Saturday, March 18, 2017

Everyday Pictures

Lenten Roses

Snow Drops

I came home from work one day recently and I was pretty exhausted.  I have a difficult schedule on Monday and I had errands to do on the way home.   When I drove into the driveway I noticed that lots of birds were out.  I spotted one bird that was unfamiliar to me.  I was suddenly energized by my interest in in the birds in our yard.  I pulled out my camera to try and grab some shots.  Amazing how our tiredness can be "fixed".  

Mr. Crow was perched on the very top of one of the trees in the woods.  With birds the shot has to be taken quickly or they will flit away before you have a chance to focus. 
Mockingbirds don't seem to be a perturbed by my blundering noises which make them much easier to photograph.

Blue Bird 
Dogwood blossoms
Violets are blooming profusely all over our yard.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Louise, Peggy, Charlene, and Jan

Aunt Peggy and Uncle Glenn
Aunt Jan and Uncle Akins
Aunt Charline and Uncle Tom
Mama(Louise) and Daddy
My mama was one of six children.  Her brothers and sisters were incredibly important to her.  My mama  talked to her sisters on the phone pretty much every day. Our phone rang off the hook on a regular basis and Mama would come close to breaking her neck to answer the phone before someone hung up.  There was no caller ID in those days.  The telephone was her entire social media. Mama would sit for hours with that old black rotary phone stuck to her ear talking to Aunt Peggy or Aunt Charlene who lived in Salisbury and Dunn's Mountain. Mama would then talk to Aunt Jan and Grandmother who lived in Kannapolis.  We lived  in between those little towns and it wasn't a long distance call for Mama either direction.  That way they could all stay in touch every day without long distance charges.   Mama was disabled and it was hard for her to get out often.  Her sisters and her own mom were her main contact with the outside world.

The sisters' catch phrase was a molasses slow "uh hum", that they all said  repeatedly in conversation to each other.  I never really paid much attention to what Mama was saying over the phone, but they shared all of the important and unimportant details of their lives. On that well worn black phone recipes were passed back and forth, information about their kids, spouses, extended family members, and former neighbors became fodder for conversation.  They also talked about the soap operas that they watched.  They discussed romance novels and the important transfer of hand me down clothes and extra garden produce.  They listened and they validated each other's lives.  They were a genuine support system to each other.

 As far as I can remember Mama was the only one of her sisters who never took up smoking.  My aunts took Mama in the bathroom one day when they were at our house to try and teach Mama how to smoke.   They were all smokers and they wanted her to be able to enjoy it to.  No one back then took the dangers of smoking very seriously.  I doubt that daddy would have ever gone and picked Mama up any cigarettes, so it is just as well that she failed at that task.

The sisters came alive when they were together.  It was a talking and belly laughing extravaganza.  Mama was the least expressive of the sisters and the most private.  From my aunts I saw glimmers of my mama packaged just a bit different.  I saw strong women who loved their kids and who knew what it was to stay  married in the good and bad times.  Each of the sister  had real difficulties in this life.  They experienced heartbreak, sickness and suffering in some form or the other.  I never knew them to bicker or bad mouth each other.  Whatever life had to offer, they kept their chins up and a joke on their lips.  They stood in hospital rooms and funeral homes but refused to let that keep them from living.  They just kept on making strong coffee and enough food to drown any sorrow or at least put you in a food induced coma.

By mid life after birthing their babies into the world they were packaged on the larger size.  I think it was necessary though because their hearts were so incredibly big that it took extra large packaging to handle all of the love and compassion that each of them had. Their lives aren't cataloged on Wikipedia and the world doesn't know their names, but their children and grandchildren have them permanently engraved on their hearts. I miss each of them.  I just never imagined the day would come when every single one of them would leave us behind to carry on.  I don't need some kind of celebrity role model to teach me how to be a woman.  I had my mama and my aunts.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Drawing Dr. Seuss

March 2 is Read Across America Day and it is also the birthday of Dr. Seuss. In the US we haven't the foggiest clue when the Magna Carta was signed or the significance of the Mayflower Compact, instead we devote an entire month to a man who wrote rhyming books and drew whimsical pictures about a fox wearing socks, a cat in a black hat encouraging bad behavior in children and about someone named Sam eating green eggs and ham. You can draw your own conclusion as to why we are going to hell in a hand basket.

Today, in the spirit of things, the kids in the 4th grade drew a picture of Theodore Seuss Geisel.  We used gray construction paper, pencil to draw, black sharpie for some detail, skin color crayons, and oil pastels.  I  watched a You Tube video for my own instruction.  I used as a simple guide picture and also found looking at real pictures of Dr. Seuss to be helpful. For what ever reason  many of the kids wanted to make his head flat on top or would give him an enormous amount of hair. For the eye color we used a pale blue pastel and then colored over it with a gray pastel.  We made the pupil with sharpie.  The kids chose the color for the bow tie and I found it interesting that most chose red like the Cat in the Hat.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The True Value of Home

My dad and sisters and myself by the side of our home. c. 1966

Our little country home was small. There were five rooms, a bathroom, a small square hallway, front porch and a closed in back porch. The house was sided in wood that was always painted white.  It was more like a country cottage.  We had hardwood floors, but there was often a big piece of decorative linoleum rolled out across each of them. Some of the linoleum had beautiful flower patterns but some of the other patterns were just a strange assortment of shapes.  Even the kitchen floor was hardwood but it was always covered by some hideous tile.

On cleaning day Mama or my grandma would mop all of the floors throughout the house with a string mop that was wrung out by hand. They laid pieces of newspaper down on the wet floors in case anyone needed to walk across the floor.  Tracking up a wet floor was a crime that you just didn't dare commit.  I would have rather sassed my mama than walk on her wet floor and sassing was a crime that was punishable by near death or at least being swatted with her defunct hairbrush. In the summer time all of the windows were open and both the front and back door.  The wind and the warm sunshine dried the water fast and the house would have a nice clean fresh smell that mingled with the smell of the cleaner.

Our furniture was old, piecemeal and sparse.  The beds were spread with Chenille bedspreads or homemade quilts.  We had a Formica red table in the kitchen and few of the original chairs.  We had one old upside down barrel at the end of the table that had a pillow on it and a hodgepodge of other chairs to give everyone seating. The table seldom had a table cloth but collected a homey assortment of sticky tableware like the Tupperware salt shaker and the Federal glass sugar bowl.

Often on those summer days, a load of laundry would be blowing on the clothes line. A pot of fresh corn or beans or potatoes might be simmering on the back of the stove and a row of freshly canned produce  lined up on the back kitchen counter covered by a damp cloth. There might be some leftover biscuits setting out as well.  Gray, our cat would be sunning on the top back step and the dogs  laid out somewhere in the shade.  A canopy of tall trees covered the house at almost every conceivable angle providing the poor man's air conditioning.

As I grew older and experienced more of the wide world it was easy to compare our little home to those around us who had more financially.  When I went away to college, I didn't want my wealthier friends to know how country and how poor we really were.  I was embarrassed as to how little I thought we had. Now I am an old lady and those precious memories of wet newspapers flapping in the wind on that old linoleum evoke such a strong memory of comfort and love.  I am  thankful now that I grew up so incredibly rich. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Weekend Wit 18

Of Childhood
Childhood has its own magic, adults don't have to contrive to make it magical.

Your kids need you to be a decent person, more than they need you to take them to Disney.

Of Marriage
Years ago my husband worked with an old brick layer. My husband felt the need to quote John this morning, "You marry a woman and she will make you willing to jump through fire wearing gasoline underwear."

Of the State of the Heart
Lord, give me thick skin and a soft heart, because my natural tendency is to have thin skin and a hardened heart.

Of Work
Success comes through work and a lot of it.  When you see a finished product, don't think I wish I could be that lucky.  Luck has little do with it.  There are no short cuts, easy money or big breaks. Those are the thoughts of someone who has never spent grinding hours, days, weeks and yes even years trying to achieve something without the promise that success will ever come.

Of Our Strange Culture
If are you one of those in our selfish minded culture that only takes and struggles to give, then happiness will be an elusive quality in your life.

I think that one reason that we are so hate filled and so violent is that we have simply forgotten to look one another in the eyes where we might glimpse the soul and see the humanity of another.

Of Hope
If you are one of the ones in life who has found forgiveness, hope and restoration,  then it is your job to offer the same to those who cross your path.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Snow Days

I have always lived  in the South.  Our winters are often interspersed with some warm sunny days thrown smack dab in the middle of "freeze your rear end off days".   It is okay because most of us in the South are crazier than a coot anyway and we enjoy a little mishmash in our weather.  We have a few snows each year that really don't amount to a hill of  beans but folks in the South drain every ounce of pleasure out of them.  Mama always predicted if a cloud held snow by the way it looked.  She was usually right, more right than our fancy meteorologists.  When those first flakes started falling, we rushed outside to try and catch the first ones with our tongues.  If we were at school and the roads started sticking, then we were going home.  I am not sure anything has ever caused more elation than an early snow dismissal.

Dressing to go out in the snow to play was quite an endeavor.  We didn't own snow suits or ski suits so we wore what we could find.  We layered up until we could barely move and then pulled our orange galoshes over our shoes. We always had about 72 orange galoshes and I have no idea where they lived the other 362 days out of the year.  They just seemed to magically appear whenever snow fell.  We put bread bags over our gloves to try and keep them dry.  If we didn't have enough gloves then socks became our makeshift gloves.  Sometimes we would wear our regular shoes and  then put a bread bag over for protection.  It didn't work and we looked absolutely ridiculous.

We were ready for action as plodded out the door looking like little abominable snowmen.  Usually the first thing we tried was making snow angels. We could barely move so our snow angels were a sight to behold. Getting back up off the ground in all of those clothes was always quite a feat.  We tromped through the woods stamping the imprint of our orange boots in the snow.  The snow always energized our dogs and they acted like they were hyenas on steroids.
 We had numerous snow ball fights on every quadrant of our property.  We built snow forts in the last summer's vegetable patch by the cherry trees.  I usually managed to get into the stickers that had overtaken the garden after it stopped producing.  They would be stuck to my clothes and gloves and be real nuisance in trying to make snow ball ammunition.

 We stayed out in the snow until we were wet, cold and tired.  We would go inside and pull off all of that junk, pick off the stickers, lay the wet gloves and socks around the fireplace so they could dry. We tramped snow in the house that would melt in puddles by the door.  We made hot chocolate on top of the stove with powdered cocoa, sugar and milk to help warm us up.   We drank cocoa the same way that I drink coffee now, hot and often.

As soon as we were warm and rested  and our clothes dried out a bit we would go back out to tramp up the snow around the house and maybe build a snowman.  We never had a huge amount of snow except on rare occasions so our snowmen often had leaves and sticks mixed in with the snow.  We had a coal pile out by the old car shed.  We found lumps of coal to make the eyes and mouth.  Someone would sacrifice an old sock cap or maybe use a stretched worn sock for a hat. We might confiscate the broom and then our snowman would be beautiful and complete.

Snow might last two days at a max and we were always excited for it to snow that second day.  I loved looking out at night and seeing the magic of a world covered by the beautiful cold white.  Every ugly thing in our yard got a snow make over and it was wonderful. The big cedar trees at the back of the corn field would often be laden with heavy clumps of snow.  In the South temperatures might rise during the day and start the melting process but then drop as the sun went down.  This would make the whole world turn into a glistening world of ice, beautiful but terrible for breaking trees and causing power outages.

In the evening we would make snow cream.  Grandma insisted that we had to wait until the second snow as the first snow had to clean the air.  I don't see the science in all that as the rain is just warmed up snow. When you are seven, then Grandma is an authority on everything.  We made snow cream by gathering some clean snow usually from the top of a vehicle.  We mixed vanilla, sugar and milk until we came up with a somewhat palatable mix.  The snow cream always got packed down and the milky sweet water would separate from the hard packed snow in the dish.  Snow cream was our redneck version of an Italian ice.

I am not sure anyone sleeps sounder than a kid who has played in the snow all day and finally taken a hot bath and snuggled down under five heavy quilts.  We were tired and happy, already dreaming about another snow day.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Stickies, Persimmon Pudding and Thinking Outside the Box

I grew up in the country and we would by all standards been considered poor people.  Don't believe it though.  Money has never defined poverty.  Poverty happens when people only have money. We had a rich life in so many ways.

Daddy and Mama both knew how to pinch pennies but we  weren't deprived.   Poor people don't go to the store for their jollies, they find a way to make do at home.  Learning to "make do" is a life skill that has served me well in every area of my life.  We would now say someone was resourceful or someone who could think outside of the box.  Not having money is a tremendous motivator of learning to think outside the box.  

Mama had to figure out ways to make treats because our grocery budget would never allow for  special expensive ingredients.  One thing she made was "Stickies".  Mama would make biscuit dough and then thinly roll it out.  Butter was smeared on the dough and then sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top of that. It was rolled up and cut like a cinnamon roll and then baked in the oven.  A true cinnamon roll is made with a yeast dough.  A "Stickie" was a quick bread that did not require "rising time".  They came out of the oven oozing with a hot sugary butter mixture. We always ate them as soon as they were done.  I would imagine that they would have hardened up and would not have made great leftovers, but we never had any leftover.  

Another treat was popcorn.  We put oil in the bottom of a heavy pan and waited until it heated up and then added a thin layer of cheap popcorn kernels.  We shook the pan to keep the corn from burning and to try and pop as much of the corn as possible.  It was a failure if half of the kernels never popped.  Probably more of a thing of pride than anything. We always impatiently lifted the lid and the corn popped out onto the floor. We always salted it heavily when it was done.  If we were really expansive then we melted butter to put on the top.  Half the fun was making the corn. The whole house was filled with that smell. After some years we got one of the popcorn poppers that plugged into the wall and had a little element that heated up.  It was pretty gimmicky.  The "pan on the stove method" was superior to that little flimsy aluminum deal. 

Mama would also make sugar cookies.  They were made with good simple ingredients that she always had on hand.  Her cookies were always big and soft and we ate them probably as fast as she took them out of the oven.  We hung around in that warm kitchen waiting for those cookies while that sweet smell emanated from that old Hotpoint oven.

One of my favorite things that she made was a Persimmon Pudding.  We had two persimmon trees. One stood in the corn field like a tall sentinel. Daddy always had to plow around it but he wanted to preserve the tree.  The other was mixed in with a plethora of trees near the tractor path that went to the lower garden.  After the first frost the persimmons were sweet and ready.  Daddy would  gather the persimmons and mama would put them in a sieve and squeeze out the pulp.  She baked a mixture of persimmons, sugar, butter, flour, eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon in a baking dish in the oven.  It was a sticky heavenly concoction. 

Another treat was baked sweet potatoes.  Daddy grew sweet potatoes and some evenings we would throw a number of them in the oven.  When the skin was parched dry and sweet juice ran from the potato, then they were done.  We slathered butter on the top and scooped out the soft rich orange  pulp.  The sweet potatoes were usually dug later on in the fall and were eaten on cold nights.  They warmed us inside and the enjoyment of eating those potatoes still warm my soul today. 

Leftover cornbread was often crumbled into sweet milk and eaten like cereal. I have great memories of sitting at that old Formica table with my glass having some of that preboxed corn cereal.  

Sometimes we toasted a pan of  sliced white bread in the oven. We spread the butter on the bread before it went into the oven or sometimes just put pats of butter on the bread like eyeballs waiting to melt.  I am not sure much smells better than a pan of bread toasting.  Molasses syrup was often poured onto the toast or it was spread with homemade grape or apple jelly.  

Food was just one of the ways we had a rich life.  All of our homemade treats usually drew us into the kitchen and it caused us to interact with one another.    I think part of the richness comes from a mom who was willing to use the resources that she had  to do the little extras that made our lives better. Mama was not a "Leave It To Beaver" mom.  She was a real person with real life problems and with real life limitations, but somehow she went the extra mile to find tangible ways to show us that she loved us. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

American Indian Head Dress

Before Thanksgiving, my art room was being used by the church where our school is housed. I had to be a mobile art teacher for the day that I had the 4th grade.  If I am mobile then I like to travel light and not do anything that is super messy.  I introduced the American Indian  head dress and talked about the significance of earning feathers for acts of courage.  I was thinking that maybe we should employ that again in our culture.  Maybe acts of courage, kindness, and common sense should earn us a "feather in our cap".

I showed them pictures from the 1800's of head dresses from different tribes.  I also showed them other kids art work.  I told them that the side view would be an easier draw than a front view, but did not limit them if they wished to do the front view.  They used the colored pencils that they keep at their desks to start adding color.  The skin tones were done with special boxes of skin tone crayons that I keep just for that purpose.

We talked about the different features of a head dress.  I love how each of their drawings and the colors of the feathers give each Indian a different personality.  The head dresses are not meant to depict any actual tribe but was an opportunity for the students to design their own head dress using colors of their choice.

(I am aware of the controversy in using the term Indian or Native American. Some from my family are possibly from the Black Feet tribe.  I mean no disrespect to anyone in using the term Indian.  I can't figure out which term is more acceptable I had to choose one since everyone born in the US would actually be a native American but not everyone is an American Indian.) 

The art project took several weeks to complete.  As they worked on the projects, we discussed adding things to the backgrounds.  Some of the students are all about adding extra things, others are ready to just be through.  That is hard for me because the extra's are what makes a project turn our great.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Fall Trees and Pumpkins


The third grade tried their hand at chalk pastels.  Pastels are a great way to quickly create a picture.  They are messy but I think they are easier for younger artists to use than many other mediums. The colors can easily be blended with the finger tips to create some sensational results.  We always have a supply of baby wipes on hand to help deal with the mess.  I love how serious they are when they work with the pastels.  I hope you enjoy these as much as I enjoyed watching them create them.

I used the Hodge Podge Me website as a resource to do this lesson.  Hodge Podge Me offers a lot of free chalk pastel lessons for the beginner. 

The fifth graders used acrylics on canvas.  It is not a very forgiving medium in my opinion. We had about an hour and half of time to work. It would probably have been better to break the painting class into several weeks. they grew tired during the painting process and some were just ready to be done with the project.  Acrylic needs to be dried in order to move forward with the next steps. This is a real hindrance to the painting process. We did use a hair dryer, but that is a pretty slow process with a large group.  They did great with the shape of the pumpkins but struggled blending the various shades in the orange pumpkins.  Developmentally they are still very concrete in their thinking and art requires a bit more freedom of expression.  That part of art, I find I am limited in trying to teach. They still painted some super nice pictures.