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Friday, August 31, 2012

Seeking a Place of Quiet


I awake in the dark morning hours and know it would be some time before sleep will return. From my new position in the living room’s recliner, I become aware of the many different sounds in the supposedly still of the night. Makes me realize what a noisy world we live in. Is it possible to find a place of quiet anymore?

Our farmhouse is situated five miles from the nearest cluster of homes; yet even now, quiet eludes me. Most intruding is the steady hum and whine of passing vehicles on the major highway a few hundred feet away. Daytime traffic on this major road is a steady stream of cars and eighteen-wheelers all day long, but I had expected a cessation in these pre-dawn hours.

Most unwelcome is the intermittent crowing of a neighbor’s rooster. Surely his internal clock needs adjusting. Then I remember, the same annoying crows occurred when we raised chickens in years past. Eventually I drift into a light sleep only to be abruptly awakened by a sh-sh-hump sound. At first I consider the possibility of a raccoon or opossum jumping down from our cat’s feeding shelf installed just below the kitchen sink window. After a moment, I realize the sound comes from our newly-installed propane heater. Another sound needing to be incorporated into my consciousness.

In the distance, I hear the harsh wail of a train’s whistle. It must traverse three country-road crossings before it passes under the highway just shouting distance from our home. The roads are barely a pause between each warning signal of the train. I can gauge the train’s location by the increasing loudness of its whistle.

In the midst of all these man-made sounds, no bird songs could be heard. On some mornings, wrapped in a warm robe and with a fresh cup of coffee to warm my fingers, I settle in  the front porch swing which faces the eastern horizon. As the magic show of another sunrise happens--even before the sun has made an appearance--the birds will begin to sing. Its as if they perform an overture for the event. This morning, it’s still too early for that chorus of serenading.

With my move to the living room, I had anticipated a time of quiet, time to reflect and sort out thoughts. Instead, I keep being disturbed by a variety of sounds. Resigned, I accept that’s the price to be paid for sharing earth’s space with other human beings and creatures alike. Quiet is an elusive jewel to acquire.

I continue to seek a place of quiet in this busy world. Only recently has nature, with a little help—with help from us, its custodians—provided that sought-after place. Several years past, we planted a stand of pine seedlings a short distance from the house. Those trees have thrived and now tower taller than my husband’s two-story barn. Planted in rows, evenly spaced from one another, that small forest has become a meditation garden for me. I weave back and forth between the rows, a carpet of thick grass beneath my feet.

As I walk my thoughts vary, depending on what is happening in my life. But the trees act like a soft wall, enclosing me and keeping out the hustle and bustle of my surrounding world. In their midst, I find the quiet I seek. I end my thirty-minute or so walk with a clearer mind, recharged and ready to tackle whatever awaits my attention. I would wish for everyone the luxury of a place of quiet.   

Monday, August 27, 2012

Gardening: A Life-Changing Experience


This morning I want to share an essay I wrote some time back. It's all about my second passion - gardening. Hope you enjoy!

Thirty-odd years ago we followed our dream and moved a small farmhouse onto seventeen acres of land in East Texas. Part of the back-to-the-land movement, our goal was to grow and raise our own food and become as self-sufficient as possible.

The nearest town was named Big Sandy and we soon discovered why. To get our property’s sandy soil to a state where it would absorb and hold moisture took tons of grass cuttings and leaves which we collected and hauled back home in our pickup. Each Sunday when we went to the nearest city for lunch, before heading home we’d cruise suburban developments and fill the truck’s bed with bags left for the trash collectors.

Ah-h-h, those first tomatoes and peppers and green beans and lettuce. Soon we were carrying sacks of cucumbers and squash back to distribute among our city friends. An asparagus bed I laboriously planted yielded high rewards for years to come. Those first years were busy ones as I divided my time between caring for the garden and continuing to clear more of the brush and briars that claimed the land.

I planted fruit trees; apples, peaches and a pear tree. This pear tree continues to provide food for the colony of squirrels that share the land with us. For a few years our grapevines produced juicy fruit, enough to can juice, until a virus wiped out the vines.

When I became enraptured with herbs, I sought out and collected as many different herbs as I could find. At one time, I had over one hundred different varieties. This necessitated creating additional beds which meant collected more grass clippings and making more compost. Eventually I began a small business, selling the plants I propagated. Especially useful was the shade house my husband built for me. In the winter, we would wrap it with 4-mil plastic, making it useful for overwintered tender plants inside. Early spring days, when the weather curtailed outdoor activity, I would step inside and delight in the protective warmth of its plant-encouraging environment.

We live in Zone 8 so our biggest gardening challenge lies in helping plants survive the torturous summer heat. This year, for example, we have already had ten solid days of 100 º weather and it’s just the middle of June. Shade cloths comes into use frequently. Living in Texas gives us two planting seasons. Fickle winter weather sometimes takes out the early planting of tender vegetables. Yet, we brave its unreliability, planting peas in January and setting out tender plants like tomatoes sometimes before the last predicted frost.

As the years progressed, my efforts to grow our own food slowed. These days I concentrate on flowers, setting out bulbs and perennials, then filling in with annuals. I’ve come to learn what our temperamental part of the world will allow me to grow and what cannot endure those long hot summer days.

But whatever I grow, gardening continues to be a life-changing experience.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Windowsill Memories


This week I looked forward to a friend's visit. Several years ago, she moved out of state and remarried and our times together are few and far between. When she walked into my kitchen, I caught the glance she sent toward the windowsill over the sink. Made me smile...and the following story may explain why.

windowsill Memories
That last spring before my teenage son left for the army, he gave up a bright, sunny Saturday to help his father get a head start on next winter’s supply of firewood. They came tramping out of the woods at mid-day smelling of fresh-cut sawdust and moist, warm earth. Awaiting his turn to scrub off the outer layer of dirt before sitting down to some hot lunch, I watched him dig in his pocket for something. He struggled before bringing out a gnarled piece of reddish rootstock. He brushed off the clinging dirt and he set it on the counter. “Thought you’d like to make yourself some fresh sassafras tea, Mom.”

Smiling my thanks, I finished placing lunch on the table. And as soon as it was convenient, of course I did make that tea, savoring the sweet, spicy taste of our piney woods. I drank it from the dainty china teacup that holds a permanent spot on the kitchen sink’s windowsill. Not the normal resting place for such a delicate little thing with its pretty roses and thin gold band. Most times it looks rather forlorn sitting there without even a saucer to keep it company.

Ah, but this particular cup brims over with memories, especially the tale of how it got to my windowsill. Once it rested among its companion plates, saucers and other cups in the cabinet of a dear friend. We shared many times of good friendship over those cups at her kitchen table. Then came the day came when the friend had to move away. As all good friends do, I was among those who came to help pack and load the cross-country van. The chore was just about completed when we took time for one more cup of shared joy. We said our goodbyes. As I watched through misty eyes as the moving van disappear down the road, I noticed I was still holding that “last cup” in my hand.

Years have passed; my man-son and friend are both now miles away on different coasts of this country. The cup and root still remain on that shelf to catch my eye and bring back happy memories. Such an incongruous pair, a china teacup and a piece of sassafras root. Yet each time I see them, I’‘m once again wrapped in the love of a son and a friend. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Join Me In A Trip?

A peek at the calendar tells me blog-posting day has come around again and here I sit with no clue of a topic. I've been completely distracted by a malfunctioning computer which got me thinking about what's going on these days on Mars.

I can't seem to keep a basic PC functional and yet, our space explorers have managed to send a rocket to this distant planet...and now have a 'machine' exploring its surface.

Just consider the computer-related dynamics of landing the Mars Curiosity rover on the planet's surface, never mind the mechanics of operating all of the planned functions. Boggles the mind. Curiosity began a two-year mission on Mars on August 6 and has been beaming back images of the surface of Gale Crater ever since.

So I decided to educate myself a bit about this far-flung planet. Did you know Mars and Earth are separated by 249 million miles? If you were driving 60 mph in a car, it would take 271 years and 221 days to get to Mars from Earth.

 Did you know Mars is red because it's rusty? There is a lot of iron in the soil, and the air on Mars has made it turn red-just like rusty iron on Earth. Also, a day on Mars is 24 hours 37 minutes—nearly the same as Earth’s. No other planet shares such similar characteristics with Earth. 


And final interesting note...a hundred pound man would weight 38 pounds on Mars. Who wants to join me in signing up for the next shuttle?

Just keep in mind, in winter, nighttime temperatures on Mars can drop as low as -191°F. Pack a heavy coat.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Getting Back Up

A house-shaking boom followed by re-sounding thunder shattered my sleep this morning. Soon the pattering of welcome rain played tippy-tap on my window. I lay awake watching the light-show and thought about how resilient we humans are.

For a few years now, this country has been bombarded by a variety of destructive acts of nature. Be it the excessive snows of winter that led to flooded cities or the raging wildfires sweeping across acres and acres, laving behind ashes and dust where once homes stood.

Then there were the fierce, swirling winds that rushed through towns, destroying all in its path, leaving buildings looking like a pile of splinters.

This land of ours has withstood an abundance of calamities and our inner strength has been tested. But I'm happy to declare, we have stood firm. Not only stood firm, but immediately began to pick up the pieces and started over.

Recently I stood in the pre-dawn hours and watched a neighbor's house become engulfed in flames. The volunteer firemen fought the blaze but were only able to contain it. Sunrise revealed a burned-out shell where once a family dwelt.

I drove past yesterday. The yard was crowded with a rental RV, a pup tent and a screened outdoor room.These provide a degree of normalcy as the family works to rebuild their lives.

It is this--the will to go on--that astounds me. I ask myself, if I were in their position, would I be able to follow their lead?

Monday, August 13, 2012

It's My Favorite Wake-Up Brew



Its distinctive fragrance wafts through nasal passages to tickle brain cells into wakefulness. The aromatic liquid slides across the tongue and down the throat, giving my body a jolt of caffeine in its passage. Ah, coffee! How would I ever make it without my first-thing-in-the-morning cup of hot java.
Coffee has been the elixir of my life since my Canadian French parents introduced me to café au lait…or should I say lait au café...a glass of milk with a teaspoon of coffee flavoring.

In the early days of my working career, the bus I had to take always got me into town before my workday began. So I took to spending the time until the bank opened seated in a nearby café; my breakfast...a cup of coffee and a donut. I’d nurse that vitalizing drink to the refrains of Little Darlin’s La.-la-la-la-las or the Sha-na-na-nas of the Silhouettes’ Get a Job. I guess those tunes date me.

The history of coffee goes back at least as far as the thirteenth century. Several different legendary accounts of its origin exists. My favorite is of  a goat-herd, Kaldi, who noticed the energizing effects on his flock when they nibbled the bright red berries of a certain bush. He chewed on the fruit himself and his exhilaration prompted him to bring the berries to a Muslim holy man. The holy man disapproved of their use and threw them into the fire, from which an enticing aroma billowed. When the roasted beans were raked from the embers, ground up, and dissolved in hot water, they yielded the world's first cup of coffee.

Studies have shown its properties drive away fatigue and lethargy, and bring to the body a certain sprightliness and vigor. That confirms my experience and it’s enough of a recommendation for me.

By the 16th century, coffee use had reached the rest of the Middle East Persia, Turkey, and northern Africa. Coffee then spread to Balkans, Italy, and to the rest of Europe, to Indonesia, and later to the Americas.

The Grand Cafe in Oxford is alleged to be the first Coffee House in England, opened in 1650. By 1675, there were more than 3,000 coffeehouses throughout England. In Germany women frequented coffee houses but in England they were banned. Thank goodness that’s no longer a practice.

So be it know as brew, java, mud, or joe. May your preference be café au lait, café noir, cappuccino, decaf, espresso, or mocha. Let’s all send a big thank you to our Middle Eastern neighbors—especially that unknown goatherd—for providing the world with the greatest wake-up potion in the world. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Writing Prompt: I Found an Egg


How do you feel about writing prompts? I find them quite challenging and in recent months, I've been responding to a prompt included in my writer's group's monthly newsletter. The photo above shows two of the most recent prompts distributed to write about: a small bottle of sand and a polished egg-shaped rock. Here's what the later inspired me to write.

Minuscule and pale blue, I identified it as a bluebird egg and almost stepped on it as I walked from house to office. It lay in the dirt, a far distance from any of the bluebird nesting boxes my husband constructed and mounted about our acreage.

How in the world did it get here? “Perhaps stolen from its nest by a ‘robber’ bird,” my husband suggested. Or could the parent birds themselves somehow have known it was defective? Did they carry it away and discard it in flight? Such a mystery surrounding this fragile object.
I picked it up and laid it beside another in a old nest my husband rescued earlier. But the puzzle of how it ended up in the middle of my daily path continued to nag at me. Its image remained in my mind, prompting questions throughout my working period.

Was there a message to be learned from this incident? Immediately a host of proverbs came to mind—beauty is in the eye of the beholder; one man’s trash is another’s treasure, or how about, found treasure is appreciated treasure.

I kept thinking about the possibility that the bird parents instinctively knew this egg would not produce a baby bird. That they deliberately expunged it from their nest. And what, I asked myself, does that say to the human condition?

An egg symbolizes expectations, hopes for the future, a dream realized. Could this mean there might be times to discard a dream, intuitively knowing the reach is beyond fulfillment? Perhaps the possibility exists that achievement of this particular dream, one we’ve clung to and stubbornly tried to fulfill, will not bring the satisfaction desired. Like the bluebird parents disposed of a defective egg, perhaps we need to examine our dreams and goals.

What would it inspire you to write?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Behind The Eight Ball


Backed against a wall – Cornered - Facing long odds - Drawing an inside straight - Up a creek without a paddle - Behind the eight ball…all of these phrases denote the same meaning–“you cant get to where you need to go."

The last phrase is an especially visual one if you are even slightly acquainted with the game of pool or billiards. Some say that it derives from the Eight Ball version of the game of pool. The balls are numbered and must be potted in order. A turn is forfeited if a player's cue ball hits the (black) eight ball first and the game is forfeited if the eight ball is potted by mistake.

Picture yourself about to win. You’ve got only one ball left (apart from the eight, which is supposed to be the last one because it's neither stripes nor spots.) But the eight ball is between you and your ball and there’s no way to pot your own ball without dropping the eight ball. A very difficult position, wouldn’t you agree?

The phrase dates from the early 20th century - the earliest citation is from the Wisconsin newspaper The Sheboygan Press, December 1929:
"Bill ['Lucky' Bill McKechnie, manager of the Boston Braves] figures he can finish behind the eight ball with any kind of a ball team, so there's no harm in trying out young talent as there's nothing to lose beyond last place."

'Behind The Eight Ball' was used in the title of a biography of 'Minnesota Fats' - the stage name of the pool player Rudolph Wanderone. Rudolph was purported to be more of a self-publicist than a pool shark.

So, what recourse does a person have whenever they find themselves in this position? My first course of action is to be still. Because I view life with an objective point of view, I always anticipate finding more than one way to solve a dilemma. Pausing to examine the situation, viewing it from a variety of prospective, usually reveals a way around. Usually.

Then there are those time you just have to pop the eight ball in the pocket and go on with the game of life.





Friday, August 3, 2012

Ringing In a Song


Over the years, the collector in me has accumulated a small assortment of handbells. Examples range from the klitsch, a made-for-tourist-trade model with the seal of Connecticut, the Nutmeg State, imbedded in the handle. On the other hand, one of my handbells sports a hand-crafted handle of Boi d’Arc wood; a gift from an uncle of my husband, who is an extremely gifted artisan with wood.

One day curiosity got the best of me and I did a little online researching on the history of handbells. 


In medieval times, bells were steeped in superstition. They were baptized, and once baptized had the power to ward off evil spells and spirits. Bells were hung in doorways and visitors would ring the bell to drive the spirits away then pass inside - which is the likely origin of the present day doorbell!

During this period, Christians travelled throughout Europe ringing bells while spreading the news of the risen Christ, and summoning people to congregate. Eventually, large bronze bells were cast and towers were constructed to house them. At first these towers were built apart from the church; then belfries were added above the church structures.

 The sound of consecrated bells was also believed to dispel thunder and lightning and to calm storms at sea for all of which demons were believed to be responsible. When a tempest broke out bells would be rung in an effort to clear the storm.  ( Info from www.bellringers.com)

The first set of tuned bronze hand bells were developed by brothers Robert and William Cor in Aldbourne, Wiltshire, England in 1660. Originally, tuned sets of hand bells, such as the ones made by the Cor brothers, were used by change ringers to rehearse outside their towers. Tower bell ringers' enthusiasm for practicing the complicated algorithms of change ringing could easily exceed the neighbors' patience, so in the days before modern sound control hand bells offered them a way to practice ringing without the aural assault. The hand bell sets used by change ringers had the same number of bells as in the towers — generally six or 12 tuned to a diatonic scale.


By the end of the eighteenth century, nearly every village in England had its own handbell choir. Hand bells were first brought to the United States from England by Margaret Shurcliff in 1902. There is a distinction between "American handbells" and "English handbells" — "English handbells" are traditional, with leather clapper heads and handles while "American handbells" use modern materials, such as plastic and rubber, to produce the same effect.

Handbells are relative rare outside of the confines of church services—although less so now than in the 1980s and early 1990s. A handbell choir or handbell ensemble (in the United States) or handbell team (in England) is a group that rings recognizable music with melodies and harmony.

Unlike an orchestra or choir in which each musician is responsible for one line of the texture, a bell ensemble acts as one instrument, with each musician responsible for particular notes, sounding his or her assigned bells whenever that note appears in the music.

There is even a national organization of handbell musicians with regional branches. Membership in the Guild is open to full ensembles as well as to individuals. Handbell Musicians of America held its National Seminar 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 18-21.

My small collection has a limited range of bell tones--not enough variety to attempt playing a tune. Guess it's back to the flea markets for more hand bells.