Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's Time . . .

The Chinese gold fish looks apprehensive . . .

The Starfish Sunbather seems to say "Oh, nooo!"

Even this Peruvian Holy Family seems worried about the coming change.

But I'm unmoved. It's the last day of the year and, in keeping with family tradition that says the tree must be out of the house before the New Year or there'll be bad luck, I'm dutifully un-decorating and getting it out the door.

In the kitchen the black eyed-peas are cooking for the Hoppin' John, and the collards are simmering with the hog jowl. More folk magic for good luck in the coming year.

With all the help I had getting the tree decorated, I missed saying hello to some of my favorite ornaments . . . but now, as I slowly disassemble the tree, I get to enjoy each one even as I pack them away.

This goat came from the Carl Sandburg house in Flat Rock -- did you know that his wife Lillian was an acclaimed goat breeder and a small herd of goats is still on the property? The goat carries a lot of memories -- I bought in when I was in Flat Rock at a literary festival and it was there that I met Sharyn McCrumb and Tony Early.

Another goat -- a Scandinavian Yule goat-- and another pagan survival -- like the Christmas tree itself.

This patchwork ornament is new this year, a gift from my sister-in-law Fay -- just look at that embroidery and those sequins! And the donkey is new as well -- from Claui's folks in honor of our own Kate the Donkey.

It's always hard, putting these pretties away -- but then it's always such a pleasure to rediscover them when next Christmas rolls around.

See you next year!

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More About the Cantrell Child

There's rosemary -- that's for remembrance -- and I took some with me when I returned to the Walnut cemetery yet again in search of Emma Jane -- or possibly Emma Jean -- the Cantrell child whose grave I went looking for a while back.
I'd been in touch with Jeter Cantrell -- who was born after his sister's death -- and he told me the story as he remembered it. (I didn't catch everything he said -- thus the Jean/Jane confusion.)

Emma Jane (or Jean) would have been three on February the second. It was December (of 1925 0r '26) when her parents left her and her brothers at home (the older boy wasn't feeling well) and set off walking down Thomas Branch to attend Sunday night church meeting.

The older boy went out to water the mule; when he came back his little sister was fine, happily playing with her dog. A little later he left the house again to go turn the cows out. When he came back, Emma Jane was gone, as was his younger brother.

The older brother figured that the two must have gone over the mountain to their grandparents' place in Sodom. So he got the mule and rode over there to find his brother there but no Emma Jane.

It was snowing lightly and she didn't have a coat on, said Jeter. Later the searchers figured that the little girl must have set off down Thomas Branch, following the way her parents had gone, but rather than continuing toward Walnut, she had turned up the switchback that led toward Saddle Top Mountain.

The sheriff searched on horseback and, as Nancy's family remembered, the lights of the searchers could be seen weaving back and forth through the leafless trees on Saddle Top.

When they found her, Emma Jane was frozen to death, but the little dog with her was still alive.

She's buried in the main cemetery around the church, Jeter said, under a flat stone near the marker for her parents, William and Nola Cantrell. Look in the southeast corner, he added, next to the pasture.

So back I went, on another cold and windy day, with a little bouquet of rosemary to put on the grave. With such good directions, I felt sure I'd find Emma Jane.
(Or Jean.)

But I didn't.

Which is why I haven't updated the ongoing story. But when Esta, who comments here occasionally, asked me yesterday what more I'd found out about the little girl, so I thought I'd go on and do an update.

Eventually, I'll get to the library and see what I can find on micro fiche. And when the weather is more moderate, I'll go back one more time and look for Emma Jane. Or Jean.

And I'll take some more rosemary.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pinnacle Rock

Hidden in the trees for most of the year, in winter the monolith called Pinnacle Rock reappears like a ship plowing through the snow of the ridge to the south of our house.
At its 'prow,' the rock is 35 or 40 feet high. The farther side backs up to the mountain so that an unwary hiker traveling down the ridge when all the trees were leafed out could find him or herself suddenly teetering on the edge of quite a drop.

Pinnacle Rock holds a sort of magic for me. In summer it's guarded by brambles and poison ivy and it's been years since I came near it. But I love to watch it floating there in the midst of the snowy woods.

And someday, I hope to work it into a story.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 28, 2009

The New TBR Pile

It's maybe my favorite thing about Christmas -- snuggling up after the dinner's over and the dishes are done to try to read all my new books at once.

The first one I opened was a bit of a treasure - The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys -- forty vignettes "based on events that actually took place each time the historic Thames froze solid" -- events that span seven centuries, from 1142 to 1895.

This is an amazing and unexpected sort of book and I got right into it because our present opening was delayed by Justin's dog Ali Ali (who is really living up to his nickname 'Trouble Monkey') going outside and getting sprayed by one of our many skunks.

While Justin was bathing Ali with tomato juice followed by soap, all present-opening was suspended and I began reading this little gem. I finished it the next day and can recommend it highly.

I've also paged through this fantastic book on apples, filled with tempting recipes and beautiful pictures and through a beautiful little book of woodcuts and nature meditations by Gwen Frostic. (My late dear friend Eileen used to give me Gwen Frostic notecards, saying that they reminded her of me. I love it that my niece said this book, called For Those Who See, made her think of me.)

Ethan and Aileen outdid themselves with nifty books -- these two above will fall into the category of research, as well as fun reading.

I can't wait to get into the Tim Powers book -- having a special fondness for Blackbeard, as I've mentioned before.

And for an old English major, What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew is a particular delight. I began leafing through it on Boxing Day night and found I couldn't stop reading. Everything I always wanted to know from the order of precedence at a formal dinner to how to address a marquis in direct written communication to what exactly the dance called 'Sir Roger de Coverly' is. (Turns out it's pretty much like our square dance called "The Virginia Reel" -- the same one I learned in fourth grade.)

Like Elizabeth and her family at Christmas in In a Dark Season, we usually put clues on our family gifts so that the recipient can have the fun of trying to guess what's in the package before ripping it open. Another present, also from Ethan and Aileen, had this cryptic little cartoon. Herodotus -- the first historian . . . hmmm. . .

What riches! Three of Gonick's wonderful cartoon histories! These are real history too -- and so much fun to read that you're likely to forget you're learning stuff. Some years ago I gave every young person I knew (including Ethan) Gonick's History of the Ancient World and kept a copy for myself.

If you wish you remembered more of what you learned in high school, here's a wonderful way to brush up your history I.Q. Highly, highly recommended!

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Roughing It

Well, kind of roughing it. We're fairly well prepared to deal with power outages such as we've just had -- from a good supply of kerosene lamps to a gas range top and gas grill as well as three wood stoves -- one for cooking. Our supply of wood, however, was not unlimited and we weren't able to keep the house as warm as I, for one, would have liked.

Water was another problem. We used to have gravity feed water from a small but constant spring. When we put in a well, the water of which was just as good-tasting as that of the spring, we let the gravity feed system go.

Therefore, during this late unpleasantness, John was hauling buckets of water from the branch for washing and flushing. (The old outhouse was another thing we let go.) Justin supplied us with drinking water from his spring.

Note to The Department of Redundancy Department -- time to make a new outhouse and reconnect the gravity water system.

Yet another worry was the two large freezers full of beef and veggies from the garden. It was cold enough in the basement that they kept things frozen during the outage but by the fifth day, we were beginning to see signs of defrosting.

So John went out and bought a generator -- he and Justin muscled it to the house and soon the freezers were running, I had charged my camera's battery, and the refrigerator (which really had been losing its cool) was chilling again.

When that was done, John and Justin hoisted the generator back into the Kubota to take it down to Justin's house to run his freezer and refrigerator for a while.

And there, down at Justin's house, was the glorious sight of a repair crew, putting the finishing touches on the line.

"Be back on in five minutes," said the weary, improbable angel, a cigarette flipping in the corner of his mouth.

And there was much rejoicing.

Times like this are good for us -- to put us in mind of how fragile our existence is, how much everything and everyone depends on a whole chain of other things.

The one really anxious time was the morning I saw Eddie plowing through the snow (on his way back from the bird feeder) and assumed that he would show up at the door. Some hours later, I realized that I still hadn't seen him come in and I became convinced that he'd been buried in one of the snow slides off the roof.

What joy when he came sauntering downstairs, having gotten in somehow without anyone noticing him! (He has his ways . . .)

Here's a slide show of our pre-Christmas excitement. You can click on it to make it full screen and slow it down or speed it up . . .

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Two Years

December 26 -- it's been two years that this blog has been running and I'd like to write something profound but it's nearing the end of a long Christmas Day filled with food and family and friends -- as well as quite a bit of sparkling wine.

So I'll just say that I'm still really enjoying nattering away about inconsequential odds and ends and that hearing from so many of you is a great pleasure to me.

As I did last year, I'll do another drawing for a copy of the long-awaited Miss Birdie book. If you'd like to be included, just leave a comment saying 'Count me in' before January 6.

Tammy was the winner last year (and she's still waiting - how embarrassing.) This year I'll draw two names -- and with any luck, there will be books to send out by September. Or if you'd rather have a copy of one of the other books, I can do that instead.

Hope your Christmas Day -- however you may or may not celebrate it -- was excellent. Ours began with a heavy rain which got rid of most of the snow and by late afternoon the clouds were rolling away, as you can see in the picture above.

And our power is still on, hurrah!

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I'm Back!

Where were we?

Last Friday I had just put up my post for Saturday and was fiddling around with a new header and background color when the power went out. And the phones. And, of course, the Internet.

Our power came back on yesterday afternoon -- Wednesday -- and this morning, Santa came early with restored phone service and, just an hour ago, Internet connection!

I'm hurrying to catch up -- while roasting the turkey we would have had at a small dinner party last Friday -- (the turkey's been buried in snow and has kept well) and doing a little cooking for tomorrow's feast.

So, I've adjusted the background color and fixed, I hope, the link to the web album.

The thing is, there's the possibility of an ice storm this evening and I may be missing in action again. I hope to do another post -- I've got some great pictures -- later today. But, if I don't get back for a while -- let me just wish everyone a Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or whatever greeting of the season suits your fancy.

I missed you all!

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"It Snowed Like One Thing!"

"It snowed like one thing!" is something my neighbors might say. "Like one thing" means "a lot'" or whatever superlative fits the situation.

All day Friday it came down, wet and heavy. Tree branches bent and some snapped under the weight.
I was dodging in and ought, bringing in greenery to deck the stairs and trying to catch a few of our many cardinals and other birds being picturesque.

Here's a web album of our snowy Friday.

Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmas Story

When I was very young, the days before Christmas were a magical time, filled with eager anticipation. I eyed the presents under the tree, fingered the empty stocking hanging by the fireplace (hoping for something overlooked from last year; even a hard stale chocolate kiss would have been welcome . . . ) and generally drove everyone crazy asking how many more days till Santa would come.

The presents beneath the tree were intriguing but off-limits -- no investigation allowed. Plus, these packages tended to have boring stuff like clothes.

It was the things that Santa would bring and leave in our stockings or on the hearth in all their unwrapped glory that I had on my mind . . . and it was hard for a six year-old to wait.

(It's kinda embarrassing to tell but my brother and I each had two stockings, one at our parents' house, one at our maternal grandparents a half a block away. Santa visited both places -- my mother was an only child and my brother and I the only grandchildren. I think my grandparents (Ba and Hudy) just didn't want to miss out on the fun.)

So, on this particular day, less than a week before Christmas, I was at my grandparents' house. As I remember it, only my grandmother and I were there.

I had occupied some time skipping from room to room of the house, singing (off key, no doubt) "Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming," as I made a circle from kitchen to breakfast room to library to front hall to living room to dining room and back to the kitchen.

Ba was making a pound cake and after my fifth or sixth circuit, she asked if I wouldn't like to come help her. Knowing there would be a bowl to lick, I stopped skipping and let her tie an apron around me.

As I stood on the step stool wielding an awkwardly long wooden spoon and trying to stir the huge bowl of batter, I said to Ba, "I wish I had some little cooking things just my size."

Just then there was a loud sound from the other end of the house -- maybe a door slamming.

"Run see what that was," Ba said, taking over the stirring. "It sounded like something in the living room."

Off I went on the familiar route -- breakfast room, library, hall, and into the dim living room where the beautiful Christmas tree shimmered with glass balls and carefully placed foil icicles.

All was quiet.

But there, on the hearth beneath my still-empty stocking, was a little set of child-sized baking pans!

I grabbed them up and ran shrieking back to the kitchen to show my grandmother the miracle.

"Santa must have heard you wishing and decided to come early," was all she said.

And she helped me to butter one little pan and line it with waxed paper so that I could fill it with batter for my own child-sized pound cake.

As we slid it into the oven, I was sure that I could hear the distant sound of bells jingling and a faint "Ho, ho, ho!"

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What's Your Score?

Shamelessly stolen from Janet Reid who shamelessly stole it from someone else. I guess that makes us both thieve's.

But seriously, what a list! I have to wonder about the mind set of the person who compiled it. I have a real feeling we wouldn't get along. People who know they're right and that God is on their side are scary -- no matter what their religion is -- when they decide that they should act on that knowledge. As I see it, the fanatic who blows away an abortion doctor is pretty similar to the fanatics who crashed the jets into the Twin Towers -- except in the matter of numbers.

And what are P.K's anyway? Preacher's kids is what that means to me. Government recipients -- does that include Medicare? The use of public schools and roads? The U.S. mail?

Just call me a high fullutent loud mouth woman who fits into several other of these categories -- I think I'm up to eleven. But at least I'm not a sports nut.

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bleak December

It's days like this that make me understand the urge to fill the house with light and color and bright glittery things.

Stark tree branches are dramatic, even beautiful, but on a gray day with never a glimpse of the sun, they can be a tad depressing.

So we cook and decorate and string fairy lights against the dark -- and, like primitive man huddled around a fire in a drafty cave, we await the sun's return.

Posted by Picasa