Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What a month NaBloPoMo has been!

The writing prompt for today asks what we’ve learned from posting daily this month.

I’ve just reviewed my previous posts, and I’m amazed by the changes that have taken place in my life in the past 30 days.  If it weren’t so time-consuming, I’d post every day of every month, just to chronicle our life and times.    

But posting daily has been time-consuming.  Although I usually keep a journal, I don’t worry about being grammatically correct or even about sounding totally coherent in my journal.  

I’ve had to make a bit more effort for this blog, knowing that anyone from almost anywhere in the world can read it if they choose to.

Having a daily deadline has forced me to override my inner perfectionist.  It’s not easy to go ahead and post something when that little voice inside my head is screaming, “It could be better!” but I’ve done it without embarrassing myself too badly. 

It’s been hard to focus with the baby so fragile and my emotions tied up.  I’ve found it difficult to write at times as many of these posts have been written from the hospital waiting room. 

However, I’ve learned that it is possible to discipline myself to write under less than ideal circumstances.  That’s an important lesson for any writer to learn. 

Recording the events of our grandson’s first weeks of life has prompted me to reflect on the wondrous workings of our bodies.  I’ve thought about lessons in human physiology that I hadn’t recalled since high school days.

It’s amazing how effortlessly our organs systems function together when operating normally.   

The whole process of trying to medically manipulate what nature does so easily is humbling…and frightening. 

Therefore, I’ve reestablished in my heart and mind the importance of prayer.  There is no greater comfort than to know that the One who set the principles of nature into motion can also supersede them. 

I believe He has for Clay.

I may not continue to post every single day in the future, but I will be posting frequently on my homepage.  I hope you’ll check out Homespun: My simple life in Appalachia and keep in touch! 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kentuckians wear their quilts on their barns...

Because my creative well is running low...the weather outside is frightful...and we could use a little spot of's a sampling of the beautiful painted barn quilts scattered around the countryside in Estill and surrounding counties. 

This is called "Grandmother's Flower Garden." 

Nestled in the heart of Red Lick at the base of Still House Hollow, this barn quilt is called "Ohio Snowflake." 

and lovely in the summertime.

I'm assuming this one might be called "Sunflower."  We spotted it in the Red River Gorge on the way to a zipline tour. 

This beauty is mine!  It's called "Sister's Choice."  My sister and I, along with the help of our three daughters, painted it a few springs ago. 

My hubby risked life and limb to hang it.  :)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Not quite what we were hoping for, but...

Our first grandson was given a trial-off the ventilator today, which has been providing only minimal support for the past week.  However, the poor little guy struggled under CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure, which is a step between mechanical ventilation and nasal cannula). 

This was telling that his body is not quite ready to be breathing on its own. 

Tests of his blood gases also revealed that he did not tolerate the trial well, so the decision was made to reintubate him. 

Naturally, this was very disappointing to us, and I can only imagine how Hannah’s and Eric’s hopes must have been crushed.

Even in disappointment, there are reasons to be hopeful.  The doctor ordered an Echo while Clay was on CPAP and his body under some distress.  The doc was pleased with how the right ventricle of the baby’s heart was performing.  A couple of weeks ago, there were still some major concerns with how well his heart could handle such demands.

Also, x-rays taken during the trial again confirmed that the lungs have opened up considerably more than expected. 

Apparently Clay’s difficulties today stemmed partly from the fact that his diaphragm muscle is weak.  That’s an obstacle I hadn’t considered, but one that makes sense.

 When Clay was born five weeks ago, his diaphragm had a large hole in it.  That’s how the organs slipped up into his chest cavity.  Surgery repaired that hole, but the diaphragm is not quite up to the challenge of breathing on his own just yet. 

 We just don’t think much about our diaphragms, do we? 

What this means is that Clay’s healing will take longer than we had hoped.  We are disappointed, but we are trying to keep in mind the big picture that--one of these days--he’ll be off that ventilator. 

It is painful to think of little Clay struggling to breathe.  How we take for granted the involuntary functions of our body that keep us alive from hour to hour, from the continual pumping of blood to the intake of oxygen and exhalation of toxins.

I’ll have to say I’ve received a refresher course in human physiology these past few weeks—one that has served as a reminder that our bodies are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as Psalm 139 says. 

“Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” 

Meet Clayton Cash...

'Tis the pack on pounds

I’m not sure why Christmas needs to be celebrated with excessive amounts of food, but apparently it does.

Magazines, newspapers, websites, and cooking shows all bid us to try tempting recipes for sweet and savory treats during the holidays. 

I love to look at photos of beautifully prepared food.  I’ve been meaning to try one of the new sweet and salty brownie recipes I’ve been seeing a lot of lately.

I’m a sucker for sweets, I’ll have to admit.  I have several favorites, like these fudge recipes that family members have come to expect at holiday dinners.  If I don’t bring them, they look at me funny. 

This peanut butter fudge recipe is ridiculously easy.  And the chocolate fudge recipe isn’t much harder.  Both are guaranteed to make your jeans fit tighter. 

You don’t believe me? Try some and see for yourselves! 

Peanut Butter Fudge:

2 cups sugar

½ cup milk

Cook this for 3 minutes after it starts to boil.  Remove from heat and add 1 small jar of marshmallow crème and 1 ½ cups of peanut butter.  Mix well and pour into a buttered dish.   Yep, that’s it!!

Chocolate Fudge

4 ½ cups sugar

1 lg. can evaporated milk

Cook this for 7 minutes after it starts to boil.  Add 2 sticks Blue Bonnet margarine, 18 oz. chocolate chips, and about a cup of chopped walnuts or pecans if desired.  Mix well and pour into a buttered dish.  Yep, that’s it. 

With both these recipes, it’s very important not to overcook the mixture or your fudge might be grainy.  So don’t forget to set a timer! 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Oh, Christmas tree...

This is the order of things around here, at least for the past few years--the Friday after Thanksgiving we go Christmas shopping.  The Saturday after Thanksgiving we put up the tree. 

I don’t particularly enjoy decorating for Christmas, although I love having decorated.  I especially dread it when I’m running behind on other things, like housework. 

I really wasn’t in the mood to begin decking the halls today, but our youngest daughter was home from college, and she likes to get the tree up.  She holds me to our traditions. 

Although I dreaded getting started, we had fun.  We always do, I don’t know why I drag my feet. 

I enjoyed the time with Chelsea. And I enjoyed having her boyfriend here to help “fluff” the branches, which he has done for four years in a row now.

I always buy our girls an ornament every Christmas, so when we hang them, we revisit a lot of good memories.

Despite my reluctance to get started decorating, I’ll be one of the last to take my stuff down. 

I usually enjoy our tree more after all the Christmas hullabaloo has subsided than I do before.  I especially like having it up when the season’s first snowfalls arrive, usually in January. 

Anyway, my tree is up, and I’m thinking now is a good time for a cup of hot tea and some leftover pumpkin pie. 

  O Christmas tree! 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Are you ready for this?--Take a chill pill!

I apologize for the repeated references to "drugs"--maybe that comes from spending so much time at the hospital lately.

When visiting our grandson today, we took a break from the hospital on this Black Friday to check out the deals at Target.

Maybe those midnight sales aren't such a bad idea after all, because the daytime traffic was pretty light.

But we are home now, and I don't have much time to get a post up, so I'm sharing some restful winter scenes with you--from last winter!

There is something so peaceful about a winter scene.  And a dusting of snow makes every ordinary thing look magical.  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankfulness might be the "happy pill" we've been wishing for

All that giving thanks you did today might have been beneficial to your health. 

Yes, the practice of gratitude might have countered some of the effects of the fattening food you ate.

Apparently some folks have studied this matter.  Folks like those from Duke University Medical Center, who claim that there is a science to thankfulness, according to an article on an ABC News website titled “Thankfulness linked to positive changes in brain and body.”  Click on the highlighted link to read the rest of this thought-provoking article. 

It seems research has found that the practice of being grateful benefits all our major organ systems.

Dopamine is released into our system by thinking about the good things in our lives, which puts us in a good mood, which increases our state of well being.  

Maybe this is the “happy pill” we’ve all been looking for.

It seems we humans have developed a “negativity bias.”  Our thoughts gravitate toward negativity in a 3:1 ratio, but we have the choice to give our “stinkin’ thinkin’” the boot. 

Family members and friends will thank us, no doubt, and we will reap the benefits of becoming happier and healthier.

If we put this new knowledge into practice throughout the Christmas season, our inner Grinch will gain no new ground.

Let’s banish the “Bah, humbugs!” from our conversations and spread some Christmas cheer around! 


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Maybe I should give that new vampire movie a chance...

I’ve been skimming through the Nablopomo soup thread to see what everyone else is writing about.  Some are talking about the new Breaking Dawn movie.

Is that one of those Twilight movies?

I’m so out of touch with the latest pop culture, but I’m guessing that’s what it is.

I have yet to read or watch any of the Twilight series.  Nor have I read or seen any of the Harry Potter series. 

Is there anyone else in the country not confined to a nursing home who can say the same?

I’m just not into the fantasy genre.  I have watched a couple of the Lord of the Rings movies and enjoyed them, and one of these days, I want to read the series.

Maybe I’m just being stubborn…I could be cheating myself out of something I’d really enjoy.

Maybe the taste for fantasy is an acquired taste, like learning to like broccoli or coffee.   After all, I resisted American Idol until about the sixth season, until I eventually got caught up in it with my girls.

We began to make a date night of it of sorts and passed many cold winter evenings sipping orange spice tea and puzzling over the bizarre behavior of Paula Abdul.  

I’m already looking forward to January and the beginning of a new season although I still miss Simon somethin’ awful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A little autumn color...

...because I'm still trying to post a blog every day in November, but my brain is getting tired...don't you love the curves of this pretty punkin?

 I love "Indian corn."  I like just about anything displayed in an old enamel pan. 

 These lovely flowers have, alas, been bit.  Frostbit, I mean.  *Sighhhh* 

I'd probably never eat an ornamental punkin, because it's, well, ornamental.  I wonder if it'd be good, though? 

Daisy loves sunshine, but, like me, she's almost forgotten what it looks like after days of pouring rain.  *Sighhhhh...*

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A time to sow, a time to reap

Wow, we’re beginning Thanksgiving week…which means another year has pretty much flown by already. 

Besides counting our blessings, most of us will be doing a lot of feasting this week…and feasting involves a lot of shopping. 

Some will make the decision to buy and serve locally-grown foods at Thanksgiving. 

Ironically, it’s not easy to find locally-grown produce in rural areas like ours this time of year unless you are fortunate enough to be a gardener or live near one who likes to share.

 I don’t know of anyone selling fresh turkeys, although we could probably bag a wild one if we wanted to, and our farmers’ market has been closed now for more than a month.

However, we do have a freezer and a pantry filled with all those fruits and vegetables that we “put up” back in the summer.  Thanksgiving is a great time to bring some of those goodies out of storage.

Mom makes her cornbread stuffing from cornmeal which is locally-ground after being harvested from their garden; the mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green beans, shuck beans, corn, salad, broccoli casserole, pumpkin and cushaw pies will feature predominantly homegrown items, too. 

We aren’t quite the locavores that the Pilgrims and the Indians were, but we aren’t too far removed from that, either.   

I think of how labor intensive the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving feasts must have been.  Is it any wonder their feasting went on for nearly a week? 

It probably took that long to track down, bag, dress, and roast the meats, to gather the vegetables, to grind the flour and meal used for baking.  I’ll bet they knew their neighbors pretty well by the time that dinner made it to the table.

It’s gratifying to have plenty to eat, no matter what day of the year it is, but when most of the meal is a result of one’s own labors, it seems to me to feed more than the body. 

There’s a sort of spiritual kinship there, to have worked in partnership with the Creator who set the principles of sowing and reaping in motion. 

I’m thankful for a bountiful harvest, a reminder of those productive days of the growing season. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cushaw is our traditional pie for Thanksgiving dinner

Instead of pumpkin pie, my mom has always baked cushaw pie for Thanksgiving.  In recent years, with an expanding family, someone will occasionally contribute a pumpkin pie to our dinner, or, better yet, one of my sisters-in-law will bring her family’s favorite, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.

Even so, we still have cushaw pie, partly because my dad wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cushaw is a large green and white striped winter squash, often used for decorating around the fodder shock in autumn. This squash was once a staple of the Native American diet.

The most challenging part of making a cushaw pie is cutting up the squash. 

Some cut off the thick neck, then peel and dice the pale yellow flesh before cooking.

Another method for cooking cushaw is to bring a large pot of water to a boil, submerge large sections of the squash, cook until the flesh may be easily pierced with a fork, then peel, drain and mash. 

The pie itself is very simple, especially if you buy readymade crusts like I do.  My mom, of course, makes homemade crusts.

This recipe has long been a Thanksgiving family favorite.  Try it; it may soon become one of yours! 

Cushaw Pie

1 c. cooked cushaw, mashed
3/4 c. sugar
1 c. milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger
Dash of cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs, beaten

Mix all ingredients in large bowl; pour into unbaked pastry shell, dot with 3 teaspoons butter. Bake in 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes. Pie is done when no filling clings to point of table knife.

This makes one pie; you may double or triple to feed whatever size crowd you are serving. 

 "Gasp!"  There's a piece missing!  I wonder whodunnit?! :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Meeting souther writer Lee Smith = a red letter day!

Pretty exciting, huh?  Not as exciting as getting to have lunch with her, I’m sure—as did our daughter Chelsea.    

Chelsea, a student at Berea College, is taking an Appalachian Literature class taught by Silas House, an esteemed Appalachian writer in his own right.  The class read and discussed Smith’s best-known book, “Fair and Tender Ladies.”

House invited Chelsea and a few more students from an organization called “Bereans for Appalachia” to join Smith and himself for lunch. 

Chelsea was privileged to sit beside Smith and listen to her tell funny stories about her friendship with Dolly Parton.

Smith later gave the weekly convocation address, which was open to the entire student body and the public. 

Although I didn’t get a lunch invitation, *sigh*, I made a bee-line for the Phelps Stokes auditorium at 3:00 to catch Smith’s talk.

Afterward, I bought two of her books and had opportunity to meet her when she signed them. 

I’m not really into fawning over celebrities, but I’ll have to admit I get pretty juiced about meeting some of my favorite authors. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some reading to catch up on… 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I have issues with Shelby Lee Adam's work

Shelby Lee Adam’s photo essay, which appeared in a recent November issue of the New York Times, is entitled “Exposures: Salt and Light” and was taken from his latest book, salt and light.  The compelling photos are stark images in black and white. 

Mr. Adams has acquired quite a reputation as a photographer.   I have no trouble acknowledging that he is very talented. 

However, I have to wonder what motivates Mr. Adams to seek out the most “colorful” people in eastern Kentucky to photograph, then splash their images across the New York Times, of all places?

That’s a dumb question, I know. 

The New York Times?  The man has obviously arrived. 

However, being a native of the mountains himself, surely Adams is smart enough to recognize that his photos will result in additional ridicule for poor mountain people. 

 Doesn’t he know a cosmopolitan audience will shake their heads in disdain that such a primitive population still exists in this country? 

Won’t this audience be afraid to venture anywhere east of I-75 in Kentucky, sure that they’ll wind up amongst savages?

 Maybe I’m being overly-sensitive and defensive because I have my own preconceptions about what “outsiders” think about us. 

I’ll not argue for a second that the faces in the photographs aren’t real.  They look very familiar to me, although I was brought up a few ridges west of the Hazard area. 

Heck, if some big-city reporter were to sneak up on me when I’m out in the garden, sweaty with hair askew, wearing my mismatched uniform of apron, muck boots and shapeless t-shirt, and ask me to pose against a weathered building—why, I’d probably blend right into the pages of salt and light too. 

Or I could clean up for a Glamour Shot, and you probably wouldn’t recognize me either. 

On his website, Adams features pictures of his subjects holding his new book.  Apparently he gives them copies before they are made available to the public. Generally, the holler dwellers look pretty delighted with themselves.

Maybe I’m completely wrong about Shelby Lee Adams.  Maybe he is just that proud of the poorest among us. 

Maybe the misrepresentation comes from the New York Times.  The choice of which photos to publish can make quite a statement in itself. 

Maybe this work wasn’t the exhaustive search for anything stereotypically hillbilly that I first thought it was.   

On his website, Adams laments that “it is becoming more difficult to find the authentic salt-of-the-earth people.”   

That saddens me too.  I like authentic people. 

But I guess that’s kind of my whole point.  Adam’s subjects aren’t representative of the whole population of these hollers, if the holler he grew up in is anything like the holler I grew up in, and I’m pretty sure they are similar. 

In my neck of the woods, we have people who drive nice vehicles, as well as those who drive rusty clunkers.  We have people living in big nice houses and folks who live in run-down shacks and trailers.

Some diligently tend to their yards and property and others have apparently never carted away a piece of trash in their entire lives. 

We have rich folk with no money, and we have poor folk with plenty.  Sometimes these differences correlate with the amount of money or education folks have, sometimes they don’t. 

Why are the more well-to-do neighbors not featured in this book?  Good grief, why aren’t the humble-but-clean-and-tidy folk not featured in this essay?  How about a little bit more light to go with that salt? 

Adams says in the foreword to his photo essay that he has “experienced cultural diversity and continue[s] to travel between two worlds, the hollers and cities.”  

Maybe so, but I don’t see how his work accurately reflects the diversity contained within the hollers. 

I see representations of tired stereotypes that are misleading to a dominant culture and most likely has them fearful of ever coming around these parts to see for themselves how the majority of us live.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A favorite place...

When I was a kid, we used to walk “up in the holler” to my aunt and uncle’s house. 

I loved to go there.  Their home was nothing fancy to look at, but I found it fascinating.  The living room was papered with something that looked like wood paneling.  The paper was split and sagging in places, so they’d patched it with old aerial maps.

My aunt stored her dishes in an icebox in the dining room.  A large chalk horse with red circles painted around its eyes stood on a dark bulky buffet beside the table.  The horse appeared to be glaring at us, and my siblings and I were all a little afraid of it. 

In the extra bedroom, the bed was piled with my aunt’s “purties.”  She liked dolls, and that’s where she displayed them, propped up against the bolster.

My cousin slept upstairs. His room was hot as an oven in summer.  I can remember climbing the stairs to his room and seeing piles of dead wasps beneath the window, apparently casualties of heat stroke. The room always smelled like sweat and drying shuck beans. 

My favorite spot at their house was probably the front porch.   From there, we could see way down the valley.  The wood floor was weathered to a velvety gray.  My siblings and I would vie to sit in the mint-green painted swing beside my aunt, but whoever didn’t get that choice seat would sit on the edge of the porch and swing his or her legs over the side. 

Pink cleomes bloomed in the corner of the yard beside the chimney every summer.  My uncle gathered some of their fine black seeds in an envelope and gave them to me once I moved out on my own.  They’ve been blooming in my yard every summer since. 

We’d often time our visits to their house around supper time.  My aunt always had something tasty fixed, one of my favorites being her fried hoecakes.  She used plenty of “May-zola oil” when she fried them, so the edges were golden brown and crispy. 

 I make hoecakes myself on occasion.  Most of the time, the smell of them takes me straight back to my aunt’s kitchen. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

On Monday, thinking about what I like about Sundays...

…Isn’t there a country song with a title that goes something like this? 

We attend a little country church called Greenbriar Baptist Church.  I’ve always liked the name of the church-- I think it’s very fitting, because just about any place around here that you don’t stay ahead of the weeds, the green briars are sure to take. 

Not that the church lawn isn’t always neatly mown, mind you, but the briars are near, ready to encroach if given half a chance.  I think there’s a spiritual lesson to be learned somewhere in this.    

Blackberry briars and wild rose briars run wild around these parts.  While they produce beautiful blooms, smells, and fruit, they can quickly multiply to create an impenetrable thicket. 

Greenbriar Baptist Church stands near the banks of Middle Fork Creek, close to the spot where my hubby and I were baptized back when we weren’t much more than kids. 

It’s nestled in one of the S-curves “at the foot of” Drip Rock Mountain.  For those who aren’t familiar with hillbilly speak, that means the church is in a valley, at the base of a mountain.  

The little church, attended mostly by humble rural folk, has been a refuge of comfort and strength during this trying period in our lives. 

I’ve felt enveloped by the warmth and concern of “my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ” every time we’ve stepped through the front door. 

We’re always greeted with firm handshakes from calloused hands with warm smiles and hugs.  Nearly everyone asks about the baby.  They’ve been praying for him since long before he was born. 

 I love the fact that hardly anyone feels the need to wear a suit here, and many members show up in their cleanest jeans.

 I like that there is no political grandstanding from the pulpit, just reminders to “pray for the leaders of our country.” 

I like that we stand around outside after the service and talk about our gardens, or the latest sightings of wildlife in the valleys. 

There have been a few black bear sightings around these parts.  The least you can do, ya’ know, is to keep your neighbors posted about their whereabouts. 

I love that one of the most frequent comments I hear when I go to church is “It’s a purty day, ain’t it?” This comment is usually made with the speaker lifting his or her gaze to scan the familiar hills that hold us.

We share an unspoken bond—a deep love for a place that’s been home to generations of our kinfolk. 

We know each other’s stories. 

We sing the same hymns that sustained our fathers and mothers during hard times, one of my favorites being, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” 

“Backward religious folk” is a label that frequently gets slapped on congregations like these. 

We are far from perfect, but “good-hearted simple people who are mighty concerned about their neighbors,” might be a more accurate title. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Life's curve balls take on new perspective

We are again sitting in the hospital waiting room.  Our little grandson, born with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia, has made some significant gains this week.  He’s off several medications and has fewer tubes and wires. 

Unfortunately, he is now battling an infection.  The doctors haven’t figured out where it is yet, but tests have revealed there is a reason for his fever. 

The doctors warned us that progress would come “two steps forward, one step back.”

Still, these setbacks wear us down after the baby had such a good couple of days.   

The seriousness of little Clay’s condition sure puts a different perspective on minor injuries.

I remember when Hannah stuck a peanut up her nose when she was just a toddler.  I couldn’t get it out, so I took her to the emergency room.  Another time, she acquired a minor cut and had to have a stitch or two.  I remember how distraught I was.

We were watching the news a while ago and saw a little girl with a huge gash on her face.  She’d been attacked by a pit bull and required more than 50 stitches.

If that had happened to one of my girls when they were small, I’d have freaked out, probably. 

I don’t mean to minimize the trauma of that little girl’s or her family’s experience, but watching that news report, I longed for baby Clay’s condition to be something so simple. 

Whenever we’re faced with adversity, it’s not a bad idea to remind ourselves that things could be worse.   

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Preparing for a long winter's nap

What a beautiful day it’s been here in central Kentucky, considering it’s mid-November, and the weather could be really miserable by now.

Instead, the sun has been shiny and it’s been warm enough to be comfortable in long sleeves.

After breakfast and morning chores, we spent most of the rest of the day outside. 

I’m thankful for the opportunity to do that. 

Our little grandson has enjoyed a couple of uneventful days in the hospital, and we felt at ease about not visiting today.

He’s come a long way in the past few week s.  The doctors say he’s not out of danger, but it is obvious that the little guy has made a lot of progress, judging by the far fewer tubes inserted into his little body, and the far fewer meds he’s getting through his IV. 

It was very relaxing to just spend the day at home, though, raking some leaves and pulling up tomato cages to store for the winter.

There is still much yard work to be done, but I enjoy the whole process of clearing the flower beds and garden after a growing season.

I like pulling up frost-bitten plants and piling them up to burn.  I like burning cornstalks and withered brown morning glory vines off the garden. (No, I’m not a pyromaniac!)

 I like when the whole weedy mess is plowed under.  That way, we’ll be ready to start with a clean slate come springtime.    

There’s a feeling of closure that comes with the completion of a year’s growth cycle. 

That’s when I know it’s OK to go into hibernation for a few months. 

Every season comes with a different set of joys—and I’m almost ready for that long winter’s nap. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My not-so-secret-anymore passion

We’re one-third of the way through NaBloPoMo already!  Yay, fellow bloggers! Way to go!

Today’s prompt asks, “What is your secret (or not-so-secret) passion?”

One of my life-long passions has been secret to other people, I suppose, because until the past few years, not many knew that I’ve always wanted to be a writer.

I’m a person of simple tastes, and I’m really not that interested in a lot of things that our culture deems necessary or entertaining. 

I do have lots of interests, though, most of them pertaining to what I would call my top five passions: my faith in God, my family, nature, food and…writing.  Those things pretty much make up my life. 

I don’t care about owning a lot of things.  I’m not very fashion conscious, and the thoughts of more than two or three shopping trips a year pretty much makes me cringe.  I mean, I go to the grocery more often than that, but I don’t shop for the fun of it. 

I don’t really care what kind of car I drive, as long as it gets me where I’m going.  I don’t like shiny new matched furniture sets.   I like scaly paint and rust on stuff. 

Yeah, I know I’m pretty weird. 

I would say I’m pretty much equally passionate about all of my passions, although my writing has been the slowest to become visible. 

I’ve always been a reader.  Many times when I’d finish reading something, I’d think, I wish I could write something like that.  I wish I could touch people’s hearts and change their minds.  I wish I could tell entertaining stories. 

I used to think I’d like to go to college and major in English. That sounds like a pretty worthless thing to do if you don’t intend to teach—unless you want to be a better writer. 

Which I did.

So, off I went to college at the age of forty-something.  My last semester, our two daughters and I were all college students at the same time. 

Yeah, I know that’s pretty weird. 

But secret passions often lead us to do weird stuff. 

And I’m glad I did it. I’m surer than ever that I’m a writer. That’s want I want to be, and that’s who I am. 

Some folks feel the need to make music, some to paint or photograph images. I feel the need to write.   

Many don’t understand this about me.  To some it must seem like a waste of time to sit around and think on paper. 

Why don’t you quit your dreaming and get a real job?  I imagine that’s what people must think. 

Maybe folks don’t ever think that.  I’ll bet most simply don’t give a hoot, but I’ll have to admit I ask myself that question pretty often.  Then I go write.

I write in my journal, and I write newspaper features and columns, and I post blogs daily during National Blog Posting Month, which I share with my friends on facebook.  Sometimes I’ll attempt a poem or a short story. 

Every now and then, people take pity on me and read my stuff. 

Whether or not I have an audience, I’ve got to be a writer, though.  I feel like I haven’t really lived life until I’ve processed it on paper. 

That’s just me. 

Maybe that’s pretty weird, but that’s my secret passion. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

This old house--definitely unlike other homes

 Today I’m taking advantage of the BlogHer writing prompt that asks, “When did you first realize that your home was not like other people’s homes?” 

That was pretty obvious from the day we began to clean out the gaunt old farmhouse that had stood empty for four years. 

One of my aunts had lived here previously, and she was quite the collector of magazines.  We spent an afternoon just carrying out and burning all the ones she left behind.  There was a lot of mouse poop to sweep up, too. 

This old house that we call home definitely has a different kind of floor plan.

When the house was built, there was an open breezeway or “dog trot” between the front rooms.   A second aunt of mine remembers crossing from one half of the house to the other in winter and wading through snow in the breezeway. 

We replaced the old screened-in back porch with an indoor bathroom and laundry room.  It must be hard for modern Americans to imagine that a house that’s stood for 150 years didn’t have modern plumbing until the late 1980s. 

When the front door swells from the humidity and won’t close for the summer months, I know our home is different. 

When I note the blue paint on the windowsill revealed beneath a peeling topcoat of white, I know our home is different.  For some reason, people no longer rely on “haint” blue to keep the boogers scared away.    

When my hubby and I host a family reunion here in October and nearly all the guests—from toddlers to ninety-year olds—remember either living here or visiting here as children, I know our home is different. 

When I walk on warped wooden floors, or note door facings that don’t stand square, I know our home is different. 

Our home has many imperfections, or, as some say, has lots of “character.”  

I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Spreading the love: Vina's Peppermint Chiffon Cake

Back in September, I attended the Rosses Creek school reunion in Lee County, Kentucky, and was honored to interview a lady named Vina who once taught in the one-room school that still stands there.   

Vina was delightful to talk with as she recounted her teaching career. 

She began teaching just after graduating from high school, with only a couple of college classes under her belt.  She said she was “emergency certified” because our country was in the midst of World War II and there was a shortage of men to teach school. 

Vina eventually taught at several area one-room schools, then married and moved to Ohio where she raised a family.  She took classes while continuing to teach until she completed her degree.  She taught first grade in South Lebanon, Ohio for more than twenty years.

We talked for about an hour, and I felt like I had made a dear friend before we parted ways. 

“Go get you a piece of my peppermint cake,” she suggested with a wave of her hand toward the table laden with dozens of desserts. 

She didn’t have to tell me twice.  Vina’s granddaughter led the way to the cake, then she dished me up a large slice of cake that must have stood at least six fluffy inches tall. 

I carried it to the car and ate it all on the way home. (My husband was driving.)  Oh. My. Goodness. 

The cake was light and airy, sweet, but not too much so, with just a hint of peppermint flavoring. The icing was white and luscious and infused with just a touch of peppermint as well. 

Vina said this cake was her father’s favorite, and that her family called it “the birthday cake” because most of her family members request it for their birthdays. 

I can see why. 

Vina had asked me to send her a copy of the feature I wrote about her and the one room school.  After the newspaper was printed, I did so, and I requested that she send me the recipe for that cake I couldn’t stop thinking about. 

Therefore, I’m spreading the love. 

Here’s the recipe for one of the most delectable cakes you’ll ever stick a fork in. 

Vina’s Peppermint Chiffon Cake

Step 1)        Mix 2 cups plain flour

                     1 ½ cups sugar

                    3 tsp. baking powder

                    1 tsp. salt—or you may use ½ tsp. salt, according to Vina

Step 2)       Put into separate bowl and mix:

                    1 cup salad oil

                    7 egg yolks

                   ¾ cup cold water

                   1 tsp. peppermint flavor

Beat until smooth—fold in the above dry ingredients and mix well. 

Step 3)      In a large bowl containing the 7 egg whites (Vina says she usually adds an extra egg white), add 1 tsp. cream of tartar.  Beat until very stiff. Fold in the batter gradually, using a rubber spatula.  Do not beat.  Pour into an ungreased angel food pan.  Bake at 325 degrees for 55 minutes.  Turn up temperatures to 350 degrees for 10 to15 minutes.  Cool cake by turning it upside down a few inches from table or counter.  The cake may need to be cut from the pan. 

 Fluffy White Frosting:

                 2 egg whites

                 1 ½ cups sugar

                 Dash of salt

                1/3 cup water

                2 tsp. light corn syrup

                1 tsp. peppermint flavoring, or more to taste

Combine above ingredients, then place over boiling water and beat constantly until frosting stands up.  Spread on cooled cake.  Enjoy! 

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy"

I’ve been trying to get some work done for the paper this week, but it’s hard to concentrate on anything besides the baby.

This is a lovely day, though, warm enough for me to bring my computer out to the porch, where I sit in the swing with the sun warming my shoulders.

Our chocolate lab dozes on her side, stretched out on a bed of leaves.  Joplin, our calico kitty, is sprawled under the swing, looking contented just to watch the leaves fall. 

It feels good to be still, just to sit and listen to the peaceful sounds around me.    A light breeze flaps the scarecrow flag hanging from the porch and stirs just a bit of a tinkle out of my wind chime. 

The leaves continue to fall, and they land with a soft splash. It won’t be long until our shade maples will be completely bare.     

Whatever would we do without the balm that is sunshine…without the warm feel of it that soaks into my fuzzy pullover, or the golden look of it that chases away the shadows? 

It’s good to know that the sun is always shining…somewhere. 

Maybe it’s selfish of me, but I’m glad the sun is shining today…on me. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Really, what's the point of worrying about anything?

I have been a worry-wart in days past, but I’m learning that few things waste more energy.

Besides, it seems that the things you worry about don’t happen—on the other hand, those things it never occurred to you to worry about might. 

For example:  In 2004, my hubby was diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer.   A brief work physical showed that his blood pressure was a bit high, and the nurse suggested he go to a doctor to address that.

I called and made him an appointment, and the doctor performed the first thorough physical Robin had had for years. It was then that he found a small nodule as he checked Robin’s thyroid.

The doc said it was probably nothing, but he recommended that he have an ultrasound, which led to a biopsy, which led to the dreaded diagnosis. 

We had never heard of medullary thyroid cancer, and it certainly never occurred to me to worry about anyone I knew getting it. 

This past summer, Hannah went to the doctor one fine day to find out the sex of her unborn child.  The ultrasound revealed that the baby’s heart was a bit too far to the right.  The doctor sent her to a high-risk clinic in Lexington where they confirmed that the baby had a serious birth defect called CDH. 

Again, whoever heard of such a thing?  Of all the things I can find to worry about in a day’s time, I never once thought to worry about something like this. 

I’ve wasted a lot of energy fretting and mulling over possible scenarios that never played out. 

However, I’ve noticed when the threats are real, I find strength to deal with them as the need arises. 

Some people say that they become greater worriers as they get older, as experience teaches them what a dangerous place the world can be. 

My experience has kind of been the opposite.  Even when I was a kid I worried a lot.  I’m still cautious by nature, but, by the grace of God, I’m not consumed by fear like I once was. 

At my age, I’m realizing I don’t have that much time to waste.