Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Not Native

By "not native," I am not referring to people.  Although there is quite a bit of talk around here about the people who have lived here for generations, the rest of us considered "outsiders."  I have even seen license plates that say, "Native."  I saw one in a parking lot and when the woman got out I was tempted to say, "Gee, you don't look Cherokee at all."  But I didn't.  And that's a whole different story.

The words "not native" refer to one of my favorite little trees.  Almost all of our plants and shrubs are native to the area.  (My precious camellia being one exception.)  But one tree that gives us great joy is not only not native to western North Carolina, it isn't native to the United States.

It is the Coral Bark Maple, Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'.  This lovely little tree has great foliage in spring, summer and fall, but its most striking feature is the bark.  Always a shade of coral, the color deepens dramatically in cold weather.  Absent any leaves, it's remarkable deep coral stands out in winter.

I took these photographs yesterday during a brief respite from the downpours we had.  The sky was gray and dreary and yet this little maple glowed even without any help from the sun.

The tree grows rather slowly with maximum height of 25 feet.

It adds such gorgeous color to the winter yard.

One of my favorite little trees.

Most of the plants in our yard are holly, rhododendron, mountain laurel, witch hazel and other native shrubs and trees.  We are not purists who believe it's a shame to plant non-native varieties.  We have mostly native varieties for the simple reason that they are best adapted to our environment and less likely to require replacement.  But the Coral Bark Maple does quite well in its location and we do enjoy it in all seasons of the year.

(Sad note:  My silly camellia decided to bud out early and all the buds got frozen and dropped to the ground.  Ah well, there's always next year.  Maybe.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Different Back Yards

For many years we lived in the typical suburban setting; two-story Cape Cod in the right school district and with large and grassy yards front, sides, and back.  On a quiet cul-de-sac with miles of boulevard roads for bike riding.  A community winter skating rink with warming house and a community pool.

It was just the right place for our two children.  The large backyard had plenty of room for volleyball, croquet, badminton and other games.  The grass was great for the dogs to romp and play.  There were flower gardens front and back for my husband to tend.  There was a deck and a patio for outdoor sitting and entertaining.  And a screened porch for rainy days.

Part of our suburban backyard.  We had just lost a huge crabapple tree and replaced it with a Serviceberry.

Now the woods make up our backyard.  We have no grass at all.  Not one blade to mow.  We have lots of leaves, but we don't have to pick them up...we just let them fall.  We have a screen porch for rainy days and a large deck for sunny ones.

Ellie climbing the rock steps on a misty day.
Yes, we have chairs and benches in the woods.

We have our own little creek

Some of our trees have faces
made by a local potter

We often look out to see Pileated Woodpeckers

And the occasional white squirrel for which Transylvania County is well known

How do you transition from an idealistic suburban setting to the hilly woods?  Easily, dear reader.  Easily.  The suburban setting was perfect when our children were growing up.  And now, in our retirement, the woods are perfect for us.

And I have loved both.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fridays Are Golden

Here we are already in the last weekend of February.  We are still having strange weather patterns indeed.  Monday morning found us with two inches of snow.  The temperature steadily climbed all day and melted most of it.  We've had rain, sleet, high winds and little sun this week.  Too many gray days for my liking.

Those expensive pills worked wonders for Lucy.  Within 24 hours she was walking normally and within 48 hours she seemed totally fine.  Now, of course comes the problem.  She is not supposed to run or twist for another two weeks.  And that will be very hard for her and for us.  Since she has not been active, I thought I would revisit her younger days in Wisconsin.

Both dogs loved chasing the flying toys.
Lucy had already learned that she stood little chance of taking it head-on.
So she grabbed it from the side of Ellie's mouth instead.

And just in case you thought using Ellie for a pillow was a recent thing...

This week's quote comes from the late Sydney J. Harris, one of my favorite columnists.

"Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable."

So quit putting off that phone call or visit.  Do the things with your loved ones that you only talk about.  You won't regret it.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Happy Birthday, Son

Our son was born on February 17, 1976.  It seems appropriate that the entire country was celebrating that year.  It became clear early on that he was a special little boy.  He recognized letters before he was two and read books before he was three.  He enlisted in the US Marines when he was five through a flier in a magazine.  Our mailman intercepted it and we kept it framed and later gave it to his wife.

He was a challenging child, born with his own schedule and given to temper tantrums during the "terrible twos."  Recognizing that the scale was not perfect on his childish drawings, he would dissolve into tears, crying because "the people are too big, they're not supposed to be half the size of the house."  His older sister could set him off when she would draw a smiley face saying, "This is me" and a frowny face saying, "This is you."  He loudly announced the "eff" word, asking what it meant in a fast food restaurant when he was four.  I had the privilege of calling three sets of parents to let them know their children had learned a new word, thanks to my son's reading ability and curiosity.

This was his favorite shirt.  He insisted on wearing it every day and waited for it to get out of the dryer when it had to be washed.  Finally it was just too small.  I still have it.

Just as my mother did not understand why I would allow him to wear the same tee shirt every day, she did not understand why I would let him go outside without a jacket.  I tried to explain that if I said nothing he would come inside and get a jacket when he got cold.  I knew that some battles were best not even fought.

He rode his Big Wheel for hours.

Like most children, he loved Christmas and unlike many, he liked getting dressed up.  He still does.
(This may have been the last year we put tinsel on our trees.)

When he didn't want his picture made he refused to smile.  And no amount of joking would coax a smile from him.  He was quite determined when he set his mind to something.

Many of his teachers in grade school and high school loved him, and many did not.  It was not at all unusual to go to one teacher conference and hear such glowing terms as, "he is so intelligent and creative; so articulate and humorous, such a delight to have in class."  And then to go to the next teacher to hear, "he has a smart mouth on him, is disruptive and doesn't follow directions."  Obviously some of the teachers admired his intelligence and clever wit while others were threatened by those same qualities.

He earned his Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do.
(A great discipline and esteem booster for any youngster.
I highly recommend it.)

His first rappelling experience at Devil's Lake.
He loved it and impressed the heck out of his fellow scouts with his nerve and skill.

High school, perhaps the last time his curly hair was trimmed and well-trained.
The very picture of the clean-cut all-American boy.

Today, our son is a very successful adult, a wonderfully accepting, tolerant and caring man.  He is compassionate and courageous.  He is a wonderful person and we love him so very much.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Fridays Are Golden

Blogger has been ornery today and wouldn't let me post!  Guess you get what you pay for.

Our Lucy smiles as much as any dog we've ever had.  She is so full of herself and has quite a sense of humor.

Alas, she is not smiling too much today.  We spent the better part of the afternoon at our veterinarian's office.    She sprained her back and seemed to be improving dramatically.  Then this morning she awakened stiff and sore so we decided to take her in.  The treatment is rest and muscle relaxants, along with an anti-inflammatory drug  (which costs $122 dollars for 30 pills!).  It will be hard to keep her at rest, because she really loves to run and play.

Lucy's fabulous smile.

Oh, I'm so happy out here!

Another great grin

Our quote for this week comes from Golda Meir:

Trust yourself.  Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.  Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

For The Good of the Church

The announcement came as a great surprise to almost everyone.  For the first time in 600 years a reigning Pope would step down.  Pope Benedict XVI will no longer be the Pope effective February 28, 2013.

His stated reason is that he no longer has the strength needed to carry on as Pope. Benedict XVI said that he is leaving "for the good of the church."  This Pope has proven to be every bit as conservative as many thought he would be.  He seemed to believe that the reduction in the numbers of practicing Roman Catholics is not necessarily a bad thing; that a smaller group of more devout followers is preferable to a larger one who do not follow the Church dogma.

Consider me one of the large group of Catholics who do not follow all the Church dogma.

Pope Benedict XVI
(photo from the Associated Press)

I rarely endorse television documentaries, but there is a recent HBO documentary that goes deep inside the Catholic Church and the handling of the priest abuse scandals.  If you have HBO and a DVR, I would definitely recommend that you look at "Mea Maxima Culpa:  Silence in the House of God."  (You can see a review here)  The documentary deals with the sex abuse scandals, especially with the evil priest Father Lawrence Murphy of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.  He sexually abused some of the most vulnerable...children attending a school for the deaf.  Over two hundred separate cases.

In 2001, then Cardinal Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI) directed that every sex abuse case be brought to him.  Therefore he knew more than anyone else about sexual abuse of minors by priests.

We will likely never know what went on behind Vatican's closed doors.  But we do know that justice was not done.  That abusing priests were shielded.  And that is such a shame for men who profess to be God's chosen.

So what will happen now?  The College of Cardinals will elect a new Pope and life in the Catholic Church will proceed.  As for Pope Benedict XVI?  I, for one will be glad to bid farewell.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Other Aunt in the Story

NOTE:  Names have been changed for obvious reasons.

We moved to the mountains when I was nine.  We often had relatives coming to visit us, sometimes without notice.  One day someone knocked on the door.  I ran to the door and opened it.  A woman stood there and said, "You must be Nancy Carolyn."  (I was called both names by my father's family.)  Then she surprised me by saying, "I'm your Aunt Rhoda."  In truth I did have an Aunt Rhoda on my mother's side of the family.  But this woman clearly was not her.  So I looked at her and said, "No, you're not."  I slammed the door and ran to find my mother.  I told her some crazy woman was at the door and said she was my Aunt Rhoda, but she definitely was not Aunt Rhoda.  My mother said to me, "I'll explain this later.  Just don't ask any questions."  And she sent me off to the neighbors to play.

The woman who knocked on the door was my father's sister, the sister of the aunt I never knew.  She was the one who had told lies at the hearing.  She could be called the aunt I never knew about.

In my nine years of attending family reunions, birthday parties, and other gatherings, I never once had heard any mention of this Aunt Rhoda.  When I was younger and asked the middle names of all my aunts and uncles, and their birth orders in the families, neither my mother nor my father had ever mentioned his sister Rhoda.  As I wrote down their names, as children are wont to do, no Rhoda was ever listed except the one who married my mother's brother.

It seems that my paternal grandfather was so angered by the lies told by his daughter that he forbade her ever coming back to his home and announced to everyone that she was dead to him and that her name should never again be mentioned in his presence.  It still seems impossible that neither my older brother nor I knew about this aunt.  Perhaps it is because we were always outside playing with cousins when we visited our grandparents and never hanging around listening to the adults.  Or perhaps, respecting my grandfather's demand, no one was talking about this aunt at all.  I do know that a couple of my father's siblings kept in touch with her over those years and she continued to live in the neighboring county.  She petitioned those two siblings to approach their father on her behalf so that she could come home.  She had so many nieces and nephews that she had never met.  And she had missed seeing her younger siblings grow up.  But my grandfather refused to relent.

At some point, one of my uncles felt a call to the ministry.  He went to my grandfather and said that he could not stand in front of a congregation with this family divide unresolved.  That forgiveness was essential and he asked my grandfather once again to allow Aunt Rhoda to come home.  My grandfather said that she could come.  And so, when I was almost ten, my other Aunt Rhoda came into my life.

Should my parents have handled the situation better?  Probably.  Did it traumatize me?  Not really.  At that age I suppose I didn't think it all that strange.  And I wasn't given much information other than the fact that this aunt and done something really bad but was sorry and everyone forgave her.

The church cemetery where my aunt, grandparents, and several other relatives are buried.

So Aunt Rhoda began to attend family gatherings.  I never saw my grandfather talk to her and often saw him walk out of the house when Aunt Rhoda walked inside.  I played with Aunt Rhoda's children and no one ever mentioned the whole thing.  Aunt Rhoda and her husband are dead, but her children and grandchildren still attend the annual family reunions.  The child of my young aunt who had taken her own life did not seem bothered at all by Aunt Rhoda's presence at the gatherings.

In recent years I have talked with my remaining aunt about it.  She was the eight-year-old sister playing outside when my young aunt took her own life.  She doesn't remember much about anything that happened but she does remember being told that she should forget about her sister Rhoda because she would never see them again.  She also said that the boy who had fathered my young aunt's child was related to Rhoda's husband.

So that's far more than you cared to know.  Strange as it seems to me now, I accepted the whole thing when I was a child.  I suppose I didn't think there was anything different about it at all.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Fridays Are Golden

Regular readers already know that Lucy situates herself in some very awkward positions.  Oftentimes she will lie with her head on the stone hearth.  It looks very uncomfortable.

Lucy rests her head on the hearth

I'm fine, Mom.  It's not all that bad.
No, I didn't shove Ellie under the chair.
I think she just likes it there and I know she wants me to have enough room.

Lucy pays no attention as to whether or not a bed is already occupied.
Here she simply sits on Ellie's head.

Don't worry, Mom.  I'm almost settled.

And this seems to be Lucy's favorite position.
Honest, Mom.  Ellie doesn't mind at all.
She likes for me to keep her warm.

Today, utility vehicles are heading from NC and other states to New England in anticipation of a massive and destructive blizzard there.  Heavy snow and hurricane-force winds are certain to cause major blackouts.  So on this Friday we send out positive energy to our friends in those states.  We will be thinking of those in harm's way.

The Buddha said:

Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.  Happiness never decreases by being shared.

So this weekend, share your own happiness.  Seek happiness from your loved ones.  We're all in this together.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Aunt I Never Knew Part Two

And so the aunt I never knew returned home with her infant daughter.  She was withdrawn, preferring to spend the days with her baby, wandering the farm and dreaming, and writing her poems.  She held to the belief that the boy she loved would one day return to her and their child.  She was melancholy and lost her easy smile.  She spent most of her hours alone or with her baby.

She wrote this poem for her daughter.
She was sixteen at the time.

You Make Me Think

You make me think of all I know
Too beautiful to express
A garden in the moonlight
Love, hope and tenderness.
If ever I see an angel
In heaven way up there
I'm sure it will look like you
With skin so soft and fair
Your hair would rival its halo
So soft and king o'light
And eyes could never be like yours
So kind and sweet and bright
They've never made any word
To tell you how I feel
You're like a dream, a fancy
And yet my dear, you're real.

This photograph was taken when my aunt had just turned seventeen

There was some sort of hearing about the baby and her paternity in the spring of my aunt's seventeenth year. I know few details but during the hearing several friends of the boy testified that they, too, had sex with my child-aunt and that she was loose and wanton.  The boy himself said that he had never loved her, had never promised marriage and could never love anyone of such unsavory character.  He further testified that any number of boys could have been the baby's father.  The most damaging statements came from my aunt's own sister who said she knew for a fact that her sister had "many" boyfriends...far too many for a good girl.

After the hearing my young aunt became even more withdrawn and depressed.  On a beautiful day in June, with her daughter sleeping and my aunt's eight-year-old sister playing outside, this lovely young woman took down her father's shotgun and ended her life.  It was four months after her seventeenth birthday.

Had this story been fiction, I would have chosen a better ending.  But sadly, the story is true.  My grandparents raised the daughter as if she were their own child.  She grew up, married, and had two daughters of her own.  To my knowledge she never sought out her father.

The aunt who made the lying statements?  Well, that is another story for another day.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Aunt I Never Knew

She was born in February, ninety-two years ago.  The fourth daughter of a large farm family, she was a dreamer, lover of art and books and especially poetry.  There is only one person alive on earth today who actually knew her in person; her younger sister who is my father's only surviving sibling.  I never knew her and yet I still think of her, especially during February.

She wandered the farm and surrounding woods.  She read books.  And she wrote pages and pages of poetry.  In pencil. On notebook paper.  Those pages now belong to me.  They are not expertly written but then again, they were written when she was thirteen to seventeen years of age.

One of her poems is titled "Too Many Moonbeams:"

Too many moonbeams shining out of a dark blue sky,
Too many dreams come tumbling from the stars on high
Too many vows are broken, too many promises made,
Too many words lightly spoken in the moonlight and shade.

You can't drown sorrow in moonbeams, no matter how you try.
You can't keep hearts from breaking, when dreams all crumble and die.
Broken vows cannot be mended, or promises kept true
When words mean only raindrops, and tears mean only dew.

The poem was written when my aunt was fifteen.  When she was fourteen, she fell in love with an eighteen-year-old boy.  Just before she turned fifteen she found herself pregnant.  The boy was not interested in marriage.

Like most families of the day, my father's family arranged for her to live with a distant relative during her confinement and delivery.  She still believed that the boy really loved her and would marry her when the baby was born.  She was wrong.

She returned home with her baby daughter to live with my grandparents and her other siblings still at home.  But she never stopped dreaming.  And she never stopped believing.  And she never stopped writing.

This poem was written when my aunt was seventeen.

Sweethart (sic) Come Back To The Pine

There's a tree growing back in the mountains
It's the same old tree today
As it was when we stood there beneath it
And you kissed me and then went away.
Remember our initials carved on it
As you made them remember you said
That our hearts pinned together with an arrow
Would remain so till we both were dead.
I have hoped and I've prayed, and I've waited
Till you would come back to the pine
To the girl standing there beneath it
Where, years ago, you left her behind.
As the moon comes up over the mountain
So beautiful it breaks this heart of mine
Oh, please, while it's flooding the valley
Sweetheart come back to the pine.

The aunt I never knew loved her daughter and she spent her days caring for her.  She seemed distant and continued to wander about the farm and woods, often sitting for hours staring into the river.  And still she dreamed.  And still she believed that the baby's father loved her.

To be continued...

Friday, February 1, 2013

Fridays Are Golden

And so we have entered a new month of 2013.  Like most of the rest of the country, we had very strange January weather which included everything except tropical storm effects.  We've had rain, (lots of rain, TONS of rain), tornadoes, thunderstorms, hail, sleet, snow, and some extremely high winds.  We had 65-degree January days and 22-degree highs.  Most of our weather reports begin with an explanation of why they got it all wrong.  Best to simply keep the pantry and freezer full and see what each morning brings.

Most of the photographs you've seen of our dogs lying in one bed have Lucy using Ellie as a pillow.  Or Lucy taking the center of the bed with Ellie slid halfway under the chair.

The usual with Lucy taking advantage of Ellie's soft body.

Here is a very RARE picture of Ellie actually resting on Lucy.

We have enjoyed the occasional day of sunshine, including today which is sunny and crisp with blue skies and little wind.  And on those sunny days we have appreciated the lengthening hours of daylight.  But mostly we had rain.  Our rivers are full and there was a lot of flooding earlier in the week.

So the quote for today is of time and rivers.  From Roman Emperor and one of my favorite philosophers, Marcus Aurelius:

Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.

Here is an example of the increased water in our rivers:

Looking Glass Falls in high water

The same waterfall in summer with its normal flow

Wherever you are and whatever your weather, I hope you stay safe and sound.  Keep in mind how fast time goes by and don't miss the things brought into sight.  And do something to help those less fortunate.