Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pursuing Playmates

Unbelievable things happen when we allow ourselves to follow the still quiet voice of our pure childhood faith. My very best friend that I lost in sixth grade just found me on Facebook. I've been looking for her for years, but when she was moved by her family to Houston, they left no forwarding address. What fun it will be to catch up with my tall, talented, red-headed BFF!

I'm busy lately taking many walks down memory lane. Maybe this is part of the aging process, but for me it seems more like reclaiming the less complicated, happier, more whole and wholesome parts of myself, when what I lived on was hope.

I'm firmly convinced that most of us have a sane self that was scared away by the control freak ways of others as we grew up. All we have to do is find that precious person again. This makes other "grown ups" absolutely nuts because they are all so busy trying appear to be in control. My opinion is that we're all faking it as adults, but we don't want anybody else to know it.

I always had plenty of playmates in my life, and I was a "good" but clumsy and too talkative kid. This drove adults to distraction, so they set out to "fix" me and try to make me a graceful, quiet "lady". If it hasn't worked by now, I don't think I'm ever going to get there. So, I surrender. I'm going into my second (or, more likely, returning to my first)childhood before faking adulthood kills me.

I never saw it in the Bible that women can't cuss, even though I know there are some words that are forbidden to be used in vain. I also know that women are the teachers because they are the mothers. I don't know who Paul was talking to when he said that women can't teach men, but it wasn't to the women I know.

My six-year-old self was doing just fine before my significant adults made My Maker into a monster. I'm going back home in myself and finding my faith. And I'll go back to hugging everybody on the playground who wants to play with me.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Here's to My Baby Boy

Many people have problems with celebrating Halloween;
My baby boy was born then, making me feel like a queen.
He was a blond and blue-eyed angel with a million dollar smile;
All I could imagine was that he is a magical child.
He made my days a wonder; he made my days a joy;
He was my own precious and funny baby boy.

I'd speak to him for hours as he looked into my face
I knew that his life was a gift of My Creator's grace.
His sister always thought that he was her own special doll;
We came close to worshiping him, trying to protect him from a fall.
But every baby bird eventually outgrows the nest,
And he must prove his talents, or try his very best.

We've looked on in wonder as he's become a husband and a dad,
The most dear friend and protector any family ever had.
So, for any who believe that Halloween should be negated,
We, my son's family, think it must be celebrated.
Here's to Scott, our pride and joy and source of much mirth;
May we all be here to celebrate with you many more years on earth.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Running Myself Ragged

What a whirlwind this trip promises to be! After getting Nikki back to her home and family, her daughter and I made lasagna for their family and Nikki's dad and step mother. In addition to dropping off the lasagna and a "thank you" bouquet for her dad and step mom's help in her daughter's care during her absence, I stayed for a visit with my former brother-in-law, his niece, and his wife. It was a surreal experience sitting in the home where my niece and my sister used to live, visiting with my niece's cousin with whom I share so many early memories of Nikki and her dad, as well as those of my sister and her other three children.

I was invited to spend the night, but became overwhelmed with conflicting emotions and bolted for the door, suitcase in hand. Because I ran too late to arrive at a comfortable hour at my son's home in Mississippi, I woke in a motel close to the home of my son. He's having his Halloween birthday bash tonight, two nights before his birthday, because he "has to" go to the Saints game on Sunday. My son's parties are legendary on the coast, but they're a bit too bawdy even for me. So I come down to help in preparations and childcare. I'm just itching to get my mitts on my grandson and granddaughter.

My niece Melanie still doesn't know I'm in town, as I'm waiting to find out where I'll be tonight with the kids. Melanie's boys have been spirited away for the weekend by their Aunt Marjerrie, so I won't be getting any baby slobbers just yet. Maybe I'll just check us all into a motel with a heated pool, although I'm hoping to spend the evening making lasagna and carrot cake with Miya, Nicholas and their friends.

Tomorrow, I hope to spend some good "girl" time with my daughter-in-law and Melanie, and then I'll be off to New Orleans to see my sister, the Belle of the Bayou. I had hoped to hear her sing, but I don't think she has a gig for this weekend.Maybe on my trip back through...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Nieces and Nephews

I know, I know; I should be very careful what I ask for. I moaned about missing mothering, and one of my nieces arrived giving me a good dose of my past. Nikki is the daughter of my deceased sister that I thought was my twin, separated from me before conception. We were always "other mother" to each other's children. Now, Nikki is going home, and I'm left with none of my babies to bother. There's no way that I could stay all alone with my man in the mountains with winter coming on. So, I'm off to get what Richard calls "baby slobbers."

It is true that my grandchildren are all of an age that old people kind of creep them out, especially if we touch them, but we have great nieces and nephews that I'm just itching for us to interact with. This afternoon, I'll be making my Easy Squeezy® lasagna with Nikki's ten-year-old little girl. I'm hoping to be doing the same and baking her daddy birthday cake with my nine-year-old granddaughter by Saturday.

Richard is the only man I've ever known that can keep a two-year-old quiet long enough for me to get supper on the table. He made these wonderful wooden sticks with which he builds forts around the toddlers. The pay-off for them sitting very still is that they get to bust out with great fanfare after the building is complete. My niece in Mississippi has two adorable toddler boys that are just the right age for Uncle Richard's version of childcare.

Another thing we love to do is cook for our friends. One of our most long-standing friends has emailed us with an SOS to come teach him how to cook for his wife. Let's see, can I handle spending the winter two blocks from the beach with best friends? I hope he has a lot he wants to learn.

Talk about starting off with a bang! Nkki has invited her father and step mother over for supper tonight. It's time to get on the road so we can get busy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Family Time in a Warmer Clime

On the road to someplace, but I don't quite know where;
I have so many people scattered here and there.
Some I want to laugh with; with some I need to cry.
There may even be some to whom I have to say good-bye.

Will I see my sister sing? I don't really know.
All I can say is that I hope to do so.
My Cajun aunt and uncle are getting rather old;
I'll spend time with them because they accept that I'm bold.

High school friends await our joyful reunion,
Where we revert to sharing our teenage girl fun.
Spiritual sisters to share our souls' delights,
And the wisdom we've gleaned from our various plights.

Be still my heart; you still have to get there.
Calm yourself with a centering prayer.
Get up; get packed; make last minute visits.
For all of this you must keep your wits.

I feel like a prisoner getting out of jail,
With the ending of fall making my bail.
I don't do winter in the higher climes;
I'm heading south for some family time.

Monday, October 25, 2010

When Women Go to War

When women go to war
Our men run for cover,
When we stop the crying
And focus on a plan.

This is the way Eve
Got Adam to change jobs
And is the scariest thing
To any mortal man.

Now, we know it's true of Eve
That she led Adam wrong.
She was not thinking
Of her future child.

She was feeling a bit jealous
Of God's power of creation.
She was tempted to change this,
And she went quite wild.

We've been trying to get back
To our roots ever since
But we are still have problems
With our married men.

It seems that they only hear us
After we've exploded.
The mess they have to face
Is much greater then.

Oh wouldn't it be nice
If our men would hear our whispers,
Instead of their waiting
To be hit with a two by four?

I have stomped the snake to shreds
And girded myself with Wisdom.
It's now time for my mother self
To permanently take the floor.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pickled Presents

While Jack sold books, I came home and painted the kitchen, not with a paint brush, but with pear butter blurps. My Godchild Gary has one Christmas request; he wants pear butter. There were no pears for pear butter or chutney last year, but this Christmas he will get his wish.

We are also now the owners of several pints of tiny pickled beets that look like jewels in jars. I can't wait to present these to some serious beet lovers; they're too cute for words. Today's tasks include another day of Turning Leaf Fest and a trip to Atlanta to lunch with my daughter and her first cousin. Richard is stepping in as Jack's chauffeur and big beet slicer. More produce processing projects are promised for tomorrow.

There are still carrots to peel and turn into carrot cakes, and with enough time I'll turn our frozen muscadine mash into jam. I'm also primed for creating pastaless lasagna out of the yellow zucchini that I bought from a local farmer at last week's Buzz Fest. Who knew that zucchini comes in two colors?

All this food frenzy is in preparation for my disappearance down south for several weeks. I just couldn't leave all these garden goodies to spoil in my absence; what would we give as Christmas gifts?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Off We Go to Tellico

Off we go to Tellico;
The Leaf Turning Festival calls.
We'll read with the library,
And introduce Jack,
A favorite activity in the fall.

Ginny will be selling
Her inspirational wood burned plaques.
It will be interesting to see
What other crafters
That we met last year will be back.

Living near our Tennessee home,
There are so many talented artists.
Many have moved from far away
Were they this creative
Before moving to the forest?

I think it may be the quiet,
Or the dappled sun in the trees,
Or the mists in the mountains
Bringing our spirits out.
Prayer is not only done on one's knees.

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Niece Nikki

It's so nice to go visiting with my niece Nikki. The people of Coker Creek really love her ready smile and her genuine interest in the things that are important to them. She's added her lilting laughter and talents to every endeavor I've introduced her to.

Her assistance at the queen contest was much appreciated, as was her judging of the chili cook-off. Harriett apparently shared a few wry comments as they waded their way through ten chili samples, much to my niece's amusement. And Nikki was especially sought after by our retired school administrator Wanda who had my niece helping put together the chili award certificates. A good principal has to know how to recognize and recruit good help.

Ninety-year-old Eda not only taught Nikki to purl in addition to her talent at knitting, she is now campaigning to have my niece's family move up here. And Coker Creek's other ninety-year-old Mamie absolutely glowed as she showed Nikki her vast array of quilts made by herself, her daughter, several friends and her deceased mom. As a school teacher, my niece also appreciated Mamie's treasured penmanship instruction books saved from when she attended third grade.

Jack was excited to have the opportunity show Nikki his new solar power set-up and have her try out his manual typewriter. The friend who came up to help Jack at the Autumn Gold Festival so enjoyed Nikki that she wrote us a thank you note regarding their time together. And the Quilts For Kids group so appreciates their photo collage that Nikki helped me create.

Nikki's deceased mama Denice and I spent a lot of time hauling our three little ones to one park to sit by the water and feed the ducks. Nikki and I have even sat by the lake at Kefauver Park, but we forgot to bring any bread. Another of my favorite activities with my sister was eating at casual dining places. We've been to Donna's at least three times, and Kats twice.

We've cleaned, created, coffeed, laughed and cried together. (I have to wait for Nikki's daughter, Corinne Denice, to have a partner for cooking.) What wonderful walks down memory lane, this time with the promise of many good times yet to come.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sick Situations

I swear our house is haunted, or maybe it’s a gris-gris on my van. Last summer, we had houseguests, and one ended up in the emergency room at University of Tennessee Hospital. This led to several days of in-patient diagnostic tests. Now, our current visitor has been run through their medical care ringer.

Richard insisted on driving her to the hospital when she had a bout of chest pain and shortness of breath. I was happy to believe that it was her nerves, but Richard wanted to make sure that she wasn’t having a bit of a blood clot “situation.” Two hours is a little far away from the hospital to take chances on midnight medical mishaps. I guess the fit I pitched about him waiting so long to decide he needed to go to the emergency room last winter when he was having a bit of a pneumonia “situation” is paying off. Maybe I should be more careful what I ask for.

I don’t think our cooking causes these events, but could it be our company? Are we really that high stress to live with? Maybe it’s the mountain air, or the accommodations. I guess I shouldn’t forget that Richard and I had more than our share of hospital adventures long before we lived in Tennessee. And even I can’t convince myself that I caused Richard’s hospital stay due to pneumonia.

I think I’ll simply stop asking Richard to play doctor with our guests. They report their symptoms to me, and I pass them on to my man. Next thing I know, we’re sitting in an ER waiting for test results and picking lint out of our navels as our company is poked, prodded, and asked the same set of questions over and over again. Is that any way to treat friends and family?

After only four hours in the ER, our guest got a clean bill of health, and we were in our own beds before dawn. Maybe we should ask UT for a commission on each insured person we deliver to their door. Or maybe not…

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Need for Nit Pickers

I'm always amused by the different approaches that people have to solving everyday issues. I usually hate power tools because of all the noise they make, but for de-leafing the deck, it sure is easier to blow than sweep. Richard, who normally loves power simply sweeps, which I don't understand because our joke about Richard is that if he was an obstetrician he'd deliver babies with a router.

The single father that I knew may not even own a mop, as he slides along the floors with a wet towel under foot. (Of course, now that someone has invented a power mop, he may have changed his ways.) Every other cleaning task requires either a leaf blower, vacuum cleaner, or pressure washer, all with powerful motors that make lots of boy noises. And we wonder why our men can't hear anything we say?

Fred has confessed to vacuuming the leaves that invade his home and returning them to their natural habitat, while I without thinking dumped my swept-up fall treasures into the garbage can. I saved on power, but increased the landfill load. Who is more sensitive to our environment?

Now, I've heard of a dad that had a few novel ways to combat his child's head lice. While I'm pretty sure that my daughter's father would have shaved my daughter's head, this dad went all out to save his darling daughter's hair while exterminating the offending critters.

This didn't, however, happen as his first response to the crisis. As any good dad would do upon being alerted that his princess has creepy crawlies, he sprang into action on the internet. The result was a detailed list of instructions for what the mother of his child should do to solve the problem. Upon being informed that this was to be a joint effort, he did the next best thing: attempted to locate a service that one could hire to do the dirty deed. His wife is still laughing at the idea that one can open the phone book and find a service called "Nit Pickers."

The parents discussed wrapping the flowing locks of their precious princess in a garbage bag and setting off a bug bomb, but thought better of it, as it may exterminate more than the insects. When none of these ideas bore fruit, our hero bought an armload of weapons of nit destruction; one of the items being a taser comb. Who knew that their were power combs on the market that would electrocute head lice?

Problem solved, and one more business opportunity for an intrepid entrepreneur in the current job market: "Nit Pickers, Inc." anyone?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Queen of Clean

Jack says it's time to sweep
When we must wipe our feet to go outside.
We love fall leaves on our trees
But they walk into our home with pride.

They never want to walk back out,
So eventually we have to clean.
Along with the cobwebs they must go
Back to their outdoor scene.

I thought about telling people
That they were all fall decoration,
Waiting for all our mountain friends
To arrive for a celebration.

But the bathrooms still needed scrubbing;
There was laundry, both dirty and clean.
So I was finally forced to bite the bullet,
And don my cloak as a housework queen.

The house is a bit more tidy,
But we have a long way to go.
Maybe we'll get fall back outside
Before our first winter snow.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cooperation Beats Competition

This is chili cook-off, football and festival season, all areas of intense competition. My niece has been recruited to judge a queen contest and a chili event, and we've observed other festival-related contests. I just don't get the competition thing.

I hate competition, even though it seems that everything in life, from beauty to parenting, to eternal salvation becomes a competition in the minds of many. The Almighty gave each of us only certain strengths, and in some of us, a great amount of limitation. I can't be more than I am, but I know I must work to be all I can be. How can I gauge whether I living up to my worth without comparing my contributions to those of others?

Life isn't a chili cook-off or beauty pageant, but sometimes it helps to have others assist us in discerning what's best for us and all those in our network, as well as who is best suited to lead in each lap of life. Sometimes it's difficult to see where discernment ends and competition begins.

I've done an extensive survey of people who profess to know and love me, and the consensus seems to be that my greatest strength is my appreciation of the gifts given to others. I go through life trying to glue people's gifts together, which makes many feel that I'm trying to take control. All I know is that my strength comes from the bonds I have with others, so maybe I try to push wildly diverse people together so they can see how happy it will make them. Maybe many people don't want to be in a pot of gumbo; they'd rather be in a bowl of something more familiar and soothing, like chili.

I know that I'm a cheerleader in life, not ever meant to be the captain of the team. But then again, maybe "captain of the team" is just an illusion created by power-hungry people. I prefer life to be like a relay race, passing the lead role off to others until the race is completed; then the whole team can take a bow.

Not being "captain of a team" material has been extremely problematic for me as a business manager and as a mother. I always felt that my children had not been given to me, but that they had been lent to me for safekeeping. I often questioned the wisdom of putting such a shaky parenthood driver as I am behind the wheel, but somehow there seemed to always be an engineer steering my children safely into adulthood. I am grateful and in awe.

There are many people who drive around with bumper stickers proclaiming, "God is my co-pilot." I wonder if they mean to say, "I'm God's co-pilot." Are we really ever in control? Don't we get ourselves in the most trouble when we allow other voices to compete with the one in our heads that tells us what's moral and prudent?

Whenever I think about the possibility of parenting again, as many grandparents of my generation are doing, I ask The Almighty, "Please don't give me that load to tote. I wasn't comfortable mothering when they were my children; do you really want to jeopardize the good jobs my children are doing with their children by putting me in charge? I certainly wouldn't win in a contest for who is the better parent for children not made by my marriage."

I've immensely enjoyed cooperating with my kids in nurturing their children, but as the teen years loom large on our grandchildren's horizons, our input seems to simply put us at odds. My grandchildren's parents are still alive, healthy, and very capable of continuing to protect and nurture their own progeny. I don't even want to compete for that responsibility. I can still maintain my on-call co-pilot status. What a relief that is! But I sure do miss mothering.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Slow Slice of Life

The day dawned as beautiful as any autumn day could be. I know this because we were up and at 'em before sunrise. We were going to Kefauver Park to participate in the Buzz Fest with Jack and the book that we built. Driving down the mountain, my niece couldn't help but repeatedly exclaim what gorgeous views met her sight no matter which way she turned.

It was a might chilly lakeside in the park at that hour, but we had brought enough layers of clothing to survive an arctic blizzard. Any further fear of freezing was addressed by a church group handing out free hot cocoa, which fixed us right up. I'm pretty sure Jesus would have approved of their methods of spreading their beliefs; each cup of cocoa came with a printed Bible verse. It wasn't turning wine into water, but it was what we wanted at the time.

Jack amused himself marveling at an early-morning jogger running laps around the lake, but lost count of how many times she went around. I pointed out to him the many miles he walks while exploring his surroundings, to which he replied that he walks; he can't do it trotting. I don't know what thrilled him more, the fact that this was a woman with such determination, or the energy she was expending on trotting instead of walking.

When the sun was high in the sky, the breeze was still cool enough coming off the lake that nothing felt better than to sit with the sun on our faces. I was as cozy as a cat on a sunny window sill watching the people of Monroe County walk by. Thank The Almighty, Jack has become quite a salesman; otherwise, I don't think we'd have sold any books at all.

We had to cut our attendance at the fest short because we had other duties to perform that evening. My niece was scheduled to judge Deborah and Charlie's chili cook-off. And what a wonderful night we had around the campfire at their Coker Creek Saloon. I felt like a Girl Scout again, except that there were men with us at the campfire, and we were missing the endless choruses of Kumbaya. But Don did play a bit of music as Adam went around handing out hugs.

We also cut this event a bit short because my niece needed to get back to our house in the holler to "tuck" her "baby" into bed with a goodnight call -- one of the small inconveniences of living so far back in the forest that there's no cell phone signal. I was happy to cuddle up under many layers of cover with the book that was on my nightstand, a hand-me-down read from my niece. Of course, with her Kindle these gifts may be coming to an end.

We sure are slow in our slice of Coker Creek; we still read books and have to be home to call across the country. Imagine that!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mountain Mama's Muscadines

Mountain Mama called about muscadines;
She said there's plenty left on her vines.
She hates to see anything go to waste,
Although we've lost lots of crops at her place.
With life happening as we make other plans,
Sometimes our best intentions get slammed.
We try our best to be good land stewards,
But our lives are complicated beyond any words.
With friends who are dying, and friends that are ill,
And the visitors who come to give us a thrill;
With so many events to record here and there,
We have to set priorities for that which we care.

Sometimes our people get in the way
Of picking, and plowing, and laying down hay.
So maybe we'll never be farmers in the dell,
But Mountain Mama thinks our efforts are swell.
The freezer is full of muscadine mash,
And the pantry is overflowing with our jam stash.
We had as much grapes as we could bear to lift,
And were glad when Charlie accepted them as a gift.
The circle of life is only a short drive;
Sharing our bounty helps all our friends thrive.
Several are happy about this arrangement;
So with a sigh of relief, back home we went

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pining For My People

Not only am I dependent on my computer network working, I also am so interconnected with the people in my life that I have trouble putting one foot in front of the other without checking in with my peeps. Richard is fond of saying, "Act proves potency." For most of my life, I've had to continually add to my circle because I love having people with a purpose, a plan, a positive attitude, and a good track record for success as my advisers. And these people have all been busy using their talents to improve their areas of the earth.

I like to brainstorm with potent people, and I've always been fortunate that so many busy people allow time in their schedules to share their areas of expertise with me. Most of my potent people are now retiring, and I'm not often enough with them to enjoy basking in their glow.

I'm now faced with a dilemma; I've expanded my network into Coker Creek, and many of my people from New Orleans are spread all over the country, a number of them because of being displaced, like we were, by Hurricane Katrina. I love sharing ideas and talents while sharing physical space, but this is no longer possible given the distances between me and many of my loved ones. When I'm at our Tennessee Mountain Home, I'm pining for my far-flung friends, and it keeps my soul from settling down.

It's hard to get the same feeling from "LOL" and "LMAO" as I get laughing until we cry (or wet our pants) with a good buddy who is laughing with me in the flesh. And about "WTF," there are lots of things in life about which we should be angry enough to attempt to change them. It takes a lot of energy to emote over the phone or into a keyboard, and sometimes it just doesn't seem to get the proper passion going. A hug can't be sent through cyberspace, snail mail, or satellite signals, and nobody will ever convince me that "xxxooo" is an acceptable substitute. I like to touch and be touched by those I love. I like to see in the eyes of my beloved ones what effect my words have while I'm speaking.

Is any amount of aspirin as good at relieving shoulder tension as a nice impromptu shoulder massage given by a good friend? It is impossible to infuse the same comfort into a troubled breast from across a thousand miles as we can impart by putting our arms around the body housing the troubled soul. Not only babies need cuddling; our souls are often only soothed by the physical sharing of our spirits.

I know The Almighty holds me, but I feel The Almighty in the embrace of someone who knows and loves me. And I'm pretty sure that nobody knows me like my family and my oldest friends.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Messy Memories

With my niece here, several people have suggested to her that we "should" be taking drives to see the changing leaves. Some of these people have never been to our Tennessee Mountain Home, so they don't know the joy of sitting in front of our fireplace, enjoying a cozy blaze while peering out the window as the light autumn rain carries the gold of black walnut leaves across our line of sight. Neither have they sat at our kitchen table watching the birds fight for a place at the sunflower seed feeder hanging from our brilliant red-leafed dogwood tree.

I am so pleased to have my niece to share these moments with me. It helps to take away my misgivings about what follows fall, so I can be more in the moment.

Living in the moment may seem obvious to some, but to those who have experienced a great deal of trauma in their lives, it can present quite a challenge. One never knows when a simple step in any direction will open up a Pandora's box of messy memories. Everyone else in the room my be celebrating, and the monsters of one person's past can pop out of the Pandora's box and turn that single person's joy to terror.

Such is my challenge with this fall in Coker Creek. We had a very rough winter last year, as we had several periods of being iced into our home for days at a time. I never learned to drive on snow, much less on ice, because New Orleans isn't prone to such events. Hurricanes, I can handle, but even a dusting of the white frozen stuff sends me into a panic.

As luck would have it, our worst ice storm since we moved into our mountains occurred when Richard was in the hospital last winter. It wasn't a pretty sight, the Wild Cajun Woman of Coker Creek, crawling along the iced over roads to get back and forth to the ICU. Oh, and did I mention that I don't drive the mountain roads at night, but Richard had to be brought in after dark? And I was in such a hurry to get him to help that I ran on fumes and ended up out of gas in an ice storm when I was ready to leave the hospital once they finally got Richard settled in ICU at three in the morning?

As I look out our window, with winter edging ever closer, I just keep reminding myself that this moment remains beautiful as long as I remember to breathe...and Richard keeps our firewood bin filled.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Here's To Our House In the Holler

Our niece is visiting us while on sabbatical from her Louisiana public school teaching position. I don't know how any teachers survive the insane asylums that the large district schools have become. I'm sort of surprised that my niece lasted six years before needing a break from the boneheaded system. It seems that neither parents nor children understand that anarchy isn't a good learning environment. Talk about the inmates running the asylums.

This niece and her family have visited on several occasions, and we're thrilled that she has chosen our Tennessee Mountain Home as her retreat center. What a beautiful time of year she has chosen! The fall colors seem to be peaking early this year; she's here to experience that and the Coker Creek Autumn Gold Festival. I'm not sure what better environment anyone could choose for clearing the cobwebs out of one's body and brain while renewing one's spirit.

Along with what occurs yearly around here, we're fortunate to have Richard lovingly making salads for our suppers, and Pastor Lynda on call to soothe our souls. How many people have a pastor working at the welcome center, available for the asking any time we need a third prayer partner? When Pastor Lynda prays, I feel it deep down in my soul.

Pastor Lynda recently organized a "see you at the pole" prayer event at the Coker Creek school. This was attended by many from the community, including two other local pastors. The success of that event led them to agree to jointly organize a prayer chain that will circle the school on the fifth Sunday of every month. Interestingly, this month, the fifth Sunday falls on October 31. I wonder what the Halloween naysayers will have to say about that.

I have a special place in my heart for Halloween, as I gave birth to my own precious pumpkin on that day. I celebrate him daily, but am always happy to have others to share in my joy over my baby boy.

Here's to our house in the holler and all the spiritual gifts it gives us and others that we cherish.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Wonderful Way to Live

One of the neatest things about living in such a small, slow moving community is that one learns to appreciate the little things in life, like the seemingly simple triumphs of the people around us.

Ruth has both legs in braces and walks with a walker, but she still manages to do her handiwork and set up at craft fairs. Denny had a stroke, can barely speak with only a limited vocabulary, and has limited use of half his body; yet he manages to fabricate beautiful decorative iron pieces that his family helps him sell. Ginny uses her faith to fuel her inspirational artwork, and has recently begun marketing, along with her artwork, her deceased husband's book on spiritual healing.

Greta gracefully handles all the grief of the folks who miss her husband, Junior, more this time of year than at any other time. He died while preparing for the Autumn Gold Festival one year ago, but she still managed to handle all the vendor bookkeeping and communications for this year's fest. Ralph, Junior's first cousin, best buddy, and blood brother, and the husband of Greta's sister, successfully chaired the festival as he has for decades, even without his faithful friend.

Elaine walks with two crutches, but her hands stay busy with some of the finest cotton crochet work in Coker Creek. Clarinda, dealing with the loss of the jobs of both she and her husband, cranked up her sewing machine the night between the two days of the festival to make sure she had enough merchandise to last until the final potential customer had passed through the exit gate. And, of course, there's Jack, who continues to plug along on his stories, with his manual typewriter, to the light of kerosene lamps.

The mountain folk honor those who overcome hardships by accepting all willing workers as fellow travelers. There's an expectation that we all do whatever we can do, no matter what curve-balls come our way. It's wonderful to see so many persevering, including the many Ruritans who are well past the prime of their bodies, but still stout of soul. They combine their strengths every year to raise funds to put back into the Coker Creek community. What a wonderful way to live!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fall Fun In Our Forest

What a fabulous festival we had this year! The weather was absolutely perfect with dewy mornings, cool enough for sitting and sipping hot cocoa and coffee around early morning bonfires. The afternoons were sunny and warm, with just enough breeze to keep us from overheating; although it was a bit capricious in blowing our posters around. But, not to worry, good mountain women always travel with duct tape.

Our over-the-hill neighbors were beneath a tree just behind me with their horseshoe and other iron art. They are the quintessential farm family with three generations all working toward keeping their house in order. There were four generations until the death of a grandmother last year. Lots of crafts, cooking, and canning go on in that house, and lots of wood cutting, gardening, and welding goes on outside and in their outbuildings. Their granddaughters are already in training, helping with everything from picking peas to helping at the sales tent.

The twelve-year-old Cassie is never still, volunteering at one booth and another, from selling raffle tickets benefiting Quilts For Kids to assisting with gold panning at the booth of her twin schoolmates. Even with all this, she managed to be voted the Autumn Gold Festival Queen, which is judged on Early American costume authenticity and poise, rather than beauty and popularity. Since her granny didn't even know about the festival until half an hour before sign-up ended, this miracle was assisted by Cassie's guardian angel Nancy and a vendor selling authentic costumes. Cinderella's fairy godmother never had better magic!

Crafty Dave, originally from Coker Creek, but now living in the same Atlanta suburb as my daughter, donates the most adorable white, flop-eared rabbits as prizes for the festival princesses. He takes special orders, so I'm hoping he'll make me some as grandchild Christmas gifts.

Jack's friend came up from Copperhill to help him hawk his book. We were delighted that he asked us to put her up for the weekend. This is how old-time mountain people put their friends up; they wouldn't ever ask someone that they didn't accept as their own family to welcome one of their friends. The added benefit of us housing his friend is that Jack finally made his way over to our house for supper. We've been inviting him for four years, but mountain folk don't like to impose. Now that he knows the way, there'll be no excuse for him not being a regular at our table.

Some of the coolest old equipment is actually working on the fairgrounds: a grist mill grinding grits and cornmeal; a free-standing power water pump on a wagon, powered by a tractor motor, with an old-fashioned well spout; an actual crank-powered sewing machine joining quilt fabric bits together. Another bit of equipment that's pure whimsy on the part of a loving Paw-Paw is the firetruck tricked out as an ice cream and root beer float production unit. How delightful is it to be a kid standing at the end of a conveyor belt coming off the rear of Paw-Paw's real firetruck, receiving you favorite frozen confection, made by Grandma and Paw-Paw?

I couldn't (or didn't) resist taking home a couple of adult bibs, made with colorful fabric on one side and terrycloth on the other. The Italians and Cajuns in New Orleans could make good use of these for eating spaghetti and barbecue shrimp. This is in addition to all the people we know with bed and wheelchair bound relatives and friends, and those who don't want jelly from their drive-thru biscuit breakfast to be worn on their ties or blouses to their important business meetings.

A booth of pure whimsy was run by a couple, she a painter and her husband an "imagineer." Many of Santa' sleigh stuffers came from this couple, from mice made out of rocks, to a piece of landscape stone transformed into a colorful Koi pond by the power of the painter. The husband's imaginings come to "life" made me laugh out loud, like the walking cane with a putter as its handle and the Harry Potter wands. His spears and arrows were so well-done that I dared not purchase them for the wild one's on our Christmas list. Talk about "putting an eye out!"

The Ruritans sold out of food each day. The barbecue is donated by a fellow in Knoxville, and is my favorite food at the fair. Trusty Richard stood and collected the cash for eight hours each day; I just don't know how he stays still so long. He says he occupies himself with people watching, and there were a lot of people to peruse.

This is fall festival season, so there will be other fairs in my and Jack's future, like the Buzz Fest next weekend at Kefauver Park and the Tellico Plains Leaf Turning Festival two weekends from now. We live in a great hub for fest hopping; along with the Buzz Fest we'll be attending Charlie and Deborah's chili cook-of next week-end with one of my high school buddies. And hopefully, Jack's friend will come back.

Fall is really great fun around here even without factoring in all the leaf-peeping and overnight guests.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Real Heart of Our Home

Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Autumn Gold Festival in Coker Creek, The Buzz Fest in Madisonville, they're all, not only opportunities to sell Jack's book, they're also great people-watching venues. I don't know about most folks, but the thing I like most about being in crowds is learning what makes other people tick. I don't always like what I find deep down in their souls, but I want to know what they value before I invite them into my home or my heart. A devil you know is easier to run from than a devil hiding behind a smile.

Did you ever notice that you can tell a lot more about people by observing how they treat others than you can by sitting across a table one-on-one with them? Crowds give so much camouflage for eaves-dropping and observation. I just love that!

When Richard and I met, I refused to allow the friend that introduced us to give him my address or phone number. Our early courtship was conducted as "parlor dates" where I could observe him in action with a vast array of people: his colleagues, my family and my friends. That's the way I insisted that my daughter date her future husband, and that's the way I had Richard court me. When he passed muster on all those tests, I invited his family and friends in to critique me.

Richard's family and friends are still not sure what to make of me, and Richard and I have been together for twenty years. I think they don't like as much hot sauce as Richard does, but then again, they never lived in Louisiana. My family and friends love Richard, not only for his sumptuous salads, but also for his enjoyment of all the life they bring into our otherwise too-tame world.

We have one of my favorite nieces visiting now, and next week we'll enjoy her along with one of my dearest high school buddies. A man has to be mighty sure of himself to actually enjoy hosting a hen party. My daughter used to call Richard our elf when she'd come down with her two little girls for a month on the lake every summer. The lake house is gone and the girls are almost grown, but Richard continues making memories for all who come through our door.

Long live Maison Richard...wherever his home may be!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Country Craft Fair

The Second Weekend in October is always the most exciting in Coker Creek; for many years this has been the weekend of the Autumn Gold Festival, the Ruritan Club’s featured fundraiser. Ruritan is sort of the rural version of the Civitans, Lions Club, or Kiwanis Club. Their sole purpose is to foster strong family and community connections in the most rural areas of our vast and wonderful country. For forty-one years, this fine group of folks has been putting on a cross between an old-fashioned county fair and a fine folk art, music, and food showplace and market.

A highlight of the festival is always the queen contest, held on Sunday. Unlike many festivals that award God-given beauty, the Coker Creek Queen Competition honors our American heritage by awarding prizes to those who present an era from our nation’s history in costume and demeanor. Winners have ranged in age from babies-in-arms to a ninety-year-old woman who wowed the judges with her ensemble that she had worn in the 1930s.

Bill Schaaf, our local gold prospecting guide provides panning lessons, and wagon rides around the extensive grounds are available to all. The children love the petting zoo, as well as the wide open spaces to wander and observe various artists at work. The fabulous bands, perform on the main stage each day.

The seats in front of the main stage are always a welcome resting place, whether there are programs on stage or not. Festival fans of all ages enjoy the break from all that walking as they munch on a great lunch of local mountain favorites like funnel cakes, a bowl of beans with cornbread, barbecue, fried pickles, and all manner of home-style country cooking and confections.

Power tools are always a reliable man magnet, and isn’t the tractor the ultimate personal power plant? The farm boys (and girls) and aspiring back-to-nature boys (and girls) will be enthralled by the array of vintage tractors and wood working artists around the grounds. While homemaking partners peruse the latest in folk art, the keepers of the land can be dreaming of woodworking, whittling, and plowing.

So far this year, I've hauled home several pounds of festival ground grits, a couple of pop guns for a friend's grandchildren, and some jewelry to give as gifts. Jack sold over a dozen books, and our over-the-hill neighbors sold almost all the horseshoe doo-dads they brought to the fest. This is definitely country craft fair at its finest, and tomorrow is another day.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sacred Silence

There's something sacred about being in an enclosed space
Surrounded by forest, river and just past dawn dappled light.
With the soothing sounds of my niece's knitting needles
As we glide through the early morning mountain mist.

Click, click go her stitches, whir whir go my wheels
We're heading down the mountain with few words between us,
Companionable silence a respite from our initial intensity.
We've not said close to all that there is to share between us,
But even love needs a silence to settle into the soul.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Small Town Serendipity

I love making memories as we putter through our lives, basking in the process of every minute of every day. Today, I took my precious deceased younger sister's daughter to do some of my favorite things in the world. While stopping by the Coker Creek Welcome Center and Post Office to get a first-hand look at the University of Tennessee motif quilt that the Quilts for Kids group will be raffling at the Autumn Gold Festival this weekend, we got a chance to visit with and get hugs from Pastor Lynda, who had just met my niece the night before. We were also able to say hello to Barbara and Betty working in the quilt display area.

As we were leaving, I got a chance to thank Marsha, once again, for the generosity she and her husband Bill had shown my niece's daughter in a gold panning adventure on a summer visit. And to top it all off, Adam drove in to collect his mail; so my niece got to meet the husband of the artist that made a quilt that she had purchased on her first visit to Coker Creek. Then, we proceeded to the deck overlooking the Tellico River rapids to enjoy one of the fabulous paninis made by the sisters at Kats Deli. I love the whole sister thing they have going there, along with everything else about their place, including the fall color reflecting in the river.

At Kats, we ran into Judy and Rick , two of the most accomplished people in these parts. They told us that my Richard is, one again, a poster boy. It seems that Rick and Judy were shooting photos and video footage for publicity of Volunteer Federal Bank for the Tellico Plains website, and Richard ended up in one of their shots that we can all enjoy at

This isn't the first time Richard has been featured in publicity shots. He's been doing volunteer work for the World War II Museum in New Orleans since before it opened its doors as the D-Day Museum. His countenance adorns a display at the museum, and he was even on a documentary shot at the museum, highlighting the Higgins boats . It really tickles me when these things happen to Richard, who spends his life attempting to avoid the spotlight. (Needless-to-say, he doesn't read my blog.) Upon pulling up the Tellico Plains site, I was very relieved that he hadn't dressed in his "homeless" look before going to the bank on picture day. He's such a stud muffin!

My niece and I then went on to our local Wal-Mart, the closest place in these parts, to develop photos and purchase display supplies. It was time to begin the display board that I promised the Quilts for Kids ladies would be ready for this weekend's festival. When I went to retrieve the finished photos, the clerk was laughing at the coincidence of recognizing two of the quilters in my photographs as two of the store's employees. Talk about small-town life! Maybe I'd better start behaving myself before I ruin my reputation.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Salving the Suffering

Jesus fed the bodies before preaching to the souls;
His desire to bring joy was big and bold.
He comforted the suffering before speaking of the sin.
Wherever He walked, wholeness moved in.
He changed water to wine to help celebrate
The sanctity of bonding with one's anointed mate.
So let us be joyful, and embrace one another
After seeking forgiveness from our sisters and brothers.
We may not be able to forgive all others' sins,
But we can help relieve the fear that lurks within.
The generations that are wounded by those before we came
Can be held by us in The Creator's name.
Jesus showed us the way to minister to each other
Helping heal the children honors our father and mother.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Celebration of Creation

If you haven't seen the sunrise over the Ocoee,
You haven't seen Southeastern Tennessee.
The mists that masked the mountains
Linger on the low-lying lakes,
Veiling their deeply serene beauty,
As the bridal veil does the virgin's face.

My soul sings with the wonder of
Another chance to become again pure.
Arise, New Day, unveil yourself;
Express your celebration,
For today is another perfect presence
In the whole of Earth's Creation.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hand In Hand on the Path to Peace

I was not called to fight with swords;
I was commanded to uplift with words.
Every one of us has a perfect child,
Though some are living as if raised in the wild.
We are so in bondage to the people of our pasts
That someone must help us to find the right paths.
We have had the face of our Creator reshaped
By those who wanted our spirits to break,
So that they could move in with their greed and their lusts,
Convincing us that they were the ones we could trust
To mold our thoughts and hold our hands
While we walked together to The Promised Land.
But what they sowed was fear and discontent
Giving the face of The Almighty a human imprint.

My Creator is big, and strong, and Pure Light,
A Being of Infinite, Awesome Might.
My Protector holds me and dares any other,
With selfish intent to call himself brother,
Or sister, or friend, or leader of lambs;
Only those who seek Oneness may take our hands.
I will be careful whose hand I take;
Sometimes I've made almost fatal mistakes.
Many have helped pull me from the fire;
They are now wishing that we could all retire.
Still, we come when our babies cry out in pain,
Knowing our torments will be worth the gain
Of eternal life, and joy, and peace,
As we hold them until their terrors cease.

When we can't discern where the path might be
We need earthly angels to help us to see.
As we walk away there's a stamp on our hearts
Where we've accepted a command to continue our parts.
For no soul can stay strong when left all alone;
We have to house many in our spiritual homes,
To lift, and soothe, and serve each other.
We've become, in essence spiritual mothers,
And brothers, and sisters, and fathers, and friends,
Walking together until the path ends,
Back in union with the Great Light,
The Power of Goodness, and Growth and Delight

A Place of Protection and Peace

We have finished the memorial service honoring Don; we think he was pleased. We know that his siblings felt comforted by the way we honored their big brother, and that pleases us. It's always interesting to watch families, especially blended families, in times of stress trying to avoid the landmines that inevitably present themselves. All evidence is that everyone involved is going home whole, and that's about the best outcome there can be.

There's always a period of emotional "hang-over" for me after putting so much concentrated energy for so long into a completed project. At the end, my tendency is to jump headlong into another project, just because the adrenaline has taken over where my brain used to be. A little "hair of the dog that bit me" seems like a good idea at these times, and I become like a freight train careening downhill with no brakes.

Thank The Almighty for placing Richard in my path. He doesn't even attempt to stop the train; he simply lays down a stretch of sidetrack which slows me down and guides me safely home. It's impossible to go ninety-to-nothing on these mountain roads, so the energy saved can be channeled into more peaceful pursuits, like a retreat with one of my favorite people.

I've wanted to start a retreat center ever since the worst time my life fell apart over twenty years ago. Sometimes, too much comes crashing in on us at one time, and our lives spin so fast with no forward motion that our batteries die. Unlike in Peter Pan where all we had to do was believe in fairies and clap our hands to bring the spirit of Tinkerbell back alive; in real life, we sometimes have to be hooked up to a strong energy source to rejuvenate ourselves. The life Richard has provided me is my jump start. I'm thrilled when others want to plug into that protection and peace.

...And Richard's sumptuous salads are always good fuel.