Monday, June 27, 2016

Around the Yard

All over our yard there are orange day lilies spattered about.  Most of them came from my mother in laws' yard.  I kept digging up the ones that were growing behind her fence.  In our area they grow wild on the side of the road.  I imagine most people do not really purposely plant them, but I really like the bright orange colors and  how they  are incredibly hardy and prolific.   
Black Eyed Susans -  My grandma had these in our yard growing up and now they come up in random places around my kitchen garden.  How can you not be cheered up when in the presence of one of these beauties?
 Bee Balm is one of my favorites.  This is my second go around with trying to grow it.  The first time  it just seemed to play out, but I think that it just was too hot and dry in its' former location.  Now I have it sheltered by the fence in the back yard.  Humming birds love it as much as the bees do.
 This is Nugget.  One of my art students gave her to me.  I am slowly trying to introduce her to our little flock, but I keep her separate most of the time. She is pretty entertaining and  our dog is highly intrigued by her.
Hydrangeas are fading but there is a unique beauty even in that.  We have been in drought conditions and many of my bushes stay pretty wilted during the hottest parts of the day.
I painted our mail box, something that I have wanted to do for years.  It was really a lot of fun to do!!!  It has a "hippie look" to it but so does the rest of my yard. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Weekend Wisdom 14

Of Country Girls
City girls get tattoos, country girls get scars. (author unknown)

Of Conflict
Most of the fights in our marriage have been because someone was tired, hungry or both.

Of Perspective
I have learned through the years that many times by the end of the day I am spent physically but it can also impact me mentally.  Things that I ordinarily would be able to put into focus can seem overwhelming.  I know now that I just need to go to sleep and the world will right itself.

Of Order and Beauty
When all the boxes are finally moved into the home, a  Southern genteel woman finds a little corner to decorate, to be a catalyst for beauty and order.

Of Hard Work
Lazy people find ways to avoid work and it leads to more and more exhaustion, but rest for the hardworking is sweet and refreshing.

Of Peace and Dreams
The world tries all kinds of social constructs to bring about peace, but in order to have peace we have to be at peace inside.  The only way to do that is to make our peace with The King of Peace.

It takes more than wishing upon a star for all of our dreams to come true, it took the bloody process of a man dying upon a Roman cross.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Drawing Nigh to Hope

I stand asunder, apprehended by a longing song
Caught in a periphery of stifling darkness

Intermittent chords amble along on strains of hope

Like the cadence of foot soldiers marching into battle
My heart attunes to the rhythm

Longing, ever so much longing 
That soon night will be past.

Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Digging Your Way to Victory

In the World War II era, folks were encouraged to get out there and plant a Victory Garden and have a few backyard chickens for eggs.  The soldiers needed the food that could be grown by the farmers and because of the war much of Europe was unable to produce food.  The more food that individuals grew the more it helped reduce the stress of the national food supply.

 I am  pretty sure every little community had friends and family members involved in the war effort. People across the nation responded to the call to garden as it was a way that they could help the war effort back home. There were more than 20 million victory gardens planted.  Even folks in the city planted in window boxes and on rooftops. Because of rationing, victory gardens also provided extra nutrition. It helped people eat locally and reduced the need for transporting food. This freed up transportation for the war effort.

Currently there is a renewed interest in gardening among people of all ages and backgrounds. Many people are trying to buy land so that they can have a little homestead.  So much of the knowledge about how to farm has not been passed down to the next generation, but thankfully there are numerous websites and blogs dedicated to gardening methods.  In our local area there are a variety of support groups that  exist simply to share information on how to successfully homestead.

I grew up with gardening as a huge part of our existence.  Daddy worked in the cotton mill and then came home and worked the land.  It was part of his daily routine to head out to the barn and fields to do his second job of farming.  It was really how we did not starve or depend on government assistance.  Mama did not work outside of the home.  There was never a lot of money but we never ever lacked for food. It obviously did not hurt my dad as he lived to be almost 96 and he had two serious cancers, that never seemed to bother him.

Gardening and country living is deeply entrenched in my soul.  Every place that I have lived, I have planted something.  I started with ornamental plants and moved on to edibles.  I am thankful that we have an abundant food supply in our nation, but it seems that if we have some dirt that we should plant something edible in it. The sun is a free solar lamp,  God provides abundant rain most years, and seeds are totally amazing in their return potential.   I do not have to make anything grow, it is genetically built into the seed or plant to reproduce.  It is part of the provision that God has freely opened His hand to give us. It seems foolish that we will go to work and put in extra hours to buy food at trendy, pricey stores when we could be providing the same things for our families by planting some seeds in that dirt that is already at our back steps.  Grass in our nation is almost an idol.  I say cast down that grass idol and plant some food.   For me the trendy pricey stores require traveling into the big city and fighting traffic to be able to join the cool people picking out their organic kale in the produce section under the watchful eyes of the produce manager.  I would much rather throw on my sandals and snap off some lettuce grown organically in my old wheel barrow that is set up by the chicken yard.  My only traffic congestion in that exchange is with our evil cat who gets in my way as I go out the door.

 What I do in my yard would never be a profitable business monetarily, but it is profitable for the health and welfare of my own family.  I would love to be at the place where my garden produces the vast majority of what we eat.  It is a goal that I am working toward.  Daddy would be proud. But for right now,  I enjoy picking fresh strawberries to add to my yogurt or snipping herbs to make tea or add to my salad.  The fresh food from our garden becomes a nice
supplement to our diet.

There are other added benefits of working in the dirt.  It is my earth gym.  I lift, bend and stretch.  Go ahead and lift all the weights that you want but actual physical work like digging makes a person strong and produces stamina.  I daily get plenty of fresh air and vitamin D from the sun.  I sweat to remove impurities from my body.  I live in closer contact to nature.  My sleep is sounder.  I am exposed to all kind of beneficial probiotics in the dirt.  In the summer, I keep a glowing healthy tan just from my daily work in the garden. I personally think that backyard gardening is a VICTORY for everyone who participates.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Women's Lib, Gender Confusion and True Femininity

We have so much confusion now about gender and in some ways it was inevitable. There are so many  messages out there as to what it means to be a woman or to be a man.  I grew up with the women's lib dragon rising from the foamy sea and being foisted upon the culture through the brainwashing medium of  television shows and movies. The leading characters were powerful, happy and independent women.  The message said in a thousand different ways that women were independent of men.  Men were really an evolutionary embarrassment.  Women were smart, savvy, strong and completely autonomous.  They gave the message that career success was of utmost importance and that every other endeavor had to be relegated to an inferior position.   Early on I took my cues from those perfectly coiffed characters. The sad truth is that they were one dimensional fictional characters and I was imbibing half truths.

The entire time I was being spoon fed this skewed view of life, I was internally a dichotomy.  I still had the very traditional desire to get married and have children.  Strange as it may seem, but I was not alone then and am still not alone in those kind of desires.  I graduated from college and was offered opportunities along the way to rise in my professional career, but a funny thing happened on the way to professional success.  I got married and I had a child.

For years, I lived in jeans and t-shirts, sometimes wearing my regulation jean jumper, the official uniform of home schooling mothers (circa 1994-2004).  I lived without makeup and spent my days trying to figure out how to cook, clean, and home educate.  I produced little to no expendable income.  No one looked at me and thought, "I want to be like her."  Many times I know that I appeared unkempt and dull, but inside my mind was whirring in a thousand directions.  I epitomized the "ain't nobody got time for that" attitude.  I was in the motherhood trench and I was fighting battles daily.

It was all uncharted territory for someone raised on the Mary Tyler Moore show.  Nothing on television or the movies prepared me for the likes of real womanhood.  Those women on television always had matching clothes and appeared that they had showered that day.  For me, in my early years of motherhood, I struggled with pretty much everything.  Cooking was an all day affair and I could never seem to organize my world.  There were days that I was just struggling to figure it all out.
My life is much different now.  I do manage to shower everyday.  Do I  look back with longing for the chance to become that professional successful woman, eschewing my former choice to be that "stay at home" embarrassment of the women's lib movement?  Ha, never, a thousand times never!   I wasn't prepared mentally or emotionally for entering motherhood and  when I entered the stay at home world, the support system and respect for the stay at home mom had been flung into the proverbially mud.

For me, staying at home did not destroy me, instead it made me.  I learned that femininity is not about spending a fortune on hairstyles or make-up.  It is more about something that takes place in the soul. True beauty begins where selfishness is put to death.  We have all known those that were beautiful but the ugliness that exuded from them overpowered all that was physically attractive.  I enjoy the opportunity to primp a bit, but I don't see it as the ultimate standard of attractiveness.

 One of the most beautiful characteristics of true femininity is genuine loyalty and faithfulness.  We have regulated these qualities to a good dog.  Perhaps we do that because faithfulness is such a rare quality to find among people.  In the woman's lib movement,  people outgrow each other and move on to someone else in another relationship.  True femininity stays the course of faithfulness and finds that her soul does not shrivel away but is somehow enlarged.  True femininity discovers that there are deeper places to go in the relationship. Those long hued out dimensions are exciting, fulfilling and produce a lovely melody in the very life of the marital relationship .  There is an entwining of the souls that is not produced apart from longevity and faithful life long commitment.

 Femininity  is not about independence and arrogance, it is learning to play your part to produce the kind of success for which you are striving.  Femininity does not make hate filled women but it makes women who  compassionately  strive to understand the make up and struggles of those in the masculine world as well as the feminine world.  For me women's lib gave the message that men were my enemy and I must always "one up" them.  True femininity will have nothing to do with that kind of competitive garbage of the twisted soul.  Some of those I love the best are males.  True femininity treats no one like that whether they are  male or female.

I started my marriage  working full time.  I then became a full time stay at home wife and mother.  I am now a part time working woman.  True femininity doesn't play by the rules that the world tries to impose on her life.  She figures out what is going to work for her and for those in her charge.  Let the opinions of the world go by.  True femininity has the  courage to do what is the best for her family. If one leaves a place of employment within fifteen minutes someone will have filled the empty spot, but no one can replace you in the family.  Your husband and your children will be walking around with gaping holes of the soul.   True femininity understands the powerful position that a woman plays and then considers how to use her power in a way that benefits those in her sphere.

For me it was in the trenches of motherhood and being a young wife that I slowly began to understand some of these ideas.  I do not believe that any amount of  fame, power or success is worth the loss of the relationship of your spouse or your children.  How tragic to seek your own desires at the cost of maiming those that should be most important. For me true femininity is developing those God given skills of the heart, mind and soul that encourages those in your circle of influence to become successful people that are part of the true humanity.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Mashed Potatoes, Creamed Corn and Liquor Beans: Making a Traditional Southern Meal Part 2

Potatoes, corn and beans are the mighty three when it comes to Southern  meals.  During my "growing up years" we always grew enough of these to last all winter long.  Daddy stored potatoes under our house directly on the dirt.  There is nothing like being sent to get potatoes in the crawl space with spider webs draped between every brick piling.  We ate canned green beans at almost every meal and am somewhat surprised that they didn't show up on the breakfast table.  Daddy always planted these super long rows of green beans.  We would get our own row to pick and then after filling a grocery sack, we got the privilege of breaking and stringing them.  I still remember the the bent over green bean posture with the sweat running down my legs.  We also always had a big corn field that provided sweet corn for us and field corn to feed the animals.

Mashed Potatoes
Mashed potatoes is an art and a science in my opinion.  No one really likes lumpy or runny mashed potatoes.  I peel my potatoes and put them in a pot of salted water to keep them from turning while I am peeling.  I rinse and cube the potatoes and then boil them.  I leave enough water to cover the potatoes.  When they are soft, I drain the water.  Sometimes I save that water to make potato soup.  While the potatoes are extremely hot I use a mixer to cream the potatoes. If you wait until the potatoes begin to cool, the potatoes will lump.  At this point I add salt, pepper and butter.  The secret is to add enough butter. You must add the butter while the potatoes are still boiling hot.  Do not be stingy with the butter.  If you are eating mashed potatoes, then embrace the whole process and do it right.   After mixing in the butter with the beaters, then I add the milk part.  It can be whole milk, sour cream, or heavy whipping cream or a combination of any of those.  I add small amounts to achieve the consistency that I want for my potatoes.  I would love to give you exact measurements but I don't think that is possible because potatoes do not come in standard sizes. Mashed potatoes should be served immediately or placed in a hot oven covered until time to serve.  I personally think they are better from the beaters to the belly.

“What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.” ― A.A. Milne

Potato Soup
If you are interested in making a pot of potato soup then save about 3/4 of a cup of the cubed potatoes for the soup.  I take the potato water and put the cubed potatoes back in.  I put it back on the stove on a lower heat.  I salt and pepper to taste.  I add about 3/4 to a cup of milk or an even better choice is heavy cream and 1/2 teaspoon of dried dill and 1/4 teaspoon of garlic.  I take about a tablespoon of flour and a half cup of cold water.  I blend it with a fork or whisk until smooth.  This is added to the soup to thicken it.  If it is still watery, then I repeat the flour process.  This is simmered until the flavors blend.  If you have chicken broth, this can be added as well.  The soup can be served with shredded cheese, a dollop of sour cream and bacon bits.  Any left over mashed potatoes can be added to the soup to reduce waste and to make the soup richer. This soup is yummy and very much a comfort food especially for cold days when the weather has been beating up your body and your spirit.

Potato Cakes
If you have a lot of left over mashed potatoes, they can be made into a potato cakes.  I add an egg, sprinkle with garlic, and a few tablespoons of flour and then mix it well.  I  melt butter or use oil in cast iron skillet, enough to have a thin layer of grease.  When the grease is moderately hot, I add a large spoon of potato mix and fry until browned on both sides.  Leave on the heat until it is hot all the way to the middle. A variation is to dice onions and put them in the pan first until translucent.  Take the onions out of the pan and fry the potato cakes.  Sprinkle the cooked onions onto the top of the fried potato cakes when serving.

Creamed Corn
Corn if it is fresh needs to shucked and silked.  Then take a sharp knife and stand the corn on its' end and nip a third off of all of the kernels.  Go back and cut the next third off and then scrape the cob to get all of the left over goody off the cob.  Put a large pat of butter in a heavy sauce pan and melt.  Add your corn and a small amount of water.  Simmer on low and salt to taste. The corn will be crunchy and it should retain a fresh wholesome taste.

Liquor Beans
For Liquor Beans, one opens a jar of your home canned green bean goodness and simmers until all of the liquid has almost disappeared.  (Hanover Blue Lake Canned green beans are a good alternative) Add some extra salt and butter if desired.  The liquor is the concentrated bean juice that is often called pot liquor by country cooks.  Southern green beans are never crunchy and they have been cooked past reasonable amounts of time.  Old folks would put the fresh vegetables on early in the morning to simmer until lunch time or later. If your beans are light green and still crunchy put them back on the stove and go watch Gone With the Wind.  When the movie is over, the beans will have cooked enough.
“Green Beans, or string beans as they are usually called, must be done [boiled] till very tender -- it takes nearly an hour and a half.”
Sarah Josepha Hale, 'The Good Housekeeper' (1839)

I do not know personally if overcooking vegetables is bad for your health but many of my people lived to be in their 90's.  Perhaps it is because they ate a huge amount of home grown vegetables and they often raised their own farm animals for slaughter.

This vegetable combination goes well with a home grown tomato.  A brought on store bought tomato is not even close to the same vegetable in taste or texture.  I highly recommend learning to at least grow tomatoes even if it is in a pot on your porch.

Food used to be synonymous with the region and with going home.  Now we talk about the restaurants and the foods that we get there.  My husband I still talk about the foods that our aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents made.  They are great memories and we associate the love of our people with the comfort and goodness of the foods they prepared for us.  I am afraid that we losing our connections with people because we have embraced convenience.  I would encourage everyone to learn to make something really well and share it with those that you love.  That food connection might be the thing that helps keep your memory alive for the future generations.