22 August 2006

Louise's birthday

Today I have been in a rather pensive mood. It is my great-grandmother's birthday. Born in 1889, if she were still with us, she would be turning 117. I was in 5th grade when she crossed over at age 75. At that point she was the person I loved most in the world. I was named for her. She taught me to sew on her old treadle sewing machine (which I now have) when I was only 4 years old. I would sit on her lap and guide the fabric, while she worked the treadle. That was when I also got to start learning to make biscuits (a necessity in the south!) And I am the one who inherited her biscuit bowl. It is one of my greatest treasures.

My great-grandparents lived about 250 miles from us. The reason I was at her house learning to sew & cook when I was 4, was that she had come alone on the train to get me. I felt very important riding a train all day to get back to her house! It was only later, as an adult, that I realised what a big deal it was to her to come get me by herself on the train.

My great-grandmother's name was Louise. All the kids in the family called her that, even her own. All the kids in the town near where she lived called her Ms Louise. Louise fished, gardened, sewed, tended her milk cow, and cooked. Every Tuesday she baked bread that she took to town to sell for pin money. So many of my childhood memories revolve around her kitchen: churning butter, baking the lightest biscuits, rolling out pie dough to make blackberry cobbler from the berries she showed us to gather from the wild, eating homemade ice cream before we went to bed at night.

To me she represents the epitome of womanhood. Many of things I cook are recipes that were handed down from her. When I put together our family cookbook in 1996, it was dedicated to her. She gets complete credit for my love of homemaking skills. Here is a photo of our family as it was Thanksgiving 1956.

Louise is the second lady from the left on the sofa. I am the little girl sitting in her lap.

My birthday is next week. I was actually due on 20 August and heard stories all my life about how Louise wanted me to be born on her birthday. Even though I was late, we shared a very special bond that death has not broken.

Louise is my idol. Do you have one? I'd love to hear your stories about a special woman in your life. Or at least, I'd like you to think of that special person and acknowledge her influence.
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20 August 2006

Summer, figs, and happy memories

I see it has been nearly 2 weeks since I wrote anything here. Life seems to get in the way sometimes. We've been picking figs for the last 10 days. These are Italian Honey Figs.

They are so wonderful fresh off the tree. Like candy in the orchard. We've been sharing them with my Mom. Besides eating them fresh, I've put over a gallon in the freezer. Never have eaten fig ice cream, but I think we might try it this week.

Picking figs reminds me of summers at my grandparents' in Louisiana. They had half a dozen or so huge fig trees. My great-grandparents had some, too. When we were old enough to climb ladders, picking figs became the job of the grandchildren. My grandmother put up hundreds of jars of fig preserves. In the late 1960s - early 70s a recipe surfaced for making mock strawberry preserves using figs and strawberry Jell-O, and my grandmother decided to try it. I never will forget my grandfather's expression when he found out about that!

But I digress. One particular tree had spectacular figs. Everyone wanted the figs from that tree. It was growing out at their ranch where there had been an old homestead. My great-grandfather had put a fence around it to keep the cows away. Over the years friends and family have taken cuttings and tried to get new starts of that tree, but no one had any success. (Might've been their technique, but who knows?)

Our Italian Honey Fig tree is about 8 years old and this is it's second year to produce. I had also planted a Tennessee Mountain Fig. This is it's 3rd year and it has about a dozen figs. Once I figured out that fig trees would survive at the farm in southern Tenneesee, I researched fig tree propogation. In Franklin County, Tennessee there is a very old fig tree at an abandoned homestead where camels are currently being raised. (That's another story, but camels at the San Diego Zoo and other places were likely born in TN.) In the fall of 2003, I got some cuttings from that tree and attempted to root them. One of the cuttings thrived and this spring I planted it.

In January 2005, I asked my uncle in Louisiana about the ranch fig tree. The fence my great-grandfather installed had fallen down more than 30 years ago. No one has picked figs from the tree in several years and my uncle wasn't even sure there was much of the tree left. However, he kindly went to check and came home with about two dozen cuttings for me. I brought them to Alabama, where I have kept them in a pot, outside in the summer and inside in the winter. Three of those cuttings survived. I planted one at the farm this spring, but the other two are still being container grown.

So now we have four fig trees at the farm: Italian Honey, Tennessee Mountain, Camel and Ranch. As we have no idea of the varieties of the latter two, we are calling them after their places of origin. Once they start making figs, we'll do some more research to see if they can be properly identified. But to us, they will remain known as the Ranch and Camel figs.

My spouse does not like working in the dirt, and doesn't really understand my fascination with planting and growing things. But he is coming close now. Wednesday afternoon, as we were picking figs and snacking on them there under the tree, he said he now understands why we needed fig trees. There is nothing like savouring a freshly picked fig in the orchard with a summer breeze gently stirring the air.
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07 August 2006

Little River Canyon

In northeast Alabama is the Little River Canyon - deepest canyon east of the Mississippi and a National Preserve. Little River Canyon runs 11 miles down the spine of Lookout Mountain. It's a bit strange to find a river canyon this size on top of a mountain, but nature has its twists and turns. During the Little River's descent, it has carved a beautiful gorge.

On the way to Atlanta today I took time to stop at Little River Falls (the beginning of the canyon) and make some photographs. The drought has affected the river. It is indeed little right now. The river bed above the falls is the multilayered rock of Lookout Mountain. There is a large, beautiful pool at the base of the falls where several people were swimming. I'd like to come back someday and do that myself. It looked so refreshing.

Here are the falls today - 45' straight down.

A view with the top of the falls in the upper right and the pool below with swimmers.

In many spots today the river was narrow enough to easily step across. Here it's about a foot wide.

Much of the river bed is dry.

You can see by the dark marks at the base of the bridge pilings where the river runs higher in wetter times.

In several spots in the riverbed, some larger pools have formed.

A view down the canyon. The top of the falls is about 15' and slightly to the right in front of me.

I definitely want to photograph this spot again after the spring rains. From pictures I have seen the differences are incredible.
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Driving a ragtop & Living in the Now

Horses sweat; men perspire; and ladies glow. This is a southernism I have known all my life.

I've read that studies show most people spend the majority of their time in autopilot: either making plans or thinking of what is going to happen in the future, OR rethinking what they have already done - how they could have done it differently, etc. It's important to Live in the Now. Experience and be immersed in what is happening at this very moment.

Driving a ragtop is very conducive to Living in the Now. Unless it is precipitating, I always have the top down. Today was no exception. Some of the things I was particularly noticing “Now” on the way to Atlanta today: the smell of the brackish water in the overflows of the Tennessee River, the fresh green fragrance of pine trees, the sun beaming down 100° rays to give me a radiant glow, the odour of grilling meat as I passed a hamburger stand, a paper mill near Rome, a little kid waving furiously at me from in front of an old church, the cooling water of someone’s lawn sprinkler that sprayed out onto the road, and clean fresh air the majority of the drive. With the top down the elements of nature are right there with you, not processed through an air conditioner or filtered through glass. As a society many of us have become isolated to the minutiae of what is outside our homes and offices. It’s easy to keep in touch with no roof on the vehicle.

And in towns people talk with you. Often they roll down their windows, to say something about the car, ask directions, or just to say hello. One of my favourite comments came from a guy driving a dually pickup in Virginia Beach. It was early one morning and he put down his window to say it looked like we were really styling that day. :-)

Lately I've been paying attention to Living in the Now. It's a great place to be.

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06 August 2006

Fun in Atlanta

Guests left yesterday and tomorrow I am driving to Atlanta for the Photoshop seminar. We had an interesting time with our visitors and learned a lot more about the farm.

Jack Davis is teaching the Photoshop course. He co-authors the WOW! books and I'm really looking forward to the sessions. (May also have to go by IKEA while I'm in town.) This fall I'll be spending more time using Photoshop, so this workshop should really help.

I'm taking one of Robert Monroe's books with me to read. He is a fascinating man and the Gateway program was a real eye-opener. The weather is looking good for a topdown drive.
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