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Archive for December, 2007

I was able to get the maid scheduled in this morning, and as she was vacuuming she informed me that my house is an ecosystem.   I really couldn’t argue with her, since the wolf spider that lives under the basket of pinecones had just stuck her head out to remind the vacuum operator that she still had squatter’s rights there.

I may have written about it elsewhere, but I believe that the boundary between inside and outside is very fluid, sort of transparent, blurry even.   Apparently it is blurrier than I think, since I found not just one or two, but several leaves scattered about the dining room as I ran the vacuum through the middle of that room on my way to the massage room.

“Hmm,” I thought to myself.   “I wonder how these got in here?”   I imagine them swirling in the door behind Ruby as she wags herself into the house, the vortex behind her waving tail carrying the dried leaves far into the house.   Or maybe they found the static electricity in my pants irresistible and hitchhiked in on me.   Or Jim.   ‘Tis a Mystery.

The dirt at the entry way is no mystery.   When it gets wet outside the soil around here reminds you of why it was the indigenous people discovered pottery.  You can stomp and scrape all you like, but there will still be clots of clay clinging to your heels and instep when you walk in the door and wipe them on the rug in the oh-so-appropriately named mud room.  Ah yes.  

Then, today I added to the chaos by making macaroons.   I emptied the dried coconut canister while putting together the first half of the batch.   So I went out to my oudside freezer and got out the big bag of dried coconut and brought it in the house to replenish my stock.    I managed to trip on the edge of the carpet as I was walking to the food room after filling up the canister.   I had chosen to save time by screwing the top on the jar as I walked towards the food room, so when I tripped on the carpet edge I was able to see the canister shoot forward out of my hands and land lip down in front of me.    Since I had not quite completed the lid-screwing operation when I tripped, the impact caused the lid to fly off as the canister neatly flipped end for end, leaving a pile of dried coconut as it did so, and landed open throat forward, spraying a cometary tail of coconut in front of and under my arm chair.    I grabbed the canister and scooped the coconut from the thick pile on the rug into it, carefully leaving the layer next to the carpet.   Then I rushed to the cupboard where I keep my vacuum cleaner, and dragged it into the living room. 

A startled awake Ruby sat up from her spot in front of the fire, fascinated by the sight of so much food-like substance scattered before her.   I ran through the catalog of foods I knew poisonous to dogs, and didn’t know about coconut.   “NO!”  I yelled at her urgently.    She sat back on her haunches, not believing that I was actually sane.     Then I confirmed her suspicions by turning on the vacuum.  

Both cats awoke.   Screaming, “AAAhhhhh!   The Suck Monster!”  they immediately left the room in high dudgeon.   Ruby let me know that the decibel level of the infernal machine was hurtful to her ears, and slinked into the kitchen.    She sat transfixed in the doorway, watching my inexplicable activities.   Once I got all the coconut vacuumed up, I did around the arm chairs and in front of the stove too.    God, this wood stove creates a lot of ashes.   Every time you clean the ashes out a new film of dust flies through the air on its way to covering everything in the house.    But I digress.

I have forgotten where I was going with this.   In addition to making the macaroons, I also made a batch of the peanut butter cups that my talented niece taught me to make during her visit here over the holidays.   It doesn’t get much better than this.  They contain only two ingredients:   Ground organic peanuts and 60% dark organic chocolate. 

I think there was going to be some sort of religious statement along here, about how you can’t control anything but yourself.   I try to follow only one rule, and that is to do to others what I would like to have done for me.    I try to pay my bills, and when I write a check there is money in my account.   I don’t always say the right thing, but I’m starting to learn that you can’t go far wrong just telling the truth.  

Or maybe you can.  It is one of the lessons I have learned from blogging.   Once your friends and family find out where you write, they come and read it.   They don’t always like what they see.   I guess some things are better left worked out in a private forum.   My dear sweet husband has taught me that you don’t ALWAYS have to tell everyone what you think of them.    It bears repeated viewings of the movie “Harvey”  to remind oneself that pleasant is recommended over smart.   

It is also important to remember that it is possible to be very upset with someone because of their actions at the same time as loving them as a human being.   I have been spending a lot of time meditating on unconditional love, and I study Ruby to get a good example of that.  

That reminds me that I finished reading the book our friend P gave us for Christmas.  “Merle’s Door” is the biography of a big golden dog who lives in Wyoming and loves to ski and hunt.   The sweet story is laced with good information about the history of the domestication of dogs and insights into dog/human relationships.    I found it a good read, and the ending was about a two hanky affair for me since the whole thing reminded me of the funeral of Cio-cio-san, the best and most beautiful calico Manx in the Universe. 

But now, my dear husband is home with his new tuxedo, which we have bought for our cruise so we can dine and dance in style.   He is almost prepared to model it for me.  

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I’d better get busy sewing my skirt up!

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Thank you notes

When I was a child and still under my parents’ control, one of the unbreakable rules enforced at birthdays and Christmas was you did not get to play with your gifts until you had written suitable “Thank you” notes for them.  

It has been brought rather forcibly to my attention that this sort of etiquette nicety is considered a thing of the past.    In fact, a person who expects a “Thank you” note is some sort of curmudgeonly dinosaur.  

My dear son and his little wife were the first people who I ran up against who displayed this cavalier attitude to the maximum after their wedding.   My mother made a Double Wedding Ring quilt for them.   She cut out all the pieces, allowed this charming couple to choose the fabric for the quilt backing.   They did so, with no regard for her pocket book whatsoever, choosing the MOST expensive fabric in the entire quilt fabric store.   No matter, she loved her grandson and produced a beautiful quilt, completely and exquisitely hand quilted.    Following the wedding, which was in September, she waited for a thank you note.    Christmas approached, no thanks were offered.   She gave them a small Christmas gift.    No thanks were proferred for this either, and the wedding present was still being ignored.

Finally she asked me if they liked the quilt.   So I asked my lovely son why he and his bride had not written a thank you note to my mother.   His response was “I told them thank you at the wedding when we opened it.”   When I endeavored to explain why it might be considered appropriate to actually write a note expressing his thanks in addition to his verbal thanks, he could not understand why such an archaic idea was appropriate.

So I invited him to consider the time spent piecing the quilt, putting it together and then quilting it.   Let us not even consider the price of materials, just the time expended completely out of love for him.    Perhaps, I suggested, this sort of effort was worthy of stamp, paper, envelope and five minutes of his time to write a concrete expression of his appreciation to the craftswoman who created his quilt.   I also mentioned to him that if he did not find the time and energy to make such a concrete expression of appreciation, he was unlikely to receive any further gifts from his grandmother.   Ever.   He and his bride wrote an extremely belated note. 

In consideration of those ideas and values, I spent a pleasant couple of hours yesterday writing thank you notes for the gifts I received from family, friends and clients this holiday season.   I admit that I did not wait until I had written the notes before I played with (and ate) any of the presents.   

Without wanting to sound like I am bragging, my job of writing notes required the use of well over twenty stamps.    I found myself sitting there at the onset of the job, thinking “I have to write thank you notes.”   It was not long before I realized that I should not be viewing this as a chore but more as an opportunity to count my blessings.

I have many blessings, not the least of which is a circle of friends and clients that loves and appreciates me.   I frequently sit back amazed by the sheer quantity of them.   It particularly impresses me when I look back on my childhood and adolescence, which were marked by my isolation and introspectiveness and had a paucity of what I would call friends.

I promise not to bore you with a recitation of all the “things” I got for Christmas, but I do have to mention one item.    My brother, who reads my blog, gifted me with a new Cross pen/mechanical pencil set exactly like the one he gave me in 1971 when I graduated from high school.   I am going to try very hard not to lose the mechanical pencil this time!   I figure this set will likely last me through the rest of my life, considering how long the original lasted.

And that brings me to a final place:  Thank you to all my dear blogging friends!   For your support, inspiration, and encouragement, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.   May the coming new year find you healthy and bring you prosperity and joy! 

Now I shall go walk my labyrinth and think kind thoughts towards all of you.  Blessed be.

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There, now doesn’t that sound like a cheery way to begin?  

Jim has been surfing the internet (who hasn’t?) and discovered a lovely and informative site.    If you ever  want to know what you might possibly want to celebrate on any particular date, head over to this site. 

By the way, this is Tick-Tock Day.   Well, isn’t this the day before the penultimate day of the year 2007 according to the modern Christian calendar?    If there was some stuff you thought you might get done this year, you better hop on it.   Time is running out.

I am reading a book called “Merle’s Door” which we received for Christmas from one of our best friends.   I fully intend to send this book on a further journey as soon as we are done reading it.   It is a biography of a dog, and full of snippets of research on dogs.  Beautiful, informative, touching, cathartic – I recommend it.

I took a break from the story to go out and check to see that the coldframes are open, since it is a bright sunny day.   They don’t need to be wide open, it is pretty chilly, but they do need to be able to breathe.   If we could afford the proper temperature powered lifters, we wouldn’t have to be here on the place to tend them.   As it is, the wonderfully functional coldframes we have were made using tempered glass designed for sliding glass doors.   They are way too heavy for the poor little hydraulic cylinders that automatically open commercially available coldframes. 

But the necessity of going outside made it possible for me to observe a little bit of  hawkish drama.   As I was standing there listening to the water running over the waterfall into the pond, I stood back to look at the big pine trees.   They are starting to recover from the stripping of their needle bearing branches last January.   We lost another branch a couple of weeks ago when we had that little accumulation of ice.   

I guess I didn’t talk about that, I was probably distracted by everything else that was going on.    I did take some pictures, however, and this is one of my favorite rocks draped in a veil of ice.   This is from December 10:
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My mother’s 80th birthday party was a wonderful success.   Everyone was on their best behavior, and the dinner was fantastic.   We celebrated at a very fine restaurant up at Lake Ozark, Andre’s.  What a wonderful meal.

We started with salmon, lightly grilled with a sauce of mango and butter garnished with fresh cilantro.    That was paired with a very nice Pino grigio from Luna vineyards.    Very delicious.   The salad was perfect baby field greens dressed with a choice of various vinaigrettes.   I thought mine needed a touch of honey to balance the bite of the vinegar.   But my dinner companions shared tastes of their salads with me, and the other two dressings were superb.    High marks for the fresh bread too.   Our entree was perfectly grilled filets mignon filet mignons steaks accompanied by a baked potato and some asparagus spears.   The meat almost melted in your mouth, it was so tender.   I’m sure it couldn’t have been good for me, I thought I could feel my cholesterol rising as I ate it.    As far as I am concerned, once you have picked asparagus fresh from your garden, carried it in the house, rinsed it off, and immediately steamed it gently, no other asparagus will ever match up.    Sorry, Andre.  It was very good, but it wasn’t the best.   With that course we had a Kendall Jackson 2005 Cabernet sauvignon.   Very tasty. 

The birthday cake was truly amazing: hand crafted chocolate cake married with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.   With that we had a really tasty Eiswein.   After the cake was presented and served, they passed plates of beautiful pears, grapes and four kinds of cheese.   

We sang happy birthday to my mother, in four part harmony (as only befits a family of trained musicians.)  It was amazing, actually.   When we toasted her, someone started the “Champagne” song from “Die Fledermaus”, and we sang two choruses of that complete with Orlavski’s solo verse done perfectly by my older sister.    It’s probably a good thing nobody thought of Pooh-bah’s toast in “The Mikado” or we might still be in that room in the restaurant singing.   It was great, and after dinner when we were paying the enormous bill, the whole restaurant staff congratulated us on our singing.

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Wow.   I just went back and read the beginning of this to see if I had any egregious spelling errors.   Have I ever gotten off on a tangent!  

I was in the middle of telling you what I saw when I was walking out to open the cold frames.   As I was surveying the pine trees, I noticed that the Cooper’s Hawk had landed on one of the bare branches about ten feet down from the top of the middle tree.   She (he?) was sitting perfectly still, perfectly mimicking a dried dead branch sticking up out of the bare, ice-wounded limb.  My eye passed over her once, and went back to her simply because I caught the shape of her hooked beak silhouetted against the sky.   

It made me catch my breath in delight.   Her feathers lifted a little in the breeze.   Still she sat, quiet.   There were finches on the feeder, oblivious to the presence of the raptor within pouncing distance.   I stood there and watched her for a while.    I noticed that Jim had already opened the cold frames, so I thought I’d go get my camera and see if I couldn’t catch the hawk on “film”.   As I hurried into the house, taking care not to slam the back door and startle all the birds in the yard, I wondered why she hadn’t already grabbed herself some breakfast from all the silly finches and sparrows chittering about the bird feeder where she usually preyed.

I exited the house with my camera in hand, located the hawk still sitting where I had left her, and had just started it through its wakeup sequence when what the hawk had been waiting for arrived on the scene.    One of the nice plump rock doves glided in under the poplar branches and the hawk pounced on her before I had a chance to lift the camera for a shot.   There was wild flapping and the dove escaped the talons sunk in its back, flipping the hawk off into a tangle of poplar twigs.   By the time the hawk had straightened her feathers the dove was off into the shrubs in the neighbor’s yard.   The hawk pursued her for a little way and then veered off angrily towards the bird feeder where the finches were still chirping in confusion and derision, and snatched one out of the air as she powered by.  The rest of the flock disappeared into thin air and the yard fell eerily quiet. 

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I finished reading “Infidel”  by  Ayaan Hirsi Ali  a few days ago.   All I can say is, her words and the images they engender in me come up at most inopportune times.  Jim and I were making love, so tenderly and beautifully, shortly after I had read Ali’s matter of fact description of the excision of her genitals and sewing up of her vagina that was done to her when she was five or so.   In the midst of delicious passion, in the back of my mind the image of the marital rapes of Moslem women she described in her book arose unbidden:   disturbing, saddening.   I deliberatedly pushed them aside.  Later on, I mused about this juxtaposition of thoughts, and marveled at my ability to compartmentalize different trains of thought.   

I also thought about the several series of books there are out there about serial murderers, and how often the thought processes of the murderer are laid out for our “delectation” and horror.    Another way we are exposed to the objectification of women.   I have found myself reading novels aimed at a female audience, containing explicit descriptions of vicious sexual murders, tortures of women, written BY women, Best Selling Authoresses even.  I like a good murder mystery, but these books disturb me greatly. 

I celebrate my relationship with Jim, so tender and respectful and celebrating of the joy of partnership.    Oh, and we are very happy to relay the information that the surgery was a success, and healing appears to be sufficient that all systems are go.   Yum yum. . . .

“For, he’s going to marry Yum-yum! (Yum-yum!)/Your anger pray bury for all will be merry, I think you had better succumb (cumb-cumb), and join our expressions of Glee!”

And so I leave you, to imagine the group of 8 people, sitting around a beautiful table in a restaurant, laughing merrily and singing loudly, enjoying delicious food and celebrating the woman who had reached 80 that day.   It was good, very good.

Talk to you later.

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Happy holidays

Well, I’ve been off the air for a while.   I’m sure I’m not the only one who has wonderfully busy holiday season.   This year is particularly excessive since my mother was born two days after Christmas, and my father and she were married the day after her birthday.

This year is the coincidence of her 80th birthday and their 60th wedding anniversary.   We are having a fine dinner in her honor at one of the more ritzy restaurants up at Lake of the Ozarks.   My older sister arrived today from Texas, my brother is driving in from the east coast.   My nice niece is staying here until tomorrow.   My extremely good friend from North Carolina arrived last Wednesday and left Sunday morning.   She came for my annual Solstice bonfire party.  That party, needless to say, involves quite a lot of cleaning and getting prepared. 

In between all of that, I have barely had time to look at the computer, much less actually write in the blog.   

We had stunningly perfect weather for the Solstice.    It was 50 degrees F during the day, cooled off a bit that evening.    This amazing weather was sandwiched in between days of snow and freezing weather.    

Solstice sunset was gorgeous.  To the west, the sun was painting the sky.

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I turned around immediately after taking that shot as the sun was going down, and high in the east was the nearly full moon, surrounded by sunset colors.

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The bonfire took off, and managed to mimic the sunset colors.

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We had a wonderful party, a “Dirty Santa” gift exchange full of wonderful hand made arts and crafts and food.   After the party was over, this is how my cookie plate looked.

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I did not make all those cookies, some of those came from various friends as well as my mother.    What a wonderful party left over!

On Christmas day, we went out to see our friends who live by the Niangua River.   We took Ruby, and she enjoyed the river, went for a swim in order to bring me back a stick.   You can see how happy she was.

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The river was being quite beautiful too.

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Now I have to get ready to go out to the parent’s farm.   We are having a day after Christmas family ham dinner and bonfire.   Oh yes, and fireworks!   These are courtesy my sister and her daughter.

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Hopefully it will be a pleasant experience for all, with only the fireworks exploding.   But you never know!

Be safe, stay warm, and blessed be.

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I was visiting Henitsirk and she had a wonderful post about some of her favorite ornaments.   Her post resonated within me, and I determined to follow suit fairly soon.

For me, trimming our Christmas tree becomes a trip down memory lane with visits to places and people from long ago.   The longer we go on, the more interesting and eclectic our ornament collection is.   We have very few duplicates, because we do not ordinarily buy “sets” or ornaments.   Quite frequently, we receive ornaments as gifts from our friends and family. 

Now, a couple of my ornaments have quite a history behind them.    One pair’s history begins in my childhood with one of the poems my mother knew by heart and used to recite to us on a regular basis:   “The Duel” by Eugene Field.   Many years ago, Jim’s brother gave us a stuffed cat for our tree made of lovely purple calico.   This was in honor of our two calico cats, Susan and Cio Cio.   It was only a second before I recalled the poem my mother had said so many times, and immediately I conceived a desire for a gingham dog to go with my calico cat.  

I am not particularly shy about asking for what I want, and I kept telling people I needed a gingham dog.   One year, several years after we recieved the calico cat, I opened a present from my older sister and Behold!  

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Now, isn’t that the cutest little gingham dog you ever saw?   Interestingly enough, the cats on the tree, and there are several, have different relationships with the puppy from year to year.   This year, the gingham cat felt comfortable hanging close to him for some reason.

My older sister is quite the needlewoman.   Last year she gave me this pair of hummingbirds, both of them designs she created herself.   I love the fuchsias with the ruby throated hummingbird.

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The other one is a rufous hummingbird:

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She is not the only needlewoman in her family.   Her daughter created this tiny pillow for me when she was very young.   It is the Chinese character for “Wisdom”, which I try to live up to.

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Of course, these talented women are not the only ones in the family.   This snowflake is one of a set of tatted ornaments my mother gave to me one year.   There are six of them, all different.

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She also crocheted some snowflakes for me, and my older sister crocheted a whole slew of beautiful five pointed stars.   Of course, all the patterns she could find were for snowflakes, so she adapted them to make them five sided, just for me.

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My mother does not just do needlework.   Many years ago, when we were reading “The Good Master” by Kate Seredy, we were inspired by the description of the Easter eggs, called pysanky, described in the book.  (By the way, this is a wonderful children’s book which I highly recommend.  It was one of the ones that was read aloud to us.)  Anyway, after many years of searching, she discovered the proper tools for making these wax resist dyed eggs.  And after many years of practice, she has gotten quite good at the craft:

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She was very upset that she dropped this one and broke it, but it was so beautiful she mended it as best she could and gave it to me anyway.  

A few years ago I put together an ornament I find very meaningful.  

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This is a selection of shells from my collection, all had to be small enough to fit through the neck of the ornament.   They came from all over the world, some of them from my mother, some from my sisters, some from my own beach combing.    Florida, California, the Caribbean, Texas, Alaska, Costa Rica, the Aegean Sea, Fiji, Australia — all are contained within this small microcosm of the oceans.

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Pileated woodpecker!

We had an unusual visitor this afternoon.   He was investigating our elm trees.   As soon as I went out to take his portrait, he flitted around to the power pole, where I got this quick shot:

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Not amenable to sharing his space with a human, he moved on immediately after I took this photo.   I saw him cross the street and land in one of the elms over there.

Pretty nifty to see him.  These birds do not usually come into town at all!   They prefer the quiet woods.

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A while ago one of my friends went to Hawaii for vacation.   She asked me what I wanted from Hawaii, and since I already have rocks for the labyrinth,  I told her I would really love to have some macadamia nuts.  

I love macadamia nuts, but so often when you buy them in the stores around here they are very old, have not been stored right, and are rancid.   Considering the high price you have to pay for them, this is more than just a little disappointing, especially since they are packaged in such a way that you can’t tell they are bad until you get them home.

Well, she went off to Hawaii and when she returned she very proudly presented me with a bag of fresh macadamia nuts in the shell.   Needless to say, I was not expecting nuts in the shell.   I didn’t even know they sold them raw, all the macadamias I had ever encountered were shelled, and most of them roasted and salted to boot.  

The bag had a label on it.   It read “A very hard nut to crack.  Delicious raw.”  It went on to give roasting directions for roasting the nuts in the shell.   I am here to testify that macadamia nuts are indeed a very hard nut to crack, and roasting them does not make them any easier to get out of their shell.

We tried our regular nut cracker, and quit trying to break open the shells before it broke, and also before we hurt our hands.   I tried hitting them with a hammer, but they bounced off the cutting board and flew around the kitchen in the wildest manner.   In fact, I left a very considerable dent in the cutting board.   We did manage to break one open, but the incredible force necessary resulted in pieces of nut that were pretty much microscopic in size.

Obviously, we were missing something here.   I had no idea how they got them out of their shells in the factories where they were processed, and I also was pretty sure that the natives who had discovered them knew how to extract them from their shells.  

Of course, I immediately went to Google and searched for information on how to crack macadamia nuts.   I found several amusing sites with no very useful information.   I learned that in Hawaii, the natives have favorite “Nut cracking” rocks with holes just the right size to contain a nut while they whack it with another rock.    We don’t have a lot of lava rocks with holes in them around here, so I sort of started to despair that I was ever going to eat these delicious morsels.  

Then I happened across a site where they showed a picture of how to crack macadamia nuts, and it involved using vise grips and a hammer.    The vice grips act as the “hole in the rock” and the hammer acts as the “Nut smashing rock.”   I asked my dear husband if we had vise grips, and he wanted to know what I wanted them for.   So I explained my plan, and he went out to his work shop and brought me a macadamia nut cracking station.

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You hold the nut with the vise grips, place it on the iron bar and smack it not too gently three or four times with the flat hammer.   It will crack open and you will be able to extract the nut meat almost completely whole from the shell.  

As you can see from the bag, I have been successfully cracking this hard nut to crack for some time.   I’m almost out of nuts.

Someone needs to go to Hawaii pretty soon!

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