End of Summer

cropped-gedc0131.jpgSchool starts here today. I used to look forward to the first day of school, but even so there was a bittersweet feeling in the air. Now I miss having the definition–the segmentation that came with the seasons. Life anymore is a bit of a blur.

And Labor Day weekend is right around the corner. When I was growing up that meant time for the annual hot dog roast at Toad and Berle’s. Yes, his name was Toad and he lived in what had been the community schoolhouse when my dad was a kid.

There would be a big bonfire and the men would cut sticks and sharpen the ends for spearing hot dogs and holding them in the flames. The women would bring every side dish you could think of and there would be watermelon. Oh, and desserts. My goodness the desserts. Plus marshmallows. Although I think s’mores were too fancy for us.

The creek was nearby (see photo above) and we were meant to stay out of it but we didn’t. There was also a cliff over on Uncle Willis’ land (that’s somehow not nearly as high as I remember). We were meant to stay away from there, too. But we didn’t.

After eating, folks would sit around smoking cigarettes, talking, telling stories (otherwise known as lies), maybe playing some music. We kids would set fire to the hot dog sticks and write our names with burning embers against the night sky. Until someone made us stop. And then we’d do it anyway and sometimes we’d get in trouble and sometimes we wouldn’t. We’d go to bed late that night, smelling of smoke, hot dogs, and burnt marshmallows.

I guess people still have picnics on Labor Day weekend. I guess they even have hotdogs. But I’ll just bet they don’t cook them on a sharpened stick over an open fire while dusk settles like a soft blanket and the voices of just about everyone who’s ever cared about them hums in the background.

This Labor Day I might build a fire out back and roast me a hotdog, but I have a feeling it won’t taste the same. Not even a little bit.

Summertime Supper (+a recipe)

Fishhawk plate

A summer supper at Fish Hawk Acres in Rock Cave, WV.

Summers when I was a kid meant supper from the garden. These days it would be a stretch to say I’m doing much vegetable gardening. There’s a pot of herbs on the porch, potatoes growing in the front yard, and a cherry tomato plant that’s almost produced enough fruit to cover it’s expense.

In short, we’d starve if we depended on what I’m growing. But that’s okay because there’s local produce at the grocery store and a farmer’s market on every corner. Which means we can still have supper from the garden–it’s just not OUR garden.

One of my favorite suppers this time of year includes buttery corn-on-the-cob, sliced tomatoes, fried okra, and corn bread. And if you really want to garnish that plate just right, you can add some crisp cucumber salad. And you should probably finish the whole thing off with peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream.

Then go hoe the garden some more.

CUCUMBER SALAD

4-5 pickling cucumbers peeled and thinly sliced
1 sweet onion (Vidalia if you an get it) halved and sliced
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 garlic clove chopped fine

Alternate layers of cucumber and onion in a glass dish. Combine remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, dissolving the sugar and salt. Pour hot liquid over vegetables, let cool, cover and refrigerate. You can eat this salad after six hours or so, but it gets better after a day or two. As you eat the cucumbers and onions you can just add more back into the liquid.

What’s your favorite summer supper?

 

Laying Up Treasure

treasuresThis past weekend a good friend and her family hosted a yard sale to empty out her grandparents’ house. Health issues and advancing years have forced the couple into a facility and it’s time to think about selling the little house they’ve lived in for so long.

Thistle and I stopped by for moral support AND to shop for a memento or two. I’ve known this sweet couple since we moved to our current house and she’s the one who first invited me to the church my husband and I now attend. I knew she collected teapots and thought it would be nice to have one.

I came away with a deviled egg plate just like the one my mom used when I was a kid along with a cast iron corn stick pan and a sweet little Brown Betty teapot. Which set me to thinking about what I consider my “treasure.”

I started walking through the house to pick out my favorite things. There’s the salt box and cast iron, elephant-shaped bottle opener from Dad’s childhood. Five or six wee pitchers from my grandmother’s collection. My mother-in-laws 40th anniversary salt and pepper shakers. The embroidered picture Aunt Bess stitched. A Christmas figurine from Mom’s childhood along with the butter mold she used when I was a kid (made by my great uncle).

And then there are the items that belonged to the senior ladies of the church. An amber glass cake plate and hand-painted dessert plates from Billy. A toll painting of a basket of eggs from Ann. And now Betty’s brown Betty teapot and egg plate.

These are my treasures.

But it’s not the THING so much as it is the person each one brings to mind. As I tallied my treasures I realized the value isn’t in the tangible item, but rather in the intangible memories and emotions and . . . love.

Matthew 6:19-20 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Betty’s teapot has a chip in it. I might break that egg plate while doing the dishes one day. Every last item could be lost or destroyed but that’s okay because they aren’t really my treasures. And ultimately, it’s not even the people they represent that’s the treasure–love is. And love never fails.

 

Appalachian Thursday – Summers in the Yard

grass

Learning to blow a piece of grass between her thumbs to make a honking sound.

Of an evening, I often sit out on the front steps and watch the daylight linger. As the fireflies rise and Thistle nibbles grass it’s fun to think about what a fabulous playground the front yard supplied when I was a kid.

There were endless yard games with siblings and cousins–all kinds of tag, Simon Says, and made up games with balls. We generally played barefoot and would get all sweaty and breathless then there would be that prickling feeling as the sweat dried and the cool of the evening settled in. Mom sometimes only washed our nearly black feet before bed. I think the prospect of bathing three tired children helped her prioritize.

Of course, we also caught fireflies and stowed them in Mason jars with holes punched in the lids. We were occasionally allowed to bring these in to flicker in our rooms as we drifted off to sleep. When the June bugs came (in July), we’d sometimes tie a thread to a leg (a tricky job) and have a bug on a leash.

Then there were all the things you could do with what grew in the yard. Pinch a blade of grass between your thumbs and blow on it to make a wonderful, honking sound. Tie flowers together to make chains for your hair and neck. Chew on sweet clover.

It was easier in those days to be drawn outside. There were only two or three channels on TV, no video games or electronics, and even our toys paled in comparison to the wide world of summer outside the front door. I sometimes see neighbor children outside on summer days and it makes me glad. Maybe I’ll stop by and show them how to tie flowers together, how to blow on a blade of grass–these are skills worthy of being passed on.

When did food get so complicated?

sink

Those are cherry tomato plants in the back.

I remember the first time I heard of free-range chicken. Having grown up on a farm, I couldn’t think what that meant. What other kind of chicken could there be?

Then I found out about tiny cages, cut off beaks, and other abominations. And I learned that “free-range” didn’t mean chickens actually went outside–it simply meant they could if they happened to find that little door in the side of the massive chicken house.

Eating seemed relatively simple when I was growing up on the farm. We raised a fair amount of what we ate–garden stuff, fruit, dairy products, domesticated and wild meat. And when we bought things at the grocery store we were generally looking for the best quality at the lowest price.

That was that.

In college, it was all about the cost. My goal was to get the most of the foods I liked for the least amount of money which I also needed for education, car expenses, entertainment, clothing, and so on.

Then I started focusing on things like fat and calories. “Healthy” eating. Food became the sum of its parts–fiber, protein, sodium, saturated fat, vitamins, etc. I started paying more attention to those nutrition panels on the sides of packages.

And now. Now I’ve read books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Palin and Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin. I’ve become aware of the atrocities happening daily in our food system. I’ve become aware that a fair amount of what’s sold in the average grocery store isn’t even food. It’s a man-made approximation of food. Now I’m reading ingredient lists or even better, buying things without a label. You know, fresh fruits and vegetables, bread from the baker, or a fresh chicken at the farmer’s market.

Which brings me full circle to what my grandparents ate. They grew it or made it. If they didn’t have it or couldn’t get it locally, they did without. No tomatoes in January. No strawberries in December. No shrimp or crab in central West Virginia at all.

But there was fresh-caught trout rolled in meal from their own corn. There were Sunday pork roasts from the hog butchered on Thanksgiving Day. There were cakes made with milk from the cow and eggs from the chicken. There was hot cornbread with apple butter.

I think a big part of the problem with our food system today is that we no longer eat to fuel our bodies. Food has become a form of entertainment. We don’t eat so that our bodies and minds have the strength they need–we eat to titillate our taste buds. We eat to satisfy cravings and delight our senses.

And, I would argue, this is not a bad thing in and of itself. God made food GOOD. Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” We all know the delight of tasting something good.

But when I’m willing to sacrifice the well-being of animals, the land, and the environment just because I crave a feedlot beef cheeseburger followed by chocolate dipped strawberries out of season–that’s when I’m in trouble.

Food shouldn’t be so complicated.

So here are a few things I’m doing to try and reset the natural balance:

  1. Buying local food. At the farmer’s market it’s easy. In the store I’m checking to see just how far those peaches were trucked. From South Carolina? Good. From South America? Not so good.
  2. Making things from scratch. Okay, I did buy donuts for an event at work the other day. But the goal is to make more things from scratch. Homemade pancakes are actually not much trickier than from a mix.
  3. Composting. A huge amount of our landfill waste is FOOD. A compost pile at the far end of the driveway doesn’t even smell bad.
  4. Growing a few consumables. My husband will tell you I have a black thumb. Even so, I can keep a pot of herbs going. And I have a tomato plant in the flower bed that’s currently loaded with wee fruit. Here’s hoping I can harvest some soon!

How about you? What are you willing to do to simplify your food?

Appalachian Thursday – Lightning Bugs

You know it’s summer in the mountains when the lightning bugs start putting on a show. As kids, we loved to catch them and drop them in a mason jar with holes poked in the lid. Then we’d put that jar on a dresser in our rooms to watch them twinkle until we fell asleep.

Now I’d rather just sit outside and watch the show all across our yard and into the trees. And while I now know what’s happening is actually a cutthroat mating dance, it’s still incredibly lovely. And peaceful. And a little bit magic.

I realize some of you out there don’t have lightning bugs (or fireflies if you prefer). So I thought I’d offer you a peek at last evening’s light show . . .

Appalachian Thursday – Summer Outdoors

grass

Learning to hold a blade of grass between her thumbs so she can blow across it and make a marvelous sound.

In the cool of the evening my husband and I often sit on the front porch steps. We chat lazily, watch Thistle poke around, and wave at passing cars.  It’s a very Appalachian-summer thing to do. Of course, if we were kids, we’d be up and off the steps taking advantage of what a fabulous playground the front yard supplies.

Summers on the farm meant being outside. There were endless yard games with siblings and cousins–all kinds of tag, Simon Says, and made up games with ever-changing rules. We generally played barefoot and would get all sweaty and breathless then there would be that prickling feeling as the sweat dried and the cool of the evening settled in. Mom sometimes only washed our filthy feet before bed. I think the prospect of bathing three tired children helped her prioritize.

Of course, we also caught fireflies and stowed them in Mason jars with holes punched in the lids. We were occasionally allowed to bring these in to flicker in our rooms as we drifted off to sleep. When the June bugs came, we’d sometimes tie a thread to a leg (a tricky job) and have a bug on a leash.

Then there were all the things you could do with what grew in the yard. Pinch a blade of grass between your thumbs and blow on it to make a wonderful, honking sound. Tie flowers together to make chains for your hair and neck. Chew on sweet clover.

It was easier in those days to be drawn outside. There were only two or three channels on TV, no video games or electronics, and even toys paled in comparison to the wide world of summer outside the door. I sometimes see neighbor children outside on summer days and it makes me glad. Maybe I’ll stop by and show them how to tie flowers together, how to blow on a blade of grass–these are skills worthy of being passed on.