wordsfromanneli

Thoughts, ideas, photos, and stories.


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Spider Hideouts

Spider Hideouts

With all the bad weather we’re having, I took a mental trip back to sunnier days when we were in Mexico for the winter about twenty years ago.

Camped at Chacala, 360 kms south of Mazatlan, we often bought our fruit and vegetables from the produce truck.  One day, I lugged home three big bags of fresh vegetables.

“Coming to the beach?” the Captain asked.

“You go ahead. I’ll be down right after I clean these veggies,” I grumbled, slapping at the tiny biting flies. I soon gave up trying to work at the table I had set up outside and brought the vegetables into the bug-free trailer to clean in my little kitchenette.

Done at last! Now for the beach and a cool swim. I hurried outside to bring in my bathing suit from the clothesline we had strung between two coconut palms. I was about to step into it, when I let out a shriek. A furry eight-legged critter about the size of a wolf spider was eyeing me from inside the bathing suit bra.

Anyone passing by must have gawked at the bathing suit flying out the doorway.

I was late getting to the beach that day, and although the water was refreshing, I couldn’t relax. Other swimmers must have wondered at the woman who kept pulling away the top of her bathing suit to look at her boobs.

That evening, we sat at the kitchen table in the trailer, playing cards and relaxing with an Oso Negro gin and peach juice. I tidied up the last few things before getting into bed.

The Captain had just finished brushing his teeth and as he came out of the bathroom he heard me GASP! His eyes followed my arm as I pointed to the corner of the trailer. There, clinging to the ceiling, sat the biggest spider I’d ever seen. The hairy dark brown visitor had a body the size of my thumb, and his legs could easily straddle a saucer. If I had been a screamer they would have heard me all the way to Mazatlan.

“And I’ve been sitting there playing cards all evening with that thing poised right above my head,” I wailed.

I handed the Captain the fly swatter, and, in a shaky voice, told him, “If it gets away, I’m not sleeping in here tonight and I’ll be on the plane tomorrow.”

“It must have come in with the vegetables,” he said, as he tossed its crumpled body outside.

And where had it been while I sat there cleaning them? I wondered. Hiding in the cauliflower leaves? How close had I come to touching it? Shivers ran down my back.

It seems spider experiences run in three’s.

The next day we visited an open air market in a nearby town. I admired the handmade wooden cutting boards and picked one up to study the grain. Something ran over my hand. I threw the board into the air and squealed, “Una araña!” The vendor laughed and seemed unperturbed as I pointed to the gigantic spider running in his direction.

I was having serious thoughts of home. But imagine missing all this fun.


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Being Thankful

What do we have to be thankful for?

That depends on your perspective. We need food, water, shelter, and enough warmth for comfort. To varying degrees most of us have that and we are grateful for it.

But it is all secondary, if we don’t have our health. For those who are not in good health at this time, we can be thankful to live in the days of modern medicine for making our illnesses bearable. Without modern inventions and medical discoveries, many of us would not even have made it to adulthood. The smallest infection might have killed us in the days before penicillin, and appendicitis would have claimed countless lives before the days of operations and anaesthetics. Childhood diseases would have taken their toll.

This year’s Thanksgiving may be bittersweet. Actually, forget the sweet part – it will be bitter for those who have lost loved ones, many of them to Covid. But we have to muster a positive attitude and continue to strive to beat this virus.

This is one of the hardest times for some of my generation. We missed the World Wars and most of us were not affected greatly by the smaller wars that followed. We have lived fairly free of world scale disasters … until now.

At first everyone was extra careful about social distancing and wearing masks, using hand sanitizers and washing hands, but I see all around me that people are giving in. They are tired of being careful, tired of being isolated. But, as in any battle, if you stop fighting before it’s truly won, the backlash can be devastating.

We are almost there in the push to beat back the virus, so I hope that people will not become too cavalier about relaxing their precautions until we are clear of this pandemic. Take care, especially at times of celebration, like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

One day soon this ugly virus will be eradicated, and we will truly have something to be thankful for.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, America, and take care to stay healthy.


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Blue Moon on Halloween

No, the moon is not blue. More like blurry, because of the clouds. But it is called a blue moon (and many other names) when a full moon happens twice in one month. The moon would have to be full on the first and the thirty-first of a month, and that would make it a relatively rare occurrence.

This time, it happens to be on October 31st, Halloween.

Halloween will be different this year because of the ongoing threat of the coronavirus. Trick-or-treating is being discouraged, and to be honest, I don’t want the munchkins coming to my door, no matter how sweet their costumes are. I don’t want to be picking up the virus at the door and then passing it on to my elderly family members.

The kids can have fun in other ways, just this once, until we get the virus under control. I know that missing out on trick-or-treating is survivable because I’ve done it.

So here is my story.

When I was very young, we lived in Germany. On All Saints’ Eve (what we call Hallowed Eve – or Halloween here in North America), my mother took me by the hand and we visited the town cemetery. My grandfather, who had died of cancer at the young age of 75, was buried there. I loved my grandfather and he loved me, so there was nothing spooky about going to visit his resting place. Several other village people were also visiting the graves of loved ones, and most brought candles in coloured glass containers to place on the graves. The cemetery was neat and well kept up. With the many lights glowing on the graves, the whole place was peaceful. I remember feeling close to my beloved grandfather and in awe of the pretty lights. The hushed conversation of other visitors showed their respect for their lost loved ones.

We came to Canada soon after that, when I was six years old. The following year, on Halloween, I heard about all the kids going out trick-or-treating. This would be fun! But my enthusiasm had cold water thrown on it when my mother laid down the law and said, “No child of mine is going door to door begging for candy.”

“But it’s not like that,” I whined. No amount of fussing would change her mind. For the next four years she stuck to her guns and our family became the weird ones that didn’t believe in Halloween.

By the time I was 11, she relented. She was beginning to understand that it wasn’t about begging. My younger brother and I were allowed to go out to a few houses on the block to trick-or-treat.

On the afternoon of the 31st, the radio told of a severe windstorm that was due to hit at six p.m. We didn’t really believe it. Not a breath of wind. We put on our costumes and got our goodie bags ready. As we tried to go out the door at six o’clock, we wondered why it wouldn’t open. We pushed against it and had to get our mother to help. As soon as she opened the door, it ripped out of her hand and slammed against the side of the house. The big windstorm had hit us at exactly 6 p.m. My mother yanked us back inside lest we might blow away, and pronounced, “You can’t go out in this. It’s too dangerous.”

Fast forward to the next Halloween when I was 12. I had grown into a tall skinny girl, but inside that gangly body lived a child who had yet to experience trick-or-treating. We trooped out with our goodie bags, anticipation ratcheted up into high gear. At the first house, we called “Trick or treat.” The owner came to the door and said to me, “Getting a bit old to be doing this, aren’t you? It’s supposed to be for little kids.”

I was glad I had a mask on so he couldn’t see me fighting not to cry.

I never went trick-or-treating again, and I suppose I have a warped idea of what Halloween is about. When I see scary spiders, monsters, ghosts and vampires flitting around neglected cemeteries, it is not something I find easy to relate to. My grandfather’s cemetery was clean and cared for. It had a manicured hedge and clean gravel paths between well-tended graves. It was not a scary thing to visit him. The North American version of Halloween jarred when I compared it to my first experiences of All Saints’ Eve.

Still, customs vary, and I’ve learned to accept that Halloween is not all bad. Most people love it and they are not easily scared by the horror they conjure up to celebrate this holiday.

I don’t like horror shows. They give me nightmares. I’m a wimp. I don’t begrudge others having fun, but I find it hard to get into the creepy spirit.

A tame Halloween is fine for me. Give me the pumpkin pie and a taste of that chocolate bar from the goodie bag, but keep the spiders away from me.

If you’d like to see posts on copy-editing horrors, please visit my other blog.


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Yule Love Yule Logs

This is a very Christmassy recipe, but it’s good any time of the year.

Simple to make: all the ingredients are in the picture below. No baking powder or baking soda or salt. Just butter, sugar, flour and an egg, vanilla, dates and nuts (you can do without the nuts if you have an allergy). Recipe is at the end of this post.

You can see that I’ve chopped the dates (except for one to show you) and the pecans (you can use walnuts if you prefer them).

Mix the butter and sugar, add an egg and mix again, add the vanilla and then the flour. You’ll get a gooey batter. Add the nuts and dates.

Drop by spoonfuls, a couple at a time, into a bowl with shredded coconut, and to avoid getting batter all over your fingers, take a big pinch of coconut and push the batter off the spoon with it. Then coat the batter over and over  in the coconut, pressing lots of coconut into the batter as you shape it into a roll (a yule log).

Place the logs on a greased cookie sheet and bake them at 350 for 15 minutes.

They should be golden brown when they’re done.

Now all you need is a cup of something to go with the logs.

I copied my mother-in-law’s recipe years ago. She used walnuts, but I like pecans too, so sometimes I substitute.

Easy recipe. Enjoy!


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Turkey, not the Country

Meet my friend, Meleagris gallopavo merriami (Merriam’s turkey).

When guinea fowls were brought from Africa to Europe, they were thought to have come through Turkey (the country), so they were named “turkey.”

Later when Europeans came to North America, they saw a local bird that looked liked their guinea fowl (which they had called a turkey), so they called this bird a turkey. There is no real connection between the bird and the country.

The native people of eastern North America hunted and ate turkeys, and this is how that bird came to be associated with “what was for dinner” at the first American Thanksgiving feast.

Turkey must have made quite an impression on the pioneers, since it became a traditional component of the Thanksgiving dinners that followed every year since then.

By the way, if you can’t remember when American Thanksgiving is: it’s always the fourth Thursday in November.

Happy Thanksgiving, America. We have a lot to be thankful for.


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Scary Movies

Just in time for Halloween, I wanted to tell you about a movie I saw way, way back in another century, when I was a little girl. The idea of The Monolith Monsters was so scary for me that I have remembered that movie all these years. The basic plot was simple: Meteors struck the earth and when they came in contact with water, these “rocks” grew and grew until they were like giant skyscrapers that finally “lost their balance” and fell down, smashing anything in front of them and breaking into many smaller pieces of rock which then began to grow again into more skyscraper rocks, which again came crashing down.

So the rocky skyscrapers advanced, coming closer and closer to the big cities where people would certainly die from being smashed by the rocks.

When we traveled to Montana and back, we saw towers that carry high voltage power lines. They reminded me of some monstrous beings. Don’t they look like they will start walking to wherever they feel like going … carrying enough voltage to zap their way through any place they want to go? If I had more imagination I’d write a horror story about them, but even if I could, I think it I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I’m a coward when it comes to horror shows or stories. I just can’t watch them  or read or write them without having nightmares for years afterwards.

And it’s not like there is only one of these monsters. They are everywhere.

They have joined together for a more dramatic effect.

Yikes!! I’m scared. Will I be able to sleep tonight???

Oh — and the Monolith Monsters…. Do you know how they were stopped?

Some smart scientist discovered that salt stops them from growing, so it was just a matter of getting truckloads of salt to pour onto them. Whew! Just in the nick of time too!!

If you happen to know of a horror story or movie that features the power towers, please let me know. I feel as if there is a story out there about them but I can’t remember it.

Meanwhile, be careful out there. Halloween is coming.


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Winter’s Frosty Breath

It’s only October, but this farm scene would make a perfect Christmas card.

The shrubs in the distance have a frosting on them that is making the little ground squirrels living under them shiver.

Here is plenty of fuel to keep someone warm – someone far away, wherever this train is going.

The clumps of sagebrush and other grasses have been coated by winter’s frosty breath, giving them a designer look.

Did you ever mix up powdered laundry soap and water with an egg-beater and then dab the “snow” you made onto your Christmas tree? Then the decorations would be hung once the soapy snow had dried. These trees reminded me of doing that as a child. (I apologize for mentioning Christmas so early.)

The wintery air brings out the elves

They wait for dark or fog

So they can better hide themselves

Behind a nearby log.

The head elf orders laundry soap

The powdered kind is best

They spit in it and then they hope

That this will pass the test.

The soapy snow must be so thick

That it won’t dribble down

It must be right so it will stick

And give the tree its gown.

With sagey brush, like tiny brooms

They paint each branch with snow

The night is short, a new day looms

And all the elves must go.

If I’d been passing by last night

I’m sure I would have seen

But I’d have given them a fright

And I can’t be that mean.

And so I’ll just admire their trees

That look so pure and white

The elves are happy when they please

And know they’ve done it right.


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Giving Up – Part 5

There comes a point when, no matter how badly you want something, you know that it’s wiser to give it up. Going ahead with our trip to eastern Montana, after negotiating three snowy weather systems in two short weeks, would have been pushing our luck.

So with high winds and snow still coming down on the way forward, and snow settling on the road behind us, we reluctantly turned homeward.

The tires had sat frozen and immobile for two bitter cold nights, so we eased ahead a few feet and held our breath. So far, so good. We could have cried, turning back, but it was a relief not to drive into more snow blowing sideways.

I could have cropped this photo so the antenna wouldn’t show, but the icy snow on the forward side of the antenna says something about the chilly air.

Here is one of the many views of the Clark Fork (one of my favourite rivers). It is visible flowing beside or under the highway off and on for many miles.

On our drive eastward, little snow covered these lower elevations. Now it made for scenic winter postcard material. In some areas, the water was warmer than the air, resulting in fog along the river.

You can tell where the river goes.

Snow had covered these hills that were bare when we had driven through a few days earlier.

Some snow was still on the roads. As the day warmed up, big transport trucks lost clumps of ice that had collected on them. In the stretch of road below, the eastbound lane is closed and the westbound lane is taking two-way traffic. You don’t want to catch an edge or a clump of ice. The one in the photo below is one of hundreds of clumps we had to avoid.

I wondered what these cattle were “grazing” on. Not much grass poking out from the snow. Winter is hard on many animals.

As we neared the upcoming MacDonald Pass, my knuckles gave the snow some competition for whiteness. I knew I had a good driver beside me, but with so much construction and lanes restricted by cones and ice (and I don’t mean ice cream cones), I was nervous all the way to the top of the pass.

 

And relieved to be going down to a lower elevation right afterwards. Only two passes left to negotiate before we got home.

 

 


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End of Year Thoughts

I’ve never taken a  break from blogging since I started this blog in 2011, but I think it’s time for a breather until after the new year.

At this time, I often think about people who have lost loved ones they miss even more than usual around this traditional family time. I tell myself that if it were me, I would manage to get through the hardest times by remembering the lost ones with good memories of them. If I need to have a little cry in private, so be it, but then I would pull myself together and try to focus on the joy of others.

Soon a new day will begin. It will be just another day without all the traditions that come with bittersweet memories attached, but it will be a new day and a challenge for me to make the most of it.

I like to think ahead and make plans and goals and things to look forward to – one of the reasons I love January.

I want to thank you all for being there. Blogging would not be fun without you.

I hope that, whatever form your celebrations take at this time of year, you have lots of warm, fuzzy  times with friends and family. I look forward to seeing you on your blogs and mine in the new year.


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Cranberries

Nearly home from Montana, we drove past this cranberry farm east of Vancouver, BC. Again, I only had seconds to snap a drive-by shot, but it made me look up cranberry harvesting when I got home.

I learned that cranberries can be harvested dry or wet. For the dry harvesting they go through the cranberry field with a machine much like a lawnmower except that it doesn’t cut the plants; it only scoops up the berries and bits of the plant. The berries are then sent through a machine that bounces them around and separates them from the other bits of debris through a grooved roller that rocks back and forth. Then comes the assembly line where workers pick out the bad berries from the conveyor belt.

On the tiny photo above, you can see that they have flooded the cranberry field. A taller machine, designed not to churn up the wet ground goes through and scoops up more berries to bring them to the surface.

Then the berries are “herded” together by floating dams just as if the berries were an oil spill.  Once the berries are enclosed, they are vacuumed up into a truck while the water is drained off  as the berries are loaded.

They still need to go through the assembly line for sorting, but machinery does all but this last step.

When you make a cranberry sauce for your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, you need to add about a cup of sugar for two cups of these very tart berries, but you can make your cranberry sauce more interesting by adding plums and apples if you have them handy.

Cranberries also make a wonderful addition to muffins. Throw in a cupful with the batter instead of using blueberries. Add some chopped nuts. The measuring doesn’t have to be an exact science. Experiment. They’re sure to be good.