Pool Opening: An Homage to Algae

What I like about pool opening this year are two things: we’ve been too busy to handle the labor of opening until this week-end, and the cool May has meant the pool is clear (we can see the bottom) . . . if also LOADED with algae. Here is my photo essay for Pool Opening 2013: An Homage to Algae.

I wonder what this would look like from below....

I wonder what this would look like from below….

Tendrils of Algae, like drapery.

Tendrils of Algae, like drapery.

See the Jesus Bug, walking across the top?

See the Jesus Bug, walking across the top?


Is that a cluster of eggs? I can't tell. More beautiful greenery.

Is that a cluster of eggs? I can’t tell. More beautiful greenery.

For those who doubt this pool will ever be crystal clear, you do not know the power of shock. Stay tuned!

Basil Spots Are Not Good Spots

Because I am a certified half-assed gardener, I am spending this lovely Saturday early afternoon taking pictures and writing about my garden rather than working on it. That said, I have bought some plants and put some in containers (pepper, eggplant) and some in my L-shaped garden, which stands for “love” or “loser,” I’m not sure which. Here is my L-garden from two angles: long leg and short leg (of the L). After seeing where we are today, in a general sort of way, I’ll show you some specifics, and when I finish I’ll go out and begin addressing some of the problems.

First, the EL:

L Garden, long side

L Garden, long side

Short side

Short side

Now for what to do. It may be apparent that about 15 basil plants (with returning rosemary and mint and some sage interspersed) have been planted. Oh-oh, brown spots! From what I can tell, these are from too much moisture. We have had a fair amount of rain, but their poor bound roots looked dry and so I watered them as well, when I put them….Everyone knows you’re supposed to do that.

Basil spots--too much moisture, I think.

Basil spots–too much moisture, I think.

What I shall do is cut or pinch off all the affected leaves and eat them (tonight) and see if that helps. At any rate, it will help me and whoever is lucky enough to dine with me. May the kale grow heartily without the spots, hereafter.

Now the next exhibit are my two returning vegetables that I’ve let bolt and now must let them finish. First is the kale, which has lovely seed pods, which I did not expect. Second is the beautiful fennel, which has come back after bolting last fall, at which time I harvested all the seeds (and ate them or gave them away).

Beautiful kale seed pods--I wonder if they taste good...?

Beautiful kale seed pods–I wonder if they taste good…?


I love fennel, even if I did mis-name the file "dill." It's fennel, may it grow in peace.

I love fennel, even if I did mis-name the file “dill.” It’s fennel, may it grow in peace.

Finally, there’s this messy corner, where the rain barrel I made is disconnected and therefore not collecting rain and where leaves have tumbled and crab grass invaded. It is my hope that by Memorial Day, this will look very different.

What is the corner of an L called where the long and short leg meet. The crotch? Okay, then!

What is the corner of an L called where the long and short leg meet. The crotch? Okay, then!

So here it is after cleaning–nice and mulched and much more inviting, both to look at and to grow things:

A garden well tended promises a good season.

A garden well tended promises a good season.

Spring Cleaning

I’ve been throwing out unused and unwanted stuff, sweeping out corners and crunching brown recluses, painting, repairing, building new shelves and chests–or I should say, paying my son to do these last three–giving away what’s salvagable . . . all this the direct result of a recent and serious attack of spring cleaning fever, which includes gardening (more on that later) and head-clearing (maybe not so much more on that).

When I was a girl reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder series (which I adored and devoured, just as I devoured all the Louisa May Alcott I could find), I knew how remote that world was from my own when I read the description of spring cleaning: the beating of rugs, boiling water to wash curtains and bedding, fresh straw (or goose feathers) stuffed into big pillow cases, scrubbing floors and pots, all day long, all done by Ma and the girls, while Jack the dog got underfoot or took the opportunity to chase groundhogs.

Well, such is the composite of many vignettes of cleaning in that 9-book series, shaken down in my memory. A quick online search will lead to many, many LIW links. But here is a brief excerpt of one account of fall (not spring) cleaning, from Little Town on the Prairie:

She [that would be Laura, our Jo-like heroine] had not realized how heavy a quilt is, to lift soaked and dripping from a tub, and to wring out, and to hang on a line. . . . It was amazing, too, how dirty they all got, while cleaning a house that had seemed quite clean. The harder they worked, the dirtier everything became.

The worst day of all was very hot. They had tugged and lugged the straw ticks outdoors, and emptied them and washed them, and when they were dry they had filled them with sweet fresh hay. They had got the bed springs off the bedsteads and leaned them against the walls, and Laura had jammed her finger. Now they were pulling the bedsteads apart.

Here’s my version: “She [that would be me] had not realized how difficult it was to spend several hours crouching while sorting through the dribs and drabs of toy parts, lego pieces, pen parts, stray plastic potatoes, mustaches, lips; dirty girl socks and partly chewed Barbie heels; a missing earring, marbles, Mardi Gras beads, matted grass and dust bunnies the size of fat toads, and so on and so on. It was amazing how sore her arms were and how the brightly colored mounds of thises and thats spread across the floor. In fact, the more junk she sorted, the more junk there was.

“By morning she had discovered seven new muscle regions, her already short nails were frayed and catching on her clothes, and a brown recluse had cleverly burrowed its chops into the tender flesh behind her knee. The good side of this seedy scene was that her leg was so sore that she couldn’t work for another week while it healed (thanks to antibiotics and steroids).”

I think of myself as a hard worker, but this research is getting a little intimidating. Check out this link, which shows “real” pioneer women cleaning, with ongoing references to Ma, Laura, Mary, and the rest of the Ingalls family:
http://www.hoover.archives.gov/LIW/pioneering/pioneering_pepin-chores.html

Finally, here’s what the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes site says about cleaning:

Washing the clothes was probably the hardest chore of the week. First, bucket after bucket of water had to be brought in from the spring or the well to fill a big iron pot on the cook stove. A large supply of wood had to be chopped and ready in the wood box to keep the fire going in the stove, because the water needed to be heated and kept boiling during the washing.

The white things would be washed first, then the colored things, so that the dyes in the colored clothes would not spoil the white ones. The clothes were scrubbed by hand on a ribbed scrubbing board in the washtub with strong homemade soap. After the clothes were scrubbed, they were boiled for about half an hour and stirred constantly with a long stick. They were then lifted out of the hot, soapy water with the stick into another tub, and the water was squeezed out. When all the clothes were washed, the wash water was dumped outside. More buckets of fresh water were hauled into heat on the stove for rinsing the clothes.
When all the clothes were rinsed and wrung out, they were hung up to dry. In summer, they could be hung outside in the sun and fresh air, but in winter, they would have to be hung inside the house, perhaps in the attic or lean-to.
……….http://www.discoverlaura.org/discover.html#q43

So back to my starting point, which had something to do with the notion that spring cleaning, while a pain in the neck, back, arms, legs, is a wonderful example of effort well-spent. The house is cleaner! The junk is goner! May we dwell in domestic clarity and peace.

Robert W. Hiatt, My Uncle

Here’s the obituary I wrote, at my cousins’ Bette and Niki’s request. I’m including some pictures that Niki (his granddaughter) took. If I can find a link to the Glendive, MT, Ranger story, I’ll add it.

Robert W Hiatt
November 22, 1922-April 26, 2013

Beautiful portrait of my cigarette-smoking, coffee-loving uncle, by his granddaughter Nicole Payton Vanek

Beautiful portrait of my cigarette-smoking, coffee-loving uncle, by his granddaughter Nicole Payton Vanek


From a young age, I knew that my Uncle Bob was a remarkable man, unique in many ways and much loved and respected by family, friends, and the community of Glendive. Uncle Bob died on Friday, April 26, 2013, in Billings, Montana, in the home of his daughter Bette, where she and his beloved granddaughter Niki, cared for him in his final days. Doc Hiatt, Makoshika Bob—these are the names given to him by his Glendive friends and which so aptly capture his two primary roles there: the optometrist who started his business in 1947, above the bank on the corner of Merrill and Towne, and the tireless hiker and dinosaur hunter who loved the richness of the Badlands of Eastern Montana, cataloging and sharing bones with countless children, teen-agers, and Elder-hostlers. He even found a complete triceratops, which remains hidden, its location known only by one other person.
RobertHiattArmy
Robert W. Hiatt was born on November 8, 1922, in Topeka, Kansas, the only son of Lyman and Isabel Hiatt and the younger brother of Elizabeth. Eight years later the family moved to Dickinson, North Dakota, just across the state line from his future home in Glendive. A talented basketball player and trombonist, Bob was raised in a family of musicians and nature lovers. He enlisted in the Army in 1942, married his wife Lois Buvik, also from Dickinson, in 1943, and earned his degree at the College of Optometry in Chicago. He was stationed in the Philippines after training at Fort Snelling in Texas, where he was living when his son Robert Allan was born, in 1944. Being separated from each other was difficult for the young couple, and their letters are a treasure trove of affection and loyalty. As Bob wrote in one letter soon after Bobbie’s birth, “Perhaps it’s because I have you and Bobbie that I’m the happiest man in the outfit.”
Bette, Bob and Lois’ daughter, was born in 1948 and grew up in Glendive. It wasn’t long before Doc Hiatt discovered then-unnamed Makoshika Park, where he spent the bulk of his free time exploring. Bette told me that he often disappeared for whole days—and it was not uncommon for him to get so preoccupied in explorations that he’d forget to eat, hiking for 16 hours, before heading home famished and exhausted.
Uncle Bob enjoyed a good laugh, no doubt about it. Photo by Nicole Vanek.

Uncle Bob enjoyed a good laugh, no doubt about it.


The formation of the state park was not without its controversy. Not shy about expressing himself, Doc once attended a contentious meeting where “one side” wanted “the other side” to keep quiet about dissatisfactions with some Fish & Wildlife decisions. Doc showed with a strip of tape across him mouth. I like this story because it gives us a glimpse of my uncle’s sense of humor, his strong independent streak, and his integrity.

Survived by a daughter, three grandchildren, one great grandson, a niece, three grand-nephews, and three great grand-nephews, Robert Hiatt taught us to love the world at hand, to work hard at what we care about, to respect our communities and families, and to treasure words, using them sparingly when appropriate and letting them spill when a story needed telling.

Why I am not a guy

Lately, maybe over the past two or three years, the use of “guys” to refer to any group of people, no matter how gender-mixed, has become so ubiquitous, that there is virtually no escape.

1. My granddaughter calls us over to look at a caterpillar, “Guys, guys, look here. Guys!”
2. An older person chuckles benignly at a couple of colleagues, who are being irreverent, “You guys . . . “
3. The young feminists refer to each other as guys.
4. The dean sends an email when a group of 3 women and 1 man have received a grant, “You guys have done a great job.”

So, what’s a tired feminist who cut her teeth on the first women’s history course at BGSU, back in 1973, to do?

I can, in the interests of education and my own refusal to be silenced, something we are supposed to have learned not to allow (though it will not help my popularity), point out the problem of language to them. My 8-year-old Omni will try to correct, even if changing her words stops the flow of enthusiasm. The older person might respond with a little more edge and say, would you prefer “ladies”? Noo! Please not that! Are these my choices, then, to be a lady or a guy?

I reject both.

The young feminists will likely say, “It’s just a colloquialism,” “We’re reclaiming the word for ourselves,” or “‘gals’ doesn’t have the right tone, and calling each other ‘women’ just sounds presumptuous.”

The dean, depending on which one, will probably ignore the correction, chalking it up to “those politically correct feminists” who think changing a word here or there will actually change the way we think. The nicer ones will say, “thanks, good catch, I’ll do better,” and then then next time we might be “ladies and gentlemen” or “colleagues,” which I prefer, as it offers up the rather pleasant suggestion that we’re in this together, all at the same table.

If you go to google and type in “guys” and then search images, you will find a couple hundred pictures of muscle-rich young men. If you try “guys and gals,” you’ll find a lot of images of butts, some signage for hairdressers, some bands, and a motley crew of young folks with tie-dyed hair and tattoos. But perhaps we should not trust what google has to say.

What’s bothersome with our use of these male-identified words, at least for me, is that packing them around as if they’re not gendered ignores the history of words that were used and still are used to devalue women and keep them in their place. “Ladies” might passably refer to a bridge club of silver-haired matriarchs sitting around someone’s dining room table on a Thursday night (probably drinking tea, though perhaps something stronger, during the last hand). Historically, “ladies” has been supposed to be the female equivalent of “gentlemen,” though not really, in practice, given the depth of our ingrained sexism. For instance, a “gentleman’s agreement” is one built on trust and suggests a transaction of some sort, with some level of economic exchange, whereas a “ladies’ agreement” sounds like a secret code for letting each other know when a bit of lettuce is caught between one’s teeth.

“Ladies of the night” is a polite way of referring to prostitutes, and when a coach wants to get his all-male team revved up, he will likely say, “Come on, ladies, get out there, and give me 50.” Men calling other men girls or women (by any name) is another way of professing their social location as above women’s–it’s one of the best insults, second only to calling each other fags, perhaps (which is, of course, another way of degrading their “man”hood). When women call women men (or guys), it’s more like a compliment. “Way to go, dude!”

But back to “guys,” and why I cringe every time I’m called one or witness a group of strong women calling themselves “guys.” Alice Walker, in her collection of ruminations We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For, comments on the increased use of “guys” for anyone, which I found gratifying, since if Walker doesn’t like it, my students might actually listen to me if I “correct” them while quoting her. Still, she doesn’t delve into it all that much. I think of “guys” as much like “man” to refer to all people. As Susan B. Anthony, in her speech after being arrested for trying to vote, argued about this business of language:

It is urged that the use of the masculine pronouns he, his and him in all the constitutions and laws, is proof that only men were meant to be included in their provisions. If you insist on this version of the letter of the law, we shall insist that you be consistent and accept the other horn of the dilemma, which would compel you to exempt women from taxation for the support of the government and from penalties for the violation of laws. There is no she or her or hers in the tax laws, and this is equally true of all the criminal laws.

In other words, you can’t say out of the one side of your mouth that “he/him/man/guys” refers to all human beings and out the other side that “he/him/man/guys” refers only to those determined to be male. What are we to do when we are told, “All guys go to the right. All girls go to the left”? I am “one of the guys,” so which side do I belong on? I am torn–some of my girlfriends are urging, “Here, here, come over here,” while others who are neither girls or boys or necessarily friends, are urging me over there.

Including women (and children, not to mention numerously other-gendered folks) in the terms of MAN and GUYS, is the best way to exalt men and devalue anyone else. “Man” and “guys” become the normed group to which others are included by virtue of the power of manguy to speak for all of us. It is their interests that determine the nature of the group, WE are just along, willing to be defined by people we are not, and by people who have historically seen it in their best interests to deny US the rights that were common sense and appropriately given to them. I reckon excluding women (and children, not to mention numerously other-gendered folks) from the terms of MAN and GUYS, is only going to happen when the manguys decide that the others don’t really merit inclusion–such as in the vote or property or inheritance or leadership or just plain-old everyday self-determination and expression. As long as we “act” like a guy, we’re welcome . . . once we don’t, their inclusive group is going to suddenly be exclusive, as when “man” meant in Anthony’s day both “men only (white, propertied)” as well as “men, women, and children.”

From here on out, I have decided to refer to any group of male and/or female human beings, at least if being casual is appropriate to the setting, as “gals.” While I would prefer to use “folks,” it does not go very far in making my point, which I’ve decided is the least I can do.

I don’t like Aunt Nancy, but then again I do

Spiders like our house. Until this week I have not wanted to have it sprayed, but one brown recluse bite later, my tune is changing. The little devil bit me behind my knee on Monday night. By Tuesday morning I had a black-and-blue spot with a dark center, and by 2pm I was feeling vertigo and nausea, so went to the doctor. She said it was a brown recluse, gave me a steroid and antibiotic shot and sent me to the pharmacy for more antibiotic pills. By 4:30pm I was trying to find a comfortable way to sit, wrapped up in a blanket to stop the chills. Fever set in. I started Facebooking for a little pity and advice, since as it happened no one was home that night, which made me feel rather pathetic. At 101.2 I was graduating to surreal, and my Fb posts show it! I was prepared to call ER if it rose to 102, but finally about 45 minutes after the ibuprofen I’d taken set in, it began dropping from a high of 101.4 to a steady 100. I could think and eat again. Watched an episode of “The Following.” Went to bed, slept. . .

By morning I was feeling pretty chipper, so I went to work and then headed up to Louisville to listen to an interview of Michael Pollan (re his new book, Cooked) by Wendell Berry–more on that in another post. Then the stabbing began again. I went out to the car during the (boring) Q/A and put my leg up. Bactroban cream only works awhile. My friend Leslie drove part of the way home so I could keep the leg up. Went to bed thinking, “it needs rest,” but what it needed was to complain some more, and some more. Finally got up at 2am and went to the kitchen, took another tylenol with codeine, had a glass of wine, and finally crawled back in to bed, and finally to sleep, at 4am, after too many games of Solitaire and Scrabble.

Moral of the story: Don’t let Aunt Nancy bite you!

I was reminded of the nickname by Erika Brady, one of WKU’s fine folklore professors, who responded to my Facebook trauma posts, so this morning I got back on google and low and behold, discovered that one of my favorite novels–one that I’VE published about–Paule Marshall’s Praisesong for the Widow, integrates the “Ghanian spider-trickster, Kwaku Ananse,” into the novel and in particular, the characters Joseph Lebert and Aunt Cuney. I wrote about African myths in my article, but did not know about Ananse. I wish I’d had this article (by Shanna Greene Benjamin, “Weaving the Web of Reintegration”) when I wrote my own, back in 1996….but instead of my quoting her, she quotes me (twice). Sweet! Thanks, Shanna Benjamin . . . (if you see this, let me know!) So, if it weren’t for my spider bite, Erika wouldn’t have commented on the dangers of Aunt Nancy, which wouldn’t have sent me off on my little google scavenger hunt, and would therefore have never turned up Benjamin’s article quoting mine! Crafty web-making here!

Here’s the little critter we’re talking about:

Aunt Nancy Brown Recluse

Aunt Nancy Brown Recluse


I am not going to post any of the many grotesque images from google of the recluse bites of those poor folks out there who either didn’t get help soon enough or for some other reason found their flesh disintegrating. Suffice it to say that my site is very black and blue, red, angry, and still growing. But now, thanks to my doctor, I have begun a second antibiotic. (Also thanks to her I’ve got some Lortabs for tonight)….

Aunt Nancy, you are strong, but you can’t have me!