Finally…

via Daily Prompt: Finally

Finally, the clock ticks toward midnight and the end of another year. I’m not sure I’ll ever think back to 2017 with fond memories. Certainly there were high points, but thankfully nothing horrible happened. We were hit with a few blows. Thankfully, we survived them. I can’t say that we’re stronger for 2017. Instead, I simply acknowledge we’re still standing despite it.

Today’s single-word writing prompt seems fitting — finally. It’s not a word that I use often unless I’m using it as an alternative to a curse word.

“Finally! I hope that tailgating jackass gets where he’s headed in such a hurray!”

“Finally! I never thought she’d shut up!”

“Finally! It’s good to see my driveway.”

Perhaps what I should say is that finally, I’m writing again. It happened unexpectedly. I sat down yesterday afternoon to do some housekeeping on another blog that I manage and saw the single-word writing prompt. Instead the task that I had planned, I wrote a short post on the word almost. It felt good to write again. So here I am again. Instead of going to bed or watching the ball drop in Times Square, I logged on to see what was today’s single-word writing prompt while finishing the last loads of laundry. If today’s prompt is finally, what will tomorrow’s be? New? Fresh? Beginnings? I certainly hope not.

 

 

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Almost…

via Daily Prompt: Almost

It’s almost 2018 and I find myself sitting at my favorite writing spot, my desk in our tiny home library. We renovated this space, which was a tiny kitchen, into a quiet retreat. It was meant as a place to go when the rest of the house was in chaos. Primarily, it was a space for my husband to use while grading papers. Here, he could escape beyond the sounds of the television and conversations in the kitchen. Here, he could close the door and play whatever computer game he wanted. Or turn the volume up when Pandora played his favorite celtic band.

I appreciated it when he suggested that I could have a corner in the space. It was exactly the thing I needed. From my desk, I run our family corporation, dig around on genealogy sites, and it is where I write this blog. Its close proximity to the kitchen means that I could cook and write. Or write and cook, as it generally happens.

I love this room. It’s constant northern light stirs my soul. It’s walls of bookshelves are the perfect backdrop to my musings. Through the window, I can see the pecan trees. Thanks to the perfect placement of my monitor, I don’t really see anything else. I can pretend that our quiet neighborhood almost doesn’t exist and that the only thing outside are the trees and sky. For me, it is the perfect spot.

This room is almost magazine perfect. My little corner is almost always (sorta kinda) organized. But behind my designated portion of the long black countertop, my husband has filled his section with things. I often look at the stacks of forgotten items and wonder if he’d miss any of it, should I ever decide to tackle his mess? I know the answer. He’d instantly know something was amiss, even if he hadn’t touched the thingamajig or whatchamacallit in years. He’d know it was a missing and look at me accusingly. So I’ve learned to ignore the mess beyond the printer that divides the workspace.

As I sit looking at the pecan trees and blue sky, I think about the single-word writing prompt that WordPress has suggested. Almost. It’s almost a new year. The current year is almost over. I’m almost over a bout of bronchitis. It’s almost my birthday. I’m almost 54. Wait, what?

I am almost 54.

That certainly wasn’t something I had thought about before typing that sentence. The truth is, I never really think about my birthday. They aren’t a big deal to me. I’m certainly proud to have them. But I certainly have never adopted the “princess for a day” attitude. I’ve got much too common-sense for all that. I’m not even that crazy about birthday presents. I typically mark the day with a new selfie to acknowledge that time is stomping its way across my face and document that the color has almost drained from my hair. Almost.

As light begins to fade, I realize that it’s almost dinner time. It’s almost time to cuddle up with my boys (tomcat and beagle hound included) and watch a couple of hours of television. Then, before I know it, it will almost be time for bed. The end of another, almost perfect day.

Food Memories Nourishes the Soul

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My brother may have a silly smile on his face, but he’s pretty happy about the food on his plate and the fun we had making it together.

“Do you remember how Mom made chili dog slaw?” my brother Bill asked. “You know, the one that tasted like slaw from Hanson?”

He’s asked the question to my sister Rita and me over the years. And more than once, we’ve mumbled non-descriptive answers. But this time, he wasn’t going to let us get away with a kinda, sorta, made up answer. His wife Diann had tried repeatedly to make the slaw, and because she never ate it or ever saw it, she was at her wits’ end trying to recreate it.

When we started rattling off our usual non-descriptive answer, I tried to deflect the fact we didn’t know by announcing that Vince had nailed our grandmother’s hot potato salad.

“You mean the hot one, with the green onions and eggs?” he asked with piqued interested.

“Yes, that one! Man, I didn’t think I’d ever eat that again,” I said.

“What about Nanaw’s Coconut Cake?” Rita added. “Mamaw Vivian always made one at Christmas. Does anybody have that recipe?”

“I do!”

“But what about the slaw? Does anybody know how Mama made the slaw?”

We shook our heads no, we didn’t. And that’s when I came up with the idea of getting together and making some of our favorite recipes that our mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmother enjoyed.

We pulled out our calendars and planned to get together on Saturday, January 16th. We’d meet at my brother and sister-in-law’s house and cook together. Each of us was tasked with preparing one of the recipes discussed.

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Vince, Rita, and Nick prepare our Grandmother Anna Mae Gentry’s Hot Potato Salad

When Vince and I arrived, the kitchen was already in full swing. My nephew Nick was helping his mom chop vegetables for the slaw. Rita had the cake ready, so she jumped in with Vince and me to quickly peel potatoes. Diann and I had both made chili for the hot dogs. And I had brought a bunch of turnip greens to go along with the hot potato salad.

It was a mixed-up menu, but each dish represented a thousand memories.

As we waited for the potatoes to boil, we explained to those who never experienced Mrs. Ligion’s coleslaw just how wonderful it tasted.

Mrs. Ligion operated a small drive up hut in Hanson. There’s is no telling how many hot dogs and ice cream cones were served out her pass-thru window. Her famous slaw dressed hot dogs and her famous footlong chili dogs. When Mrs. Ligion sold the establishment to her daughter, the hut became Kim’s Drive In sometime in the 1970’s. Later, it sold again. Sometime in the 1980’s, it closed. The little hut in Hanson, along Highway 41, had been a community institution. It was where everybody went after church. On hot summer evenings, station wagons and pickup trucks were parked all around it after softball games. Every little town in America had their version of Ligion’s. But only Hanson’s little hut had that sweet-and-sour slaw that mother had duplicated time and time again and my brother desperately wanted to taste once more.

With the meal ready and quickly blessed, each of us piled our plates. It was delicious. Every bite held a memory. Vince had once again recreated my grandmother Gentry’s hot potato salad. Diann did an outstanding job with the slaw. Frankly, I think it’s better than the original.

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My sister Rita tackled our Great-Grandmother Lelia Hailey’s Coconut Cake.

After lunch, I shared our family tree via ancestry.com. I’ve spent years collecting our family history, and in the past few months, I’ve been able to complete all the information back four generations (and beyond for some). It seemed a good time to share the new information after our lunch.

Afterwards, Rita sliced into her coconut cake which was delicious. Like so many family recipes, this coconut cake is different than most. It’s basically a white cake with thick coconut icing.

I loved sharing the stories and the food with my nephew Nick, who enjoys cooking. It was befitting to pass this experience to the next generation and hopefully, he’ll pass it on to the next.

 

Some Things Never Change

On Friday night, I received a text from my sister. It read, “I just needed to write tonight. So here it goes!”

Not knowing what to expect, I eagerly read what she sent.

A summer ritual in my family was the vegetable garden. My grandmother would start early in the spring, because she wanted tomatoes by the 4th of July. She also wanted to plant a second garden on the 4th. There was always a loud discussion prior to our holiday meal about planting a second garden, just when the first one was coming in. My grandmother always got her way, and she stayed busy preserving fresh garden items until late in the fall.

A couple of years ago, I took a couple of my girlfriends blackberry picking. I told them that wearing wide-brimmed hats were apart of my families tradition.

A couple of years ago, I took a couple of my girlfriends blackberry picking. I told them that wearing wide-brimmed hats were apart of my families tradition.

On the 4th, we usually went on our first trip blackberry picking. Never been? Well, first you have to “prepare” to pick the berries. Wild blackberries have thorns that would tear your clothes, your skin, often going deep enough to bleed. This means in 100 degree temperatures, on top of whatever shirt you’re wearing, you put on a long-sleeved shirt and then put rubber bands around each wrist. Then, while wearing your oldest pair of blue jeans, you stuff your feet down into heavy barn boots, tucking in your pant legs. Lastly, add gloves, sun hat, bucket, and a generous layer of mosquito repellent. Wearing such a fetching outfit helps to deter snakes, chiggers, or whatever to wants gnaw on you.

After we filled our buckets with berries, we would come out of the field or ditch hot, sweaty, and scratched up from the thorns. Nothing was sweeter than the fresh-squeezed lemonade that Momma had waiting for us. After we’d wash the berries, she’d send us off to take showers and throw our clothes in the washer before heading to our grandmother’s house to celebrate the 4th. The next day, Momma would make jars of blackberry jam and jelly to be eaten on cold winter mornings or nights when she’d make breakfast for supper.

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Rita’s husband Rocky reaches into the blackberry patch to pull out berry laden vines.

Today, my husband and I went back to the same farm where as a child, I picked blackberries. Rather than long-sleeves and pants, my husband wore short-sleeves and shorts. Instead of a sun hat and gloves, he was armed with a lawn-mower and a hoe. He mowed up the berries and brought the vines up to him using his hoe. (Effective tools against the snakes, but not the chiggers!). He picked three quarts of berries which have now been washed, stored in bags, and are now tucked away in the freezer. They’ll become a cobbler, jam, or jelly later this summer.

When I finished reading her text, I chuckled. Not at the sweet story she told, but because what she didn’t know was that just like her, I went searching for blackberries the same day. My favorite patch is almost ready for picking. Next weekend, I’ll get up extra early and dress up in long-sleeves, an old pair of blue jeans, gloves, and a sun hat to do what my sister and generations have done before me – I’ll go blackberry picking. Some things never change.

Enjoy this Despite Everything post from 2013 about blackberry picking.

When the Blackberries Ripen

A Cicada Summer

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Cicadas are benign to humans under normal circumstances and do not bite or sting in a true sense, but may mistake a person for a tree or plant limb and attempt to feed.

Western Kentucky is drowning in the sound of 13-year cicadas, as they’ve returned above ground to lay their eggs. For we humans, the early days of summer have been deafened by their sound or grossed out by their exoskeleton remains, which are everywhere unless your dog enjoys them like popcorn.

I haven’t been too bothered by the cicadas. Yes, a couple of our trees have been covered by them. Yes, I’ve accidentally stepped on one or two. Yes, two actually managed to drop down our chimney. Yes, the sound is annoying — but it also has the benefit of drowning out the constant droning of the leaf blower down the street. No leaf, stick, or cicada remains has a chance with that guy.

My Facebook feed has been full of people’s photos and reactions to the cicada bloom. I feel sorry for the exterminators in town, whose phones have been ringing off the wall. The cicadas have moved even the most god-fearing gentlefolk to murderous thoughts.

“I’m completely grossed out. How do we kill the things?”

My favorite Facebook posts have been from my friend Ellis who, every few hours, posts what note the bugs are singing.

“F sharp.”

That’s all, nothing else on the post. Just the tone. It’s pretty hysterical. And of course, we all understand what she’s talking about. She’s also reposted cicada recipes that were earlier shared from common friends who no longer live in Western Kentucky. She’s reposted stories from newspapers and radio stations. But the thing I love? She hasn’t threatened to set off an A-bomb to eliminate the species. She’s used the bloom to mark the passage of time (as well as sound). When the bloom first began, she posted a photo of her wedding day, noting that these cicada’s are the children of the ones that emerged just after their wedding – 13 years ago.

When, on another post, she noted that the next time we see these cicadas, her son will be graduating from high school, I took it even further. Her daughter will be in college. Her sister Megan’s newborn baby girl will be 13 years old. In 26 years, that precious baby girl may be heading down the aisle at Murray Woman’s Club, looking as beautiful as like Ellis and Megan both did. When I envisioned myself at 77 years of age sitting at Amelia’s wedding, that’s when it hit me. The best way to embrace the cicadas is use them to mark the passage of time. What were you doing 13, 26, 39 years ago? What do you hope will be happening in your life 13 years from now? 26? For me, I hope to be retiring from the job I love in 13 years. I have 13 more years to accomplish everything I want to do, 13 more years to make a difference. Thirteen years, a mere speck in the cicada time continuum.

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The juneberry, or saskatoon berry, is a tasty and nutritious berry native to North America. The flavor of the fruit is similar to sweet black cherries or a mild blackberry, with a hint of almond in the tiny, soft seed.

During this year’s cicada bloom, we discovered that the apple serviceberry bush that is planted beside our bedroom window was covered in tiny maroon/purple berries. While the shrub has bloomed before, it’s never produced berries. So after a few minutes on the internet, we discovered that the berries had a name (Juneberry) and that yes, they were edible, but most importantly, the internet claimed they made glorious jam. Once I read that, I practically dropped my iPad as I went in search of a bucket.

In about 30 minutes, my Beloved and I picked 10 cups of berries, which produced the best jam I’ve ever eaten. Literally. The Juneberry tastes like a cherry and a plum and a apple. Their tiny seeds look like sesame seeds and give the jam a deep nutty flavor. We’re talking perfect jam that has plenty of its own pectin and doesn’t require an unholy amount of sugar. You won’t find Juneberries at Kroger, because they are too labor intensive to harvest commercially. But if you happen to have one of these shrubs in your front yard, you have a gold mine. The next day, we picked more and I made another batch of jam. By that point the tree was nearly bare. The birds, spiders, and ladybugs who had been munching their breakfast were angry at our invasion. But the one thing we didn’t see were cicadas, as they were too busy working on the Bradford pear tree. We picked what we could and decided to leave the remaining berries for the wildlife, who wanted them as much as we did. An hour later, I added 13 glistening new jars of jam to the pantry.

When I opened our drapes this morning, I saw that there were still a lot of berries left, despite the fact we left them a week ago. Determined not to lose any, we went back outside to pick them. As a soft, soft rain fell, we reached through the branches, bending them to get to the berries that neither we nor the birds had collected. Each time we moved, a shower of rain droplets drenched us. I looked at my husband, determined to save the memory of him picking berries off a bush (while it rained) in our front yard, just so I could make more jam. My heart was full of love. Then I came face to face with an annoyed cicada who began chirping his displeasure, two inches from my nose. His friend on the next branch joined in as if to say, “You tell her, buddy!”

That’s when I flicked the first cicada off the branch.

His buddy sat there watching me with his five eyes, as if pondering what was going to happen next. So I flicked him off his branch. I swear, he screamed. All the way to the ground.

“AAAAAAaaaaaaaeeee!”

That cicada should have emerged in Hollywood, because he could’ve had a career. We knew he wasn’t hurt. He was just dramatic.

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While waiting to pick up my son, I noticed him swooping down to the ground. When he got in the car, I asked what he was doing. He said that he saw a cicada flipped over on his back, and that since it really didn’t live that long, he didn’t want it to spend its remaining days laying on its back.

And there it is. No matter how annoyed or grossed out you may be, the cicadas are God’s creatures. They have hearts, minds, and yes, dramatic personalities. But they’re apart of our lives every 13 years. Honestly, I doubt we really understand why they exist. I’m sure there are proclaimed experts who have dedicated their lives to their study. Not to discount their life’s work, but I don’t care why they exist. I’m just glad they do, and sadly I’ll miss them when their gone, which newscasters have predicted to be in a couple of weeks.

So long, gang. I look forward to meeting your kids in 13 years.

“B sharp.”

 

 

There are Words Swirling Around in My Head

Just as I was drifting off to sleep, words began swirling into that tiny space between my subconscious and conscious mind, forcing me awake. I tried to ignore them, but then the words began to join together and form sentences that refused to be ignored. So I rolled over. As I closed my eyes again, I knew that I was wasting my time. Sleep was not coming until I released the words and their well-formed sentences into the ether.

Its never been easy for me to go to sleep. Each night when I finally exhaust myself into unconsciousness, a freight train could blast its way through our bedroom and I wouldn’t hear it. Falling asleep? Well, that is the problem. My mother used to say that when I was a baby, I learned to fight sleep. She would put me to bed and I would lay there fretting until my father got home from working 2nd shift, a little after midnight. Then, I would easily fall asleep knowing he was home.

The words that prevented me from falling asleep tonight are for a blog post at work. I had thought about publishing a story this week about Thanksgiving, featuring the work of the region’s 37 food pantries. I considered showing how these agencies and their volunteers are on the front lines fighting hunger. But its a big story — one that deserves more time than what I had to respectfully produce it.

Then, in those moments as I was drifting off to sleep, an idea for new story began writing itself. I already have a story ready publish this week. But if I can make the words and well-formed sentences magically return tomorrow, I’ll write a better story. I don’t have all the information or otherwise I’d be writing that story now. So this overwhelming urge to write will have to be satisfied with what I’ve written here, knowing that I’ll get to the real story tomorrow.

Obviously, I haven’t kept up with the NaBloPoMo 30-day writing challenge. I knew it was going to be hard. November is a crazy month for me. The college basketball season begins, three annual projects at work consume my life, my husband becomes overwhelmed with end-of-the-semester grading, and I kick into overdrive cleaning the house for the holidays. If I had managed to post something each of the 30 days, I would have been considered for a free trip to the 2015 BlogHer Conference. I’m not interested in attending anyway. So I don’t feel guilty about missing a few days. The truth is, even though I wasn’t publishing here, each of those days I was writing for something else. There is hardly a day that goes by that I’m not writing something, which was the whole point of the challenge. So if participating in NaBloPoMo did anything (and it did several positive things), it motivated me to start publishing here again.

That’s a good thing, right?

Blame it on Katie

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We always have fun together.

NaBloPoMo, Day Eight.

Before I got out of bed this morning, I had decided that I was going to give up on this NaBloPoMo gig. I hate the writing prompts and haven’t followed any of the suggestions that are suppose to encourage my creativity. I’m not pleased with my posts and well, frankly, I was bored with it. Not five minutes later, I got a text.

“I love reading your blog, haha.”

The universe has a wicked sense of humor. If anyone else had sent that text I might have ignored it. But it came one of my dearest friends, Katie. If my awkward NaBloPoMo attempts had been useless or terrible, she would have been the first to tell me the truth. I rely on her for such directness. While I might not have appreciated her truthfulness about my dill pickle attempts, or knitting attempts, I know she’ll always shoot straight with me.

Now, I know most of the NaBloPoMo posts I’ve written have been iffy. They weren’t exactly bad, but they weren’t good either. But Katie loved them.

Groan.

Katie came into my life via our niece. They went to high school together. From the minute she walked through our front door after their senior prom, I knew I had met a friend for life. We have often talked about the fact that no matter what, when I’m old, she’ll check me out of the nursing home and take me to band festivals. And I know she’ll keep her promise.

Katie is an 'adopted' niece that we adore. She lights up any room she walks into AND she's my favorite strawberry sous chef.

She lights up any room she walks into AND she’s my favorite strawberry sous chef.

She makes me laugh. She makes me pull my hair out. She fills my life with good times and laughter. She’s capped dozens and dozens of quarts of strawberry’s so that I can ruin them with my attempts at making jam. She’s that perfect friend that you can call at 10 pm and say, I feel like an adventure. Before she even thinks about it, says, “What time do you want to leave?”

No excuses, no checking of the calendar, she just rolls with it. Everyone should have a friend like that.

I love how she always adds “haha” to the end of her texts. Even if she’s crying, there will be a “haha” thrown in. It used to drive me crazy. How on earth could I have a serious conversation with an adult tossing “haha’s” at me? But now, I come to expect them. If that haha is missing, something is desperately wrong.

So, I’m going to blame my continued efforts at this silly NaBloPoMo challenge on Katie.

Lord, help us all. Haha.