For the last time

HI. I’m moving to another blog again and I’m pretty sure this will be the last time.

Over the years (I’ve been blogging regularly for five years or so!) I have posted willy-nilly about all kinds of things with no purpose whatsoever other than to ramble. There was no structure until recently, no concern for how I might feel about something I wrote or shared when I looked back on past posts. Can I be honest with you? Some of them actually make me cringe.

The titles of my blogs have always been some kind of word to represent where I was in my life at that moment. That has changed many times over and, as you may recall, resulted in blog title modifications that confused me even more than they confused you. Trust me on this one.

Two Girls and a Road is now Two Girls and a Guy with Three Dogs in Oklahoma. Ludowe was the Polish word for folk but I’m more German than Polish and, sadly, still haven’t attempted to build my own pierogi. Floridahoma is the obvious combining of Florida and Oklahoma but with my record of moving to a new state every few years, this blog could end up being Floridahomanoisinconsintana. It’ll get even worse. And no, this isn’t my way of saying we’re moving to Montana or anything.

I’m starting new with a blank slate. No transferring of blog posts, no archives going back to 2008, no reworking the WordPress URL to express yet another name to a blog that hasn’t been that close to my heart for a while now. Beginning July 1st, you can find me here. Why that name? Well, Big Blue Marble was already taken. I hope to see you there.

*For those of who were hoping to keep up with the Great Adventures of Schnitzel the Starling, know that he is back home with his mother. He ate enough dog food and mangoes to build up the strength in his legs. He managed to climb the last few inches into his nest when I pushed him under the porch roof as far as my hand could fit. I spoke with him this morning, as a matter of fact, and he’s doing well.

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Schnitzel

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We found Schnitzel resting on a bunch of spidergrass in the front yard. Throughout the day there had been a racket of noise coming from that corner of our front porch (there are starling nests all over the place) so I wasn’t surprised to discover our little starling had fallen/jumped/been pushed out. He is at an in-between stage where he’s too young to be on his own but old enough to only need a little more help before he’s flying off into the world.

A friend from Springfield, Missouri was staying over last night on a work trip and has fostered all kinds of  baby birds successfully. She gave us some tips on how to keep him fed and happy, at least until he’s big enough to start hopping around in the grass and getting used to being on his own (remember Mr. Grumpyfeathers?).

Schnitzel is a good sleeper, a very good eater, and a good pooper – all extraordinary traits when dealing with baby anythings. In fact, he’s a better sleeper than my baby human was (and still is, at times). If you’re curious about the name, we collectively decided on Schnitzel because:

a) we’re big fans of the cartoon Chowder

b) we’d just had wiener schnitzel for dinner at Ingrid’s Kitchen

c) Mr. Grumpyfeathers was already taken

Schnitzel’s favorite treats? Softened dog food and hard-boiled eggs. Elle is a bit creeped out by a bird eating eggs, but Schnitzel loves eggs. Seriously, he gobbles them up.

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Clearly they have been traveling…

Whelks
by Mary Oliver

Here are the perfect
fans of the scallops,
quahogs, and weedy mussels
still holding their orange fruit –
and here are the whelks –
whirlwinds,
each the size of a fist,
but always cracked and broken –
clearly they have been traveling
under the sky-blue waves
for a long time.
All my life
I have been restless –
I have felt there is something
more wonderful than gloss –
than wholeness –
than staying at home.
I have not been sure what it is.
But every morning on the wide shore
I pass what is perfect and shining
to look for the whelks, whose edges
have rubbed so long against the world
they have snapped and crumbled –
they have almost vanished,
with the last relinquishing
of their unrepeatable energy,
back into everything else.
When I find one
I hold it in my hand,
I look out over that shanking fire,
I shut my eyes. Not often,
but now and again there’s a moment
when the heart cries aloud:
yes, I am willing to be
that wild darkness,
that long, blue body of light.

***

It’s been a long week of writing about home, or of trying to write about home. If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, then you know I have never had a good grasp on the idea of such a place to begin with.

Throughout the month of June I have been participating in a fun Instagram photo-a-day challenge and decided to use the above photo to define my version of “centered”. The whelk in the photograph is the literal center and my emotional center is the beach beyond. Just this morning I realized the whelk, in its battered and nearly broken shell, is always home no matter where the seas toss him out. That damn whelk gave me a clearer perspective on the whole idea of home.

Does home have to be a single place?

During my research on the definition of home (yes, I’m that bewildered by the topic that I had to do research), I began to feel a little less obligated to call out the name of a single place to point to as home which, to be honest, left me feeling guilty for not giving the designation to all the other places I’ve ever lived. Clearly, I have been traveling.

For the record, I haven’t yet figured out my own definition of home but I’m learning there is more than one way to define it.

Marshall County’s Pioneers

Back in 1855, fifty or so pioneers made their way into what is now known as Marshall County, Kansas. Food was scarce, housing was non-existent. Each of them paid approximately $25 into a general fund for a determined amount of land and agreed to use the money to purchase a steam saw-mill. By 1857, they had their mill.

Daniel Caldwell Auld was one of those pioneers. Born in Pennsylvania, he was raised in Ohio by his Irish immigrant parents. He became the area’s first justice of the peace a year after his arrival in Kansas and his home also served as the second post office ever established in Marshall County. His son, William, took over as postmaster when Daniel Auld joined the army. A staunch union man, he fought many battles in the Civil War and returned home to serve in the legislature and help Kansas become a state.

And here is where my ignorance of pioneer statehood comes to light: Kansans fought ardently to make theirs a “Free State”, the very opposite of the bloodthirsty pro-slavery agenda being carried out by Missourians just across the border.  It turns out Kansans had no intention of creating a Free State for blacks escaping or being released from their lives of brutal slavery in the South. What they really wanted was a Free State for free white people who saw no good in getting politically involved in the slavery issue.

This changes my original feelings for Mr. Daniel Auld, who I spent a week or so believing was an do-gooder abolitionist, but I live a relatively comfortable life 150 years after the fact, so…I can’t judge. Besides, who’s to say back then that having no involvement in the slavery feud was just as bad as, or worse than, being pro-slavery? Was there a difference? Ah, questions for another day.

By now you may be wondering why in the world I’m rambling on about Kansas, the Auld family, and legislative issues from the 1860s. If it helps you at all, I am, too! My story about Marshall County, Kansas, wasn’t supposed to go in this direction but, as you may sometimes notice, I get excited about historical facts that nobody else cares about in the hopes that you will eventually care about them.

It all started with this book my husband purchased a few years ago for $10 at a local antique shop:

Vermillion KS 1866 school bond records

…which led me to me getting all weird about holding in my hands a record book that came to life a year after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination!  

Vermillion KS 1866 school bond records

Vermillion KS 1866 school bond records

The pages of this record book hold school board minutes beginning in 1866 and document who paid their school bonds on time, in full, and who still owed on a payment plan. Daniel’s son, William, was elected to be the Superintendent of the school district they were trying to create and signed off on many a paragraph closing the meetings and passing directions to others. The surnames Barrett, Raiden, Strong, and, of course, Auld are prominent (as were their families in local matters, I have come to learn).  I’m afraid to keep perusing through the book because the fragile pages are beginning to slip from their binding, so I tried my best to make mental notes and employ my usually useful photographic memory to retell what the majority of the pages really hold: recipes and oddly placed bits on how to survive pioneer life.

There are recipes for everything – I lost count of how many types of bread these people baked – and I am utterly confused by the recipe instructions, so Matt and I got a good laugh at the final step for a lot of them, which is to “toss it into the quick oven”. What does that even mean? I need temperatures and measurements to work with, times for which to let the breads bake, and where does one even find lard these days?

Household tips include burning brown sugar bits on charcoals inside your room (“room” was underlined emphatically!!!!!!) to ward off mosquitoes. And if your child is suffering from croup, tie a handkerchief tightly around his neck (but not too tightly) after soaking the cloth in various “vapors”. Uh…what?

And here’s another gem found on a page explaining how to remove stains from one’s silk square pieces (handkerchiefs?) – a tip to treat cholera (is the acid phosphate sold in the same place I can find lard?).

Vermillion KS 1866 school bond records

Matt and I decided to donate the record book to Marshall County’s Historical Society, a small volunteer-run organization that is only open for phone calls three hours a day. I got so excited that I called early and left a message. A nice woman named Ms. Skinner called me back while I was making dinner, long after the three hour window had closed. When I told her the book was from 1866 and rattled off some of the names listed inside, she sounded genuinely shocked and said, “1866? That was before anything!” She took our names to give us credit for the donation and told me to ship it to her at my convenience.

I thought a little this morning about the name Skinner, because it didn’t show up in the record book at all. Marshall County, Kansas, is home to a tiny population of 10,000 and it’s unlikely (according to my amateur observations) that someone would live there unless they had always lived there, at least in the family name. If I am correct, which I think I am, Ms. Skinner is somehow related to one half of the publishing firm Brice & Skinner who distributed a local weekly called the Blue Rapids Times. The paper made its debut in July of 1871 and still runs today.

Maybe Matt and I will be mentioned in it!

Wildflowers & Creeks

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Elle's first time in a creek

Believe it or not, this photograph shows Elle experiencing the joys of walking barefoot in a creek for the first time in her life. That sounds a little unreal, doesn’t it? You have to remember, though, that she is Florida-born and bred, with the exception of the last eleven months of her life here in Oklahoma, and little girls from the South, at least mine, just can’t walk around barefoot in creeks and ponds for worry of gators and poisonous watersnakes. There was a single reminder of our Florida days, however, when we came across a mound of miniature seashells. Ah, Oklahoma’s Cretaceous Period?

Oklahoma seashells!

The two of us were attempting to make our walk worth at least a couple of miles but I really underestimated the heat and foolishly left my thermos of ice-cold water in the car. After a short stroll around the creek we crossed an old iron bridge and found ourselves near a field of wildflowers. Elle and I snapped a few photographs while getting eaten up by mosquitos and chased by bees the whole time. All those bug bites were worth it, though, at least to me. I am quite enamored of wildflowers, especially the field of Mexican hats I stumbled upon.

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mexican hats

mexican hats

In the Garden

Whoa. Summer came to Oklahoma with a bang. After all those extra months of freezing weather and our recent weeks of rain, it is finally 90+ degrees and dry. Is there no such thing as a happy medium? Or do those days happen fleetingly? I’m guessing the latter.

Those days have come where I now have to check my flowers and vegetables daily. A simply soaking every evening only seems to make my plants thirstier. When I walked past my potted petunias last night I was shocked by the condition of the soil. It was cracking and parched and it made me feel so silly for proclaiming only last week how hard it was to kill petunias! PUBLIC APOLOGY, PETUNIAS – I take it all back.

I never had an interest in gardening for most of my life, although I have had a lifelong interest in eating food grown in other people’s gardens. When I lost my job nearly two years ago and Florida’s economy failed to provide me with another, I decided to turn my spare time into a useful tool. The following spring and summer, I grew tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, carrots, ground cherries, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, herbs, and edible flowers.

Jack, my parents’ piebald dachshund, accompanied me every morning to the garden space. The two of us made our rounds collecting ground cherries that had fallen or thinning out the carrots and nursing the cucumbers back to health. Actually, I did the work while Jack chased squirrels and investigated the deep roots of a philodendron.

Jack, my garden buddy

Jack, looking especially short next to the lettuce patch

Matt and I decided this year’s garden would be a small and manageable one. Everything we hope will be edible is growing in container pots and recycled whiskey barrels. There are three varieties of potted tomatoes, cucumbers trailing on our iron porch rails, and okra being held upright with a metal trellis. All those mornings I tossed the water out of those saturated pots are paying off and things are finally starting to grow.

sunburst cherry tomatoes

sunburst cherry tomatoes

okra is happening!

okra is happening!

It seems I have a new garden buddy these days to go along with my new garden. As I made my rounds this morning redirecting the cucumber vines and marveling at the height of my still-growing sunflowers, Teddy rarely left my side. There is a story behind this dog and I wish I knew what it was, but for now I’m happy to imagine he was treated well by someone who appreciated his constant presence and liked to take him for long walks outside.

my handsome boy

my handsome boy

Forgotten History

My mother was born in Marinette, Wisconsin, a small northern town you’ve probably never heard of that sits on the border with Upper Michigan. Marinette is only a couple of miles northeast of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, another town you’ve probably never heard of. And that’s a shame.

I could try to recreate the town of Peshtigo for you from memory, but decades have passed since I last went through the place. I can’t believe too much about it has changed, though. It was (and probably still is) a close-knit lumber town surrounded by pine forests and smelled of the nearby paper mill.  Peshtigo is also divided in half by a river, not surprisingly called the Peshtigo River.

Because I grew up in nearby Marquette, Michigan and passed through Peshtigo at least a handful of times every year as a kid, I know its history. I know its story. I know why nobody else knows it, too. In fact, during my junior year of high school in suburban D.C., Peshtigo’s story was the one thing that helped me graduate from high school on time. My class attendance was awful, truancy-worthy, even, but my history teacher gave me a final shot at passing his class. His challenge:

Teach me something I don’t already know.

So I told him about Peshtigo. I told him about the lumber town, the river, and of one of the driest summers on record. I told him what happened on October 8, 1871, and he asked, “Isn’t that the same date as the Great Chicago Fire?” Why, yes. Yes, it is!

I passed my history class, became a senior, and spent some of my final year of high school helping to grade juniors’ papers with my former history teacher.

***

The reason most people have never heard of the town of Peshtigo is because of Chicago. More people were killed in the Peshtigo Fire, an estimated 2,500 compared to Chicago’s 200 to 300. They both occurred on the same date. Peshtigo’s fire was caused by drought and lightning, not by a legendary cow (I’m looking at you, Mrs. O’Leary!). The firestorm in Peshtigo was exactly that: a storm. It created its own weather patterns complete with cloud-to-ground lightning and tornadoes. But what’s all that worth when a cosmopolitan city on the lakeshore is nearly destroyed by a cow? Forgotten history, indeed.

(I had been struggling a bit to come up with a topic for my upcoming thesis for my bachelor’s degree. When I came across this page in Andrew Carroll’s Here is Where: Discovering America’s Great Forgotten History, I took it as a sign. Also, if you have knowledge of any resources or people, historians or otherwise, that/who may be able to help me with my research, please let me know.):

Sailboats on Lake Hefner

Every day for the past week, while driving Elle to and from her summer camp classes in the far northwest corner the city, I have been able to catch a glimpse of Lake Hefner. It is a busier place in the afternoon filled with bicyclists, joggers, dog-walkers, and general wanderers. On my way to pick her up from camp yesterday, I saw sailboats dotting the water near the lighthouse. Elle is usually too hungry and tired by the end of her camp day to take a walk with me by the lake, but this time I insisted. This Florida girl has been missing that view for quite some time.

Elle and I walked a short while from the parking lot to the lighthouse and met an elderly couple and their dog along the way. They pointed out a snake swimming in the water and we got to talking about Florida. It turns out one of their children lives in Jacksonville, another in the suburbs of Orlando. Our conversation was interrupted by the sounds of splashing and screams. Those sailboats must have been part of a class because I can’t imagine why else there would be so many of them clustered so closely to one another. Most of the time, at least one of them was completely on it side in the water with a few submerged people patiently waiting nearby. There was hardly a breeze yesterday, not even on the lake shore. I’m not entirely sure if this did any favors for those poor people trying to learn how to maneuver a sailboat. It was pretty fun to watch, though.

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Drying Out

My mother called me this morning from Florida and after the usual banter about work, the family, and my father’s upcoming birthday, she began to complain about the rain. Tropical Storm Andrea is poised to dump six inches over coastal North Florida. Friends of mine as far north as South Georgia are under a tornado warning. My mother can’t get the German Shepherd to go outside and pee because he’s afraid to get wet. He’s also afraid of the dark.

“I don’t want to hear about your rain. I don’t feel sorry for you,” I told her. For the record, she laughed then asked me how my garden had made it through the last two weeks of Oklahoma’s record-breaking rainfall. The answer is: I don’t know yet. I’m hoping it stops raining long enough to give the soil an opportunity to dry out, otherwise we’re back at square one.

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my cucumbers, in better days

For all my frustration with the vegetables, my flowers are thriving. My daylily doubled in size, the sunflowers are mostly all over two feet tall, and the lavender is…doing something. It hasn’t gone brown or lost its heavenly scent. I call that a score. The Indian blanket has spread a few feet in all directions and this makes me very happy. When I brought that plant home with me last summer, there were two measly blossoms. I’m thinking I should go get more. Seriously, my desire to rip out all the ugly things in my yard and replace them with Indian blanket grows by the day!

A surprising sprawl of #indianblanket #wildflowers and a climbing ivy

Also, my theory about petunias is becoming as true as my theory about goldfish – it takes a lot to kill those suckers, even when you try. No, I’m not trying. I’m only emphasizing how important petunias can be to the beginning gardener’s precious and fragile ego.

TAKE HEED, first-timers.

And Wind is Simply Wind.

Post #tornado afterglow #okc

post-tornado afterglow

Our basement was busy with excitement once again when a massive storm came through Oklahoma City last Friday. I had to try really hard to convince my mother on the phone that tornado season in Oklahoma is not as chaotic and confusing as outsiders might think. Did you see that? I just referred to other people as outsiders, not including myself. I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of this Oklahoma thing, but just barely.

Don’t get me wrong – Friday night was chaotic and confusing, but only because we had three people and six dogs taking refuge underground. The sirens blared constantly and the only time I got really scared was when the El Reno tornado took a sharp northerly turn and another sharp turn east, directly for our part of town. Matt and I actually had to prepare Elle for a worst-case scenario which,  fortunately, didn’t happen. Am I happy with how everything played out? Absolutely not. Five people were killed in that twister alone, including three tornado research pioneers, but I no longer startle at a random gust of wind.

I think it’s safe to say all of Oklahoma is ready for a much-deserved break. And with that, I would like to mention the record amounts of rainfall and subsequent greenery. Central Oklahoma is officially out of the drought and we hope the wildfires that were so prevalent last summer are discouraged from returning because of all moisture we’ve had this year. I’m also hoping that the temperatures stay below 100 degrees as I will readily admit that this past Oklahoma winter turned me into a sissy. In fact, I no longer find myself chilled in 85-degree weather. Ugh, 85-degree weather… I’m getting hot just thinking about it.

The following morning, June 1st, which just happened to be the start of hurricane season (hello, Florida friends!), we checked the rainfall amount in our garden and realized it topped well over our measly 6-inch gauge. Two airports in different parts of the city reported between 9 and 11 inches of precipitation, which I learned includes hail, fog, light rain, heavy rain, but nevermind that – I can’t accurately read the data on those weather charts. You’ll just believe me when I say I had a backyard pool for much of the day and night. My cucumbers and tomatoes were drowned in their giant barrel containers; there was so much that I had to retrieve a cup to help empty the container pots of unabsorbed moisture. My husband’s shop was flooded enough to send floor mats floating. The basement leaked water through a crack in the wall, which I used to mop up the piddle puddles from aforementioned six dogs. Resourcefulness, it’s coming naturally to us these days.

*You may have noticed a change in the blog-scenery lately and, most importantly, the name of the blog. I felt it was fitting and time-appropriate to acknowledge how I am finally coming around to calling Oklahoma home. Would you believe that admission doesn’t feel as blasphemous as it once did?