Moments of My Life

Selfie

I don’t take a lot of “selfies” but I found this little jewel during the upload. Taken before a Racer game last season, it shows my enthusiasm for my favorite team and for blessed life that I lead.

A few days ago, I finally I imported all the photos off my phone.

What is probably a daily ritual for some, was something I hadn’t ever done. Never. Every photo I’ve ever taken with an iPhone was still — on my iPhone. Well, nearly every photo, lately I had to start deleting the blurry ones in order to make room for new pictures. Why haven’t I ever uploaded them? For one thing, I didn’t know how because I always ignore the pop-up window that springs to life whenever I plug my phone into my laptop. Besides, I rather liked having all those photos. Its was kinda cool to go back and look at them all from time to time.

As the import began, I watched thousands of photos flash before my eyes. Moments of my life digitally captured for all time. I literally watched my life flash before my eyes which, once again, reminded just how blessed I am. I have a life rich with family, friends, co-workers, and pets that make my life complete.

I was also amazed at how many photos were taken for this blog which I’ve been ignoring. People have been very sweet saying that they missed us. Frankly, I have missed writing. But I needed a break to live life again, it had gotten to the point where every adventure, every task had become the fodder of a blog post. Not that it was a bad thing, but sometimes life just needs to be about living life, not writing about it.

Now that the days have grown shorter and there is less to accomplish outside, I know that I’ll start writing again. But until then, I’ve got life to live with the ones I love the most.

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The Winter Storm that Wasn’t

Cleon

After the Weather Channel named Friday’s winter storm after Cleon, I had to find out who he was. Apparently, he was a violent general and grim political leader in Athens.

Thankfully, the ice storm didn’t come as predicted.

For a week, the weather forecast has included a prediction of a December Ice Storm. Since 2009, the words “ice storm” have put fear into people’s hearts. We all experience some level of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after 2009 when Western Kentucky was without power for days or weeks. Ice storms are not uncommon; matter of fact, we experience them every couple of years. This weekend’s forecast was so gloomy, though, that someone at the Weather Channel decided to be clever and name the systems coming through our area. Friday’s storm was christened “Cleon” so that no one would be confused with “Deon,” the system that was supposed to come through today.

Grocery stores were emptied. Gas stations sold all their fuel. Annual holiday events were cancelled. Retailers stood idly by and watched as people rushed to buy generators, candles, and firewood instead of Christmas gifts. Thankfully, the storm didn’t live up to our imagination. Granted, it was bad enough. But the power stayed on (for the most part), and we survived a long weekend with sleet and the occasional spells of freezing rain.

I can hardly think of a winter storm without thinking about my mother. She saved projects for us to do during snow days from school. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of opportunities to build snow forts, go sledding, and make snow angels. But a kid can only do that for so long. Eventually, boredom kicked in and the chore list came out. We cleaned out closets. We polished wood paneling and kitchen cabinets. We washed curtains. We scrubbed grout and bathroom tiles. We waxed floors. We vacuumed furniture. We stripped our bedrooms down to the walls, making sure every single dust bunny was eliminated from the house. As long as we had electricity, Mom’s workforce marched through her project list. Boredom didn’t exist at the Hailey household — ever.

Maybe that is why, when there’s a potential storm coming, I clean the house top to bottom — starting with projects that require electricity, so that when the power goes out I still have things to do. I can’t crash on the couch during a winter storm and watch movies all day. That would drive me crazy. Instead I cook, I clean, I launder, and I vacuum everything in the house, just like my mother.

When the Blackberries Ripen

Cheyenne's robin eggs

Photo: Cheyenne Medlock
Our niece Cheyenne found a robin’s nest while blackberry picking. To me its a perfect summer photo.

I love measuring the summer by what’s in season.

To me, fruit tells the story of summer. Strawberries introduce us to warm days, followed by blueberries at summer solstice. When the blackberries ripen, summer is at its peak with its long days and heat. Followed by the dripping sweetness of peaches and watermelons until crisp days when the apples begin to fall.

When I was a child I hated picking blackberries. The weeds, the heat, and the total discomfort of chiggers bites meant that I was completely miserable. Being the youngest of the bunch, I loudly proclaimed my discomfort and annoyed everyone. The louder I complained, the more angelic my siblings became. Finally, my mother stopped taking me along on their adventures. I thought I had won the lottery when she made declared me an unfit laborer.

I gladly marched across the road to be babysat by my grandparents or my great aunt and uncle who shook their heads at my rude behavior. I am sure my mother instructed them to keep the good times at a minimum while she and my siblings were off picking blackberries–hoping that I’d realize I was missing out on the fun. But I was strong-willed and determined not to ever pick another blackberry again. So when it was announced there were green beans to snap, weeds to pull, or a basement that needed cleaning out, I would take on whatever challenge they presented like it was the best thing ever.

Thus began my dislike of blackberries. Until I was 40 years old, my inner child declared them – yucky and gross. I avoided them like the plague. Then, a few of summers ago one of the vendors at the farmers market had organic blackberries for sale. I bought a quart thinking I’d surprise my poor, blackberry-deprived husband with his favorite cobbler. You would have thought that I had given him the moon – he was a happy fellow. So happy in fact, that I broke down and tried a bite. I was completely unprepared for the delicious nectar. My taste buds went wild and my Beloved had to pry the cobbler from my hands before I ate the rest of his favorite dessert. Over the next few days, I filled our freezer with blackberries from the farmers market so that I could make a cobbler whenever we wanted.

When I started making preserves, it was the blackberries that I found to be the easiest and the most delicious. The night I made my first perfect batch of preserves, Vince was sound asleep in bed. Sometime after midnight, I woke him up with a spoon in my hand demanding he eat. Bless his heart, I think I scared him with my insistence because he wasn’t exactly sure he wanted to eat whatever I was cramming down his throat. But then, he woke up enough to taste what was on the spoon. He sat straight up and declared my preserves the best he had ever eaten. A perfect recipe was born.

My blackberry preserves are simple – which is why I think they are so good. Its literally 8 cups of fruit to 4 cups of sugar. But not just any fruit or any sugar. I still insist on purchasing those organic blackberries I first found at the farmers market and I use organic sugar. The combination is glorious. And unlike fickle strawberries, blackberries have plenty of pectin. So all you have to do is simply cook them down enough until they set.

Last year, I completely missed the blackberries. I was obsessed with Tomatopalooza when the berries arrived at market. Then the next week, they were gone. When I realized that I had missed the blackberries, my heart was broken as there weren’t any berries in the freezer and only three or four jars of preserves in the pantry. My brother loves my preserves, as does Vince’s Uncle Gene. I love giving them jars of preserves whenever we see them. Obviously, their wives can buy blackberry preserves from the grocery, but its not the same.

Determined not to miss blackberry season again, I’ve been watching the roadsides for wild berries. I’ve discovered that my grandmother’s blackberry bush still produces, so I’ve been texting my brother for ripeness updates. I told Vince that if we missed the berries again this year, I was heading back to the fields and ditches where my mother took us to see if they were still there. Living in Murray, we’re about a week or two ahead of the growing season than that of my beloved Brown Road, where I grew up. Then a few days ago, we saw a sign for a You-Pick Blackberry Patch. We weren’t able to stop, so I declared that we’d go back while we were both off for Independance Day.

For the three days I was giddy with the thoughts of going blackberry picking.

The horrid memories of blackberry picking now forgotten, I focused only on the good memories. The memories of my mother in her summer dresses leading the three of us off for an adventure. Feeling the warmth of her hand in mine as she talked about the secret places she had always gone to find blackberries. In my mind, the now paved roads were once again dirt and gravel. The creeks we crossed were wide and clear. My heart and head were full of her memories.

With our niece Cheyenne home for the holiday and our sweet neighbor Peggy joining us for the adventure, we headed off to look for blackberries. Peggy told us of another you-pick that she visited every year. We headed there first but unfortunately struck out, as their patch was ending their season. All remaining berries had been pre-purchased. So, we headed to where we had seen the sign just days before.

As we drove up the grass path from the highway, we were amazed by the farm. Rows upon rows of blackberries were planted, some of the rows had been there for years. Some were newly planted. A sign was posted on the rusted tin barn barn – “organic farm, do not spray.” We had found the farm where the berries I had once bought at the farmers market where now available as a you-pick farm. We grabbed our buckets and each wandered off to find a row to ourselves.

group photo

Together we picked nearly 18 pounds of blackberries.

Most of the berries weren’t ready yet, but if you looked closely you could find berries perfect for picking. With the morning sun shining on my back and the birds singing, I quickly got to work. With each berry I picked, the world easily slipped away. At one point, I stood and watched each of my fellow pickers advance across their rows. Each deep in their own thoughts and memories. My heart exploded with love for them: the neighbor we adore. The precious niece that has filled my heart with pride and joy. And my dear Beloved who attracts swarms of bugs and chiggers by simply going outdoors – were there because I didn’t want to miss blackberry season.

While we were there, a young mother and her two daughters arrived. As they approached the rows, the mother softly told the girls that they only wanted to pick the berries that were black. Don’t pick the red ones as they aren’t ready yet. Her voice echoing the instructions my mother often gave me decades ago. Their voices carried across the field mingling with the voices of my mother and siblings. Not long into their efforts, the youngest began to complain. None of the berries she could reach were black, her shoes were wet, and a bug had landed on her leg. Her distress refused to be comforted. I understood her and smiled. Sooner than they wanted, they ended picking, and  left the field.

This summer has gone by so quickly. Now that blackberries are beginning to ripen, its as if Mother Nature is saying enjoy these remaining summer days. Because soon they’ll be gone.

My Very Non-Scientific Berry Preserves
You can use blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries with this recipe.

8 cups of blackberries
4 cups or 1 box Sugar in the Raw

In a large saucepan, combine berries and sugar over medium heat. Stir until sugar melts. Bring up heat to achieve a hard boil stirring frequently until mixture thickens to a splatty boil. Check for gel stage by dipping a spoon into the mixture. If the mixture drips off the back of the spoon, continue cooking. If the mixture slips or falls off the back of the spoon – then its done.

Ladle mixture into clean jars, leaving a 1/4 headspace at the top. Remove any air bubbles by stirring the mixture around with a knife or chopstick. Clean the top of the jar put on lid and twist ring until finger tight. Place jars into boiling hot-water bath canner, making sure jars are covered in water. Put on canner lid. Boil for 10 minutes, then turn off heat. Wait 5 minutes, remove lid, wait another 5 minutes, then remove jars from canner, letting cool on counter overnight.

Ready for Spring

January Sunlight

I love the clean white light of winter. But I’m ready for the sun track its way closer to the Earth and warm my garden soil.

I’m over this so-called winter.

Don’t get me wrong, I love winter. With its bright white sunshine, it makes me feel as if the world is full of possibilities. For me, winter is like a pause. Or a deep breath that centers your mind.

I don’t think we’ve actually had a real winter in years, with accumulated snow that makes any landscape beautiful. Instead, we’ve had these so-called winters that have been endless string of dreary, cloudy, and cold days which make me want to burrow deeper into my blankets. If we’ve had any snow it was a dusting. Or maybe I just didn’t notice. How sad.

As the days grow longer and the calendar approaches April, I long for spring. Like many of my co-workers, I think we need to encourage a certain groundhog to retire. Obviously, he’s lost his touch. The daffodils, which announce spring better than ole Phil, have been in bloom along the roads for weeks. They seem so out of place with the dreary days.

When I was a kid, I would watch for the daffodils. I’d get off the bus in the afternoons, toss my books into the house, and run into the pasture past the barn until I reached the Old House Place. It was a lot that once had a wood-framed house where my grandmother’s cousins lived. There are several large trees on the lot which would have surrounded the house with shade. The house is long gone, but what remained were thousands of daffodils, paper whites, and sweet peas. It was the closest thing to the secret garden I often read about. It was one of my favorite places on our farm. It was also a favorite place for our cattle, who loved to graze there. They probably ate the blooms, but I swear they didn’t. I think they liked hanging out with the flowers, like I did. When the magical day arrived and the daffodils bloomed, I’d find a spot and just lay down among them and the cows. It was my idea of heaven. Daffodils are still my favorite flower, but this year, they’ve made me a little sad to see them braving this crappy weather. They deserve a little sunshine and just haven’t gotten it.

During the winter season, my primary goal is to accomplish very little around the house. Oh, I maintain the vacuuming and the laundry. I dust occasionally, but there’s no real joy in it. After spending spring, summer, and each fall being industrious with my gardening and canning, I’m ready to relax after the holidays. On rainy weekends, I’ll open a closet and consider cleaning it out. But I don’t. I’ll walk into my pantry and consider reorganizing the cabinets. But I don’t. I’ll wander from room to room and consider tackling a major deep cleaning. But I don’t. Instead, I’ll settle in with a book or a movie. After all, I rarely take a day to simply relax.

But after three months of considering stuff to do, I’m ready to actually start doing something again. I’m ready to clean out the flower beds of their dead leaves and eager weeds. I’m ready to spend a Saturday with the sun warm on my back, as I put down new mulch. I’m ready to wash windows and dust away the cobwebs. I’m ready to clean out the sun porch and paint the wicker furniture. I’m ready to till the garden and smell the earth. I’m ready to dig deep into the rich compost piles my Beloved has been tending. I’m ready for spring.

The forecast calls for more rain and potential snow for this weekend. Guess, I’ll have to be patient. Or finally clean out that closet.

Letting Go of the Enemy Within

Letting Go

Letting go of the enemy within allows you to grab onto all the good things in your life.

Sometimes our greatest enemy is ourselves.

Tired of being sick and tired, I’ve been letting go of the negative things that were destroying my health and emotional well-being. Instead, I’ve been trying to embrace the positive things that inspire and rejuvenate me. However, I had an enemy fighting against all the goodness I was discovering. That enemy was myself — because my subconscious wouldn’t stop heckling me.

“Who are you kidding? You’ll always be fat and frumpy.”

Perhaps.

All along this journey of nutrition enlightenment, I’ve fallen off the wagon more than a few times. It makes no sense. It’s not like someone is shoving those McDonald’s french fries into my mouth. (Correction: someone is. Me!) As I entered a drive-thru, I wondered what the heck was I doing? But I ordered them anyway and begin a salted frenzy while the enemy within laughed at my questionable willpower.

But let’s be honest. Was I truly hurting myself by eating those fries? It’s not the smartest thing I could have chosen. But I believe that I was hurting myself more by feeling guilty about eating them. The guilt only led to feelings of unworthiness, self-doubt, and more destructive thoughts. And the desire for more french fries.

Once I realized that, I didn’t want fries anymore.

Here’s the thing: As adults, we are in charge of what goes into our mouths. Someone else may do the shopping and/or the cooking, but we’re the masters of our forks. You can either eat healthy food that is nourishing to your body, or you can eat food that destroys your health. Green leafy vegetables = good cholesterol. French fries = bad cholesterol. Whatever you choose, don’t feel guilty about it. Just understand the consequences of it. Do you want to feel good, have energy, and sparkle again? Eat your green leafy vegetables. If you want to feel bloated, constantly fight off colds, and always be exhausted — drink a couple of sodas and eat french fries.

For weeks, the numbers on my scale didn’t moved much. I kept playing around with the same 2.5 lbs. I gained it. I lost it. Then I gained it again. I got caught up in losing weight. I agonized over what I was doing wrong. I read a half dozen books and spent hours on the internet looking up the secrets to breaking a weight-loss plateau. Then it dawned on me. The only thing that I was doing wrong was worrying about it. Because I’m not on a diet.

I forgot that simple point.

I fretted that I won’t reach a specific weight goal by a specific date. The closer that date came (and went), the more I felt like a failure or that I didn’t have willpower. The reality was I shouldn’t have had a weight loss goal and target date in the first place! The day I stopped drinking soda, I never once considered if I would lose any weight. I just wanted to feel better. Weight loss is the by-product of my improved nutrition.

One day in mid-March, I’ll pause to celebrate all the good things that have happened in the past 365 days. I’ve thought about that day for awhile now. Correction: I’ve obsessed about it. Thankfully, I realized that I needed to stop thinking about it and get on with life. After all, it will be just another Thursday. I’ll go to work. I’ll go to yoga class.

So like all the other negative things I’ve let go, I disarmed my enemy within.

I’ve stopped looking at the scales everyday. Same thing goes for the calorie counting app; I deleted it from my phone. In many ways, I blame the scales and the app for giving my enemy within a voice. Because rather than creating awareness, they created a monster who felt guilty about every bite whether it was good or bad. My journey has never been about calories or what the scales said. It’s about how much life I can gain by making smarter choices. And how much health can I restore by healing my body with food and yoga. Not just for a year — but for a lifetime.

Finally, I let go of the enemy within.

By the way, the scales moved in the right direction. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

There’s a Blizzard on the Horizon

kindling 2

We keep a kindling pile in the backyard so that we can quickly fill a wheelbarrow whenever a snow storm is predicted.

When a blizzard warning came across the forecast, it immediately had my attention.

Living in West Kentucky, we don’t get a lot of extreme winter weather. But when it happens, folks around here are generally prepared. After the Ice Storm of 2009, every household became well-stocked with survival gear and a generator. We didn’t need a television show to demonstrate how to prepare for an impending doomsday. We lived it, and we learned from it.

The Ice Storm literally changed the way people prepare for bad weather. We were lucky in the fact that we were without power for only four days. The most inconvenience we incurred was that Murray was also without water as a main line broke during the storm. No power is one thing. No power and no water to flush with takes it to a whole other level. Many co-workers were out much longer, and my mother, my siblings, and their families were huddled together without power for 17 days. That’s a lot of games of Uno.

A couple of days ago, we started hearing about the potential for snow on Christmas Day. Then that potential became an impending snow storm. Yesterday, while shopping for a few last minute presents, I noticed the long lines at Wal-Mart and Kroger pharmacies. A few people left the stores with extra milk and bread. Then today, when the National Weather Service in Paducah, Kentucky, issued its first blizzard warning ever, the only open gas station in town had lines at every pump. My Beloved decided to buy four dozen eggs — just in case.

The refrigerator is already overflowing from holiday meals.The freezer is full so we have plenty of food. It’s only supposed to snow about eight inches in Murray, but that didn’t stop us from going through the checklist to make sure Chez Medlock had battened down all the hatches:

  • Cars and oil lamps filled with fuel
  • Two wheelbarrows filled with kindling and extra wood then wheeled into the sunroom
  • All electronics set on their chargers
  • Patio furniture stored away
  • Laundry done
  • Cats corralled
  • Candles collected
  • Batteries purchased
  • Matches found
  • Flashlights tested
  • Water bottles filled
  • Tub filled with water (for flushing!)
  • Double batch of veggie soup prepared
  • Craft projects and games prepared to keep everyone entertained
  • Prearranged call times established with out-of-town family to conserve cell batteries

We’re ready.

I had planned to spend this day in my pajamas on the couch watching old movies with my family. But it didn’t work out that way. Getting ready for a blizzard has taken priority. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we won’t lose power as the snow stacks up and the wind goes wild. Let’s just hope the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore doesn’t show up. Because if he does, we’re doomed.

Easy Crockpot Veggie Soup

3 bags of organic, frozen mixed veggies
1 qt canned tomatoes
1 qt beef broth
6 sausage patties
1c frozen zucchini
3T oregano
2T onion power
2 cloves of garlic
salt
pepper

Place all frozen mixed vegetables in the crockpot. If you have any partial bags of frozen veggies in your freezer, add them. The more the merrier! Pour canned tomatoes and beef broth over veggies and add seasonings. Cut up sausage and then stir all together. Cook in crockpot on high for 6-7 hours.

Finding Balance

Carrots at the Cooper-Young Farmers Market Photo: Cheyenne Medlock

I took a break from canning this weekend.

Since the early days of this blog, I’ve been working overtime to preserve each season’s bounty. When the leafy greens of early spring were plentiful, I was juicing and freezing them. When the tender berries of spring arrived, I was making jam. Then when the first veggies of summer ripened, I preserved their sun-drenched goodness.

Tackling last weekends’ 90 pounds of tomatoes was the tipping point. At about 10:00 pm on Sunday night, I realized that I had missed hanging out with my kid, playing with the dog, or enjoying a day out on Kentucky Lake. I had also missed Inspector Lewis‘ premiere on this season’s Masterpiece Theatre’s Mystery.  It was time to regroup.

Friday morning, I did a quick walk-around in my garden.  The heat of the week had slowed down the cucumbers. The squash and zuchini were making their last attempts to set blooms. While my tomato vines were covered in green tomatoes, they were a few days from ripening.  Inside, my 7-day pickles were at their last stage. They needed to sit for three days. If I was going to take a midsummer break — this was it.

After work, we loaded up and headed to Memphis to see our favorite (and only) niece who attends the University of Memphis. After living there for three years, she knows Memphis like a native. She delighted us a foodie adventure tour to local dives complimented with frosty mugs of local beer. We had a blast. We even ran into some Murray friends who were in town visiting their son. We ate, we drank, we shopped, and we blew out a few cobwebs.

Today, I hear the lake calling my name. Thank goodness my 7-day pickles still need another day.