Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Old, old trees



30 years ago, we began a rolling conversation that almost always started with the sentence "We're going to have to cut the trees."

And never, in all of this time, could I wrap my head around the homeplace without them.

They sheltered my childhood.  They shaded my home.  They sheltered my children.
They sheltered the birds, and squirrels and countless other creatures.

They stood strong and sturdy in the storms.



As little girls, my sister and I made 'play houses' under them... houses without walls, but where we played with each other and our dolls.  Where we played 'family'... where we pretended to be a 'normal' family.
We must have read thousands of library books under the trees, and we sometimes sat in the trees.
We would swing on swings made of rope and wooden boards, suspended from these trees.  We played with the spring puppies under these trees.




They formed a sturdy defensive wall against the afternoon sun, shading the old house and its inhabitants for all of the many years that there was no air conditioner in place.

During the years that my three children grew up, we put not one, but two, swing sets under their branches.
There they played... in sandbox... and jungle gym... and went down the slide a million times... underneath the trees.  Little dark haired girl, little blonde boys,more puppies and dogs than I can recall, and all of them often attended by a little bent lady with white hair.  She would sit her chair under the shade and 'mind' the children... when she actually simply didn't want to be in the air conditioned house.  Not born in a century of 'cold' forced air, she really preferred the shade of the trees.

During the evening and all of one night when Hugo blasted South Carolina, from the coast right through the upstate, I paced the floor of the old house, holding a new born boy whose nursery was upstairs.  The house creaked and shuddered and the trees bent low as the wind whistled and whipped.  Fear of several of the big trees landing on and in the house was very, very real that night.

Over these 30 years, we've lost some trees.  One that was affectionately called the 'nanny' tree, because that's the one that Nanny liked to sit under, on a sunny summer day, with old lady and  young girl sitting under it, suddenly begin to spray water from it's crown.  And then... you could hear the crack begin.  I ran and grabbed the two, and ran back to grab something that was left, when the bulk of the big tree came down. The tree fell within our line of vision.  It frightened the young child so, because she couldn't see me and I worried that she'd be scarred for life. It did make me realize how something so sturdy and solid, could, at any moment, come crashing down.

We had one in the back yard fall, in a storm, and completely take out a hundred year old corn crib building... flattened it to the ground.  A loss that I regret deeply even to this day.

And slowly, but certainly, I began to see the signs... and feel the strings of my heart that were attached to the trees let go.  Big limbs... truly huge limbs, 40 inches around or better, would plummet to earth with no cause... on normal days or nights, they'd simply crash.  More than once, we lost our power connection... having it completely ripped from the house.

Fear of having the very old house forced from it's river rock stacked foundation began to out rank the attachment to the trees.  A very wet and stormy summer, near continual fall of large limbs and the certainty of the trees being covered and damaged by ivy played in my mind.

So, when the conversation arose again, with my thoughtful and patient man, I said "Yes, it's time to cut  the trees."

Several contractors were interviewed.  Several declined to take on the job. This job would require people with expertise, a bucket truck AND human climbers, in addition to removal of the power from the house for several days at least. God bless my husband, who took on the task of finding someone who was capable and only requiring me to meet the two most likely candidates.

Finally, one was chosen.



In the week just before Christmas, they arrived.

And the power went down... and the work began.

For four days, from early until late, a dedicated crew of five worked steadily.



It was pretty amazing to watch.



I had imagined that I could not watch the trees go down, but when it came to the time,,, I couldn't NOT watch the trees go down.  I sat... all four days and watched, as limb by limb, the trees were removed with careful precision and very talented rope work.  Like an orchestrated ballet, but with men and saws and bucket truck, the rhythm of the day.... little limbs, ropes go up.  limbs... large limbs come down... they cut free, the swing free of the tree and are lowered swiftly to the ground and carefully.  Some, it seemed, missed the house by only inches, but they landed safely down below.  Then... four times, the huge, huge trunks, roughly 90 feet tall, were secured with even bigger ropes to trees and trucks and men.  One man and one saw went in and the others hollered warnings and encouragement as they all tightened ropes... and then, you saw it begin to move... barely, at first, then, as if in slow motion,  until the arc of the tree trunk was at about 60 degrees, then a sound and shock waves as the big tree landed, right where they guided... mere feet from the house.



I am grateful to the tree crew men who did not run me off, as I needed to be in the middle of it... I needed to see and hear and feel it.  I needed to look inside the hollow places and smell the tangy sourness of the tree sap.  After the first day, when they figured out that we were going to be safe about it, they would even turn and look at us after each big accomplishment, as if to say "Where you watching?"  "Did you see?"
I tell you, the men who did this work are rock stars!  They smiled when I told them that.  At roughly one tree a day, they were steadily at work and damage came to no human, and harm came to no house or equipment.



At the end of the last day, with a catch in his throat, Tommy said "You know, I was not sad about the trees until tonight.  As I walked back from the barn, I saw the birds, trying to find shelter for the night..."

Yeah... we both had our moments, and I walked around the better part of a week with tears at the ready and a lump in my throat and a good many times, I  had to turn and walked away.



At the end of the week, though, it's done.  Two of the trunks have left for a saw mill to be milled into lumber.  Two of the tree trunks and all of the limbs are left to be firewood, to warm us for a couple of winters, to make our campfires, to cook our food.  Small limbs were turned into several large truck loads of hardwood mulch. Reuse and recycling will claim all four trees.



I will tell you that I keep having to go out there and walk around... mostly to look at how the light plays on the land,,, on the house... to see the way the sun rises on it... to watch it at dusk.  I'm making my peace with the changes.  While I still sometimes shed tears, I begin to see a new place... to imagine spring.  The trees were underplanted with several hundred daffodils and jonquils and equally as many tulips. This year, they'll meet the sunshine. Might I plant a couple of raised beds?  Perhaps a truck load of azaleas... or a fruit tree or two.  I climb up on the stump and survey my little sideyard...so very different than it was a week ago... and I do see the downed lumber, but I also see the future, on a homestead that has been changing and growing and keeping us for these many generations. The ancestors that I knew would say "That's enough of this sentimental non-sense... Get up and get this place cleaned up! Chop the firewood, stack the lumber, use the bounty of it and plant some more trees." " Good grief, girl", they'd say, " You've got hundreds of acres of trees! Quit your fretting and plant some more flowers!"



Finally, there are 149 rings... on the stumps,,, one may have 148... So these trees were saplings as the Civil War began. Their diameters were between 44 and 48 inches each. The lives and history they stood through since 1864 boggles my mind.  4 trees... 6 generations of one family.






Special thanks to McCullough Tree Service of Laurens, SC, 
       who tackled a huge job and provided both excellent customer service and quality work.





Thursday, September 12, 2013

Go outside!


 
In the barest of early morning, Stormy and I head out to greet the day.  We're met by Tank some mornings and other mornings he sleeps in.  With the earliest of falls changes in the air, the sounds of early morning start the day in the calmest of ways... most days.   One day last week, there was a skunk in the yard, so that was not calm as we beat a hasty retreat before the dog could engage the 'kitty' and the skunk could engage it's defense system. 

I usually get a run in as early as I can to beat the heat.  If not, then I sweat and regret the run back up the hill to the house with the sun against my back, but I do it anyway.

I hang my laundry on the line.  Consistently, it prevents firing up the 220 volt appliance and I gain benefits from it, my clothes and household textiles last much longer and look better and the carbon footprint is lowered.



I work in the garden.  I feed the birds.  I sometimes sit on the porch and rock.

I really love to sit on the porch and watch the birds and rock.

I miss having kids underfoot while I do these things.  And many days, I want to whisk away the kids that I know from their electronics and their too busy lives in the man-made jungle and toss them into fields and take them to the creek to look for things. I want to see them climb trees and fish in rivers and build a raft from stuff they find.  I want to slow them down and give them time to breathe and figure out what the world is made of.  I want them to hold a kitten that's still wet from the womb and 'get' what the maternal nature is of a mother cat.  I want them to plant a seed and have to wait to watch it grow and someday, down the road, to pick the fruit and cook it for themselves, or maybe even eat it standing in the garden, fresh from the plant and still warm from the sun.

The last thing I do each night before I turn in is walk the dog.  We walk, under the moonlight, again accompanied by the night creatures chorus and the stars.

I recommend it, whether or not you need to walk a dog!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cream Cheese Pound Cake

I inherited a full house... it was chock full from front door to back with everything that anyone related to me (and some from folks who weren't related to me)  had wished to store for the last 40 or so years.

We spent a lot of time, sorting and re-storing.  And really, with very, very few exceptions, have lived life with the furniture that we found here.

One of the favorite things that I found when plundering all the stuff was recipes.  Some were handwritten.  Some were fragile newspaper clippings.  Some were in musty, old books.  And while there were a few adventures... (I mean exactly what does constitute a 'slow' oven with today's modern thermostats?), by far and away, all of the recipes that I've tried have become favorites.  Solid and sturdy, made of common ingredients, a lot of these recipes are 'ground work' recipes.  Staples of this and many southern homes, they're recipes you build upon.

One of my most used, often requested and 'never fail' recipes is this one for cream cheese pound cake.  It's perfect as it is, still warm from the oven.  It's even more perfect with a finely diced fresh peach and a spoonful or two of whipped cream.  It's the worlds most comforting breakfast when you slather a slice with butter (yeah... that's overkill for sure) and toast it in the oven.  You can make a trifle with it that'll disappear long before anything else on the dessert table at the covered dish dinner.
And you always have the ingredients in the house, so when disaster befalls your friends and neighbors and when you need to comfort hearts and hold hands and there are no words to say to make it better, you throw one in the oven and put it on your granny's best old plate when it's done and carry it right on over.

If you really want to gild the lily, you can frost it with peaks of buttercream icing or you can glaze it with cream and powdered sugar, but there's really no need for that at all.  This plainest and simplest of cakes is a 'go to' recipe that everyone should have in their repertoire.

Cream Cheese Pound Cake

1 - cup of margarine (softened)*
1/2 -  cup of butter (softened)  *             *Do not substitute or change this ratio.  Just don't.
1  - 8 ounce package of softened cream cheese   (I often use neufchatel which is lower fat.)
3 cups of granulated sugar
6 fresh eggs
3 cups of sifted cake flour    (In a pinch, you can use all purpose flour)
2 teaspoons of REAL vanilla extract  (Honestly, I don't measure the vanilla, I pour and I'm sure it's more than 2 teaspoons.  Not so much as to make it soupy, but probably more like a tablespoon. )

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine the first three ingredients, mixing well.  Gradually add the sugar and beat about 5 minutes until fluffy (this is 5 minutes by hand, if you have one of the handy stand mixers, it's more like 2 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time.  Add your flour about a half cup at time and beat well.  Add the vanilla last.

Pour the batter into a well greased and floured 10 inch tube pan.

Bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until the cake tests done.

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, remove to a plate and cool.

Additional notes:

This cake is delicate in flavor and texture.  You can tweak it, to be sure, but the above recipe, followed precisely, yields the classic cake that I describe above.

This recipe seems to be from the 1920's.  Margarine, which has a very strange history, was used more during the first world war than any time from it's inception in the late 1800's.  This recipe uses less of the 'harder to come by' butter.  I've tried swapping the margarine out for butter and it doesn't make the same cake... simply doesn't work.

Invest in a solid, heavy cake pan.  Even if it's the only cake pan you will have.  You can't beat a tube pan for versatility and you don't want the frustration of owning a cheap one and turning out cakes that are too brown and dry.  Go ahead and get a good one... you're only going to need that one for the rest of your life and you can will it to your children.

And last, but not least.  Make your own vanilla extract.  Get some nice fresh vanilla beans.  I like to use three.  Run a good sharp knife down the length of them and drop them in a pretty bottle.  Top it off with your choice of an excellent grade drinking alcohol.  I use Jim Beam whiskey.  I also keep some made up with rum.  And I like to 'season' it about 6 months before I use it.  And I like to have a stock of it in the cabinet (and at least another bottle hidden away for emergency baking).

Happy baking... not much beats this pound cake.

There are fresh peaches on my dining room table just begging.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Never get tired of it.

Yesterday, the dog and I took a little trip.  We drove some distance to try out a new trail that turned out to be not exactly what expected.  That's neither here nor there.

This morning, I headed out for my run about 7.  I'm trying to figure out how the warmer weather is going to affect my running, as I committed myself to this after it had turned cooler  in the fall of last year.  The dogs have to stay home because they impact both my run and my enjoyment of it.  For the better part of the first mile, I can hear them howling at the top of their lungs.  They are utterly dismayed at not being allowed to go, and for the one with the shepherd tendencies, it's kind of rough when her 'herd' runs off down the road.

For a while, I trot along not thinking about much.  I'm not a music runner... mainly because I don't have anything that works for that, but it is thinking time for me.  Somewhere in that first mile, I have a few minutes of queasiness.  I figure it wouldn't be an issue if I ran before I ate, but that really doesn't work for me. So, I eat my oatmeal 45 minutes before running and chug through the queasy.
Then... then I look around. And wow... what a morning it was today.  There was a new burst of wildflowers everywhere.  Kind of a crazy riot of purple and yellow and white everywhere I looked. The heavy, sweet scent of the honeysuckle, hanging thick along the river bank and the smell of warm wet earth were tamped down a bit by the gentle sprinkle of rain that joined me intermittently.  The rush of the water over the shoals was more pronounced this morning because of heavier rains north of us.



Rounding the curve in the road, I see a great blue heron, stalking fish in the edge of the swollen creek as it tumbles over the fall.  I slow to a walk to see if I can observe it a while, but it flies, wary of human contact, which is as it should be to keep it safe.  The falls is far too populated most summer days to see any wildlife there, but the early morning, if I do have to share it, it's with the heron or my constant companion this spring, a female wild turkey who is no doubt,  setting on a clutch of eggs nearby.  Most mornings, early, she's foraging and we startle each other.  A morning or two, she's clucked a warning at me from somewhere up the hill above where I run on the trail.  I'm looking forward to seeing her with her poults.

I turned around and again, like nearly every day, realized what a beautiful place I have to run and to live in general.  I enjoy the fresh air and the sound of the river and I love the birdsong and the flush of early summer flowers.  I'll have to take a walk this weekend, with the camera and see just how many types of flowers I find.  I'll bring home my photographic evidence and pull out the book.  Not an ordinary book, it's a book about South Carolina's wildflowers written by one of my daughters college professors.  I was gifted the signed copy for mother's day of her senior year and very few weeks go by when it's not referenced, but this is the time of year when it stays on my bedside table.  I recommend you have a copy of your own if you live in the South and if not, I hope you can find yourself a comparable reference for your area.  The book is A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina  by Dr. Doug Rayner, co-authored by Dr. Richard D. Porcher.

The only downside to the morning was that the rains of late have spawned a fresh crop of mosquitoes.  Ninety percent of the time, I am not bothered by them.  (I think it's because I eat a lot of onions and garlic!)   But this morning, even stopping long enough to watch the bird or look at the creek netted me a thick coat of the little buggers on all exposed skin.  All the more reason to keep on moving!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Encouragement

You know, I really should write more.  I've really got some 'splaining to do...

But for today, this will have to do.

I was thinking this morning what an amazing thing that encouragement is.

I was thinking how much encouragement went into raising my young ones.
There were no days where I didn't rise each day and pray for the wisdom to encourage them
in the ways that would be best for them... for their lives, for their happiness and for strength and courage for the lives that they would live.

Yesterday,,, last night, actually, I realized that the tables have turned.

When I most need it, I hear, see and feel encouragement from my children.

Don't get me wrong, I'd be remiss to not count encouragement from Tommy and countless friends, but in the last two weeks, I've had the great opportunity to spend a greater than average time with the young adults who are my children and I didn't realize how much I have needed it.

Thank you to Elizabeth for verbalizing things that make me certain that I raised you right (or at least as close as humans can get).  As the 'practice' kid, you've turned out well.
Thank you for saying that watching what currently feels like struggles gives you hope and inspiration for the future.  You have no idea how that speaks to my heart.  For a girl who didn't have a cheerleading bone about her, you are my steadfast cheerleader and a solid certainty that I count upon.

Thank you to Jordan, for being here at this time.  I know that it's hard to wait upon the things that you so deserve, but I have enjoyed this time. You have eased the transition to a quiet house for me.  Never having been an 'only' child at any point, I have had days to realize the power of your humor, the depth of your spirit and appreciate your calm, steady approach 90% of the time and your feisty Scottish heritage the other 10% of the time.  Sometimes, it is enough to be here.

Thank you to Trent, whose unshakable tenacity has always been there, but whose adult character is coming into view.  Thank you for pushing the point sometimes, and for thinking outside the box.  Thank you for coming into your own in a way that makes us proud.  For having had parents who were far more experienced, you've consistently met both our high expectations and let your creative side run.  No easy task, to be sure.

Know that I love you three more than reason and know that I appreciate the encouragement that you offer me.  It's a beautiful thing to catch it on the bounce back.

Running

 Since November, I have run nearly every day.  Strangely, I haven't run since I was in college, unless it was after children or from mad dogs.   My kids were good and very few mad dogs have been hereabout, so there was not a lot of running.  There are reasons for the running... we'll not go into them now.

I went to the doctor recently.  After blood work was done, the man came into the room grinning and said "whatever you're doing, keep it up".

And I'm making every effort to do that.

Because....



 I run beside this river.  And every day is a beautiful day.  The chilled air in the river bottoms is just the ticket to keep a person moving and even stopping to take it in is invigorating.

Just like college, all those years ago, I get a real charge from the run itself.  Endorphine rush is a huge driving factor in getting into the shoes and out the door.  I'd forgotten what it felt like.

I'm super guilty of using the excuse of too much to do.  I've done it for years and have become an expert at it.  Giving everything over for everyone else.

If you've been doing this, please, for your sake and because I tell you it's worth it, start right now...

... do the thing for yourself that you know you need to.  It doesn't have to be a run... it needs to be what lifts you and helps you to keep your chin up.

The world will spin on anyway.

Get yourself up...

put your shoes on....

and go do the thing you want to do.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Enough already!


 Enough already with this cold stuff...

I realize that it's still January... but barely.
The last week, I have been enjoying 70 degree temperatures, a handful of daffodils in a vase and those ever so cheery crocus to brighten walking the dog in the wee hours.

Actually, when it's nippy cool but still warm enough for you to wear your gown and flip flops to walk the dog in the wee hours, it's just about perfect...

...it sets my heart to spring... and I order up some garden seed]

and drool over the seed catalogs.

I grab that last bag of garden veggies from the freezer and turn them into dinner.

Then, it happens... the dreaded 'cold snap'... which isn't actually a cold snap... it's a return to what is normal for January.

(except for those daffodils... and the crocus.... and the frisky bird behavior...)

Anyway, enough about the unseasonal warm and the daffodils.

I've promised a tale about quail... 

Late last fall, while at work, a coworker who also has 'birds' and I were talking about quail.
I expressed that I'd been very curious about quail, and several times had gone on exhaustive searches to find some that were local enough that I could drive to get them and that wouldn't cost me an arm and a leg to experiment with.

Small and fairly tidy, they are easily kept for meat and eggs.  The Coturnix quail are fast to mature, being ready for egg production and the table in about 8 weeks. 

So the friend says "I can get you some of those!"  Turns out that he goes to farm auctions on a regular basis that have them come up for auction occasionally.  I gave him a price range, which based on my previous research would have netted me a little roo and a couple of hens.  Ten days later, I get a call.  He has me a dozen quail.  Wow! 

I bring them home and we acclimate.  Which means that I had to get used to being fussed at when I went out the back door.  They make sweet little noises but they're insistent boogers.  They like fresh sand to dust in and my particular quail do not like treats.  They instantly started to lay eggs.  One even laid an egg in the box on the way home.





 Pretty, pretty, speckled little eggs.  Little eggs that if proven to be from fertile birds can be quite expensive.


Little eggs that,if put into incubators, turn into a few more birds, so you have a breeding plan.

And little eggs that in 19 days can be the cutest little birds you've ever seen.
Little chipmunky sort of birds, except for that little yellow one...




For size comparison, this little dude is sitting beside a quarter.

...and I guess, by size comparison, yes... that is a tiny, wee little poop.


I raised enough to overwinter.


And as soon as this whole winter weather lets up, and the days get a bit longer, they'll go back to laying and we'll repeat the process.

So, as I spent part of the afternoon wrapping their pens with a tarp to try to keep down the wind factor, I thought I'd share.  They're really very sturdy, but after yesterday's wind and storms, I thought it would be a good idea to offer them a bit more shelter.

I'll let you know when we start to get some eggs... then we'll know it's really spring!