Friday, August 30, 2013

Poverty and Brain Power

It took a few months of gypsy life, but I finally woke up in the middle of the night with no idea where I was. It is such an unsettling feeling, not knowing what bed you're sleeping in. It was dark and hard to see anything at all. A quick scan around the room helped me get my bearings, and I managed to get back to sleep.

But then I read an article about a homeless teenager who slept in a tree, and I realize how lucky I am. My gypsy life is a chosen life. I'm not really homeless even though I don't have a room or a closet to call my own. But I have a roof over my head, and go to bed with a full belly each night.

The unfortunate reality is that homelessness and poverty are a real problems for many people. Just this week, Mama conducted an interview on her blog discussing how so many people are just a paycheck or two away from homelessness.

And reports were released that explore's poverty's negative affect on brain power. It seems that the stress caused by lack of money limits the brain's capacity to to perform well in cognitive and logic testing.

All this gets me thinking about my upcoming trip to Guatemala with World Vision. Did you know it is the most populated country in Central America? It has a population of nearly 150,000. Over 50% live below the poverty line, and nearly half of the children in Guatemala suffer from malnutrition.

But World Vision is doing some exciting things in Guatemala. Like the Children Artistic Development Center, which provides education in music and arts. World Vision has a recent blog post about how learning music helped one girl rise from poverty. Go read Yolanda's story.

I am leaving in a little over a week, and I have much to do to prepare for this journey. But I am excited about this opportunity to witness the work World Vision is doing. To learn more about their sponsorship program. And to tell you all about it. If you, too, would like to support someone like Yolanda, click here to sponsor a child in Guatemala. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Amazing Grits

Remember when I told you I am not a picky eater?  Well that wasn't always the case. Mama's from the south. I grew up eating and loving all sorts of southern staples. I loved catfish and hush puppies, black eyes peas and boiled peanuts, and even succotash. The one thing I didn't like was grits.

I can't explain my childhood aversion. It was probably textural. I used to hate yogurt too. Although, I'd eat oatmeal. I remember the first time I ate grits and liked them. I was in college on a trip south with Mama. I don't remember what little cafe we were at. I'm sure Mama does. It was in Columbus, Georgia and I think it was near a little bed and breakfast my family liked to stay at, the Rothschild-Pound House Inn.  But I do remember two things about breakfast that morning:

1) I had cheese grits and eggs. The cheese made all the difference. Or maybe it was the other thing I remember that made the grits taste so good.

2) The cook came out with her big booming voice and gave us the most stunning performance of "Amazing Grace." She was part of a traveling gospel choir and I don't remember how Mama got her to come out and sing, but it was incredible. I think everyone in the place stopped eating to listen to her sing.

But back to the grits. Whether it was the cheese or the song, I now sometimes get a craving for grits. And I make them for myself. Like this week. I had to have grits, and I've had them for breakfast all week. Now I eat them without cheese. I'm sure the thought of that is going to drive Mama nuts.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lost Ramen

Last night as I paced up and down the grocery aisle trying to find one item, I realized it had likely been a good eight years since I had purchased said item. 

Ramen noodles are the staple of college students. I don't remember ever being so broke that it was the only thing I could afford, but I ate them from time to time. I don't know when, but sometime after marching to "Pomp and Circumstance," I decided that since I had my diploma, I would not buy ramen again. And I haven't. 

But back in June I texted my aunt for the recipe for her chicken salad. When she forgot to email it to me, I called her one evening in July. As she walked the aisles of her own grocery store, she gave me step-by-step instructions complete with the do this and don't do that tips that she has learned over the years of making her staple dish. Now that August was coming to a close, I figured I'd better whip up that salad.  

And that's what lead me to call my sister in the middle of the grocery store because I couldn't find the ramen noodles.  Thanks to my aunt's detailed instructions, the salad tasted just like I remember it. And thanks to my sister, I now know where to find the noodles for next time. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Finding Balance in the Front Line of Divorce

So my day job is nothing like my job moonlighting as a pub driver. I work at a law firm. A family law firm. I do divorce. People who ride the pub tours laugh when they find out what my "real" job is. Admittedly, I can tell some pretty wild stories. Unbelievable ones. Ones that reveal the true nature of some people that would shock and surprise you, but sometimes make you laugh. Because working in this field is sort of like working in medicine or law enforcement, a twisted sort of humor is the coping mechanism most often adopted. But most of the time, it's not really a funny job.

I deal with the broken lives of broken people. And it's hard. Eventually they get through the pain. Most of them to a better place even. But wading through that pain doesn't get easier.

I am asked often about my marital status by clients who worry my front-row seat to the end of their marriage will be a hex for any future relationships of mine. They fear I will be scarred and single for life. I calmly assure them my life is full of balance. Like riding around town with happy drunks on the Cycle Pub. I kid. I kid. (Not all drunks are happy.) But I do tell them the balance is in the examples of those around me. My parents just celebrated 35 years of marriage yesterday. (Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!) My grandparents. Even my bosses and their wives. They believe in marriage.

Have you heard the story of Fred Stobaugh and his submission to a singer/songwriter competition? If you haven't, go watch this video now. It is both touching and inspiring.

Can you believe Green Shoe Studios? How they'd go out of their way to help a fellow who can't sing a lick and knows it? Most of us won't live long enough to have a 75 year run with someone, but this story makes my heart burst with hope for the goodness in people and the relationships that do last. Has anyone in your life served as a model for healthy relationships? Tell me about them. I need all the balance I can get. 

Oh and if you want to buy "Oh Sweet Lorraine", you can do so on iTunes. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Facing Storms

Years ago when I lived in the big city, there was a wildfire in California that sparked evacuations and made national news. I remember someone in the city saying, "I can't imagine my home being in danger of burning because of a forest fire."

But having grown up in the Northwest where many of my friends and some of my family spent summers working for the United States Forest Service and the State Forestry department, I was very aware of the danger. I could imagine it. But I also knew that in the big city campgrounds were often separated from suburban housing developments by just a small treeline. The person who made that statement might never have driven through a National Forest after the fire. Around here, it's a sight I can see driving in just about any direction out of town.

Sundays have been my only day completely off work lately. I've tried to take advantage of the afternoon and drive out of the mountain town and into the forest. Yesterday it was storming and pouring down rain. It wasn't a good day for a hike to my favorite perch. I still wanted to get out of town. So I drove the scenic byway. Through the mountain. Passed the high lakes. One big loop out of town and back again.

One of the last lakes I passed has been the sight of a couple of major forest fire in years past. The forest floor as I drove by was littered with matchstick like remnants of the pines that once reached for the sky. Where trees once stood shoulder to shoulder blocking the view, they now grew in spurts. One here. Two there. With plenty of room between them. White trunks bare with green needle poms only at the tip top of the branches.

by Greg_e, on Flickr
"Elk Lake, Central Oregon" by Greg_e, on Flickr

Every time I pass the site of a forest fire, I can't help but think how beautiful it is. Please don't get me wrong here. These wildfires are devastating. Fires this month alone have claimed multiple lives and homes in Oregon alone. They are not beautiful when they happen whether the first spark was caused naturally, or by human interference, intentional or not. But wildfires are a natural process, at least those not man-made. The beauty is in the forests ability to recover. To heal the scar left on these mountainsides. Trees begin to grow again. Animals return. Did you know the best place to hunt for morel mushrooms is in the soil a year or two after a forest fire has swept through the area?

Shortly after I passed the site of the fire, I was pelted with severe hail. I tensed up as it felt like gravel hitting my windshield. The sky was clouded dark, and flashes of lightening barely broke through the clouds. Almost as if someone kept hitting the dimmer switch on the sun. On and then off. And on and off again. I was thankful I'd finally gotten around to replacing my useless windshield wipers a couple of weeks ago.

Just some rain. I had no idea what was coming. 

Minutes later, just as quickly as it started, it stopped. The rain slowed. A break in the clouds reveled a blue sky. I could see individual raindrops as they fell hundreds of feet from above the treeline. White hail sprinkled the roadside like a dusting of powdered sugar. It took another 30 minutes for a warning to come crashing across the radio station. The National Weather Service was warning those north of me to expect the storm I'd just driven through.

Thinking about the fire and the storm, now thought to be one of the worst in this area in years with over 6,500 lightning strikes, I can't help but think of the people I know facing storms in their lives. Death. Unemployment. Infertility. So much hurt and loss and pain.

Like me on the highway yesterday, we don't always get a warning of trouble ahead. I don't know how these scars will heal, or how long it will take. But they will. For even the forest grows again, and the sun breaks through the clouds after the storm has passed.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ditching the Me Mentality

So are you all anxious to hear that big announcement? Or did you already forget I promised a big announcement this week? 

I'm going to be appearing more over on Mama's blog over the next few weeks. You can hop on over there and read why and what that announcement is all about. Or you can just continue reading here.  

When I was six, my family moved across town. In the middle of kindergarten, I had to start attending a new school. No longer did I ride the bus with the neighbor kids, or walk with friends the four blocks to the babysitter’s house after school. Everything was new. Now school was a short walk down a hill, accompanied by my brother. But kindergarten was only half-day and, in the middle of the year, it was hard to find occasional help for the days when Mama worked.

There was a daycare just across the street from the elementary school. I went to that daycare a grand total of one day.

I hated every minute of it. The mandatory naps on blue mats lined up on the floor. The macaroni and cheese lunch. I remember more about that one day at daycare than I do about the countless afternoons spent at the babysitter’s home. I complained so much about that day at daycare, that I never had to go back. In fact, after that one day at daycare, I would occasionally ride a taxi across the small town back to the old babysitter’s house after school. A six-year-old riding a taxi to the babysitter’s house. That was me. Oh. Along with my twin sister, Ashley.

For the next decade, whenever we drove passed that daycare, my sisters and I would complain loudly about how much we hated that one afternoon we spent in daycare. I am sure there were a myriad of reasons why Mama never sent us back to that daycare and choose, instead,  to send us back to our old babysitter. We eventually transferred back to the old school via bus, and I wouldn’t ride in another taxi again until I was an adult.

I look back on that experience and realize the depth of how spoiled and privileged I was. Have you read the recent New York Times article Seeing Narcissists Everywhere about Dr. Twenge’s research that the Millennial, or the Me Generation, is “increasingly entitled, self-obsessed and unprepared for the realities of adulthood.” Could she be describing me? My generation?

Contrary to Twenge's argument, there are those who believe Generation Y is actually more civic-minded than previous generations.

I didn’t attend private school or expensive extracurricular programs. I wasn't a trust fund baby, and my family was not wealthy by any means. My parents were educators. Still, I was spoiled. I’ve know that for a long time.

I don’t know how old I was when I began to realize just how good my childhood had been. That I had all my needs met and most of my wants satisfied. My parents didn’t grow up with the same sort of abundance I had. My grandfather had only a 9th grade education. My great-grandparents couldn’t read or write, or drive cars. Raised by teachers, I knew from an early age that education was an important gift. And my parents worked hard to provide over and above for their four children and encouraged us as we sought our own education.

By the age of 16, I was earning my own money working at the local grocery store. Mostly it was gas money. I was already saving for college too. I remember attending a large youth conference that summer and hearing a call to sponsor children. I'd heard about girls in India, and how they didn't have the same opportunities I had. The same chance to go to school. Or the choice to date the cute musician. Or even work at the market down the street. I decided then and there to use some of the money I made bagging groceries to sponsor a girl in India. I wanted her to be able to go to school and work and have some of the same opportunities that I had.

I never met her, but I've been praying for her for half of my life now. She has since grown up and moved on, but I have been sponsoring children in other countries since that time. My hope is that giving out of the abundance that I have, I might change the life of even one child.

In just a few weeks, I will be headed to Guatemala with World Vision. I will have the opportunity to meet my sponsor child and witness the work World Vision is accomplishing in Central America.

I am overwhelmed and completely humbled to join in on this trip. I pray this means that I’ve come a long way from the middle-class brat who rode a taxi to kindergarten. That maybe I’m separating myself from the entitlement that Dr. Twenge sees motivating my peers.

Above all, my prayers is that my sponsorship will change the life of one child. With your help, perhaps together we can make sure every child in the community where I will be visiting is sponsored. We can begin to reach this goal through prayer.

I ask that you pray with me as I prepare for this journey. Pray for the children in Guatemala. For the work World Vision is accomplishing there. And if your prayers lead you to action, click here to sponsor a child in Guatemala. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gypsy Life Wrap Up

I'm still plugging away at gypsy life. Things, as you may have noticed, are getting a little more hectic. More moving around as this gypsy living nears its probable end. I am moving about once a week now for the next few weeks. For someone who hates moving, it's sort of crazy. But then it's not really like moving, it's more like taking weeklong vacations, one right after the other. 

I will soon have to end this gypsy life though as the prospects for future house sitting gigs are dwindling as summer wraps up and school commences. It's been a fun and productive run. I've got to stay in some great homes of some really great people over the last few months. Enjoying their gardens and their patios and just their homes in general. And accomplishing a few of my own goals along the way.  But I didn't really think too much about this next part when I said "goodbye" to the little studio that was my home for over four years. 

I was talking to an acquaintance the other day about hunting for a housemate and the characters you can meet through Craigslist ads. It's been a number of years since I had to share my home, but that is very likely where this gypsy is headed very soon. The last time I was on a search for roommates, I was driving across the country headed to a new job and a new school thousands of miles away, where I effectively knew nobody. 

I don't remember a lot about that house hunt. I know a checked out a few places, and met a few potential housemates. I don't know why I ended up choosing the girls I did. It wasn't easy moving in with two girls I didn't know. But we managed. We may have managed with a lot of post-it-notes to each other, but we managed. (Side note: have you seen the passive aggressive roommate notes? We weren't that bad. But there were a few times . . .)

I'm starting to think about the qualities I'd want in a housemate this time around. So maybe I can avoid the note passing and actually enjoy living with someone after all these years. I am a homebody, so being comfortable where I live is important. But what do you look for in finding someone to share your home with? What is the most important? Cleanliness? Character? Congeniality? 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Loan Payoff Confirmed

Remember when I paid off my student loan last month and it all felt very unreal? It was anticlimactic. I did it. It was over. And that was it. 

I didn't expect a ticker tape parade. But I was hoping for some sort of acknowledgement from Sallie after such a long relationship. Some sort of recognition. I mean who wouldn't want that after a seven year affair? But she was acting like nothing happened, like it was business as usual, while I  knew our relationship had changed. 

A month later, I finally got what I was looking for: confirmation of having paid off that loan. It came this weekend in the form of an email. And what I hope is the last correspondence I receive from the lady. 

I'm wondering though, does she ever tell her customers that they were lousy and their business is not welcome in the future? Or is she so happy she has her money back, plus interest, that she doesn't care how it got there?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Fashion Superheros: 541 Threads

Do any of you ladies find it difficult to shop for the guys in your lives? Please tell me it's not just me. I have such a difficult time. I don't know what dudes like. Or want. Or need. It was easier when I only had one brother. But now I've got two brothers-in-law (side note: did you know that's the plural of the word?). And it's rough. Birthdays. Holidays. 

One thing that makes it more difficult is that I like to shop local and small businesses whenever possible. This mountain town I live in has a lot of local options, and that's one thing that I love about this place. (If winter were a few months shorter, it'd be paradise.) 

You may remember it was my brother's birthday a few weeks ago.  It used to be that gift cards were my go-to gift for this guy. But not any more. There is a local shop that I know I can walk in and find something for the bro that he'll love, and that makes me happy. 

541 Threads is not only a local company, but it's a local company that is dedicated to helping others. For every shirt they sell, they donate five meals to local food banks. How awesome is that? 

And their gear is trendy. It's something you'll want to wear. Not something that'll get shoved in the back of a closet. (Or in the case of my gypsy life, the trunk of my car.) These guys are like the superheros of the fashion world. Fighting hunger one shirt at a time. 

Here's the bro rocking his 541 birthday hat from our other sister: 

Look how happy he is. 

You guys really should go check out 541 Threads. Especially if you're looking for a gift for someone in your life. They'll be happy to get a sweet shirt, and you'll feel good knowing your gift is helping fight hunger. 

Go check out 541 Threads. Have a good weekend. And come back next week for an exciting announcement. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tending the Garden

This gypsy life has some perks. I get to spend weeks at a time enjoying other people's homes. Their patios. Their porches. And this week, their garden. 

The house I'm at this week has been transformed over the past couple of years. I watched the owners morph it from a run down, poorly insulated rental with dead grass and little attention paid to its appearance, into a beautifully restored home. They gutted it. Added on. And transformed the yard into a wonderland. A playground for the birds and the bees. It is truly stunning, even if you don't know this home's history. 

As I type, I sit on the porch overlooking the garden. The fence provides complete privacy. And I watch the birds. Over breakfast, over lunch, even dinner. I eat out here on the porch. Watching them fly from plant to tree. I love birds. Butterbean's master, Uncle Flash, got me hooked on bird watching. He was better at identifying them than I will ever be. But I love to watch.

Did you spot the hummingbird? They flit and fly all over the yard. I am not the only one keeping watch over them. 

Then there is the fruit and veggies, growing under sunflowers and along trellises. 

Tomatoes of all kinds. Beans on vines. 

 Blackeyed Susans.

Hollyhocks too.

It's beautiful here in this garden. The owners of this fine house spend so much time and thought and attention to their garden. In only its second year, their dedication shows. The birds appreciate it too.  

With company like this out the back door, it's easy to get used to this kind of gypsy life.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It ain't all sunshine and rainbows

Photo by Doug Bennett for a local news article. 

When I was in high school, some of the moms of seniors organized a weekend self-defense class for their daughters. I wasn't a senior yet, but my brother was. And I'm pretty sure Mama signed us up for that class. I remember only bits and pieces of it. We lived in a small community, without much fear of ever needing to use the techniques we were taught. Really there are only a couple of things I can remember from that class a dozen or so years later.

1) An element of surprise will likely throw-off an attacker (i.e. learn to throw up on demand). 
2) Stop! Back off! There was this stance you were supposed to take and hold out your arm, the way you do when you're singing "Stop in the Name of Love." Only you're supposed to shout forcefully, "Stop! Back off!" 

I was never convinced I'd be able to pull off throwing up on short notice. Not to mention my skepticism that a few shouted words would stop an aggressor in his tracks. But like I said, I lived in a small, farm community, without much thought of ever utilizing the lesson. 

A number of years later, I moved to a city on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. Lots of people told me to be careful when I left. That it had the highest crime rate in the nation. I attempted to reassure them that I'd be fine, but mostly I brushed off their concerns. 

In that first year I was there, I heard about a Krav Maga class offered at the university gym. And I signed up for it. I'd never heard of Krav. But learned it's an Israeli self defense and hand-to-hand combat system. There were only two girls in the class, and a handful of short guys. I don't remember now why I took the class. I don't remember feeling as though I needed to protect myself back then, but maybe I just wanted to be prepared. The instructors really tried to emphasize to me and the other girl how much they wanted us to learn the techniques. I'm pretty sure they didn't think we were taking it seriously. Especially when I laughed through the final lesson when the instructor wore head to toe protective gear and expected me to actually use the moves he'd taught me. 

Luckily in all that time, I never needed to use any of the self defense moves I'd been taught. I moved back to a smaller community a number of years ago. I haven't taken self defense classes since that Krav class. For the past year, I have been going to the boxing gym once or twice a week. I don't take boxing as a self defense class. It's a fitness class. We don't spar with each other. I am not getting punched in the face, or punching anyone else. I go to get in a good workout. To strengthen my upper body and core muscles. To cross train. And because it's very therapeutic to spend 2-3 hours a week punching a bag really hard. 

I still haven't had to use any of the techniques I've learned over the years. But I know that if I needed to, I could put up a fight. And I know that I'm lucky not to have had to use it. 

Just this week, a women in that small town I grew up in wound up in the hospital after she was attacked on the river walkway. The same one I used to walk and run on back in high school. As I pray for her and her family, it's been a good reminder to always be aware of your surroundings. It never hurts to take a self defense course or boxing class, because you never know when you'll need to know how to protect yourself. And it'll give you the confidence to know that you can.  

Safety tips for runners and walkers
Be aware at all times. 
Don't run/walk with headphones in. 
Don't run/walk in secluded areas alone. 
Stay on brightly lit paths and trials. 
Go with a buddy. 
Let someone know where you're going and when you plan to return. 

What other safety tips should women keep in mind? 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

DIY Maxi Skirt

 I haven't been sewing much this summer on account of the fact that I live in my car. It's just not convenient to haul around a sewing machine, which I tried to do initially, but I'd finally given up on actually getting any sewing done. I mean, I have a half-finished quilt that I just haven't had the time or the space to complete. 

But Mama went on a big trip recently, and brought me home a yard or more of fabric from France. Also, I found myself in need of a long skirt. I look taller than I am in real life. People often think I'm 3 to 4 inches taller. But I am not even 5'5". On top of which, I have a short torso. In light of that, I attempt not to cover my legs up too much. But I also know that maxi skirts have been the thing for well over a year now. And I don't have a single one. Most of my skirts and dresses hit me just above the knee. 

I had bookmarked a tutorial last year for a maxi dress over at Sewing in No Man's Land, and just last week, saw another tutorial for a maxi skirt over at Bean in Love. I had already used the circle skirt tutorial by Dana at Made for a couple of skirts I made a few years ago. And because I have a tendency not to follow directions when it comes to cooking and sewing anyway, I thought I'd wing this one too and come up with my very own maxi skirt with the fabric Mama hauled across an ocean and an continent. 

I had an idea that I could use the elastic technique from the circle skirt to make a high waisted maxi skirt. But I couldn't find navy elastic in the width that I wanted. I remembered that Dana also had a tutorial for dyeing elastic on her site. So I got right to work.  

I was very impatient, as I tend to be with these kind of projects. I really shouldn't have started the process when I did, because I only had an hour before I had to get to work. If I were to do this again, I'd let the elastic process in the dye for much longer than one hour. Clearly this isn't navy, as I'd originally hoped for. But I was OK with it. I kind of liked this purple-blue color. 

But as you can see, it faded a lot. It's more of a purple gray color now. I don't dislike it. I just was hoping for something a bit darker. Still, I decided it looked good enough with the fabric to keep it. And I was still debating making a belt or sash out of the same fabric to tie over it. 

Because I don't follow directions, and I watch movies while I sew, the sewing process took longer than I expected. I was concerned about the skirt restricting my stride too. So unlike the other tutorials I saw online, I didn't just sewing the fabric in half. I left a slit in the seam of the fabric, so my legs would have room to move. I then sewed the elastic into a circle. I sewed the top of the skirt to the elastic, and hemmed the bottom of the skirt up. 

This is what the finished product looks like. Apparently it's more difficult than you'd imagine to take a self-portrait with my laptop's camera. So this is the best I can give you. At least the yard where I'm staying this week makes a gorgeous backdrop. Don't you think? 

Now that it's all said and done, I am feeling a bit self-conscious about my ability to pull off the maxi skirt look. What do you all think? It's not too late to alter the skirt. Should I scrap the high-waisted look? Should I sew that sash so it ties around my waist with a bow in the back? Should I hem it up higher? Maybe make it more tea-length? Or below the knee? Tell me what you think? Can short girls wear long skirts?  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Baseball & Dye

This weekend, I went to a ball game: 

I worked on a project (finished product coming soon to a blog near you): 

And I soaked up the sun at my favorite viewpoint:

What did you do to stay busy this weekend?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Bragging Rights

I've told you all about this book before. But I'm going to keep telling you about it. And it's not just because my mama wrote it. Although, that's a pretty good reason.

Believe me when I tell you, I am not a biased reader. I am an editor. It is my job to be able to tell good writing from bad. And trust me when I say I've seen both. So even if she weren't my mama, I'd be telling you to go pre-order yourself a copy of this book. But she is my mama, so I've got bragging rights.

Mother of Rain is a debut novel by Karen Spears Zacharias. This may be her first novel, but she is a seasoned author and journalist. Once upon a time, before even one of her books was published, she was acting as my editor, giving me feedback and fixing my grammar in school assignments. Somewhere along the way, our roles reversed. I now get the privilege of reading her drafts and giving her feedback, and sometimes advice on shaping her work.
I got to see this novel through nearly all of the creative process. And I am so proud of all that she has done with Mother of Rain. It is a story that will captivate you, and Zacharias' well-crafted characters will haunt you. You won't want to put it down.

But don't take my word for it, the Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA) just named it a Fall Okra Pick. It's a big deal, y'all! Go order Mother of Rain, add it to your list of must reads, and hop on over to congratulate Mama. She has worked so very hard for this.

Congratulations on your SIBA Fall Okra Pick, Mama! I can't wait to see what's in store for Maizee and Mother of Rain. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A dog named Butterbean

Talking about Tennessee this week got me to thinking. I never did introduce you all to Butterbean. Did I? I mean I sort of talk about her here and there and over there too. But I don't really tell you the story. And I should. Butterbean had a very important role in my gypsy life. That's Butterbean, uppercase, not lowercase. Butterbean was a dog, not a plant. She was my first charge. My first housesit, and the first dog to win over the heart of this former cat girl. Butterbean converted me.

I'm not trying to go all Old Yeller on you and make you fall in love with a scrappy mutt, only to kill her off. So I'm going to tell you right now, Butterbean passed away last year. It's OK to cry. I have. But try to forgive me if I can't figure out whether to talk about her in past tense or present. She is still very much alive in my memory. I will try not to confuse you.

Butterbean was a mutt with a capitol M. She was part German shepherd, part who knows what. She didn't look much like a German though. Other than the coloring. She just looked like a mutt. Plain and simple. That's her on the right:

Butterbean, on the right, with her buddy A.J. 
Many summers ago, when I'd first received my degree, I picked up and left the big city for a house in the holler of Tennessee. And for all you northern folks, I'm just going to tell you a holler is a small pit-stop way the heck out in the middle of nowhere. It was my job to take care of Butterbean and the other animals and birds and the garden and just pretty much make sure nothing went haywire for a month.

Butterbean wasn't a very friendly dog. She wasn't even a good guard dog. She mostly just hung back out of the way giving you the stink eye, unless she learned to trust you. Seriously, you'd think that girl had a past. She didn't. She was just a very untrusting sort of dog.

But she trusted me. It all started with a game of chase we played the day I met her. She was on the other side of the big pine tree in the front yard. I crouched low, she did too. I'd start to make for one side of the tree, and she'd dart the other way. We went round and round pouncing one way and then the next. That's how our friendship began.

Neither one of us ever caught the other. And we never did play chase again after that. But I will always pinpoint that game has the moment our bond began. She tested that bond the day she killed the groundhog, but that's a story for another day.

Do you have friendships like that? Ones where you know the exact moment a friendship was formed? I love trying to recall the moment, the words said, the deeds done that sparked a friendship, canine or human.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Quick Fixes

Last night, a friend was telling me how she recently scorched her arm on a hot oven. I told her a trick I learned from a friend in Tennessee. In my former gypsy life, I spent some time living with some friends in Tennessee. I love that place and the people who live there.

by Paul courtesy of
Not my cookies. I moved to the Mountains.
These are by Paul at
One night, after their children had gone to bed, the rest of us stayed up late for a movie night. I offered to whip up a batch of the chocolate chip cookies I am known for as a movie snack. (Or I was known for them until I moved to the mountains and it messed with my ability to make them correctly. Sigh.)

In the process of removing said freshly baked cookies from the pan, I wound up burning my hand on the hot sheet. Miss Lisa grabbed the bottle of vanilla extract, held my hand over the sink, and poured the vanilla right over the burn. I was skeptical. Until it took the sting right out. She said she thought it had something to do with the alcohol in the vanilla. I didn't care so long as it provided relief from the pain of the burn.

Miss Lisa is also the one who put a squirt of liquid dish soap in a cup of apple cider vinegar on the counter to attract and capture fruit flies. We left it out over night, and I can't even remember how many flies we counted the next morning. The jar was a mess of black bugs floating in gold liquid. It has something to do with the vinegar attracting the flies and the dish soap providing just enough weight to the concoction to keep the flies from escaping. Fruit flies haven't been as much of a problem for me up here in the mountains, but it was a must remember remedy for anyone living through a hot Tennessee summer.

Swatting at mosquitoes a few weeks ago, another friend told me that a piece of tape over a bite will help relieve the itch. I haven't had a chance to try it yet. But I'm keeping that bit of knowledge stored away for the future.

Do you have any tried and true remedies for bites, burns or bugs?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Shark Week

I am going to assume by now that you all have heard of the blockbuster of the summer, Sharknado. What? You haven't heard? 

Okay. So not a major motion picture. But it is the surprising Syfy tv movie hit of the summer. I have not seen it. However, I have seen all the hype, and laughed through the trailer. 

Maybe we should all find a way to watch it, now that it's Shark Week and all. Which I was reminded of thanks to the bar around the corner. The bar? You ask. Why yes. The bar. There is a bar downtown that has a very clever sandwich board writer. I should go meet this person. 

I first noticed the bar's sandwich board a couple of months ago when this gem was posted:

"Relationships are like yard sales. From a distance they look pretty cool. Up close, it's just a bunch of junk you don't need."  

Don't even pretend that you're not laughing about that. 

The chalk board is nothing fancy. They don't use fancy fonts or drawings to draw attention. Just clever words on a board. Check out the Shark Week board:  

And of course, anyone who knows me, knows that I'd never be the one suggesting we all drink like fish. But it's funny, especially for a bar.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A full weekend

Little sis and I spent a lot of time in the car this weekend. 

We left town to go see this fellow:

It was our nephew's special day. 

He got presents. 

His mama made him an adorable bear cake: 

He didn't quite figure out the candle part.

He wasn't too sure about the cake either. 

But it didn't take long for him to figure it out. 

It was a full and happy weekend.  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Picking Blackberries

My cuts and scraps continue to heal from my fall into the blackberry bushes last Sunday. The slashes that looked so much like I'd been in a real live cat fight are becoming less and less noticeable as the days pass. The much sought after bounty is also dwindling.

Little sister made blackberry cobbler almost as soon as I brought the juicy berries home. I made a couple of pies thanks to a fruit pie recipe passed onto me by a real true Alabama belle. I even made a smoothie for breakfast one morning.

It was early for blackberry picking. They will continue to ripen over the next few weeks. So there is plenty of time to go pick your own. What would you make with a bucket full of blackberries?

Or if you just want to hear a fine poem about picking blackberries, head on over to NPR and listen to "Blackberry Picking" by Seamus Heany

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Friends, Romans, countrymen . . .

Today is a very important day. Very important. The first recorded historical event to have occurred on this day was in 30 B.C. when Octavian (aka Augustus) battled Mark Antony (you remember him, and Julius Caesar, and Cleopatra) in the final war of the Roman Republic and conquered Egypt on the 1st day of August.

Of course, most of us don't remember much of the ancient Roman history we learned in school. At least I don't. But I know someone who is big into history. He knows way more about that stuff than I do. Seriously, his brain's capacity to remember such facts and dates is astounding. And he is the reason today is so important.

My big brother was born this date, three years before my arrival on this planet. If you don't have a big brother (or an older sibling), then maybe you won't understand. There is something remarkable about sibling relationships. I mean, besides my parents, my big brother and my twin sister are the only ones who've known me since the beginning.

I was trying to think of my earliest memories of my big brother. But I can't. He has just always been there (don't worry sisters, you have too). Sure he picked on us girls. Can you blame him? He had three little sisters tagging along after him. But under all his protests, we knew that he had our backs if we ever needed it. If someone else dared harm one of us, look out. There was a comfort in knowing there was someone bigger than me who was looking out for me.

Don't get me wrong, the three of us girls could never gang up on him. All he had to do was grab hold of our heads and bonk them together -- a skill he mastered early on. And don't feel too sorry for him, by the time we were in junior high and high school, he had his own bathroom. He wasn't waiting for us to fix our hair and put makeup on. And he always got the seat in the minivan with the most leg room. He might have fussed about growing up with all those sisters, but I think he knows he's pretty lucky to have had three sisters who looked up to him.

He might not know this, but I became a runner because of him. I once even tried to learn the violin because he played. That didn't work out for me. He was always more musically gifted. He has so many creative talents that I admired (and was jealous of) as a child. He could draw. He was and is a talented actor, something I also tried and failed at. He was a writer long before I ever was. So much of who I am I became because I was watching him.

Happy Birthday, Stephan! Thanks for always having my back and giving advice when I need it. I wouldn't be who I am today if I didn't have you leading the way.