Newspaper Headlines, January 30, 2017 (Found Poetry)

Eight days
Chaos
Wild child takes charge
America on the brink
Building a wall of ignorance
Flirting with theocracy
A dark moment in US history
Will probably end in calamity
Lives rewritten by the stroke of a pen
Travelers stranded and protests swell
“You have let us down”
Lawyers descend
Diplomats revolt
We are better than this
The resistance is just beginning

(Found poetry: a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources, often newspapers. I’ve been toying with this form for a couple of days. This poem consists solely of headlines from four national newspapers.)

One Word

Have you heard of it—the One Word movement? It’s been around for awhile now. The idea is to choose just one word that represents you or the way you’d like to be and then to bring a laser focus to that word, that overarching goal, throughout the year.

It’s an alternative to the typical New Year’s resolutions. The One Word concept feels friendlier than resolutions. And more concise. It’s about positivity instead of the negative-based self recriminations inherent in typical resolutions: lose weight, be nicer, make better grades, be a better parent, eat less candy—the kind of thing that suggests you haven’t been doing such a great job of being yourself.

The movement takes many forms. Google it and you’ll find One Word sites ranging from faith-based (“God wants to use one word to shape your decisions”) to frivolous (“a fun take on New Year’s resolutions”). Most are trying to sell you something, often books: religion, get rich quick, self-improvement. And more than a few people claim credit for thinking the whole thing up in the first place.

But the idea has merit, I think. It’s a form of commitment that builds on the foundation of living intentionally. It lets you zero in on one big concept that matters to you. Your choice. A one word motto. And if you feel you’ve maxed out your word’s potential, there’s nothing to say you can’t tack on a new one if that’s what you want. Or change it if it’s not working out for some reason or other.

As a word person, I can’t help but be attracted to the idea (though picking just one word is nigh unto impossible for this word lover). My last post, The Winter(s) of My Discontent, may have sounded an awfully lot like a resolution, but I think I’ve found the perfect word to sum up where I want to head this year, and it feels better than a resolution. More inclusive, more opportunities, more interesting. (Patience, readers–I’ll get to my word momentarily.)

There are lots of words to choose from. Here are a just a few I came across on some of those websites I checked out: joy, more, balance, silence, truth, expand, create, appreciate, strength, gratitude, simplicity, trust, release, delight, heal, adventure. See the possibilities?

I got called out once for not following the One Word rules to the letter (based on one of the many One Word websites’ directive). But I don’t work that way. I don’t automatically follow someone else’s construct. My approach is a bit more casual. I see an idea, I adapt it. You can, too. Go ahead. You have my permission. (Wink emoticon)

My one word for 2017 is move. It’s so simple it’s elegant. It can mean so many things: change your address or your job or your relationship—no, I’m not doing any of those things, thank you very much. Or it can mean go, change position, exercise, progress, alter your course.

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I’m moving, right?

Move is the perfect word for me right now. An action word in a season where I’ve gotten sort of stuck, both physically and psychologically. Maybe come spring, that veritable season of action, I’ll be ready for a new word. What do you think? Do you have a word you’d like to serve as your beacon this year? I’d love for you to share in a comment below. It’s not too late—the year’s barely gotten started.

(p.s.  Already, winter is testing my resolve. Today welcomed me with almost six inches of snow, temperatures in the low teens, and big winds. But I’m up for it. Yep, I grabbed my big winter coat and pulled on my snow boots and headed for the big outdoors before coming back inside to move in completely different kinds of ways.)

The Winter(s) of My Discontent

I get along just fine with the rest of the seasons, but winter is my bugaboo. We’re in a constant tussle.

It hasn’t always been that way. For most of my life, it was a given that I’d bounce out of bed, dress, and head outside in winter just as in every other season. I never minded, barely gave it a thought. In fact, if I had a least favorite season, it wouldn’t have been winter as it is for many, but summer—often too hot for me, even in our relatively cool mountain climate. And definitely too humid.

But it’s been different for the last five winters. If you know me well, you know that timeline matches the number of years since I left the world of employment. In all this time, I still haven’t learned how to get comfortable with this season. I can’t seem to find my rhythm. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of things to do. Winter calls me to certain tasks—I just don’t always hear the voice. It’s a little too easy to curl up and forget to uncurl.

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See? Even this little guy is begging to come in out of the cold.

If I don’t absolutely have to, I find that I’m disinclined to pull on snow boots and wrap myself up in a knit cap, heavy gloves, wool scarf, and a quilted coat that makes me look like the Michelin Man all for sake of stepping outdoors. Frankly, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone other than a winter sports enthusiast voluntarily making that effort only to be accosted by frigid temperatures, cold wind and sleet blasting your face while your freezing, boot-clad tootsies struggle to safely navigate ice and snow. It seems so … unnecessary. Why not just stay indoors under a nice fluffy comforter with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book?

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Who wants to go out when it looks like this?

I think I must be part bear. Winter fills me with an urge to go primal. With days that are shorter and often grayer, my instinct to hibernate is strong. I want my comfort foods. I want my warm blankie. I want a rest after three seasons of outdoor physical labor.

Still, winter has a lot going for it: it’s a contemplative season. It’s the perfect time for all those things that were set aside when the days were longer and the sun shone brighter, those days that were filled with the frenzy of planting, growing, harvesting, and preserving the garden and the challenging, seemingly never-ending task of home renovation. No, winter’s the time for reading, writing, thinking, playing, visiting, learning a new skill, playing a musical instrument, making gifts, knitting and crocheting, solving puzzles, putting all those snapshots into albums and scrapbooks, organizing that last cabinet. The list goes on.

Here we are again, winter and I—pulling at each other’s hair, scrapping like puppies over a bone. So far, our sixth post-retirement season together is stacking up to be just like the previous five. I’ve appreciated being able to stay in bed until the sun comes up and not having to travel icy roads to get to work. It’s a joy not to be tethered to a rigid schedule of someone else’s making. But a little self-imposed structure isn’t a bad thing. December’s fine for chilling out, playing, and connecting. But December’s long gone and already January is about to join it in the land of past tense.

I’m tired of the sluggishness. I know, it’s all my fault. Winter is just being winter. I’m the one who has to make some changes. And I’m ready. So, here I am, Winter. Ready to embrace you and your chilly rhythms. Ready to pull on my bulky coat and snow boots and get myself outside every single day. A brisk walk in the bracing cold should give me the energy to get a little cleaning and organizing done before starting in on writing or some other mental floss, followed by an afternoon break for cooking up something delectable. Sounds like a plan.

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Me, embracing winter!

When I feel keyed in to Nature’s patterns, I’m more whole—and more wholly in the moment. I think we’re meant to slow down a bit in winter, but not to shut down. Surely, I can get outside and have my hot chocolate, too.

Photos to Warm Your Heart

Don’t know what it’s like where you are today, but it’s a cold, windy, gray day up here on the mountain. Seemed like a good time for some happy summery photos. Here’s a baker’s half-dozen  for you. Enjoy!

 

Fritillary on purple coneflower

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Caught in the act

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Washington Monument

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Life is just a bowl of cherry tomatoes

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Chipmunk surrounded by sunflower seeds

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Native Flame Azalea

Turk’s Cap Lily

The Garden in January

It’s a pitiful sight, the garden in January. After the final harvest each year, we’re too tired of the whole thing to bother with clean-up: weeding, pulling up spent plants, removing row covers, and so on. I might be sorry when spring comes and the task can be delayed no more. But I don’t feel guilty.

Want to know why? Because an undisturbed garden is full of great places for bees and non-migrating butterflies to hunker down for a long winter’s nap. Because predatory insects also have a place to hang out and they’ll be on patrol as soon as the first pests emerge. Because birds love a winter garden and we love the birds because, among other things, they’re plucking hangers-on from dead stems and branches. Just saw a couple of crows out there doing a little housecleaning for me today. Way to go, crows! (I learned all this, as I’ve learned so much about gardening, from my favorite gardening site, savvygardening.com. These gardening gurus truly are savvy; if you’re a gardener, or want to be, I encourage you to check it out.)

There’s still garden work to do in the depths of winter, though. If you’re not a gardener, you may not know that seed catalogs are filling up your gardening friends’ mailboxes as we speak. In fact, they’ve been coming in since at least mid-December.

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There’s nothing quite like thumbing through a colorful seed catalog on a cold January night to warm the cockles of one’s heart. It’s one of life’s great pleasures for someone who digs in the soil. Some make you drool with their slick pages and vibrant, full color photographs of juicy red tomatoes and bell peppers in every color of the rainbow.

The wish lists fill up with old favorites (for me Christmas limas, Super Sugar snap peas, Painted Mountain corn, Long Pie pumpkin, Bright Lights chard, and Who Gets Kissed corn. (Who could resist something with a name like that?) Exotic new varieties capture one’s attention, too. I’ve found pumpkin-on-a-stick, strawberry spinach, Love Lies Bleeding amaranth with its burgundy dreadlock-like flowers, and cucamelon—that cute little one-inch cucumber shaped and striped like a miniature watermelon—utterly irresistible. Indigo kumquat, anyone?

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Love-lies-bleeding from our garden

Suddenly I have a list longer than both my arms, and when I add up the cost of that long list, I risk cardiac arrest. Not to mention that I’ve completely ignored the physical limits of our gardening space. Time to stop dreaming and begin the ruthless process of cutting my list to something realistic.

Winter nights may be for wishing and dreaming, but winter days are filled with diagramming garden plans: what to plant, how much space to devote to each variety of vegetable and fruit, where to plant them. Rotating plants for pest control and soil quality is an important management tool.

Before I know it, it’s time to actually order those seeds, especially if I plan to give them a head start in indoor seed trays under grow lights. For a few plants—even in our short-summer climate—that process can sometimes start as early as February.

So you see, there’s no time to waste.

That Fateful Day

(We make an astonishing number of decisions every single day, starting with whether to get out of bed. Some are big; others, not so much. Sometimes, what seems like an insignificant decision turns out to be pretty big, after all. What follows is a story about one one of those times in my life. What about you? Any seemingly little decisions in your life that turned out to be not so little that you want to share? Just leave them in the comment section below.)

For once I kept my mouth shut. It was a simple question and I had the very simple answer. But I must have sensed Daddy’s fervent, unspoken prayer.

All the men at the door wanted to know—the men with whiskey on their breath and rifles in their hands—all they wanted to know was where their wives were. The wives who were sisters. The wives who had run away from the husbands after they, the husbands, had returned from a long day of hunting and drinking only to drag all the wives’ clothes outside, throw them in a pile, and set them on fire.

The wives, as it happened, were cowering behind the very door where I stood next to Daddy. We had been only minutes from shepherding them to our car to take them to the safety of their mother’s home when the men, the men with the whiskey breath and the hunting rifles, banged on the door.

It would have been so simple, so natural, for three-year-old me to point and say, “They’re right here.”

But something stopped me. And that may be the only reason I made it to four.

Retirement Attire

When I retired,
I thought I could wear
whatever I chose.
Makeup and coordinated outfits be damned
with their matching shoes
and glittery accessories.

I was free to be quirky:
hair all akimbo; striped orange shirt
paired with purple print pants;
one blue sock, one white;
and the rattiest of old sweaters.
What did I care?

Then I remembered
the day I was home alone
hair in desperate need of washing,
body free of all clothing
when a strange car
drove up our lonely lane.

Rushing to close
and lock the door
to unwanted visitors,
I slipped.
I broke my arm.
As it dangled by my side,

my other arm
holding shattered pieces together,
I was unable to dress myself.
You can see why,
in that state,
no way was I dialing 9-1-1.

Too, I recalled a line
from a Calvin Trillin book.
His wife, he said,
always dressed to the nines.
One should look one’s best
for the doctor or lawyer

or anyone else the day might bring—
assured better treatment, she thought,
better service. Besides,
it made folks feel better.
I thought perhaps she was
on to something

I tossed the worst of my duds;
cleaned up my act.
These days
I try to match, at least.
Who knows what
might lie around the bend?

So, in the end,
it really is
like our mothers used to say:
“Always put on clean underwear;
you never know
when you might be in an accident.”

Modern Homesteading–What’s That?

Modern Homesteading–What’s That?

We learned about them in school–those sturdy pioneers of the 1800s who headed west in their covered farm wagons to build little cabins and eke out a  living on land provided to them at no cost by the government. They were traditional homesteaders. Oh, those were the days! The Gnome and I made our own trek out west last fall (not in a covered wagon, mind you) and happened upon the Oregon Trail Ruts near Guernsey, Wyoming. Oh, my!

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See that?  See what 500,000 (that’s right–500,000!) people traveling across solid rock with their horses and wagon wheels did to that rock? In places, these ruts cut five feet deep! Can you imagine?

Now, those people had it rough, no doubt about it. They left all they knew behind, faced both known and unknown hazards, all to make a hard life in uncharted territory.

The back-to-the-land homesteaders of the 1960s and 70s faced a different scenario, not nearly so hard, but still pretty rough. To generalize a bit, the movement toward subsistence living was a rejection of modern life as folks strove to get back to basics. They were idealists, but typically without any understanding of what they were getting into or the experience they needed to succeed. Going back to the land often meant no running water, no electricity, insufficient heat in winter, and certainly no air conditioning in summer. Yes, it was plenty hard.

Modern homesteading is something else again. There’s a healthy segment of people who still opt to plow their fields with real horsepower instead of machines. There are those who eschew electricity (unless it’s off the grid). But these days there are many avenues to a new kind of homesteading.

People who call themselves modern homesteaders are usually people who want to live closer to the earth; to do more of the work of daily living with their own hands–like growing and preserving their own food, sewing or knitting their own clothes, cooking their own meals. They want to learn the practical skills to live more simply. They want to be resilient: not necessarily completely self-sufficient, but to develop the philosophy and skills to become more self-reliant.

In short, modern homesteading is a way of finding your own path to a simpler, more self-reliant life. Not everyone agrees with this definition, but it seems to be the majority position. Modern homesteading allows a person to weave old-fashioned skills into modern life. To find what, for you, is the best of both worlds. City slickers, even apartment dwellers, can be homesteaders by this definition. Personal values, circumstances, and demands make the path–and the destination–different for just about everybody. But anybody who wants to can give it a try.

Some people like to call the Gnome and me farmers. I have far too much respect for real farmers to let that go by unchallenged. Farmers are up well before dawn day in and day out. They work outside all day, summer and winter. We’re gardeners. That’s all. Modern homesteaders, though–I’ll take that. Our path? We built our own house with our own hands. We have electricity, but half of it these days comes from a community solar garden. For all sorts of reasons that make sense to us, we don’t heat with wood. But we do have lots of south-facing windows for passive solar heat, and our walls are almost twelve-inches thick, so even in our sometimes frigid climate, our house stays pretty cozy with very little heating expense, relatively speaking.

Our piped-in water comes from a spring back in our woods. We tap our own maple trees and boil the liquid down to syrup. We recycle. We’re inveterate do-it-yourselfers. To the extent our skills and tools allow, we do our own maintenance and make our own repairs. We grow and preserve enough vegetables to pretty much get us through the year. We wash our clothes in a modern electric washing machine, but to dry them we usually use our solar clothes dryer.

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Our solar clothes dryer

So, we’ve cobbled together a life that works for us. One that teaches us resilience. One that keeps us closer to the land even as we type on our computers, drive our car, and use electric tools and appliances. One that gives us vast satisfaction, as well as the confidence that, should circumstances dictate, we might actually be able to be self-sufficient–at least for awhile. Our own middle ground. And, for us, that’s modern homesteading.

 

Let Me Tell You About My Books!

I’m tickled to pieces that I currently have two books in print. My most recent, pretty much hot off the press, is Boyhood Daze and Other Stories: Growing Up Happy During the Great Depression. Clearly, it’s not about me. A combination biography-memoir, this is the true story of my dad’s childhood and (very) young adult years. It’s based on stories he told and wrote, interviews with his siblings and my cousins, and a lot of historical research about the time and place where he grew up–rural Johnston County, NC, just east of Raleigh.

What really sets Daddy’s story apart is the time he spent living in the poorhouse. (I’ll say no more about that–it would take too much fun out of reading the story yourself.) What makes his story universal is that the pretty much everyone who lived through that period had similar experiences. If your parents or grandparents grew up during the Great Depression or during World War II, you’ve probably heard a few stories yourself. If you have, some of these stories will have a familiar ring. If you haven’t, this book may give you a lens through which to learn something more about what life was like for them. It was, to say the least, an interesting time in our history.

As the title suggests, Boyhood Daze is mostly a lighthearted story that will make you chuckle. It also contains a few life lessons. And like any honest true-life story, there are some hard times: times of sadness, pain, grief. (But not too much.)

I had a lot of fun writing this book. People who’ve read it have told me they had fun, too. That makes me happy. And it would have made Daddy happy. His clown persona, Joco, had a slogan: Keep on the funny side of life. Daddy was always looking for ways to make people laugh. With him or at him–didn’t matter, as long as they laughed. Maybe this book will make you laugh, as well.

(In case you wondered, that’s Daddy on the cover riding one of his favorite mules. Yep, she’s in the book, too.)

* * * * *

My first book, Living on the Diagonal: Mountain Musings, is a small volume of poetry and photography. Title sound familiar?  Actually, credit for the title of both book and blog goes to my cousin Becka. She lives in the land of prairies. Our mountains must have made an impression when she visited a couple of years ago, for she dubbed our lifestyle with the words (you guessed it): living on the diagonal. I grabbed them with gusto.

Like this blog, the poems in Living on the Diagonal are sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes lighthearted. Many of them explore my relationship to nature, to family, and to my writing. You can find a tiny sample here. More to come at some point in the future.

Both books can be purchased on Amazon.com. If you’re local, I also have copies of Boyhood Days available for purchase, at a discount.