Author Archives: Kathleen Fox

After the Last Snowflake Falls

When it’s spring in South Dakota, April showers frequently have to be shoveled. New Easter outfits, just like Halloween costumes, are best designed to be worn with winter coats. According to our outside thermometer, it was six degrees at six o’clock this morning. That’s enough to make even the most optimistic crocus decide to pull up roots and head south.

Weather like this, life-threatening for newborn calves, causes serious work and worry for farmers and ranchers. For those of us who don’t have to go out in the snow to rescue half-frozen babies whose mothers don’t appreciate the help, spring snow is merely an inconvenience. It won’t last long, and shoveling it is good exercise.

But still. One can’t help but feel a teeny, tiny bit abandoned when, with suspiciously convenient timing, one’s sweetheart and snow-shoveling partner just happens to be “working” in California during the two early April snowfalls. Just as he was “working” in Nevada during the late March snowfall.

I couldn’t help it. While I was doing my solitary shoveling, my emotions overflowed into song. Here it is, with appreciation and/or apologies to Freddy Fender. (If “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” hasn’t already started up in your brain, you can listen to it here.)

 

After the Last Snowflake Falls

If it brings you happiness while you shovel, then I guess
There’s no reason why you need me there at all.
Do your workout in the snow
While upon the beach I go,
But I’ll be there after the last snowflake falls.

I’ll be there any time the sun shines on the drive
To melt away the snow long before I can arrive.
So if the white stuff makes you blue,
Just remember I love you,
And I’ll be there after the last snowflake falls.

Categories: Just For Fun, Odds and Ends | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

So a Gas Gauge Optimist Walks Into a Service Station . . .

Do you see the tank as half full or half empty?

The gas tank in your car, I mean. This is not a philosophical question; it’s a practical one. Because those happy-go-lucky optimistic drivers who see the tank as half full and those careful pessimistic drivers who see it as half empty are destined to marry one another. Or at least to travel or car pool with one another. It’s car karma.

Here are some signs that you might be a gas gauge optimist:

1. When the idiot light—er, excuse me, the “low fuel indicator light” comes on, your first thought is, “I can drive for 40 more miles on what’s left in the tank.” This thought does not correlate in any way to the actual fuel economy of your vehicle. You think it whether you drive a mini-something that gets 47.3 mpg or a supersized SUV that averages 7.3 mpg.

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Categories: Just For Fun, Travel | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Dusting Off The Family

The family has all been banished from my workspace. No more eyes on my computer screen to know when I’m working and when I’m playing online Scrabble. No more distracting smiles in my direction while I’m sitting in my comfy chair with my pen and notebook. No more hanging around in my office.

The only one left is a single grandchild. For the sake of family harmony, let me hurry to add that this isn’t due to his particular place in my heart. It’s due to his particular place in my office. He’s on the inside wall.

The others, on the outside wall and just around the corner from it, had to go. But truly, it was for their own protection. The siding crew starts work on our house tomorrow, and we certainly don’t want family members bouncing off the walls when the thumping starts.

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Washboard Abs

 

The washboard hanging on the wall of our laundry room is no reproduction, artistically distressed to look pseudo-authentic. It’s just plain old. It’s been used. The wood is unevenly bleached and stained from standing in tubs of hard water laced with harsh soap. At the bottom of the ridged glass surface, the frame is worn away in the middle, no doubt from years of scrubbing dirty overalls.

I even know whose hands must have done that scrubbing. Not my grandmother (one of my sisters has her washboard), but my grandmother’s neighbor and close friend.

But let’s not wander too far into “olden days” stories about my grandmother scrubbing clothes on a washboard for a family of 12. At least by the time my mother was old enough to notice, in the early 1930’s, washboards may have been still used for extra scrubbing, but the bulk of the laundry was done with a washing machine. First they had one with a wringer that was turned by hand—a perfect chore to assign to kids (in rotation, of course). The next one had an agitator and a wringer powered by a small gasoline engine. You can see one like it in action here.

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Categories: Remembering When | Leave a comment

The New Colossus

The New Colossus
By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This, of course, is the poem inscribed on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. It is a stirring, moving testament to the ideal of and belief in the United States as a haven for newcomers. The last few lines are quoted frequently; they come up in almost any discussion of immigration.

Yet today, terrorism and wars and natural disasters are creating not only a crisis of refugees, but also a climate of fear. In that climate, some Americans seem to think Lady Liberty ought to lay down her “torch of world-wide welcome” in favor of laying bricks to build a wall. In that climate, I’m not sure that glibly repeating Emma Lazarus’s words is all that helpful.

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Write This Way

We were traveling, so I almost missed it. Yesterday, January 23, was National Handwriting Day. Given the current trend away from teaching cursive writing in schools, it would be easy to assume this is a new observance, started by concerned calligraphers, Palmer Method purists, and letter-writing grandparents who are afraid their grandkids won’t be able to read anything sent to them except the numbers on their birthday checks.

Nope. National Handwriting Day has been around since 1977. It is observed, not by accident, on the birthday of John Hancock. (You remember him, right? He’s the Founding Father whose elegant, oversized signature is front and center on the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, the story that he said something like, “King George will be able to read that without his spectacles” turns out not to be true. But his name is still used as a synonym for “signature”—as in “Put your John Hancock right here on this line.”)

Appropriately, then, I wrote the first draft of this post with a pen, on the wide-lined notebook paper that I stock up on every fall during back-to-school sales. I can’t say I did so in honor of John Hancock or National Handwriting Day. Nor as some sort of statement in favor of cursive writing. I just prefer to write that way.

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Categories: Odds and Ends, Remembering When, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Yarn Yoda and the Force

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

I don’t know whether my grandson Henry, at age five, can quote Yoda’s advice to Luke Skywalker from The Empire Strikes Back. Chances are he can.

I assume this because long, long ago, in a theatre far, far away, I remember watching Henry’s father watching the original Star Wars movie when he was about a year younger than Henry is now. He didn’t fidget; he didn’t talk; he didn’t get drowsy even though he had just finished a huge Thanksgiving dinner. He sat enraptured through the whole film, meanwhile munching his way steadily through a big bag of popcorn that he should not possibly have had room for.

Here and now, in this galaxy, Star Wars has come around again. This means a whole new universe of toy light sabers, action figures, and other galactic merchandise.

Including Yarn Yoda. Continue reading

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The Perfect Christmas Tree

Because our neck of the woods includes actual woods, it’s a tradition for many people to cut their own Christmas trees. (And where did that expression come from, anyway? Why isn’t it the “head of the woods” or the “heart of the woods” or even the “left elbow of the woods”? According to informed sources, aka Google, this phrase apparently came to be used for a small local area because “neck” was a term for a narrow strip of woods. Which, really, could just as well be called an “elbow.”)

But never mind that. In this part of the world, for a mere ten bucks, you can get a permit from the Forest Service to go out to the Black Hills National Forest and get a tree. This involves finding the perfect tree, cutting it down (unless you’re Paul Bunyan, a tree saw is probably safer than an ax), and hauling it home. (Don’t forget the rope or straps to tie it to the top of the car or secure it in the back of the pickup. Trees have been known to escape.)

These tree-cutting expeditions, of course, are perfect opportunities for spirited family discussions about exactly what constitutes the “perfect” tree. Continue reading

Categories: Family, Living Consciously | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Leaving the Lights On

Even by the standards of an early-morning person like me, 8:30 p.m. isn’t really late. But in the short days of late November, when you’ve just staggered off of an airplane at the end of a day that started 20 hours earlier on a different continent, 8:30 p.m. can feel like the deep, dark middle of a very long night.

But the plane landed promptly, my friends were at the airport to pick me up, and when we turned from the dark street into the dark driveway of what I expected to be our dark house—there was light. My daughter had stopped by to turn up the thermostat, and she had left the porch light on for me. Plus the light inside the entryway, plus a lamp shining warmly through the front window.

The impact of this simple gesture went far beyond the practical kindness of making it easier to lug my bag up the steps and unlock the door. The light allowed me to walk into a warm, bright haven instead of a cold, dark house. It made me feel safe and welcomed me home.

And I was reminded of one of the stories my father told. Continue reading

Categories: Family, Living Consciously | 4 Comments

If Only Miss Muffet Had Known This

A few days before Halloween, eeriness is in the air. Even on NPR. Driving across the state last week, I heard some very scary things.

The most frightening was a “Science Friday” interview with two arachnologists who were terrifyingly enthusiastic about spiders. I had never before heard anyone use “spider” and “adorable” in the same sentence. They were especially excited about the peacock spider, named for the bright colors and pattern on its body, which according to them is not only adorable but is also gorgeous.

Given the season, the interview focused on scarier critters, the black widow and the brown recluse. The scientists were quick to explain that, even though their bites can be dangerous, these spiders are still adorable because they don’t really want to bite you. The reason? Energy conservation. It takes a lot of body energy to create venom, which of course is intended to paralyze prey so the spiders can eat. Efficient little critters that they are, they’d rather save the precious stuff for their next meal than waste it repelling enormous and inedible humans. They will only bite if they believe their lives to be in acute danger.

If you see a brown recluse spider, it probably isn’t. They weren’t named “recluses” because they run around in public. They prefer their privacy and will be happy to leave you alone if you leave them alone. Their brown violin-shaped body markings are also shared by many other harmless spiders, like the wolf spider. You can easily tell the difference, because wolf spiders have spiky little thorns on their legs and brown recluses have fine little hairs. Also, wolf spiders have eight eyes and brown recluses have six eyes, arranged by twos in a tidy symmetrical pattern.

So if you see what you think is a brown recluse spider, there’s no need to panic. All you have to do is sneak up on it until you’re close enough to count its eyes and see the tiny hairs on its legs. About, oh, an inch away from the end of your nose ought to be close enough. Just be careful not to appear threatening, so it won’t bite you.

Actually, all of this information about the harmlessness and general adorability of spiders was quite useful the morning after I heard it. I was about to step into the motel shower when I realized I was sharing the bath mat with a fuzzy brown spider the size of a Shetland pony. Okay, okay, that’s an exaggeration—it was only the size of a Chihuahua. Just with longer legs.

Well, maybe not quite that big. But big enough that, even without my glasses, I could clearly recognize it as a spider. Big enough that I really didn’t want to share my bathroom with it. And definitely big enough that I wasn’t going to stomp on it with my bare foot or whack it with my hairbrush. Besides being a reasonably live-and-let-live kind of person, I didn’t want to deal with the yuck factor of spider innards all over the bath mat.

So arachnicide was not the answer. Instead, I flapped a hand towel at it, herding it out of the bathroom. It disappeared around the corner. Out of sight, out of mind: problem solved. I enjoyed my shower in privacy.

But when I came out of the bathroom, the spider was just a few feet away from the door. Not moving. It was staying camouflaged against the brown carpet while it caught its breath, I decided.

I detoured around it as I went across the room to get dressed. I detoured around it again when I went back to the bathroom to dry my hair. I detoured around it again when I went over to the desk to check my email. I went to breakfast. I came back half an hour later.

The spider was still in the same spot, looking smaller somehow and not at all threatening. Because it was dead. I swear, I never touched it. I never even got close enough to count its eyes.

The arachnologists forgot to mention one thing. Apparently, it’s possible to frighten a spider to death.

Categories: Wild Things | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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