Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Cloud Sampler

 This past week has produced a wide range of beautiful clouds - even fog - but little rain. In the past 20 days we've had only 0.18" of rain, barely enough to get the crops by. And yet the sky has given us some amazing displays.
 The shot above is from the morning of August 21. The sun had risen behind garden-variety cumulus in the east and as I turned to walk back out Sam's lane, the sun broke through an opening and sent a crepuscular ray skyward. The atmosphere was a bit foggy and the angled shaft of light seemed to slice the sky in two above me. It did not last long.

 Later that same day, I was sitting on the sofa and happened to look out the east window and saw this lone towering cumulus. I checked radar and saw that its top rose to about 21,000 feet and it was beginning to drop some rain near Yellow Springs. It receded to the east.
 Lit as it was with a sun low in the west, the cloud took on a majestic billowy look. I took another horizontal shot of the same cloud:

 Finally, on the morning of August 24, I walked out with garbage for the compost in the very early morning (perhaps 7:15 am or so) and looked back to the east as the sun slanted between our row of pines at the front of our property. The early morning orange light was breathtaking as was the peculiar slant of the sunlight among the tree trunks.

 Even without rain, the grass is exceedingly wet every morning and thus gets lightly watered by the dew. Nature takes care of her own as much as is possible. And she provides me a light show of her work as I step gingerly through the damp lawn.

Pot Patrol?

 Every year about this time, I'll be outside working in the garden and I'll notice an airplane making regular passes over the area. Sometimes it's a fixed wing plane; sometimes it's a helicopter.

 The timing, and then subsequent news reports of a pot bust, seem to indicate that what I'm seeing is law enforcement searching for small-scale growers of marijuana.

 Yesterday I was out watering my grass seed and garden when a helicopter began making regular passes. It wasn't circling me so much as another local farm, buzzing low, circling back, having another close look. I would suppose marijuana has a distinctive color. At the least, a patch of cultivated pot would certainly show up tucked inside a corn field.

 The more I watered, the more the pilot seemed to take an interest in me. When I stopped, laid down the hose and went inside for my camera, he seemed to double his interest. This is the second time this week I've noticed the plane.

 For myself, I'd certainly be in favor of legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana. The day will come, shortly I suppose. I have about as much fear of pot as I do alcohol. Taken in moderation, both serve as mere mood enhancers. Reefer madness, indeed!

 I would suppose there's plenty of tasks that the law enforcement should spend their money on. Flying an expensive helicopter in circles for half an hour in farm country should not be a prime mission.
 On the other hand, if they're checking crops or power lines, more power to them.

Curved Lines

 If a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, a mad dash to get there, a curved line is the scenic route.

 Aren't we all attracted to subtle bends? Does it not mesh with something in our personalities? I am attracted to cattails at the local pond for this reason.

 These look like Japanese brush strokes on a canvas, calligraphy even, and they offer a message in a language that writes between the lines. I can stand and watch these thin grasses bend in a slight breeze, their reflections following suit in a choreographed ballet. It is a message written in light, natural poetry dabbled on the surface of a pond.

 When I see these subtle bends I think of Einstein's warped space-time. Gravity bends that, too, just as gravity bends these cattails. Look at the path of the Voyager I and II spacecraft through our outer solar system. Both paths were bent first by Jupiter, then Saturn. While Voyager I then exited the solar system, Voyager II took a tighter curve sending its camera on past Uranus and Neptune in a "Grand Tour". That's the power of a curved line.

Think of a circle: the straight arrows of radius and diameter, boring and straight-forward. But think of the circumference, infinitely bending, traveling forever, world without end. Which goes the distance?

 A curved line smiles.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Warm, Fuzzy Memories

 It is 63 years ago. I have turned one. A relative, perhaps (I never knew; Mom has forgotten), gives me a small, plush animal. It's a dog with a zippered stomach and it will be where I place my pajamas every morning when I rise.


 Who knows where the name came from but the dog quickly becomes "Bitsy". If I have a single memory from my earliest years, it is this. How many nights did my own young head lay on this dog, secure and safe with Bitsy beneath an ear..

 My brother had his own plush dog.

Bob's Dog

 She's in a little better shape but dates to the mid-1950's.

 Going back a generation, my father's dog was "Beansy" and we're lucky to still have her.


 Beansy dates to about 1925 and he's showing serious wear. There are a number of stitches on the legs with coarse thread and sawdust stuffing leaks liberally at several spots. We also have a Christmas ornament of Dad's, always placed at the top of the tree, given to him, I believe when he was hospitalized one Christmas with pneumonia. You can see it by clicking here.

 But what about Mom? Nothing remains. "I had a doll," she said, but it is lost to the ages.
 Is it mostly boys that cherish their plush childhood animals?

 Yet there is one more in our collection. Our beloved schnauzer, Ginger, had her own plush toy. A dog with a dog: Snoopy Dog.

Snoopy Dog

 How many times did we tell Ginger to go get her toy. "Where's Snoopy Dog"? we'd say. "Go get Snoopy Dog!" She'd leave the room, go in an out of rooms and eventually return with a smile or her face and Snoopy Dog being dragged along the floor in her mouth.

 We each cherished our plush animals. They offered security then. They offer memories now.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Walking Gnomon

 Every sunny day as I walk back and forth in our neighbor's lane, I marvel at my shadow. I watch it bob along as I pace back and forth and note its length, from an ungainly long shadow early (and late in the day) to one that is nearly as short as my feet at noon at summer's start.

 I am, in effect, a walking gnomon.

 This morning, at about 8 am, my shadow stretched perfectly parallel with Sam's lane (the lane runs roughly east/west). Early in the summer, at the same hour, my shadow would have traced off to the left, owing to the sun's location farther north at the same time. As the season's progress towards winter, my shadow will move slowly right.

 To make myself into an accurate sundial, I would have to lean towards the true north, 39.7° above horizontal, to compensate for my latitude. If I then marked off the hours on the ground, my shadow would fairly accurately tell the time. Every hour the sun moves 15° westward, the shadow projecting the solar time onto the ground.

 But is time itself real or just an illusion? Is all we measure no more than change? In any case, I measure the change daily as I walk, my shadow drifting this way and that, proving, at least, I live on a rotating sphere, orbiting an inconsequential star.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Matzo Matzo Man

  I am a sucker for a value, a cheerleader for cheap. So when I saw two boxes of Matzos in the clearance cart at Kroger's, I bought them both. The 11 ounce packages were marked $0.39 and $0.49 respectively. Original price? Almost $3. So these were simply too good to pass up .... whatever they were.

 They look like crackers, Mom said.

  But upon opening one of the packages, I am convinced that matzos are to crackers as acres are to inches.

  They look like saltine crackers, to be sure. And they have somewhat of the taste. Except for being even less tasty, less salty, less everything.

 For my Jewish readers, matzo requires no explanation. For everyone else, they are unleavened bread, traditionally eaten during the Passover holiday (this year, the week-long event ran March 25 through April 2). Thus explaining why Krogers had them in the clearance cart.

 During Passover, "chametz" (bread and other items made with leavened bread) is forbidden.Thus matzo is something in the vein of "fish on Fridays" for Catholics.

 I was a bit surprised when I opened the package and found a large, flat cracker, regularly poked full of rows of holes. In the same way crackers are prevented from puffing up during baking, the holes are a way for gasses to escape, keeping the bread flat. A good explanation of matzo can be had by clicking here

 Mom and I both sat down to a matzo, widening our culinary horizons if not our waistlines. "Well," said she, "the tastiest part is the holes." For me, the tastiest part is the price.

 Now, what to do with two boxes of these? I've already tried them by nibbling cheese between bites. That helps. I think peanut butter will offer some excitement, too. I won't much have to worry about the calories (110). And there's no saturated fat, no trans fat, no cholesterol and very little sodium.

 There's actually very little to them at all. Except crumbs.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pinehaven Apple Pie

 It's that time of year when the local orchards are offering their fresh-picked apples. Mom and I stopped at a Miamisburg orchard a few days ago and picked up a bag of one of their earliest varieties, the McIntosh.. The apples are a little tart and perfect for pie baking. I like them for eating too ... crisp and a little sour but perfect with a pinch of salt.

 We dusted off an old English recipe, modified it to our taste, and quickly put together an apple pie that hits the spot.

Pinehaven Apple Pie

4-1/2 cups apples

1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon white flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons margarine

* Peel and core the apples (about 4), cut into nice-sized slices (about 12 per apple)

* Combine both sugars, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg
* Spoon a tablespoon of this mixture into the bottom of a 9" pie crust; rub about evenly
* Sprinkle the lemon and orange juice on the apple slices, stir; add the sugar mixture, stir again
* Add this filling to the pie crust; dot top with margarine
* Place pastry top on pie, press edges together, cut a few slits in top

Bake for 35-40 minutes

Note: Store-bought pie crusts are as good as can be. We don't bother making our own.

 We always buy our apples at Crossroad Orchard, St. Rt. 725 & Jamaica Road, Miamisburg Ohio
 937-866-4480. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Love Apples

 The French called them "pommes d'amour" - love apples. An aphrodisiac? I think not but for their lovely color and bulbous shape lying on the kitchen windowsill. I love to look at them, marvel at their fullness. I love the taste, that's for sure.

 Who first tried a bright red tomato? A member of the deadly nightshade family, you'd approach this succulent orb with some fear. It looks too good to be true. Searingly red-orange, ripe globes hanging on a pungent vine. I might take a small bite and yet a small bite, as with a mushroom, might be too much.

 We always expect our first tomatoes in mid-July, coincident with my birthday, but this year the harvest began a bit late. I picked the first of these "Better Boy's" in late July but the overabundance began last last week. Now I am picking them by the basket-fulls and we don't know quite what to do with the excess.

 I pick them before they are quite ripe. It's necessary to prevent insects and slugs from biting into them, ruining their perfection. And yet the taste is best when they ripen wholly on the vine. Instead we wash them thoroughly, line them up on the kitchen windowsill, pile them on the counter top and watch the almost-ripe turn bright red in two day's time.

 Yesterday Mom blanched and removed the skins of a batch of them and cut them into small chunks and froze them in a bowl, all without cooking. These will be added to soup mid-winter and we'll fondly remember these August days as the snow flies.
 Tomatoes are a fruit of feast or famine ... we have too few, we have too many, and with no more than mere days between the two.

 I've found Better Boy to be the best tomato for our use. It is a "cluster" type tomato - a whole bunch of tomatoes form side by side in a sort of grape-like cluster. I've never liked the huge tomatoes that form such hideous shapes, regardless of their taste. And yet these are forming larger tomatoes than in past years. It's been cooler than normal with regular rains. When the rain hasn't come, I've been there with my hose.
 Quickly we'll reach a point where I throw the less-than-perfect tomatoes right into the compost pit. I think of this every winter when tomatoes hit their exorbitant winter prices and when their taste degrades to no more than mere pink-flavored water. What of the hydroponics that are available year round? The best I can say is that they fill a need but they are hardly satisfying.
 Give me tomatoes like these - ripe and red, meaty and thick and with the taste of Midwest soil flowing through their veins. These are summer's greatest gift and I gather them like the treasures they are.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Dinner Out

 Every so often, Bob calls and asks whether I'd like to meet him and Sam Owens for dinner. I'd say we manage this several times each year. I usually go. We've kind of gotten ourselves into a pattern: it's always El Rancho Grande.

 This location is in West Carrollton, Ohio. We have one closer to me (Germantown, Ohio) but both Bob, coming home from work in Dayton, and Sam (retired), who lives in Miamisburg, find West Carrollton more convenient. The food's great there so it's a win:win choice.

 We met at 5 pm yesterday (August 1) and were seated and looking at menus within minutes. Sam Owens (l) and Bob (r) have been friends since elementary school. They were both born in 1956 and have been fast-friends, it seems, since they day they met. Sam, Bob and I have traveled together to Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Bear Lake, Michigan.

Sam Owens

Bob Schmidt

Bill Schmidt

 Waiting for our order isn't a problem at El Rancho Grande because they bring an endless basket of nacho chips and hot sauce to the table right away. We munch and talk while we wait ... but the wait is never long.

 Bob and Sam love lime margarita's and they always order a full pitcher. The first time they did that I had a small taste. I've since graduated to a full glass (but never more). I love the taste and the salt-rimmed glass and slice of lime make it a perfect drink.

 Here's the "Vegetarian #5": a bean burrito, veggies, some refried beans and rice. If I had a choice, I'd prefer a little less salt but that's never slowed me down. I scarf this down embarrassingly fast.

 This artwork was on the wall behind Sam and Bob. I looked carefully; It appears to be hand-drawn.
 We had a nice visit, watched the sun set before the restaurant and were on our way home by 6:30 pm. Good food ... good times.