Category Archives: Pisgah Picayune

Wordless Wednesday, cat’s-eye view

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Wordless Wednesday: It’s hard to talk with your mouth full

Everything’s coming up tulips


(Whenever he’s in baseball mode, he looks like a happy kid)

After that last whine, the only sensible thing was to fix as much as possible and leave the State. We did stay long enough to go to the Half Century League baseball banquet. It’s hard for me to know how people can talk about nothing but baseball but that’s what they do, endlessly re-living home runs, injuries, won and lost games, bad plays that someone else made. Still, it was fun, mostly because Rich just loves playing baseball with these guys and it’s good to see him so happy. He was so happy he almost cried when they surprised him with the biggest trophy of the evening: the Sportsmanship Award. He gets to have the trophy on our mantel for a year and then it gets passed on but he has a little one, also with his name engraved on it, that he gets to keep. Rich really is a good sport about just about everything and I know that is especially true on the baseball field. I watched his team play the Pennsylvania Amish All-Stars a couple of months ago and as he’s the catcher he made it a point to welcome everyone personally as they came up to bat and wished them all a good game. He’s the kind of guy you want on your team.

The next morning I couldn’t get in the car fast enough to drive north and at the Florida/Georgia border, when the car told me it was 96 degrees outside, I felt like I was fleeing that unbearable heat and humidity. We do love our neighbors there and I miss them terribly and I love my felt classes and the birds at Boyd Hill but that harsh sun is just too hard on this pale complexion. Also I have discovered that I really crave, need, long for Spring and autumn. Without living with the clear demarcation of seasons I’m just not right. We drove as a caravan and I got the best of that deal; Rich was missing the Masters and I’m fairly certain he would have found a sports bar and stopped to watch if not for McCloud who was fussing and panting. Sophie settled down right in my lap and spent all but the last 18 miles there. She’s a great driver, tensing and relaxing in tune with the traffic and digging her claws into my thigh if I go above 79 mph or change lanes too quickly. Mostly she purrs, bathes and naps. We exit hwy 26 at Mountain Home. I kid you not, that’s the name of our exit and at that point Sophie is up, on high alert and at the windows. She goes to whichever window is in the direction of the house so for 18 miles there is a lot of dashing back and forth across the front seat. Watching her is like tuning in to a little satellite or GPS system and I don’t wonder a bit at tales of animals finding their way home across vast distances.

Here, it is beautiful. Sunny mild afternoons and cool nights. We are seeing this home for the first time in Spring and it is more beautiful than I had hoped or imagined. The mountains are all shades of light and brilliant greens with the mountain tops still bare in places. At the foot of our long drive there are a dozen mature white dogwoods in full bloom and all around the house there are pink and red dogwood, azaleas and all manner of bulbs. Clearly, a lot of the daffodils that have lived in the woods for years had already come and gone but all of the 1000 bulbs I planted last fall are up and in various stages of bloom. (okay. The 1000 bulbs Rosario planted last fall)  The daylilies that were given as a gift from a stranger mid-summer last year have emerged strong and thick and I’m excited to see them flower.

The first day back I went with friends over to Madison County for a book club meeting. Talk about Appalachian Spring! Many of the houses look as old as the hills and show generations of character, with silvered wood and mud for grout between the logs. It’s hard to know how things like the economy affect people who have been living, literally off of and with the land for their entire lives.

The second day back I was giddy at the prospect of putting leafy greens in the garden, perhaps a bit too giddy because I wrenched my ankle flat sideways in the mud and heard a dreadful noise. My first thought was that I had cracked the same ankle I broke 24 years ago but after a couple of minutes of gasping and deep breathing I decided that it was the sound of ligaments giving way rather than a break. I did exactly as the doctor would have ordered, if I’d gone to a doctor- iced it and bound it and kept it up. It was miserable for about 48 hours, both because I couldn’t be up and down the hill, plus it hurt like the dickens but it is much better now, on day four. Still colorful, still braced but mending.

The bears are here- we see evidence of them in our woods and the neighbors report that their feeders are being raided and destroyed. We have ours filled and it is covered all day long with all manner of birds but we take it down at dusk. I had just downloaded iBird Pro in anticipation of the trip to the New River Birding Festival the first of May and now I find myself ticking off bird after bird right here at home. Sophie is not so fond of the audio feature on the application, especially when I try out raptor calls.The hummingbirds are back and all the feeder birds are busy nest building. (A good use for odds and ends of wool and silk. I stuff them in empty produce bags and hang them from the trees. They are a big hit right now; sometimes there is a bit of a set-to over who will get the scrap of sari silk. Luxury living for baby birds, yes?)

All day long they are flitting about with construction materials; the goofy Carolina Wrens have built a nest in the eave near the downspout where I fear it will wash out with the next hard rain. I put up this little felt house this afternoon and within an hour the chickadees started flitting in and out. I’m fairly cautious at the moment and not quick enough to snatch the camera and focus fast so I’ve been missing some great shots. Yesterday in the late afternoon a very playful red fox was in the yard pouncing on things- bugs?- and then chewing them up. (S)he took time to roll around and at one point made a great leap at a butterfly. The shots I did get were pretty blurry. I was hoping the fox would be back today but I got busy hammering a project together so that was a deterrent I think.(Our lawn would be good as a  “before” shot for a Chemlawn advertisement. With the acreage we are content to let the meadow portion run to violets and dandelions and grubs for this lovely (blurry) creature.)

So, we are happy and the cats are happy and it’s both peaceful and humming with life here at the mountain house.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life…

... It turns what we have into enough, and more.

(The day started with mist hanging over the mountain but became bright and sunny by 10 am)

This Thanksgiving was the first time we were all together at the mountain house. I had those urchins here for the long weekend- Dan and his Sarah came from Ann Arbor. Abby came over from Duke and Misha flew up from Florida where he is finishing his final few weeks of a business degree before he too moves to Durham. I hadn’t seen Rich for a couple weeks as he’s been in Florida and Melissa also came from Michigan. Lots of snuggling! Added to that our best friends from Chicago, Donna and Larry, flew in especially to join us so, all in all, it was one very grand reunion. And if your Thanksgiving was half as wild, fun and high calorie as ours, you’ll be recovering for days. Nine bodies, three meals a day for four days gave the new kitchen a real workout. Plus, all five starter people graze. Constantly. Always. Never on a schedule. Endlessly seeking food (the goopier or crumblier the better) and drink (the stickier the better). Never ending. And then they slept at odd hours and went out at odd hours.  Just to mix things up they dragged out five giant rubbermaid tubs of family photos and spread them absolutely everywhere, screaming with laughter at each other’s bare-naked toddler antics, weeping over dead cats and chinchillas and whining about who had the best baby book (Dan. Abby’s consisted of a calendar with four stickers: Baby Arrives! Baby Comes Home! Baby’s First Smile! Baby sleeps through the night! Poor Abby. I told her she was the better for the second child neglect.) And then they played euchre, played the piano and watched comedy central on TV and then they got restless and went out to listen to Blue Grass music. And came home at 3am to eat more.

(Making cheddar dill scones for, oh, about a hundred.)

Melissa has typically spent Thanksgiving with her mother and family in Missouri. We lucked out having her here with us this year. She works so hard in her life that it was wonderful to watch her relax, sleep, knit, play with McCloud (who is the cat of her teen years) and enjoy the commotion on this side of the family. I still remember her first family meal with us years ago; I think she was sort of shell-shocked with the rambunctious nature of her soon-to-be step sibs. Donna and Larry were our front condo neighbors in Chicago and we miss them constantly. Donna thinks that they may be about all I miss of Chicago. I enjoyed seeing how much they marveled at the peace and quiet and views from here, in contrast to big city life. On the other hand, sans children, they don’t typically have so much indoor noise…(The lot of us, taken with the camera precariously balanced on a mountain of boxes of old photos.)

Everybody went home again Sunday and Rich drove back to Florida with McCloud. (We re-unite in a week when I go down to teach another workshop and then he comes here for half of December  and Christmas and then we return to Florida for the winter, where I will teach at the Morean and get back to those rascally raptors I’ve been missing.) Yesterday I tackled the laundry. Lots of sheets, towels, tablecloths, napkins. I really didn’t mind at all; I used the time folding laundry to reflect on my family and all the life that was in this house over the past few days. This year was a real treat because, although they are all now adults in their own right, they still came together with the energy I loved in them as children. I hope they never flip completely over into the dark side of too-serious adulthood.

(Dan and Sarah. She is so wonderfully calm and a perfect balance for Dan, who sometimes is not. It’s probably because she’s a teacher of children, don’t you know, as well as being a gifted artist. Dan makes her laugh. He makes us all laugh.)

Several things were striking about the weekend, not the least being that my two children are night and day different and yet curiously similar. We say that Dan is completely right brained and Abby left and isn’t it too bad that they each got just half a brain but that is just a joke. They are, of course, well- rounded and delightfully full of personality. Also, intensity. Have I ever mentioned that these two are quite intense? Yes, well, together they almost spontaneously combust as they feed off each other’s humor and wisdom and talents.

(Abby and Misha have spent a semester apart as they continue their educational pursuits and they miss each other a lot. Just a couple more weeks to go and Misha, with English as a second language, 40 hours a week of outside work and credits mangled in transition from Russia, will graduate from USF.)

When Dan first chose the saxophone as his instrument of choice in 5th grade I would often suggest that, really, there was no need for him to practice and if he had to, could he please do it in the garage. I was such a nurturing and supportive mother. I missed this entire episode until I was downloading photos; I must have been down in the garage bringing up more food and drink. When I realized there was a little video on the camera I watched it and laughed and cringed and laughed and cringed. This was so much our life when we all lived under the same roof. With Abby on piano and trumpet and Dan on sax plus anything that he could use to generate sound, there was always a lot of music bordering on noise or vice-versa and I was always on the edge of squealing, “Enough! Stop! Go on! Get!” Actually, not so much on the edge. And yet, despite my efforts to suppress their energy and enthusiasm they appear to have grown up unfazed. And right when I realized they were leaving and Rich fortuitously dropped into my life, that energy and enthusiasm came back. Now, when children and husband unite, it’s a virtual overdose.

The other thing that really hit home was that they have all successfully, happily and responsibly made it into adulthood. They all contribute to making the world a better place as they create music and art, teach children, protect the earth, care for themselves, each other and those in their circles of life. Amazing.

Today it’s raining and gray, the two of us cozy and quiet. Sophie has been sleeping off the commotion and I’ve begun to turn my attention back to my big project of the moment: getting my fiber arts website up and running. I do believe I’m really going to do it within the next few days. Since last we visited, I’ve been to St. Petersburg for a weekend, completed my holiday inventory for the Florida Craftsmen Gallery and turned that over to them. I planted close to a thousand Spring bulbs here in the woods and on the hill. The bears haven’t hunkered down for the winter yet, the birds are lined up endlessly at the feeder and I’m excited to go get a fine North Carolina Fraser fir later this week. Even though I’m not always around here at this haphazard blog (thank you for the nudge, Bonnie dear), life is full and I am too, with gratitude.

Laying low

There are bats in the bat house but I’m thinking this is not a screech owl in the owl box…

Sunday was a perfect day, sunny and full of fun and good food with Rich and then friends. On Monday, Cathy left to go off to fused glass classes with her college roommate and between you and me? The timing was just right (hi, Cathy!) because I was talked out, socialized out, and over-fed, ready for some down time. No sooner had she left than this incredible low pressure front moved in so I was into my flannel pajamas and hunkered down in bed with Sophie, glass of wine, popcorn and TV. While it’s been mildly amusing catching up on a few shows after 3 weeks without so much as a glance at television, the political commercials are more off-putting than ever. I know why my friend, Ken, votes absentee and leaves the country during late October and the first week of November. All that money wasted on mudslinging!

Speaking of mud, how about this weather? I’m loving it, watching storm front after storm front roll across the mountains. It’s been raining in sheets and that’s fine with me because I have so many new plants in this fall, as well as about 600 Spring flowering bulbs. Every now and then there’s a break and the sun comes pouring through the clouds; the past three days this has happened right around 430 pm so at that point I go in to the bedroom where Sophie naps in her felted bed on the dresser in front of the window and I announce, “Time to get the mail!” She takes a few minutes to rouse herself and by then I have my shoes on and we head down the mountain to the mailbox. She always stops at the front of the our land where there are giant boulders and what I’ve come to call the “welcome garden” because it’s the first thing on our drive and it’s planted entirely with plants donated from my neighbors here in Sugar Hollow. Sophie sits on the biggest boulder and cries until I walk down to the mailbox and back and then we walk together back up. I usually stop at the garden and pick some peppers and herbs and maybe a green tomato- that’s about all that’s left. Many, many peppers still only half-grown. I wonder how long the weather will hold? Robin posted a picture of all her remaining tomatoes ripening on the window sill and I’m on the verge of picking the rest of mine. I’m hoping to have a few ripen because when I was in Tuscany I had this delicious dish. One taste and it’s one of those foods you begin to crave. Everything tasted better in Italy; must be the soil plus climate or maybe just the love of fine food. If you make this, use really good Italian ciabatta bread, excellent oil and so on.

Pappa al Pomodoro

INGREDIENTS

  1. 5 pounds tomatoes
  2. 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  3. 1 large onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  4. 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  5. Pinch of crushed red pepper
  6. Salt
  7. 1/2 pound stale, crustless, 1-inch Italian bread cubes (4 cups)
  8. 1 cup basil leaves, torn
  9. Ricotta cheese, for serving

DIRECTIONS

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Cut a slit in the base of each tomato. Add the tomatoes to the boiling water and blanch just until the skins start to split, about 10 seconds. Transfer the blanched tomatoes to the ice water to cool.
  2. Peel and halve the tomatoes crosswise. Working over a mesh strainer set over a large bowl, pry out the seeds and press the tomato juice and pulp through the strainer. Discard the seeds. Coarsely chop the tomatoes.
  3. Wipe out the pot and heat the 1/2 cup of olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and crushed red pepper and season with salt. Cover partially and simmer over moderately high heat until the tomatoes have cooked down, about 30 minutes.
  4. Add the bread and the reserved tomato juices to the soup and cook, mashing the bread until fully incorporated, and season with salt. Stir in the basil leaves. Spoon the soup into shallow bowls, drizzle lightly with olive oil, top with a dollop of ricotta and serve right away.

This serves six so adjust accordingly and you can make it ahead and stick it in the frig. We had it at room temp and it was SOOOOO good. The side of the house where we stayed in Monte San Savino, as the sun was setting

Italy. People who have been say you can’t imagine how wonderful it is and that was true for us. We had no idea. We did indeed eat our way through the countryside and when we weren’t out in the local restaurants in tiny towns in Tuscany we ate in our little rental with the beautiful view. We figured out how to cook chestnuts, which are quite fiercesome before they have their spiny husk removed and we would peel them and drink Vin Santo, a Tuscan sweet dessert wine. Delicioso!

Although I was almost always thinking about food I also thought about wine and art and history and community and family and cats. I’ll post more photos in the next days but here is one of my favorites. There were so many great views that I started challenging myself to only take scenic photos that had cats in them.

(Where’s Gatto?)

I mentioned that I was getting a lot of plants in the ground this autumn. A first year garden is a thing of hope and promise and right now my garden consists mostly of small sticks with a couple of new leaves starting at the base indicating that these gifts have taken hold. There are daisies and asters and Joe Pye weed and phlox and monarda and dozens of others, all just getting going. And then, when I got back from Italy, there was a fine birthday gift from my sister. Betsy is pretty much the best gift giver ever; she puts a lot of thought into her gifts and then she wraps them so beautifully. A gift certificate for White Flower Farm is the perfect choice for a gardener because you can page through the glossy catalog and choose from hundreds of premium perennials that come back year after year, each strain more beautiful than the next. Betsy might have been thinking I would get bulbs but I jumped the gun and bought those in bulk at Costco because I wanted to get some naturalizing bang for my buck. I’ve been working on clearing my woods and several hundred daffodils are going in there this weekend. White Flower Farm is pretty pricey so you’re likely to get 6 tiny exquisite pale peach colored narcissus rather than the giant bag of King Alfred yellows I’ll start with. I think what I will get is an old-fashioned Bleeding Heart. I had one for 30 years that I dug up from my grandmother’s garden when she died and it was moved successfully from apartment to house to house over the years. I gave Betsy part of it when she moved into her Kalamazoo house but when it came time to move to Chicago the poor thing gave up the ghost. A city courtyard just didn’t suit and so I lost it. Now I’m going to order one from White Flower Farm and there will be enough left over to order a giant (I mean giant) blue hosta called Bressingham Blue. I grew it in Ann Arbor and it was the most impressive shade plant ever. I hadn’t checked the mailbox for a couple of days when we had company but yesterday there was another small box from Betsy with their homemade sour cherry jam and these lovely bird sticky notes. See what I mean? I wish we lived closer together so we would see more of each other.

Finding a new normal and getting back to fiber

Well, last week was the annual BCMA (Book Club, My Ass) meeting on the shores of Lake Michigan but it wasn’t quite what we are used to. We women friends of very long standing always manage to find our way back together, come hell or high water, at least once a year and the Michigan Fiber Festival is the best excuse in recent years. Most of you know by now that we gather at Roberta’s 1920’s pink cinderblock cottage perched high on the dunes and we eat, drink, buy wool, talk to alpacas,knit, spin, skinny dip, surf ride, campfire and s’more our way through 4 or 5 days of estrogen (half of it synthetic) heaven. Really, it’s like heaven, like a great movie, like your best high, like your best book ever- we are friends like that.

This year things sort of came undone, with hell and high water. First Kristen, after years with NWA, got transferred to Atlanta and Delta headquarters. Bah. Then I got totally swamped with the remodel-that-turned-into-an-entire-new-house situation. Plus, Rich surprised me with the upcoming long-awaited honeymoon/60th birthday trip to Italy and we used almost every frequent flyer mile to make that a first class trip. And then came the worst bit and that was when a core member of BCMA got the terrible news I wrote of in my last post. So three of us were out and we sorely missed the week and they claim we were sorely missed although it appears to me that they had fun in any case.(I have no idea. Really. I guess you had to be there and I wasn’t, dammit.)

My dear friend has had her surgery and that went well and I just this minute finished talking with her husband who said they were home from the hospital. He reported that she was cranky and on his case and their daughter, who is Abby’s friend from nursery school, can do no wrong. So I said, “Great! Sounds like things are pretty much normal!” and he agreed. She has good supports in place, including her brother who is a nurse and her favorite sister. Next Wednesday they will meet with the tumor board (what a name- gak) and discuss lab results and what’s up next. And we continue to send her massive amounts of bad internet humor, good wishes and sincere prayers- plus I believe that BCMA has concocted a comforter of sorts and I will post photos of that when I get them. Kristen and I had to mail in our contributions.

Back here on Little Mt. Pisgah, we hosted our first official dinner party to thank some of the neighbors who have so kindly fed and sheltered me during construction, who leave me plants on my doorstep and bring fresh eggs and goat’s milk soap. I made grilled pork tenderloin and then sliced it into medallions on a dried Michigan cherry demi-glace and topped with a blue-cheese pine nut cream. We had local Yukon gold mashed potatoes, greens from the earth boxes and a ginger-crust apple tart with caramel sauce and french vanilla ice cream.

I also made an appetizer that I worried would be too hot but it was snarfed up in an instant before we could even get seated on the deck. I roasted some poblano peppers from the garden on the grill until they were black and then let them sweat off their skins in a paper bag and cut them into thin strips. Then I sautéed and crumbled andouille sausage. I spread some delectable goat cheese blended with ginger and apricots on flour tortillas, added the sausage and peppers, folded them in half and made quesadillas that I grilled and cut into triangles. That was some spicy starter but yum, yum, yum. And I made up that recipe and now I’m giving it to you. It would probably work with datil peppers, too, if you had such a thing.

Anyway, it was a wonderful evening with like minded folks- lots of laughter and good story telling. I figure everyone had a good time because they all stayed late. I can report that our new dishwasher, in addition to being very quiet, does indeed hold service for 14 and gets them clean.

With everything that has been going on, my fingers have not been near fiber, except to finally unpack it, for a couple months (I’m not counting the week of epic pillow making with seven-year olds at art camp). This morning I had my neighbor, Diana, over to do some silk dyeing. I wanted to use her as a guinea pig before I offered a free afternoon workshop when people can become acquainted with my teaching here in the Asheville area. We had a great time with some good results and the new studio space works well, with lots of counters, light and sinks. I also felted a couple of bars of this beautiful goat’s milk soap and I like how they turned out, too. Makes for a nice all-in-one loofah with natural antibacterial properties.

Right now I am very excited because Kristen is driving up from Atlanta, sort of spur of the moment, so we can have a little satellite session of BCMA these next couple days. Things are going to get fuzzy around here as we get the drum carder and spinning wheel moving. How cool is it to have friends who call and say, “Hey! I think I’ll drive 4 hours to come hang out with you.” ? I can’t wait to see her. I’m thinking we should felt a hot water bottle cover for Roberta’s tummy.

Who’s full of hot air? Not moi!

(Photo credit to Asheville Balloon Rides)

I think we will take this hot air ballon trip over Asheville and the French Broad River sometime as the colors change this fall. There’s a whisper of the changing season here in the mountains: the corn has been harvested, cooler weather crops are going in and the view from the house is slightly different as the sun sets a bit more to the southwest. I’m loving it, although today was the first day it hasn’t rained in three and I spent it organizing (FINALLY) my studio/workshop space. That’s because more rain was predicted and I just couldn’t shift gears once I was headed down that path. Watch. Tomorrow, when gardening is on the schedule, it will rain. I have some lovely photos of garden gifts that have come to me from neighbors here and I’ll get those up. Anyway, hope you’ve been having a lovely weekend in your neck of the woods. Oh! Balloon rides reminds me of this:

A woman in a hot air balloon realized that she was lost.  She lowered her altitude and spotted a man in a boat below.  She shouted to him, “Excuse me, can you help me?  I promised a friend that I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”
The man consulted his portable GPS and replied, “You’re in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above ground elevation of 2,346 feet above sea level.  You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09  minutes west longitude.
She rolled her eyes and said, “You must be an Obama Democrat.”
“I am,” replied the man. “How did you know?”
“Well,” answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically  correct. But I have no idea what to do with your information, and I’m still  lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help to me.”
The man smiled and responded, “You must be a Republican.”
“I am,” replied the balloonist. “How did you know?”
“Well,” said the man, “you don’t know where you are or where you are going.  You’ve risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a  promise you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your  problem. You’re in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but somehow, now it’s my fault.