Thursday, December 20, 2007

Irish Coffees, Pizza and Xmas plays

I like living in a place where most people actually know each other. I like how around this time of year, school kids come over to both my workplaces to perform Xmas plays and have pizza parties. I like how the kids get a kick out of taking a field trip, even if it is just up the creek to the community center or downtown. I like that, on a good day, my coworkers at my downtown job offer me Irish Coffee and brunch.

Even though I've been feeling a bit antsy and discontented, there are quite a few things that I do like about my current situation. Foremost is that I get a nice balance of staying put (relatively speaking) and traveling about. Just a few more weeks, and I'll be back on that soggy oregon soil I love so much, drinking "damn good coffee," and soaking in as many tunes and as much city food as I can. A few weeks after that, there's a hectic weekend of hitting both New Orleans and Memphis to attend meetings, do presentations, eat a lot of good food and, of course, dance and play music into the early morn. I have to admit, work ain't so bad when it involves going to all these great cities to hang out with performing arts people and "folk" musicians. To add icing to the cake, my boss just told me that Johnny Ramone now has his interpretation of an old time band, and that they will be at the Folk Alliance meeting in Memphis. Ain't life strange and sometimes grand?

I'm not even sure how many trips I've made to the great NW and to NOLA the past couple of years. All I know is that I'll have to find a creative means to keep that travel-mojo working, because I can't stand the idea of not doing this year after year. And I still want to get back to Ukraine one day.

Travel really is an upper for me, despite how much of a homebody I can be. Now, if I can only figure out how to stay on a track that will support my habits... I've got a few possible paths in mind, but I'm not ready to tell you about them yet.

Monday, December 10, 2007

From Summit City to Crescent City

More than a month has passed since my annual "birthday soak" retreat, and I now find myself in the last few hours of another kind of retreat. A very different kind of retreat, this getaway has given me something nearly opposite from the quiet, relaxed trance that lingered for weeks. Not too long after the hot springs contentment faded into memory, I found myself on a plane headed south, to New Orleans. I won't lie about my reasons. It was a business trip. But for me, and I'm sure for most others, going to New Orleans for business usually involves at least an equal amount of pleasure.

I used to secretly envy people who had one culture, one geography that they could claim as if a family heirloom. A continual string of family history- a gumbo of food, language, music and memory that kept them tied to one particular place. A part of me wanted to have grown up amongst an unending string of kinfolk, both proven and probable, and to intimately know the texture of the land that my ancestors' bodies knew.

When I come to New Orleans, I am reminded how wonderful it is to come from a family who comes from another place- not so distant, but so very different from the one where I was raised. My appreciation has grown from childhood summers chasing lizard chameleons and hunting crawdads in the thick, moist air of South Mississippi summers. The multilayered pleasure of sitting around Uncle Frank's kitchen table, peeling and eating fresh shrimp and listening to all the grown ups talk their way through the afternoon. Walking through the streets of the French Quarter with my mom in search of the best place to get a po' boy. Powdered sugar clinging to my sweat-coated skin after mom and I "cooled off" with cafe au lait and beignets. Riding the trolley up and down the route for hours in hopes of getting a breeze. Back then, I never even once thought about what it would have been like to have grown up down here. I wouldn't have traded anything for the tumbling creeks, soft cool humidity and rolling hills of my Smoky Mountain home.

The older I've gotten, the more open I am to seeing these root places - the places where my family came from - as a place that I could live also. I don't imagine I'll ever move to Mississippi or Louisiana, but with each year they feel more and more like home.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


this past weekend i retreated down to the banks of the french broad river, to soak in hot springs and nestle myself in the familiar landscape of my childhood home. i guess that to some folks there is not much noticeable difference between the blue ridge mountains of the tennessee/north carolina boarder and the cumberlands of kentucky or the clinch mountains of virginia. but i certainly can tell the difference - with every sense in my body.

it's been nearly a decade since i first started the ritual of retreating to hot springs for my birthday. each year i have retreated with a small group of my closest friends, and we have enjoyed a few days of pure, deliberate relaxation. this year was one of the best hot springs weekends ever, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

i have never been an incredibly social person. i would actually classify myself as socially awkward. i do really well at networking and being a hostess, but when it comes down to friendships, i am much better at connecting to individual people rather than a group. most of my life i have had an eclectic mix of close friends who, for the most part, don't really know each other. and one of my favorite things in life are those moments when i bring those people together. hot springs was just that this year.

and what was even more special was that i got to see my friends AND family enjoying each other's company over wonderful food, music and mountains. bella got permission to stay at the cabin and the folks also came up and stayed in their own little cabin down the path.

i know i still have a lot to get through and some tough decisions to make, but for now, i am enjoying the "hangover" of a truly blissful, relaxing weekend.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

the sweetest sound

steady rain falling on tin roof and autumn leaf. the ground sighing with sweet relief. judy branch refilling herself into life swell.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


when i was growing up, i lived in a one-dog house. before bella, there were two critters in my life. rascal, then samantha. both died of old age. my granny and aunt's houses were a bit different. they lived next door to each other, and between the two households, you'd think you'd found the inspirtation for doctor doolittle. both granny and aunt nancy had big hearts when it came to critters. they couldn't turn down a stray cat or pass by a turtle trying to cross a busy road. I loved going to visit them, and i loved the zoo that, for the most part, was housed at aunt nancy's. she had such a big heart that she managed to provide a loving home to a hedgehog that had been an abandoned class pet.

this weekend i was working at a festival. all weekend, the local animal rescue group had a shaded area with kennels set up with critters who needed a home. between setting the stage for bands, i would check up on the different critters to find out whether or not they had found a home. i have to give it to those folks. they do such a great job. i believe they found homes for 27 cats and dogs this weekend. only two animals were left at the end of the festival today. two adolescent cats, both gals and both small built. one gray and white, one black and white. they were from the pound and due to be put down on monday if they had not been adopted.

guess who is now a foster mom? i've got them in the basement right now, and i think they are settled in okay. the black and white, who was so shy, ends up to be the cuddler. if i end up keeping either one, i think it will be her.

tomorrow, i'll try to get them both rounded back up and into their crates so i can take them to the vet to get shots, etc. then, it's figuring out how to introduce them to the family. right now we are all three lounged on the couch together. bella, legs straight up in the air, sound asleep. sid vicious here on my lap, and rosalee just above us, slumbering on the back of the couch.

i think i'd name the black & white gal, blackey. if i keep her. it will be really stressful for sid and rosie, and i dread upsetting the balance. but with the heart that i have... what else could i do?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

not going to kill myself...

okay, so i realize that my more recent blog posts have pretty much been total downers. even i am starting to realize that i am probably suffering from depression. but i assure you all that i am not going to kill myself.

i do need to figure out how to get out of this slump, and i feel so lost on how to do that. i know that dealing with the surgery recovery pains isn't helping the situation.

today i am thankful for rain. it finally rained a real shower and i think it may keep raining for a couple of days! sunday i went to see lee and play a little banjo. i got some pickled beans and goose beans and one other kind of green bean, which make up for my lack of gardening this year.

Monday, October 08, 2007

too tired to try, too tired to care

since i was a little girl, i've always felt a strong need to make a difference. a deep need to have my life mean something and a feeling that life wasn't worth living unless you try to make the world a better place.

lately, i've been feeling really, really tired and drained of hope on just about every level. i don't believe in myself right now, and i don't really have any hope for my life to get better. i know what i'm supposed to do when i get in a slump: explore new paths, try to discover other ways i can make a difference and lead a meaningful life. and sure, i'm trying that, but i have to admit, the best i can do right now is pretty half-hearted.

maybe i shouldn't admit all this openly on my blog, but i'm to the point where i just don't care. i'm starting to think i've been naive and believed in people and organizations i shouldn't have believed in, willingly opened up to people when i probably would have been better off just keeping to myself. the past few months, i've seen the life of an old friend-a former inspiration- unravel on newspaper pages. i didn't take the time to go visit my granny-my best friend in all my life- before i went off to poland, and she died four days before i got home. i broke down and let my parents know that i have no fucking clue what i'm doing with my life, and my dad is now terrified of me. he's scared because he doesn't know how to help me, and i guess he is seeing that i don't know how to help myself right now.

all i ever wanted to do was to be a good person, and in doing so to make my folks proud of me and to maybe win the love of a companion that walks on two legs. i am grateful for my four-legged company, and i know that my family will be proud of me no matter what i do. so why do i feel like there's no hope for me, no matter what i do?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Best Dad, ever!

Just wanted to say that I think my dad is the best dad ever. He is such a thoughtful, kind person. And while I am incredibly thankful for all my family and friends, I have always felt a deep gratitude for the friendship I have always shared with my dad.

Recently, he gave me a book that I enjoyed - much more than I really expected: _10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can't Because He Needs His Job)_ by Rev. Oliver "Buzz" Thomas. Having quit going to church when I was about 17, I was really stunned by how this little book pretty much covered every single reason why I gave up on most Christian churches. Yet it was, for the most part a positive book, mostly in that it demonstrated that there are a few other Christians out there who are like my dad. People who believe that discrimination of any kind is an abomination before god, that the most important lessons one can learn from the bible are those that Jesus emphasized: to love thy neighbor and to judge not, lest you be judged.

This little book puts into fairly concise words, the kind of thoughts my dad would share with me about spirituality. Thanks to my family, and especially my dad for encouraging me to use my heart, brain & my instinct when it comes to those bigger questions in life!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

good to be back home

bella & i are back on judy branch and enjoying the comforts of being home. not much has changed in the hollow. the loggers are finished logging (thank goodness!), and so all is peace & quiet here. bella is really enjoying the freedoms of running amok with her buddies and then coming home to belly rubs, a bowl-full of food and a good night's sleep in the country. her grandmama really spoiled her while she was in TN, but I think the perks of being out in the hollow are making up for the lack of roast beef.

Monday, September 24, 2007


today, i get the staples pulled out of my back and then bella and i can embark on the long journey home to judy branch.

i managed to clean out a long of old baggage from my old room at the parents' house, and maybe i can do some of the same at my own house. i am ready to let go of a lot of old stuff, and i know that it's long overdue. i have always had such a hard time letting go, whether it be memories, desires, old feelings or sentimental objects. even past friendships.

there are some people who are in your life for the long haul, and there are those who are part of your life just for a brief spell. i tend to believe that people cross each others paths and become part of each others lives for some sort of reason that is beyond any one person's understanding. we can only begin to grasp, usually in hindsight, the beautiful sense that it makes that such people are part of our journey. spending two weeks at my childhood home, cleaning out so many years of my life- it's been cathartic. there's so much that i have held onto for all these years, stowing it away in my childhood closet. the novel i wrote in 8th grade, inspired by my obsession with laura palmer and twin peaks (it was titled "the diary"). fingerpaintings that my friend erin & i painted when we were snowed in during the blizzard of 93. diaries and journals going back as far as 5th grade. and print outs of my first encounter with email, freshman year of college. most were from my aunt nancy, who has been dead now for five years.

i'm really grateful that i've maintained relationships with quite a few people going all the way back to elementary or middle school, and i need to remember that, even though i don't often reach out, that there are folks out there who really know me, have known me for years, and they still love me! some old friends... well, i sometimes wish i could just clear out of my emotional hard drive and not be concerned or even care about anymore. the heart - well, at least my heart - doesn't work that way. but i do feel like i'm taking steps toward letting go and moving on to whatever it is that i am destined to do next.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

what is happening to me?!

i am truly amazed at how much this surgery has taken out of me. going into it, i really did expect to be up for driving back up to KY and then returning for my "de-stapling" appointment. the reality has been that the most laid back activities, especially those which involve leaving the house, leave me exhausted. winded, even!

over the past few days i have tried to get out and about and get myself reaccustomed to ordinary life. bella and i met my friend sarah for a picnic lunch, and we had a nice stroll through the park. i was totally spent by the time i got home. the next day, i took it easy all day, and then i went out to knoxville for a "ladies night" of great food, getting acquainted with new & old friends and some really great music making merriment. it was really fun, and i realized how rare it is for me to get together in a social situation with other young women (or men, for that matter) of my age group. at times, during the evening, i sort of freaked out in my own mind. while this whole situation seemed so natural and almost routine for the rest of the people there (they are all in a band together...), i felt like i was in a new world - one i didn't quite "get" yet, but that seemed really lovely. i thought on this for most of the next day, as i was recovering from the toll of my outing, and i realized that i really have lost my ability to be comfortable in a purely social situation. i am so accustomed to any social encounter being somehow related to my current jobs, that i have no idea how to be myself outside of that realm. or if there is a me outside of that role anymore!

i fully reinforced this theory when i joined a couple of my friends yesterday afternoon to catch a movie in downtown knoxville and then hit a few patio cafes on the market square. my two friends knew all sort of people who, of course, came up to talk with us and were very interesting people from our age group (30 to 40 somethings). and while i did fine to make conversation, there were so many moments when i thought, "i could never move back here and fit in with all these people. i would just cower at home with my critters."

at times i've toyed with the idea of moving back home. lately when i've come back to see how much is actually happening around here, i really think that it might be the right choice. but then i have moments like i did this weekend, where i think that my time out in the hollows has permanently disabled me socially. perhaps, i never had those skills to begin with, and that's why i've ended up where i am. i really like to have a lot of time and space to myself. i despise small talk, and i don't even try to be good at it. i have a hard time pretending to like people who i know really don't like me. i really don't know how to relate to people very well outside of a collaborative working situation, as a hostess (often also a work situation) or as a friend. and i don't tend to have a lot of friends - usually just a few meaningful friendships - real connections - do me just fine. and those people are scattered across the globe. they hardly ever have to put up with me in person, and that may be a factor in why we're still friends!

i used to think my social skills were primarily lacking when it came to dating, and recently i've been pained with the reminder that i am extradorinarily talented at scaring off potenial loves by either ignoring them and fiercely holding on to my current path or by speedily scaring them off with my openess and my ignorance about how a romance is supposed to progress. i'll admit it. i have no idea how to date, and i don't think i'm going to be given many (if any) opportunities to find out. honestly, i'd rather not. i'd rather it just fall in to place, no matter how badly i (inadvertently) try to botch it up.

i am now officially paranoid that i am doomed to an existence as a hillbilly recluse, even though i really love (and often crave) those brief interactions with people of my own age group. there are all these people out there who i could imagine as a regular part of my life, but whose world in which i cannot imagine myself ever finding my place.

i am really homesick for judy branch and i am really confused about how long i should stay out there or where else i could possibly go. when i start feeling this way, the big cold waves of the ocean out in the Pacific NW and the shores of Scotland call to me. i could rest myself upon rock faces overlooking the sea and stay there forever.

Monday, September 17, 2007

ramblings from recovery/ house arrest

Prior to surgery, my surgeon told me I could expect a lingering pain in the ass. That seems to be the last to leave, he said. Well, I can't say I've literally had a pain in the ass since I came off the cutting board, but having metal staples sticking out of my lower back counts in my book as a real pain in the ass!

The surgery I had was to shave off part of a herniated disc on the left side, between the L4 and L5 on the lower part of my spine. This is the culprit that has been causing me a lot of pain, discomfort and has hampered my rough and ready lifestyle on Judy Branch for about 9 months. And it all happened from one heavy log being tossed from the back of a truck into the wood shed. That was my own personal happy 30th bday present to myself last November. I think I'll take it easy this year - and hopefully for another decade or two! After months of playing the ridiculous games that insurance companies make us play, I finally got an MRI and was able to revel in the oooohs and ahhhhs that all the medical professionals did over the severity of my herniated disc. Apparently, I am an over-achiever on more levels than I ever knew!

And now?! Well, I have about a week left of not being allowed to sit for more than 20-30 minutes at a time. No long car rides. No bending; no lifting. And no Judy Branch. That's the worst! I may be able to go home for a couple of days before the staples come back, but after my attempt to drive my car across town today, I can see why they told me no long car trips. Large, sharp metal pieces protruding from one's lower back is NOT condusive to driving - esp. when you have really great lumbar supporting seats like I do in my car.

I'm hoping to be coherent enough over the next couple of days to be able to have some old hometown friends over to play some music. Otherwise, I'm just reverting to my usual : work, work and more work! It won't be all work-work. I'm going to make my parents' really happy by using some of my confinement time to clean out my old room so that they can remodel and do with it as they please. So far, so good. I've found some really great old letters from my aunt Nancy - actually, early emails from the first year I went to college AND the first year I think email became public and mainstream! Artifacts that I'm really glad I saved. More treasure hunting and trash bag filling tomorrow. As long as I don't bend, lift, etc..

I'm hoping to mend my heart and soul a little bit too while I'm here. I go through phases where I'm really happy and confident that I made the right decision to stay one more year and work with the community center and my old job while planning out what the next steps will be. Then I am hit by a surge of doubt and depression. Am I ever really going to fully have the life I want? It is amazing how quickly I can go from feeling like there's immense potential for me to build a meaningful, fulfilled life to feeling like I will always be along, struggling to figure out my place in the world. I don't ever seem to land in between. It's from one to the other.

I am content on many levels in my life. I feel confident in my abilities in my jobs and in my role in my community - which really is intergral to my current career. I feel loved and supported by my families - which include an extended network of kin and friend across the globe, and I am continually humbled by how fortunate I am to love and be loved by such extraordinary people, including, of course, my steadfast companion Bella. I have a really big heart, and I love my family and friends with devotion and passion. I also give this kind of love to my work. And I get a lot back.

But, still there is something missing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ouch... er, and where I am I?

Had back surgery today. The worst bit is coming out of anastesia. And that part seems to last forever.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Rekindling the heart fire

Love can so swiftly lift you up from the deepest plunges of depression. And, even with the loss of my granny's earthly presence, I feel so blessed by a love that seems to sweep upon me when I begin to plunge. My granny loved and understood me better than anyone else on this earth, and I can feel her with me every moment. And I can feel her love swell and intensify as it is joined by the love I soak up from so many beings.

Tonight, I am humbled by the amazing, wildly, widely dispersed group of people who sweep into to my life and within mere moments lift me out of self loathing and heartache and bring me into a family of belonging.

I am loved on so many levels and by so many creatures, fuzzy, human and/or any combination or derivation thereof.

Tonight, I feel blessed, and I feel alive. And I am exhausted from living every moment of this day interacting with people in my community, sharing songs and stories and bringing people together - my friends from the Carpetbag Theatre Ensemble and my friends from these hollows and mountains. It's moments from days like today that remind me why I am here, doing what I do. How could I not decide to spend another year on Judy Branch when there are so many more moments to bring forth?

Your life is what you make of it, and even though I know I won't be here forever (none of us will be, will we?), I am going to make the most out of the moments I have here and be grateful of the blessing of being here.

Tonight, my love goes out to all those people in my life with whom I get to share my moments, whether in person or in word. I send my love out to you, and receive yours with such humble gratefulness and tears of joy.

Autumn IS a great time for road trips and for visits, and I'm hoping that those of you who have been wanting to see and experience for yourself, will come see me on Judy Branch real soon! This Little Bird always enjoys having company around!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Hearts are stupid

That's why you should never wear them on your sleeve.

I really wish my Granny were still alive. Just knowing I could always call her, even at 2 AM, sure made living out in the middle of nowhere a much more tolerable experience than it is right now. I'm feeling lonesome something terrible, and I'm even more blue now that I know that my geographic location is an effective repellent for potential suitors. Long distance works just fine for a great array of friends, but I guess it really isn't a way to go about romance. Although I've heard tell of it working out just fine for some. In fact, one of my old college roommates has met her match (they're talking marriage) on some internet dating network like I do have cable internet... maybe it's time to give cyber dating a try?

I'm thinking about giving up my blog, because it seems I really don't write that much in it, and I am not even sure if anyone really reads it. I'm not even sure why I'm writing right now.

Well, I do know. I've got coffee cake and cornbread in the oven, and there's a good twenty or thirty minutes left until I can take them out and call it a night. Tomorrow, I have double duty, with an early meeting to go over finances and budgets at one job and then an 8 member (plus two small children) theater ensemble arriving around lunchtime to begin a week-long residency. It's going to be one hell of a busy week.

And sometime, I need to find the time to go out to Lee's for a visit. He had a bout of bad health, and I've been trying to give him time to recover. He came by to see me at work a couple of weeks ago, though, and he's been wanting me to come out and play. I think that would do me a world of good. I may yet become a banjo player. I'm going to try to get a grant to study up some more with one of my favorite KY women banjo players. We'll see if it comes through. That may make it worth my while to stay here another year.

I just wish I could find some remedy for my lonesome heart, especially since it seems almost as good at scaring off potential suitors as my geographic location.

Monday, August 27, 2007


i am incredibly excited about this year. i'm going to play a whole lotta banjo.

and plus, i think my dog bella has super powers to run faster than any other dog on the planet.

maybe i'll enter her in the ky derby...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

nagging doubts...

Now that I've decided to try staying put for another year, I'm beginning to feel creeping doubts sneaking up on me. It happens when I try to sleep at night. When I'm devising garden defense plans against the rapidly multiplying deer population. When I'm sitting at home alone at night. Am I making the right decision? How will I keep from going stir crazy or falling into another deep depression if I spend another year here in the backwoods?

Oh dear.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Full Circle

I'm the kind of person who tends to get attached to a place. Many people in my life have called me a "nester," because I quickly go about making a new place my home. Those tendencies make it a real emotional struggle when I have to decide whether to stay or pick up and move. For quite some time, I've felt a need to get out of my current life situation and start afresh someplace else. My moving dreams have been focused on the Pacific Northwest, with the hilly, forested landscapes that remind me of home and the lure of the Pacific Ocean.

This summer has been one of the best summers I can ever recall. And this has been because of a mix of wonderful encounters with musical friends both here in the Appalachian hills and on the northern Pacific coast. I've felt myself pulled in two directions. One moment, I'm certain that I'm packing up and moving across this great continent to seek new adventures. The next moment, I'm blissfully content in the love of my mountain friends and family, and I can't imagine why I'd ever want to leave.

One factor that has been playing into my urge to move is my need for romance. Living far out in the mountains, a girl doesn't come across many romantic opportunities. I get lonely, and since I'm not big on dating people I really don't feel connected to, I can go on being lonely for a very long time out here. I have been jokingly telling friends, "I'm going to move to Oregon to find myself a man and bring him back to Kentucky." While that may be partially part of my motivation, I wasn't planning to move just to improve my chances of finding a partner. I have been thoroughly burned out at work, and I have been looking for an out for quite some time.

Some unexpected twists have happened, and somehow all the decisions made themselves for me. First off, I've met a fellow who I feel connected to on so many levels that I can't believe I put up with all those past dating experiences (which now seem excruciating). I never knew it could be so easy to fall for somebody. He doesn't live here, but he certainly lives closer to KY than OR, and I do love to take road trips.

On the work-issue, I have found an "out," but it also wasn't the one I expected. I'm going to stay here, for one more year, and I'm going to follow my heart's work by taking a job working with the Cowan Community Center/Cowan Creek Mountain Music School. I know the energy of the folks I'll work with at the community center will revitalize my spirit, and I'm looking forward to working with such a vibrant team to develop ways to make our community a better place for us all. I'll be keeping up my other job on a part-time basis, and I'm going to submit applications to PhD programs for next fall.

Somehow it has worked out so that it seems I'm going to get to choose all the options I thought I was struggling to choose between. I get to stay. I get to fall in love. I get to plan to embark on a new adventure someplace yet to be known.

Wow, isn't it crazy how life works itself out no matter how much your brain tries to interfere?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Faerie Godmother

I wanted to explain something to those of y'all who may not know. One of the greatest blessings bestowed on me when I moved to Kentucky was that I met my Faerie Godmother. Now, I'm not a Cinderella kind of girl, so I want to make sure you readers know that this Faerie Godmother ain't no fairytale kind of lady. She's magical and mischievious and beautiful and creative and inspires me at every encounter. She loves the mountains, the woods, living on a farm among all kinds of critters, growing vegetables, swimming in clear, cold Smoky Mountain streams, running around barefoot, drinking wine and gazing at the stars, sitting on the porch tellin' stories all night. That's the faerie in her. But there's another side too. She's fiercely protective of my heart, a voice of wisdom, a shoulder to cry on, a hug whenever I need one, a person to celebrate and be silly with. A guiding light and an ever patient ear. She gives me insight and hope and teaches me so many things that only she knows.

That's who my faerie godmother is. Ain't no Cinderella to that. She's the one who wears the prettiest dresses, if you ask me! And ain't neither one of us would be caught dead or alive in a glass slipper!

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Lately, I've been feelin' lucky.

Lucky on so many levels. First off, I am so damn lucky to have the best friend a girl could ever wish for - Bella. She's my guardian, my familiar and (according to most who meet her) the best damn dog on the planet. Why she chose to adopt me when she was a puppy, I'll never know. I just live every day with her appreciating how lucky I am that she walked into my yard and told me she was moving in.

Lucky to live a life encompassed by music and mountains. Lucky to spend my hours either alone in the quiet of an Appalachian rainforest or in the company of people who appreciate the really good things in life, like a good story, the sound of katie dids and bull frogs, the moment a colt takes it's first step, the taste of fresh corn, the art of making fried green tomatoes, learning a new tune from someone who plays a completely different instrument. Playing music until dawn.

Lucky to be blessed with a faerie godmother with whom I can share adventures and from whom I can learn the art of living life to the fullest.

Lucky to have a family that I love and respect fiercely, and who embrace me.

Lucky to have met a fellow who I can talk to on the phone for hours, even though I usually can't be bothered to pick up a phone for weeks at a time.

Lucky to live on Judy Branch here and now and to spend my evenings fussing at deer, harvesting corn and tomatoes, cooking a late supper, wrestling with Bella, fishing with Sid and Rosie and playing the banjo until I can barely keep my eyes open.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Is It Time to Slow Down Yet?

It seems like I've been running around like a chicken with her head cut off nearly all summer. Except I have probably had more fun. The Kentucky Camp moved to West Virginia for a week, and we had us a big time playing music in the woods and just sitting around talking. I must say that musically, this has been the best summer yet.

On the Judy Branch front, my poor garden has really grown into a jungle, and were it not sweltering hot every day, I'd be out there pulling weeds and making sure my beans have room to grow. The corn, at least has done quite well when the deer don't knock down the stalks. I'm hoping for a cool down sometime over the next few days so I can tidy up at least a little bit. I have a feeling that I'll be fighting a losing battle trying to keep the deer out of my garden. They have taken over in my absence, and they don't seem bothered one bit by my return. I've resorted to yelling at them. They just look up and stare briefly, then go back to grazing in my yard. At least they haven't gotten into the garden with me watching. They'll get it if they get that bold!

I'm not feeling in a hurry about much of anything these days, and that even goes for figuring out my exit plan from my current life situation. I figure that I'll move on whenever the appropriate opportunity presents itself, and that could be anytime. I'm still intrigued by the Pacific Northwest, but I'm becoming more open to other places. As long as they ain't flat.

Other news is that my insurance finally coughed up permission for me to get an MRI on my back, and - BIG SURPRISE - I've got a severely herniated disc between the L4 and L5 that is pinching my sciatic nerve. So next week I go to a back specialist with a CD of my MRI results and figure out what can be done to get me out of this pain.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Kentucky Camp

This weekend I headed a few miles north for the Morehead Old Time Fiddlers Gathering, which for most of us involved is like an extension of the family reunion that is Cowan Creek Mountain Music School. No matter how challenging the past few years have been living here in KY, I can’t think of any time or place in my life that I have felt more loved. There are so many people in my life that I've come to love and care about deeply because of this impossible to describe, magical network of musicianers/old time music lovers. I've come to feel the same way about this family as I have always felt about the Appalachian hills. They are an extension of my core being, linked to my soul, a soft embrace of life-breathing, music-filled, rolling hills, timelss and ever present.

There’s so much change in the air, for me and most of the people around me. It seems I'm in a near constant state of awe in the experiences I have just surfaced from. I barely have time to stop reeling from the disbelief of how incredibly wonderful yesterday (or earlier today) was before another unbelieably full moment is upon me. And right now, all of these are swelling in my heart with the enormous amount of love that I feel pouring out of every pore of my skin.

In between these gushy moments when I am in love with everyone in my life, I have found a peace of mind at not having the faintest clue what my life will be like in a few weeks, much less a few months or years from now. I feel a calm certainty and comfort that these people I've bonded myself are going to be part of my life forever; the circle is going to continue to deepen and draw more people inside; and we are all going to take care of each other, no matter where we all end up.

Something significant changed in me living here on Judy Branch, and even though I used to think I’d always be a Tennessee girl through and through, the biggest part of my heart belongs to Kentucky, and I think it always will.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Judy Branch is the perfect place to raise your kids, no matter what species you happen to be. It seems, this summer, that around every bend of a path, gravel road or turn of the day, I am reminded of the ever-extending family tree belonging to this place. On the twice daily pilgramages out and then back into the hollow I have encountered a newly dropped foal taking a precarious wobbled step, young yellow chickadees taking first flight, a young goat couple fretting over their new kid. Sitting on the porch at home here at the head of the hollow, I dim down my day with the mingled sounds of children of all sorts making the sounds of playful discovery, free of fear and full of curiosity. There is danger here, but hardly ever any fear. With an edge of reverence and thrill, neighbors tell of the forty-three inch rattler a young mother killed in her yard down Line Fork. None of us would ever seek out snakes, living by the code that you only kill when they become an obvious threat. And the next day, we are still walking barefoot to the garden, keeping a watchful eye lest another one gets too close.

I love living a place where nature is simply part of life and not something to be fought back with pesticides and shrubbery. I love that my own little girl - a bright eyed hillbilly pup - can run unleashed and unfenced up and down the mountainsides, playing in the creek and lounging in tall grass. I love that when my neighbor's cows decide to come over the creek to chew on my grass, that all I have to do is walk up and talk to them and they go right on back home. And I love how my neighbors tell their friends and relatives how much they love hearing the music come drifting over from my porch, no matter what time of day or night, and those stories get back to me at the grocery store or at work. We all share this place and work together to keep the delicate balance that makes this the kind of place where we all feel free.

I don't really know if I'll ever want to have kids of my own, but I know that I'll always want and need a family. And Judy Branch is a place where I belong to a family that resembles the cross section of an old tree trunk, with rings and rings and rings of circles. Right now, at the center, is me and the critters. Hopefully, someday soon, there'll be more that just us at the heart.

A friend of mine recently told me, when he was first courting the woman he's now married to, there was a moment when he had an ephiphany: this was a gal he could move to Alaska with. And that's when he knew she was the one he wanted to be with forever.

That's the feeling I'm waiting for. Who knows if I'll move to Alaska (although a part of me would really like to try it out for awhile...). The precise place, other than being in the mountains, is not so important. It's meeting someone who, without any hesitation or doubt, you'd want to be with in the middle of the wilderness and who could relish that experience with you, helping to maintain the delicate balance of life and being with you at the center of the circle of famiy you naturally become a part of when you live at the edge of the wild.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Neglectful Gardener

Seems I remember this blog used to be mainly about my life on Judy Branch, and much of that concerned my garden. I've been sidetracked by world travels, disabled by back pain and distracted by major life changes, but nevertheless, I have actually managed to pull off some bit of gardening. I've been a neglectful gardener, but I have managed to plant some seeds. I had an early crop of peas, turnips and beets, but I missed the most important planting time by being away May through mid-June. I came home to enjoy a harvest of sugar snap peas and to see that I really should have thinned out the turnips before leaving for a month.

The heirloom tomato seedlings neighbor Bill gave me really grew fast, but the local deer population has taken it upon themselves to prune the poor plants down to nearly leafless green skeletons. I was surprised to see one lone green tomato hanging on one plant. It may be too late, but I built a sort of fence with a top over the poor plants in an attempt to preserve whatever else the deer might find tasty.

About a month ago I planted four different varieties of basil around the tomato bed, but I've not seen them pop out of the ground yet. Neigbor Bill sowed my corn for me while I was away, and it is really coming along. The week after I got home I planted butter beans at the end of hte corn rows and squash interspersed among the corn. The squash is now coming out, and I think I better mulch it in case we actually start to get rain. Last year my squash plants rotted away because I didn't mulch. As lazy as I've been this summer, I'm determined not to make the same mistakes I did last year!

I also managed to plant about four or five long rows of okra, the Cajun Jewel variety and maybe one other kind. Still not sign of them, but I always have a hard time telling what okra looks like when it first comes up. they don't become obviously okra until they get a bit taller.

Last night I was in need of some serious comfort food, so I went into the zone many Southern women go into when they get that urge. I spent about an hour preparing myself a big supper of mashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, bbq tofu, fried green tomatoes and cornbread. Oh, and brownies with dark chocolate chips for dessert.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Lazy or Forgetful?

I don' really know if I should still be keeping a blog. A while back I got quite a shock to realize that people sometimes actually read this damn thing. I never really thought that would happen (except for the lot of you who read this to check up on me and make sure I'm still alive here in the hollow).

I've been feeling the winds of change for some time, and I must admit that it is terrifying at times. I'm about to be uprooted, and I don't know exactly where I'll end up or what I'll be doing.

There are times when I wish I could forget all my old ties and start anew. But then I can't bear to let go of the truly amazing friendships I've been blessed with all these years. There's certainly been tough times. I'd rather not count how many dead friends I have, and there are others I have been saddened to watch drift away from the selves they once were. I'm glad I never got hopped up on pills or the like and became a ghost of myself. Hell, I still feel like the same person I was when I was 17. 'Cept I'm older, my back hurts and my joints ache. And now my old hell raising hometown friends are putting out country records while I'm playing clawhammer banjo on my porch. Who would have thunk it?!

A little over a week ago I got to spend several days on the Olympic Penninsula at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes. Lee and Opal had told me what a time they had there when they went out a couple of years back. I was there with some other KY folks, and we sure did have a good time! Still, I can't say that going a week without sleep beats Lee's story of the first time he saw the ocean. He got hit upside the belly by a wave and then a seagull pooed on his head. Now that's a memory!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Family Reunion

There's family, and then there's family. In the past three weeks I've been surrounded by people, who in some way or another, I consider my kin. First it was coming home to my Granny's funeral and falling back into the comfortable place I always get when I'm around all my cousins, aunts, uncles and, of course, my parents and brother. I was lucky enough to grow up really knowing my family, especially my cousins. It seems that no matter how old we get or how much our lives change, we fall into this eternal dynamic each time we gather together. There's a lot that has happened among us, and there are some that have done some things that has caused some rifts in our tight circle. Yet somehow we still manage to return to our tight-knit clan. What I noticed over the weekend of Granny's funeral was that when I see myself and my cousins all together, I can simultaneously feel the presence of our child and adult selves. We still communicate in a certain way that is timeless, and being the oldest granddaughter, I can see all my cousins as they were when they were just little. It's the next best thing to having a big passel of brothers and sisters, and I'm glad that every time one of us brings a stranger into the fold (new girlfriend, husband, etc.), that person is immediately struck by the closeness of our clan.

The other family I've been so aware of is my mountain family. These are people who know and understand me in a way that my blood family, even my own brother, cannot comprehend. I've got grandparents - Lee & Opal, Charlie & Joyce - a Faerie Godmother who is a sister, mother and best friend all wrapped up in one - and several foster parents, including Judy Branch's own Bill & Billy Joe. Since I've returned home I've been really feeling the presence of these family members, and these feelings only intensified during the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School.

Knowing that I will soon be leaveing this place to embark on a new chapter in my life has put me in quite an emotional state. It's as if I'm a rock out in the ocean, a great waves keep crashing over me. Sometimes it is pure excitement at the possibilities of a new life someplace else. Other times it's a cold soaking of grief and homesickness of leaving all these folks I've come to call family. And then there's waves of panic in which I feel as if I'm drowning and if I don't get out soon - NOW- I will suffocate.

There are certain friends that I give me hope and comfort as I prepare to jump into the abyss. Many of them are friends I've just recently come to know, friends who I met feeling as if I'd known them my whole life. This year's Cowan School was especially fulfilling, because while surrounded by my mountain family, I met several new friends from off who, in my soul, I've known forever, and in my heart I know I'll be friends with for a very long time.

I am now on the Olympic Penninsula with some KY folks, sharing a house with some SW Virginia folks and hanging out with folks from Louisiana and all over the west coast and other parts of the country. Being near the ocean and surrounded by wonderful fiddle music is just what I've needed to bring myself out of a sleepless seven weeks.

Monday, June 18, 2007


I have felt a bit paralyzed since returning home from Poland. The only times that I get to feeling comfortable are when I'm sleeping (when I can sleep) or working in the garden. I was home for just a few days last week when I took off and drove down to Tennessee to spend the night and my parents' house. I'm glad that I followed my flight instinct, because on Friday I met up with my dad for lunch, and we ended up sitting and talking for about three hours. With us both returning from far off places to meet at granny's funeral, I think that none of it really sunk in until a few days after the fact. We could finally talk about losing granny and finally talk about our foreign adventures. There was a lot to talk about, and I suppose there still is.

One thing that I kept feeling when I was in Poland and Ukraine was this strange sense of understanding when my local hosts would hint at these undercurrents of resentment and/or other indescribable emotions toward neighboring nations (Russia, Poland and German for the Ukrainians and Russia, Germany and Ukraine for the Poles). As a Southerner, I could relate on a certain level to these feelings some of my new friends would allude to. But there was no way I could really communicate this to my fellow traveller, who wasn't from the South. I was both surprised and relieved when talking to my mom about my trip, that she actually brought up the mutual understanding that Southerners could have with the Polish people. I told her how one of the most interesting things for me was when I got to spend some time hanging out with a young Polish woman my own age, and how she talked about the process she had gone through with her feelings toward German people. First hating them for all the recent history, then falling in love with a German boy in college and making some really good German friends. Then being treated like a piece of "Polish trash" by a German man her dad's age that she met while traveling in Ireland and feeling those resentful emotions rekindled. Mom made the comment that as Southerners it was easy to relate to being automatically treated a certain way by people when we travel. Reconstruction wasn't as recent nor as horrible as what happened to Poland, but those feelings really do continue, and it is a difficult thing to describe to people who have never felt that. I have an uncounscious tally stored away of particularly nasty encounters in which mere strangers have treated me like I was stupid or backwards or racist or all of the above, simply because they heard my accent or learned that I was from the South. You don't forget those moments, and it makes you automatically weary and/or suspicious of folks you meet when you travel. For her it was Germans and Russians. For me it is Northerners and Californians. We both have friends from those places, but there's this unspeakable divide. I hope I got this down in a manner that does not offend my non-Southern friends. It's just something that is there and very difficult to describe, but if you're a Southerner or Polish, you may just know what I'm talking about.

Enough banter. Sunday evening, I managed to weed a good portion of the garden and plant basil and peppers next to the tomatos, squash and butter beans in with the corn and plant a good three rows (well, 9 rows if we're talking actual plants) of Cajun Jewel okra. I hope to clear the rest of the weeds out and plant a few other okra varieties and some more basil later this week.

Today was another day that I could not make myself go into work, instead choosing to catch up on emails and other projects from home. I think that I have it set so that I can do almost all my summer work away from the office. This will make easier the inevitable transition (my insides keep screaming "Must move SOOOOON!").

Thursday, June 14, 2007

You Can't Go Home Again

When you leave home, even if for a brief spell, it never is quite the same when you return.

I came home in time to drop off my suitcases, pack another and head to my Granny's funeral.

When I finally made it back to Judy Branch a few days later, it was to an altered place. The most obvious is that the forest around my house is being logged. For what it's worth, it is part of the forest management, meaning that it's selective logging using sustainable practices. Still, it is loud and there are people around my house when usually there are only dogs, cows and wild beasts. It's unsettling, especially since the only thing I have really craved since coming home and burying my granny is to have some time of perfect solitude at home.

I am not sure this will be possible.

I feel unsettled, and I think that I am supposed to do something about it. Soon.

There are some things that bring you home, even when your own homeplace is in a state of upheaval. I found deep comfort when I ventured over to Family Folk Week at Hindman last night to visit with my friends and join in the square dance and the late night jam session at the wood shed. It's nice to run into music buddies I only see once or twice a year and find that they already know where I've been and what I've been up to. It feels like a family, and I enjoy being a member and watching how everyone interacts. Some of these folks I see nearly every week, while others I may only see once a year. And how wonderful it is to see old friends with such long histories reunited and playing music late into the night! If only life could be like this all the time.

Monday, June 04, 2007

It's all up in the air...

Tomorrow will be the last day of this adventure across Ukraine and Poland. I am always amazed how condensed time and space become when you live as a traveller (note: this is very different from life as a tourist, but I do not need to tell YOU this, do I?!). It feels like my brief life in Ukraine was years ago rather than a month.

I have met so many interesting people and lived a life in which every day was a surprise.

For the most part, these times have been incredibly good [bardzo dobry!!!]. But there have been times when I have yearned for my own free will and some time to myself.

There is a trade off from being a traveller who is a guest in people's homes and towns or cities as opposed to being a traveller who is a passerby in these places and, for the most part meets only other such travellers. Good points to both, and I hope that my future will allow me to merge my usual style of travelling (the latter) with the kind I have been involved with this past month.

I have a big desire now to learn a language like Polish, as fluently as possible. And I am sad to say that now my desires to once again live in a foreign land may be much more easily achieved.

A few days ago, my best friend in the whole world, my granma, passed away. As long as she was alive, I could not bring myself to move too far away, because she is so very special to me. It does not yet seem real to me, and I know that it will be especially difficult when I return to my life after this journey, because my instinct will be to go visit or to call her first thing. Before sleep, before anything else, the top of my list would be to tell Granny all about my adventures while they were still fresh on my mind.

I have no idea who I will talk with now that she is gone. It is terrifying for me to imagine the loneliness that I will feel in her absence. No matter where I may make my home, I will always crave hours of late night conversation with my granny.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Maybe I will move to Poland or Ukraine?

There are certain characteristics of the communities in both Poland and Ukraine of which I feel a very strong kinship. I like how they actually embrace the idea of laissez faire in everyday life. There's an intense difference of cultures when you cross the border from Poland to either Denmark or Germany. Much more order and tidyness in those countries. I like the relaxed atmosphere of my host nations.

My friend Deborah and I have had many opportunities to share music with our hosts in many different places. Just now we are at the home of a Vetrinarian in Swinoujsin, the most northwestern point of Poland. Before we arrived here, I injured my back even more (I did something bad to in in November that has caused chronic sciatica) when I fell down some steps on the ferry from Copenhagen. I got to experinece the Polish medical system and am now on some amazing medication that actually stops the muscle spasms from both this current injury as well as the back pain I have been struggling with since November. I will bring the bottles back to KY and try to get my doctor to figure out what actually works for my problem. How funny that the Polish chiropractor immediately found somthing to cure my pain, while I have spent weeks, moths, etc. in KY trying to get just a little bit of relief!

One of my favorite aspects of this trip is that we are making real connections with people, visiting and often living in their homes. I hope to re-visit both Poland and Ukraine again and again, and I most certainly hope that my new friends will come to visit me in the states.

I don't know what my life will be like when I return home, but I know that this will be one of the most important experiences I have ever had. Americans, in general, know so little about the world outside of their own small spaces. There are so many extraordinary people in the world, so many common grounds to discover. I know that for the entirety of my life that I will be a rambler, and this soothes my soul.

Life is short, and we must make the most of it. Love the people you meet and cherish every breath that you breathe.

Today Deborah and I rode bicylces to the German border and back and explored the city of Swinoujsin. Tomorrw we depart for a new home, Wolstyn, perhaps?

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Wanderer's Update from Szczezin

Internet has not been part of my reality for the past couple of weeks, and I am doubtful that it will be in the coming weeks. I will try my best to provide a concise update of my adventures.

It all began with a three hour drive from Judy Branch to Berea where I met Deb and Frank, and Frank drove us another two hours or so to the Cincinnatti airport where Deb and I met up with our fellow travellers. Then a flight to Chicago. A delay followed by a hellacious change of planes which involved leaving the secured area, re-checking in, taking a train to the other terminal where our plan had already been boarding for half and hour. Packed flight on AirLOT (Polish airlines). I watched Night in the Museum with Polish voiceover, very entertaining. Arrived in Warsaw after 9.5 hours and waited several hours for our delayed plane to Lviv, Ukraine (Lvov in Polski). The real adventure began when we landed at Lviv. The airport was one small palace looking building with high arches. Beautiful. We went into the main room of the building and were locked in to go through a detailed customs accounting. When we finally made it through into the open entrance, our host families were there to greet us.

I fell in love with my first host family, and I could live with them forever: Voldymyr, Nadia and daughter Iryna. All musicians and all genuinely amazing people. Voldymyr is a professional musican (rock n roll) as well as a conductor; Nadia teaches at a music school and Iryna is a university student who also sings and plays bandola (a traditional Ukrainian instrument). They live in a small village just outside of Lviv called Navaria and their house was a work in progress, with Voldymyr working on it as he had time. Very nice and a place that both Deb and I could easily, immediately call home. My fondest memories are of the many cognac or vodka toasts (along with chocolate eating)before bed, watching the end of the Eurovision competition (Ukraine placed second. Serbia was the winner), Voldymyr's sister's birthday party (where Deb, Iryna and I were the only English speakers) and a wonderful bbq at their friends' home in a neighboring village in which we played a mix of old time Appalachian and Ukrainian music (banjo, guitar, accordian, spoons) and I taught Nadia and her friends how to flat foot on the back of a work trailer! I learned from them that in Ukraine you must always toast three times: 1. For family/children 2. For friends 3. For love. And then, you find countless more things about life to toast, even when you are so sleepy you can barely keep your eyes open.

Next we were in Uzhohord, south of Lviv and across the Carpathian Mountains in the Transcarpathian region bordering Hungary and Slovakia. I thought that this small city was much more of the type of city I would enjoy living in, with the Uzh river cutting through the center of town and many open spaces, small winding cobblestone streets, theatres, opera houses, etc. I stayed on my own with a "New Ukrainian" family (meaning the new wealthy, which is increasing, but a minority) just outside of town in a very, very nice house. I LOVED the back garden area, but I was a bit scared that I would mess something up in the house, it was so nice and so spotlessly clean. Yuroslav and Oxana (my host family) had a fantastic 3-yr old son, Sasha (nick name for Alexander) who immediately became my best friend, b/c no one in the house really spoke English. Also, I gave him a wooden, magnetic train set first thing, and it became his favorite toy (at least for the time I was there!).

The next leg of the journey involved an overnight train journey with some of our Rotary hosts from Lviv to Szczecin. This was quite a trip. Six people to a car, with six bunks. We had a blast testing our Polish out on our car-mate, a young man from Szczecin who we befriended when we noticed him laughing at some of the things we said in English. We gained an audience from our train mates with our game-show style game with Polish and English language, and then, of course, the Ukrainians got in the mix and it became a total riot with everyone crying from laughing so hard. Our party was cut short when a German woman arrived as a passenger on our car and immediately demanded that it was time to go to bed, which meant we all had to fold dopwn the beds and could no longer sit together. But our new friends from the next car over began a little music concert and everyone gathered in the hallway and sang songs and Deb and I danced a little. Even the conductor got involved a little. He was going to tell us to be quiet, but when the majority of train folks (most were in the hall) said they didn't mind the music, he seemed to dance a little too on his way back up the car.

Our first few days in Szczecin involved some Rotary activities, but we have also had time to really get to see the city, which is beautiful. Szczecin is about as far away from Ukrain as one could possibly get, on the NW corner boarding Germany and not too far from Denmark. The Rotary hosts in the club that are hosting us are much younger than those we met in Ukraine, and all seem to speak English. The city is really sort of cosmopolitan, esp. in the architecture and layout of the streets. The streets are more similar to Paris, with large round-abouts. It's a shipbuilding, port city and the greenest city in Poland with many large forested parks. Very livable place.

Tomorrow evening we will head northwest to the coast and take an overnight ferry to Copenhagen where we'll have a day and then return the next night by ferry. Then we'll spend the weekend on the coast and then head south of Szczecin to some other places. For the most part, we do not know where we are going or what we shall do until it happens.

Do widzenia, for now!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Wisdom of Pebbles

A long time ago, a Tom Robbins book profoundly altered my relationship with the world and my perception of consciousness. _Skinny Legs and All_ extended my empathetic capacity to inanimate objects, and although the novel's protagonists were ordinary houshold objects-can of beans, silver spoon and a sock- I have ever since felt the life and consciousness of rocks and soil. I think that feeling was already there, especially for rocks, and Robbins validated my sense that there is a consciousness far beyond what humans have speculated.

The first time I ever went hiking with my family, age 4, I began within the first few feet, picking up rocks and putting them in my pack. One would guess the lesson I should have learned that day. I don't take as many rocks with me as I would like to, but to this day I can hardly go on a walk without picking up a stone. I have always felt connected to boulders, stones, rocks and pebbles. I love the feel of sun-warmed stone under my bare feet. Growing up in the Smokies and living my early adult life in the Blue Ridge, I would spend hours hiking mountain streams. Barefoot and with no constraint of time nor any concern for what dishelveled, muddy condition the river would release me, I would explore the feeling of the stream, the way the different kinds of rocks felt under my feet. I usually walked up stream, and I would boulder up onto the larger rock formations and stretch my body over them, feeling the grooves, finding the perfect fit. When I would find that stone that was a perfect fit, I'd lay there and stare into the water, enjoying how my perception of the life of the stream would gradually awaken, allowing me to see the life in fluid motion.

Faerie Godmother wrote in a comment that a stone told her "Don't let yourself be strip-mined. Don't let your grief pollute! Be a clear spring where the water is pure." Now that is the kind of wisdom that comes from a rock. Life is too precious to spend your time in grief and worry. Surely, if Ghandi had allowed the grief he often must of felt to overtake his life... well, just imagine!

A quick weekend jolt to my hometown fed my soul with a deep appreciation for the relationship I have with my parents, which is now emerging into such a wonderful friendship. I also got in a few hours of catching up with one of my long-time close friends, who first inspired me to visit Poland when he was living there a few years ago. Between my upcoming travels and all sorts of insane and mundane life things, we certainly didn't run out of things to talk about. And then I came back home to three animal companions who, after I've left them for a day, want to spend every second by my side. The rest of my time has been spent enjoying the company of our Indonesian visitors and learning to see my life and home through new eyes. Last night Lee & I played music for our visitors, and Lee brought the house down when he played, by request, "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain," and our visitors sang along, with great enthusiasm, about 15 verses in Javanese.

That little stone's message rings true through these many joys that bless my life at nearly every unexpected turn. Of course there will be grief, hurt, self-doubt. Hearts and mountains both are vulnerable to strip mining. But life is always ready to spring forth. You should see what's happening out here on Judy Branch!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Why Can't We Be Friends?

Today my dad and I got into one of many discussions we tend to have. Basically, it comes down to our mutual lack of understanding of how so many outspoken people can get away with saying such stupid things, and people can actual stand to listen to it... and many of them actual agree. Whether it be the right-wing "moral" upholders (who patronize high price call girl agencies while fighting prostitution on a global scale) or the hungry media scouring blogs in search of the "real" story of those impacted by the VT incident, they are all specimens of the human race that leave me feeling that there's little hope for our species. I'm with Tolkein. I just wish I could have been on that boat with Bibo, Frodo and the elves.

On the other hand, a slew of visitors from Indonesia have rekindled my joy in the human race. For a week they have, unexpectedly, been at the forefront of my everyday life, communicating with pure expression, music and mime mixed with fragmented, translated words. The first night I met them (all fifteen or so...) I ended up giving banjo lessons and exchanging dance steps. It was such a grand musical evening that I scrapped together my slim resources and gifted Sofie with a small gord banjo and Anneng with a full-sized banjo to take back to Java with them. We have a few more days left together, and I am so glad that this is so, altho I'm a bit terrified at their request for me to join in a musical collaboration for their puppetry presentation. Javanese music is entirely off the scale of any crooked KY fiddle tunes I've ever heard! I'm not sure I can even find these notes on my banjo... but I'll sure as heck try! I hope that Faerie Godmother will come up to stay on Judy Branch Tuesday evening so she can witness the beautiful Wayang puppetry performance. It is going to be something.

I'm also looking forward to bowling with them tomorrow and then Monday night when they get to meet my esteemed banjo mentor, Lee. He's always so good with entertaining folks, and I think he's excited about meeting visitors from so far away. I'll head over to his house tomorrow after bowling so we can practice up some tunes with him on fiddle & me backing him on banjo. So many good things to get into just in the next 48 hours. That restores a little faith in the human race.

Having all these folks come and stay with us in our little town reminds me of why I love to travel and meet people along the path. The most amazing people you could ever meet are those you meet unwittingly. We are from such varying religious and ethinc backgrounds, but we are all joined together in this shared experience, this common ground of being here now. I am going to miss these happenstance friends when they go back home, but I'm sure glad to be guardian of a long list of Javanese towns as destinations for the next big adventure. (MW, are you ready for our next trip? I'm voting for someplace more tropical... but it's your pick;)

I'm gettig ready to embark on my own exchange trip to small coal mining towns and whatnot in the Ukraine and Poland. I can only hope to make as deep connection with those I visit there as these visitors have made with me. And I wish I could take my first Ambassador to Poland with me.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Preparing for Departure

Preparing for departure is never easy. It can be exhilarating, exhausting and damn near impossible. Is anyone ever really ready to leave?

First off, there are so many things to be done. House needs cleaning, garden tending, laundry washing. How do you want to leave things when you go? And what to bring with you? And whom do you need to connect with before you go?

14 days until I get on a plane for Lvov. And really, all I want to do is get my garden planted, play music and just soak in springtime in the mountains. I love being disconnected from the rest of the world. No news, no TV to muddle the experience of being here now. I hope I can feel each moment in the Ukraine and Poland as intensely as I feel it here on Judy Branch.

When I come home I know that there will be many other kinds of departures to deal with. We are always leaving or being left behind.

One of the hardest things about living here is when entire mountains disappear. When I was driving to Berea last week, there was a roadblock. We were being stopped to witness a few men in backhoes systematically tear down trees on the mountainside. The mountain will be next. Living here, you become somewhat hardened to the death of mountains. You just don't have enough emotional energy to deal with it. Sitting there in my car, watching the dozer take down tree after tree that had just begun to sprout spring greens. Deep from within a sob came to surface, and before I knew it I was crying uncontrollably. For the life of me, I can't understand how any living being with a soul can actively participate in the murder of a mountain. I know all the complexities. The people behind the machines have to do those jobs to feed their family. There's a long chain of complicity. Still, I just don't understand humankind's capacity for cold-blooded murder, whether it is against each other, other living beings or entire ecosystems. It's things like this that have me convinced that I missed the boat. How can I be part of this species?

I tend to think too much and live too much in my head. Most of my life I have been terrified of my potential, as a human, to cause pain or harm to others. I have a tendency to want to protect others from myself, and I go through phases where I sort of quarantine myself away from the rest of the world... for their own good. It's not exactly a healthy way of approaching life or relationships. I have so much admiration for my friends who are outspoken and passionate and unafraid of the potential consequences of following their hearts. Maybe my heart has always been uncertain, or perhaps my brain just gets in the way. I am always trumped by this deep need to do what is best for everyone involved. I'd probably make a good mom, except that I really don't want to bring kids into this world.

I don't really expect many people read this blog. I don't try to get it out to the world. I only tell a few friends about it with little expectation that they'll actually read it. Mainly, this was something I set up to force myself to write on a regular basis, something other than grant proposals, reports or journal entries. I try to keep it to what is at the foremost on my mind, while keeping an intentional distance from my job. It seems that even in writing about things that I felt really only related to what was going on in my mind, I still manage to hurt or upset other people.

Someone recently made a comment about an entry I wrote after I learned some pretty devastating news about an old friend. I tried to keep it vague and not easy to identify, but that was under the assumption that my readership is primarily people from this life, not old high school friends. The person commenting used the word Schadenfreude, which means someone who takes pleasure in others' misery. Pretty harsh. It hurts to know that is how, after all these years, she thinks of me.

I hate that horrible things have happened to people I admire and respect. I hate that what I wrote could be taken as an insult when I meant it as homage. I don't enjoy knowing that others are experiencing unimaginable agony. It makes me feel sick. And that's why I wrote something down.

Out of respect for that friend, I will remove the entry and apologize for any pain it may have caused. I figured those old feelings were water under the bridge and that reflecting on them could do no harm. My bad.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Almost perfect storm

Another spring finds me traveling for a weekend meeting in Texas. Last year it was Dallas, and right now it's San Antonio. I have to admit that I have actually really started to enjoy going to this meetings, and not simply because of the travel. I have learned to trust that no matter how skeptical I am about the meeting's locale, it is going to be loads of fund because of the people who I'm going to meet. This is one of the aspects of my job that I really don't mind letting seep into my personal time(i.e. weekend and nights).

Last night I dined at a great Mexican restaurant with about ten artists and arts presenters. Then, after taking a little break, a few of us walked from the hotel down to Market Square to check out the opening of a new museum, complete with a FREE outdoor concert with Linda Rondstant. Prior leaving the hotel, we had gotten wind of reports of a major storm and tornado watch headed directly for San Antonio. Relying on our sense of adventure and the reassurances of a local colleague, five of us set to face whatever may hit us. We figured, how much safer would we be on the 5th floor of a hotel?

The square was lively, but not too crowded as the winds began to pick up and lightning could be seen in the near distance. Literally 20 seconds after we turned the corner to face the stage we heard a few strains of Linda's voice, followed by her explaing, "I'm sorry, but they're telling me I have to stop now." Then the announcer warned everyone that a severe thunderstorm was minutes away and everyone should safely find their way to cover. We found our way to a great mariachi bar and rode out the storm in style. The bonus? Music provided to a neighboring table by a huge band, complete with two fiddles, two trumpets, a guitar, that intstrument they use that looks like a seriously over-sized guitar (bandola?) and... a harp!!!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Dogwood Winter

What a week it has been on Judy Branch! It seems that everything is getting greener with each day, and in the past week both redbuds and dogwoods have begun to open. Young sweet peas, mustard greens and beets are coming up in the garden. It seems that the minute I fill up the bird feeders, they are emptied by busy, hungry birds.

Most of the imposter ladybugs have found their way outside. And the best part is that I have been home to witness this fantastic spring transformation.

Today brought Dogwood Winter. The temperatures have plunged, but everything is still so green.

The shock of the sudden cold paired with the clear blue skies and green everything parallels the emotional extremes I have been balancing over the last week. I have been intoxicated with spring delirum and the dizzy anticipation of an upcoming journey to Eastern Europe. These feelings were elevated a hundred fold when I learned that my friend Deborah will also be along for the adventure. Then, numbness followed by an emotional free-fall at learning news that one of my closest high school friends's life had turned upside down in a murderous love triangle. That kind of stuff doesn't happen to people I know! At least, that's what I used to think. It still doesn't feel real, but I am now at least to the point where I am not losing sleep over it.

It has been a blessing and a relief to have a week at home. There's much to be done before I spend a month in Poland and other hinterlands. First off, sleep and lots of it. I tend to run myself far beyond my battery life and then crash. The above emotional yankings intensify the depth of the crashing. Boy, have I slept, and much of the daytime sleeping has been in the hammock! Second: Find relief for the neverending back pain. Last week I finally went to a doctor (who happens to be my neighbor), got xrayed, and now I'm going to physical therapy and taking pain pills (nothing hefty, just a stronger dose than over-the-counter aleve). Wednesday it was pool therapy and tomorrow it will be regular therapy. If there's no improvement by next Wednesday, it's MRI time. Yipee!

Other tasks include learning as much Polish as possible.

Na zdrowie!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Pacific Dreams

Lately I've been remembering my dreams, and many of them have involved the Pacific Northwest or some of my friends from that beautiful locale. Odd dreams, mostly, where I'm in places that resemble recent experiences, such as my recent New Orleans adventures, but place them in another context. One dream was set in a place that was a hybrid mix of Rock n' Bowl (New Orleans) and Sky City (an old super-store we used to shop at when I was a kid), with all the Southern qualities one would expect. Only, it was dark & rainy and in Portland (I think!). In another dream, my friend Rebecca was talking to me in a very matter of fact, casual way, about driving to Portland (from Kentucky, Tennessee or somewhere in my home region). "You know, you just drive through Kansas, take a right, then a left in Idaho... It's easy. I've done it a zillion times.."

Travel is once again on my brain, but I'm surprised that my dreams aren't about taking a boat to Poland, riding trains through the Ukraine, playing my banjo in Belarus. Or perhaps about how I've been incorrectly spelling Belarus (Belaruse!) for months now!

This weekend my travel plans involve going to my hometown to participate in the annual Appalachian Studies Association conference. Of all the meetings I attend, ASA is always my favorite. When get people together who are involved in Appalachian Studies, you are always in for a good time. Thank goodness I didn't choose a highly technical or elitist field! Can you imagine what biochemistry association conferences must be like? I'm sure folks really enjoy geeking out about that stuff, but I'm more inclined to mix my intellectual networking with some banjo pickin' and moonshine sippin'!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Spring Showers

There's certainly been a hint of spring in the air. Over the past couple of weeks, the peepers have come out, welcoming me home with their chorus and creating new challenges for the "do no harm" driver. With each season, there are new critters to avoid squishing with my big metal box-on-wheels. Deer, dogs and possum are always on the list, with wooly worms, monarch butterflies, frogs and turtles acting as seasonal anti-targets (the goal being NOT to hit them). Frogs are the most difficult to dodge. Today I was thrown a surprise. I had to come to a near-halt on the highway for... a wild turkey! I love living in the mountains, no matter how challenging it is for my buddhist tendancies.

I could never be a good Buddhist anyhow. Not as long as the ladybug imposters continue to invade my homestead.

This evening brings showers. The peeper-frogs are loving it, and so am I. There's the scent of change in the air. I am feeling hopeful for experiences I can't even imagine. Rosie-le-chat is obsessed with vitamins that my chiropractor gave me. She is trying to chew through a sandwich bag in attempts to get a bite of adrenal supplements. If only I could train her to eat imposter lady bugs!!!

When I arrived home from the vaults, Bella greeted me sopping wet and covered in mud. I greeted her by giving her a bath - the third she's ever had in her entire life! She curled up asleep on a towel in her favorite chair, somewhat humbled, even though she is ordinarily quite the humble dog. And Sid Vicious? He is studying the space heater. Seems he isn't quite convinced that winter is over just yet.

And that's the Judy Branch update.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Garden Time... at last!

Yesterday I took advantage of my peculiar travel schedule (more later) and stayed home to get a start on my garden. I also took advantage of the slight ease of back pain to turn over four rows the old fashioned way. That's spade by spade. I also managed to pull up some more milkweed and thistle skeletons so that my rows would be equally long. I'm terrible at guessing distances, but I think they were each at least three feet by 25 or 30 feet. Much of my inspiration to just "dig in" rather than waiting for Neighbor Bill's tractor comes from staying at Deborah and Frank's farm outside of Berea. Frank's newly planted pea patch will soon be growing up a trestle that he made from cattle gate/fencing - another source of inspiration. I pulled out an old portable wire closet rack (you know, the self-contained kind that you can use in or out of closet), plopped it over the row where I wanted to plant peas and used it to support a trestle made of the metal pet fencing I'd used to keep the dogs out of the broccoli patch. It looks sort of trashy, but I think it will do the job! I managed to get a row each of beets, turnips and peas planted before calling it a day.

Now you may be wondering about those peculiar travel plans? My alarm went off at 2 AM this morning. I was on the road by 3 AM, on a plane by 6 AM and now I am sitting in a courtyard (circa 1860) just outside the French Quarter in New Orleans, salivating from the fumes of the neigboring Cuban restaurant. Good thing it's lunch time and that getting fed is the first thing on my itenerary!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Goodbyes Are Never Easy

Everytime I leave Judy Branch, I must go through the process of saying goodbye to Bella. My recent schedule has had me spending several nights away from home on a regular basis, and Bella is always uncertain of when I might return. I'm sure it must be unnerving, not knowing if your best buddy, parental unit, significant other, etc. will return in a few hours, a few days or a few weeks. Poor Bella! I think she and the cats have now become accustomed to spending a night or two alone, and I'm hoping that my current travel schedule will ease the disruption of my being in Poland for a month this spring.

This weekend I was faced with saying goodbye, perhaps forever, to a good friend. At the monthly old time jam this Saturday we learned that one of our music buddies was in the hospital with a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer. Even though he's a young 80, it was heartwrenching news. After the jam, eight of us caravaned up to the Pikeville Hospital and brought the old time jam to Rodney's hospital room. I'm not sure who was most affected by this simple gesture - Rodney, his daughter, or us.

My friend Bev and I were talking about how people have so many different lives. Those folks we play music with have families and friends that have no clue who we are. When we showed up at the hospital, we not only gave Rod a treat, we brought some joy (and relief) to his daughter. She finally got to be part of "that" part of his life that she had heard about but never had experienced. At one point she said to her dad, "Now I see why you always want to go down to Whitesburg..." Bev & I agreed that we want our families to know what to do/who to call if anything were to happen to us. "Callin' in the troops," is how we referred to it. If I were to pass before my folks, I'd want them to be comforted by all my music friends showing
up and playing music for/with me, whether it be at my hospital bed or at my wake. There's something about that musical connection that surpasses anything anyone can ever say or do. It's just something you share without any pretense or predjudice.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

back pain

i'm about to give up on the chiropractor experiment. following my session last week i felt a marked improvement in my back and left leg. but for some reason i could not get him to do what he did (basically it was sort of like a deep tissue massage around my lower back) in this week's session. and guess what? the pain in my back has returned... with a vengence! with that returns a numbness in my left leg and foot, awkward limping and severe limitations of movement. after nearly four months of this nonsense, i'm about to lose my mind!

but i'm thinking what i need is either a really good massage therapist or a surgeon.

tonight is a judy branch night, and i'm spending it under an afghan on the couch working on a grant proposal and watching UK play in the SEC tournament. all the critters are napping nearby. i think bella misses her new best friend, justin (see picture above).

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sticking around the Old Homeplace

With all the traveling that I'm having to do these days, the time I have at Judy Branch has become even more valuable. After my week of hosting the Chocolate Drops, I jumped right back into my new fellowship schedule, which has me driving to and from Berea twice a week. I was so glad to get back home on Friday and enjoy the quiet comfort of my home.

Some strategic planning on my part allowed me to stay home all weekend, even though I hosted a meeting on Saturday morning. Instead of meeting at my workplace, I suggested they all come out to Judy Branch. It was so cozy, sitting around the kitchen table, driking coffee and snacking on cream cheese danishes while we made plans and caught up on each others' lives. While sitting there, I got to thinking about how some aspects of my job really don't feel like work, mainly because of the people I get to spend time with. I feel really fortunate that I get to spend a great deal of my time in the company of people who inspire me with the lives they lead, warm my soul with the stories they tell and humble me with the love that they send my way. I didn't really do much culinary preparation for my guests, but they were pleased nonetheless.

I made a really simple cream cheese danish (at least I think it's a danish!). All you do is put a pack or two of cream cheese & some sugar (1/4-1/2 cup) in a mixer and cream together. In the meantime you melt 1/2 a stick (or less) of butter or margarine. You take one tube of crescent rolls and lay the entire "sheet" of dough flat across a baking sheet, not pressing it flat or doing anything to it at all. You spread the cream cheese mixture on top and then pop open another tube of crescent rolls and lay it across the top, lightly pinching the edges of the bottom & top together. Pour melted butter across the top, sprinkle some cinnamon & sugar over it and pop it in the oven @ 350 for about 10-15 minutes, maybe more. It's done when the dough is cooked and a little brown around the edges.

For lunch we had leftovers I had made from the ingredients I never got around to using during my previous house guests:
A mix of sweet potato and black beans with spices and Kentucky-Creole eggplant pudding (a baked pudding, more like a custard or casserole) over a bed of spinach served with salsa, fresh cilantro and tortilla chips. Pretty yummy for a random combination pulled out of the frige!

While the wood stove kept us nice and warm for our meeting, the weather on Judy Branch became almost balmy by afternoon. To my disappointment, the ground was too moist to plant snap peas. Even so, I got in some garden time pulling up old milkweed skeletons and clearing out the remains of last year's garden.

The weekend was capped off with my Sunday session with Lee. This week I brought a visitor, my fellow Appalachian music fellow. I think Lee & Opal like having company as much as I do. Opal cooked us up a big dinner of green beans she had canned, cabbage, mashed potatoes and cornbread. I love Opal's cooking just about as much as I love Lee's banjo playing!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sweet Solitude (Somewhat)

I really enjoy playing the role of hostess. I love to feed people home-cooked food, and I especially love to bring them out to Judy Branch for a few hours (or days) of retreat from that busy world that exists beyond this little hollow. This week I was in full hostessing mode, cooking enough food to feed about 12 people for five days. I didn't get to cook all the dishes I had hoped to make, but there was plenty of food. What I could prepare in advance of the company's arrival, I did last weekend. The rest I had to cook late nights after full days of work. Fortunately, I was in good company with Dom Flemmons as my house guest. He provided an impressive array of music to cook by, kept me awake with irresistable conversation and even helped me cook a bit. Most importantly, he kept me from over-working myself every night! Most of the time we sat around the kitchen table going through our music collections, geeking out full-force about our mutual musical obsessions.

Several other folks came out to Judy Branch last week, with "snow," or I suppose the idea of snow, cancelling several of the school and senior citizens events we had planned last week. We made the most of our free time to really get to know each other. Bella hit it off with Justin, and I think she's actually missing him a little now! By the end of the week, even Sid Vicious felt comfortable around the guests, sitting in the middle of a room full of people!

Company departed on Sunday, and Monday morning I drove to Berea to continue work on my fellowship. Usually I am a house guest when in Berea, but I opted to splurge on a hotel room for some much needed solitude and R&R. It was the best night's sleep I've gotten in over a week! As nice as it was to have a break from being around people, I know when I go back to Judy Branch tonight it will seem empty.

Friday, February 16, 2007

snowed in!

this week i made big busy plans for my visitors, but the weather interfered. it didn't really snow much, not even 1/2 an inch, but things like the senior citizens' lunch and school got cancelled. all those things we were going to do would have been loads of fun. but we had fun just the same being snowed in.

since school was cancelled, and thus all our work commitments until 6pm, we all pretended to be snowed in on judy branch yesterday. it was really cozy having company, eating brunch together, playing music, talking and watching movies.

it looks like we are going to have more of the same, weather-wise: snow flurries. i just hope they don't cancel the square dance tonight! why do people have to be such wimps about a little snow?!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


There are some combinations that are divine. I believe that succotash achieves this, no matter which manifestation. I've experienced many variations in my life, and there's not one that I've chosen as my standard. This week, for me and all those I'm feeding, succotash is made up from treasures found in my freezer: okra, corn & butter beans, cooked with fresh tomatoes & a habanera pepper (you poke it with a fork, throw it in with the mix while it stews and then take it out when it gets to the desired spiciness).

Another divine combination is chocolate and chili pepper (cayenne, or whatever your palate’s pleasure).

Oh, and I must also give a nod to fresh basil blended into hummus. Yum.

Want a full list of what I’ve cooked up so far for the week (for my lovely guests)?

2 pans of spinach lasagne
macaroni & cheese (made from scratch, except the noodles…)
2 pans of chocolate chip brownies
several pans of hot chocolate chocolate chip cookies
1 carrot cake
1 large bowl of basil hummus
1 vegan spice cake
1 big pot of succotash
1 vegan loaf of cornbread

What else might I cook up this week (during all that spare time)?

An interesting KY-Cajun Eggplant Dip I want to try
Vegetable stew
More cornbread (turns out the vegan guest actually will eat eggs)
Collard greens
Mashed turnips

My friend Blue Artichoke would be so proud of this Lil’ Birdie!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

slow food

judy branch is a great place to hole up for the weekend, especially when it's cold outside. for all the marvels of electricity, you can't back up to central heat. i love my wood stove. what's even better is the location of the stove. my living room and kitchen are one big open space. this is great for evenings (or all day) at home. i can cook, listen to my stereo, even watch a movie, while the fire crackles in the stove and the critters lounge lethargic in its heat.

when i know that company is coming, even if it's just at work, my prep work starts at home. next week i'll be hosting quite a few musicians, artists and other guests. a quintessential southern trait that i've inherited from pretty much all the women in my family is that when company's coming, you cook. a lot. i mean a serious quantity of food, mostly the kind my mom, aunts, grandmas, great aunts, etc. taught me to make for company. before i can get around to the catering prep for the upcoming week, though, my somewhat abandoned house needed some attention.

last night i replaced the bag in the vacuum and waged war on the "halloween" beetles (they want you to think they are lady bugs, but they are not!). i realized that enough was enough when they seized my bedside lamp (imagine a lamp covered entirely with a layer of lady bug impersonators...) and would wake me up several times through the night crawling on my skin and biting me at will. for nearly half an hour my bedroom was free of those imposters. i don't know where the back up troops come from or why they feel a need to centralize forces around my bedside lamp and surrounding areas (the wall and ceiling above the left side of the bed). the only way to keep those buggers down to a nearly tolerable presence would be to vacuum every day. i'm not the only one who faces this dilemma. in fact, it is worthy of regular posting in my local newspaper's "Speak Your Piece" column.

i'm beginning to think these beetle bugs were intentionally let loose in the southern mountains by vacuum bag manufacturers. what do you think?

today bella went with me to do the old time radio show, and then i loaded up on groceries and came home. i practiced "black eyed susie" until my fingers hurt and i made a food list and schedule (what i'm making for next week, for which days/events and when i must make them). right now there are two spinach lasagnas in the oven that i can freeze for one of the meals next week. still on the list for this weekend: basil hummus, carrot cake, cayenne chocolate-chocolate chip cookies, brownies, carrot cake, cheese cake, lemon squares. looks like sunday is going to be a busy day! in addition to all that cooking, i've also got to practice the tunes lee taught me, prep the garden for planting peas (on valentines day!), go over to lee's for a banjo lesson in the afternoon. yipee!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Deadheads & Suckers

I'm not sure if it's a mountain, rural or generally an American thing, but I've always been more inclined to measure the distance between two places by how long it takes to get there, usually by driving. The drive from Judy Branch to Berea is approximately 2 and 1/2 hours. Part of living in the rural mountains is that you get used to spending quite a bit of time in the car. This has been my experience since I first started driving. In high school, a 40 minute drive to a good swimming hole was considered close or "local." Driving 30-45 minutes to get to work or a night out on the town was also considered close by. I guess that's why I've never had a problem with living at least half an hour from anywhere, and driving a couple of hours to get somewhere isn't really all that bad either.

Last night I stayed with my friend Deborah at her farm in Jackson County. I think it took about 45 minutes from Berea, maybe a little less. But the terrain really makes it seem much more in the middle of nowhere than Judy Branch. Even though I'm nestled in the heart of the Central Appalachian mountains, the roads really don't go up and down as many hills. They follow the rivers and creeks, and while winding and dotted with sharp curves nestled between a sheer drop into said creek on one side and a craggy cliff face on the other, you don't really have to go up and down much.

Deb has been a house guest on Judy Branch many times, and I knew from her descriptions of life on her farm that I'd feel right at home. What I really love about their place is all the work that they have put into the place to make it their home along with all the daily work they do to make a living from their home. While I garden and do a lot of those survival tasks of rural living, Deb and her husband Frank are really living off their land. They raise sheep, rabbits, hogs and chickens, which provide eggs, meat, hide and income. Their work crew includes horses, guard and hunting dogs and I'm sure a few other tennants that I haven't met yet. Inside are the two cats, Foscoe & Madeline (they sleep outside when it's not so cold) and a pen of quail. I had my first taste of quail eggs, hardboiled last night and fried this morning.

Frank & Deb had to convert the original house structure (a typical Appalachian flat board house that has been upgraded over the generations) to include indoor plumbing. The water is gravity fed to the house from a spring up the hill. For more consistent pressure, they've added a cistern and a water pump. What's handy is that when the power goes out, they can still get water fed by gravity. While I also have spring water from a well, it comes from underground and required a pump to get it to the house. So I'm out of luck when we lose power.

They have built on a high-ceiling log addition to the original house which makes for a fantastic living room, complete with a cozy futon covered in warm sheep skins.

One of my favorite rooms of Deb & Frank's place is the outhouse. Neighbor Billy Joe and I've talked about how in so many ways life was much easier before indoor plumbing. I know from Judy Branch how messed up indoor plumbing goes when it comes to toilets. You really have to make an effort to flush, and if it rains too much for too long the septic tank can get backed up, which is not at all pleasant. Those problems don't exist when you just use an outhouse. And they really have a nice one, well decorated with National Geographic photos and poems pasted all over the walls and door.

Last night Deb and I sat by the wood stove, and she taught me how to play "Black Eyed Susie." I brought her my copy of the Flat Mountain Girls CD, Honey Take Your Whiskers Off. They're an all-women old time band from Portland, OR, which play a rockin' version of the tune. I've let her borrow it today in hopes that she'll figure out how to play "Deadheads and Suckers," a tune they recorded and cited as Trad. Neither of us had ever heard of it, so I am now on a mission to find out more about the tune (and to learn how to play it!).

Today I'll head back to Judy Branch to prepare for a week with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. A week from Monday I'll return to the mysterious chiropractor (who, from my novice perspective seemed to ask a lot of questions of my arm... tho I think it was my brain channelling through my arm?). He's fixing me of my lactose intolerance and will hopefully ease some of my back pain (thus the root cause of seeking his help). I'll hold off on any detailed commentary until I've tried it out a few times.

The real icing on the cake will be that evening (Feb 19th), when I hope a big field trip of friends will join me and Deb to see the Chocolate Drops perform live on the famous Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour at the Kentucky Theater with Folkboy himself, Michael Johnathon. Above is a picture from my last field trip to see friends Uncle Earl play on this legendary radio show. Is it because of the stellar musical guests that we make the Monday night pilgramage to Lexington? Is it to support our up & coming, "undiscovered" musician friends as they are introduced to an international audience? Or is it the personality of the host that draws us like ants to sugar? You decide and let me know.