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Friday, March 30, 2012


The people who owned the lot behind my childhood home kept bees. A row of white boxes were lined up just on the other side of our property line, and the bees, who don’t understand property lines, came over and pollinated our apple trees and garden, climbed all over the deadfalls in autumn, and generally thought they lived at our place. It seems like the neighbors should’ve given us some honey in exchange for our pollen, but I don’t remember any honey gifts. I used to watch as the old guy came out in his white space suit and with a smoker to get the honey. It looked like a good job to me, especially since the bees were doing all the hard work. Sometimes I think about keeping bees too.

There’s an ancient apple tree in our backyard. It doesn’t make very good apples, unless you’re a boy who likes to use apples as weapons. Our hard, knobbly, green apples made excellent bruising projectiles for unsuspecting little girls. The boys knocked birds out of the trees with apples too. Boys can be mean. They got even meaner when they realized that hitting hard apples with badminton racquets was the equivalent of a nuclear missile assault, and tennis racquets were even better. Maybe thinking about boys reminds me of why I like the bees, because the bees took their revenge on those barefoot boys.

I have a great deal of affection for the apple tree too, despite the misuse of its fruit. I climbed the tree with my sketchbook or a novel and whiled away my afternoons in a secluded bower of blossoms with buzzing bees for company. One of my brothers lives at the old homestead now, and thought he’d take the tree down since he didn’t like mowing over the mess of hard green apples. The tree took revenge too because someone had spiked it with metal. It wasn’t me, but I can only applaud the effort. I’m very glad Pete wasn’t hurt by the chainsaw, and I’m very glad that the tree is still there, still making inedible fruit, and still feeding the bees.

This is old art. It’s a 20” x 30” poster that was used for interpretive programs and for sale in the parks’ gift shops. It went over so well that I had it blown up and printed onto backlit Plexiglas for a honeybee display in the nature center. Bees could come in and out of the building through clear tubes, and the honeycombs were visible through clear windows. Now that I think about it, I didn’t get any of that honey either. I see a continuing flaw in my compatibility with beekeepers, but no problem at all with the bees. I was very happy to see a honeybee in my house this week. Well, not happy that it was in the house, just happy that the bees have returned. I gently caught the lost bee and asked it to get busy pollinating my fruit trees.

The crows are back in my yard too. I had singing crows last year, and I’m really hoping they come back this year. I wouldn’t have believed they were actually singing if I didn’t actually see them standing on either side of my road and watching their beaks moving. It wasn’t CAW, CAW, CAW, but rather a really beautiful, melodic duet between the two of them. Crows often come back to nest where they nested the year before, so I’m hopeful they’ll be back. I was really nice to their babies and reassuring to the parents, so I hope they know this is a good place to live. And since I’m talking about crows, I have an EVENT that happens every evening, shortly before twilight. Crows from everywhere come to my house to discuss their day before flying to their individual homes. We aren’t talking about 10 or 20 or even 100 crows. There are thousands of them, all talking at the same time. It’s impressive, and very noisy. I feel happy to be included.

Friday, March 23, 2012


I walked barefoot in my back yard this week. Splg, splg, splg, as I kicked wet mud up my legs. Climate change is making NE Ohio a swamp, but I really enjoyed walking barefoot in March. It’s important to seize moments like that, especially since it’s supposed to rain all weekend. The overly wet outside made me think about my plumbing.

I studied the issue from a distance. You have to sneak up on plumbing, and since my plumbing is ancient, it has experience sensing new assaults. I worked up a game plan, hauled miscellaneous pieces parts and tools from the basement, flopped myself on the floor, and deeply breathed resolve before picking up the wrench.

The garbage disposal wasn’t working, so I figured it had to be the main culprit for the faulty drain. I remembered to turn off the electricity, and even read instructions online. Other than about an hour of searching for a mysterious ring holding the thing together, disposal removal went as well as such things can go. I just skinned the knuckles on one hand and only dumped about a pint of wet sludge on my clean floor. After rummaging through my pile of plumbing parts, a trip to the super mega hardware store for more parts, a gushing waterfall when I sampled my connections, another trip to the super mega hardware store, more parts, and a mild concussion when I bashed my head on the sink, the drain held water again; literally held water, because it sure wasn’t going anywhere.

Disassembly, snaking, assembly, snaking, assembly, plunging, time out, more online searches, more plunging, more time outs. I have now achieved a system that slooooowwwly lets water seep into the great beyond.

In times past, I would’ve called the hardware store for help. Not that mega super store. The store with old guys who actually know stuff. Alas! They closed my plumbing sanctuary last fall. I used to go there with my bag of corroded parts and a look of utter helplessness. I was whisked to the back with a gruff old guy who dumped my parts on the work bench while muttering admonitions about my lack of upkeep, instructions about future maintenance, matter of fact comments about the impossibility of ordering parts… while he rummaged around in countless little drawers for something that might be converted into the necessary configuration. Sometimes I got the sweet old guy who called me “honey” and “sweetie” and invited me to sit on a stool to watch.

I dressed up for the hardware store. The goal of “dressing up” was a delicate balance of competence and naivety. Undetectable makeup was required. Old guys don’t trust females who look too fussy to get dirty. Since my plumbing problems usually required multiple trips to the store as each succeeding part broke in reassembly, it was important to look more undone as the day went on. They really loved that. It showed effort and made them feel needed. I was lavish in expressing my gratitude each time they accomplished the impossible.

Now what? Impersonal trips to the mega extraordinary superstore? Lazy punks point limply to a far distant aisle when I ask them questions. I don’t feel the warm hug of being called “sweetie” or amusement when the gruff guy chastises me for negligence. And who is going to custom make parts for my decrepit plumbing?! I might as well start digging an outhouse because there isn’t much hope for the future.

I had a major plumbing disaster a couple of years ago (see here) , and my brother sculpted me a plumbing god to keep an eye on things. He sits on top of my refrigerator, but I guess I haven’t offered enough sacrifices in recent times. I guess it would help if I knew what I’m supposed to offer to a plumbing god?

In better news, my tomato seeds have sprouted, and my pear tree is in bloom. If the world ever dries up outside, maybe I’ll have lots of fruit this year!

Friday, March 16, 2012


Everybody is at least a little Irish this week, even though I don’t think I have any actual Irish ancestors. It seems strange to me that there has been so much violence in the old country when the Irish are such a happy, all-inclusive bunch over here. I wore orange to the bar one year, but nobody understood orange in Ohio. I think that’s better, and shame on me for the provocation. Let’s just blow that off for youthful stupidity and celebrate in shades of green.

I think my dad always regretted that we weren’t Irish. He would’ve fit right in as an Irish bard, roaming the countryside, singing beautiful songs, and telling funny stories. He made me listen to a lot of John Gary when I was growing up, and this was one of his favorite songs to sing in the garden. I guess Dad gave up on being Irish after a while because he started telling people we were direct descendants of Eric the Red instead. The really aggravating thing about that little fantasy is that some of my relatives started believing it and repeating it. It’s not like Dad would lie about such a thing, is it? Yes! Dad would lie! Anything for a better story.

There was a time when he and I were sitting at Bukovnic’s Pond. The fish were strung together on the line and swimming in ignorance of their final fate while Dad explained the universe. I listened with rapt attention, glowing with the knowledge that my dad knew more than everyone else’s dad put together, and… wait a sec… something didn’t quite sound right there. I interrupted Dad’s flow of narrative to have him explain what he had just said about the moon being influenced fairies, or was it fire flies, or huh? Wait a minute! “You’re making all this up, aren’t you?!!”

Instead of a normal sense of shame for lying to a little girl, my dad roared with laughter.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Eric the Red? Yeah, right. I’m not falling for that one. I suppose this gets to root of why nothing enrages me more than when people lie to me. I suppose Dad taught me something in that moment, which is trust no one, and fact check. Don’t send me emails of urban legends without running it past Snopes.com unless you want me to send it back to your entire mailing list with the actual facts.

Lest you think that I have a puritanical attitude about stories, let me insert here that I love fiction. Love the fanciful things that Andrew Finnie writes, and Harry Potter, and Mary Stewart’s Merlin. I used to have a bumper sticker saying “reality is for people without imaginations”, and the really funny thing is that I gave the truck with that bumper sticker to my most gravity-bound brother, who drove around with that saying for a couple years. I love getting carried away into a different reality, just so long as everybody’s clear that now is story time, which is not to be confused with reality. I swear life would be so much better if politicians and reporters understood that difference, but I suppose Dad wouldn’t have been Dad if he’d been too bound up with reality. We had Mom for that kind of thing.

Woo hoo! A prize! Thanks very much to Otto Munchow for this honor. Visit his site for gorgeous photography and pearls of wisdom. Otto’s gotten quite a few awards lately, and very much deserved too. The problem with receiving awards is how to choose just one worthy blogger to pass it on to? Since I just mentioned Andrew Finnie, and he seems to have recently ended his painfully long blogging sabbatical, he wins. I suspect he might even go with my Irish theme this week too. Andrew gives me the same kind of “Oh yay it’s story time!” feeling that I had with Dad, plus very cool visuals.

Thanks to Debbie this week too. I won her drawing for etegami book plates and had a thrill of opening mail from Japan. (See me beaming with happiness?) Look at her lovely art and help her fundraising efforts for Japanese earthquake/tsunami victims here.

Friday, March 9, 2012


It’s time to plant tomatoes. I saved seeds from my perfect little yellow pear-shaped gems last fall, and it’s time to start them again on the windowsill. This will be the second year I’ve managed success from tomato seeds, and I feel the joy of accomplishment. Hopefully they’ll be as sweet and plentiful as they were last year.

Cherry tomatoes make me think of Mr. Lutsch, who summer gardened on several acres next door when I was growing up. He was a horrible man, and I was glad he only lived there in the summers. My sister said he was from Transylvania, but I’m pretty sure he was an ex-SS German officer, or maybe Mengela’s evil twin – but he did grow very good tomatoes. He put baskets of his excess bounty on a small table flaking lead white paint by the road with a box for people to put money in in exchange for the produce. When the weather was still nice, I passed that flaking table every school day on the way to the bus stop.

I coveted the tomatoes. I burned inside for them. I think the main reasons I wanted them so badly is because they were verboten and because I hated the man so much. Before you think of me as simply a hateful child, you’ve got to realize that Lutsch was the type to get girls to climb trees so he could look up their skirts and tried to touch them when offering candy. Bad man. He deserved to get his tomatoes stolen, but I lacked courage to swipe them when he strategically placed that peeling table in view of his house across the street. My sister and I would discuss taking them, but it took Melanie to accomplish the deed.

I could write novels about Melanie. She was a colorful child, and let’s just say she had some anger issues she needed to work out. She lacked the normal sense of boundaries or a full understanding of cause and effect. It was probably a good thing that she was my sister’s best friend because otherwise she might’ve been mine, and then who knows how much trouble I would’ve found myself in. As it was, I was sometimes allowed on the periphery of Melanie’s exploits, and sometimes got tomatoes. Melanie was generous. We ran and laughed while German cuss words floated through the air behind us, and we ate stolen fruit at the bus stop.

Ironically, there wasn’t any need to steal tomatoes. We all had gardens with tomatoes in the back yards. We wanted Lutsch’s tomatoes. We wanted to make him hurt for looking up our skirts, or maybe for what he did at Auschwitz. I looked in the money box a couple of times. I was curious to see how much he was earning, but I never took his money. In my convoluted child thinking, I thought taking the money was wrong, but taking his yield was justice.

Lutsch and his codependent wife lived extraordinarily long lives, both living over 100. Maybe we helped by giving him extra exercise running after tomato thieves? I have to admit that I felt renewed irritation with him when the paper printed a celebratory article about the couple's 75th wedding anniversary. Melanie didn’t fare as well. She was killed by her husband a few years ago. She never did seem to get over her anger issues, or learn the value of cause and effect, but who would’ve thought that she’d be murdered?

This is a sad ending, but I like to think of those happy moments when Lutsch was yelling “Ach, ach, ach!!” (plus some words that I suspect were truly colorful in the German language) and the feeling of running effortlessly with Melanie when we were fresh-faced, laughing girls. I remember the best of Melanie when I eat cherry tomatoes, and my saved tomato seeds will ensure that my garden reminds me of her often this summer.

Friday, March 2, 2012


My family used to drive to Fredricksburg, Ohio to visit Great Grandpa. It was a pretty drive through trees and farms, and if Grandpa was driving, sometimes we’d stop for ice cream. Grandma liked to go to the cheese factory, and we got to watch a huge net of cheese curds as it was hoisted into the air, the smelly whey swirling around in the giant stainless steel vat. Grandma always bought a round of baby swiss. She seemed to think I was being somewhat less than genetically pure when I made a face and asked for aged swiss instead. “It’s a waste of money to pay for bigger holes!” Okay, I still don’t like baby swiss very much, but whether I like it or no, I’ve eaten a lot of it. Kind of feels like a family obligation.

I enjoyed looking at the barns on the drive to Great Grandpa’s house. Many of them had hex signs painted on them, and hex signs are the epitome of intention. It is art created for the purpose of bringing good things towards you, and repelling the negative. The art is made in a kind of code. For instance, a distelfink (bird) is good luck. Put 2 of them in your hex, and twice as much good luck. Green is growth, black is protection, and white purity. Many of these principles are also used in quilt designs. I may not have gotten the baby swiss gene, but I definitely got the one for hex painting. I love making them. I put one on the front of my house for extra luck and protection. I can never have too much of that, right? I painted it on slate taken off of Grandpa’s house when he got a new roof.

The area around Great Grandpa’s house was settled by people of mostly German extraction (Pennsylvania Dutch), and apparently those kinds of people like to paint things. There’s a quaint town nearby that has German looking mountain scenes painted all over the fronts of the buildings. Grandma and Grandpa took us there for lunch once.

It’s possible I like hex signs because I associate them with happy drives with my grandparents to see Great Grandpa. I adored him. He was smart and funny and held my hand. He showed me interesting things in and around his house, and gave me this majolica robin. I have treasured it throughout my life, not for the monetary value of it, or even for what it looks like. I value it because he gave it to me in a moment of sensitivity and closeness – and it didn’t hurt that he didn’t give anything to any of my siblings. I felt special.

When he died, my great aunt gave me this little bird at the funeral. It was part of a set of 3. My older sisters got the adult birds, but that was alright; I liked the chick best. Since I was too young at the time to really understand funerals, I thought this was a happy day, especially since it was my birthday. My siblings and cousins and I ran around and played. His coffin was filled with love gifts of flowers, a book, and even my brother’s pre-chewed gum. When the adults said things like he went “away”, I thought he was taking a trip and needed things to take with him. I’ve never quite stopped waiting for him to come back. I wonder if he had any idea how influential he was in my life?

I have to wonder a little about my intention with this post. There was a shooting at a school not too far away from me this week in a quaint little town a lot like Fredricksburg. A place where that kind of thing shouldn’t happen. I have spent a lot of time this week thinking about people who aren’t here any more and the craziness of the world, and thinking that it’s very nearly a year since my friend Geof died. Sometimes, maybe the best intention is not to forget. Whether it’s remembering hex signs or the people who really mattered.