Monthly Archives: January 2012

Finding some beauty in a dreary Ohio January

Ohio is experiencing yet another random January. Snow one day, rain  the next; 10 degrees one day, 50 the next. And so it goes. Typical Ohio weather.

Every year, people comment on how strange this winter is and the usual contention is that it is all the result of global warming — which is no doubt true. Those of us who are at least 40 years old will swear that we had a LOT more snow in our childhoods than our children have ever seen.

I distinctly remember clearly 29 years ago, just six years after New Jersey scientist Wally Broecker coined the term, “global warming”. It was early February, because daughter number one was just one month old. She and I ventured out for a walk on a sunny, balmy day — I wore shorts and a t-shirt, she in a light sleeper and tucked into the Snugli.

The truth is, Ohio winters can be very dreary. Sunny days are few and far between. SAD is a common phenomena, so the sale of “happy lights” increases in winter time. In fact, as I write this, my SunTouch is cranked up on high.

Surprisingly, I woke up this morning to sun shining in the window. Five hours later, it has disappeared behind a bank of clouds threatening us with some sort of precipitation. But for the few hours that the sun was out, it was glorious.

Sunday is a day off from running, so I opted for a walk through Motter Metropark, a small park on the edge of town. It’s about two miles in length, and rambles through former farmland and a small woods.

The higher parts of the trail are frozen but at the lower end, one has to walk carefully, hopping chunks of dirt to avoid wet feet — a thin layer of ice covers large areas of standing water.

It occurred to me that although we often view this time of year as dreary with little color dotting the landscape, it’s also good to remember that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” My friend, Joanne, commented that she has snowdrops blooming. Though I didn’t see any signs of those tiny white flowers, I decided to focus on what signs of beauty dot our landscape. Here are some examples:

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Sewing and photography collide

On the surface, cameras and sewing machines don’t have much in common but in our house, both are important tools. Once in awhile, though, the two are essential to each other.

I know very little about my husband’s cameras — especially the newest digital — and he knows even less about my sewing machines — one digital, the other built before the era of digital. But having lived with me for 32 years, he recognizes my need for a sewing challenge.

So…he recently asked if I could create some fabric pouches for two of his filters. He has several filters for his camera lenses. Some aren’t used very often. For example, the purple one is used when shooting indoors in a room with florescent lights. It eliminates the “yellow” look of the photo. The other one is an outdoor cloud filter. It enhances clouds on summer days.

Although he doesn’t use these often he wants to carry them in his camera bag for those times when he does need them. Just throwing them into the bag wasn’t an option — he doesn’t want to scratch them…thus the request for the small pouches.

No hurry, he said. Naturally, the filters sat untouched on my sewing desk for about a week. Every time I sat down at my machine, there they sat, staring up at me as if they were two different colored eyes — one purple, the other gray.

Eventually, those eyes got to me and I realized it was time to tackle the project. Like most seamstresses, I have a lot of fabric sitting around just waiting to be used.  This required something soft, like fleece. Fortunately, I had saved an odd remnant of black fleece. It was perfect.

When I do this kind of sewing, I have to play around with the fabric until I come up with something that makes sense. I set one filter on the fabric and measured a rectangle so that I could create a sort of pocket with a flap. I measured about 1 1/2 inches from the top and made a horizontal line, then folded the rectangle, bringing the bottom edge up to the line. I sewed double seams on each side of the rectangle — close to the edge, then folded the top 1 1/2 inches over the opening.

The nice thing about fleece is that it doesn’t ravel so you can leave the edges unfinished. I used small squares of Velcro as closures — sewing the soft side to the pocket flap and the coarse side to the upper side of the pocket.

In the end, the pouches turned out perfectly, and the hubs was happy with the product. Now I just need to find a market for these things — I have LOTS of fleece remnants just waiting for the next set of lenses.

Bring on the Girl Scout cookies….please?

Somewhere in our attic is a dark green Girl Scout sash, but since it belongs to daughter number 1, it’s been packed away carefully in her recently reorganized “corner” and I’ve been ordered NOT to mess it up.

But a quick search through my husband’s box of family “heirlooms”, I located an old green Girl Scout dress that belonged either to his sister or mom. The label reads “Girl Scouts Trademark Official Uniform”.

Last night I mentioned to my husband that no Girl Scout had been by to take my annual cookie order. He just laughed. Somehow I’d missed the change in cookie selling — apparently Scouts can no longer go door to door. Okay, the sensible mom part of my brain realizes that this is a good move toward safer selling.

The nostalgic Girl Scout child in me finds this incredibly sad. My best friend, Karen Kreider, and I spent years happily competing with each other to see who could sell the most. We had our routine down. As daughters of college professors, we had direct access to the womens’ dorms on campus.

The day we got our order forms, we headed to the dorms, where we’d walk up and down the halls. The students were happy to help fill our forms. In fact, often they’d check with boyfriends to get their orders, too. One of us usually had a cousin on campus who helped spread the word that we were on the rampage.

I forget how many boxes we sold, but probably not much more than 150 each in a good year. That might be an exaggeration. Of course, our relatives would help to pad the order. I was lucky. As the only girl with four older brothers, I had no competition within my family and my older brothers were always eager to order. Karen, on the other hand, was one of four girls in a family of five children so had to deal with two older sisters who were also Scouts.

Although my mom always ordered a lot of cookies, I had to order a few boxes of my own so I wouldn’t always have to share with my brothers. To this day, my favorite is the Trefoil — odd since I have a chocolate fetish.

Ordering back then was a lot easier, with only three or four versions to choose from. Even that was a big change from the original options. Back in the 192os and 30s, Scouts baked their own cookies. In the latter 30s, the Scouting organization licensed commercial bakers to produce the cookies.

By the time our girls were in Scouts (my husband and I were both leaders)  cookie ordering and selling had become a family affair. The girls wouldn’t let us off easy, so we found that it helped to have a big freezer.

Early in my newspaper career, I was the food editor, which meant that the local Girl Scout council would deliver a large box of cookies to my “office.” If you’ve haven’t been in a newsroom when Girl Scout cookies are delivered, just imagine vultures preying on some poor fallen animal. It isn’t pretty.

So now…here we are…no more Scouts in the family and no more freebies thanks to media connections. Luckily, I just remembered that the niece of daughter number one’s significant other is a Scout and she’s just around the corner. Proof again that living in a small town is not without its perks.

Visuals from a snowy run

Last night Mother Nature dropped 5 inches on snow on us, so this morning we woke to the sounds of snowplows making their way around the neighborhood. Fighting off the urge to hibernate, I got up to face a snowy run.

Running in snow and chilly temps requires some adjustments in gear. Hats don’t always cover my ears so I wear a Brooks Nightlife fleece-lined earwarmer with a New Balance fleece-lined hat on top of it. It was below 20, so I added my 15-year-old Neofleece Extreme Masque — it covers the nose and mouth, but there are little holes that let you breathe.

Fleece-lined tights over capri length compression tights, Smartwool socks with baggies over my toes (this works!), and a 20-year-old Gore-Tex jacket. The coup de grace (since my middle name is Klutz) — Get-A-Grip Ice Joggers.

Today, though, I added one more item — my phone. Not because I expected to make any calls but because I wanted to take some photos and videos of what and who else I’d see out there on the roads. So…here you have it… the first is a video (obviously not top quality) of the geese and/or ducks who band together at the quarry.

Ducks and geese huddled on the National Quarry

My husband and neighbor clearing her driveway for her husband's return from medical mission trip

The Weaver sisters

The Riley Creek behind my house

Check out my mom’s fingers — they’re all green

Ever wonder where the term “green thumb” originated? One of the more plausible answers originated with the Brits, whose version, “green fingers”, actually makes more sense because how many gardeners do you know who use just their thumbs?

What I discovered is that just before and during World War II, one of the most popular programs on BBC radio in Britain was called “In Your Garden,” the host of which was a Mr. C.H. Middleton. A well-known etymologist, Eric Partridge, suggested that this program might have popularized both phrases, and that “green thumb” was actually a reference to the very old English proverb “An honest miller has a golden thumb.” Millers, merchants who grind corn for farmers, used to judge the quality of their product, corn flour, by rubbing a bit between the palm and thumb. But millers were often suspected of cheating their customers, and “golden thumb” was often used sarcastically, including by Chaucer, to mean a talent for duplicity. In any case, the proverb was sufficiently well known in Britain in the mid-20th century to make the “golden thumb” and “green thumb” connection plausible, and would explain why the thumb in particular is found in the most common form of the phrase.

What prompted this interest in green thumbs? My 89-year-old mother — a shining example of green fingers. When she moved from her condo to an apartment in an independent living facility, she gave up a lot — her piano, many antiques, family heirlooms, furniture, etc.

But she insisted on taking along many of her indoor plants (and some outdoor ones). After all, she’d nurtured many of these potted bulbs for years, letting them lie dormant until it was time for them to bloom. In fact, she has so many I worried that she would trip over them. She solved that problem by acquiring a second storage space in her building — this one just for her plants.

This is the scene in her living room right now — most of the plants are placed in front of her large patio doors where they get what little winter light is available.

Every winter, she babies her amaryllis bulbs (she has three pots) watering and staking them carefully to be sure they are productive. And they are, indeed, productive. So much so that my husband is green with envy. He’s attempted this several years, with limited success.

Last week, one of Mother’s amaryllis plants had produced seven (yep) blooms. By the time I took this photo, it was reduced to four. But no matter. Trust me. On a gloomy day, just take a look at this beauty and you’ll find your spirits quickly lifted.

The down-to-earthiness of an extraordinary woman — Helen James Minck

Some individuals walk into our lives quietly and unobtrusively, yet leave such an indelible impression that we feel their presence long after they are gone. Helen James Minck was one of those individuals. When Helen died on Christmas Eve, I felt saddened that I’d never get to hear more of her stories, to hear her laugh. Yet her face and voice are so clear, so present.

I met Helen about five or six years ago when she and her husband, Richard Minck, invited us to join them for dinner at the Shawnee Country Club in Lima. My husband and I had known Dick, a  Bluffton native, for many years. In fact, he’d been my landlord when I’d lived in a tiny garage apartment at the back of his property.

On that first meeting, we met at their condo that bordered the golf course. Having never met Helen, I was nervous. In the first few minutes, she put me at ease. My first impression of Helen was that she was a lovely, sweet woman who dearly loved to listen to her husband’s stories of their extensive art collection. It wasn’t until later when we were sitting in the club dining room, which overlooks the golf course, that I began to understand just how accomplished this woman was.

Dick and Helen Minck

We happened to be seated at a window from which we could see some young high school golfers teeing off. I knew little about golf, but it was clear that Helen was an old pro. Until back problems prevented her from participating in one of her favorite sports, she’d been a champion golfer at Lakewood Golf Course in St. Petersburg, Fla., where she’d lived when not summering in Lima. Without a hint of snobbery, she began telling stories about golfing with so and so. But it was her mention of “Chi Chi” that caught my attention.

Chi Chi? Rodriguez? Yep, that’s the one. She grinned and recounted a story he’d told. I’ve forgotten it, probably because my brain stuck on the name. She really did know her golf.

The old feature writer in me surfaced and I began asking questions. Pretty soon she’d told me about growing up first in Toledo, then Lima, before heading to Wellesley College, a women-only school in Massachusetts. Then she really surprised me — she had majored in physics — one of only two physics majors in the class of 1941. I remember her saying she loved the sciences and math.

By that point, I was pretty much awestruck, although not by any fault of Helen’s. Her stories were just that. Stories of a life lived fully.

On the wall in my office/sewing room, is a mounted photo that Dick Minck took while he and Helen were traveling. It’s a scene of a fishing village in Alaska, I think. Dick will probably tell me I’m wrong. No matter. If I look at the photo just right, I can imagine Helen standing on the old pier, ready to tackle yet another of her favorite sports — fishing.

An adventure in leaky pipes

This may be difficult to believe, but it appears I have proven my worth as a plumber. Because according to journalist and humorist Arthur “Bugs” Baer, “A plumber is an adventurer who traces leaky pipes to their source.”

And that folks, is exactly what I have done this week. If I have done nothing else of importance this week, I have indeed traced a leaky pipe to its source and wonder of wonders, I have conquered the leaky pipe…at least temporarily.

I really can’t take all the credit for this. After all, I wasn’t even aware that we had a leaking pipe until “Little-Miss-I’m-Trying-to-Avoid-Course-Planning” went on a reorganization/cleaning spree of our kitchen and laundry room during her Christmas break. It was she who discovered the leak.

Here’s how the conversation went:

Daughter number 1: “Mom, did you know that there is a leak in the laundry room?
Me: “Of course, I knew it. Cold air has been sneaking through the window seals since we bought the house.”
Daughter number 1: (Eye roll) “No, mom, not an air leak. There’s water on the floor.”

Oh. That. Well. Yes, I guess that would indicate a leak. Naturally, I did what any other homeowner would do: called in the big guns. As in THE PLUMBER. Unfortunately, since I couldn’t honestly classify it as an emergency, I had to settle for an appointment sometime in the next millenium. Actually, that’s an exaggeration. But a week away might as well be in the next millenium.

So as daughter number 1 headed off to her real world of researching her dissertation, she reminded me that we should probably find a temporary fix for the dreaded leaky pipe.

I tried to forget the problem but when my husband made the comment that “At least we know why the water bill is so high”, I realized it was time to do something. My Dick-Pannabecker-do-it-yourself genes kicked into full gear. Peering behind the washing machine, I found one hose dripping at the point where it connects to the washer. That was the easy part.

Armed with duct tape, a heavy strength two-gallon freezer bag, I went to work. The hubs cut strips of duct tape as I fit the freezer bag under and around the hoses and then taped them into place. (I may have to buy stock in duct tape after this week.)

Then I folded the  bag into a cone shape and added more duct tape. I placed a large wastebasket underneath the tip of the bag. Finally, I snipped a small hole at the point of the bag and water began streaming into the wastebasket.

Amazing what a little duct tape and ingenuity can do. Nine hours later, the wastebasket was half full of water. Too bad it isn’t gardening season — it would have been useful for watering the garden.

I’m trying to decide whether to make myself scarce or hang around when the plumber arrives. Maybe he’ll offer me a job. Probably not. I probably shouldn’t give up my day job…yet.

Tanked economy limits found currency

2011 wasn’t a good year for found money, at least in comparison to the last four years. Guess the tanked economy made people more careful about picking up coins when they dropped them on the street.

Ever since some friends admitted that they don’t allow themselves to end their daily walk until they’ve found at least one penny, we’ve adhered to the same rule. Most of the time, it works out. Sometimes, we have to give up and come home empty-handed.

This can be a dangerous practice because you spend a lot of time looking down, hoping to catch a glimpse of something shiny…and you tend to forget that other people are walking on the same sidewalk until you run into them…literally. It’s even more dangerous if the coin is in the street. Of course, this becomes even dicier if you’re riding a tandem and the front rider is the person who spends more time watching for money than oncoming cars. But let’s not go there…

So for the record, here’s the count of found money in the five years we’ve been doing this:

2007  $22.19
2008  $23.07
2009  $12.25
2010  $27.80
2011  $9.01

Also found this year, but not added to the count for obvious reasons were these three “coins”. We’re still puzzling over these:

A gold-colored coin the size of a dime that reads “Napoleon Empire”, a nickle-sized dirty coin that says “Ruhl’s Bakery” on one side and “Good for one loaf bread” on the other side, and finally, another nickle-sized pewter colored coin that bears a number “1” and reads “Missouri Sales Tax Receipt”. Your guess is as good as mine, but since the family numismatist hasn’t squirreled them away, their countenance is suspect.

So okay…our next dinner out will more likely be Wilson’s than Panera or the more electic Melt in Cincinnati’s Northside. But hey, it’s still a free dinner.

Bring on 2012 — perhaps a better year for finding loose coins and maybe some more paper currency.