Thursday, May 26, 2011

It gets a little nuts.....

Urban, or backyard, camping, that is. Goodness knows, the last time I tried camping in the backyard John Kennedy was President. I probably showed my kids, Melissa and Brian, how to do it once; but those two were practically born in tents and raised to gather firewood, so I saw no need to stick around and coach.

Come to think about it, this whole family camping thing started because of those kids. When Joy and I had any time off from work, we rarely had money to Go or to Do anything more than a pack of wieners and a state park. Luckily, a lot of our friends at the time were ex-, unreformed Boy Scouts. Funny, sometimes, how traditions get born.

Now come Melissa's kids, Michael and Diana, 21 years since leaving Texas; and all of a sudden, it seemed, this Old Man was backyard camping again and kick-starting the Memorial Day bash without so much of the former debauchery.

Although I didn't know it at the time, preparation for this coming weekend began over last Mothers' Day weekend with a simple act of cleaning out an old garden shed; but that's another story, being told on my other blog, Miller's Cave. Consequently, some three weeks on, I've got this guy pictured above, an eastern fox squirrel, dining just outside our tent door!

Squirrels have been around for some 40 million years or better, back to the dawn of mammals. Biologists with nothing better to do break squirrels in general into 50 or so genera with about 280 species. Texas is home to two of the three species of tree squirrels, the fox (seen here) and the gray, the fox squirrel being the most commonly seen in backyards across much of the Rolling Plains.

Clearly, at least one eastern tree squirrel who roams the tree top canopy of Brook Village has a taste for black oiled sunflower seeds!

I nearly walked into this guy yesterday, and he scarcely glanced up from stuffing his cheeks. Nor did he show any concern when I stepped into the cave for my camera. Not until I was close enough to literally reach out and touch did he reluctantly take all the seeds he could carry and scamper some feet higher into the branches.

Memorial Day Weekend Campout

Lord, if ever a people needed a Memorial Day break, it's gotta be the good folks across the Midwest who have endured through weather gone wild. We will be at The Home, camping out in the comfort of our own backyard, listening to great music, probably making a few burnt offerings on the grill and sending up smoke for comfort and healing for whosoever may be hurting for whatever cause at this time.

Arlo Guthrie had his Thanksgiving Day Massacre; we had our Memorial Day Weekend Campout. Through the 1970s and '80s, we'd pack up the women, children and dogs and head out to Lake Arrowhead State Park or Hippie Holler, LBJ Grasslands or the Wichita Mountains for three or four days of burning too much meat and drinking to excess. Back then it wasn't too difficult to camp away from crowds, and we always knew of several select sites within reasonable distance of River City.

Since that time, campers have moved on, others have passed on and all the old spots have been discovered by RVers and other creatures who haven't the slightest notion what camping is about. Add aging to the mix, and it's not hard to understand why and how the MDWC fell to the wayside.

Until now. With all the tragedy that has roared across our heartland, the continuing conflicts on foreign sands putting American men and women in harms way plus a grand reunion with long lost Grandkids, we thought it was time to revamp and revise a grand old tradition.

Friends, family, followers and anyone else with nothing better to do or nowhere else to go, join us in camping out wherever you are and sharing your Memorial Day Weekend on our Facebook page, Miller's Cave.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bourbon balls found!

While cleaning in places that don’t get cleaned enough, I found a scrap of paper with a recipe for bourbon balls scrawled on it. Now, in a perfect world this bit of history would be all but undecipherable, layered with stain upon stain and brittle as grandma’s old bones; the ink a mere whisper of my very own Mamaw’s schooled penmanship. Ah, venerable ancient relic!

Truth be told, Cordie Ellen’s chicken scratch on paper was the Devil’s own chore to make out. I know, I scored countless headaches translating her love letters to W.P. into something that resembled late 19th, early 20th century Southern American English. And while Cordie fully appreciated a good bourbon...ONE good bourbon...with eggnog...on Christmas Eve...she wasn’t likely to go wasting good whiskey on a cookie. So no way this was Mamaw Saunders’ recipe. I had written it myself some three or four years ago.

Annie & I had come off the road, maybe a year earlier, I guess. Coming back to River City wasn’t exactly our first choice. More like our only choice. Times were hard, living in a poorly restored garage and both working at jobs we would have been happier without. Now throw in Christmas bearing down on us, and you’ve pretty well got the scene.

What better time for.....wait for it......BOURBON BALLS!!!

I had eaten bourbon balls. I had never made bourbon balls. Didn’t have the foggiest notion what, exactly, went into them other than the obvious. So off I went to the library’s free computer lab to consult the Oracle, Yahoo. Turned out good bourbon balls are much simpler than I had imagined.

We both pronounced that first, basic batch as surprisingly good. A little tweaking of a component here and a measure there, and the second batch did not disappoint, either. Annie took the third batch to work with her, and came home empty save requests for the recipe.

“Tell ‘em it’s a closely-guarded family secret that goes all the way back to the Great Depression,” I told her.

“They’ll just want to know what a bourbon ball recipe has to do with a big hole in the ground,” Annie said.

“Well, tell ‘em this recipe goes to my grave with me, just as I promised my Dear Old Grandmother.”

I was going to give the recipe to a few of Annie’s select acquaintances, the few who came close to being actual friends, anyway. But the scribbled recipe got tossed into a drawer and otherwise buried until and mostly forgotten.

Until today.

Humbly presented here, dear reader, for your approval, one free recipe for bourbon balls, pretty much as I scribbled it, lo, not so many years ago.

Combine 1 c v.waffer crumbs, 1 c pecans, 1 c con sugar, 2 Tblsp cocoa powder.
Blend 1/4c Jack, 1 Tblsp + 1-1/2 tsp lt cn syrup.
Stir Jack mix into dry blend.
Cover & chill, hours
Form balls & roll in con. sugar
Store in air-tight cont. in fridge
Roll in con. sugar

That second and final roll in the confectioners’ sugar is to be done just before passing these puppies around. Oh, no need to wait for the holidays.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

When it rains....

"Bring you all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house, and prove me now herewith, said the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." ~ Malachi 3:10
Lord, what I wouldn't have given for Google back when I thought I would make a preacher! Plug in a pinch like "...pour you out a blessing..." into search, and up pops about 3.9 million hits before you've finished typing! Ever mindful of Rev. Debbie's admonition against using quotations overly much in my writings, I do so here because this snippet above woke me this morning, and all because of an old foundling trowel on my front porch.

Yesterday was a day, wasn't it! We actually got some rain on the Rolling Plains, just about enough to wet the bottom of my rain gauge, one of Annie's old cake pans I left lying out. The rolling thunder and the lightning streaking the southeastern sky was more than excuse enough to duck into the cave and enjoy the show. I was settled, too, just inside the open door when it dawned on me to set the rain buckets out! You see, it's those little things ~ like putting out the rain buckets to catch runoff ~ one loses with lack of practice, and we have not had a good soakin' rain here goin' on nine months.

So we set all the yard buckets we had under the cave's eaves, then dashed to the house to enlist several of Annie's old plastic mixing bowls and a soup pot to collect runoff from the back porch. Got to dump three of the smaller bowls into the soup pot before it was all done and came away with nearly five gallons of water reserve for Annie's growing gardens.

For all the fun of playing in the rain, Annie was quick to remind that we had actual Old People chores to tend to; little things like delivering the rent check for another month's stay at The Home. By the time we had tacked on getting a bite to eat, it was near dark when we returned.

Lying on the front porch beside Annie's boot garden was this beautiful old trowel, heavy and well formed to fit the hand, an old school tool you can't find in today's cut rate mega markets. Some person or persons unknown clearly had come by while we were out and left this offering on our porch. But who?

Doesn't really matter who although the answer was found on Annie's cell phone much later last night. What does matter is a simple, beautiful act of paying it forward, neighbor-to-neighbor, without being asked and without expectation of return.

Thanks, Peggy!!! Your going on the Zucchini List!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Deadlines and old age

What’s with missing deadlines in my old age?

Ya know, when you practice at something for 60 years, you might reasonably expect to be at the top of your game. So why is it, sitting here on the front porch of The Golden Years, I catch myself in rookie mistakes. Hell, not even mistakes, for mistakes implies the poopertrator acted in ignorance. I’ve held deadlines to be sacred since those salad days on The Rider Roundup. I can thank Mother Mac for that; the old bat drilled the fundamentals into us like a freaking’ jar head top kick minus the language, bless her heart!

Okay, thumbnail version; I put two days into building this dirt cheap mud hole in our shrub jungle, rigged up a waterfall base and trickle hose (Texas is in a record, Class Five Excessive Red Flag Flying killer of a drought, in case you did not get the memo, and the water police have eyes everywhere), stuck a self-contained solar LED lamp at its base and called it AnniePie Millers’ Mothers’ Day Garden; a fun little project that kept my now fully retired butt outside and from under foot when not actively seeking gainful employment outside The Home, don’ cha know. On or about that same time, I set a deadline to publish the next issue of this journal no later than Mom Day midnight, thinking to write a wrap up piece on Mothers' Day at Miller's Cave. You see, while Annie got a new garden out of the deal, I renovated our 8 X 12 shed into a man cave, but that's another story.

The two of you who follow this rag already know I busted deadline. Friends, the last time I recall that happening was the wee hours of April 11, 1979, when we failed to make the first early edition. There was a night!

Part of the problem, as I see it, is that I quit thinking of myself as a newspaperman when the Tribune-Chief was sold out from under me. Use it or lose it NEVER takes a day off! For the rest of it, I’ve just got to face up and fess up to the immovable truth. I am old.

I am old. I have reached the age my grandfather was when I was born; and I am here to tell you, children, that old Hardshell Baptist deacon, Wiley Preston Saunders, came into this world old and just proceeded to get better at it! Of course, he rarely hobbled himself with deadlines, choosing rather to approach his chores d'rectly ("JREC-lee", adverb, to get around to doing something when one is damned good and ready).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Invasion of the Russian Tomatoes!

Early Mothers' Day morning I'm cruising the garden section at that mega-mart everyone seems to love to hate. Freshly unemployed with much more time than money, I had launched an addition to our backyard for Annie for Mothers' Day two days before. The project was all but finished--including a fully-functioning, low maintenance, conservative-water-using water feature--and I was on one of those rare solo scouting trips, looking for finishing touches. When what to my wandering eyes should appear but a tag I certainly did not expect to see in this establishment, HEIRLOOM TOMATO!

This writer hardly expected to ever use Wal*Mart and heirloom tomato positively in the same sentence; but there it was, tucked away amid all the usual hybrid suspects. A healthy enough looking little specimen, considering where it was living, and claiming to be an old-world variety called Black Krim from Russia. Its parent supplier is an Alabama outfit called Bonnie Plants.
I have seen Bonnie's products before in Lowe's. Plants are packaged in biodegradable pots made from recycled materials, so you just plant the thing pot and all. I like that. I also like that Bonnie is bringing their products into places like Wal*Mart. Oh! If you have one of them smart phones that can read QR codes, Bonnie's plant data tags has that covered as well.

Worth a shot at three bucks! The Black Krim is billed as a chocolate beefsteak, the "chocolate" referencing its dark brownish color, from the Ukraine. Well let you know how it shakes out in a couple of months.

Also worth three bucks to check out is this self-contained, solar-powered LED landscape lamp by Westinghouse, and also available at Wal*Mart. I took one to try, installing it at the base of Annie's new water feature. It does not put out a mass of light; more like a friendly glow. I like that these can be picked up as single units and placed wherever without any need for wiring. How well they hold up to life on the Rolling Plains remains to be seen.

Man, is it getting hot out here, or is it just me!?!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Kites return to the Falls

Every spring Anniepie and I look forward to the return of certain friends who mark the season and who, kind of like old mesquite trees budding out, let us know spring is settling in. Scissor-tailed flycatchers, Oklahoma's state bird, arrived some weeks ago; a trifle early this year by our reckoning--I really need to keep better notes and records--but others testify the scissor-tails were about on schedule. We spotted our first a couple Sundays ago out by Lake Wichita Park, and I have since seen them in all parts of the Falls, including one in that big old pecan tree across the street from our house.

Last evening a couple hours shy of sunset, Anniepie and I were camping out in the backyard, toasting Willie Nelson's 79th with a couple of margaritas. The winds finally had laid down to near calm, and the temperature under a pale blue, cloudless sky couldn't have been any more perfect. The seed feeders weren't getting many callers save the occasional dove, mainly because Mr. Beano Miller kept chasing after his lime green squeaky ball ever time Annie would toss it.

I happened to glance up from the dog games and spotted what I took to be a chimney swift at first. On second look, though, the bird was larger than a swift, soaring higher than I had first estimated. As my 62-year-old tri-focaled eyes adjusted to the range, I spotted another bird riding air currents at the extreme limit of unaided vision, hardly more than a speck, yet faintly recognizable. Nudging Anniepie, I pointed to the nearer bird.

"Is that what I think it is?"

"Oh my god, I think so!"

Of course, about that time the bird's flight took it below the tree line, so I broke for the house to fetch the glasses. Before I returned to the yard, however, Anniepie had confirmed the Mississippi kites had returned to the Falls.

Mississippi kite, Ictinia mississippiensis, second cousin to our own bald and golden eagles, is a hawk-sized raptor dressed in shades of gray and elegantly graceful on the wing. I mean, this bird literally does "dance the sky on laughter silvered wings" so beautiful it can make a grown man get cinders in his eyes when there's not a fire within two counties. These guys spend the winter in South America. Why on Earth they return each spring to hatch and raise their young in Wichita Falls is beyond me, but I'm certainly thrilled that they do.

So Annie and I were both grovin' on our first kite sighting of the fledgling spring, watching a couple sky dance at about 10,000 feet, when another pair swooshed past us directly overhead at treetop level! I mean we heard the air whispering through their flight feathers!

"I guess they wanted to make sure we knew they were back," I said.

The literature will tell you that kites feed on insects. I'm here to tell you I watched a pair of them tag-team after a white-winged dove that only escaped by plunging into a dense cedar tree. Others swear they also will take smaller stick and disc golfers who do not keep an eye out overhead while on their rounds.

Final count right at sundown was at least a dozen birds at one time soaring over Brook Village in one of the most magnificent air displays any two-legged critter should ever hope to witness.

Thank you, Lord!