Archive for November, 2007

Friday Fact: Imagining a Mistletoe Mission

November 30, 2007


I thought it an appropriate time of year to talk about mistletoe.  Down in eastern North Carolina, where I grew up, it was a Christmas tradition with a lot of folks to shoot mistletoe down from the tops of big trees (usually oaks), where it was growing.   If I remember correctly, we used shotguns, so it was an art to shoot it down cleanly without busting it up into unusable pieces.   Some people would hunt and shoot down great quantities of mistletoe to sell to florists and at farmer’s markets.

The derivation of the word “mistletoe” belies its romantic reputation.  It comes from two Anglo-Saxon words: “Mistel” from the Anglo-Saxon word for “dung” and “tan” from the word for “twig.”  Translated, mistletoe would be something like “dung on a twig.”  This stems from the fact that much of the mistletoe that grows in trees comes from seeds contained in bird poop that sticks to tree branches. 

Also belying its romantic reputation is the fact that mistletoe is a parasitic plant.  It sends a special root-system called haustoria into the tree branch to suck nutrients from the tree.  Sometimes it even kills the plant on which it’s growing.  But it’s not all bad. The berries  provide food for birds and other animals.  Mistletoe has also been studied in Europe as a possible treatment for cancer.

There are a number of theories about the origin of the custom of “kissing under the mistletoe.”   The Druids believed it to be a sacred plant, a panacea for all ills, including infertility.  Supposedly, the Druids would cut it down from an oak with a golden sickle (rather than a shotgun!), taking care not to let it touch the ground.  They believed that it lost its miraculous properties if it touched the earth.  In ancient Rome, mistletoe was regarded as a symbol of peace.  There are stories of enemies who, when meeting under trees bearing mistletoe, would lay down their arms and embrace. 

I like that idea better than kissing.  If only the Druids and Romans were right in their notion of mistletoe as a miraculous plant of peace!  We could go on a mistletoe mission to hang it everywhere, in all the strife-torn places of the world.  We could all do our part as mistletoe missionaries—to bring about a mistletoe miracle of peace on earth and goodwill among men.




November 27, 2007

‘Tis the season to be grateful…oh, wait, no…‘tis the season to be jolly.  But I’m still in a Thanksgiving frame of mind.   I feel kind of bad about my post listing what I don’t have…a laptop, a cello, and Niagara Falls.  But the truth is, I don’t usually spend much time thinking about what I don’t have.  Always, my greatest pleasure is in the simple joys that I do possess.

On Thanksgiving Day, appropriately, I had one of those moments of sheer gratitude and joy.  You know, one of those pure moments where you’re not thinking of the bad things that happened yesterday or the worse things that might happen tomorrow…you’re just present in the moment and mindful of the blessing of it. 

I was preparing our Thanksgiving feast.  We actually hadn’t planned to be here on Thanksgiving Day.  We had planned to take a ten mile hike, our backpacks filled with turkey sandwiches and apple bread.   But it was pouring rain (which, these days, is itself something to be thankful for).  So there I was in the kitchen, puttering happily around, checking on the mashed potatoes, the green beans, the smoked turkey…you know, the usual.  The smell in the house was heavenly—oak logs burning in the wood stove, a hint of garlic in the potatoes, and buttery croissants baking in the oven.  Tom (my husband) was reading in his recliner; Ariel and Benjamin (my children) were talking and laughing together on the couch, with Benjamin noodling around on his guitar.  I was standing at the kitchen window, looking out at the mountains in the fog and thinking how fortunate we were to live in this lovely place, to be in this house—a warm refuge from the cold rain outside.

Benjamin began to sing, strumming the guitar, and Ariel joined in, harmonizing:

You—who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye…

For those of you that don’t recognize the song, it’s Teach Your Children by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.  I came around the corner and stood listening.  Tom put down his book and began to sing along:

And you of tender years
Can’t know the fears
That your elders grew by.
And so please help
Them with your youth
They seek the truth
Before they can die.

I stood there gazing at my family, beaming, my whole being suffused with happiness.  They sang on, stumbling over some of the words they didn’t know and sometimes getting a little off-key.   But they sang the chorus loud, strong, and sure, especially the last two lines:

…So just look at them and sigh
    And know they love you.

They finished with a flourish, laughing.  I looked at them and sighed with contentment and knew I loved them…beyond imagining. 

And then…the kitchen timer rang.  I went back to the kitchen, taking the bread out of the oven and adding a little more garlic to the green beans.  As I stirred the beans, the tears came, flowing down my face and dropping into the beans.  I let them flow and just stirred them in.  I put all the food on the table and called everyone to eat.

We said a simple prayer of thanks, passed the dishes around, and dug in.  “Mmm,” said Tom.  “These green beans are extra good.”

I smiled and said, “Not too salty?”

“No,” he said.  “Just right.”

Yes, I thought, as I took a bite of the beans and smiled at my family. Yes indeed. 

Just right.

A True Sense of Community

November 26, 2007

One of the unexpected pleasures of blogging, for me, has been meeting a lot of genuinely nice people in the blogging community.  So nice, in fact, that they have begun to restore my withered faith in humanity.  One of the nicest is my friend and kindred spirit, June, of Spatter.  So I was particularly pleased when June selected me for a Community Blogger Award, an award that celebrates “people who reach out and make the blogger community a better one.”   June herself was chosen for this award, and I am glad.  She deserves it.  Thank you, June for honoring me and for your kind encouragement of my writing efforts.


There are a number of deserving bloggers I’d like to pass this award to—writers who share their lives and bare their souls—so that we all can know that we are not alone in our struggles.   These bloggers’ lives may be different, but one thing they have in common is a sense of honesty and sincerity.  They are not afraid to speak their hearts and minds, to share their successes and failures, and to write of their joys and pain.  They blog straightforwardly, forthrightly, and truthfully.  And, for certain, our world needs all the truth it can get. 

So I’d like to recognize:

Wesley of Mountain Mama

CountryDew of Blue Country Magic

Sara of Speaking of Simplicity   

Marion of On The Blackwater            

Shannon of Going Crunchy

Thanks to these bloggers and all the others out there who write the truth of their beings, so that I and others can know we are not alone.

Friday Fact: The Risky Business of Being a Beaver

November 23, 2007


While hiking this summer, we came upon this beaver-gnawn tree next to the trail.  The National Park Service had cut down the tree, rightly determining it to be a hazard to passing hikers, but kindly left the beaver-sculpted part.  The lake where we were hiking abounds with busy beavers, so you see these lovely little wooden tables everywhere.

So, it got me to thinking: Do beavers ever get crushed by the trees they fell?  Or are they the Paul Bunyons of the rodent world?  Well, as it turns out, beavers get flattened on a regular basis.  Apparently, it’s not true that beavers know where a tree will fall—they actually have no idea.

The myth of beavers as lumberjacks was perpetuated by the fact that many of the trees they chew down are by the water.  Trees that are beside a body of water tend to lean out towards the light, so they will almost always fall that way.  So beavers stay safe.  But once they are in dense woodlands, beavers are in more danger.  Wildlife researchers find squashed beavers on a regular basis.

They also find thick forests full of trees where the beaver has chewed completely through the base of the trees, but the trees are still standing, held up by the branches of surrounding trees. I am intrigued by the image of a whole forest of suspended trees, held up only by each other. 

But I do feel for the beaver.  All that work—for nothing.  I guess that’s where the term “busy as a beaver” comes from.  🙂

Part Three: Six Guilty Pleasures

November 22, 2007

It might seem a little strange or shallow to post this on Thanksgiving Day, when others are writing lovely and profound pieces on gratitude.  But when I thought about it, I realized that the fact that I’ve made peace with certain things about myself is indeed something to be thankful for, as is the fact that my husband and children accept and love me as I am.   Happy Thanksgiving.

Name six guilty pleasures you once considered guilty but you now have either abandoned or made peace with:

1. I sleep with a stuffed animal at night.  No, I don’t mean my husband, though I do sleep with him, too.  I mean I sleep with a stuffed rabbit I got as an adult.  And I make no apologies.  I’m a very mature and responsible adult, and I’m not ashamed—it helps me sleep and gives me comfort and hurts no one.  I didn’t have one as a child, so it fulfils a need I always had.  My husband is fine with it.  And if you’ve got a problem with it, well… you’ve got a problem.

2. As a child, I loved the smell of mothballs.  I think it’s because my mama kept our quilts in a trunk with mothballs, pulling them out when the weather got cold.  So I associate the smell of mothballs with comfort and warmth, and when I was small, I’d inhale deeply the mothball smell of the quilt as my mama pulled it up to my chin at night.   But they are now known to be pretty serious carcinogens, so no more deep breathing of mothball fumes for me.

3. I am not thin and svelte. In fact, my ex-husband used to say that I was “hearty peasant stock,” meaning…not petite.  (And he didn’t mean that as a compliment). I used to worry a little about this and feel guilty when I’d eat something I knew to be highly caloric.  No more.  I adore food, so when I do partake of a high-fat indulgence, I savor every bite.  I just make sure I eat healthy otherwise and that I don’t indulge myself too often and that I buy things with elastic.  Thank God for elastic.

4. Though we don’t have much money, I do occasionally buy books.  For one thing, our local library seldom has the book I want to read.  For another, I love owning a book, especially a new one.  (See post below).  I don’t buy many clothes or shoes or spend much on beauty (though I probably should)!  So I don’t feel guilty buying books, especially those I know I’ll read again and again.

5. I indulge my love for yard art.  I love whirligigs and windchimes and gnomes and pink flamingoes and ceramic frogs and…well, the list goes on and on.  Yeah, I like stuff that some consider bad taste or tacky, but I don’t care.  I could never stand to live in one of those communities with covenants that ban certain “distasteful” yard ornaments.  Nobody’s going to take my gnomes from my home.  No sirree.

6. My greatest pleasure ever is being a mother.  It’s not a guilty pleasure, but I used to worry a bit about the fact that I wasn’t like the other mothers.  At school functions, I’d feel so out of place, and I’d worry that I’d embarrass my children. I mean, it was pretty obvious that these mothers had never told their children that their food had been nibbled by a mischievous kitchen rat! (See post below).  But my children love me as I am.  And I love them as they are.  A lot.  So I’ve stopped comparing myself to other mothers.   I yam what I yam, as Popeye always said.  

And that’s not so bad.

And now, I hereby tag anyone who would like to be tagged for this meme.  It really was a lot of fun to do, even if I did ramble.  But no need to feel guilty about that!

Part Two: Six Guilty Pleasures

November 21, 2007

Name six guilty pleasures you wish you had the courage (or money!) to indulge:

1. I have always had a longing to see Niagara Falls.  Now I know for those of you who are world travelers, that must seem kind of…I dunno…quotidian.  But, really, I’ve always wanted to go there.  Funny thing is, I’ve never had the inclination (or money) to travel overseas, but I’ve always yearned to see all of the United States and Canada, though I’ve barely made it beyond North Carolina or Virginia.  Maybe someday…when I have more time and money.

2. North Carolina has a rich heritage of literature, a very active community of writers, and a wonderful organization called the North Carolina Writer’s Network.  As Lee Smith once said, you can hardly throw a rock in North Carolina without hitting a writer.  The Network has lots of workshops and a yearly festival.  I’d like to go someday to the workshops and the festival and talk to other writers.  Maybe someday…when I have more courage, time, and money.

3. I’d like to learn to play the cello.  When I listen to recordings of Yo-Yo Ma, it really strikes a chord in me (no pun intended).  Sometimes I find myself listening with tears running down my face, and sometimes, I feel an actual vibration in my body, as though I am the cello being played.  Yeah, I know.  Weird.   But the cello…um…really resonates with me.

4. I’d like to own a laptop.  The idea of sitting outside while tapping away on my laptop is very exciting because outside is where my creative inspiration strikes most often.  Plus, people just look really hip and cool reclining with their laptops perched on their stomachs, and Lord knows, I’ve always wanted to look hip and cool.  My daughter Ariel loves the laptop she had to get for college, and she looks especially hip and cool with it.  When she was small, she drew a keyboard on the inside of old pizza boxes and pretended it was a laptop.  She really looked cool pretending that, but I don’t think I would.  🙂

5. I would like to finish my novel.  I started one about three years ago, but my life took a turn for the worse for a time, and I lost my muse.  That’s why I started this blog—to find it again.  Ah, well…maybe someday…when I have more…courage and confidence.

6. I don’t suppose this is a guilty pleasure, but it is a wish.  I wish I weren’t so painfully shy.  Perhaps you can’t see it from my writing, but I can barely talk when I meet new people, and I can barely breathe when I’m in a crowd.  So when I say painfully shy, I mean it is physically painful for me sometimes to interact with people.  Only my family (and my friends to some extent) know who I really am because it takes me so long to open up to people.  But now that I think about it, maybe you, my faithful readers, know me after all.  Because my writing, I think, reveals who I am–for better or for worse.  🙂

******Okay, well, I didn’t mean to get so serious here or be so long-winded either.  Sorry.  There’s something about the holidays that makes me pensive.  But, again, if you’re interested—Part Three will be tomorrow—Six Guilty Pleasures You Once Considered Guilty But Have Either Abandoned or Made Peace With.******

Six Guilty Pleasures

November 20, 2007


My friend June over at Spatter tagged me with a meme:  Six Guilty Pleasures.  And it’s been kind of fun doing it.  June herself wrote a great post on it here.   Now, the truth is, I don’t feel near as guilty as I should when I do these things, but I’ll pretend I do.  🙂

Name six guilty pleasures no one would suspect you of having:

1. I buy Nestle’s Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels and Nestle’s Toll House Butterscotch Morsels regularly to make my children’s favorite oatmeal cookies to send to them at college. At least, that’s my premise for purchase.  Truthfully, many of those morsels never make it into the cookies.   Because I eat them.   By the handful.  No, make that plural.  Handfuls.  Both the chocolate and the butterscotch.  I keep them in a small Tupperware container for easy, surreptitious access.  The butterscotch ones are uncommonly good with peanut butter, which brings me to number two…

2. I love peanut butter.  I mean, really, really love peanut butter.  I’m a Jif girl, always have been.  I eat peanut butter by the spoonful (but I don’t double dip!).  We buy it in huge quantities—in those giant jars.  Last time we went to Sam’s Club, we bought ten jars.  Partly to give to our son Benjamin because he is nuts (no pun intended) about it, too, but really, I personally eat at least one of those jars every single week. If it weren’t for Nestle’s Morsels and peanut butter, I’d be thin and svelte.

3. And speaking of food, back when my children were small, sometimes when preparing their food, I’d be so hungry, I’d take a bite.  Being the alert and clever children that they are, they’d usually notice and ask indignantly, “Who took that bite?”  I invented a story about a greedy kitchen rat named Raggedy Rat who would always take a bite of something when I turned my back. “Darn that Raggedy Rat!” I’d exclaim.  I always thought they’d bought my story until they told me years later that they were always onto me.  They never were easy to fool, though Lord knows I tried.

4. Regular readers of my blog may remember my “googly eyes” post .  If you’re new to my blog, I’ll wait while you go read it.   No, really, I don’t mind.   Go ahead.
                  *goes to kitchen to find some morsels*
                  *eats a spoonful of peanut butter*
I’m back.  Did you read it?  Well, here’s my new guilty pleasure.  Sometimes, I  put googly eyes on fruits and vegetables at the grocery store.  It doesn’t do any  harm (they peel right off) and I know it makes people laugh because I’ve loitered  around to see reactions.      

5. I love to eavesdrop.  I don’t mean I lurk in closets or behind bushes to overhear private conversations.  I mean, I love to sit in a public place and listen to conversations.  I would much rather listen to people talk than to talk myself, which you probably don’t believe due to the fact that I do seem to ramble on at some length in my posts.  Trust me; I’m really very shy and quiet.

6. When I say I love books, I don’t just mean I love to read, though I do.  I do get a lot of books from the library, but on the happy occasions when I buy or receive a brand new book, I take enormous sensuous pleasure in the newness of that book.  I inhale that new book smell, I run my fingers across the cover (I particularly love it when the cover has dimension), and I even relish the sound of pages ruffling and the little puff of air when you ruffle them.  Yeah, I know that a little weird. But it’s the truth.        

My goodness, how embarrassing.  I’ve rambled on so long that I’ll have to post Part Two tomorrow, Six Guilty Pleasures You Wish You Had the Courage to Indulge.  Not that you’d be interested.  But if you are…

Of Golden Leaves and Golden Light

November 18, 2007

One last look at autumn…


I took this photograph on Thursday morning.  The happy, blue-sky, blue-birds-singing, Care-bears-cavorting look of it belies the violence of the weather that morning.  In fact, the wind was blowing so hard, I had to brace my whole body to try to keep the camera still.  The snow blowing sideways into my face stung so painfully, I had to squint my eyes.  And my hands were so cold, I could barely operate the camera buttons.  But it was worth it.  What you can’t see quite clearly is that the rows between the Christmas trees in the field were filled with golden leaves that had just been blown off the trees.  And you will notice that the rainbow’s end was in the field.  So I couldn’t help but think that, for once, there really was a golden treasure at the end of the rainbow.


Below are a few pictures I took  a couple of weeks ago when Tom and I had to go on a little business roadtrip.  As always, we mixed business with pleasure by taking the Blue Ridge Parkway.  These were taken at my very favorite time of day–early morning just after sunrise. 




And, finally, here is a shot I took in the evening about a month ago as we returned from a walk up on the ridge above our house.  The late afternoon autumn sun illuminated the side of the mountain, bathing it in a wondrous golden light.   Glory be.


Friday Fact: That Pink Paragon of Plastic Perfection

November 16, 2007


 (Photos from

Earlier this year, an important anniversary came and went, largely unheralded.  It was the 50th anniversary of that pink paragon of plastic perfection—the pink flamingo.  I mean, of course, the kind you see in yards across America, in habitats that real flamingos could never survive.

It all began in 1957, when Don Featherstone, fresh out of art school, sculpted the clay molds for the first flamingos, working from pictures he found in a National Geographic.  Sears featured them in their catalog that year for $2.76 a pair.  The ad copy read:  “Place in garden, lawn, to beautify landscape.”   And millions did.  Like the animals on Noah’s Ark, they came in pairs: one bending over as though looking for something in the grass and the other with its graceful neck and head held aloft (rather nobly I always thought).

When I came of age in the seventies, these yard birds were a way to thumb your nose at all those hoity-toity art snobs and those with highfalutin’ tastes.  In fact, I collected them in various forms.  But the truth is, I collected them because I really thought they were pretty.  And still do.  Flamingos are such exquisitely graceful birds, even in plastic form. Besides, they’ve always looked real good in my petunias.

Sadly, last year in November, as they approached their fiftieth anniversary, the factory in Leominster, Massachusetts that made the original pink flamingo closed its doors.  Union Products blamed the rising costs of plastic resins and electricity.  They have also had to contend with other companies (in China, I’m sure) producing cheap knockoffs.   To combat this, in 1987, Don Featherstone (by now the president of Union Products) began to imprint his signature under the tail feathers of the flamingo.

Mr. Featherstone has always ardently defended his product.  “I think it beats the heck out of a silver ‘gazing ball.’” said Mr. Featherstone.  “Although when you combine them it’s kind of nice.”  At his home in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, he puts 57 flamingos out on his lawn in the summer to represent the year he crafted it.

The good news is that a company in Westmoreland, New York just bought out Union Products, purchasing the copyright and plastic molds, so plastic pink flamingos will still be proudly made in the USA.  No word on whether Mr. Featherstone will still allow his signature to be imprinted on the bird’s rear end.

When we first moved to the mountains, I put out my flamingos first thing.  But that was before I knew how common 50-70 MPH winds are here.  My birds flew away sometime that first winter.  I never could find them in the forest below my house.  I like to imagine that maybe they flew back to Florida.  On the other hand, it’s kind of fun to think of them being carried on the high winds here, rising up into the clear winter sky, then descending earthward to gently alight on the lawn of one of those multi-million dollar mansions I see everywhere on mountainsides here.  And I like to envision the owner the next morning, looking out the mansion’s window, eyes widening in surprise at the wonder of a yard full of pink plastic perfection.


Of or Pertaining to…Love

November 13, 2007

My daddy was a Baptist preacher.  He favored small country churches in Eastern North Carolina, down where I grew up, whose members were of modest means.  Which meant, of course, that we didn’t have a lot of money to spare, but—dang!—we ate good!  Rachael Ray and Emeril don’t have nothin’ on the dear ladies of the little country churches Down East.  Moist, succulent fried chicken; melt-in-your-mouth pecan pie; buttery flaky biscuits.  Why, it seemed almost…sinful.

But I digress.  Since we didn’t have a lot of material things, we were really good at finding cheap ways to have fun.  One of my favorites was playing Fictionary.  Here are the basic rules from Wikipedia:

Fictionary, also known as the Dictionary Game or Balderdash, is a word game in which players guess the definition of an obscure word.
A turn consists of one player picking a word from the dictionary and each other player composing a fake definition. A round is completed when each player has selected a word to be guessed.
Players earn points (1) by guessing the correct definition of a word, (2) by composing a fake definition that other players guess is the correct one, and (3) as Picker, selecting a genuine word that no players vote for.
The winner is the player who has earned the most points after a pre-determined number of rounds.

The best thing is that all you need to play is a group of people, a dictionary, paper, and a pencil for everyone. Now, what made me think of this was Ariel, at Lucky Pennies, using the word “assonance.”  I didn’t know what it meant, so I looked it up in my beloved American Heritage College Dictionary.  As I was looking it up, I suddenly thought of Fictionary, which led me to remember my Daddy and his…well…rather transparent playing style.

By that I mean that every single fake definition Daddy wrote to try to fool the rest of us had the phrase “of or pertaining to” in front of it.  Daddy had the notion that this particular phrase had a sort of etymological oomph that would be certain to dupe us all.  So, for the word “assonance,” Daddy quite likely would have written something like the following fake definition:  “Of or pertaining to asses; as it relates to the breeding of donkeys.”
To my knowledge, Daddy never won a game.   But he never seemed to grasp the fact that we were all privy to his “secret” strategy.   No, he blamed Mama.  Every time she was the Picker (the one who picked the word and read all the “definitions”), she would get tickled when she read Daddy’s definition.  She would try to suppress it, but usually, she’d start to giggle.  Daddy then would look annoyed and say, in a peeved voice, “Winnie, I wish you wouldn’t do that.”  Then, of course, everybody would start to laugh.  And Daddy couldn’t stay in his snit for long—pretty soon he was laughing, too.

Why is it that the smallest things you remember seem the clearest and sweetest?  The naïve innocence of my Daddy’s “secret” strategy, the way my Mama’s lips twitched when she tried to suppress her laugh, and the way the room lit up when we were all laughing together for pure joy. 

Well, I guess it’s no secret.  These memories that I hold fast to, that tug so urgently at my heart have one thing in common, and I think I can define it for you.  They are all…of or pertaining to…love.