Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Black Watch

Today is Veterans' Day, the eleventh of November, again. As a kid, it meant not much more than a day out of school and that most businesses were closed. It was about a parade and seeing old men in funny hats adorned with medals and emblems, and lots of flag waving, and that was about it for me. That all changed three years ago, on another Veterans’ Day, 11/11/11. It became the day that my super hero, and veteran dad, died. 

My dad was a veteran of the Korean War, a war not so well known about and overshadowed by the larger World Wars which preceded it, but it was a fiercely fought duel non the less, and my dad was a paratrooper in the infantry there. This past history of my dad was all totally background noise in my life, growing up. It was in my father’s past, irrelevant to the present and immediate moment of my own life at that time. I recall mornings where I heard that dad had spent some nightmare time reliving his battles there, and my mother found him, still in his sleep, standing in a shooting stance firing away at some invisible Chinese soldiers. There was usually a bit of a joke about his having eaten too much spicy food the night before to evoke the specters that needed shooting, and all of the horror that he lived with in his memory was glossed over and taken lightly by the young girl that I was then. I really never knew, nor could I comprehend, what it meant to have been a war veteran as he, and so many others had been.

I really knew very little about the Korean War and have to admit I know less about it than I should, given that my father fought there and nearly died before helping me into my existence a few years after it was over. I saw daily, the photos on the wall of my cigar smoking dad, holding his machine gun, wearing a ridiculously tall hat, smiling with his comrades and buddies, waiting for the next fight. There was the shadow box that held his medals for bravery, valor, and actions above and beyond the call, etc. I thought everybody’s dad had the same version of memorabilia and life stories in their house. It was on a trip to Scotland, when I was nearly done with high school, that his reality set in to me and I began to understand a little.

My dad had taken us on a trip to England and Scotland. True to his typical form we had stayed at the Connaught, caught the semi finals at Wimbledon with the Queen and the Queen mum sitting a few shoulders away, had enjoyed the wonders of the South Audley Street Pub, and covered the highlights of London before heading north to Edinburgh. We were going there to see the military tattoo, a large festival celebrating Scotland’s veterans and their military history. At this point I did not even know that the Scots had done any fighting with anyone but themselves after Robert the Bruce and Bonny Prince Charlie, but I was willing to be along for the ride, as it seemed to mean a lot to my dad for him to share it with us.

The afternoon before the big night time show that was to be held in the Edinburgh Castle, we were wandering through the castle’s museum and dad found a room where the names of soldiers who had died fighting in the Korean War were noted in huge open books laying on pedestals. Finding no relevance to my life, I wandered around in a distracted and bored sort of way that one does in similar situations, and noted the differences in all of the tartan plaids that hung on the  stone walls.

There was a docent of this castle’s museum standing in the room with all of us, saying nothing, just standing, fully decked out in the garb of the Black Watch regiment, kilt, knives, tall socks, sash and all. He was a red head and had a full, unkempt red beard to match. His eyes were a fierce cold blue and his presence was one of power and strength. Gradually my dad and him began to chat.

There are connections in life that are random and some are destined. I believe that this connection on this afternoon in the castle was perhaps both. As this powerful Scot and my dad chatted, their stories became more involved, and they realized suddenly and with a bit of shock, that they had met before.

The story goes that on one assignment back in Korea, my dad was to lead the troops under his command, and to take a  fairly random, barren and treeless hill, which was being held by the north Korean army and by the Chinese army who was there to help the north. It was a piece of real estate that the US army badly wanted and it was basically a suicide mission but orders are what they are, and so off my dad led his group in that effort.

For hours they fought in the mud and smoke and were getting their numbers cut down to nearly nothing. Retreat wasn’t in my dad’s vocabulary and so they continued to slog it out doing their duty and being gunned down by the dozens. Just when all hope was nearly lost, then, through the smoke, chaos, and flying bullets, came the sound of bagpipes playing “Scotland the Brave”. In a surreal moment, up from their rear, marching into the fray and confusion was a division of the Black Watch Guard coming in to relieve and assist my dad’s group in their attempt to take the hill.

Dressed in the famous black and green tartan kilts, and with the sound of bag pipers’ and fife drums’ continual drone together the US soldiers, and my dad, and these Scots took that hill and won the day.

The irony of the moment of that day in Edinburgh, was the realization that the commander of the Black Watch group that saved my dad’s life, turned out, was  now this docent, here, improbably talking with my dad in the Edinburgh Castle some twenty plus years fast forwarded. They had, indeed, met before.  My dad and his kilted savior, left us and retired to a local pub for the afternoon.

 I miss my dad today, and every day, but will always have my memories refreshed on Veteran’s Day with his declaration three years ago that on 11/11/11, it was a good day to die. He was an old soldier at that point and had fought many battles of many types through out his years, and when the time came he was ready and he went. 

To all of the veterans, and to my dad, I want to say thank you.

RIP Dad 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


There is truth to the fact that, at least in this present life form, that the only way to get off a mountain is by going down. And so it was as we ended our mountain top vacation, and down from the mountain we came. Down from our cool and lofty peak we drove, to home and the sweltering, humid, subtropical remains of an Alabama August. 

We drove home to the heat, to the drone of the cicadas’ buzz, and to the news that in our absence, my mother had taken a downward turn in her health. We had left town on the Friday before, after saying goodbye and wishing her an early Happy Birthday on Thursday. On that Thursday, Mark had taken her portrait, as she had requested, well, more like persisted of him. When we had gotten to her house that day, she was in her living room. She was sitting up straight and proud in her throne on wheels, freshly coifed and made up, wearing a colorful jacket, and had smiled for Mark’s camera, taking his direction to turn this way or that.

The following Monday the 11th was her eighty fourth birthday. My birthday also happened to be that day, not by chance but by my mother’s shrewd calculation and a probable bribe made to the attending doctor of my birth, that it  narrowly and miraculously landed, by mere minutes, on my mother’s birthday as well. Joint birthdays and parties were the norm growing up for me, and I hated them. I wanted simply to have my special day like all of my friends did.

For most of my life I was the entertainer and host to my mother’s friends’ children for my birthday parties and I really got tired of the work it entailed. In my teenage years, I would spend my day entertaining these girls, usually at our lake place, dragging them behind the boat on an inner tube or on skies, and I grew to not be so fond of doing this role. In the more recent years of my adulthood, I have found ways to be out of town to avoid this joint party thing, and this year found us again in the mountains on my/our birthday. 

While we were gone, we did learn that our daughters had taken their baby daughters to her house and found mom’s beach girls, ladies who all went to the beach house together on occasions, there celebrating her day. There was apparently some pinkish wine served and a cake and from what I was told, mom had a great birthday party. Our birthdays shared another quirk. The sum of the digits that make up our age for that year have always added up to the same number. This year we were both twelve.

When we got back into town and heard that she was not doing so well, it was not surprising, and not alarming. For the past several years, with both of my parents, it has been a roller coast, revolving door, going to and from the hospital, with one of them, or both being on death’s door. A week later, they were back home and kicking it. So one more up and down was not an altogether surprise to anyone. A few days later I got word that I needed to go see her sooner rather than later, as she was going down fast, and so I did.

When I walked into her bedroom, I was surprised to see her propped up in a hospital bed, gazing with a blank stare at the ceiling, quite a contrast from the woman whose portrait Mark had taken a week earlier. I called her name and she turned to me and mouthed my name and reached for my hand. I asked her if the birthday flowers we had sent were pretty. She smiled, and said yes, and something about them being yellow, and then fell asleep before muttering more. I was about to leave when she woke with a startle and I went over to her and held her hand again. She just looked at me, and I said “I love you”. She squeezed my hand, and slept again. This time I left without her waking back up. We were told by the hospice nurse that her time was coming, and that the possibility another rally was not likely.

For several days she fought the inevitable, and it was painful to watch her deteriorating condition. On my last visit with her, my brother and I stood by her while the nurse gave her some morphine to ease things for her. I told her that we all loved her and that it was time to just let go. Fifteen minutes later as I was driving out to the farm, my brother called and said she was gone. Whether the morphine had helped her over, or my words, or a combination of it all, she had released herself from this worldly body that had run its course, and my mother, was gone.

The funeral and all of the many details that a funeral of a notable personality entail, have now come and are almost gone. Three weeks ago, today, my brother and I began a journey to begin picking up the pieces on the day following the funeral. The journey began with our going to her house with the intent to unravel her belongings, to begin to sort them into estate sellable piles, and to eliminate the copious and varied ways that my mother planted possible security breaches, not just for her but for everyone in the family. My mother was a paper trail person, leaving hers and even ours’, personal information and numbers at every turn, in triplicate, in every box, in every corner, and everywhere. It was our job to find them, and to sort through all of the stuff that were the remains of her and my father’s lives.

In a brain numb fog I began with drawers, clearing them out and sorting what was junk,  and guessing what was of possible value, either financially or emotionally. I had known my mother was a serious keeper of all things, but as we delved further into her belongings, this definition became a gross understatement. She did not know how to use a garbage can and had obviously never thrown anything away.

Then there were mountains of things she had bought as she had become older and less able to get up and do, and so we found that, in her recent years, she had spent her time and money in catalog land ordering things, ridiculous things, not just once but in multiples. 

I have stuffed bags, and have waded through the artifacts of my parents’ long lives, and have begun to see that yes, while my mother was a hoarder, that she was also the keeper. My mother was the keeper of the keep sakes, of the family things, letters, photos, and memorabilia  of her parents, my father’s parents, and of the many ancient ones who have passed on before us. I have read love letters from my grandfather to his soon to be bride. I have found the sweet notes my father left to mom on early mornings when he went out to slay the dragons.

I suppose anytime one cleans the drawers of anyone’s long time house, there is a lot to learn about the people who lived there, some of use and some best left unknown. I had not known that my dad regularly clipped his fingernails and dropped the clippings into the drawer of the desk that he used as his home office. I had never seen the racy “how to???” magazines that my mother had tucked away in the bottom of one of her drawers. In finding things like this it did make me more appreciative of the fact that we are all just people, even my parents, and we are all just imperfect humans on this ride.  

I have found pictures of ancestors that I don’t know, each photograph taking me deeper into the lives of those that passed before me and who are part of who I am. My DNA comes from the people from these images, and mom kept them all. Perhaps she knew who many of the faces were. Some are marked with dates and names on the back but many are not. Who is now going to be the caretaker of the memories, of the nameless photographs, and for how long? My attic is full already and begs for purging lest I leave a mess for my own children to deal with when I die. Memories are like a flame that must be fed to be kept alive. The stories must be told and retold, the photographs saved, or like the flame, or a bubble, it ceases to be. When will my face be the unknown in someone’s attic and the days of my life forgotten and unknown?

Since my teenage years I can’t say that my mother and I really got along. That’s putting it
nicely. I know she was many things to many people and that as the first lady of this town, married to my father, the mayor for twenty plus years, she did some great things for the city and was loved by many for her work to help improve the lives of the folks who live here. Mother daughter relationships, however, are varied and complicated and ours was a perfect example. I did not live up to her expectations of what she thought a young woman should be, especially her daughter, and for many years I felt her deep resentment for this lacking on my part. I felt a resentment towards her in her being so judgmental about the things that I wanted to do, or what I felt strongly about. As a master manipulator, my mother could say one thing and make the world believe it, and underhandedly make my life miserable with no evidence to point to her. While I know she had her own demons and tragedies to deal with, it did not alleviate or help our relationship for the years of my teens and nor afterward. I felt that she did not know me, or really care to. I just did not do life as she wanted me to, and she always let me know it.

Once in high school years, mom had some fancy photographer from England come a do a portrait session with me. I very uncomfortably stood in the living room with a dress on for the first shots. Then the fellow suggested a more casual outfit, which suited me much more better. The fine portrait was finally delivered and it hung for many years in their living room. Then it magically disappeared, when news of my eloping hit them years later. It was found recently it in the attic and was brought down. A hole, and the imprint of the shape of a fist reside on the faded picture of my face. I had heard at some point that she was somewhat angry that night.

Another case of her not knowing me was when I was to turn sixteen, and was learning to drive and thinking about all of the new wheels I might get as my brothers had done when they turned driving age. We pulled into the driveway one day and she said she couldn’t stand not telling me early what I was getting for my birthday. I was absolutely giddy when she said I was getting a Porche and I listened to her describe my new car with disbelief as my car turned from being a car into a porcelain statue of a “Portia” from a Shakespeare play. I held my disappointment then and did not tell her this story until recently.  She had had no idea that, as a sixteen year old that I would have rather had the Porche rather than the Portia. Again, we were not on the same track. 

I  have been struggling with the question of how do I feel about the loss of my mother. In my last words to her, I did tell her that I loved her and meant it despite years of our guarded relationship. We did not get along well, but she was my mother, and somewhere in there that does matter and I had to find something in this process to make this make sense to me.  As I dug further into her belongings I began to see her life in layers like the peels of an onion, from the old lady she became, backwards into her younger days, days when she and my dad were having fun in life, running to Europe, skiing in Vail, vibrant and alive. With each boxed up photograph I came across the images of the years of her life stared at me and it made me wonder exactly what year, which phase of her life and mine, did we get crossed up. I then found earlier pictures from my childhood that showed me a different mom, the tender, caring mother who held me and put stupid bonnets on me and dressed me in lace. 

I remember the mom who came home one day from a luncheon, dressed in an impeccable pink dress suit, and she and I lay across my bed, making a barrier for our new puppy Skippy so he couldn’t get to the edges and fall off. She wore a pillbox hat that matched her suit cloth and she was beautiful. Skippy waddled around between us and eventually he chose to lay down beside her. This made me sad that I was rejected and asked her why. She replied that maybe he liked the color of her dress and that it made him think of his mom. It was a sweet moment and I wondered how she knew so much about being a mother.

The mom who I mourn for is that mom. That is the person who birthed me, who swaddled and rocked me to sleep. She is the one who taught me to make cookies and mud pies, and how to keep myself entertained. She was beautiful and had legs that I always envied having inherited those of my father’s side of the family. She was the connection to my grandfather who gave me my first horse and it was he who taught me how to act around horses. I loved to see her, and my dad, when they dressed up to go out to a party or to a ball. She was always especially pretty when dressed to the nines and made me appreciative of the fine dresses that my uncle Wilson designed for her to wear. I am part of her and always will be, and the fact that she and my dad now both are gone is stifling.  

In thinking about all she taught me, the one that I remember that stands out is, that she taught me how to hold a puppy. Once, I tried to pick Skippy up by his neck and she told me that was not nice and could hurt him. I had no idea and had no intention of hurting anything but I had to learn. I had to be shown how to hold a puppy, and, ultimately how to be a mother.

Thank you for all, mom. I love you.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

and the sound of butterfly wings...

And just like that, it is the last day here in paradise. It seems like it was so long ago that we set off to get here and were  surprised by fabulous lasagna we had en route at that river rat hang out, now ages past. We have had a great time here at this amazing place, but the days have run together like a water color, blending and swirling the days and hours into a unnamed hue and it is one that will never be seen again. It is simply an ephemeral experience to be here at this lodge because time is elastic and the reality of the outside world is held in check for the period we are here. This lodge, this bit of heaven is a Shangra-La, an Avalon, often shrouded in clouds, a sanctuary from the world out there beyond the mists, with a magic that is broken only by choice in opening the newspaper or checking your emails. It is quite possible to be here for days with no outside communication, if you want to, and to just be here in this oasis of quiet, where the sounds of the butterfly wing beats and the chirps of the Gold Finches are the loudest noises to disturb the peace.

It took us a while to learn how to be here. This is not your typical hotel. There are no televisions and what telephone signals there are, are very sketchy at best. Internet is available, if you want to bridge some of the gap to the other world that lives outside the boundaries of this place, but most folks do little connecting time. The difference here is that there is the lodge, the center point and focus of being here. It is where all of the guests meet to take meals together, where it is comfortable to grab a book and kick your shoes off with a room of folks who are doing the same thing. It is a place where it is possible to be able to get into the quiet of your own mind and yet be instant friends with the person sitting next to you. There is a simpatico with folks who come here. Most are outdoor focused, interested in nature, art, doing outdoor adventures, and who do not miss the constant barrage of information that intrudes our lives at home, most of which is horrible news leaving us in a daily wallow of high stress levels about things we have little control over.

When you turn your car into the driveway of the lodge and pass the moss covered little pump house at the base of the hill, it is suddenly quiet, like the quiet of a sanctuary before the service. There is an instant reverence felt as the car shifts to another gear to make it up to the top of the mountain driveway. The drive is steep and takes effort to climb, and then once at the top the sound of the gravel drive is soothing and says, you are safe and at home. The swing of the screened door and the feeling of entering the foyer is unlike any place I have been. Perhaps it is because we have been here so many times that I feel this relaxed energy, and I have become patterned to feel this, but I think the site, this building, and this mountain are the reason, and I think most who come here feel the same. It is this undefinable feeling that bonds the guests for the moments they are here and it drops the barriers of unfamiliarity. It has always been a great place to spend my birth week and this one was maybe, the best so far.

My birthday dinner, the other night, was capped off with a gorgeous cake made just for me by the chef, and hand delivered by Robert, the owner. It was a white cream cake with luscious layers upon layers of cream, cake, and strawberry jam, covered in toasted slivered almonds and topped with strawberries dipped in white chocolate. We finished what was left, off last night and I shared it with any one  in the dinning room, passing among new friends whose names I did not know.

Over the past days Mark has continued sharing his photography knowledge to those who have asked questions and who have wanted to learn more about their cameras and how to take nicer photos. After class there is the sack lunch time, which we have spent usually sitting in the screened summer house, with friends, mulling over what to do with the remaining hours of the day. We have hiked, and we have canoed in a deep and clear blue lake where the water met the  tree lined edge of the mountains and rose from there. I have fed the new chickens, in their newly built coup, blades of grass and have laughed at their silliness as they have jockeyed to get the grass away from the hen who first grabs it. I have marveled at the organic garden, so full of vegetables which make it to our plates each night for dinner, and at how the cooler temps here make working in a garden pleasant and fun as opposed to drudgery and toil in our humidity and heat back home. I have read and I have

written. I have drawn sketches, and I have talked with many people I haven’t known before and who I will probably never see again, I have sat in the rockers on the porch and just let the clouds go by. We have rebuilt the magical stacked rock cairns in the stream down on Rattler Ford, only to find them knocked back down after the rains came with the cold front, but thats okay, we will build them again, next time. We have eaten, and we have drunk in the whole experience and have enjoyed it all.

The inn keeper was taking reservation calls the other day and I over heard him trying to explain to a person on the other end who was planning to drive a six hour journey to this place for just one night only, and who wanted to know what the night life was like. Robert was tactfully trying to tell them that this was a very remote place and that the disco balls and rock and roll were not part of the scenery here. I wonder what these people will think when they get here. Will they get it? Or, will they sit bored, wondering how to entertain themselves and be angry because they simply can not? I will not know because, sadly, it is our time to leave tomorrow.

But for today, we are still here. I am happy and feeling the joy of breathing. Perhaps we will go back to the lake again today, who knows. There is no agenda to our remaining hours. Reality will hit soon enough once we head down the driveway to head home, but for now, it is all good. A very happy birth day was had by me, with hopes for many more. My birthday wish is for more to be had here, but that, is for fate to decide. We shall see. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Birthday, so far

Today is my birthday. I will let the number of how many eons I have been on planet Earth slide, but there have been a few. At breakfast I had a surprising, and very rousing chorus of Happy Birthday sung to me by friends, most of whom are students of Mark’s photo class up here in the mountains of North Carolina, and it was sweet. My breakfast was served with a candle aboard, not lit due to a fan blowing it out before getting to me, but it too was very sweet. Then when I returned to my room, this lovely duck was sitting on a box of chocolates waiting for me.

We have returned again on my birthday week to this piece of heaven, this lodge we have traveled to for many years. It is a place that holds magic in the many memories that I have of being here previously. I always hope to come back, every time I leave to go home, never knowing if I will. But I am, here, now, and that’s a very good thing.

We left on Friday with no particular route in mind, only knowing the general direction we wanted to head, letting the miles roll away with nothing planned. We were not supposed to check in to the lodge here until Sunday, so this left us plenty of time to wander around the mountains and to enjoy being untethered by the unbelievably miserable heat and humidity back home on the farm. 

Our first night we drove as far as the Ocoee River area, a river which was home to the white water part of a past Olympics. It is also a place that is very popular with folks looking for a bit of adventure rafting the river’s massive waves as the powerful water tumbles down the mountains. A constant parade of yellow school buses loaded with rafts of bright colors, and excited people wearing their helmets and holding their paddles, ride the road up to the top of the put in place. Once the rafts reach the bottom of the ride, they load up again to do it all over again. The river rats never seem to get tired of it.

There are several restaurants along the route to feed these masses of river rats, mostly beer and bad pizza places, and not having a lot of choices to decide on we chose the closest, the Ocoee Gondolier. Our hopes for a great meal were not high. The menu, however, looked interesting and we asked our waitress what was best. She pointed us to the lasagna, and to the pizza, and so we said okay, and ordered both to share.

A bowl was soon delivered to our table, a piping hot bowl of not your typical presentation of lasagna, of red sauce with gooey cheese with some pasta in there somewhere, that was so delicious that we were stunned. I had not had a sauce like that since my childhood and it was great. The bowl was spotless when the waitress brought the pizza. Again, no high hopes on river rat fodder pizza, and again were stunned at the freshness and goodness of a simple hand made pizza. It is nice to expect less and get more, and we did.

After leaving the river area behind, we ventured the next morning into a small town further north. We happened past a parking lot full of ancient tractors and pulled in. Old men in their straw hats or caps, some in overalls, stood around these tractors with a proprietary posture, while their wives stood in groups nearby chattering away. We got out and walked over to see these ancient machines and these people who had brought them here.

My mother’s father was a farmer in west Tennessee and when we were growing up we went each summer up to visit. Highlight of the trip was going out to the farm and getting to watch George, my grand dad, go about his day, feeding his angus cows, fixing fences, or doing other chores, but the best was when he got on his tractor. Over the years he had many, whose intended uses were varied, and so were their sizes and features. Walking among this group of tractors I recognized several that he had had at one point or another, Fords, John Deeres, and others. These renovated relics gleamed in their fresh coats of paint and their proud owners were more than happy to tell you everything and more about them. The coolest tractor and implement was the hay baler, where the tractor was parked
well away from the stationary baler. They were connected by a long belt, the distance intended to avoid catching the baler on fire,  which drove a plank up and down stuffing the hand loaded hay into a hopper. It looked like an accident just waiting to happen with so many pulleys, sharp things, and ways to get caught up in a very powerful moving machine, but interesting to see work, from a distance.
We asked advice from one couple there about a scenic route to wander and they sent us out to first Joe Brown Road, which led to the road they had a farm on, Hanging Dog Road. I don’t really want to know the story behind that last named road, but took their word and followed the directions of how to get there. 

Twisty, windy, twisty, windy, the roads never seemed to straighten out for long. Up we went and down, and in each turn there were small farms tucked in narrow valleys, most making the best use they could of the available useable land. We drove past derelict buildings, and stopped to photograph most.

One building in particular we had been told to look for was a fallen down church. It had been the childhood school of the old fellow who had given us the directions. White pews still sat in the now exposed sanctuary/school room. The steeple/cupola was still in pretty good shape but listed as the building hung to the side of the hill. Behind us, in sharp contrast, the newly built church sat in prim simplicity in its bright white coat.

Along the way we revisited the site of the first camp site that Mark and I stayed at on a trip to come back packing and fishing. We had gotten to the mountains in the dark, found a pull off, and set up a new tent in the dark (which is a story in its self). Early the next morning we woke to find ourselves not exactly in a wilderness, but more like in the middle of a hairpin turn on a busy mountain road and there now were a steady throng of cars and motorcycles busily going back and forth not very far from our tent opening. It was not the quietest nor private of breakfasts that morning by our small fire, but it was good to see the place and remember the folly of our selection of this camp site again after so many years.

We wandered further along on the unbeaten paths and eventually made our way on time to the lodge where we will be for the next week. Back in our usual room, back with long time friends from trips here before, and newer ones too, it is good to be here. It is good to be in a place where nothing is demanding my immediate or anytime attention, like doing anything in the heat. This is vacation world, and that is a good thing on occasion, and I know too, that it will end. Today, though, I am happy that I am still here, on planet Earth, in this moment, on the day of my birthday. The full moon will rise again tonight and take its celestial journey across the sky line from our vantage here high on this mountain. What a nice, bright candle for a birthday night. 


Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Fish Recipe

Mark took this shot last night as we had just begun to eat our dinner, before the carnage that left no prisoners or evidence. He should have taken the "after" photo, spotless plates. There was an afternoon storm in the area and the wind was blowing a nice cool breeze so we were enjoying being able to sit on the front porch to eat without the bugs and heat. Plus I had spent the afternoon with a hose washing down the porch and it was clean and all of the cobwebs were gone. There was a mist falling and the light in the trees around us was glowing. Nice afternoon meal on the farm.

Since I posted the photo I have had many requests for how to, and info on the shredder for the veggies. At your requests, here is the basic: I am not a measuring kind so these are approximations.

The Marinade: Equal parts soy sauce mixed with maple syrup ( I usually mix 1/2 cup of each    depending on how many servings you are doing)
                         Sesame oil...1tbs or so
                         Ginger....fresh grated is good but smoked powder is good too, to taste
                         Garlic.....fresh chopped, or whatever you have again to taste.
                         Black Sesame seeds optional, but pretty
                         Mix all together.

Two nice pieces of sushi grade tuna
                         Put into bowl with marinade, coat well and let it sit and come to room temp.

Shredded Zucchini, Carrot, and Onion Saute
                         I used a Mandolin Slicer, a cool gadget that shreds, slices, and does all kinds of fun
                         with your food to make it interesting. USE THE GUARD, open blades are very sharp!
                         I used the smallest shredding blade for this. Might want to hold off on the wine until
                         this part is done. Don't ask me how I know.

                         Zucchini.....2 average sized cut in half length wise then shredded
                         Carrot....I used one but more would have been pretty too, and good
                         Onion....1/2 white onion, cause that was what was left in the fridge
                         Toss to mix and set aside. Heat a saute pan or wok with 1tbs olive oil and 1 tbs coconut
                         oil, put on low and just keep it warm for now.  

Rice....I cooked one cup of long grain with two cups water, cooking method up to you.

Cooking the fish:  Heat saute pan with 1tbs or so of olive oil til shimmering. For sesame crust, sprinkle top side with seeds and put that piece in the pan seed side down, repeat with other piece. Depending on preference of rareness, saute to desired doneness on seeded side, sprinkle more seeds on the new top side, and then flip fish making sure you swirl the pan to redistribute the oil so it won't stick. Take sip of wine... when done, remove to serving plate. Pour marinade into saute pan to deglaze and allow to boil to reduce to a glaze. Scraped up the burned bits, that's where all of the flavor is...well, alot of it.

While the fish are doing there thing sauteing, heat up the other pan for the veggies and toss in the veggies coating well and keep tossing until the zucchini begins to clear and get slightly limp. Serve immediately, you don't want to cook til mush.

Arrange all on the plate, then drizzle the glaze on the fish and rice. I served it with sliced heirloom tomatoes from the garden topped with mayo, but that's optional of course. Enjoy the heck out it.  We did.

Bon Appetit!                

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Yeeaaaahhhhh!!! Stella has been found!

Day four of the mysterious case of the missing Stella began with me trying to figure out how to get my computer to talk to my printer again. They had been estranged for some time and I really needed them to reconcile so I could print some more pictures of Stella to spread around the area. Just as I sat to begin, the phone rang. "Are you missing a dog?" was the first thing I heard from the voice on the other end. "Yes" I was and described the pooch to the lady on the other end. "Well I have your dog at my house". Glory be and thanks to all the powers that led to that line!!! Stella had been removed from the lost category to the found status.

The lady, Janet, said that she found Stella wandering beside the road  a ways past Mosely's store and the ball park at the school, about a mile from the interstate. She said she picked her up because she had terriers and felt like this dog belonged to someone even though Stella wasn't wearing a collar and tags. She also said her husband told her she absolutely could not keep another dog but she wanted to take it home to try to find the owner, and so she did. Janet said Stella was very hungry, duh, and she fed her. This morning her husband made a stop at Mosely's Store and saw the poster I had put up there several days ago, next to the other missing pups and ponies, called her and she called me. Relief does not adequately cover it all, nor is thank you enough to say to this nice person who cared enough about a dog to pick it up before it got run over wandering in a place it was unfamiliar with.

From where she said she picked the hitch hiker up, Stella had to have covered serious distance to get there. Mud is crusted on her belly from an obvious creek crossing or two, and was muddy last night so the creek crossing was late yesterday sometime. We are talking about several miles of very rugged  swamp land and creek crossings with steep banks and cypress knees that she covered on those short little legs and to get there she had to cross a very large field of very tall grass, thick, and stringy, not a terrier favorite thing to do. She was limping a bit when I went to the lady's house to get her, most likely an aggravation of her old ligament issue on a hind, but she was happy to see me and happy to climb in the truck. Right now she is waddling around the kitchen looking for more scraps of food that Gracie has missed. She is also quite thirsty. She does not look to have lost any of her circumference so she either found some food to snack on or lived on her ample reserves and just isn't showing the effects.  But she is back, and that is what matters in a all's well that ends well scenario. I think I can breathe again.

Stella will get her bath in a bit, but  this will happen down in the wash rack in the barn cause she surely will clog up the sink with the load of dirt she is carrying. Then later I will take her into town to her yard where she can go hide in her garage, in her lounge chair, and dream about her big walkabout.

It does restore my faith that there are folks out there who make a difference and pay attention to the animals in the world and notice when something is wrong and do something about it. Stella is a lucky dog to have been found by such a caring person, and I am lucky on this one to be able to return her to her home. Hopefully she will live out her days from here on out with a bit less drama and live to a comfortable old age.

Welcome home the wanderer. Stella is back!!!


Monday, July 7, 2014

Lost Dog

There are moments when you realize that something is wrong, very wrong, and the decisions that are made next may, or may not, be able to correct what has happened. Then comes the second guessing on the decisions that were made that led up to this present moment, which could have contributed, or be totally unrelated to it and have had nothing to do with it. It is a heart pounding, uncertain which way to move feeling of denial, panic, maybe I am over reacting and maybe not, and comes with an enormous  need to do something, anything to try to fix it now. I have moved in this mode for the past days and so far have failed miserably to right the situation. It is not a pleasant thing to have to tell anyone that you have lost anything of theirs, but telling our daughter that I had lost her sweet dog, Stella, was one of the worst things ever.

Stella is, or was, (at this point we don’t know and are keeping hopeful), a nine year or so old Australian Terrier with some family relationship to our former terrier Jack. Female, of course, she is/was a beautiful, coarse coated, short legged/long bodied, circumferentially enhanced, broad headed dog with enormous dark eyes that peer out from under long  bushy eye brows. Fondly referred to as “Pig”, due to her ample belly and amusing waddle, Stella had mellowed in recent years from an exuberant young puppy, into a older dog that quietly took on her new role to guard our granddaughter when the baby arrived almost three years ago. She would lay near the crib for hours, dozing and watching. As the baby grew into a toddler she learned just how far to stay out of reach of little hands who reached for her fur. Once this baby started to go to school during the day Stella was off duty and took retreat into the dark recesses of the garage in the back yard. For hours on end she slept until her family came home, then she would howl and talk in high shrill screams, spin in circles, and be animated for a while. Then after being fed, it was back to sleeping guard duty. Her life was good.

Over the past years Stella has come out to our farm many times, when taking her with them on a trip wasn’t the best option for my daughter and her husband. Playing farm has been such fun for Pig and she has always stayed out of harms way by being very careful and unadventurous. It was always good to be able to hand back over a happy but filthy Pig to them when they got back. While here her patterns were always the same, and her territory never grew. She was happy to stay with the program and always got along with whatever dogs were in the pack at the moment. When I was asked if it would once again be okay for Stella to come out for another weekend visit I said of course. 

The 4th of July weekend was shaping up nicely going into it. The weather had cooled a bit, some friends were coming from out of town to stay, we had plans for eating many barbecued things off the grill, and there was going to be a rotation of friends and family through out the weekend. Stella was dropped off, to her absolute delight,  to which she sang loudly and twirled like a dervish. She fell in with the pack and together we went to the barn for afternoon feeding and to her favorite place here, my tack room.

The tack room is/was her sanctuary here like her garage at home, her go to place when activity elsewhere was boring or if it was too hot to hang on the porch with the other dogs. She loved to sit in my wicker chair down there in the darkened room with the whirling fan overhead and the air conditioner making white noise and cold air behind her. Here she could meditate on her coming next meal with solitude and reverence. It was here that we last saw her heading to on Friday night before we went into fireworks mode.

We have learned that it is a good idea to send off a warning, desensitizing, and relatively quiet fire cracker like a bottle rocket before doing any further pyrotechnics, and so we did. The horses have learned to appreciate this and moved to the far end of the field, nonplussed but avoiding the issue. Stella took our warning shot the same way and made a slow waddling amble towards her place of quiet. We took that as a good plan so she wouldn’t be frightened. (We were told later that Stella tolerated loud sounds well and was used to them, which blows a few theories of the mystery.)  We had a short burst of fireworks and the night was over. 

Saturday morning, there was no Stella. When I opened the front door to feed the dogs, she was not among them. Nor, was she in the tack room. These are the two basic places she had ever ventured to and she was in neither. Figuring a possibility of her being bothered by the noise badly enough to move further away, I called my neighbor who lives across the fence and who has a pack of friendly pups to see if Stella had gone over to visit. No again and still no Stella. Panic hit pretty quickly, but was tempered by the fact that she was a known hide and seeker, often playing hide until she was well ready to come out to play, and might well be doing that now. We channeled our Marlon Brando voices and called her name "STEELLLAAA" and checked every hiding place we could think of, but no signs anywhere of anything, and no dog. I put up lost dog posters on the road, went to neighbors’ houses and asked if they had seen her, combed our farm and the neighboring farms over and over by golf cart, on foot, and by horse.

I put up another poster at Mosely’s Store, the information hub of our community, and source for fuel, wine, jewelry, and chainsaws. There were other lost dogs posted there and even a lost pony sign up, each indicating the sadness of the loss and the not knowing of their lost pet’s whereabouts and condition. I taped mine up next to them, and felt further guilt of my inability to find her and make it all better. 

I have gone to the shelter and left a photo there. I walked through row after row of the sad faced, incarcerated dogs, mostly of pit bull breeding, to see if she was there. I have posted everywhere that I could that on social networking, but  somehow I don’t hold much hope for finding her there.

Today is her third day of being gone and in each day of continued searching, all of the possible scenarios of her disappearance have run in a loop through my head. There are so many dangers out here, snakes, coyotes, bobcats and who knows what else that could have taken her. I try to put the thought of her coming to a bad end far away, but have to acknowledge it as possible. Another possibility is that someone has picked her up thinking she was a stray, hasn’t seen the signs I posted, and once they do they will return the little Pig to her home peeps. So far nothing is making sense. There just aren’t enough clues that fit, and yet Stella remains missing. Hope is fading for her return, but, in the absence of an answer, that, is what is left for now.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Gathering

Since I first became aware of dream sequences that are repeated from time to time, my reoccurring nightmare has always been based on the unpreparedness scenario. In school days is was usually about my not having studied for the test for the day, or when I was showing horses, it was having my name called to enter the ring, and my not even having my horse saddled yet. Apparently my control freak nature comes out in my nocturnal moments and I can’t seem to find a way to solve anything. Chaos rules, and there is the feeling of total helplessness in that I am drifting, falling, turning, with no sight of land to catch me. 

More recently my typical journey into this nightmare world has involved getting the news, and usually the surprising news comes from my husband, that a large number of people were coming over for, perhaps a very surprising dinner that I had not planned for, nor shopped for. In this nightmare I am forced with the sudden responsibility for cooking for, and entertaining this invading horde of visitors. I know, doesn’t sound like the end of the world, but we all get to have our own set of nightmares, and this one is mine.

So, months ago now, the idea was thrown out that my husband’s sisters wanted to try to get together as a family, somewhere like a retreat or reunion. He is from a large family, six kids total and this was going to be a pretty big project to tackle, plan, and somehow find a time when it suited everyone. Then as the idea began to take shape and become more than a just wild thought, Mark suggested we use my family’s beach house. There was an issue of would it be big enough to handle everyone. It would be crowded and a whole bunch of togetherness but looked like it could be done. It then became my job to check on availability of open dates on the cabin.

I have to admit that my early thoughts on this project being at the beach house were somewhere on the verge of my feeling like I was being put into one of my not so favorite dreams. I was really not looking forward to the idea of being responsible for the coordination, planning, hosting, and then cleaning up after such a large group, but I was assured that was not to be the case and that the sisters would handle it. I got some dates and tossed them to the group, found one weekend that worked for most, and the train ride of planning it began. What began months ago finally came to the appointed date, and it was time to head to the beach.

After doing the usual stuff that nails down leaving the horses, the dogs, and farm, we left on Wednesday to head down to the cabin to open it up and also to get a head start on finding some sea food to eat. Mark’s baby sister drove her rental car which was stuffed with suitcases and snacks, drinks, and all kinds of other food for later. Arriving a bit before dusk we got in the boat and drove it slowly across the bay to find a waterside restaurant where we ate our fill of fish and shrimp till we could do no more, and headed back to the cabin for the night. The remaining group that included our two daughters, their significant other and their kids, would make a total head count of nine adults, two toddlers, and two infants, and were coming the next day.

Finally the cars began rolling in and then once everyone had found their rooms and had settled in, we all headed out for the beach and the water. Lawn chairs made their way out to rest under the shade of the big oak out front, and the toddlers had their water wings snapped on. Suddenly there was a new life to the cabin and the area around it that was surprisingly wonderful. It had been so long since we had come to the cabin when our children were still quite young, and my parents were healthy and strong. Suddenly the happy noises of the toddler cousins getting to know each other, playing with their sand buckets and splashing in the water, combined with the excited chatter of the older siblings and cousins as we all refreshed our relationships and the air was filled with a renewed energy and made the place feel happy again to me. 

Since the times back when we used to travel with our kids and their friends to the beach to share the house and time spent there with my parents and my brother and his wife, the house had lost its joy when we visited it. Where once the house would be filled with many folks, in more recent time Mark and I have visited, we have been alone. The house would be quiet and the sounds where of the waves on the shore and a passing Osprey. I am part hermit and do enjoy a lot of solitude and being at the beach when there are no distractions is great, but I had forgotten what it’s like to be there with little kids, and lots of folks to catch up and laugh with. It was good to hear the chaos of the life bouncing along the days. It was great to see the beach towels drying on the porch railing and to smell the shrimp boiling in the big pot down stairs. 

There was also a nice flow to the wine and “A”dult lemonade. I mixed a batch as close as I could to my dad’s old recipe, and I think was successful in recreating a passable semblance to his famous elixir. It made me miss my dad terribly, and wished he could have been there to feel the joy once again in his house. 

We spent the next few days in a blur of eating good food, enjoying the sun and the warm water and each other. The babies were good and there were many arms to take a spell with them, aunts rocking the crying one to sleep, and Gracie, our Yorkie guarding the other one. We had arrived on Wednesday and suddenly, it was Saturday evening, our last night. There was a point where it became so clear how much fun we had all had, and that sadly it was nearly over. The bubble would inevitably be popped. Mark got out his camera and began taking group shots with the afternoon sun casting warm rays over everyone in the moment. We shared another great meal of gumbo from the leftover shrimp, joined by some great hamburgers, and finished the night with some games and continued conversations, all of the adults sitting in the rearranged living room in a circle, and, it was sweet.

The down side to all this fun is Sunday morning and its time to pack up and clean up. Everyone went into worker bee motion to get it all done, and we got the floor swept as we headed out. Sad but smiling faces said goodbyes and hugs were sent around to all.
No one wanted to say it, and didn’t have to, but all of us were keenly aware of how special this had been and how likely that it may not happen again with the same faces, but we all agreed we should try to.  One by one the cars rolled away and the quiet returned to the cabin. As I backed my truck out from under the carport, I could easily imagine my dad standing on the landing of the stairs, smiling, waving goodbye, and happy that we had come. I was happy that we had, too.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

On a Drone Note

Rain is gently falling outside the open door to the back porch. A rumble of thunder here and there, off in the distance, gives a nice touch. It is lulling and sweet. My plans for the day did not include rain, but rain can give permission to change one’s plans, and so mine shifted. 

As to life on the farm, and deaths, in continuum from the last entry in blogdom, I wrote that I was not happy with the recent snake predation on wren nests and such and I also wondered why the starlings seemed to get away from being molested by the no necks and could raise their squawking babies with immunity. Well, I was wrong. The day before yesterday on the afternoon hike to the barn, I noticed, first, there was no irritating squawking noise from the starling babies coming from the gourd houses. Looking up, I saw the side of a snake, the unmistakable pattern of its skin, coiled there in the gourd, digesting baby birds. Not that I particularly wished the birds a death sentence, but finally it was quiet. The gourd was well out of my reach and there was nothing I could do, either way to deal with the snake where it was. So I left the shovel, for its potential use later in reckoning with the serpent, leaning against the fence.

The next day, yesterday, I had finished my riding, had practiced my drum playing in preparation for two gigs this weekend, and was beginning to make my way up to the house from the barn when I heard the most amazing and unexpected sound. There were two Purple Martins, either immature or both females I could not tell which, flitting around the houses. They flew into several of the houses and out, chattering and calling all the while. Pure music their voices are, lilting and light. The sound takes me to an instant happy place. In watching them, with a smile on my face, I really hoped they would not try to nest here since my snake situation had not improved from last year, and I did not want to see these two eaten. Then I realized that the snake who had been in the starling house yesterday, was indeed still there, and was just now trying to get down from the housing.

It hung from the gourd hole, kinked up and twisted, about a foot length out. It flickered its tongue and looked about not sure what to do next. Apparently the climb up to the house was lot more easy than going down was going to be. Its choice to leave was either to drop to the ground, some ten feet down or more, or to slither out of the gourd and go back up to the pole the gourds hung off of, and then go down the pole again. It had apparently not figured out either option.

And so it hung there while these two martins flittered about only inches away from this snake, oblivious to it, just happy to be making musical sounds for me to enjoy for the moment. The martins finally left and the snake slunk back into the house to ponder its situation, its head just inside the house, peeking out. When Mark got home I told him about the stuck snake and so as not to turn away a good chance to practice his skills with flying his new toy, uh, real estate tool for showing property, he got out his new drone and off to the nest pole we went. 

This drone, a four propeller driven flying thing, has a camera mounted on it and can be sent to incredibly high heights, and is a steady and stable flyer with radio controls. Mark set it on the ground and waited for it to warm up. The snake watched us from its perch above us. Then Mark set the drone in motion and up it went. The whirling noise from the propeller blades were enough to drive the serpent into a retreat mode and we could not see its face from the ground any more. The  drone went up and hovered at the door of the gourd, taking video of what it saw. The video did later show the side of the snake as it hid its head into the farthest region of the gourd. The silly snake was still in there this morning and I am beginning to wonder at the relative intelligence of this creature at the art of leaving. It may well be still full, though,  and not hell bent of leaving just yet and taking this opportunity to chill out and observe the farm below its perch. Who knows with snakes.

So, rainy day, thunder, a day with a built in excuse not to do the things that probably should get done, like vegetation management, but perfectly suited for my spending a few hours playing drums. In my tack room I have a set of practice drums that are probably more antique than up to date, but function very well for how I practice. I put on a set of headphones and a cd of the music that I know our band wants to play at our upcoming gigs, and strike the plastic heads of the set, hopefully in time. Not as gratifying as a real wood and skin kit but good for hearing the songs and keeping the motor skills up.

Very easily, though, I no longer hear my tapping on plastic but go straight into the music in my ears, and I am there, playing with Santana, and the Allman Brothers. I am sitting right next to Butch Trucks and watching Greg as he plays the organ and sings, feeling the magic of the music they created in the years of my teens. There was so much great music made during and around the 70’s, and it still holds the test of time. I have no doubt that Greg and Carlos would not appreciate my efforts to help them along, but its nice to imagine I am there kicking it with them. And so I play their songs and tap out the beats, with the three dogs in residence laying undisturbed at my feet.  

My batteries sadly died to my cd player, though, and I put down the sticks and headphones and walked outside my tack room into the barn aisle. Two of the mares were munching on their hay, standing quietly, the sound of rainfall on the metal roof above them ringing in a peaceful serenade. Cistine, however, had left her stall and stood standing as I have seen her do before, her body, under the run in shed but with her face just out far enough to catch the falling water that runs off the roof. I said something and she turned to face me and her head was drenched but she seemed delighted to be being rained on, face only. She is a very silly horse and likes to play with water.

Since the batteries had died and there was to be no riding in this rain, I pulled one of yesterday’s saddle pads over my head for cover and rounded up the dogs to head to the house. As I passed the bird houses, I saw that the snake was still there in that gourd, and coiled tight. The shovel is in the same place too, just in case.