Wednesday, December 7, 2016

I've seen fire and I've seen rain.

Last week, I left my office around noon to run an errand. It was unseasonably warm, so I was startled to see that it was snowing. I reflexively held up my hand to catch the snowflakes and saw that it was actually ash falling steadily from the sky. This photo was the soot-covered hood of a white car parked next to me. The wildfires in the Smokies were rapidly spreading due to the drought.
The sky was, literally, brown. I did not alter this photo in any way.  In the end, almost two thousand homes and businesses were destroyed, 14 people died and another hundred or so were injured. Some 17,000 acres burned, in all.

On the day when it finally started raining, while our beautiful temperate rainforest was still ablaze, there were flash flood and tornado warnings for the surrounding area. And this is just my neck of the woods - I know that tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes, floods, droughts, blizzards and ice storms have amped up everywhere. What are we doing to our world?

Friday, December 2, 2016

"She was a day tripper, Sunday driver, yeah."

Last Sunday, when we were kidless, my husband proposed a three-part day trip. At my suggestion, he'd recently read the Catherine Marshall book, "Christy," a fictionalized account of the author's mother who was a mission teacher in Tennessee in 1912. He wanted to see the setting for the book, so we drove up through the mountains to Del Rio (El Pano in the book).
Del Rio is one of those pure Appalachia towns. Poor and uneducated and set in the midst of often breath-taking beauty.
But this tiny town, connected to the outside world by a railroad, was quite civilized compared to where the mission was located.
 We got out a couple of times to explore around the community.
Then on up a narrow winding road to the community of Chapel Hollow (the book's Cutter Gap). The buildings are mostly in ruins, often only a crude stone fireplace left standing sentry.
After we'd walked around, we started to head back past an occupied house and a woman came out to chat with us and give us a pamphlet about the mission. I wish I had a photo - she was in a fuzzy bathrobe and pink wool cap, with a cigarette in one hand and cup of coffee in the other. And just as friendly as she could be, as she told us about the area and invited us to come back in the spring for their homecoming dinner. "It's free," she said, "and y'all don't have to bring a thing - just come on and eat with us." I believe we will.
 From there we drove on towards North Carolina.
We stopped once to let a big flock of wild turkeys amble across the road and up into the woods.
We hiked up to Max Patch, on the Appalachian Trail. It's a short, easy hike and with the recent drought, a little dry and dusty.
We settled in a clear spot on the top for a picnic. Thanksgiving leftovers (turkey sandwiches), of course.
It was such a gorgeous day that we expected more of a crowd. But we ended up having no one in our view for most of the picnic.
 We still had a stop to go, so we headed back down to our car.
I love when the world is green, but there is an interesting beauty to the plants heading for their winter sleep.
We drove from Max Patch to Hot Springs, and after a walk around town, we went into this store for a raspberry-lemon sorbet and cup of coffee.
And then the best part - a soak in our favorite tub on the little spit of land where Spring Creek joins up with the French Broad River.  I love this place - it's peaceful and private and soaking in the spring-fed tub is heavenly. We ended the day feeling relaxed and ready to plunge back into the work week.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Focusing on Gratitude

As I watch the news rolling in on the appointment of a bevy of white supremacists and others who would undo the strides we've made in the rights of women, children, minorities and the LGBT community, I have deliberately turned my head temporarily to focus in on what I can still be thankful for.
One of my sisters and my brother-in-law came to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with us. Our younger son had to work, but he and his girlfriend joined us for breakfast Thanksgiving morning. That evening, we had the girls with us. I have never cooked a Thanksgiving turkey before, but I went and picked out what I thought would be a suitable turkey to roast. From the general hilarity that ensued when I was asked its size, I may have mis-calculated. Our older daughter is what I call a pizzatarian - no meat but also virtually no vegetables. That left four adults and a child and one whopping 22+ pound bird. No matter. I dry-brined it and stuffed the cavity with quartered onions, oranges, garlic and rosemary branches. I spent much of Wednesday contentedly chopping food. Thanksgiving afternoon we sat down to a pile of turkey, giblet gravy, mashed potatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes roasted with pecans and a bourbon-maple glaze, green beans with almonds in balsamic vinegar and pomegranate arils, my family's traditional oyster dressing, and cranberry sauce with ginger and orange marmalade. And gooey mac & cheese and crescent rolls for the pizzatarian. We went around the table saying what we were thankful for this year.
Afterwards, we opened up a bottle of the bollecine rosse (a red prosecco) we brought back from our honeymoon in Chianti. We sat around talking and laughing and sent texts to those of our kids who weren't able to be with us that night.
I took the carcass of the turkey and the herbs, onion, garlic and celery from the cavity and boiled it on the stove for a couple of hours. The meaty stock will go in the freezer, except for what is now in the crock pot, turning into Thanksgiving Leftover Stew. I put in the green beans and some of the mashed potatoes left from dinner, carrots, cabbage, and peas from the fridge and freezer, an extra onion, and half a bottle of red wine. It will be ready for our dinner tonight. And so I am thankful for:

  • Enough food to eat heartily and extra to save for other days.
  • An ability to cook, with or without recipes.
  • A cozy little house that keeps us warm and dry.
  • A yard of my own so I can dig in the dirt and make a place for the bees and butterflies.
  • Good health and an able body.
  • A career that lets me (most of the time) help people heal and get stronger.
  • Plans for travel ahead of me.
  • A safe, friendly neighborhood that prides itself on its cohesiveness.
  • Family and friends who remind me that I am not the only one saddened by the surge in bigotry.
  • Our merged family with four children I love dearly.
  • A loving husband who is giving me a second chance at a happy marriage.
I wish for all of you- regardless of your political leanings - compassion, peace, clarity and gratitude in the coming year.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

I need to take a little time to mourn.

The nation, through our outdated electoral college system, has chosen to put us in the hands of a man who brags about assaulting women, encourages violence, and revels in his own prejudice and narrow-mindedness. The lunatics have taken over the asylum and we will ALL have to pay for their anger and bigotry. I am ashamed for us, afraid for us, and grieving for us.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Fall projects.

It all started with over pints of IPA and a game of cornhole at a beer garden we like. It suddenly seemed like we should have a cornhole board in our yard.
We bought a 2X4 and got a free piece of scrap OSB and went to work. My husband cut and assembled the blard and I put on two coats of weatherproofing varnish and two coats of white paint (both of which we already had).
Then I collected leaves out of the yard and made a cardboard template for spray painting gold metallic leaves onto the board, and took a brown sharpie to them to add outlines and veining.
We only built one because it's not for a tournament, just something to have for fun in the back yard. The beanbags are black and yellow and we've actually already put this to use on several warm afternoons.
Next up was building a stone enclosure for the metal firepit we already had. My husband took that project as I was painting th ecornhole board.
It was up in no time, since no cementing was involved. He had to take a hammer and chisel to a couple of the top stones to cinch it in tight under the lip of the metal pit, and it seems very sturdy now.
We broke it in on the weekend when the girls were here, toasting marshmallows for s'mores over the fire.
While I was painting the leaf shapes, I accidentally spraypainted a couple of acorns on the ground. Which lead me to painting some more acorns, pinecones and a few mini pumpkins. Why?
Because fall! I may prefer warm seasons, but I do love autumnal colors.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Halloween weekend.

The Saturday before Halloween was one of our kidless Saturdays, so we decided to go to the UU church's costume party. I recycled a thrift store dress I'd used as part of a murder mystery party outfit a decade ago by sewing fringe to the bottom of it. A black boa, bobbed wig with a bejeweled and feathered headband and long pearls, and voilĂ  - instant flapper. My husband did his best Great Gatsby look with a paisley vest and tie and a fedora.  He had a crystal-topped walking stick he'd made, but that didn't find its way into the photo. Instead of heading straight to the party, we went to the speakeasy downtown for a whiskey first because it seemed like the right thing to do. We got smiles and compliments from the bartender and the other patrons.
Last Halloween we saw several families stop just short of our house, presumably thinking there was no one home. This year, I hung up a ghost by the street and strung purple lights along the driveway and to the door to lure them in. By the end of the evening, 70 trick-or-treaters had collected candy from us.
When the stream of costume-clad kids had dwindled down, we grabbed a bottle of wine and the candy bowl and headed next door, where our neighbors were sitting on their porch. We hung out with them, handing out candy to the stragglers and talking about travel. And then about the current election, which lead them to break out a bottle of Irish whiskey. We decided a new tradition had been born.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Resurfacing.

So, I posted the wedding and Italy trip and even blogged just a little beyond that. But then I lost the will to blog. Here's why: Two weeks after we returned, the poorly managed company my husband worked for eliminated several positions, including his. On the one hand, it was a good thing because the people who ran the business are ... how do I say this delicately ... not nice people. On the other hand, though, we got an up-close look at ageism in hiring. Finally, 15 weeks later, he landed a job he's very happy with and we both breathed a big sigh of relief.
In the meantime, life went along. In early September my husband had a birthday. It was his 50th and we had a Hawaii Five-O themed party to celebrate. Just a small gathering of neighbors, who all arrived in tropical shirts and were greeted at the door by our younger daughter with flower leis. Weirdly, I took almost no photos of this event. But we threw ourselves into it, making luau-style food: chicken and broccoli teriyaki, shrimp, onion, pepper and pineapple kebabs on the grill. rice, sweet potato fries, and a salad with mango dressing. Tropical fruit with gingered cream for dessert, along with a pineapple upside-down cake my son and his girlfriend had made. We had pitchers of non-alcoholic fruit punch for the kids and non-drinkers and pitchers of a wickedly strong tropical sangria for the drinkers.
The decorations were tropical, too, down to the coverings on the mosquito-repelling lanterns. The food table had a pineapple, coconut and other tropical fruit centerpiece, and coral-colored canna lilies.We put up a paper flower garland, glow-in the dark balloons, tiki torches and candles. We all hung out on the deck, eating and talking and laughing until late.
We got a cool Hawaiian shirt for my husband. And while we were visiting his mother, the neighbor who used to live in Hawaii brought over a dress for me. I altered it when we got home and so that it fits like it was made for me. It even gave me an excuse to haul out the shell necklaces I've had since I spent a summer in Hawaii as a teen.
September seemed to fly by, although it has stayed very warm here. The last of the hummingbirds have only recently moved on.
Right at the end of September, my husband got his job offer, and we decided to celebrate my birthday with an overnight trip to Chattanooga. It's a very walkable little city and also has a free trolley. We went across the river and had a beer on a patio overlooking the water and then headed out that night to spend a little time at a bluegrass festival.
We had dinner at a wonderful seafood restaurant. The food was good but we had a garrulous waiter who managed to break the cork on the wine bottle as he told us a long story about how much he loves "wine tools," the various wine pulls he'd lost over the years and how this corkscrew was one he'd stolen from another server. In addition, he talked about his dream of becoming a professional gamer and of the elaborate tattoo he wanted that would cover his entire upper torso and involved Celtic knots, trees and an otter. He said that his girlfriend didn't approve of his plans for his career or his tattoo. He wrapped up by saying that maybe we'd meet in Ireland someday. I can only fall back on my Southern roots and say bless his heart.
 After a good breakfast at a diner the next morning, we headed on home.
Even as October has passed, it has stayed unseasonably warm. Only a slight chill in the mornings hints at the approaching winter. In spite of the patrolling cat, the fearless squirrels venture onto the deck to drink from Hodr's water bowl.
We try to take advantage of the glorious weather as often as possible, going for walks or heading to the square for an occasional drink.
At one place we got a snack with our drink, tempted by the quail egg sashimi. I have no idea what I thought that was going to be, but the sight of the raw eggs surprised me. Thankfully, it was far more delicious than I'd have guessed.
We also take our bikes out now and again to ride down to the park and read in the shade. And of course, there's always work in the yard. That's something that never grows old for me.
Things are back on track, life has settled into a more normal pace, and I am determined to blog again on a semi-regular basis. I'll be around visiting as soon as I can.