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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Country Cousin

Uncommon...





Hi Folks!

What a grand and glorious Fourth of July weekend! And it really was just that!

First, with the Fourth itself falling on Monday, it was a weekend, and we all had a good excuse to play for at least three days - Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Second, communities and organizations all seemed to cooperate on timing of events, whether accidentally or with lots of planning and foresight. Sometimes we had to make the hard choices, but good scheduling made it possible to take in far more parades, fireworks sessions, dancing, flea marketing and burgers and brats and just plain fun than we ever imagined. Thanks to all the hard working members of the organizations that make things happen!

And third, but not least, the weather cooperated. After a month of drizzly cold, Summer finally has arrived. The evenings were cool but pleasant and even fairly bug free, days were hot and sunny, perfect for swimming, tubing, rafting, golfing picnicking and all the marvelous variety of outdoor fun with which our corner of the world is so richly blessed.

We’re inclined to say Thank you, Weatherman, but what we really need to do is say Thank You, God!

COULDN’T CELEBRATE

Only those who have gone through multiple holidays with one vital branch of the family tree held by duty to a spot on the far side of the globe can understand how it feels.

The family is together, but there’s a part missing. You function without that part, do all the things you usually do, but it isn’t quite the same. Catch yourself thinking, He’d love this! or We’ll have to show the girls that! And then you remember they aren’t there. Phone calls don’t really fill the gap, but they help.

One of the grandsons and his family which includes two adorable little girls we’ve never really met spent this Fourth of July on a United States Air Force base on an island in the Azores, which lies in a cold Atlantic current not far off the coast of Portugal. We were all happy for them, getting to be stationed on a tropical island. After getting there, he learned it isn’t really tropical at all, in fact it’s often miserably cold and windy.

For last year’s Fourth of July they were enduring the summer hear in Tucson, Ariz. For various reasons couldn’t get away. The year before that he was in Iraq. His next assignment is in Kosovo. There’s a possibility he may be able to get home sometime next summer. For servicemen with families, time is always an issue, and so is money. Never enough of either to go around.

He’s among the marvelous military people on duty all over the world, working to make sure the rest of us here at home can continue celebrating Independence Day in our unique American way.

He called home on the night of the Fourth, at the best possible time. Fireworks were popping all around, and he got to hear them, at least. Didn’t get in on the fun at his base this year because like so many people in public safety careers, he often must keep working while others are at play. He got off his shift at the Civilian Air Traffic Control Tower on the far side of the Atlantic just in time to miss the celebration on base. Two years before that, he’d been in Iraq, where anything resembling fireworks would probably have caused life threatening retaliation.

Promised him when he finally does make it home, we’ll celebrate all the holidays. We’ll have a Christmas Tree, an Easter egg hunt, Thanksgiving dinner, and then fireworks and songs around the campfire! What a great day that will be!

Meanwhile, those of us who stay at home and wait thank you, and all the men and women like you, who serve in the United States military all over the world, ready, willing and able to do what it takes to protect the safety of our nation and everyone in it.

UNCOMMON THOUGHTS

It’s all in the point of view. Some folks see things one way, some see them another. It would be a wonderful world if we’d all stop to think how maybe things look from the other side before we get our backs up.

Every now and then a great philosopher shares his (or her) thoughts with the world, and 25 years ago a man called Robert Fulghum did just that, in his marvelous little book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

In one of his chapters he tells of watching a nicely turned out woman walk out her front door smack into a huge, recently constructed spider web.

After screeching an earth shaking AAAAGGGH..., the web draped lady went into a frantic swatting dance. Finally managed to get back into the house, still swiping at the remains of the web and patting her body to squash that spider in case it had been at home at the time of impact and was still aboard. He assumes she stripped and sent herself to the showers.

After sharing his impressions of the frenzied lady’s reactions, Mr. Fulghum switched to the viewpoint of the spider. He wrote:

Rather ordinary, medium gray, middle aged lady spider. She’s been up since before dawn, working on her web, and all is well. Nice day, no wind, dew point just right to keep things sticky. She’s out checking the moorings and thinking about the little gnats she’d like to have for breakfast.... All of a sudden, all hell breaks loose - earthquake, tornado, volcano.

The web is torn loose and is wrapped around a frenzied moving haystack, and a huge piece of raw-but-painted meat is making a sound the spider never heard before...

It’s too big to wrap up and eat later, and it’s moving too much to hold down. Jump for it? Hang on and hope? Dig in?

Human being! She has caught a human being! And the pressing question is, of course: Where is it going, and what will it do when it gets there?

Fulghum believes the lady thinks the spider is the size of a lobster and has bug rubber lips and poisonous fangs, while the spider if it survives all this, will really have something to talk about: The one that got away was THIS BIG! And you should have seen the JAWS on the thing!

He theorizes that they’ll both learn from the experience, and if not, well, there are lots more spiders.

Don’t know about the spider learning. Have been told by biology experts that spiders have no memories, that to them, every day is a new day, every experience is a new experience. Have to wonder, though, if that is true, how did spiders ever learn to spin those wonderfully engineered intricate webs? Why aren’t spider webs just a series of lines running back and forth, or perhaps at best a checkerboard pattern?

Spiders, Mr. Fulghum observes, have been around maybe 350 million years, and can cope with about anything. It’s the web that I envy, he says. Imagine what it would be like if people were equipped like spiders... If we had this little six nozzled aperture right at the base of our spine and we could make yards of something like glass fiber with it. Wrapping packages would be a cinch! Mountain climbing would never be the same. Think of the Olympic events...mating and child rearing would take on new dimensions.... It boggles the mind...

He doesn’t mention that we could spin our own drapes, personally replace our own window screens, securely cover every dish we put into the fridge, and lasso errant toddlers.

Never met Robert Fulghum, but sure would like to. Meanwhile, every now and then, when it resurfaces from the clutter we call home, I re-read his book. Strange. It’s never old. Discover some new ideas every time!

GOOD SCENTS

Speaking of ideas, friend came up with a good one to solve the trash can odor problem. We call know that can get bad really fast during hot humid weather.

Get some good quality kitty litter - the multiple cat kind that says it kills odors. Make sure it’s not clay-based. Sprinkle a bit in the bottom of the garbage can itself, and put a scoop into the bottom of each new bag that you line it with. Absorbs odors and drippy leakage. If and when the litter at the bottom of the container itself gets bad, change the litter there. Otherwise, leave it alone.

PLUG THE HOLE

Leaks in the garden hose aren’t too bad, provided they allow the water to spray where you want it anyway. But most of them don’t. Sometimes they turn the spay toward the holder of the hose, which isn’t good at all.

If your hose needs fixing, and if the hole is small enough, a toothpick may do the trick. Break off one third of a toothpick and shove it into the hole until the broken end is flush with the hose’s outside surface, then wrap waterproof tape around the hose to secure it. May not be absolutely permanent, but it should see you through the season.

GROWIN’ THINGS

Sadly, it’s about time to quit harvesting asparagus, despite its late start this year. You’ll know for certain when noticeably fewer new shoots are popping up. If you want a crop for next year and beyond you must let some spears from each root grow to maturity, and let the ferns grow until they turn brown in fall. As with other perennials, the foliage produces nutrients that keep the root systems alive and well.

If your crop has asparagus beetles and you cannot control them by picking them off, buy some good quality pest killer with the asparagus beetle listed and use according to package directions. Even if organic gardening is important to you, you may have to give in to this chemical control to save the patch. Anyway, the dust and/or spray should be washed away by the time you get to eat it again next spring.

One Extension agriculture site advises cutting down all the foliage from the bed at this time and then cultivating shallowly to get rid of the weeds that will hamper nutrient gathering for the asparagus. It is a good idea to do this every few years. Cut it, cultivate, then mulch between rows and let the ferns grow until they die of natural causes in fall. Once those tops are brown, remove them, so they don’t harbor bugs and diseases for next year.

We have successfully added to our asparagus beds by starting new clumps from seed. Believe it isn’t too late to do that this year, even though it’s very late in the season.

Keep in mind that this is a labor of love. You won’t be able to harvest any asparagus from the seed-started beds for at least three years unless you want to kill it off. Production may be spotty for another year or two beyond that. But once established the asparagus beds will keep producing for 20 years and more with very little effort.

Cultivate the row to be planted quite deeply, then apply a balanced fertilizer (like 10-10-10) and cultivate again. Then rake over. We’ve done our planting in little patches, each about 18 inches in diameter, and spaced about 18 inches apart in the row, with about the same space between rows.

Remove about 2 inches from soil from each round patch area and sprinkle lightly with seeds. Replace the soil cover, and repeat with the next little patch. A packet of seeds probably won’t do more than two or three of these. Water thoroughly and keep watered. A nice mulch cover is a good idea, especially this late in the season. Repeat: Keep watered!

You can also plant the seeds in rows 2 deep and 18 inches apart. The new seedlings should emerge in about 3 weeks, and as soon as they are large enough they can be thinned out to about two inches apart. Then, once the seedlings reach about 6 inches high, they can be thinned a bit again, but I wouldn’t get carried away. Keep the plots watered, mulch well come fall, and see how many of the seedlings make it through the winter. Thin again in spring if you need to. Then you can transplant the thinnings to an additional little plot if you like. We just left ours where they were growing and it worked out fine. But repeat: do not harvest for at least three years!

By the way, small asparagus clumps are very nice additions to the flower garden. Eventually they will produce edible spears, plus the ferns make a nice backdrop for other plants and are lovely in cut flower bouquets.

COOKIN’ TIME

The bountiful summer eating season continues, with more and more good things coming into their own. Rhubarb is particularly good right now, strawberries are still available in some pick your own places, and asparagus can still be harvested in very small amounts. Don’t you just love it?

We love hot soup and cold sandwiches for lunch on a hot summer day, accompanied by tall cold glasses of lemonade. Lots of folks disagree, but my thinking is it’s never too hot to eat soup, just too hot to make it. That’s where slo cookers come in, and why there are canned soups on the supermarket shelves. About those slo cookers: You plug them in outdoors, provided it’s under a roof or on a day you’re absolutely certain there won’t be rain. And then there are cold soups for jaded summer appetites, provided we get some more hot days!

RUSSIAN BORSCH

Easy and refreshing. You make it in a blender. Serve with egg salad sandwiches if you like, or maybe chicken salad made with the remains of a purchased rotisserie chicken. Use the skin and bones from that chicken to make a broth for your next batch of soup!

1 can shredded beets

1 can beef broth or bouillon

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup lemon juice

4 ice cubes

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup sour cream for topping

1 lemon or lime, quartered

4 sprigs dill weed or parsley, finely minced

Blend beets and their juice with the bouillon, sugar, the first quarter cup sour cream, lemon juice and ice until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in chilled cups, each topped with a little dollop of the remaining sour cream and lemon or lime quarter, and a sprinkling of minced parsley or dill weed. If you have no blender, drain the beets and save their juice in a mixing bowl with a spout. Puree the beets and add the sour cream, then mix with everything else until the ice cubes melt. Chill until serving time.

EASY ASPARAGUS SOUP

2 cans cream of chicken soup

1 can half and half cream

1 can tender asparagus, cut into half-inch pieces, or

equivalent amount of cooked fresh or frozen asparagus

1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon or a pinch of dried

crumbled tarragon

Mix everything and simmer three or four minutes to blend flavors. This is good hot or cold.

BUTTER PECAN ICE CREAM TORTE

Here’s another recipe from the collection of the late Elsie Dassow, mother of Peshtigo Mayor Al Krizenesky.

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

1 cup soda cracker crumbs

1/2 cup butter

2 packages vanilla instant pudding mix (3-ounce size)

1 cup milk

1 quart butter pecan ice cream

1 carton whipping cream

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 Heath bars

Early in the day mix the cracker crumbs and butter. Press into a pie pan and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. (Ed. note: When the crust has well cooled, proceed with the rest of the recipe. Take out the ice cream before you start so it can soften a bit. Chop the Heath bars, preferably in a food processor, but a knife will work. Don’t pulverize them. Whip the cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla, or use frozen whipped topping. Mix the pudding mix with the cup of milk and then with the ice cream. Put this mixture into the baked shell, top with the whipped cream, and sprinkle on the chopped Heath bars.)

Thought for the week: Seize the moment, never pass up a good deed, enjoy what life offers, and keep on loving what you do even if some folks say you’re too old to do it. As Abraham Lincoln once said, And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.

COUNTRY COUSIN


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