With soft music playing in the background, Mom suddenly commented, “Tonight…we switch back to God’s time.”  

I looked up from the check I was writing. The dour manner in which she’d pronounced, ‘God’s time’ made me want to laugh.

A number of questions swarmed through my mind. Was Mom biblically opposed to day light savings time? I’d never gotten that impression as a child. Maybe Mom was repeating something she’d heard her own mother once say. My stern grandmother Franzeska, had been born in 1867. Although I’d never met her, things I’d heard made me wonder if she was a rather humorless person.

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