Friday, August 26, 2005

Nelly, Our Garden Friend

Nellie the SpiderWe don't really remember how the black and yellow argiope orb weaver came to be called "Nellie." The Baron thinks it was my son, Joe, who named her when he was a teenager and discovered one in the garden. He used to give her grasshoppers for dinner...perhaps the downside of raising a child without a television.

There is a certain beauty -- distant, thank you -- of this voracious eater of insects. I am always glad to see her arrive and set up shop. In particular, the zipper she uses to sew everything together is most fascinating.

Today I bumped into this one on the north side of the house where the rhodendrons grow. Something has been chewing the leaves at an even greater rate this year so I was happy to have her in residence. I did speak to her about a more muscular work ethic, since it appears that she is quite capable of attracting and trapping rather large prey:

The Golden Orb Weavers build large, semi-permanent orb webs. The strong silk has a golden sheen. These spiders remain in their webs day and night and gain some protection from bird attack by the presence of a 'barrier network' of threads on one or both sides of the orb web. Sometimes their strong webs manage to trap small birds or bats, and the spider will wrap them and feed upon them. Commoner prey items include flies, beetles, locusts, wood moths and cicadas.

Somehow it is comforting to know she is not merely a season's entertainment. Orb spiders often live for twelve months or more:

The female Garden Orb Weaver lays her eggs in late summer to autumn. The eggs are encased in a fluffy silken cocoon and attached to foliage. The lifespan is about twelve months. They mature in summer, mate, lay their eggs, and die in late summer-autumn. Males and females are similar in size. During autumn, the spiderlings disperse by ballooning (floating on the breeze using small silk strands as "balloons"), and build their own tiny orb webs among vegetation.

How does she mate? I'm glad you asked. There doesn't appear to be any of that unladylike biting-the-heads-off-of-husbands that plague the behavior of lesser spiders:

In the Golden Orb Weaver group, it is common for a number of tiny (6 mm) males to live around the edges of a female's web, waiting for a mating opportunity. After mating, the female Golden Orb Weaver wraps her single egg sac in a mass of golden silk, which is then hidden on foliage away from the web, disguised within a curled leaf or sprig of twigs.

It all sounds rather well-organized and cozy. Meanwhile, I hope Nellie will polish off whatever it is that is feasting on my rhododenrons. Otherwise I shall have to make a mixture of chewing tobacco and cayenne sludge and coat the leaves -- especially next year's blossoms.

Death by Nellie would be nicer.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Coffee in My Favorite Cup

I live a privileged life. When the Baron is home, he brings me coffee in the morning, opens the curtains so I may see the Heavenly Blue morning glories, and gives me the cream of his morning reading. Sometimes it is Mark Steyn, sometimes Charles Krauthammer or Thomas Sowell. But mostly, it's James Lileks because the Baron believes one ought to start the morning with caffeine and a well-turned, curmudgeonly phrase. Aside from saying one's prayers, he's right: Mr. Lileks is a wonderful way to start the day.

The Baron first ran across one of Lilek's books -- I remember the title had something about a "nervous man" -- years ago in a little wayside junkshop on the road to nowhere here in the Back of Beyond. He came home with it, pleased at finding a new writer of quality and chortling at Lilek's 'take' on things. No wonder, since it was very much his own curmudgeonly world view, though said with more acerbity. The Baron is not acerb.

So. Here it was Monday morning. The Baron's Boy had been delivered back to school the day before. I would say that "thus the house was strangely quiet," but in our round relay, most days I would have, in turn, delivered coffee and Lileks to the Baron's Boy after arising myself. Like his mother, the BB does not really believe in mornings, even in the face of evidence like the presence of his body at 8:30 classes. Thus not hearing him stirring did not yet make me realize he was Back At School and would not be in need of coffee now. Amend that: not in need of coffee delivered by his ancestors.

At any rate, my motherly intuition, which works overtime (though the Baron had mother's ears. He's the one who hears them come in at night), could feel the absence of the Boy. And the wee one, Liam, was now safely recovering from his trip back to the hospital for jaundice (they put him under lights and made him wear tiny sunglasses), so I wasn't needed there for the moment. These events -- or their cessation -- left me feeling rather...Septemberly. As though the leaves might have curled and fallen while I had my back turned.

Sure enough, when I stepped outside to let in the cat, there was a cooler, drier, most un-August stirring in the wisteria. All those humid mornings were suddenly past. It was startling enough to call the Baron out to witness the change. We were both silent and respectful witnesses to the sudden and unpredicted passing of the Worst of August.

Then I sat with my coffee in the old metal shellback chair, the one I'd let the wisteria grow over in hopes of taking a picture of the Baron's Boy with voracious green curlicues growing all over him and whatever book he was reading. Somehow the summer flitted by and the picture never got taken. So I pushed the carnivorous vines aside and sat on the cool metal chair to drink latte and read James Lileks. A small piece of paradise.

No wonder the Baron calls this place Eden.

The beginning of Lileks' essay is reminiscent of Billy Collins. So I took liberties with both of them and created this pastiche/homage with Lileks' words mostly verbatim (not quite close enough for government work, but there are poetic licenses to be given out here):

"I’m not ready for summer to leave."
Whenever you say that…suspect it’s already on the way out.
Summer doesn’t leave like a dinner guest.
It never folds its napkin, declines the last cup of coffee.
It never pushes its chair back or jokes about the time.
It doesn’t linger at the door,
Nor does it wave as it heads down the stairs.


Summer is the tall pretty woman at the party
The one who was here before but isn’t here now.
You look up, look around; she was over there,
Talking to the tall dark man just a moment ago.
Or ten minutes. Whatever. She's gone.
It’s a great party; you don’t notice.
But an hour later there’s a hole in the room.
They changed the music; dissipated the momentum,
Re-tuned the rhythm.

Summer never says goodbye, tra la.
You say goodbye to it. You decide when
It ends — your appraisal of the five o’clock sun,
Perhaps the faint chill at sunset,
The leaves that spatter the lawn in surprise.

These things mean nothing.
In a week the noon sun will boil you dry,
The night will be humid again.
Summer will feel eternal.

If you'd like to see the original go here. You will also get to ponder the pleasures of collecting things, which I must take on faith is a pleasant occupation. For me, *things* are to be given away, used up, done without.

I was born too late. Or perhaps it is merely that my European mother's lack of irony and her Depression-era upbringing has left me with ghosts scratching their heads in puzzlement over Mr. Lileks' appreciation of minute moments of mid-20th century drek. He has a strange nostalgia for a time he didn't live in. Some people have that same sense regarding the Civil War. Thus they keep Confederate banknotes in the top drawer just to have on hand. Personally, I am so moved by things medieval, but one doesn't find them in junque shops or someone's basement. Not on this continent.

Meanwhile, I must hope that Mr. Lileks and Mr. Collins consider my pastiche the compliment it was intended to be. If Lileks had moved a bit less in his intra-uterine life, he too might have been the Poet Laureate. But that would've been our loss.

Monday, August 15, 2005

True Love

The Baron and his Boy are away for a few days before the latter goes back to school. Moi, having been to the hospital to see brand new Liam, seem to have come down with a bit of a bug. So my plans to "help out" now that mum and baby are home will have to wait. I adduce the bug is hospital-influenced since Liam's big sister, Geneva, also had this ailment. I hope mine goes away as quickly as hers has.

Liam was a month premature, though from the picture he doesn't look it, does he? They don't make preemies like they used to. He had to stay in NICU (neonatal intensive care) for a few days to get his lungs going well and to watch for jaundice. Seems the latter is common: eighty percent of preemies have it and sixty percent of full term babies, also. According to some statistics from Canada, it's the most common reason for re-admission for babies in the first week following discharge.

Don't you love Google? I found a great site for post-graduate med studies on the first hit. Told me more than you want to know about the subject. So I'll spare you. Let's just say the information I got was straightforward and put my mind at ease. In five minutes I had the cause, its frequency, treatment, and possible complications. If Google was human, I'd buy it a glass of wine.

What is compelling about the picture is not so much Liam Joseph -- let's face it, like most babies he resembles Winston Churchill without the cigar. No, what draws me into this scene is the utter focus of his momma. She's in pain during that photo but you'd never know it. As my son holds him up so she can really look at her brand new child, J's focus is utter and complete. She is memorizing her baby viscerally. To me, the photo is made more poignant by the knowledge that immediately after the picture was taken, Liam was brought down to NICU and J fell instantly into the drugged sleep that follows a c-section.

When I worked for a woman who trained child psychiatrists how to observe infant child interactions, these are the kinds of pictures she would use. Oh, plus Mary Cassat's paintings, of course. The mother of an infant is in the most intense mode of minute observing and responding to her baby. When it works right, you can even feel it through a mere photograph. As this composition illustrates.

A modern Madonna...don't you wonder if the Renaissance Italian painters would've included all the machinery? I think they would have.

Meanwhile, mum and bambino are home now. All the dangling lines have been removed from both of them and they are settling into the first week of the rest of their life together.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

"The Gift of Fear"

Over at The Glittering Eye, there's a discussion on women and self-defence. The author has solid credentials,including some years teaching self-defence classes. The title of his post, "The Best Weapon is a Trained Mind," is absolutely spot on. While it would be nice to be armed to the teeth or never venture forth at night, etc, that's no way to live:

I think that it doesn’t matter a great deal if you’re empty-handed or whether you go out with a machete in one hand and a howitzer in the other. The only genuine weapon is the mind. Armies train for reasons and among those reasons is that it takes training to overcome the reflexes and inhibitions that prevent effective response to attack. Regardless of how determined you may be when fighting actually starts without serious training it’s pretty likely you’ll just freeze.

The most effective form of self-defense is recognizing dangerous situations and avoiding them.
Some years ago Gavin de Becker wrote The Gift of Fear. If you have young women in your life, buy it for them. Even if you don't get it for yourself since he discusses public dangers and corporate problems when it comes to firing unstable individuals. We think of it now as "going postal." A wonderfully brief summation of a business environment headed for lethal outcomes. The book was written before Columbine, but I wonder what he would have to say about the situation there and how the school community might have seen it coming. We live in an age of non-association and in some ways --both direct and indirect -- it is killing us.

I've given the book away several times. I urge you to get a copy. Learn the life-enchancing value of having a well-developed intuitive faculty. Ignorance ceased to be bliss when the first city was erected.

Here's a comment from one viewer on Amazon:

Panic and anxiety are not useful emotions; fear is different. Fear is what compels us to take action if there is a clear and present danger; it's what allows us to see what's happening and respond appropriately. It's an emotion that should be nurtured instead of conquered. We don't want our kids to grow up afraid of the boogeyman, scared to go out of their homes or try new things or meet new people. De becker teaches us that, instead, if we develop and learn to trust our intuition, we can free ourselves from that trap, just as we can react positively if we are ever in a position that requires immediate escape.

He shows, with examples and self-reflective exercises, what to ask yourself, and what to do, if you have a "gut feeling" that tells you something is wrong.

Parents, children and women especially need this skill.

It's great to learn self-defense, to build your confidence in what you can physically do to protect yourself. But that ability is enhanced by the lessons in this book. And sometimes, being a black-belt is irrelevent to dangers that are out there.
Yes, fear is indeed a gift, but as de Becker says, quit watching the TV news. All it will do is make you fearful and anxious. Those are not strengths, but fear is.

Buy the book.

Update: There is a bizzare and truly gruesome tale of treachery involving the vulnerability of women on Brussels Journal. A journalist employed by Le Soir, Belgium's leading newspaper, is a wanted man.

It seems he spent his spare time hitting on Morrocan women, bedding them and making promises he would help free them from various oppressive situations. He would have the women pose nude for his camera and then post the photos on his website before disappearing from their lives. Eventually one husband discovered his wife's picture and the whole sewer began to overflow. Women have been arrested and convicted. Some have committed suicide in prison, some are missing, presumed to have been killed by their families, others are still being hunted. One husband is reported to have gone insane.
The story is vile on all sides, but save your special venom for the Belgian state. They refuse to hand him over to Moroccan authorities because his sexual predation is not a criminal offense. However, he may do jail time in Belgium for making disparaging remarks about the "stupid" women. Those put-downs are a hate crime, but the ruin of more than forty women? Nah. Not worth more than a Belgian shrug.

Europe grows more loathsome with each passing day. Meanwhile, it is up to women to learn to use their intuition. See de Becker's book. Maybe he could write an Islamic version?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

It's a Good Day for Singing a Song

Today is full of unexpectations. Liam Joseph is on his way here, a day early. He is my new grandson, planned for August 12th, but obviously couldn't handle the wait. I must say, I like his style. A day early and a dollar long.

I am looking forward to the task he has set for his father. This morning it was a scramble to find a sitter in order to leave for the hospital. Who knows what the future holds? Bill, at Bill's Comments, would approve. Kid is getting his licks in early.

In celebration of the event here is a story lifted from Norm's Blog. It warmed my heart. Here is the story of fallness and redemption through love and fidelity.
Saying the Right Thing

Marty wakes up at home with a huge hangover. He forces himself to open his eyes, and the first thing he sees is a couple of aspirins and a glass of water on the side table. He sits down and sees his clothing in front of him, all clean and pressed. Marty looks around the room and sees that it is in perfect order, spotless, clean. So is the rest of the house. He takes the aspirins and notices a note on the table:

Honey, breakfast is on the stove, I left early to go shopping. Love you.
So he goes to the kitchen and sure enough there is a hot breakfast and the morning newspaper. His son is also at the table, eating. Marty asks, 'Son, what happened last night?' His son says, 'Well, you came home after 3 AM, drunk and delirious. Broke some furniture, puked in the hallway, and gave yourself a black eye when you stumbled into the door.'

Confused, Marty asks, 'So, why is everything in order and so clean, and breakfast is on the table waiting for me?' His son replies:

Oh that! Mom dragged you to the bedroom, and when she tried to take your pants off, you said, 'Lady, leave me alone, I'm married!'

Great story, no? Only I'd have called it "Fidelity" -- or summat similar.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Unconscious Mutterings

This is an interesting game for a writer. Or at least a writer who doesn't have to shovel this stuff during the week with her/his patients. LunaNina has had this challenge up for quite a while. This group of ten words is labelled "Week 131." Fortunately, it wouldn't appear to be a handi-cap starting so late in such an exercise:

Free association is described as a "psychonanalytic procedure in which a person is encouraged to give free rein to his or her thoughts and feelings, verbalizing whatever comes into the mind without monitoring its content." Over time, this technique is supposed to help bring forth repressed thoughts and feelings that the person can then work through to gain a better sense of self.

That's an admirable goal, but for the purposes of this excercise, we're just hoping to have a little fun with the technique. Each week I'll post ten words to which you can respond to with the first thing that comes to mind.

"Rules are, there are no rules." There are no right or wrong answers. Don't limit yourself to one word responses; just say everything that pops into your head. AND you don't have to have your words up on Sunday. Take all week if you want!
So here's the first group.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Week 131

I say ... and you think ... ?

  1. Complexion:: change.
    As in "well, that changes the whole complexion of things, doesn't it, Watson?"

  2. Teach::Learn
    Also "listen" and "lead"...

  3. Back to school:: Beginnings.
    New shoes. The smell of floor polish. Echoes in the gym. Being so hungry at lunch. Orderly notebooks and sharp pencils. The distant sound of band practice across the field. New books to read ahead and be bored when they're done.

  4. Months:: Late.
    As in "'s been months since I reconciled the checkbook." But when I was younger it was "oops, I'm two months late..."

  5. Nominate:: The Watcher of Weasels Council.
    Hard choices.

  6. Favorite curse word:: Lordy!
    "I swan" is pretty good, too. "Sacre bleu" would be good except I can't get the 'r' right.

  7. Concerned:: parents of teenagers.
    Constant mode of being for anyone parenting a whacko adolescent (and they're all whacko).

  8. Better:: Butter is.
    I loathe and detest margarine. Always did, even when I was poor.

  9. Escalate:: Up the ante.
    And then some.

  10. Unveil:: Don't.
    Cover it back up. Thanks.
That was...ummm...interesting. It's probably an accumulative process. Correct procedure requires a button to link to her blog. I may do that.

One of my favorite writing exercises is to write for ten minutes using words of only one syllable. It's not easy. For example, can you think of a one syllable word for "easy"? I use "not hard." In other words, you can cheat a bit by being indirect.
The good thing about this exercise is that when it's over you're quite focused for awhile. It's almost like meditation.

Another favorite: write a letter, note, email, or just a meditation without using any first person references. See if the recipient even notices. Sometimes it flows very smoothly and seems natural to the reader, but not always. There are cases when it becomes awkward. Still, doesn't it remind you of John the Baptist's saying about "He must increase..."? It resonates.

The paragraph just above this one followed that rule (so will this one) about the use of first person references. It was fun, too. In the beginning -- back some years ago now -- it was a struggle to omit the self from everything...which is understandable considering that Self is the center of the universe...what do you mean, you're the center? No way, Jose. Anyone can tell you: it's rightchere.

Try it sometime.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Sudden Weather

Ah, blessed rain. After weeks of a morning routine that included hand-watering of the shrubs and trees planted this Spring, the rains have come. The crepe myrtle and redbud and curly willows drank deeply these past two nights.

I was beginning to wonder. The Baron noted last weekend on his trip to Morgantown that there had been no rain during the stretch over the mountains; a most unusual phenomenon that didn’t portend well for us further east of the Appalachians.

So this past week continued dry. The grass crunched under my feet and the flowers drooped in the noonday heat. Even the morning glories cut back on their blooming. Whatever the Japanese beetles hadn’t turned to lace — large sections of the grape vines and many high branches on the apple trees — was becoming sere and withered in the unremitting dry southern summer. Water evaporated so quickly that one of the morning chores had been to clean and fill the bird bath. Even the shaded figs were beginning to lose their unripe fruit while the grapes refused to grow past the size they’d reached weeks ago.

And then…sturm and drang. A lovely, wondrous storm complete with window rattling thunder and sheets or rain blowing against the windows. The lights flickered and died, the clocks flashed. For once the flashlight was were it belonged and by the time we’d gotten out the candles and matches, the electricity returned. The storm wailed on and on, continuing its drama well past bedtime.

But that’s not a complaint, Mother Nature! I loved the sound of the rain on the tin roof over the bedroom. And the dahlias and zinnias and pink coreopsis and boltonia and astilbe and balsam and daisies and snapdragons all sing your praise. The nasturtiums, however, asked me to let you know your gift arrived too late for them, but never mind. The basil said you’re on probation. But not I, Mother M, no complaints here. Like the roses, I thank you from the bottom of my green, green heart.

One quote I repeat often (and repetition is a privilege of age, one of the best prerequisites of accumulating time) is from Isaak Dinesen. She said that there are three times it is possible to know happiness: the first is the cessation of pain, the second is when you bring an excess of energy to whatever task is at hand, and the third is when you know absolutely that you are doing the will of God. I’ve only ever experienced the first two, though it’s quite possible that marrying the Baron fell into the third category. For both of us. The cessation of one of summer’s long dry interludes most certainly belongs to the first category, particularly if you’re a gardener.

Life never seems so sweet as it does when, after a long parched spell, the water gauge in the garden reads 2.6 inches. That is the essence of pleasure. Or one of them.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Today is My Former Husband's Birthday

This date always puts me in a mood. Sometimes to celebrate, sometimes to ask myself, "whatever were you thinking, woman?"

In honor of the occasion, here are two jokes. The first one was carried home recently from work by The Baron:

Q: Why is divorce so expensive?

A: Because it is worth it.
Oh, it is. It so very much is. Of course it leaves your children in tatters. But no one tells you that; and sometimes it's a question of tatters there or tatters here.

But it's over. Thank you, Lord. Please put that on my Gratitude List for today.

The second joke is from Joe Katzman:

In Jerusalem, a female CNN journalist hears about a very old Jewish man who has been going to the Wailing Wall to pray twice a day, everyday, for a long, long time. So she goes to check it out. She goes to the Wailing Wall, and, sure enough, there he is! She watches him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turns to leave, she approaches him for an interview.

"I'm Rebecca Smith from CNN. Sir, how long have you been coming here to pray at the Wailing Wall?"

-- "Almost 40 years. Twice per day, every day."

"40 years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?"

-- "I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews, and Muslims. I pray for all the hatred to stop. I pray for all our children to grow up in safety and friendship."

"And how do you feel after doing this for 40 years?"

-- "It's like I'm talking to a frickin' wall!
Now that's a joke I would enjoy telling my former mother-in-law. What with her being an old and ailing agnostic, Rose likes opportunities to laugh. Unfortunately one of the family "secrets" is that her father, Grandpa Jake, was a German Jew who married an Irish Catholic and 'converted.'

Ha. In a pig's eye he did. Grandpa Jake just decided to marry that pretty Irish girl and so he did whatever it was they told him to do in order to have her. South Boston, being the anti-Semitic bastion of Irish ignorance that it was back then made it even more politic for Grandpa to 'pass' -- and so he did. And so his children were instructed to tell no one; being obedient, they kept the family faith. In the end what happened was that all the children's children knew anyway because people always tell those things. But that original generation, my mother-in-law and her sibs, never knew that we all knew and were rather admiring of the fact. The rest of us were so boringly Irish that Grandpa's genes provided some badly needed balance.

Which brings me to my third and longest favorite joke. When Richard Pryor was first starting out, just barely on Ed Sullivan, he told this one:

Q: What happens when you eat Chinese and German food together?

A: An hour later, you're hungry for power.
Enjoy this expensive day. I certainly will for the Baron's Boy beautiful friend, Maria, is coming to visit. At the very least I will clean up the slatternly Irish house in her honor. I think she's of Austrian extraction, but I'm not sure.

The gene pool continues its incredible American experiment.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

July Now and Then

July didn't fade this year. Roasted to a turn, it was consumed by the heat and is no more. Only the ashes remain in the air. It may have taken whatever rain existed with it. The sky is unflinchingly clear.

This afternoon, out collecting my cursed allottment of Japanese beetles, I heard thunder to the south. It rumbled on and on as if proceeding down a rutted track. The smallest, almost imperceptible freshening breeze fluttered the leaves and the Japanese beetle bags. In twenty minutes the ghost and the thunder had moved on, just one more broken promise.

The weather remains hot and dry. The Christmas tree, a Virginia pine, has quit growing. The forest pansy redbud, planted last month, can be reached by hose so it's not dependent on anything but my remembering to give it water. Grateful for the deep wetness it has straightened some from its bent pose.

Not all Julys are the same. This one reminded me of the drought of several years ago. But it didn't start out that way. It began benignly, as though June were going to hang around forever. And June, also somewhat retarded, hung onto the pansies longer than any year I remember. Except for 1996. Now that was a July to hang on to. So I did:

In the height of this year’s July
The deep green remains unfrayed.
Random thunderstorms and the west edge
Of an early hurricane
Have kept the ground soft,
the green deep,
the shade dark.

The laze of August, when the morning sun
Is orange and every leaf suffers from age,
Has yet to arrive. June stays on and on,
Benign and welcome still.

On the Fourth, the cool air made
Flannel weather of the fireworks.
Everyone was cold; the bright sky
Flowers seemed out of place and time
In the unaccustomed chill.

Mid-month, the corn is high,
Queen Anne’s lace higher still,
As tall as a woman in places,
With generous filigreed parasols
To shade the dense blue of chicory
And the yarrow, yet to fade.

Tree of heaven fringes the road
Uncurtained by haze
The blossoms burnish as they age
While, with unreason, oaks cling
To their cicada-killed tips
As brown as any December,
And out of place against the green
Backdrop of a strange season.

July 17, 1996

Oh the years come and the years go. The oaks remain. It's entertaining to look at things you know will outlast you. Keeps it all in perspective.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Zucchini Lessons

e-claire has a great recipe for pineapple zucchini bread. She says she put it up on her site because "realsoonnow, people will begin to break into cars to leave bags of zucchini."

Yes. Even people you would normally consider friends will soon begin pestering you with zukes the size of baseball bats. In our case, old Mr. Baber didn't break into my car exactly, but he certainly practiced extortion every August.

Old man Baber owned some property on the James River a few miles down from here. At one time all the locals used his spot for fishing and swimming or putting out their boats, and sometimes for picnics if the grass under the river maples and sycamores had been mowed. Old Mr. B. patrolled his grounds pretty regularly, looking for litter and sniffing for the smell of smoking weed drifting down from the kids lurking in the trees. He couldn't hear much but that man had a nose like a beagle.

August was a particularly sweet time to go there. The James would be low and warm, but the Rockfish, coming down from the mountains, joined the James right there so you could feel its cold veins running through if you ventured out to where they joined. Sometimes groups of people on inner tubes floated by on their way downriver to Scottsville.

Getting down to the beach could be a problem, depending on if you had to run Mr. Baber's gauntlet. And in August that meant if you wanted to swim, you'd better take the bulky grocery bag he'd whip out when he saw you coming. It was one of those times when you could honestly say that a bag of zukes was a day at the beach 'cause at old man Baber's beach that is exactly what it was. Fifteen pounds of swinging zucchini in exchange for a swim.

Life is just chock full of lessons, isn't it? In this one, you get to learn what to do with fifteen pounds of dark green, very large zucchini. Besides throw them in the dumpster, which is what some of Mr. Baber's victims did. However, I figured my karma already had enough dings in it without deliberately and with aforethought adding any further blemishes. So I devised zuke mash, thus saving my soul and making the world a slightly better place. Can't ask for much more than that from a bag of vegetables.

Here's the drill: Zucchini Mash is simply filler. A glop you use can add to recipes where the ingredients aren't precise so what goes in doesn't matter and picky eaters can't tell it's there. Zucchini has the merit of being a basic nothingness. It's where all the spaces between things are stored. So you could put it in meatloaf, casseroles, pancakes, stuffed cabbage, etc., and no one would ever know.

Zuke mash can be made in huge batches and then frozen in quart-size plastic bags; it keeps in the freezer for a looong time. In fact a friend of mine uses it in crabcakes but I won't tell who because her husband loves her crabcakes and he loathes zucchini, which everyone in the family knows well. Why spoil a good marriage?


Grate however many zukes you're stuck with, or until your arm gets tired. Use about five pounds minimum to make it worth your while.
Heat up some olive oil (maybe a T. or so) on medium. Use a largish pan.
Add the zukes and stir and cook for about 5 minutes or so until it's all limp.
Dump the cooked stuff into a colander and let it drain a bit -- or let it drain a lot if you're busy.
Get out a large clean bath towel.
Squish as much liquid as you can out of the zuke mash with your hands.
Put the mash into the towel and wring it real good. Two people do a better job, but one person will work. It's just like most things, working by yourself takes longer.
Fill freezer bags with the mash and stack them flattened out in the back of the freezer. Don't make the mistake of truth-in-labeling if a zucchini-hater lives with you.

It sounds complicated, but the only annoying part is the grating. You could probably do that more easily with a Cuisinart, if it has a fine blade for coleslaw.

There you have the perfect solution for using up zucchini. It's easier than hiding from everyone the whole month long.