The Curse of Free Time

cropped-tapestry-quote.jpgEveryone’s busy these days. Busy. Busy. Busy.

Remember free time? Remember complaining about being bored when you were a kid?

A friend recently commented on Facebook that she was bored and asked for suggestions to end her boredom. I didn’t comment, but my first thought was that any time you’re bored you should just sit back and enjoy it.

All too often in the world today, we treat free time like a disease to be cured. Free time is an empty container that we can’t stand to see empty so we start looking around for things to put in there. Entertainment, activity, busy-work . . . don’t let the container sit empty long.

Of course, some of what we put in there is good stuff (and some isn’t!). But I wonder what might blossom in that empty cup if we let it sit a moment. It might even be worthwhile to plan time when there’s nothing pressing. Nothing that has to be or ought to be done. What might grow then?

When we were kids, boredom was the mother of invention. Free, unscheduled time was when we came up with our best (and sometimes worst) ideas. We played games. We used our imaginations. We built stuff. Sure, we also fell out of trees and got hit in the head with rocks (who threw that?!?), but those were important lessons, too.

I know I’m guilty of feeling like I have to do something useful with free time. That I need to accomplish something that I can point to at the end.

My challenge to you as summer winds down is to give yourself the gift of free time with no plan or agenda. Take a day, an afternoon, or even an hour and give yourself the freedom to experience this disease we call free-time. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be contagious.

Appalachian Thursday — Apple Pie Days

applesEarly signs of autumn are showing. Ironweed and Joe Pye weed blooming along the road. Cooler nights. A few leaves beginning to turn. And . . . apples! Oh, such an abundance of apples.

We’re blessed with a neighbor who has five apple trees all burdened with fruit this year. My favorite are the sweet/tart green apples that I’ve already been eating for more than a week. Next are the lovely, speckled rusty red apples perfect for applesauce and pies.

What kind are they? I call them Shopestone apples, named for a nearby creek and the neighbor who lets me pick all I want.

There are few things more pleasing than picking apples late in the afternoon and then eating warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream that evening.

If you want to test that theory yourself, here’s the recipe my friend Marilyn gave me written in her own shorthand style.

Marilyn’s Apple Crumb Pie – “The Family Recipe”

Crust: Pillsbury, red box, dairy aisle. Use single crust–put in pie plate, trim, flute.
Filling: Apples–cut, pared, sliced (Granny Smith is the best)
Sprinkle: 1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 tsp. cinnamon
Topping: 1/2 cup sugar, 3/4 cup flour, 1/3 cup butter
Bake: 400 degrees F–40 minutes (sometimes longer)

I find that 5 large, grocery store apples fill the crust. Smaller, homegrown varieties may take 6 or 7. And you’d be remiss if you didn’t serve this warm with vanilla ice cream.

When the world’s going to Hell in a hand-basket

I’m writing this in case today’s eclipse isn’t the end of the world.

While hardly anyone seems to agree with anyone else about anything these days, I think there is an almost universal sense of good-grief-what’s-the-world-coming-to?? Politics, terrorism, violence of all sorts . . . there’s a great deal of ugliness out there these days.

So what can you do?

First, consider history.

Turns out the world has been going to Hell in a hand-basket for a very long time. Think Christians being fed to the lions in Rome, the Bubonic Plague in the mid-1300s, WWI, something called the Holodomor when Stalin caused millions of people to starve to death in the Ukraine in the 1930s, and, of course, Adolf Hitler.

That’s not to make you feel better about the current state of the world, it’s just to remind us all that evil has been with us for a looong time.

Second, do something about what you can do something about.

If you’re like me, there are opportunities all day every day to do the right thing. Wave to the neighbors while walking the dog (and pick up that piece of trash while you’re at it). Show up to work on time ready to give it your all. Bring a co-worker a cup of coffee. Smile at strangers in the grocery store. Tell the couple with the well-behaved kids at the local restaurant how great their kids are. Resist giving the couple with the kids acting up a hard time.

Remember what your mother told you–two wrongs don’t make a right and treat others the way you want to be treated.

I probably sound naive, but this isn’t my advice. It’s from someone much smarter, kinder, and more generous than I am.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Giving Kids HOPE (you can help!)

grads 2017In addition to being an author, I do fundraising for a children’s ministry near Asheville, NC. We serve foster care youth from birth to college graduation. Currently, we’re developing an Apprenticeship Program that will provide hands-on training and work experience for older youth. This is such a critical need when it comes to breaking the cycle of violence and poverty so many children are caught up in.

State Farm is offering an opportunity for 40 non-profits to win a $25,000 grant. We’re one of 200 finalists and need lots and lots and lots of VOTES to climb into the top 40. (As I write this, we’re #135 . . .)

If you want to help us change children’s lives for the better, please click on THIS LINK, share some basic information about yourself, and then vote (up to 10 times EVERY DAY) through August 25.

Thank you!

And if you want to learn more about the ministry, go to http://www.BlackMountainHome.org.

Appalachian Thursday–Stinging Insects

hornetsIf you read Monday’s post, you know why stinging insects are on my mind this week. Late summer and early fall in Appalachia is prime time for running into yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, and bees. First, their hives (hence their populations) have been growing all summer. Second, the bears, skunks, and other critters consider their larvae candy. And third, they’re going to die soon.

I might be running around looking for someone to sting, too!

But as you may have realized, in my world, everything is fodder for words. So here’s a poem from a few year’s ago that came to mind this week.

HORNETS’ NEST

After the leaves fall and the cold comes
I see the fragile, grey houses
of wasps and hornets high in the trees.
Empty nests hang like ripe fruit,
so obvious, so apparent, so safe
now that winter has come and only
the queen remains, tucked away
somewhere warm—somewhere else.

I have walked this path again and again,
spring, summer, and early fall,
without sensing the activity above,
without knowing the danger
humming just over my head.
But now it’s clear— both the nest
and the danger that faded with
the first hard frost and I feel bold
for having braved this gauntlet.

I feel grateful for having failed
to know a gauntlet was ever here.

Bees, Rattlesnakes, and Bears – oh my!

rattlesnakeYou know it’s a doozy of a hike when the least scary thing to happen is a bear thundering off through the brambles.

That’s how my hike with Thistle started one evening last week. And we weren’t much alarmed. After all, the bear was leaving. Then Thistle ran on ahead and in short order came streaking back past me.

While hiking with my husband that morning she’d gotten into some yellow jackets (bears crack those nests open like pecans this time of year). I thought, surely that hadn’t happened again. I called her to me and two yellow jackets flew from her fur. Okay, it had. We ran down a side trail where she wallowed in some tight brush, divesting herself of any insects. Which was good since I had that MAJOR allergic reaction 15 years ago. (I’m theoretically cured after 7 years of shots, but who wants to test that?!?)

We made our way to a stream and gathered our wits. The bees were quite a bit scarier than the bear. Even so, we had hiking to do, so off we went, taking the long way around. As we came back down the mountain on a nice, wide trail, we stumbled across the scariest thing yet.

A rattlesnake.

A yellow phase timber rattlesnake to be specific (I only learned this later). And when I saw it, stretched full length in a sunny spot on the trail, Thistle was standing tail to tail with it. Or tail to rattle. My dog had no CLUE there was a snake in the world.

I convinced her to come to me with some treats and we stood there for a moment, marveling. (I did–Thistle just wondered why she had to wear her leash and might there be more treats?)

Then we went the even longer way around.

One of the themes in my upcoming novel, The Sound of Rain, is how we’re never really safe. No matter how many precautions we may take, bad things will still happen in the most unexpected ways. It’s just how this fallen world works.

My first thought after such an eventful hike was that maybe I should give up hiking until the first good freeze. But honestly, I love walking in the woods. It’s my freest, most creative time. And it’s something my husband, dog, and I love to do together.

So, I’ll keep hiking with the bears, the bees, and the rattlesnakes. Because, as my characters also learn, we may not be safe, but we are secure. Not because of any precautions we’ve taken, but because of who we trust.

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me.”

Appalachian Thursday – Staghorn Sumac

sumacIt’s a running joke with my husband and me.

I say shoo-make.

He says soo-mak.

Clearly he’s wrong and just enjoys aggravating me. Oh, I know, I know. If you look up the “official” pronunciation it says that either soo-mak or shoo-mak is acceptable. There’s no mention of tagging “make” on the end. But the folks from Merriam-Webster probably haven’t spent a ton of time in Appalachia, so they can be forgiven.

In addition to offering endless fun with pronunciation, sumac is lovely and tasty. I long thought the velvety red tips were flowers, but I finally looked it up and turns out that’s the fruit–or drupes. You can steep them in hot water, strain the liquid, then sweeten it to make a sort of lemonade (tartness is due to malic acid). The drupes can also be dried and ground to make a tart spice (a key ingredient in za’atar).

Critters will also eat sumac, although I don’t think it’s their favorite. I got tickled by this line from the USDA data sheet about the plant: “The germination of sumac seeds is enhanced by their passage through the digestive system of rabbits, ring-necked pheasants, and quail.”

Indeed.

While I NEVER recommend going out into your backyard and eating anything you aren’t 100% certain is safe, I will set your mind to rest (at least a little) about staghorn and poison sumac. The poison kind has white berries and grows in really wet habitats so it’s somewhat easy to avoid. Which you should do since I hear it makes poison ivy look like a mosquito bite (it has the same urushiol).

So, join me everyone, and let’s say it together . . . shoo-MAKE!