Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day

Labor Day

Our nation pauses 
takes a rest
Closes the chapter 
on Summer's best
Late night games
of hide and seek
Parades and picnics
Politicians speak
Children prepare
new clothing galore
Backpacks and shoes
and so much more
Crisp autumn days
await the sigh
As August heat
says Good Bye
Seasons change
The page has turned
Time marches on
with lessons learned

~Ellen Apple 09/01/2014 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Awesome August 2014 - and it's a wrap!

A miscellany of items, many from Facebook over the past days, and a few last day of the month musings. Very stream of consciousness, so also a glimpse into how my brain does (or doesn't!) operate without much editing. 

The last week of this month has flown by. I knew I would have problems getting blog posts written, I am in the middle of a 5 day straight stretch at work ( Friday and Saturday combined I worked 20 hours.) I am not complaining - still so grateful for my job, and loving the people I am meeting and getting reacquainted with others I knew from my 4 year stint at Wal-Mart from 2002- 2006. Not just co-workers, customers as well.

One of the joys of rural life in the Appalachians of SW Va is the closeness of community. The person who inspects your car is the cousin of your hairdresser who is the high school friend of the mail carrier whose brother works at  the school where your neighbor's child is in first grade - that sort of thing.  The closeness of community is in great evidence this week (August  29 through September 6 I believe) of the annual Russell County Fair and Stock Show. The county residents turn out in droves, families and friends, co-workers and competitors, for a week of celebrating being who we are in this corner of the Old Dominion. I was told by a customer at the store last night that the fields were packed with cars and the mass of people milling about the rides, horse arena, exhibit halls and live performance stages was an awe-inspiring sight.

49 Winchester is a Southwest Virginia Folk Rock band fronted by the son of my dear friend, Debbie Necessary-Gibson. They were on stage last night. These boys are young, engaging, and so talented. Click on the link and check them out. Issac is so full of energy! I was not able to attend the show, but his mother reports they were very well received.

From Monday: 
Standing outside in the evening yesterday .. the sky a perfect blue baby blanket, scattered with cotton balls masquerading as clouds, fuzzy little circles waiting to be swept up and put back in their canister. Ah, the regret of turning and going back indoors, returning to the labors that pay my bills, when my soul longed to linger and watch the light fade from the sky, morphing to a dark dome littered with twinkling fairy lights.

I participated in a Positive Challenge on Facebook this week. Here are my posts, with my cumulative 15 things:

Day 1 of the "Positive Challenge" for me. Three things that I am thankful for:
1. The legacy of a love of reading from both of my parents.
2. Having had all 4 of my grandparents long enough to understand the resilient nature of my heritage. 
3. All of the tears and laughter (my own and those of loved ones) that have healed me when I thought I was broken beyond repair.

Day 2 of the "Positive Challenge" for me. Three things that I am thankful for:
1. My job at Cargo in Lebanon, Virginia. I had no income for 3 1/2 years, and the experience was not one I ever want to repeat.
2. Siblings. My sister Virginia Carol Hart and brothers Larry Smith, Steve Slade, Danny Slade, and Ed Smith. (and may my deceased brother Gary Smith ever be remembered)
3. My daughter Johnna and her husband CJ, but most of all the grandson that will arrive in November.

Day 3 of the "Positive Challenge" for me. Three things that I am thankful for:
1. Roger, my husband and friend, my mechanic and gardener, my confidant and protector, Meeting him healed me in innumerable ways, and he is the best person I know.
2. Having been able to meet people from so many diverse backgrounds in my life. 
3. Air conditioning. Sound odd? I lived in South Florida for a few summers without anything but a poorly functioning window unit -  believe me, AC is a blessing.

Day 4 of the "Positive Challenge" for me. Three things that I am thankful for:
1. Still having both the mental and physical stamina to work a job where I have to count money, be on my feet for 9 hours at a time, and deal with the public face to face.
2.  The honor of living in a rural setting, where wildlife is the norm and I can see the night sky without light pollution. Some people never see the stars.
3. Sweet Iced tea, my favorite beverage since I was a child. Hot tea to curl up with a book, or when I feel sickly, coffee to get me going in the morning, carbonated drinks on occasion, but sweet iced tea is what I truly drink most of the time.

Day 5 of the "Positive Challenge" for me. Three things that I am thankful for:
1.  Friends, and the kindnesses they show in myriad ways, I see and hear so much negative about Facebook, but the small community I have built for myself here has enabled me to maintain old friendships and foster new ones.
2.  My mother. She will be 82 in January, and I am aware every day what a gift and blessing it is that she is still living in the house we moved to in 1967. 
3. My incessant desire to write. Many words I form into poems and stories may never be read by others, but the process provides a catharsis and fulfills a soul-need that is as much a part of me as my ample build and love of chocolate. 
This brings an end to an interesting experiment. I have struggled with the three things each day, and life has thrown me a few curve balls in the process. Life is interesting. 

The challenges I mentioned on Day 5? The brakes went out on my car, and due to brake dust and road grime, it took Roger about 7 hours total, and retooling a hexhead bolt, to put on new pads. Thankfully, the rotors are not ruined. I drive across a ridge from our little acre to my job and the curvy mountain roads while very scenic are tough on vehicles, especially tires and brakes. And



The day after I listed AC as a blessing, the AC in the house
quit cooling

Roger tried, couldn't repair


Dale's in St. Paul once again came and performed HVAC sorcery, and though we are a bit lighter in the bank balance, we had the funds to cover the unexpected (again I am thankful for Gedie Cox and Cargo!) and we are once again in relative comfort. This is so funny in a not funny way because this week is the hottest we have had all Summer.

A thought I had, and posted at random on Facebook:

It is often just being there at that time that is our purpose - not to fix anything, not to exact revenge - just to be there, a shoulder to cry on or a person to laugh with, a hand to hold or an ear to listen.

Roger the Tall sits outside (weather permitting) everyday and flintknaps, feeds the outside cats, and watches nature in all of her beauty and complexity. He saw this occur this last week in August:

Roger saw an ant rappelling down from a poplar leaf using a spider's silk - it was a carpenter ant and he had killed the spider, had the spider in his jaws, and was using the spider's silk to go down to take food to his colony. Nature is incredible.He said it was like watching Army Rangers rappelling from a helicopter.

This is the final installment in my Awesome August 2014. 

Not sure what I will call September yet, I am thinking you will see more poetry next month, and hopefully more pictures of our little acre here on the creek. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Awesome August 2014 A Few Ruminations on Food

I do not always cook from scratch, I do not always serve on "real" dishes. With cats, it is much easier to eat from trays in the living room, off of paper plates. Dogs will haunt the area under and around a table - cats will just jump up and sniff the food. 

Hot Dogs, browned crispy in an iron skillet with a bit of bacon grease.
The wieners I remember from my childhood were always boiled in water, pale and flaccid. They never looked appetizing. Mom would occasionally split them, and put them under the broiler. I am not, have never been, a fan of hot dogs, but used to think the broiled ones looked much tastier than the boiled ones. Roger likes hot dogs, so when I prepare them for him I brown them until crispy, usually in a skillet with a bit of butter or bacon grease. 

Chili - extra meaty, with sriracha for a kick.
Another childhood ewww - rolls of chili con carne ( Valleydale brand maybe?), in plastic that was heated in a saucepan. It always had bits if weird stuff in it - I (well, we ) like  canned Texas Pete hot dog sauce. Seeing as I do not eat the wieners, I like to have a substantial chili, so I have started making the Texas Pete extra meaty. I brown a pound of ground beef - always the leanest possible - and break it into really really small pieces. I drain all of the grease off and add a can of Texas Pete and about 2 teaspoons of sriracha ( Cha, also by Garner Foods, the producer of Texas Pete). I then just heat it well, no need to cook it to death. I eat the chili on a hot dog bun, with all the fixin's. Relish, onion, mustard and ketchup. 

Diced Vidalia onion.
Yellow, white, red, scallions - any onion really. I have even made caramelized onion to go on the top of hotdogs, but fast and easy is usually my method, and that means an onion, diced. 

Sliced fresh tomato.
This tomato was a gift, from a dear friend. We did not plant tomatoes this year. If I buy tomatoes from the store, I prefer Roma or Grape for  the most part. I avoid fresh tomatoes from late Autumn until late Spring - I just do not like the hybrid gassed varieties that are so meally and tasteless.

Cole Slaw. 
I love to make slaw, but the mess and time usually means I but a container from the store. I avoid the Reisers if I can - I think it tastes bitter. Ballard and Gunnoes both have a good product. If I am at Food City and the deli is open I may buy theirs. I do not like to get deli slaw unless I know it was made the day I am buying it. When I make slaw, I may or may not add carrot - and the dressings I prefer is my go-to cold salad dressing. I mix mayonnaise (about 2 cups) with a spoon of white sugar { I use a spoon from the drawer like you stir coffee with, not a measuring spoon - trying to keep it real here}, a spoon of cider vinegar, a spoon of yellow mustard, about 4 grinds of black pepper {yes, I use a pepper mill} and if I have any maybe half a teaspoon of celery seed. If there is any left, keep it in the fridge, it is great in potato salad and macaroni salad. I like slaw chilled, and seldom think far enough ahead to have time to make and chill it befor we eat. Also, I do not like slaw that is more than one day old. Oh, and I grate the cabbage on a box grater. 

Baked beans.
Another thing I like to make myself but usually buy from Food City instead. Bush's has a good line of specialty baked beans, and Food City has their store brand in the same flavors. I like the Steakhouse Baked Beans. A can is more than enough for two people. We usually have leftovers. 

August is a wonderful time to live in the mountains, where so many people grow fresh fruits and vegetables. The reward for labors is being harvested, and if you have not grown a garden, fresh produce is readily available. We feasted earlier this month, on fried peaches and cream corn. If you Google Fried Corn, you will get lots of recipes, so I will share my simple version.

I had about 6 ears of Peaches and Cream corn. After it was shucked and silked, I cut the corn from the cob and scraped the milk as well. I heated a skillet and added maybe 2 tablespoons of bacon grease. After it was hot but not smoking, I added the corn to the skillet, about 4 grinds of pepper, and very little salt. The Bacon grease was salty, and a light hand is always better when it comes to salt. Stir well, to coat the corn with the grease, and if it looks like it needs more moisture a bit of water can be added, but not much. Fresh corn is sweet, especially Peaches and Cream, so I did not add any sugar. I turned the heat very low, put a lid on the skillet, and let it steam/fry for a bit. I checked it every few minutes, stirred to keep it from sticking, and it was soon golden brown and tender. If you fry corn, and are unsure when it is done, taste it. Crispy but not raw is what you are going for here. When it is done, top it with a diced tomato, and enjoy. I forgot to take a picture of my fried corn, so I am using a picture of Peaches and Cram corn instead. 

Peaches and Cream Hybrid corn

Definitions of rumination:

  • noun:   regurgitation of small amounts of food; seen in some infants after feeding
  • noun:   (of ruminants) chewing (the cud)
    Example: "Ruminants have remarkable powers of rumination"
  • noun:   a calm lengthy intent consideration

Friday, August 22, 2014

Awesome August 2014 - Fragmented Friday

We build words letter by letter -
Hoping to make ourselves feel better?

A cairn is laid stone by stone
To let the next one know you are not alone

Each letter - each stone - builds bridges as well
Because each of us has a truth to tell

Heart and soul exposed to share
With courage and abandon what we dare

The bravest thing that I can be
Is simply - totally - unabashedly me

This is how I make potato soup:

I can tell you in general what I do. You can buy a product called Chicken Base - are you familiar with it? There is a Beef Base as well, it is like a super concentrated Bouillon paste ... I put chunks of potato, diced onion,  diced celery and some chicken base in a saucepan and barely add enough water to cover, I bring to a boil, grate in a medium sized carrot,  then simmer uncovered until the vegetables are tender and the liquid has begun to evaporate. I taste the broth, and season to taste with Old Bay and freshly ground black pepper. I then add heavy cream or half and half to come about 1/2 inch above the vegetables, use a spoon or potato masher to break up a few potatoes to thicken, toss in about a half a stick of butter, and heat until the butter melts. I do not let it boil after I add the butter, I add bacon bits, grated cheddar cheese, and maybe sliced green onions when I serve it.

Most soups are good with crackers, but I always want buttered bread (not toasted, just plain white bread) when I eat potato soup. I think it is because we often had buttered bread with soup in lieu of crackers when I was growing up. 

I posted this on Facebook earlier today:
a journalist is beheaded

a small town in Missouri most of the US would never have had cause to know existed is suddenly the new incarnation of our worst kept national secret

Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever continues to ruthlessly decimate West Africa

the Israel/Palestinian/Gaza Strip maelstrom is claiming lives at a steady clip

But what the hell? Let's just keep obsessing over the marriages/relationships/shenanigans of so-called celebrities in NYC and LA - Facebook, if you are a snapshot of life as we know it, well - what can I say - Houston we have a problem.

I do soul/spirit soothing posts on Facebook - that is the main purpose of our Apples and Owls page. To try to keep some balance against all of the pain, war, bloodshed that we are exposed to constantly in 2014. I know that this may sound contradictory to what I just said in the Facebook post, but in my mind it is not. Here is my reasoning:

The pictorial posts are for the most part pictures we take here at our home: the cats, the creek, trees, rocks, and bushes. I share my blog posts, my poetry, Roger's artwork and hand-crafted jewelry. I write about what I cook from time to time, and sometimes about an issue that I feel passionate about. 
The thing that bothers me is the obsessive amount of attention paid to the personal and professional  lives of "celebrities" and the manner in which it detracts attention from issues of  national and global concern. There is a "Trending Topics" column on the righthand side of Facebook when viewed from my laptop. As I am typing this, seven of the ten trending stories are celebrity related : a separation, a soon-to-be-released book, a cast change for a television show ...

I read the news online rather than watching it on television because broadcast news had deteriorated drastically over the past ten years. September 11, 2001 changed the way news is reported, and covered. In the years since, there has developed a wider and wider gulf in viewpoints, and I want neutrality. So I search out the news online, and try to find the balance. "There are three sides to every story" I look for the one in the middle.

Information and access are tools. Use with caution and care. 

So I will end my fragmented Friday with a picture:

My awesome life at Little Beaver Creek comes complete with a cat on a log!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Awesome August 2014 - Wherein I Play With Words

Complex Execution of Simple Design
Hopes and dreams you cannot confine
Fairies and unicorns will never be caught
Complex execution of simple design

Across breadth of ocean and grove of pine
Wonders by ageless wisdom wrought
Hopes and dreams you cannot confine
True destiny only the heart can define
Eternal truths evermore taught
Complex execution of simple design
As long as the sun and moon still shine
Even when with fool's gold bought
Hopes and dreams you cannot confine
At end of days as destinies entwine
Bleak predictions will all come to naught
Complex execution of simple design
By cairns of old our ancient shrine
Black Mares of night nevermore sought
Hopes and dreams you cannot confine
Complex execution of simple design

The villanelle consists of five stanzas of three lines (tercets) followed by a single stanza of four lines (a quatrain) for a total of nineteen lines. It is structured by two repeating rhymes and two refrains: the first line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas, and the third line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas. 

My life is awesome because I have the luxury of the resources and time to indulge my passion for reading, as well as hone my writing skills. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Awesome August 2014 Sick Days with Jeopardy, Tomato Soup, and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Don Pardo passed away, an announcer for various television shows, most recently SNL. I connect him, and his voice, with some special memories.

NPR reports here on his passing , and says " Fans of Saturday Night Live, and the original versions of The Price is Right and Jeopardy recognize Don Pardo's voice immediately." 

I grew up in a small town in the mountains of southwest Virginia, Richlands. My father worked as a salesman and warehouse foreman for a wholesale grocer, Dixie Grocery. The buildings where I attended junior high school were across the street and on the other side of the railroad tracks from the Dixie (as we called it). I am the second of three children my parents had together, and the second daughter. I adored my father, and discovered quickly that if I got "sick" at school, once I was in seventh grade, that I could have the secretary call over to the Dixie and Daddy would say send her over here and I will take her home when I get my lunch break. 

This was not a ploy I could pull often, but it did work from time to time. He worked in the warehouse some days, and others he would be on the road, running his sales route. I would clamber over the railroad tracks, up the embankment (not very high at all), cross Railroad Avenue, and enter the Dixie via the loading docks. Daddy would take me into the office area and I would wait there for him until about noon. Jenny Cook was the secretary, and she would look after me and keep me out of trouble. I was fascinated by the office machines, the safe, the bustle and sounds of the place. 

When noon came, we would get in the car and go to the house, maybe a 1  1/2 mile drive. Daddy and I would heat up a can of Campbells Tomato Soup and make grilled cheese sandwiches for our lunch and watch Jeopardy (hosted by Art Fleming, announced by Don Pardo). We still had a black and white television then. Oh, my the memories!

Daddy would answer so many of the questions correctly, and I knew a few. I would try to keep our score on a piece of paper, he always won, and was conservative in his wagers. He was a smart man, and well read. He paid close attention to the news, both broadcast and print. We always had magazines, Time, NewsWeek, The New Yorker, Life, Esquire, in addition to Mom's women's magazines and TV Guide around the house. 

My parents raised us to be politically, socially, economically aware young people. We were a family that read together, and voted in turn as we were eligible. 60 Minutes was watched every Sunday night, and the NBC Nightly News was a time of mandatory silence in the house. Daddy enjoyed sports, especially football and baseball, and we watched sports frequently as well. There was always an ample supply of reference material around the house, and if you had a question, you were told to "Look it up!"

We were not wealthy, but we were rich in so many ways.

After Daddy and I had our tomato soup and cheese sandwiches, he would say, "Well, Bertie, it seems you are feeling better. Ready to go back to school?"

I do not think I fooled him at all, but how I treasured those lunches!

Don Pardo's voice will be missed by me, because it always made me think of my Daddy.

Robert Ernest "Poss" Smith
March 1915 - April 1986

I have an awesome life, because I had a man among men for a father, and am blessed to still have my mother.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Awesome August 2014 Meandering Monday

There is rain washing - again - the trees
Scrubbed clean, from leaves to knees,
By winds and showers, just yesterday.
Whatever capricious God or Woodland Fae
Looked out (or down) and thought,
"I see an acre with rubbish fraught"
Would that they had asked me first - 
Too much of a good thing makes it worse!

From my Facebook page on Sunday: 
I go in to work late today - 4 o'clock. I took the opportunity to make Lazy Hamburger Steaks. I took a pound of ground round and broke it into six pieces, added a sprinkle of Old Bay, browned one side and turned. I added a pint of sliced Baby Bella mushrooms, one half of a huge Vidalia onion I cut into petals, about a cup of beef gravy, and a real good shake of Lea and Perrins Bold steak sauce. Turned the heat down, put on a lid, and it is simmering. Can be eaten open-faced, on a bun, with Mashed Potatoes or rice ... Cooking on the fly, that is how this crone rolls!

I ate one portion with mashed potatoes before I went to work, very filling. I ate another ( Roger had taken care of the other four in the interim ) when I got home from work, this time with brown rice. My only comment would be I wish I had made more! Not shaping the meat into patties, squishing it any, really seemed to work well. I was careful when turning the meat, so as to not make crumbles. The irregular shaped rectangles were sort of whimsical, but as they were broken from the same package of meat they were of a common thickness so they cooked evenly. The looser texture of the portions also seemed to facilitate the gravy permeating the beef, making for a moist Hamburger Steak. I would be hesitant to try this with ground meat that had a very high fat content, as I did not drain any fat before adding the vegetables and gravy. I did not add oil to the skillet prior to cooking either, and had no issues with sticking.  

Politics and social unrest are wearing on me again. I see and read so much negativity, and it is not just on Facebook. It is on the news, be the source print, online content, or television. Online blogs, news outlets, pseudo-news outlets, views through the lens of various religions, beliefs, cultures ... too many agendas, too much division, too much posturing.

In addition to the national and global headlines and events, there are local concerns as well, including a campaign (special election is tomorrow - I am so relieved) that quickly went very south in tone - can we say enough mud has been slung to make bricks to build a good sized stadium? Yes, I think we can. The fact that I am personally acquainted with one of the candidates, and find him to be personable, engaging, and articulate makes the television ads and daily deluge of flyers all the more disheartening. One of the candidates has resurrected a particularly difficult and painful local event from the recent past in an ad, which I know has infuriated a town in the county where I live, and rightly so. It puzzles me to no end how a person endeavoring to be elected to a state office, to become a public servant, could not foresee the possible ramifications of dredging up events that were so horribly and tragically endured by the very people from whom votes are being solicited. It will be educational to see who wins those precincts come Wednesday morning. 

As I type this, Smokie the Black Cat is draped across my lap, catnapping. Mabon the Calico Cat is lying across Roger, cleaning her paws because, well, that is what cats do - endlessly - they clean themselves. And nap. Then demand food. Then clean and nap again. My life is awesome, not because I let myself become unsettled by politics and people, but because I have the cats and Roger and Little Beaver Creek to keep me mindful of balance, perspective, and blessings. Have a good week!