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Monday, October 28, 2019

Misty Mountains, Autumn Leaves, and Garden Tidying

Now and forever more I will associate the pungent minty scent of catnip with my fall garden. I'm in tidying mode, pulling weeds, grass, catnip seedlings, and struggling to root out large mounds of the fragrant herb. It's not that I dislike this old-time plant, not in the least. But several years ago, daughter Elise planted four clumps at either end of the vegetable plot to act as beneficial companions and attract pollinators, which catnip does well. Butterflies favor the blossoms and potato bugs can't sniff out their desired food when potato leaves intermingle with catnip. Since then, hundreds of their offspring have graced every corner of the garden. Flower beds also play host. I'm fond of this potent plant so leave seedlings here and there, and on it goes. Catnip will inherit the earth. So will mint, comfrey, and dill...but I love them all. And, of course, the cats are mad for it.

(Catnip growing in with tansy)

We haven't had hard frost yet, but soon will. As I work outside, I pause to gaze over the meadow and hills rising beyond our farm and admire the changing leaves. Yesterday's overcast sky only muted the beauty--which I don't mind--and the mist made the mountains appear even more mysterious. While walking the dogs into the field I call the back forty, I summon halts to savor the beauty. The dogs stand, nose to the breeze tossing my hair, and sniff appreciatively. Country scents of cows and new mown grass float around us. Barnyard geese honk, birds call, and cows let me know they see us. Pockets of mist hovered between the hills this morning, the subdued bronze and orange in the trees showing through in places. When the sun comes out, these autumn hues will shine. The woods above our meadow are called 'Burnt Woods' by locals because of their flaming color in the sun. Glorious.

(Maples in our meadow)

(Sugar maple at our pond)

(Hills and the neighbor's farm behind our pond. See the Old Order Mennonite Church?)

(Misty mountains in the distance seen on my walk with the dogs)

Meadowlarks still trill from the tall grass, reminding me of spring, while wild geese fly in V's overhead. I've left tangles of asters, bittersweet, and clematis in places in hopes of attracting the wrens who visited our feeder last year. They like a bit of untidiness, as do other birds.

(Fall asters and last of the dahlias above)

(late ground rose)

(Pocket of flowers)

I've been on a bulb planting craze lately, hiding them like Easter eggs to discover in the raw winds of March and balmier days of April and May. These early flowers elicit such joy, how can I resist adding more? I also sprinkled hardy annual flower seeds around for spring color like larkspur, violas, wall flowers, poppies, and sweet alyssum. Spinach is seeded for early greens. By late winter, we're starving for them. This is when the new leaves of dandelions are appreciated for cooked greens.

Hubby Dennis's mother made a wonderful creamy dressing to pour over dandelion greens with bacon and hard boiled eggs. That stuff made anything good. I found her recipe in an old cook book. I could post it for you in spring. She also used it on watercress. One unfortunate spring, the whole Trissel family, apart from baby Dennis, contracted typhoid fever from consuming contaminated water cress. Seems a man who lived above the spring where the cress grew was a typhoid Mary type of carrier with a leaky outhouse. Who knew? All of the family survived because new medicines were available by the early fifties. 

Back to the garden. This garden was my mother-in-law's before I became its caretaker. The first years that Mom Trissel and Dennis's father lived at the farm they had no indoor plumbing and only one electric outlet. She boiled up her wash in an outdoor kettle. And this old farmhouse was built soon after the Civil War. But that's another story. There are many tales to tell from this beautiful valley.

(Our land leading to another farm and the hills seen on our dog walk)

(Gorgeous trees at the church up the road from our farm)

Autumn burned brightly, a running flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees. ~Faith Baldwin, American Family

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Instantaneous Communication - by Judy Ann Davis

Have you ever wondered how peaceful it might be if, perhaps, we didn't have instantaneous communications with each other via cellphones, the internet, email, and radio and television? Every day, we are bombarded with news of what is happening in the entire world, whether it affects us or not. And don’t let me get started on how Robocalls interrupt our lives.

How did our instant need to know come about?

On October 24th, 1861, the first transcontinental telegraph line across the United States was completed. It was one line that connected an existing network in eastern United States to a small network in California via Omaha, Nebraska and Carson City, Nevada, via Salt Lake City. It offered, for the first time, a near instantaneous connection from coast to coast.

The transcontinental telegraph also brought about the demise of the Pony Express with its 400 horses, 120 to 180 riders, and 184 stations manned by several hundred personnel. Riders, who could not weigh over 125 pounds and who traveled an average of 75 miles daily, relied on swing stations along their route to exchange their tired mounts for a fresh one. Riding day and night, the Pony Express could deliver mail in ten days across our nation.
Although I love to Skype each week with my little grandson in Alaska, I sometimes think life was simpler, healthier, and less stressful when letters and corded phones were one of the few ways to communicate. I hate the feeling of having to rush through life—to have to instantly respond to a cellphone call, voice or text message.

Do you have a pet peeve about our instantaneous communications of today? Or am I the only one who’d love to see a hardy, handsome rider on a sleek black horse ring my doorbell with a letter in hand?


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Hop In The Trailer, Kids! We're Off To Cut Wood. -- Laurean Brooks

Crisp, cool autumn days transport me back to the family farm and memories of cutting firewood. While Daddy sharpened the saw blade, not one of us kids could come up with a good-enough excuse to get out of the work.

After our older brothers loaded the axe and saw in the two-wheeled trailer, they hitched the old Farmall tractor to it. Then Daddy. yelled, “Hop in the trailer! We're cutting firewood.” Dressed in our old coats, gloves, and toboggans met him outside.

He usually drove the tractor while the rest of us piled into the trailer for a bumpy ride across the fields and into the woods.

When I was older, Daddy bought a chainsaw. I never used it, but before I was a teen, I cut wood with a crosscut saw. 

Mostly, it was Daddy and our older brothers sawed the logs into pieces while my sister, younger brother and I, threw them on the trailer. But if, while Daddy was working his 30-day shift on the riverboat, the wood supply dwindled, Mama ushered us kids to the woods. My brother Ralph usually drove the tractor on those days. 

Our oldest brother, Johnny, was a sly one. He usually slipped off to a friend's house after school if he got wind that we would be cutting firewood that afternoon. But only when Daddy wasn't home. 

Using a crosscut saw is not as easy as it looks. You and your partner on the other end have to keep the same rhythm of pulling and no pushing. Pushing the saw defeats the purpose. You must wait for the person on the other end to pull the saw through. If you'd don't, the saw jams in the log and is a struggle to free. Worse than jamming the saw was hitting a knot or nail in a log. I can still feel the jarring vibration from the saw.

The firewood was to be cut into specific lengths between 15 and 18-inches. No longer. Mama's orders.

When enough firewood was cut to last for a month, we rode back in the trailer on top of the woodpile, unloading the wood when we got home.

Later, our brothers would split the firewood with an axe, halving or quartering it, depending on the size of the log.

If Daddy was home and Mama hadn't helped with wood-cutting, we came inside to the delicious aroma of dinner.

Cutting firewood was a chore, but I wouldn't trade the memories of those days for anything. Memories of frost nipping at my cheeks, and the pungent scents of cedar, birch, locust or oak tantalizing my senses as each piece fell to the ground.

Do you enjoy romance from the Depression Era? JOURNEY TO FORGIVENESS is a story loosely based on my parents' lives, set in 1938. "Jenny," my mother, was a savvy young woman (18-years-old), from the South who hopped a train to Chicago to find work to support her mother and younger siblings. Sparks fly when she encounters the "thief" who ran off with her vanity case. What happens when she runs into him again? 
Sorry. You will have to read the book.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

An Apology and Something For Your Sweet Tooth

Hi, everyone. I owe you, and mostly Caroline Clemmons, an apology for not being present lately. It's been a difficult time for me, our family, and my writing family. From my husband's cancer diagnosis two years ago, the loss of my brother and author friends this year, my creativity is practically non-existent. Thanks to the grace of God and a little luck, I'm getting back in the swing of things.

Caroline reminded me this morning that I missed my post for this month. So pulling from a post in 2018, I thought I'd share a favorite family recipe with you.

My Grandfather, John Garland Carr, was, among other things, an engineer for the Santa Fe Railroad. He started at Santa Fe during the depression and retired about 1965. His hours were anything but routine depending on the runs he made. He loved his black coffee and my grandmother's pound cake, which she made before every trip. She packed slices in his lunches and he would grab a slice on his way out the kitchen door. In addition to the cake, there was always a pot of coffee sitting on the stove, and he would always stop and take a swig of hot coffee straight from the spout of the pot. I remember watching and wondering how he kept from burning his mouth! Yikes!

The name of the recipe is Crisco Cake, but we all called it John Cake for the obvious reason. I hope you'll try the recipe and love it as much as our family does.

John Cake aka Crisco Cake
1 3/4   cup    sugar
2        cups  flour
1        cup    Crisco shortening
5            eggs
1     tsp  vanilla
1/2  tsp  salt
1   Cream sugar and shortening
2   add eggs one at a time, beating well, to make batter fluffier
3   add vanilla
4   Mix salt into sifted flour and add to creamed sugar, shortening and egg mixture
5   Bake one hour at 350 degrees in greased and floured tube pan
Servings: 12


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Why Horror? by Joan Reeves

Horror and Romance?
Trick or Treat? Yes, it's that time of the year for ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night.

Horror is big not only in October but also in the other months of the year. I'm not much for horror movies. In fact, I don't even like the movie trailers when they're shown on television.

But romance in horror as in vampire romances? I'm okay with that. In fact, horror in romance is big, i.e., the above mentioned vampire romance with a hero who's usually a sexy hunky vampire.

Horror or Romance

As a romance reader, are you sometimes puzzled why horror is so popular with readers?

Reading taste has been studied by people much smarter than I. They say there are subconscious psychological reasons for why we choose what we choose when it comes to books and visual media.

The reasons are universal—people all over the world respond to the genres because of the same reasons. These reasons speak to an individual on a sub-conscious level based on what the individual values.

Appeal of Horror

Horror appeals because of the desire for good to triumph over evil.

You can take any horror book or film and boil it down to its basic components, and you'll find it's always a battle of good versus evil. At least the successful examples of this genre are.

I think the unsuccessful examples probably were meant to be that, but somewhere along the way, the story had an identity crisis, maybe because the writer didn't know the genre well enough to understand its dynamics.

From Primitive To Contemporary

The horror story is ancient. I imagine some caveman telling stories around the campfire tried to scare the T-Rex out of his listeners.

Horror connects with those not-so-logical parts of our brains. You know, those primitive parts that tell us to get scared by what goes bump in the night.

Stories from ancient times to today's urban myths are the end result, and people voluntarily listen, read, or watch in order to be frightened and to subsequently be reassured that good wins over evil.

The Horror genre has always reflected the anxieties of each generation. In the original Dracula film Nosferatu, the story wasn't just about a vampire.

The original Dracula was a metaphor for the seemingly senseless and random deaths in the first world war and the later world flu epidemic.

The Dracula tale is told anew for each generation. What's really interesting is to take older horror films and contrast them with remakes to see whether the same character remains a villain or has transformed into the hero of the piece.

In previous decades, vampires, mummies, Wolf Man, and zombies starred as monsters. After the war with the threat of nuclear bombs, aliens and robots became the monster along with giant insects and other animals.

All these reflected fears arising from the unknown. From UFOs to the effects of radiation, people were worried and writers and movie makers used this in their work.

Modern Monsters

Today, even with amazing visual effects, it's hard to create a really terrible monster when the evening news is full of stories about Ebola, serial killers, war, kids killing kids, school massacres, etc. So tellers of tales ramp up the horror thus giving us unimaginable horror books and movies.

Trick or Treat!
Horror works not because of the visual effects genius at work but because the audience's imagination is at work. The scariest horror films are the ones where the "monster" isn't seen until late in the movie, after he's picked off the victims one by one.

It's that fear of the unknown that taps into our primitive brain. Remember the original Alien or Predator films?

You didn't see the menace until you were good and scared. The unknown. The fear of what goes bump in the night when you're imagining the absolute worst. And then you find out what you imagined wasn't nearly bad enough.

Now that's horror! So, how do you feel about horror?

Joan ReevesKeeping Romance Alive…One Sexy Book at a Time—is a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of Contemporary Romance. Joan lives her happily-ever-after with her hero, her husband, in the Lone Star State. They divide their time between a book-cluttered home in Houston and a quiet house at the foot of the Texas Hill Country where they sit on the porch at night, look up at the star-studded sky, and listen to the coyotes howl.

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Monday, October 14, 2019

A Trip to the Farmer's Market by Bea Tifton

I love fall. I love the crisp, cooler air, the pumpkins everywhere. We don’t have dramatic fall leaf foliage in North Texas, but the leaves do change. 

When I was a little girl, my mother would go to the Farmer’s Market occasionally. Each fall, just by the pumpkin patch, there was a “Magic Pumpkin.” The children couldn’t see the string by which the small pumpkin was suspended, and it seemed to dance by itself. A quick child could actually catch it. I was small for my age and my older sister was tall for hers. One visit she said contemptuously, as only older sisters can, “You’ll never catch that. You’re just a squirt.” I felt the embarrassment and sadness as two children standing nearby snickered. I still stretched up my little arms, and the magic pumpkin just settled right into my waiting hands. The other children gasped. Bless the kindly adult on the other end of that string. 

A week ago I decided to usher in fall with a trip to a local farmer’s market. I talked one of my best friends and her husband into meeting me early on a Saturday morning. Our first stop was this magnificent pickup just filled with brightly colored pumpkins in all the colors of fall. I bought a few baby squash, a cantaloupe, and the best cherry tomatoes I’ve ever eaten. Later that day I ate most of the tomatoes just like candy.
Most vendors are more than happy to talk about their wares. We met a man who was selling olive oil and olives from a family olive farm in Italy that goes back generations. He showed us family pictures and told us stories about going back and forth throughout the growing season. One man is an urban beekeeper with rows of amber colored honey jars for sale. Another older farmer had delicious gluten free pumpkin, zucchini, and banana breads. His granddaughter is gluten intolerant so his wife learned how to make them.

We wandered around the market for most of the morning. There was a small town feel in the midst of the big city. People with dogs strolled about happily and we had to pet each one. Children were running around freely. For just a moment, we forgot genetically modified food, heavy traffic, fighting for parking spaces wherever we drove. The world outside just melted away.
Have you ever been to a farmer’s market? If not, put it on your bucket list. If so, go back soon.