Monday, October 25, 2010


Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival...  ahhhh... SAFF... annual delight.

Unfortunately, SAFF falls on the same weekend as Upperstate band finals...

...which means that I can not participate in all three days of fibery goodness.

It means that I am awakened, far too early, by my husband, who did not attend the post-Upperstate games of cornhole and burger consumption, so that he could welcome the SAFF-going bonus child and so that he could sleep, thereby making him both able to drive to SAFF safely and in shape to be the morning organizer for the Sunday event.

This is a man who, having stopped at SAFF on the way home from a Boy Scout event several years ago, has become increasingly excited about the day.  Last year, he awoke me, and when I declined to arise, he was rather forceful in insisting that I sleep in the car on the way there.  Turns out, he'd packed a fine picnic for a surprise, complete with tablecloth.  After a second fine picnic this year, I now expect that when he is SAFFing, that he should plan and prepare all picnics.

Funny what you learn about a man after being married to him many, many years!

Who knew the man was so good at picnics?

Anyway, I get up... I take the big gun anti-inflammatories, in order to be able to move and get in the car.
Now the car was loaded on the way UP the mountains, and loaded even more on the way BACK...

The drive up was beautiful... the leaves just beginning to turn and the mountains on the horizon were beautiful as always.  I did not take pictures, for I was all over the place... conversing with the lovely bonus child  (she's a grown woman, but my bonus child, thereby earning her the right to be called 'child' long after the name actually fits)... dizzy as all get outs from being mountain bound too early... probably dehydrated and whining and complaining the whole way.  I was just generally being fifty and post Upperstate.

Then we got to SAFF... and I forget that everything aches and that I am exhausted.

And we're OFF....

There are lots and lots of 'fiber' vendors... in fact, and entire arena full, two floors from end to end.
Yeah for finding everything knitting, spinning, weaving in one location!

There are hands on opportunities.  Coming 'armed' with your own spindle can net you a sample of luxury fibers and a moment to try your hand and get advice.  (It can also net you an addition to your shopping bag!)

Look, under that felted wool hat... what I found!

There's not a nursing baby on the planet that doesn't steal my heart away.... little cria with her mom... just beautiful!

 "Look into my eyes!"  Such dreamy eyes...

Awesome haircut!

A deep thinker!

Two posers... 'just look how gorgeous we are!"

And this year, unlike last year, I did not have to retrieve the 'picnic' man from an end of day bargain sale on alpacas... This time, he remembered that we were in an economy car instead of the van. (and I almost regret that...)

Last, but not least, at the end of the day, with the last remaining, 'count them out and still need to borrow a dollar' funds, I headed back to a 'bargain' booth with some knitting needles that kept calling my name.

Here, dear. hold this pink purse, and these needles and stick your pinky out so that I can unwind this yarn sample and test knit for a minute or two.  A friendly vendor kindly snapped this photo, right before I paid for 7 pairs of needles.

This is the official reason that you should take a non-knitting man to SAFF... he is the holder of objects, the 'come look at this, dear, I WANT this' man and the 'fork-er over of the extra dollar, because I'm one dollar short' guy!  It is plumb rude to expect perfect strangers to manage these things for you.  Though there was a precious older gentleman who stood buy and giggled something fierce at the notion that he was not the ONLY man on the place that day whose wife had the same ideas.

Headed back to the car, we met this little lady...

who was chilling in the car.  Her tag stated that she was a certified therapy dog, and I can only imagine that she's amazing in that capacity.  Her gentle wag, her calm demeanor, her beautiful face... she's proof that everyone and everything comes to SAFF.

Then, we saw the sheep barn.... HOW could we forget the sheep barn... the picnic man offers to chill in the car alongside the therapy dog, so that we could make a quick pass through the barn.  'Quick pass' and the picnic man do not belong in the same sentence... really.

Thankfully, I remember that we're not in the van... oh... sheepy sweetness... soft and tired, they're ready to head home to their own pastures and barns too.

Goodbye, SAFF, until next year...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Close...very close...

I'm quoting the band director's Facebook statement... it sums up the results perfectly.

The 2010 marching season ended today, just a little after 5:30.

We came in 10th by 3/10th of a point...

the top nine bands go to state finals.

What a breathtakingly heartbreaking moment.

But today, our little band played with it's whole heart.  They brought their best selves to the field and left everything there...  which is all that can be asked.

 They had their game face on.

With friends beside them, who have been drumline buddies for 5 years, they stepped forth to compete
Waiting at the gate.

Every hand to a shoulder, so that all are touched, a human chain...

a human chain, in prayer, child led prayer before performance.

 A second year band director, 15 months on the job,
giving the kids positive direction.

... not an easy job... hours and hours past what other teachers and coaches work, a 6 day week, every week. 

...a moving classroom, teaching life lessons as well as music.

Not asking the kids for anything that he's not giving himself.

To guide a child in learning to handle disappointment, and hold their head up in the face of it, as life is surely full of such, is as important a lesson as learning how to win, maybe more important. They learn it by example, and I'm pleased with and grateful for the example.

The veteran assistant, who can fix anything...

...if we could only count the instruments that he's repaired, or the nights he's driven the bus.

For most of these kids, certainly for my three, this is the man who first put an instrument in their hands...

...and who patiently taught them their first screeching notes.

There are other instructors, all of whom are college students who give of themselves and their time.
Thanks to Ryan, T. J. and to Brittany, and a special thanks to Carmen, the percussion instructor
who took a rowdy crew and gave them direction.

It goes without saying that parents were here and helped.  That is the job of parents, all parents.
For those parents who do more than your share, I promise that you'll not miss the moments that are special
and you'll be glad you did extra when the day is done.

I do not regret the time that I've spent since the first child entered band during her 6th grade year.
I do not regret the purchase of two flutes, a piccolo, a trumpet and more drums than is reasonable.
I did not think that I'd shed tears... I'm tough as a parent and expect my kids to proceed to the next thing.
But I did, indeed, turn around on the bus, after leaving the competition and look into their faces
and realize that will be the last time and tears did fall.

Thank you to the children, who sang a really rousing rendition of  "Lean on me" at the very top of their lungs and to David, who pointed out that there was yet concert festival, jazz band and winter percussion to go.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


For quite a while, I've been a band parent. 

For quite a while, it's been an awesome thing.

Had anyone told me, when this adventure began, the things that I would do, I'd not have believed it.

Some days, now, I don't believe it.

But I do it, all the same.

When asked  why I still drive a full sized van, when the last of the children is driving himself around these days, I have several answers.

1.  It's paid for... been paid for, for years.  The economy of it makes sense.

2.  uhm... see photographic evidence.

This week is the week before the UpperState Marching contest.

Tuesday, the band practiced in the stadium, which is at the old highschool.
The instruments and the children were at the new highschool.
The band daddies, their associated trailers and trucks and their awesome brawn were at work in the middle of the afternoon.

Some instruments simply don't fit on a school bus that is packed full of band children.

I am thankful for a larger than normal vehicle.
I am glad that I am available.
I am thankful that my son is having this experience.


As the days of marching band season 2010 wind to an end, I will go.

I will help where I can,

I'll sit and watch

and soak in these ordinary moments that make for extraordinary memories.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Southern Biscuits

There's some notion that biscuit making is some sort of magic.  I'm here to state that it very much is NOT.  I have no hard and fast biscuit recipe.  It is more a series of rules to follow.  Most southern cookbooks do not include biscuit recipes that will result in a classic 'southern' biscuit.  Those who bake them well were usually taught at the knee of someone else and learn to do it by feel.  This is the version of the 'recipe' that helped me to get started, along with the 'secrets' of making a perfect biscuit.

Like anything else that you do, you need to make a few batches of them for practice sake, and at a certain point, it will both feel right and the biscuits will be amazing... then, you'll have it.

You always start with soft winter wheat flour.
Now, I know that sounds picky, but this is the biggest secret, according to my 'little old ladies'.  Locally, it is  sold as Southern Biscuit (duh!) brand flour, manufactured in North Carolina.  Adluh brand is manufactured in South Carolina.  The bag doesn't say that it is soft winter wheat, I guess that is one of the things that gets passed down.  A small amount of query (send an email to the company that manufactures wheat flour in your area) will tell you what companies sell the soft winter wheat.  It's worth the extra effort to find out.
Under extreme conditions, I have, indeed, baked biscuits with other types of flour, with edible, but less than stellar results.

I use self rising flour, always.  You get to skip the step of adding salt, soda and powder.  Southern Biscuit self rising is perfect... why mess with perfect?

I use whole fat buttermilk... not skim milk buttermilk.  You're not going to bake biscuits everyday, nor are you going to use them as health food... they're comfort food, plain and simple.  I use whatever brand buttermilk that I can get the full fat version of.  At most stores, when you search around among the fat free versions, you're only gonna find one full fat type... just buy that one.

Crisco - all vegetable shortening... don't try any other type... just don't do it.  This produces a light, flaky, perfect biscuit.  I have tried a butter version (yummy, but heavy) and knock off brands of shortening (ugh!).
Just buy the Crisco.

The single most important factor in biscuit making is speed, speed, speed!  Biscuit making should take less than 5 minutes, 3 minutes is even better.  When the milk hits the leavening in the flour, things start to work.  You do not want the working going on out on your table, you want it happening in the oven.  Friends and family who have their lessons, hands on, around my table, sometimes sit with their mouths open.  I have had to repeat the process.  It should be very, very, fast.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Totally preheated... no waiting once the milk is in the dough.

Get everything ready on the table:

Flour, Crisco (all vegetable shortening), buttermilk, rolling, cutting surface (I use a large washable cutting board), pan, biscuit cutter.

Warning - Another thing that drives some folks wild is the amount of mess I make,,, biscuit making is NOT neat.  I fling flour everywhere!  I use a large, plastic 1/2 inch thick cutting board and when I'm done, flour extends three feet in each direction.  Perhaps there is a neat version of this, but I simply can't do it that way.  With the speed required and the need to keep things from sticking, you end up with flour everywhere.
When all is done, I get out the little hand vacuum.  Noone in my family has died of excess flour in all of my years of baking biscuits.  If a little flying flour is more than you can handle, simply do NOT attempt biscuit baking.  Don't do it!

Now, you've preheated the stove.  Seriously, make sure it's up to temperature before you do anything else.  I normally turn the stove on, gather supplies and do some other small chore while waiting for the oven to heat.
I use a double layer (insulated) cookie sheet, ungreased.  It should be sitting there, within a hands reach of the rolling surface.  Do not use a pan with sides on it.  The biscuits will fail to brown evenly and will not cook well.

The following amounts should only be a guide to get you started.  I NEVER measure the amounts, but pour flour from the bag, spoon Crisco from the can and pour the milk from the carton till things look right.
After two or three batches using the following 'suggestions', that is what you'll do too.  You'll simply feel and know when it is right.

Into a large bowl, put:
2 to 2 1/2 cups of self-rising flour
1/2 cup of Crisco

Cut the shortening into the self rising flour, either with a pastry cutter, or with two knives, or forks, until you have an even texture, all nice and crumbly.  This take a  little practice... you don't want chunks of Crisco, you want small even sized pieces, no larger than a small pea.

Now, get ready....  Put a handful of flour on the cutting board.

Stir 3/4 to 1 cup of buttermilk into the flour mixture QUICKLY!  Act as though the house is on fire...
Start with the 3/4 cup of milk.  Your mixture will be sticky... very, very sticky.  If it isn't sticky, add more buttermilk.  Do not stir this mixture more than a few times, just get it quickly mixed together.

Pour this mixture out, quickly!!! onto the flour that is waiting on the cutting board.  Toss another handful (2 to three tablespoons) of flour on top of the sticky dough mixture.  Very, very quickly!

This is when you use your nice clean hands.  ONLY hands will work, do not try to do this with any kitchen implements.  You'll be facing a round blob of dough.  Kneading consists of grabbing the top side of the dough, farther from you, and lifting and folding it back onto it self.  I do this with my fingers.  Then you take the  back part of your hand, nearest your wrist, and applying gentle pressure, you press forward on the dough, thus making a 'layer'.

Knead this mixture about 5 or 6 times.  You do NOT want to knead like you are making yeast bread, as this will make flat, hard biscutis.  Just make sure that stuff is mixed together.  5 or 6 good folds onto itself will result in nice, flaky, high rising biscuits.  Done properly, you'll see the layers in the finished product. You may have to fling some flour onto this at every other turn or so.

Do not answer the phone or the door.
Do not allow your spouse to hug on you at this point!
If children or animals get in the way, flour them quickly... they'll be aggravated and leave!

Pat this dough flat, or if you can't pat things evenly, use a rolling pin or a large drinking glass, well floured and turned on it's side.  Use plenty of flour to keep things from sticking. I, personally, employ the pat method, less compacting of the dough,makes for pretty flaky layers and is simply one less thing to wash. (You have been reading about all this flour flinging , right?)  You want an even layer of dough, about as thick as the first knuckle on your thumb! I'm not kidding.... Roughly 3/4 to 1 inch thick.

Use a cutter to quickly cut out the biscuits.  If you don't have a biscuit cutter, use a drinking glass.  Flour the cutter or glass, a LOT.  Dip the cutter into flour before the first cut, and every other cut after that.  I use a biscuit cutter about 2 1/2 inches round.  I have several, as they like to hide from me.  After purchasing about three cutters, I can usually find one when I'm setting up to do biscuits.  I actually have a hook, over the sink, where I attempt to keep the cutters.  Cut the biscuits straight up and down... no sideways entry into the dough and NO twisting the cutter... these actions will result in sideways, crooked and flat biscuits.  Up and down, quickly!

From the first cutting, put the biscuits on the pan.  Quickly.

Quickly, re roll the scraps and cut more biscuits.  These 'second string' biscuits will be a little 'height deprived.
Teenagers and hungry men will not notice.  "Second string biscuits' are also nice the next morning, split, buttered and toasted brown...


Put the sheet pan with the biscuits int he mdidle of the oven, and bake 14 to 18 minutes.  The first time, you'll have to keep an eye on them, thereafter you will know how many minutes it takes your oven.  They should be lightly browned and nicely risen.  I brush mine with melted butter when they come out of the oven.

While the biscuits are in the oven, clean up the flour!

Now for a bit of 'old wives superstition concerning biscuit making.  You must fling the last small amount of dough (leftovers after the second rolling) out the back door!  It harkens to the days of having chickens wandering about the back yard (oh, wait... we still do).  I must admit that my dogs also eagerly await the biscuit UFO flying from the door.  The superstition is that the biscuits (in the oven) will not rise properly if you don't do this.  I do either put the leftover scraps in the chicken bucket, or fling it to the dog (especially any tail waging, grinning creature).  I do NOT do this when I make biscuits at the beach, as the neighbors would probably object.

Also, note,,, that if there are small children in the house, they will LOVE to play with the leftover dough. In addition to making further delightful mess, they will be LEARNING what biscuit dough should feel like.
They will also be certain that you love them, as you're letting them make this mess and you're smiling at the same time.  We have many, many mornings cooked a second pan of 'snakes, snails and bugs' or hearts and butterflies.  These will be crunchy brown 'biscuit' bites and produce happy children who will later be confidant, enthusiastic cooks.

Take the time... you're cleaning up flour anyway...

Go ahead... give it a try... and let me know how it goes.

Monday, October 18, 2010

"I need you to walk with me... you have to see this..."

This is what the man of mine said right after lunch on Sunday.

This sometimes means that I'm gonna be gone a L O N G time...

...but lately, I've wandered the woods a bit myself, contemplating and thinking, and I've kept thinking that I should have taken the camera, so I grabbed the camera and he and I set out.

What he wanted me to see was the persimmon tree.  Just outside the yard, behind the chicken coops, there's a large old persimmon tree.  It escaped the naughty horse habit of chewing on trees that one of our girls employed to do in the other old persimmon trees in the close perimeter of the house.

Persimmons are beautiful fruits, bitterly acerbic until the cooler autumn temperatures render them pungent and sweet, their thick pudding like interior a cleverly hidden secret behind the wrinkled paper thin skins.

 There's a bumper crop this year.  We picked enough to make some muffins, but most are not yet ripe enough for anything but mischief making.

 I love sweetgum balls!

 I love climbing the 'climbing tree'.  It's a large old sourwood tree with three distinct 'stories' to it and lovely horizontal limbs, large enough to lay down upon,,, just perfect for lazy afternoons and a book...
(Note that the cat has come on the walk... she thinks she's a dog!)

 Yes, at 50, we're still climbing trees!
 I love little trees... three inches tall.
 I love old trees, which are no longer living, but hosting the living.

 I love the wild wood ferns.

 And the supreme silky softness of lamb's ear.
 And prickly pine cones...
 and wild turkey feathers.
Wild oats.

We had animal companions on our walk.

 Bailey, in the sunbeams and the river.
 Bailey and Nana on the romp!
 Serious romping of large dog... 
muddy, wet, romping...

 Momentary calmness.
 Booger is cleverly hidden.
 The barn kitten who likes to go on walks.
 Booger walked many miles... running ahead, back to us...
running ahead... back to us.
 Both young creatures were 'new' to the river, 
the smells, the sandy beach, the interesting things to dig.

She passed her swim test.

 Not yet showing the fall colors, but still, quiet water.

Home again.