Sunday, May 31, 2020

Looking at my Corning Ware

As I was putting away the dishes and came to this venerable Coringware casserole, my thoughts went in two directions.

First I remembered my Aunt Mildred--one of my father's sisters.  This casserole is one of a set Mildred and her family gave to John and me as a wedding present almost fifty-seven years ago. Mildred had helped me learned to sew and had also let me mess up her kitchen mixing up cakes and frosting, so she chose a most practical gift--one that I continue to use.

I can still see the three white casseroles with their little blue cornflowers sitting on the piano bench in my parents' house, a  trio of Plain Janes amidst the gaudy display of crystal, china, and silver. (It was the custom of that time and place and social set to display wedding gifts so that friends of the Mother of the Bride could come by and make invidious comparisons. The bride's trousseu was also available in a bedroom, tastefully laid out for viewing by close friends of the MotB. And as I write this, I feel like an anthropologist, describing strange tribal rituals. Which, of course, they were. Maybe they still are, somewhere.)

But I digress. The point I would make is how appreciated the three Corningware casseroles were and are. Most of the crystal is broken; the china and silver doodads are packed away, but the Corningware is in constant use.  I'll have to make sure it's passed on to Josie, along with my grandmother's iron skillets.

The other direction my thoughts went as I studied the casserole (have you ever looked at your cookware?  Really looked at your cookware?. . .sorry, digressing again.) The other memory was that of an afternoon Home Ec class at H. B. Plant High School--maybe 1959 or '60. 

A sales rep of some sort was there to introduce to us future homemakers an amazing new product--Corningware! He enthused over its versatility--stovetop, oven, freezer--and to show how unbreakable it was, he dropped a casserole on the floor and jumped on it. I don't recall that any of us were anything but bored by the presentation--we all assumed, I thnk, that our futures would be full of miraculous new stuff, like on the Jetsons. Or that someone else would be doing the cooking.

I remember too that the sales rep mentioned in passing that a countertop appliance was being developed that could cook food in a fraction of the time of an ordinary oven. A baked potato in just a few minutes! We looked at each other with raised eyebrows.  Now that was just unbelieveable.

Yet here we are-- sixty-some years later-- and I use my Corningware in my microwave. My old high school is integrated now and I doubt they still play Dixie right after the Star Spangled Banner. Computer Science has probably replaced Home Ec and Shop. . . I could argue all three are useful for everyone . . .

See where really looking at stuff can take you?

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Simple Pleasures

Little treasures along our driveway . . . 

I love the delicate maidenhair fern

And this shy mushroom.

A nice clump of Blue-Eyed Grass--our smallest wild iris

And daisies-- we sat in a field of daisies back in 1973 and decided to buy this magical place and make it our home.

I don't know what this weed is--Wild Lettuce? Sow Thistle?-- but it's quite decorative.

And there's honeysuckle -- a pest but how good it smells!

Friday, May 29, 2020

Old Dog--New Tricks

I spent much of yesterday getting set up to participate in an upcoming podcast on historical fiction from my publisher. This entailed cleaning up my workroom--the quietest and most isolated place in the house-- and figuring out how to use an external mike so as to be ready for a brief sound test at 3. 

Cleaning up, I'm embarassed to say, included putting away Christmas wrapping paper, as well as getting piles of fabric sorted back into their proper boxes and disposing of lots of extraneous stuff. 

But it got done and I draped some blankets and quilts around to cover hard surfaces and provide better sound quality. Then I noodled about with the mic till I found out how it worked.

When it was time for the sound test, I was set. The platform (Zencastr) was really simple and it was fun to hear voices of folks I've only 'met' via email. Bart, who will partner with me on the podcast (his forthcoming book is set in Reconstruction-era Alabama) has a lovely rich accent that makes me remember the Alabama kin of my youth. 

And the sound test went well--now to do the actual podcast. Maybe next week. I'll let you all know and provide a link when it's online.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Life in the Bubble

Today will be the first time I've left the farm since back in March--even then, it's just to follow John to the garage (15 minutes away) where he'l leave his truck for repair. Then it's back to the calm of the mountain.

We are so very fortunte to be able to stay isolated. But even as I enjoy the calm, I'm constantly aware that it may well be the calm before the storm.

Our world is in danger and our country, once respected and looked to for leadership in times of disaster, is in the clutches of a feckless egomaniac, enabled by a corrupt GOP that will close their eyes as he dismantles the safeguards of government.  A GOP willing to sacrifice any number of citizens--especially the poor, the elderly, the minorities--in order to preserve the economy so that the 1% can continue to amass wealth.

And then there are the pawns who've been brainwashed by Fox and 45*, fools who believe the pandemic is a hoax, that wearing masks and practicing social distancing is  somehow an attack on their liberty.  

Add to the pandemic, the ongoing shame of racism--yet another murder by police of an unarmed black man, yet another instance of a white woman playing the race card when confronted with her own bad behavior.

Here in the bubble, I awake every morning to the sound of mourning doves and for a moment could almost believe that all is well with the world. Then I lie there wondering what the news will bring. Hopeful thoughts--a vaccine has been discovered; the President* and VP have exploded, taking the entire GOP leadership with them; the LORD has rared back and passed a miracle and called to account all hypocrites . . .

Okay, time to stop fantasizing. Time to get up and read the news. And time to keep on keeping on, waiting for November.

 If the LORD won't do it, it's up to us.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Josie's Holiday

Monday was a holiday and Mama got to stay home! We wore our straw hats and walked up to see Meema and Grumpy.

There was a box turtle!

Meema said maybe she was looking for a place to lay some eggs.

There was a surprise for me in The Room-- a fort for me and some of my friends were having a tea party in it. 

They invited me to the party. 

I am good at pouring.

We went out on the deck and Mama cut Meema's hair some.

I watched. I think I could do it next time.

I told Meema she had to be very still and not talk.

Then we had lunch. There was cheese and broccoli quiche but Grumpy's piece was called cheese pie. This is a joke I don't understand. Meema said it was because of a saying that real men don't eat quiche. 

Grownups are sometimes silly.

Mama and I went home for my nap but when Daddy got home, we all went back up the mountain because it was Family Dinner Up night and Grumpy was making pizza.

I played in my fort some more and then Meema told me to come outside and look at the funny rainbow. It was hardly in the sky at all.

We had supper and then I had a bath and ran around the living room like a wild thing.  Grumpy said I was buck nekkid. Then I got my pajamas on and did acrobatics on the sofa till Mama and Daddy were tired and had to go home.

It was a very good holiday.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Blue Marlin by Lee Smith -- Autobiographical Fiction

Many years ago, a good friend put a copy of Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies in my hands and I was hooked. I've read and loved all her books--novels, short story collections, and a memoir. 

So of course I got a copy of Blue Marlin, her latest (the nineteenth,) a novella set in the late Fifties and based on an actual event from her childhood-- a trip from small town Virginia to Key West with her troubled parents who are trying to patch up their marriage and themselves. The family finds themselves at the Blue Marlin  with the cast (Tony Curtis! Cary Grant!) of Operation Petticoat which is being filmed in Key West.

It's a wonderful story with characters that will make you laugh and break your heart--almost in the same breath. Jenny, the thirteen-year-old would-be spy/novelist, who tells the story is a pure delight--and no one writes young women better than Smith.  Really, just read it. Or check out this excellent review by Wiley Cash HERE . Then read it.

Story-telling is traditional in the South--also traditional in many families is the maxim that you don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. And that's what Smith has done.

 She calls Blue Marlin "autobiographical fiction." and says in the afterword: 

I have always felt I can tell the truth better in fiction than in nonfiction. Real life is often chaotic, mysterious, unfathomable. But in fiction you can change the order of events, emphasize or alter certain aspects of the characters--you can even create new people or take real people away in an instant. That means you can instill some sort of order to create meaning, so that the story will make sense--where real life so often does not. Fiction is also a heightened reality--you "up the ante" in order to grab the reader's attention and hold it, increasing or emphasizing the conflict, adjusting the pace of the story accordingly, often making it conform to the old tried and truly satisfying plot sequence of beginning, middle, end.

So often in the classes I teach, I find students who are writing a novel that is more like a memoir and they are so wedded to what-actually-happened that the story suffers. I'm going to refer them to Smith's words above, reminding them that one can often "tell the truth better in fiction and in nonfiction." 

NOTE: In looking for a photo for Operation Petticoat, I stumbled onto the information that the movie was based on an actual event--but many liberties were taken. And I begin to wonder about my own life and my memories of it . . .

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Praying--Mary Oliver


It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

― Mary Oliver, Thirst

Pay attention. Some of the best advice there is. 

The camera helps me do that.  Not just taking the pictures but editing them. It's like meditation for me. 

I lose my self down the throat of this iris.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Got to Get Back to the Garden

After our beautiful 2018 garden was wiped out by deer, we didn't plant one in 2019--just pots on the porch. Then a weird disease wiped out most of the deer. And so here we are, giving it another go.

John tilled up everything, ready for spinach seedlings, lettuce, bush beans, cukes, chard, beets seeded in the box beds above. . .

Peppers, tomatoes, summer squash seed, corn seed, and onions in the ground here. Waiting on watermelon and butternut squash seed. . .

It feels good and necessary in this uncertain time to be back in the garden. 

And I was cheered by the sight of a bluebird! I was sitting on the rock wall to the right in the picture above and he flew down to perch on one of those stakes in the tier below. He was closer to me than I've ever seen one and I could admire the brilliance of his feather--the irridescent blue and rusty red. He hopped back and forth from one stake to another as I slowly reach in my pocket for my little camera.

Alas, by the time I got it out and into position, he'd removed himself to another stake a few tiers lower.  Still, better than nothing for a rare capture.

I'm choosing to see him as a good omen for the garden.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Appalachian Book of the Dead by Dale Neal

The ancient Tibetan Buddhist text and the ancient mountains of Appalachia and their denizens turn out to be a surprisingly good pairing. In Neal's thoughtful work, the past and present intertwine, just as selections from the Book of the Dead intermingle with the cunningly plotted story. 

A trader from Chicago and his third wife, with ghosts of their own, come to a remote mountain cove in search of healing.  A young woman, mourning the loss of a lover, moves in nearby. The cove, once home to a failed summer camp, has one long time resident, the camp's feckess handyman. These four challenge and trouble one another as they deal with the threat of an escaped killer, ghost memories and memories of ghosts, as well as an iconic coyote, all of whom haunt their daily lives.

Beautifully written, the book is a tribute to the Appalachian mountains that draw so many seekers. It is also a profound meditation on reality: "Remember these images emerge from your own mind. Do not fear them. Simply acknowledge your demons, accept your fears, and offer a bow of gratitude.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Quel Bummer!

So, the new camera was doing great

And I was busily taking pictures of flowers and stuff

Getting up early to catch the morning's first light

And feeling really pleased till suddenly

Something went wrong.

The fancy zoom lens boogered up -- only partially retracting sometimes and making a very wrong-sounding juddering sound. 

A quick call to customer service and I was told to send it back.  They would give me a complete refund. 

So goodbye to my new camera. When I get the refund, I'll probably order a replacement because I was really liking it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Rain Etc.

Tuesday was full of rain.

It swept across the river valley.

The Kousa dogwood is in bloom and we are thinking about the garden.