Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sprigs: Freezer Burn Soup

Preparing for this year's harvest, I needed to clear out leftovers and defrost the freezer. 

I dropped the freezer-burned  chunks of vegetables into my soup pot. 

Once they thawed slightly, I pushed the peas right out of the end of the pod like train cars coming through a tunnel.  

It was a gamble, flavor-wise. Maybe the leftover charcoal grilled turkey would zip it up. If the concoction was too awful we just wouldn't eat it. 

It turned out to be a twofer. Clean freezer and easy dinner. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ordeal by Kayak

My beach week was fun easy indulgence. Mostly. The kayak trip was the exception.

I've paddled on the smooth waters of the New River a couple of times.  Both events were relaxed with plenty of time to appreciate the beauty. The hardest part was getting the kayaks in and out of the water.

That could have been the case at Sunset Beach on a different day. However, the tide was running against us. Worse, much worse, the wind was blowing about twenty miles per hour and we were rowing directly into it. 

I was too much of a novice to know how difficult that would be. I should have let the leaders know that my previous experience was slim, and under ideal conditions.

They should have been more realistic when they checked out my grey roots and lack of bulging biceps. (The assistant made some kind of off-hand comment about noticing that we were seniors. He's 60. How old did he think I was?!) His only advice: keep paddling: left-right-left-right; and holler if I needed to be towed.

My eager desire to prove I still had a spirit of adventure and some pep faded about the same time I overturned the kayak (in two feet of water.) To bolster my resolve I sang "row, row, row, your boat." I thought the rhythm would help me. But the song mocked me because rowing was  NOT a dream. My morale downgraded into dogged determination. Keep paddling. You-can't-give-up, you-can't-give-up. 

Afterwards, I asked my friends what helped them keep going.  Patti was repeating the left-right chant. Peggy was praying "Hail Mary."  I hope she wasn't thinking about the last line, "pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

The wind was relentless. I found myself challenged beyond my capacity. If I'd had an anchor I would have pulled into the sea grass and waited for the group to return. 

I fell further behind. I asked the coadjutor for a pep talk. Instead, he attached a short lead rope to my kayak prow and told me to keep paddling. Imagine a photo-- me at the rear, the wimpy grandma getting towed.

It was meager, mean comfort to notice my friends were struggling too. Three of us were finally towed to our lunch stop. The fourth was rowing valiantly, but from my perspective it looked like she was standing still. Later, one said she got discouraged every time we had to turn a corner and the current and wind shifted. The other got stuck in grass and didn't know what to do to get out. 

two hours and two miles later!
After our break, we were certain it would be easy heading back. Instead we battled crosswinds that would be classified somewhere between a fresh breeze (18-24 mph) and a strong breeze (25-30 mph). A gale is the next step up. 

Fighting our way back to shore, one woman said "I think I'll pass on this trip next year." Amen, sister. 

Some people intentionally choose physically demanding sports. Me, I'm an Xtreme hammock-operator. The excursion was like a boot camp exercise, good if you're into survivalism.

Life doesn't give us choices, though. And we will all eventually face a crisis that requires we just keep moving forward, however slowly, however difficult.

Putting it all into perspective, I didn't get hurt. I wasn't in danger. It just wasn't fun. 

I want to dedicate this blog to two friends who are paddling against gale winds. 

to M,  recently widowed

and B,  enduring chemotherapy to save her eyesight

Remember, Jesus is towing you!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bluegrass Heaven

We live in Bluegrass heaven.

Any weekend May-September there is a festival to attend someplace in North Carolina and Virginia. In 2013 we launched the season with the Ralph Stanley Festival held on top of Clinch Mountain in southwest Virginia. 

Dr. Stanley, now in his mid-eighties is about at the end of his performing career. Last year he held an honorary position in the Clinch Mountain Boys rather than be the driving force he was formerly. His grandson now keeps the group going.

His home and the site of the festival is near Coeburn, Va. It is really out in the boonies. Wikipedia describes it as in the "ridge-and-valley section of the Appalachian Mountains." As an old-fashioned relief map it would look like the folds of skin on a Shar-Pei.  The one-and-a quarter-lane county route 652 twists and winds up and around to a more or less flat place at the top of the mountain. How those RVs made it up that road I don't know. 

On the way we passed a beautiful garden. I knocked on the door to ask permission to take pictures, but no one was home. I took pictures anyway. 

As festivals go, the crowd was small, and diverse. It was chilly, and everyone was trying to keep warm with jackets, quilts, and even sleeping bags. One middle aged woman wore a camaflouge jacket and a Busch beer baseball hat. On the other hand, some of crowd looked like serious hikers who had stopped on their way over the mountain, wearing well-worn Columbia or Eddie Bauer outerwear. 

The music ran the gamut from very traditional old-time ballads to contemporary songs performed by the song-writers. I liked "Get "Em Up", a rough, bluesy gospel number,  performed by Dave Adkins and Republik Steele. The group disbanded later, but I sure enjoyed hearing them.

The local flavor of mountain speech added a rich cultural layer too. Using grammar that would make a school teacher cringe, the Master of Ceremonies introduced one group. "These old boys is real good friends of mine."  

Between songs a banjo player retold a story about "John seen the bar (bear) coming down the RR crossing." I enjoyed his style so much I forgot the punch line.

The trip back down the mountain was even steeper than the way we came in. We agreed that we'd "rode around these hills," another phrase used by a performer.

We stayed at a the Sleep Inn in nearby Clintwood. At breakfast the next morning several of the guests were pick' and jammin' among the diners. We chatted with one couple who had come from Boulder, Colorado for the festival. Another gentleman had traveled from Belgium.

I wish more Americans would explore the heritage being carried forward by the generations succeeding Doc Watson, Dr. Stanley and the Carter family. We enjoy a national treasure with each concert. 

Add to that the opportunity to step back into the mountain experience, far removed culturally from our overly-homogenized cities, and we have the opportunity to experience another era in our history. 

Next week we'll be taking in day one of the Red, White & Blue Festival at Catawba Meadows Park in Morganton, NC.  I can't wait to sample more local flavor. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Poison Ivy Foe

2" diameter
The fiercest enemy in my garden is poison ivy. I’m wary, like a soldier who knows her foe is somewhere near. If I spot it, I head the other direction.

When I'm lax, I suffer. Abrasive scrubs*, topical creams and special soap alleviate the misery.  If you ever had a skirmish with it though, you know it’s better to avoid the three-leafed scourge.

A friend told me how she and her husband sawed off large hairy vines clinging to a tall tree. The creepers were strong enough to support Cheetah and Tarzan. 

Curious, she checked online to identify it. She was alarmed to discover they’d been mucking about in poison ivy for a couple of hours. 

She ran to the back door. Without a thought to her neighbors within hearing distance, she shouted "Kenny, come inside now.  And take off your clothes!”

*Buy Zanfel online. ebay shows it half price of what our local pharmacy charged, $18.99 instead of $40.00.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Claiming a Name

Our book club celebrated our 15th anniversary last week, cake, candles and all. We sang "happy birthday to us...happy birthday dear Lattes, happy birthday to us.”  

We are the Read-a-Lattes, (and the Go-a-Lattes, and the Laugh-a-Lattes...)

Like families, sports teams, and other social organizations, we wanted a name. We started with the Bookworms, shortened to the Wormies. But it lacked sophistication, flair—and we groused every time we said it. 

Riding around Sunset Beach I noticed the houses have names, too. Most of them play on words. This large yellow house is probably owned by boomers who couldn't resist naming it the Yellow Submarine. Or, it was somebody's favorite song and so they painted the house to match.

Sometimes the owners incorporate the family name and heritage: Scotts' Lowland Fling.

Latitude Adjustment certainly describes what time at a beach can do for you.  

The most evocative house name was Minutes to Memories. The namers imagined time spent with family and friends which built traditions and made memories that would bind together.

One group of young women temporarily named their second story condo with a banner hung over the rail. UD...University of...Dubuque? Delaware? Dayton?

It identified them as part of a distinctive group, set apart from the rest of us. They belong, and they're special. 

Doesn't that speak to our most basic human needs, to be part of a group who values and affirms you?  

That's why you can identify motorcyle clubs, like the Black Tigers MC, roaring down the highway. They travel together and are branded by their jackets. 

We don’t wear leather, just once-a-year matching T-shirts. Our brand is our name. We belong, and we’re special.

What name do you claim? 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sprigs: Foiling blossom end rot in tomatoes

This is the time we try to forestall BER (blossom end rot), which sounds sort of like BMI but it's for tomatoes.
Nothing sinks my gardener's heart faster than the squishy, off-colored rot spot at the bottom of the fruit.

So, I use tomato food.

And I keep them watered. Deeply. Near the roots. I made one of these  modified 2 liter soda bottles for each plant.

It's a bonus that they guide my chief garden-helper to know he's given them just the right amount of water. So far, they're doing well, but we're in early times yet. 

How do you foil the Death Angel of tomatoes?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Esteem: entitled or earned?

A recent letter to the editor (Wall Street Journal 5/24-25) commented on the strange and rude spate of colleges disinviting commencement speakers.

The author's point was that today's college grads were raised with the all important goal of building self-esteem. As a teacher, I was officially part of the "movement." But as a mother, I didn't praised my children for sloppy work. I didn't reward any and every effort regardless of its quality. My students got more of the mom than the esteem builder.

The author contended that we should not be surprised when young adults who have been constantly affirmed for everything they do and say don't think they should listen to anyone who disagrees with them.  

The letter put me in mind of a recent incident with one of my grandchildren that suggests she thinks everything she does is worth getting excited about.

She's 5, and she observed an interaction between her old brother and me. He was trying to "sell" his first book to me. It was about Legos, and each page (chapter) addressed a different type of Legos, with specific details. Usually $29.99, he said, he was giving me a deal for only $1.99. 

Addie watched me pay Keeler, and her little wheels started turning. She found construction paper, tape, and the only marker the dog hadn't chewed up. 

A few minutes later she brought me her book. It was two folded pieces of construction paper, taped together. The "front cover" was a circular squiggle with four lines ticking out  of it.

"What is it?" I asked. 

"That's you, Grandma."

She was excited, and I really didn't know what to say.

Maybe it was the teacher talking, rather than the doting granny. Carefully, and kindly I said "Addie, I don't think this is your best work."

She burst into tears. Oh dear. Was I being too critical? Had she never had anyone dispute the quality of her work?  

Her mom soothed her, and over her head told me that maybe she'd been trying to  make a fast buck, but that she really wasn't much of an artist. But somehow Addie thought it was good work.  

I was sorry I'd hurt her feelings, but at the same time, I hadn't cheered when her mother produced hurried work. Should I have let her think that it was good just because I love her?

Thankfully her mom took away the sting by suggesting Addie create another project that she knew would have an outcome pleasing to us both, and one she could justifiably be proud of. 

That's a life lesson which will foster esteem.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sprigs: Favorite Tools

For a long time I looked for a wringer washer to use as a planter in the yard.

When I had the old shed converted into a potting shed, I knew I wanted water out there. So, I decided to fuse the projects, making a sink out of the washing machine.

My creative plumber took out the motor and installed a drain at the bottom. Then he connected water. Now I can scrub my pots with ease. (In fact several are sitting in clorox water getting sterilized right now.) 

I can flip down the lid and rest my watering cans on the top while I fill them.

AND, it holds a lot of ice and many beverages for a party!

I don't know how I did without it.