Friday, July 8, 2011


I took voice lessons when I was in high school, but now the only song I  remember singing was "The Last Rose of Summer," just too, too sad for a mid-summer day.  I'd rather sing about butternut squash, particularly the last one left from last summer.   We had squash vines spreading all over our garden, and we must have harvested close to thirty of these long-lasting delectable squashes.

Well, it took us quite a while for just the two of us to consume them all.  There the last one sat on my counter yesterday morning,  after I discovered it fallen over behind some of the clutter in my pantry.  Late morning.  Lunchtime approaching.  So I decided to make Curried Butternut Squash Soup.  Sure, I had a recipe, but I hardly ever follow any recipe completely.

I microwaved the squash, (if I'd had more time I would have roasted it, and slathered with olive oil), peeled it and scooped it into the food processor along with the chicken broth from my Sunday Chicken and some sauteed onion.  I also added some fat-free half and half, along with curry powder to taste.  I knew I would add more before serving, hot Madras curry.

Into a saucepan went the puree, with a couple of tablespoons of sour cream added.   And some good Greek yogurt.

I garnished the bowls of soup with drizzles of sour cream and chopped cilantro.  

The recipe I based this on says this soup is a good source of Vitamin A, which I'm sure is true, but it's also a good source of lunchtime pleasure as well.  No tears over the last rose of summer.  Just mid-summer hopes that this year's squash plants produce at least half of last year's harvest.  

Here's the recipe.

Two teaspoons olive oil to saute the onion, and if you have some on hand, celery.
 One half cup diced onion. Also celery. Use your judgment as to how much.
1 Tb. Madras curry or to taste.
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 butternut squash. Options: microwaved or peeled & chopped into cubes, roasted, or boiled along with the sauteed onion and curry for about 15 minutes or till tender.
One half to one cup of half & half. 
Puree in food processor.
Re-heat on stove, adding a couple of teaspoons sour cream and Greek yogurt.
Garnish with sour cream, cilantro, or chives, or green onions or....whatever you desire, as long as it's green and tasty!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Best Breed of Dog in Our Mountains

We are good friends of the Animal Relief Fund here in our mountain county, ARF as we call it.  All our dogs have been "ARF Dogs," a special breed of animal, often rescued at the last minute from a shelter or found wandering on our rural roads, starving, sometimes abused, as was our Byron.  Found roaming along Caney Fork road, he ended up at ARF adoption day one Saturday where our daughter saw him and fell in love.  She knew his name from the moment she saw him.  Still, we were reluctant to take him home with us.  We already had three dogs.  What would my husband say?  We left without Byron, but he haunted us all week long, so next Saturday we went back to the ARF tent outside Ingles, fully expecting that Byron would not be there.
But he was!  Sitting on a chaise lounge, like a little prince.  A lord.  Lord Byron. My daughter grabbed him just in the nick of time.   A woman was walking toward him, pointing, getting ready to claim him.
But now he was ours.  And for ten years he amused us, exasperated us, pranced around the property as if he owned it.  

Now he rests beside the garden that he liked to poke around in, not far from the raspberry bushes he enjoyed.  Ripe raspberries on low branches never failed to entice him.  He would pick those to enjoy while my husband picked the ones too high for a small 16 pound dog to reach.

My daughter's dog, Arjun, rests beside Byron, although they didn't get along  terribly well.  Arjun was rescued from a hellhole of 40 dogs kept for years in wooden crates and cages.  The man responsible for this prison was a hoarder, as the vet. described him.  We've had similar instances of this sort of hoarding in our mountains.  Arjun was one of only 3 dogs who could be saved, the others being so misused and anti-social that they couldn't be adopted.  A luminous spirit, he lived among us for nine years.

     We still have three dogs.  The two above, taking their ease in the sun, are Ace of Dogs and Bro.  Ace was saved from the Haywood County Shelter a few hours before he was to be euthanized.  I raised Bro from a pup, along with his sibling Sistah.

Pooja, above, looked like a little furry bear when I adopted her at 8 weeks.  She has grown into an interesting looking dog.  We like to think she has coyote in her.  Her coat looks undomesticated!  She often acts undomesticated, too!
          Too many dogs and cats are  left to wander our roads, unspayed & un-neutered.  They are abused and abandoned.  We must begin to take better care of our animals, and joining our local Humane Societies is the responsible action to take, along with adopting homeless animals.  We wouldn't have any other breed of dog than ARF.
           Now that Byron has left us, we may get another one.   But don't tell my husband!

Monday, July 4, 2011


  I was awakened around midnight by early fireworks from the house below.  They sounded like bombs, which set me thinking about patriotism in its worst forms, its attitudes, actions, and even its bumper stickers.  But more about that later.

 I love the principles upon which this country was founded, even though I know that large groups of people were left out of the frounders' vision--Native Americans and African slaves chief among them.  We have widened the hoop of our democratic vision to include them, though the racism that tainted our past still haunts us.  And Native Americans still remain by and large invisible in our culture.

I love the vast landscape of this magnificent country.  Seeing some  of it from the air has intensified that awe,  that love of place that we all should cherish.  Below,  I watched Mount Hood and Mount Adams rise up out of the clouds as I flew toward Portland, Oregon two years ago.

I love the cities where people can come together and share their culture, their art, their music, and I particularly love San Francisco, with its legacy of tolerance and dissent.

I especially love the world famous Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista bar and restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf!

And I love the religious freedom that we enjoy in this country.  Freedom of Religion, or no religion, is hardwired into our American way of life.   Here, a group of Indian/Muslim -Americans celebrate being citizens and singing about their patriotism, not their "terrorism."  They were dancing to Bollywood music!  Long live Freedom of Speech and Assembly, with  some Bollywood and Bluegrass thrown in for good measure!  

 This beautiful mosque on our walk back to our hotel always impressed me with its elegance.

I love the cultural diversity of our country.   Even crowded Chinatown!

Back home now by the Tuckasegee River, looking at the  seemingly indestructible coneflowers at the edge of our garden, I let myself brood on what is indestructible in our communities and our nation, realizing  how fragile things can be, how what seems to be lasting can suddenly become threatened, and how, in order to earn  our patriotism, we must keep working to make sure that our government of, by, and for the people remains vibrant and visionary.  That the hoop keeps expanding to allow that vision to become reality.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


My grandmother raised chickens and turkeys. The former deposited their pyramids of  leavings under her house, which rested on brick pedestals. It was an old farm house, surrounded on one side by cornfields, on the other a dirt road  and sandy yards. Now that I remember those aromatic pyramids, I'm amazed at their construction!  And frightened, too.  I used to have nightmares about being trapped under the house!

Her sandy yard was home to grasshoppers and bees who couldn't resist her lantana, petunias, and other assorted flowers. She would go out to the chicken yard, grab a chicken, and well---wring its neck. She was good at it. Then she plucked and singed it, brought it inside to her kitchen counter, and turned it into a fryer, its assorted parts ready to be dipped into seasoned (highly salted and peppered1) flour and fried.
Yesterday I found a bargain at Ingles! Organic hens reduced by nearly 75% so that they could be sold by the 4th of July. I couldn't resist, so I bought two. This morning I got to work quartering, sawing through joints, doing the old-fashioned work that women no longer do, buying their chickens already boned, skinned, turned into portions ready to fry, grill, and bake.

 What my grandmother did every single day, I did this morning, as if learning a new skill. A revelation, really, when I think of the time it took.  Preparing a chicken would have taken time my grandmother could have spent on facebook or twitter. Or checking email if she lived today!   Left over bones and giblets I boiled to make stock.

My poor grandmother. Standing in her kitchen cutting and dredging chicken parts when she could have been surfing the internet!

She made jelly and jam this time of year too, sweating into her pot of plum or mayhaw or blackberry juice. I'm not going to sweat over the plums I bought yesterday.  I'm making freezer jam.  No stirring and stirring until the syrup spins a thread.  We like freezer jam, and as long as we have electricity, I'll keep making it, but what would happen if we no longer had the electrical grid to depend upon?  Would I know how to can?  I would know, I think, how to put away preserves and jellies, but as much as I love them,  how could one survive on jam alone?

I marvel at how much my grandmother knew how to do, how much I once knew how to do but now no longer have the energy or the facility with which to do it.  I sit here typing text into a blog whose workings of which I have not the slightest understanding.  So much of my world seems beyond me, a technological mystery.  My grandmother's world remains that richest of mysteries, one to which I can return in memory, marveling at how the the window light transformed  the ancient linoleum, how the door still opens onto ways we can survive and beyond that, live within our means in a landscape in which we are no longer strangers.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Way Back in Weyahutta

Every yard blooms a fine Rose

of Sharon, mere shadow

of Delphia’s embroidery floss

stitching her way around

all the rough edges.

So began a poem years ago celebrating the "pretties" blooming in the yards of mountain women who lived in the section called Weyahutta, or "Worryhut", just off the Tuckasegee River. The woman mentioned in it, Delphia Potts, has become in my imagination a guiding spirit, one of those "prophetesses" that Emma Bell Miles writes about in her classic book, The Spirit of the Mountains. Her daughters Annie Lee and Willa Mae became two of my dearest friends, and they too are among my guiding spirits. Annie Lee's daughter Norma Bryson sat in my first freshman composition class at Western Carolina University. I will be writing more about this lineage later. All three women were excellent seamstresses; their needles did indeed stitch their way around many rough edges. This website will honor them and their indomitable "spirit of the mountains." Here is an excerpt from my poem "Mountain Time," in which Delphia sets us straight about the work we are called to do, no matter how difficult the circumstances, how crazy the world around us becomes.

From "Mountain Time"

All roads seem to lead

to Millennium, dark roads with drop-offs

we can't plumb. It's time to be brought up short

now with the tale-tellers' Listen: There once lived

a woman named Delphia

who walked through these hills teaching children

to read. She was known as a quilter

whose hand never wearied, a mother

who raised up two daughters to pass on

her words like a strong chain of stitches.

Imagine her sitting among us,

her quick thimble moving along these lines

as if to hear every word striking true

as the stab of her needle through calico.

While prophets discourse about endings,

don't you think she'd tell us the world as we know it

keeps calling us back to beginnings?

This labor to make our words matter

is what any good quilter teaches.

A stitch in time, let's say.

A blind stitch

that clings to the edges

of what's left, the ripped

scraps and remnants, whatever

won't stop taking shape even though the whole

crazy quilt's falling to pieces.

from BLACK SHAWL, LSU Press, 1998