Saturday, July 31, 2010

Physical dexterity test

Is successfully using plastic wrap in occasional food storage efforts some kind of physical dexterity test? If so I have scored in the negative numbers. Regardless of the brand, I have no success at dealing with this particular household product. Unrolling it . . . awkward! Cutting it on the box’s little metal teeth without a wrestling match and twisted, stuck-together plastic wrap . . . impossible!

Oh no! Maybe it’s a sign of my ambivalence about kitchen activities. The good news: My husband is really at home in the kitchen. He says he has to be if he wants to eat!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

On top of the world

Early morning on the Blue Ridge Parkway
A beautiful morning of brilliant blue sky and mountains nestled in ever-changing clouds greeted husband Walter and me at the Waterrock Knob Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway during a recent vacation.

Van and camper at 5,820 feet
With only one other vehicle in the spacious parking area, we pulled our van, with pop-up camper towed behind, alongside a picnic table perched on the edge of the overlook. The scene above greeted me when I was returning from a visit to the rustic but clean facilities.

Hubby’s Blue Ridge Parkway coffee shop
When I drew closer, Walter had pulled out our camping chairs, positioned them with the perfect view of the mountains, and had hot water heating on our Coleman stove for my hot tea and his (instant) cappuccino. Ahhhh! A perfect early morning treat!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Temperature rising. . .with age

The coastal South is not suffering alone in summer heat lately. That is small comfort; I don’t wish the heat and humidity we experience here on anyone. The sweltering summer temperatures that rarely used to bother me in the past zap me now.

For the first two-thirds of my life, I was cold in the winter and fairly comfortable in the summer unless air conditioning was blowing directly on me. When I say cold, I would likely start wearing thermal underwear in late October or November; and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, those months hardly count as cool weather.

Things started to change about two decades ago. First came night sweats; then came power surges, also known as hot flashes. My winter wardrobe evolved from long-sleeved sweaters and turtlenecks to layers that could be shed down to a sleeveless or short-sleeved garment.

My understanding for hot-natured husband and sons grew. Elder son once noted that he had to keep moving when he was playing basketball during P.E. or he would “make a puddle.” In recent years the power surges are fewer and less extreme, but my internal thermostat seems permanently set on high. The threat of “making a puddle” remains, giving a different connotation to the appellation “red-hot mama.”

Thank goodness for air-conditioning!

*Clip art from Public Domain Clip Art.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blue Ridge Parkway: Summer wildflowers

Wildflowers saved the day for me at Waterrock Knob. Day 8 of our recent mountain trip found us hiking up the Waterrock Knob trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is only one mile round trip, but steep, steep, steep. The last time we took that trail was more than three decades ago. The hike was easier this time. I progressed a few feet at a time with long pauses in between to snap photos of the abundant wildflowers.

Gracefulness was not in my repertoire, though. Some of the steep, rocky places I negotiated crab-style on all fours going up. On my descent the occasional application of a sitting-and-scooting technique came in handy. It was, however, exhilarating. Below are some of the flowers I enjoyed. Any misidentifications are entirely my own.

Mountain bush honeysuckle

Turk’s cap lily

 Pale jewelweed, also known as pale touch-me-not

Mountain saxifrage

Mountain St. John’s-wort

White wood aster, similar but with fewer petals than the mountain wood aster in an earlier post.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Happiness is . . .

One of the joys of being a grandparent is being around for grandchildren’s pleasure in simple things. Here are a few moments from the potent mix of grandkids and the Smoky Mountain camping experience.

Eight-year-old Luke prepares to try out new goggles in the mountain stream.

Four-year-old Charlie and two-year-old Stella visit the stream behind our campsite with Baboo.

Five-year-old Nate models his hot-chocolate facial art.

Determined to keep up with her older siblings, Stella wrestles an inner tube into position to roll it down an embankment.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Smoky Mountains #4: Wildflowers on Balsam Mountain

It has only been 10 days since we were in the cool temperatures and fog at 5,000 feet on Balsam Mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Temperatures here at home are in the mid-90s; the humidity is stifling; and Tropical Storm Bonnie is churning our way. It seems like forever since I was enjoying photographing summer blossoms in the Smokies—and staying cool.

Mountain wood aster
But trying to identify these flowers has brought a bit of the Smokies’ cool temperatures back to me. I snapped these images in the fog at Balsam Mountain Campground and the nearby Heintooga Pass picnic area. The reasonable way to identify the plants would be to consult a field guide as I photograph. Our time was short, however, and I was scurrying around trying to snap every blossom I could see. Husband Walter suggested labeling them as “yellow flowers” and “white flowers.” Although that would definitely be quicker, not finding their correct names would feel like calling a friend “Hey, What’s-Your-Name!”

Here are a few. Any corrections of misidentifications are welcomed!

A bee’s-eye view of the center of the bee-balm that brightens roadsides with scarlet blossoms.

One of seven sunflower species found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The heal-all plant, once used medicinally, sports tiny blue-violet flowers.

Rosebay rhododendron with insect visitor

Fly poison, a toxic beauty

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Not a pioneer woman

We pulled into our driveway just as Friday, July 16, turned into Saturday, July 17, after a week and a half camping in national park campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains and on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We exited the air-conditioned cocoon of our van into the hot, damp blanket that passes for air at this time of year in coastal Mississippi.

Husband Walter cranked up the AC in our home. We dragged bare necessities out of our van, became reacquainted with our tub and shower facilities, and tumbled into bed in a cool, cool house.

The next day we were preparing to depart for two-month-old grandson Walker’s baptism when we realized we were no longer cool. ACK! No AC! By Monday, when the repairman arrived, I knew that air conditioning is absolutely the last amenity I would ever want to do without. No pioneer woman here.

Within minutes he had found the problem and replaced a bad capacitor. When I approached with checkbook in hand, he made a call then gave me more good news: The capacitor was still under warranty. Hooray! Cool house and no bill!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Smoky Mountains #3: Wet, wet, wet

Rain and fog soak Newfound Gap road.
On Day 6 of our Smoky Mountain trip, we departed Elkmont Campground during early morning downpours interspersed with mild drizzles.

Moisture is a fact of life in the Smoky Mountains. Rain had been long overdue by the look of the streams in and around the campground and the park staff’s elation over the precipitation. Visiting in the Smokies with the expectation of continual sunny weather is unrealistic.

Be prepared. Dealing with wet clothes, shoes and sometimes bedding in limited rain-resistant space is an inevitable experience and one of the downsides of typical Smokies weather. But the upside experiences are abundant. Here are a few:

#1. Breakfast and hot tea served to the sound of rain and the fresh smell of mountain vegetation. Husband Walter, intrepid putter-up and taker-down of our small pop-up camper, worked during spells of lighter rain to ready everything for our move to another campsite in the park. He then proceeded to prepare breakfast on our camp stove. We savored hot tea for me, coffee for him, and eggs and toast, all in the rain, under a blue tarpaulin that was only slightly leaky.  

#2. Happy, savvy campers. The rain had discouraged all but the determined and experienced from camping at our next destination at more than 5,000 feet on Balsam Mountain. Cool temperatures, occasional showers and eerie fog provided the perfect excuse to catch up on reading and napping. The only manmade sounds were laughter and conversation—made magical filtered through the dense fog.
Van provides dry, snug cocoon.

#3. Sense of timelessness. The heavy fog gave an aura of otherworldly peace to one of our favorite Balsam Mountain stops--officially designated as Heintooga Pass picnic area just a short walk from the Balsam Mountain campground. Contributing to that aura:

No hikers trudged the rain-soaked trails. . .

No picnickers gathered at the new tables near the front part of the picnic area. . .

But best of all was the visit I always have to make to the remaining original granite picnic tables farther into the day-use area. I am still trying to find out more about construction of the tables at this high-country site, but I think it is another example of work by the Civilian Conservation Corps after the park’s creation in 1934.

Refurbished granite-slab picnic table

In years past many of the massive granite tabletops were flat on the ground. Recently, however, several have been refurbished. They stand like friendly monuments to the young men of the “greatest generation” who executed construction and conservation in national parks prior to World War II.

 Pooled water on a granite tabletop reflects the misty forest.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Smoky Mountains #2: Child’s wonderland

During a recent family gathering in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, five-year-old grandson Nate summed up one of my favorite things about camping in the Smokies.

Nate’s observation came during a trek to a nearby comfort station in the park’s Elkmont Campground near Gatlinburg, TN.

“At home you just go to the bathroom,” he said. “Here it’s like exploring!”

All the daily chores and routines of life take on the spice of adventure when conducted out of doors with a friendly campfire burning, towering trees above you and a stream’s burble replacing the electronic cacophony of a more urban environment.

Mom makes a game of brushing teeth for her four at the Skupien campsite.

Two-year-old Stella finds tooth brushing on a rock an irresistible challenge.

The impact is especially noticeable on children. Our choice has been to focus on the walks, hikes and other activities available within the park with a rare venture into commercial entertainment venues. Our sons grew up camping in the Smokies, and now they are introducing their children to the pleasures—and sometimes pains—of eating, sleeping, playing and learning in the mountains’ extravaganza of natural wonders.

A day’s adventures might include. . .

Rock throwing beneath the campground bridge. . .

Tubing the rapids. . .

Hiking with Baboo. . .

Tackling a new skill, or. . .

Discovering unexpected treasure.

At the end of the day, I am thankful that children, parents and grandparents have shared authentic experiences rather than a frenzied five days of commercially fabricated fun.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Word comprehension, kid style

My Bible read-through has me in the Gospels now. The old, old story is ever new, but in the midst of savoring it, a couple verses in Matthew popped me back to my childhood when I was puzzled by the plight of SCUBA divers in the Bible.

I came to know Christ in a personal way less than a month after my eighth birthday. From that early age I was reading the King James Version, not always with much understanding. Since everything in the world was miraculous and often set me to wondering about things at that time, I guess I just skipped over some of the many things I didn’t understand.

Divers in the Gospel of Matthew
The KJV spelling of “diverse” without the “e” is a case in point. Without that “e” New Testament verses such as Matthew 4:24 and 24:7 created a picture in my mind of intrepid divers exploring the seafloor. I got the impression that the life of SCUBA divers in those days was exceptionally hard, what with all those diseases, torments and earthquakes at their dive sites.

Stella rates an A+ in comprehension
More recently, two-year-old granddaughter Stella’s processing of my verbal instructions set me to laughing. I was popping popcorn for the grandkids the old-fashioned way, on the stove. Why I am no longer using microwave popcorn is another story.

Stella, in her favorite pink tutu bathing suit, came into the kitchen and headed my way. With both my hands engaged with sliding that big pot back and forth and round and round on the burner, I worried that she would be at risk. “Stella, back away!” I admonished. She kept coming. I tried again with more force. “Back away! Back away!”

Stella stopped. She leveled the infamous, no-smile Stella stare at me for a long moment. Then with an impish grin, she broke into a quick little backward shuffle until she was even with the kitchen door. She executed a precise 90-degree turn and backed out of sight. My husband and her siblings were on the sofa in the living room waiting for popcorn to go with their movie. Husband reported that she backed all the way to the sofa, paused, and then did a backward circuit of the room.

Well, I guess I didn’t specify how far to “back away”!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Smoky Mountains #1: Summertime fun

Must-have Smokies memory
We just waved goodbye to our oldest son’s family of six after two nights of camping in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park with two grandsons ages eight and almost six then two nights with the addition of their parents and sisters ages four and two. What a joy to experience again the Smokies’ magic through younger generations’ enjoyment!
Grandsons engage in the simple pleasures of the Smokies.

The six closed their sojourn with the traditional snapshot in front of the park sign. With lots of last-minute hugs and waves, Nana and Baboo sent the tribe on their way. Then we drove down into Gatlinburg, TN, to get a cell phone signal and call our mothers. THEN. . . husband Walter pulled into a coffee shop. And here we sit in air conditioning, with his latte and my breakfast tea in easy reach, connected for the first time in six days. Ahhhhhh! We are experiencing a heady mix of civilization and the absence of constant vigilance for the safety of little people. More about our Smokies summertime travel – and one of my momentary lapses in vigilance--coming up.

The traditional entrance-sign photo is hubby Walter’s. The coffee shop is Coffee & Company. The blessings of grandchildren, children and natural beauty are God’s.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Elders and decision-making

I hesitated about publishing this post. If I’m to record my retirement journey accurately, however, concerns about the members of our family who are a generation older than me figure prominently. My husband and I are officially “elders.” We are blessed with “older” elders--would that be “elder” elders?--who have taught by example. They have shown us how to prepare for and experience a rich and full “elder” life. They have also set a high standard on how to face loss and serious medical conditions with courage, creativity and determination.

There have been instances, however, when they have been less than forthcoming about physical symptoms prior to our taking them on a trip or facilitating their participation in a particular activity. I have asked myself “Why didn’t I question their decision instead of going along with it?

The risks have ranged from diminished health or quality of life to the potential loss of life. After our most recent scare, my husband and I are determined to do better--as in being more assertive--about probing for straight answers in order to reveal potentially risky situations.

But why do they take the risk? Are they reluctant to lose what potentially could be a last chance to engage in a given experience? Do they think a change of plans would inconvenience others and they don’t want to cause trouble for someone else? Or, as another relative suggested, is it a case of being in denial? I have no answers at this time, just more questions. It has me thinking about my own decisions about health now and how I am likely to make decisions in the future.

A scientific study of elders’ decision-making capabilities, recently reported in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology and Aging, focused on money-making decisions. But the researchers’ findings ring true for other areas, too. Their suggestions for cranking up the quality of decisions reminds me of what I have already observed and how I can help when I am directly involved in the decision-making process. The two biggies were 1) to allow the individuals more time for making decisions, and 2) to present the information that the individuals need in a way that best assists them in making decisions. Go here for a Duke Medicine News and Communications news release on the research results.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Green apples past and present

Tart green apples. . .loving that pucker power
High on my list of favorite treats are tart, crisp apples, especially green apples. During a recent trip to Kentucky, bags of green apples caught my attention at a produce market we visited in a local Mennonite community. The smallish apples were clearly not the Granny Smiths that sometimes fail the tart-and-crisp test in our hometown food stores.

Passing the test
But were these Kentucky apples really tart and crisp? I asked one of the Mennonite gentlemen working there that question. He ventured no comment but placed one of the apples on some boxes he was moving. “You can try it if you want to,” he said. I did; the apple passed the test; and I closed the deal. I departed munching my sample and carrying a $5 bag of apples.

We are back in Mississippi now, and several days ago I shared apples with my mother, a fellow green-apple addict. In fact, she takes credit, whether through genes or by example, for my love of edibles tart and sour. As a child, two of my best-loved family anecdotes were about her appetite for green apples.

Technically innocent
Her love of green apples was already well established at a young age. Green apples were abundant on a gnarled old tree on the farm where her family lived during her early childhood. Her father, however, had laid down the law: no picking apples before they were ripe. He underestimated his number five child's determination and creativity. She and her younger sister climbed up the sloping trunk of the apple tree. With feet firmly planted on the nearly horizontal trunk, they held onto a limb above them and inched out toward the prize dangling before them—green apples.

They ate their fill, leaving a limb full of dangling apple cores still attached to the tree. Their father, a fair man, decided he could not mete out punishment since they had not actually picked the apples. He did, however, cover all his bases with the assurance that punishment would be swift and unpleasant if they failed to obey the spirit as well as the letter of his edict in the future.

Pregnancy craving
Years later, when she was pregnant with me, she and my father lived in a small travel trailer in a pecan orchard while he attended Mississippi State University on the G.I. Bill. Even though they were frugal with their meager income, she splurged almost daily to fulfill a craving for green apples. She would purchase three for 10 cents from a produce man who made his rounds among the GIs and their wives. Then she would immediately proceed to munch her way through all three, savoring the tart, crisp bursts of flavor.

With that family history, how could I not love green apples?