Sunday, December 20, 2009

a fox in the snow

I looked up this afternoon from Christmas card writing to see a fox standing at attention in the middle of our front yard. We live on Peoria's West Bluff in the center of town. We've seen foxes before, as we live near the steeply sloped, wooded edges of the bluff. These areas are havens for foxes, groundhogs, hawks, owls, bats, and woodpeckers.

Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are most likely to hunt in daylight during winter, when finding prey becomes more difficult and the vegetarian part of these omnivores' diet dries up.

This one was tall and lean. He lowered his head decisively and then sprinted off across the yard and the neighbor's driveway. His intensity immediately stirred fear, as our white kitty Blaze had gone out an hour earlier. Surely Blaze would be too smart to be fox prey.

When I went outside the fox stood underneath the neighbor's chestnut tree, with a squirrel chattering wildly in the limbs above him.

A few minutes later, I spied Blaze running for the house, his tail puffed out like a raccoon's. When I let him in he plopped down on the rug by the fire and hasn't stirred since.

Andy was cooking a chicken, so I put the gizzards, some apples, an overripe turnip, some wilted lettuce leaves, and a sprinkling of dog food in a plastic bucket. I carried this down to the bluff and set it out. My hope is that the fox can get some nourishment from this, catch some prey, and leave the cats alone.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Van Morrison tells it like it is

I woke up late again this morning. Banjo dog has suffered blow out diarrhea for the past two nights. He wakes up every hour with a low moan that lets me know he needs to get outside and fast. This is in effect from about 1 a.m. until 6 a.m. We come in about 6:30 and finally get some sleep until the hot sun infiltrates at about 10 a.m.

Lucy suffered this same condition a week ago. The vet prescribed endo-sorb tabs and an antibiotic. Banjo's symptoms completely mimic Lucy's making me wonder if this isn't a canine virus.

When I finally came downstairs Andy had the XM satellite radio tuned to his favorite station, the Loft. Dave Marsh was interviewing my all-time favorite musician Van Morrison.

In the car recently I've been listening to Van's old CD "Astral Weeks," which includes the enigmatic tune "Madame George," a song I don't quite understand but that I know involves marijuana, young men growing up, and Madame George. She is a sympathetic character, one to whom, throughout the song, we must "say goodbye to." There is so much "past" involved here, just as the present moment is described in detail.

As the song progresses, Van's lyrics become less intelligible, moving from describing a clear scene to pounding out a feeling, to expressing, in wordless utterances, something profound. "The glove the love the love the love the glove the love the love" That profundity is never quite clear. We grasp it for a moment and then it dissipates. Madame George is handing back a glove but a sincere love is present in that expression.

Nonetheless, the interview is inspired. Marsh engages Van in a way I have never experienced. Van actually respects Dave Marsh (whoah) and opens up to him. I can't find the interview online, and I know I missed the first part of it. So, I hope the Loft plays it again soon or makes it available online.

Friday, December 04, 2009

early winter / homemade bird seed cakes

I woke up this morning to a very cold house. But the scene in the back yard warmed me up a little. Among the many birds flitting between the trees, I noted several cardinals, a blue jay, a white-breasted nuthatch (pictured), downy woodpecker, brown creeper, a brown-capped chipping sparrow, and numerous juncos, sparrows, and chickadees. In the neighbor's burr oak I could see the outline of a huge flock of crows.

Because of our resident blood-thirsty felines and an exploding rat population in central Peoria, I have given up filling bird feeders with cups of loose seeds that spill liberally to the ground as the birds eat. Several years ago I began buying the large cakes of seed that fit into wire cages. These work well to keep the seed up high so the cats don't have easy access to prey and the rats don't have easy access to food.

These cakes, however, cost between $5-6 each. At Lowe's the other day, I started to drop two into my basket and then wondered if I could make them myself. I had tried this last year with little success. The peanut butter and flour experiment ended in a moldy mess.

So this year I researched and experimented and came up with a recipe that seems to work.

Mix 3/4 c flour with slightly less than 1/2 c water. Add several tablespoons of Karo (light corn) syrup. Or more. To make sure everything sticks, add in a packet of Knox gelatin. (I had this on hand and am not sure how much it costs. If it's a lot I might omit it from the next batch and see what happens.)

I put this mixture in a large bowl and dumped in somewhat more than 4 cups of shelled seeds and nuts (that I had picked up at Lowe's). Patting it into an oiled square baking pan  roughly the size of my wire holder, I then baked this in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. Note, to conserve energy I already had the oven on to roast vegetables for supper.

The cake had several hours to cool and set up, after which time I turned out a firm square of seeds.

That same day I made stew from a leftover rib roast we had at Thanksgiving. After trimming the fat off, I put these pieces into an empty net that had held apples.

My homemade seed and suet cakes seem to have done a fine job of attracting a flock of colorful birds — such a pleasant sight as a gentle flurry of white flakes fall down on this early winter day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

roll on Thanksgiving

This is the year of the roll debate. At Thanksgiving don't you love soft white yeast rolls rising on the radiators, later popped in the oven, and served hot with lots of butter?

That's what I thought. (Unless you eat gluten free of course.)

Consider: this year we will have at least 17 family members for our meal. Everyone will pitch in to cook turkey, roast, green beans, mashed potatoes (with butter), baked stuffing, sweet potato casserole, roasted vegetables, creamed onions, cranberry orange relish, and lots of pie!

Getting all of this and 17 people to the table is quite a chore. To time it just right so the rolls roll out of the oven hot is an art. Everyone is carrying hot dishes through to the dining room while someone is trying to check the rolls' progress. Wait. They're not quite done. Wait. What's that burning smell?

Grandma says, "you have to serve rolls at Thanksgiving."

Sister says, "it doesn't matter because, if they have rolls, the boys will eat them instead of other healthier foods."

I say, "I don't need the stress. I don't have the talent to make it all happen. We can make rolls the next day to eat with our leftovers."

Coffee, however, is not up for debate. Andy went to the coffee bean store today and splurged (yeah!) on Costa Rican and Kenya AA. It will be a good Thanksgiving no matter what. Just pour me a cup of hot richness. I'll breathe deeply and drink deeply. I'll be alright!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Recently I've felt like a fugitive from the 8-5 life.

My neck pain has increased the past few days, so I am reminded that I left that tract for good reason.

Still, I feel like I'm a fugitive from some perdition I should be serving.

The dogs woke me up this morning quite early, seeking passage outside and then some food. Then we all laid back down.

Soon, the phone rang. In the dim light I couldn't make out the caller, but, given the time of day, answered it.

A message informed me that two men had broken out of the Peoria County Jail. One was a particularly bad dude, a rapist and home invader who had taken the police two years to corral. The thought of him on the loose set me on edge. I made sure all the doors were locked.

In the early afternoon, I learned the minor criminal had been apprehended at a residence. Later, in the dark, I had to go outside. I thought of the brazen, desperate rapist. My dogs would put down their lives for me. They would never be fugitives from their duty. I think such dedication and commitment are difficult for humans to understand.

Intellectually, I have given up such dedication. Yet, I still feel like a fugitive. The dogs lack the intellectual ability to abandon their responsibility. Such an act isn't in their nature, which is hard wired for commitment.

The real fugitive in this story, once having decided to flee, has no freedom to choose another course. He is on the run. The dogs can't choose to be different - being by my side is their whole life. The fugitive has chosen his course and can't turn back.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dancing on air

Since leaving my basement cubicle at Bradley, I've struggled with what to call this blog. First I tried Coffee… Outside the Cubicle. But that was awkward. Today I renamed it Coffee and a Miracle. My husband asked me what the miracle was. I said I don't know. I'm still waiting to find out.

When I was in junior high I loved doing the broad jump in track. I'd run as fast I could down the asphalt and then take flight over the sand pit. I was told to kick my feet to keep going further. That worked very well. I made it to the conference tourney, where I think I earned second place.

Later, when I fell in love with music, I would imagine myself a dancer, although I had no training. I would spin and twirl across my living rooms as if I was on a New York stage. I felt absolutely graceful and marvelous.

In my dreams, I think, these two memories merge into something beautiful. I find myself dancing and taking flight. I dance but also kick so I can go even higher. People are amazed that I don't fall to the floor. I float above it all. I feel wonderful.

In my dream, at least, that's a miracle!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Indian Summer

This weekend we experienced a classic Indian Summer.

The leaves have turned, many plants have been hurt by an earlier frost, and the air is warm.

Working on the leaves today, I sunburned my face in the beautiful warmth of 70 degrees.

While the origins of the term "Indian Summer" are unclear, we know for sure that it is a time we all enjoy. We've experienced cold days and we know winter is coming, so this physical remembrance of summer is most welcome.

Indian Summer often occurs just before a killing frost, so I expect that will be coming next week. Then, I will have to go out and lift the black, slimy nasturtiums from the ground and dump them into Landscape Waste tubs.

But, today, they are blooming in vivid orange and yellow, just as if it were July.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Great Halloween

Didn't see the Great Pumpkin - but it was a lovely Halloween.

My mom, brother, and sister-in-law visited today and before they left, Trick-or-Treaters started coming. I thought they would be early since the holiday falls on a Saturday this year. So Mom and I got to sit together outside for a bit and pass out candy. It was a chilly but beautiful afternoon. We haven't mulched any leaves yet so the yard was a carpet of red, yellow, orange, and green.

I usually sit outside so I don't have to try to keep the dogs from jumping out and scaring the monsters, witches, and goblins.

Since the festivities started early and my hands got quite cold, I turned out the lights by 6:45. Problem is I still have tons of candy left. I'm always afraid of running out just as some throng of 10 ghouls approaches the house.

All in all an enjoyable evening. Hope all those kids have a great time. I remember this was by far my favorite holiday when I was little.

Oh yeah and happy fourth blogoversary to me!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


When I was 18 I set out for lands unknown in my 1969 red Volkswagen Beetle. The odometer didn't work and the gas tank had a leak. So, I had to stop frequently to pump gas.

First stop: Carbondale, where my sister was an art student at SIU. She was taking summer classes, so I was left to myself most of the day. A friend of hers had left his record collection for safe keeping at her apartment. I delved in and found the provocative cover of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." I played it and was swept away by emotion and desire. Desire that I could create something so wonderful.

I drove my bug on down the road to Lexington, KY, where my other sister lived. She was minutes away from used bookshops, which I took advantage of.

I rode home to Auburn, IL in the leaking VW. I longed, in the middle of cornfields, for the more Bohemian life of Carbondale and Lexington.

I wanted more jazz. Our local public radio station played it of an evening, but my mom complained when "they keep repeating that same note over and over."

We would usually be playing Scrabble when this happened. And I would say "I love it."

And then, "Oh, if I only had an "e."

Years later, I would drive to Chicago to visit my sister and her boys. Chicago airwaves are filled with hair band rock crap but also a jazz station that plays nothing but top notch stuff - some of it wildly discordant but wonderful.

Now we have XM Radio with 70 Real Jazz. Mostly they play awesome stuff. Lots of Coltrane and a great show on Saturdays by W. Marsalis.

Once in a while, though, I hear something indulgent or uninspiring. But, thankful that I have good jazz all day long, I abide.

Most of the time I moved by the jazz spirit that I first encountered long ago.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beautiful fall day

• used the horrible noisy blower to push leaves from the patio - they went in every direction except the one I wanted them to

• pulled the dying marigold, Mexican zinnia, Asiatic day lily, and four o'clock plants from the front porch garden. Hope I didn't aggravate my neck problem - will know tomorrow morning. The nasturtiums are still doing fine.

• sitting outside on the patio, still dusted with maple leaves, thinking about the day and thinking about what I could write about tomorrow. The topic that came to mind? "Crab!" When I was quite young, my sisters and I would help my mom clean up the kitchen after dinner. Then, we would go to her closet and find the "old lady dress up clothes." These were black lace dresses and black hats that she had found at auction sales.

We would put on the dresses, high-heeled shoes, gloves, and elegant hats and proceed to the "parlor" - our narrow hallway - where the piano sat. One of us would sit on the piano stool and start playing beautiful sweet music (we all took lessons). The other two would sit in awe, quietly clapping our gloved hands. Soon, the room would turn dark. Tension filled the air. The pianist resorted to pounding minor chords that made no musical sense. She would turn an ugly face to the audience and shout "Crab!"

We would all run from the hallway parlor shouting "crab, crab, crab."

Over and over we would play this game. To write about it I need to be able to show, in imagery, why the young girls turned a serene, elegant setting into something frightening.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

one car

To economize, we have only one car to license, insure, and repair. Most of the time this works well. Some days, however, needs for motorized transportation overlap.

Ok, what I really want is an old pickup. Give me a good plant surrounded by some rust, cracked upholstery, and vintage lines. Something in which I could bring home a bed of mulch or load up a nice sofa from an estate sale.

My sister and I imagine that once we secure this $500 truck, we will also scan the alleyways for trashed treasures or scrap metal. She'll drive and I'll ride shotgun, keeping an eye on the curbs and telling her where to pull over.

I would love to get creative and turn otherwise useless trash into useful treasures.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Ain't Maxwell House alright?"

When I was working I was, admittedly, a bit of a coffee snob. Single source beans were my cup of the day. I love coffee from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Costa Rica.

Well, you can put out a bit of cash for such amazing indulgences.

I got to thinking how my mom always survived on Folgers and Maxwell House. Of course Mississippi John Hurt has an inspiring ode to Maxwell House that could convert the worst Starbucks devotee.

The other day I was at Walgreens and Good Lord Almighty they had Maxwell House on a BOGO. Buy one at $4.89 and get one free.

At that price I can't resist. It certainly is "a loving spoonful." One spoonful really does "do me as much good as three or four cups of that other coffee." But I do drink more deeply than a spoonful. Try several deep dark cupfuls. And that feels right.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

on the unstructured life

My Mom came to visit yesterday and asked: "so does it feel weird not going to work every day?"

"Weird? Not at all. It feels perfectly normal. Going to work every day felt weird."

So, it has been over two weeks since I left my position as director of academic and marketing publications at Bradley University. The decision was a heavy one that took much consideration.

One day in early August I woke up with a sore shoulder. As I sat at my computer at work, laboring over the seeming interminable, but unbelievably annual, catalog project, I felt increasingly uneasy. I couldn't get comfortable, squirmed and stretched, and eventually thought going to lunch could help. I came back to my desk with the usual soup and salad and tried to eat and work as I have done many other days. The food tasted awful, I felt sick, and dumped it in the trash. I continued to work until I realized that my neck was frozen. and I was in severe pain.

I went home. I'd fall asleep and all would be well.

But, every position I tried seemed more uncomfortable than the last. I called the doctor, who saw me that afternoon. Pain pills and muscle relaxants did nothing.

The next day I paced the house, called the doctor, tried to rest, got a new Rx, paced, and started to scream. That night, Andy said "I'm taking you to the ER." When I objected, he went to bed. Later that night, after rolling around on the floor in agony, I went upstairs, and said, "ok I'll go."

That led to 5 days in the hospital, the time it took before they were able to control my pain enough that I could withstand an MRI. Unfortunately it was inconclusive.

Well, after more procedures, and some very helpful epidural steroid injections, I am now experiencing a manageable level of pain. I decided, in the meantime, that sitting hunched over a computer in a state of stress was about the last way I wanted to spend the rest of my life.

I was thinking how many words get printed (on paper or online) in the English language every day. Someone has to write, proof, edit, and lay out those words. I can do all of that. So why not find resources that will allow me to do it on my own time? If I get into pain, I can stop.

A more unstructured life suits me. I wake up at 5:30 and feed the dogs and cats. The paper arrives. I read it and, with a feeling of great indulgence, complete the daily crossword. Then, I look at, one of my favorite Internet sites. I might stay up or I might go back to bed and sleep for another hour.

I do have the structure of PT and doctor appointments right now, but, Good Lord willing, that won't last forever. I can read, write, do freelance work, garden, clean, work on a house project, spend time with the dogs. Just anything at all.

The unstructured life is magnificent, although the income is lousy. With perseverance, however, I hope that will work out.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

relative of the rat

I've been off the past week, staying at home doing some projects while my sister and nephews visited. The boys attended Bradley's awesome World of Wonder program. Last night, a friend stopped over - she had not seen my sister in a long while. I walked into the kitchen to get more coffee and saw a peculiar mouse dead on the floor. Earlier I had noticed the cat quite interested in what was underneath the cook book shelf.

Readers of this blog know that I have a severe reaction to mice. I don't even like picking up dead ones. I tried to get the dogs to eat it, but they looked at me like I was crazy. They eat baby rabbits that the cats have killed, so why not a mouse?

I didn't want to cause a scene, so I decided, "I can do this." I found two paper plates and a bag and prepared to scoop it up. When I touched it, however, it moved. Walked a few inches and then sat back down. My sister heard the commotion and came to the kitchen. She has the same feelings toward rodents as I do. Warned that it was still breathing, she was prepared. She grabbed the plates and dropped it in the bag. About then, Riley began to protest that we were suffocating the helpless beast.

Later, my sister asked if I was sure it was a mouse. "It had a long, bare tail like a rat," she said.

"Please God no," I said. I ran to the computer and typed in "Field Mouse" which was what I thought the creature was. Thank all goodness. Field mice are related to Brer Rat, thus the long bare tale and pronounced metatarsals.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Coltrane . . . one of my favorite things

Our little white kitty Blaze found a friend.

He coaxed a shy grey kitty into the yard over the past week. We have watched white kitty and grey kitty play recent evenings. Two nights ago, grey kitty presented with a hurt left front paw. It was swollen, and he held it up.

We took him into our sun room, where we have a litter box, scratch pad, food, and water. Next morning, the swelling was worse. The vet clinic said he needed antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, flea treatment, stool testing, neutering, leukemia testing, and vaccinations.

Little grey kitty is quite affectionate and seems unfazed by dogs or other cats.

I dropped him off at the clinic over my lunch hour. As I drove back to Bradley campus, I tuned in WGLT, public radio station from neighbor ISU. They played John Coltrane on sax performing "My favorite things," one of which is "whiskers on kittens." Coltrane's performance is masterful. I hummed the tune as I picked through the salad bar and soup line. I couldn't get it out of my head.

So, I decided to name him "Coltrane." I love them both.

Here's John on soprano sax:

Later my nephew Riley and I were composing limericks about all sorts of things. Such as the boy from Chicago. Well what rhymes with Chicago, I asked? "Blago" he answered.

About Coltrane, we wrote:

There once was a kitty named Coltrane
He wouldn't go out in the snow or the rain
He liked to sit back
And play tenor sax
And that's how he got his really cool name.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Black squirrels and snowy owls

It's been a winter of unusual sightings.

Deep in the heart of a bitterly cold December ice storm, I saw a black squirrel eating on the ground beneath the bird feeder. I thought the creature must have fallen down an oil well, but upon Googling "black squirrels" I learned they are a genetic mutation of the grey squirrel favoring cold climates. I tried to take a photo, but the little fellow was quite skittish. In fact, I only saw him on what turned out to be the two coldest days of the year.

My mother-in-law drove from Bloomington to Peoria for a visit in January. Approaching an empty parking lot in a less-than-desirable part of town, she said she thought she saw a pair of snowy owls hovering in the cold air. I said such behavior sounded more like sea gulls than owls, but I kept an open mind. She has spent lots of time near the ocean and knows the familiar outline of sea gulls quite well.

This weekend, my sister and my nephews visited. My husband said, when he was putting our dinner on the grill outside, that he had seen what appeared to be a snowy owl gliding over our yard. I came home today at lunch and thought I saw a huge white figure soaring through the trees behind the house. We all got excited and pulled out the binoculars.

Then, again, maybe it was the reflection of a white car in the window. We peered into the woods but only saw a red fox squirrel perching at the tippy top of a tree. Hmm.

Maybe, in our deep hope for an early spring, we are just seeing things.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What I know and what I don't know

Well I haven't blogged much of late. I've been thinking that my ignorance on so many issues is magnificent.

I've been thinking that what I know could fit into a thimble. And then there's everything else.

Best wishes for a thoughtful day.