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October 31, 2006

A Halloween Costume Contest

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Among the costumes posted below is the one I wore at the Winter Sun Spookfest this past Saturday Night. Be the first to guess which one it is and get your name up in lights here at Loose Leaf.
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1. Will the
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2. Real Colleen
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3. Please
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4. Stand up.

Post note: Identities will be revealed this weekend.

October 30, 2006

The Nature of Trees

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1. Safety in numbers
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2. Ahead of their time
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3. The best of both worlds
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4. Express yourself!
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5. The shape of things to come

October 28, 2006

Jamming at the Jamboree with Jim Webb

webjamboree.jpg It was “standing room only” at Floyd’s Country Store, home of the Friday Night Jamboree, when Democratic Senatorial Candidate Jim Webb and former Governor Mark Warner came to visit on Thursday. By the look of the line of young people waiting outside for their arrival, I figured that a high school field trip was underway. Inside, the turnout reminded me of the one that gathered to hear author Barbara Kingsolver in September.

Passing through the upbeat mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces, I found an available seat up near the front, next to a white-haired man from Shawsville. A lone girl flat-footed on the dance floor to the Bluegrass band’s fast paced fiddle tempo. Looking around, it didn’t take long for me to discover that my friend, retired Lutheran minister, Dick Giessler, was sitting two seats away. “I can’t count how many times I’ve driven to Blacksburg to hear someone notable speak. This is the second time in two months Montgomery Countians have come to us,” I leaned over and said to him.

Dick, who I’ve always admired for his activism during the civil rights movement, introduced me to the man sitting between us, Mr. Slusher, a 4th generation Floydian. “I’m a registered Independent, fiscally conservative who votes Democratic because they represent my interests in labor rights, civil rights, women’s rights, and environmental protections better than the counterparts,” I explained at one point during our back and forth conversations.

Like a school girl watching the clock for school to let out, I kept checking the door, waiting for Webb and Warner to arrive. When they finally did, the crowd gave them a rock star reception. webcrowd.jpg People stood and cheered; some waved “Webb for Senate” signs. A few shouted encouraging remarks to Warner. Many had thought that he would run for President in 2008, but he recently announced that he would not. Former Virginia State Senator and World War II Vet, Madison Mayre, took to the stage to warm the crowd up, and boy, did he ever. With his stories about Uncle Billy, whose ashes are supposedly kept in a mason jar, just like the one that held the moonshine he enjoyed while he was living, Mayre had the crowd hooting and laughing out loud. He introduced Warner by reminding the crowd that Warner was the first in his family to go to college. “And I’m the first in my family not to,” he joked.

Taking the mic, Warner made some jokes about being unemployed, “but not ready for the political mason jar,” before getting serious and explaining the urgent need for change. “Our standing in the world has never been lower and our own agencies have determined that we are creating more terrorists faster than we can capture or kill them,” he emphasized before introducing Webb.

At this point, all I wanted was for Webb to explain why he was wearing dusty work boots with a suit and necktie. With family ties to the area, Webb had been to Floyd before, but “It’s my first time being dressed like this,” he said, referring to his less than casual attire. “The real question is: why is he wearing a tie?” he joked. About the boots, he said it had to do with a promise he made to his son.

It wasn’t until later, while researching Webb’s background online, that I discovered the full reason for the boots. Apparently, they’re his son’s combat boots. webwarner.jpgFollowing in the family’s military tradition, his son is a Marine Lance Corporal serving in Iraq. Webb didn’t mention that fact, but he did say this about his son: “When I was 24 corporate CEOs made 20 times more than the company workers. Now my son is 24 and they make 400 times more.” He made other references to corporation tax loopholes and the growing large gap between the rich and the struggling working and middle classes.

Webb, a decorated Vietnam Vet, NRA member, and former journalist who has Democratic roots but was a Republican for some of his adult life, was against the war in Iraq from the start. No weapons of mass destruction. No exit strategy. Although he spoke of his personal religious beliefs about marriage being between a man and a woman, he believes in equality for all, he said. He doesn’t support the marriage amendment because “anyone who is not in a traditional marriage will have rights taken away.”

The red-haired Webb made reference to his Scotch-Irish heritage, a heritage that is known for its warriors and fiercely independent thinkers. Online, I discovered that his Scotch-Irish background is the reason for his campaign logo “Born Fighting.” Born Fighting is also the title of one of Webb’s books, of which the subtitle is, How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. Not only has he had 6 best selling books, mostly war novels, but according to the Richmond Times Dispatch, he won an Emmy for his PBS coverage of the U.S. Marines in Beirut and wrote the screenplay for the movie “Rules of Engagement.”

An interesting man by any standards, Webb is not your typical Democratic candidate, but he is one suited to the people of Southwestern Virginia. He has a good chance of coming out ahead in the general election. He may even do well in the mostly Republican County of Floyd.

Photos: 1. The Country Store. 2. The crowd inside. 3. Jim Webb with the mic as Warner looks on.

October 27, 2006

Poet in the House

seirra3.jpg “I feel a little like Leonard Cohen to her Sylvia Plath,” I leaned over and whispered in my friend Jayn’s ear. We were at the Café Del Sol for the monthly spoken word open mic, and Sierra Bell had the mic. Sierra, who grew up in Floyd and recently graduated from Appalachian State, read three poems. Her style was natural, her sultry voice perfectly metered. She poured her poems out like filling an empty glass. Never losing her place or her rhythm, she did not look up from her notebook, but I couldn’t take my eyes off her. By the end of her reading of “The Birds,” posted below, I was giddy. Imagine it read in a Dorothy Parker-like delivery:

The Birds

The birds are sweet little voyeurs
and my pain’s on open-house.
They are sugar in my wounds:
paper packets full of bleached,
granulated chipper chirping.
Good god, get them out of my infection.
They smash their pie-songs in my face.
They dance their catchy little honey coated waltzes
on all nine horizons of my suffering.

The birds are dulcet weapons and I wake
each day to their bludgeoning lollipop standards.
All afternoon while I attempt to wallow
in my misery in peace, they accost me
with their shrill cherry-on-top trills.
I didn’t ask for this
saccharine spoonful of warbled jingles.

I’d rather not have my blisters
smeared with syrup, thank you.

Star struck, I called Sierra over to the couch I was sitting on when the readings were over. I wanted to learn a little more about her and tell her how I felt about her poetry. I found out that, although she had taken a poetry class at her college, she majored in Cultural Anthropology and not poetry or creative writing. sierra4.jpgEventually she plans to go back to go back to school, but not for poetry or creative writing. “You can’t earn a living at it,” she explained.

Sierra’s father is a well known photographer in Floyd. Her mother is just as well known for her pressed flowers on glass, and her older sister makes jewelry. The results of their creative pursuits are sold at the family’s gallery in town where Sierra is currently working. Knowing how creative her family is, many customers ask, “What do you do?” she tells me.

“You can call yourself a poet. You’re a poet.” I insist.

Then what do I say … do you want to buy a poem?” she jokes.

We talked about chapbook publications, places she might submit her poems, and the writing courses our friend and fellow poet Mara is taking at Hollins College. But Sierra was right, I had to agree. There are no jobs for poets listed in the want ads. No “poems wanted.” Not many people are interested in buying one.

“I only started calling myself a poet when Will Bason, (a mutual Floyd friend and folk poet), started calling himself one (via a bio in a Roanoke Times commentary). He gave me the courage to,” I told Sierra.

“But I also did it to explain myself. I think being a poet is a way of life, and I was hoping people would cut me some slack and leave me alone to do what I do,” I continued. “I wasn’t claiming to be a good poet. I was just saying that writing poetry was what I was compelled to do more than anything else.”

This is a young poet prodigy,
I kept thinking as we talked. I silently cringed, knowing the steps Sierra would likely have to take to be recognized as a poet, to get paid even occasionally for her poems. Although I wanted her to get on with the rest of her life being a poet, I also realized that she’s young.

“Maybe you’ll find yourself home raising young children some day with lots of inspiration and time to devote to your writing,” I conceded. “Just keep writing,” I told her, “and don’t ever hesitate to call yourself a poet because that’s what you are.

October 26, 2006

Honk if You Play 13 Thursday

13homk.jpg 1. I recently ran into a friend who I hadn’t seen in awhile. When she asked me what I had been up to lately my answer was this: “I’m the nutty professor of blogging. My computer desk is my lab.”

2. I knew I wanted to be a poet when I heard Leonard Cohen singing “Suzanne” on the radio somewhere in Boston in 1969.

3. “It’s not as popular as dog racing.” That’s what I heard current Poet Laureate Donald Hall say about poetry in a recent PBS New Hour interview.

4. Some of my best ideas for writing happen when I’m driving, but I hardly go anywhere these days. This could be a problem.

5. I used to adjust my rearview mirror so that I could look at my boys in the back seat when they were little and we were driving somewhere. I was in awe of their beauty and wanted to stare without making them feel self-conscious.

6. Last October Joe and I were in Aspen Colorado with our camper. THIS is my favorite fall photo from then.

7. My friend Rosemary, who is a member of the writer’s workshop I belong to and a Scrabble playing mate, has a commentary in the Roanoke Times on the Marriage Amendment. Read it HERE.

8. I’ll be glad when elections are over and the ads stop airing on TV in the same way I’m glad when PBS and NPR fundraising is over and they stop breaking into programming to appeal for support.

9. You’ve heard the saying that “history repeats itself?” Here’s Mark Twain’s take on that: "The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes."

10. I love the way language has an order and symmetry, as well as mystery to de-code. I like to read words in ways other than left to right and am fascinated by words like silent and listen, tone and note, lust and slut that mirror each other. I recently learned that ridiculous and ludicrous are also the same words with the letters moved around.

11. I recently posted about shopping for meat at a grocery store named “Slaughters,” meeting an actress named “Stump,” and a woman holding a sign in front of the courthouse with the last name “Pickett.” Delane from Life in Mayberry told me about a Mickey Mouse holiday video with a woman name Carole Holiday in the credits and a football team in Mississippi with a kicker name Britt Barefoot.

12. My initials spell CAR.

13. Number 22 in my 100 Things About Me: Song title that best describes my life: What’s it all about Alfie?

Thursday headquarters is here.My other 13's are here.
View more 13 Thursday’s here.

October 25, 2006

October's Fast Parade

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1. And now they’re falling like a steady rain …
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2. in a storm of color in late October …
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3. Leaves on trees ... bright flags in sunlight …
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4. ride October’s fast parade

October 24, 2006

Floyd Fandango is Here to Stay

ferriswheel.jpg At the first annual Floyd Fandango, an autumnal beer tasting carnivale hosted by the founders of Floyd Fest, my husband and I saw a clown balance a wheelbarrow on his head while juggling sticks. We got advice from a talking crystal ball, rode on a Ferris wheel, drank mead, and ate handmade potato chips. Unfortunately, we had a prior commitment in the evening and could only spend 4 hours at the event. According to the schedule printed in the Fandango pamphlet, we missed a snake charmer, a fire eater, a magic act, and even country rocker Junior Brown, one of the headlined musical performances.

Billed as a two day “Faire, Carnivale and Brewe” our Fandango experience began this past Sunday at 12:30 in the on-site festival parking lot with what in Grateful Dead concert-going circles would be called “a miracle” ticket. I knew I was about to enter a magical space when a woman approached me and said, “Do you need a ticket? We have an extra.” She handed me a ticket and then walked away without a word about re-imbursement. The sun was shining as the wind picked up and billowy clouds rolled by. I tightened the collar of my sage green wool sweater and began the adventure. wheelbarrel.jpg

I was there for an education in beer, and I got one. Although I love the taste of good wine, I don’t feel well when I drink it, and so I have turned to beer as my designated alcoholic beverage. While visiting friends in Belgium ten years ago, I discovered that I could actually love beer, but the difference between amber and ale was lost on me. In restaurants, I have been known to order “New Balance” (which are sneakers) when I meant to order “New Castle” (a dark but not Guinness dark beer).

With my pen and notepad in hand, and with the help of beer booth attendants, I wrote down the following informal list of beers in descending order from darkest to lightest types: stout, porter, bock, larger, amber, ale, pilsner. This list alone was worth the price of admission, of which I didn’t pay, but there was more adventures to be had at Floyd Fandango.

My husband made me nervous on the top of the Ferris wheel. I can handle heights, but only if everyone involved stays perfectly still. He was flaying his arms about as he talked and pointed out sights below. I managed to gesture to the sign in bold red letters on the back of the seat in front of ours, “Do Not Rock Seat,” as I shrunk down into mine.

Back on the ground, we socialized with old friends and met a few new ones, many of whom wore costumes, whimsical hats, and sported colorful face painting. We browsed the vending booths, which featured everything from pottery and flutes to real estate and tractors. At lunch time, a man sitting at the café table next to mine offered to share some of his salami. Two young girls approached us selling cut roses. Such things can happen at a Fandango, of which one dictionary definition defines as “tomfoolery.”

The band, American Dumpster, whose lead singer was described by the Charlottesville Daily this way: “young Bob Dylan’s charisma with Howlin’ Wolf’s voice,” was warming up when I looked at my watch and noticed how late it was getting. We pulled ourselves away.
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While walking back to the parking lot, my husband stopped at the Strong Man carnival game. He lifted a giant mallet and let it go, ringing the bell on its top. Apparently he’s a he-man, but there was no time for him to receive his awarded prize. We held hands as we continued walking reluctantly back to our car. He looked slightly dejected at having to leave the fun behind.

“Cheer up,” I said to him. “We’ll come back again next year.”

Note: For more information about Floyd Fandango, Floyd Fest and other related festivals go to floydfest.com. Check out my Floyd Fest archives HERE.

October 23, 2006

The Pink Raft

The Original Perfect Post Awards

pin klraft.jpg I want a pink blow-up raft … to drift carefree …in a body of water I belong to …

A pink blow-up raft floated into my consciousness during a recent therapy session. “When’s the first time you thought of a pink raft?” my therapist asked me with interest. We both recognized that the raft was a visual signpost, but where would it lead? No doubt, it would take some time for me to reflect on its meaning.

Not like a stone skipping in and out … that plummets to the bottom when it’s done …

During the following week, I realized that my desire for a pink raft was not a whim; it was real. I not only wanted one, I needed it. After a period of self-exploration, I came to understand that the pink raft was a symbol related to my need for support, to be carried. This need likely related back to my early childhood and infancy when I experienced several traumatic separations from my mother. One such incident happened when I was hospitalized for burns for several weeks at the age of 7 months. But there were others.

I want a pink raft more … than a girl wants a Barbie doll … or a pink poodle skirt of quilted satin …

In my adult life, the burden of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome sometimes weighs heavy. I began to visualize myself floating on a pink raft whenever I was resting and felt some relief when I did that. Soon, a real pink blow-up raft manifested itself without any effort from me.

I need it more than the pink diary … with the lock broken off … or even the pink suede purse … I stole from my sister …

I spotted it in the cellar of a house that my son and his new wife were considering buying and were ready to make an offer on. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I wanted to touch it. Take a picture of it. But that seemed weird, and I wasn’t sure how to explain my interest in a pink raft to the others.

I want you to hold me still … while I lie on my back … and float like a petal …

My son’s wife has a little girl. She and I got restless when her mother and step-dad were at the kitchen table with the realtor, going over financial figures and house buying details, so we went outside to explore.

like a baby in a cradle … not left to sink or swim …

From the yard I could see the pink blow-up raft through the cellar window. Bravely, I went back inside to get a closer look. My little friend followed. It was she who snapped the photo of me hesitantly holding onto the raft. She wanted her picture taken with it too. She posed with her arms crossed, her legs slightly open, leaning to one side, as if she OWNED that raft.

“Wait a minute,” I said to her. “I want another picture of me with the raft.” Mimicking her self-confident attitude and stance, I let my shyness drop away. “I can have a pink raft too if I want one,” my new pose seemed to say.

October 21, 2006

Follow the Muse

pinktruck2.jpg I followed the muse into town today. It came in the form of a pink pick-up truck with a license plate that said “FARM USE,” but I read it as “FAR MUSE.” The truck was moving slowly, and I was worried I’d be late. I was meeting Ginnie from Golden Daze for breakfast at the Café Del Sol. Being that the truck was pink with a license plate like that, I cut the driver some slack. I was only 5 minutes late.

It was the second time in two weeks that I was having a first meeting with a fellow blogger, and on both occasions it was like re-uniting with an old friend. Like me, and Terri who visited Floyd last week, Ginnie is also originally from Boston, living in the South now.

She had a scone and I had an egg and cheese bagel. We got along famously and sat like two girlfriends comparing notes … how we got started blogging and why, which are our favorite blogs to read…and what about self-publishing? We also talked about family, marriages, and health. ginniecolleen.jpg I don’t think we stopped gabbing for the hour we spent together. But I had to be at the Harvest Moon by 10:30 to pick up fresh fish from the Indigo Girls (not the singers but the two self-employed Floyd women in the fresh fish business called Indigo Farms), and Ginnie had to get on interstate 81 and begin the journey to New York to visit her kids.

After buying some mahi mahi and cod (which I made sure to pronounce as CAWD, using my Boston accent just to fool with the girls) and doing some town errands, I headed home to put the fish in the fridge.

My friend Jamie, who works downtown at The Winter Sun and frequently gives me blogging tips – one of which led to a story that the Floyd Press ended up buying – left a message on my answering machine. “There are some people from Pennsylvania driving to Baja in an old powder blue Valiant. It’s a cool car. You should come get a picture of it,” he said in his Australian accent.

The last thing I said to my husband last night before going to sleep was, “The only thing I want to do is take pictures of trees.” I was too tired to drive the 7 miles back into town, but not too tired to drive a few, up to the Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks to take pictures of the foliage at peak. The trees were waiting. But if the car had been pink instead of blue I probably would have gone back into town.

To be continued …

October 20, 2006

Fall Foolery

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1. My better half
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2. Bleeding heart
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3. Falling for you
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4. We’re quite a pear

October 19, 2006

13 Thursday: I’d Rather Be Blogging

13 mask.jpg 1. Eulogy for Falling Leaves: Some die of natural causes … They drift to the ground and close their eyes …. Leaving their perfectly unmarked bodies … scattered like photographs of my ancestors …

2. Read the rest of this poem HERE or listen to my Shakespearian understudy recite a stanza of it HERE.

3. Speaking of wigs … I’ve been doing 13 Thursday for a year! 53 of them! THIS is my second 13 Thursday from last October, done in Halloween wig!

4. Plastic surgery is like the new anorexia. People who get obsessed with it actually think they look good.

5. Last night I tried to blog my dream while I was dreaming it. I was at big party where Van Morrison was playing. When another Van, who lives here in Floyd, was called up to the stage to play with him, my blogger’s mind kicked in. I started looking for my camera while a blog title … something like “Van on Van”… began to take shape.

6. The week before I dreamed that I met Jessie Colin Young from the “Youngbloods.” He was a regular guy living a regular life. I asked him where I could get a copy of “Get Together” and he said he didn’t know.
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7. I like costumes. I still remember dressing up as Huck Finn in elementary school and Davy Crockett a few years ago. When I was visiting my sister Sherry and her husband Nelson last year, we were getting ready to go to a Robin Hood Festival where festival goers dress the part. Sherry laid out all her “lady” and “wench” costumes on the bed for me to pick out an outfit to borrow. I tried a few on but didn’t feel comfortable in any of them. “Do you have any boy’s clothes?” I asked. (See photo)

8. At a Halloween Party some years ago, I dressed all in black with a veil over my head. No one, not even my friends, knew who I was. When the music began and I started to dance, I changed my dancing style, so as not to give myself away to those who knew me.

9. HERE is a photo of me and Robin Hood when I joined the Merry Band.

10. Robin Hood would probably be called a terrorist today.

11. I now know what a load of laundry looks like after it’s been washed with a whole roll of toilet paper that fell in the laundry basket and then got covered up with clothes. pantsl.jpg

12. As a teenager, I actually did once throw an egg at a car on Halloween and have since then felt guilty about it. The friend I was pulling this “trick” off with grew up to be the Police Capitan of the town.

13. HERE is my sister Kathy’s monkey understudy giving her monkey mind a piece of her own.

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here.
View more 13 Thursday’s here.

October 18, 2006

The Best Part of Mowing My Lawn Last Weekend

golfyard.jpgIt was probably the last time this year that I or my husband will mow the two acres of grass that surround our log home off the Blue Ridge Parkway. But that wasn’t the best part of mowing the lawn this past weekend. The best part was the perspective it gave me.

Unlike in summer, it’s cool enough now to mow at a leisurely pace. I putter around as if our rider mower was a convertible with the top down and I was taking a Sunday drive. From the far corners of our yard, I can see our property from new angles, take it all in from a distance, and appreciate the life we’ve made.

I love knowing that, as I mow, my husband is in our woods with his chain saw getting us firewood for the stove this winter. I feel grateful when I pass by the shed he built to store wood, equipment, and gardening tools. Watching out for the golf balls left in the yard from his putting and chipping practice, I take in the pungent smell of the wild mushrooms that I’ve inadvertently run over and make a mental note that some of our roses should be replanted in the spring to a sunnier part of the yard.

The garden looks dead, full of dried up corn stalks and plants that have gone to seed, but I know there’s still food growing there, a few cool weather crops, lettuce and turnips. Butternut squash, once hidden by the lush growth of summer, is finally revealed. The pumpkins for Halloween have turned from green to orange, and although most of the butterflies have moved to warmer climates, my zinnia flowers are still bearing their attracting colors.

Avoiding the plastic bucket used to mark a yellow jacket’s nest in the ground, I smile as I pass by our clothesline full of laundry hanging in the mid-day sun, glad to have made the choice not to own a dryer. The lowering sun this time of year casts a golden glow, making our yard shine with a richness that’s not noticeable during other seasons.

Careful not to mow too close to the lamppost in the wilder part of our yard (that I have named Narnia), I run over small crab apples and twigs that have dropped to the ground. I duck under branches as I wind my way back out into the open, feeling nostalgic when riding by the spot where the soccer goals used to be. For over 10 years they were a landmark in the landscape of our yard and in our lives. Countless neighborhood games were played here when my sons were growing up. It was just this past summer that my husband loaded the goals in his truck and took them over to Floyd’s Blue Mountain School, knowing they would get more use there.

With our dog Jasmine looking on, I frown as I think how summer has too quickly slipped by. When I ride by our sprawling rope hammock, I regret missed opportunities to spend time in it. The bird feeders need to be filled. The deer have been munching on our youngest fruit trees, and we still haven’t built the deck on the east side of the house.

But a wide smile returns to my face as I turn a corner and notice something new. The oldest apple tree in our yard has produced fruit for the first time. I circle around to whiz by it again so I can count the number with my eyes. More than a dozen, I see.

Brushing aside the sticky tangle of a spider web, dangling invisibly from a branch of pine, I shift into low gear and steer the mower towards the shed to park it for the last time this year. The roar of the engine, like summer itself, comes to an abrupt halt. In the quiet that follows, my mind drifts to the future, remembering the taste of apples and Thanksgiving pies.

October 17, 2006

Once Upon a Time in Paris

book in paris.jpgThe last few weeks of my brothers' lives played out like the conclusion of a dramatic Hollywood script, a plot with a twist. The road trip they took, two weeks before the first death, became the beginning of a larger journey, the one in which they would both leave this world. ~ excerpt from the back cover of The Jim and Dan Stories

Rick, from Verb-ops, read “The Jim and Dan Stories” (the book I wrote about my brothers’ deaths) in Paris while on assignment for his job this past summer. That’s the short answer as to how the book came to be there.

Rick is an artist and was sketching at Les Deux Magots on the Bloulvard Saint Germain, “thus the eraser and glass of Sancerre,” when he snapped the above photo of “The Jim and Dan Stories,” lying on the café table. Now I am eating lunch at my kitchen table studying the photo and sketching these words that I hope will explain how I feel when I look at it.

The café table looks like a runway on which Jim and Dan, who both died in 2001, have landed in their other-world form. They have no arms and legs, no need to eat (even in Paris). Their surreal existence is now dependent on others. The couple in the background calmly eating are unaware of the book, as if it doesn’t exist. Are they real? Are they living their lives still, as I type? How do I know? Where did last summer go? Have Jim and Dan’s lives been erased?

When I sent Rick’s photo to the Love-Link, our family group e-mail that we started when Dan was sick, my sister Sherry responded by saying, “Jim and Dan seem to be traveling more than us.” Are they living an alternate reality somewhere? What are the chances? What do we know? After 5 years my family and I are still trying to figure it out.

Post Note:
So far as I know, books have been Germany, Norway, Nova Scotia, and Alaska. Where else are they destined to go, I wonder?

October 16, 2006

The Paris Runway of Floyd

clothingxshirt.jpg The burgundy shirt that hung on the post in front of Amy’s new apartment let me know I was at the right place. A Woman’s Clothing Exchange, a long time tradition in Floyd, was about to begin. "Late afternoon tea served, bring a simple snack or sweet to share. Leftover clothing given to Angel’s in the Attic" (thrift shop), the invitation in the October Museletter read.

I lugged 3 boxes of clothes I had lost interest in up the stairs. Inside, the scene was reminiscent of a Filene’s Basement sale in Boston. clothespile2.jpg Piles of clothes were strewn all over the living room floor, or were stacked in cardboard boxes that a few women were rummaging through.

Soon, more clothing exchangers arrived, some with young children and babies. It wasn’t long before women in all manner of dress (or not) were walking on the piles of clothes and giving fashion show pirouettes. Someone shouted out, “Hey, keep a close eye on the clothes you came in with, otherwise they might end up with a new owner.”

Whimsical fake fur, all-weather stilettos, kaftans, saris, slinky tops, and even peacock feathers all turned up in the mix. Like backstage fashion show models, we checked ourselves out in the bathroom medicine cabinet mirror or used the reflection in the TV set to see what looked good. Women gave each other compliments and other comments and sometimes picked out clothes for each other. Most of us knew each other already, and if we hadn’t, we did by the end of this couple of hours spent together.

“Are you sure you want to give this up, Colleen?” Amy asked, flipping a shocking pink scarf from my give-away pile around her neck.
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“I have one almost just like it at home. It’s yours!” I assured her.

The pink scarf reminded me of something. “Does anyone remember the pink silk skirt I got a few years back? I wore it to my son’s wedding this summer!” I announced.

Some remembered the pink silk skirt, my personal favorite clothing exchange success story. At one time it belonged to Karen. Some pieces make the rounds and end up back for a second or third clothing exchange. Most have a story that go with them and the women freely tell them.

At the height of the afternoon’s activity about a dozen women mingled, trying on clothes, sipping tea, and munching on nori rice snacks. Nobody had on the clothes they came in with and the outfits kept changing. cx.jpgSoon, the shy blogger in me, who up until this point had only taken pictures of piles of clothes and people’s feet, couldn’t hold back any longer.

“Come on over and pose in your new outfits,” I shouted from the kitchen, “but only if you don’t mind being blogged.” Most everyone was more than happy to become blogging celebrities, showing off their new styles.

A new take on recycling? Big girls playing dress up? “This is my kind of fun!” I exclaimed while the camera was snapping.

Photos: #3 standing: Randye, Alina, Colleen, Joy. sitting: Amy and Andrea. #4: Alina, April, Colleen, and Sarah. None of us in both photos are wearing the clothes we came to the clothing exchange in.

October 14, 2006

The Meaning of Scenery

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1. Do your own thing
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2. In your own time
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3. Follow your own instincts
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4. We’re not in Kansas

Post notes: All the above photos were taken in my neighborhood on the Blue Ride Parkway. In the last photo you can see the top of Buffalo Mountain, Floyd’s highest peak, at nearly 4,000 feet. You can view more photos of the mountain HERE and learn more about it HERE. Review the year in photos from my photo journal HERE.

October 13, 2006

Bloggers Will Be Bloggers

terriblogs.jpgOur regional blogger meet-up at the Café Del Sol – called together because fellow-blogger Terri Dulong was in town – came and went like a whirlwind that left my head spinning. At one point I counted 8 bloggers (all talking at once), 9 if you count Bernie, who made a brief appearance and who doesn’t really have a blog but gets mentioned on Floyd blogs a lot.

The first thing I noticed upon meeting Terri was her Massachusetts accent and that her hair wasn’t blonde. I don’t know why I thought it was. Terri grew up north of Boston, Massachusetts, and I grew up in the South Shore of the same city. Her neighbors for part of the year in Cedar Key, where she currently lives, are Floydians who I know. It was only a matter of time before we would meet.
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Terri was asking me how I came to live in Floyd. There was a birthday party going on at the table behind us. Rio was carving a pumpkin at the outside table in front of the Café. Hugs were exchanged. Lattes were ordered. I caught a glimpse of Jamie once out of the corner of my eye.

I think it was me that broke the ice and snapped the first picture. You know how bloggers like to record events? Snapping cameras in all directions soon followed.

Fred had to leave early. So did Gretchen and David. Deana made it up the mountain from Stuart, and Doug arrived late. After about 45 minutes, when the hubbub died down, Terri, Deana, and I set up our lap top stations and made the whole meet-up official.

Only another blogger knows what a blogger feels like when she’s been away from home and hasn’t been able to blog or even get online for days. bloggerstationsm.jpg Poor Terri ended up booking a cabin in Floyd county way off the beaten track with no internet access or cell phone signal… not to mention the winding gravel country roads that she isn’t used to.

Deana was showing me how to upload video clips onto my blog, when I looked over and saw Terri. She was in deep concentration while her fingers were tapping a flurry of typing. “Look, she’s blogging this!” I said to Deana.

HERE is what The Island Writer, Terri, had to say. She’ll have more Floyd tales to spin (a pun on the beautiful yarn she purchased here) in the upcoming days, I’m sure.

Photos:
1. Terri Dulong at the Cafe Del Sol. 2. Gretchen and David St. Lawrence, Deana, and Terri. 3. Terri, Deana, and Colleen. You can read about our past blogger meet-ups HERE and HERE.

October 12, 2006

The Continental Divide

13nohunting.jpg 1. Last week I picked my great niece up at school and drove her home because she was sick and her mother couldn’t get off work. On the way, we passed the sign posted here, and I had to pull over to snap a photo. Needless to say, my niece didn’t understand my fascination with it.

2. While driving home from her house, out in the Pilot Mountain part of Floyd County, I passed the Eastern Continental Divide, the place in the landscape where water flows in two different directions, in this case, into the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf. I had heard that it went through Floyd somewhere, but I didn’t know where. I knew I passed it when I saw a sign hanging from an abandoned corner store that read, “The Continental Divide.”

3. Remember the corner grocery store you could walk to when you were a kid? The one we grew up with (no longer in existence) was called Mercurios. The small town corner store has gone the way of the drive-inn theatre. In Floyd, many abandoned ones are scattered throughout the county. Now people drive to the mall.
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4. Two watersheds have created my life. I have mapped out the valleys and mountains of these singing waters in the folds of my grandmother’s quilt and the creases of the palm of my hand. These wrinkles in the landscape, and the waters that created them, carry me home again and again. ~ Jim Minnick. So begins the review I wrote about Jim’s book “A Clear Path,” a past Loose Leaf entry that was published in the Floyd Press last week.

5. Another kind of Continental Divide? This was taken from my Notable Quoteable archive: Republicans and Democrats are like Fords and Chevys. Like the Yankees and the Red Sox, they have an almost irrational need to take sides.

6. Just how much is a billion and how is it our government uses the word in such a casual manner? I saw the following explanation at Lucy’s Frugal Living: 1. A billion seconds ago it was 1959. 2. A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive. 3. A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age. 4. A billion days ago no-one walked on the earth on two feet. 5. A billion dollars ago was only 8 hours and 20 minutes, at the rate our government is spending it.

7. The federal deficit is 8.5 trillion!

8. It’s ironic to me that supposedly conservative presidents seem to spend more than their democrat counterparts, as witnessed by the record breaking deficits of Reagan and George W. Bush. In the case of George W. Bush, he began his presidency with the largest budget surplus in history, created under the Clinton administration. The deficit under George W. Bush is also the largest in history.

9. A google (or googol) is a pretty big number, more than a billion or a trillion. These days, google is also a verb.

10. I googled the word google and got this excerpted reference from the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is probably where GOOGLE got it’s name: "And are you not," said Fook, leaning anxiously forward, "a greater analyst than the Googleplex Star Thinker in the Seventh Galaxy of Light and Ingenuity which can calculate the trajectory of every single dust particle throughout a five-week Dangrabad Beta sand blizzard?"

11. From that clip, I would have to surmise that the book is over my head.

12. As far as I’m concerned, diplomatic progress with North Korea made under the Clinton administration was undone in a few seconds when President Bush undiplomatically labeled North Korea as part of the “Axis of Evil.” That, and the fact that we invaded Iraq, a country who had not attacked us or threatened to, caused North Korea to feel threatened enough to think they needed nuclear weapons to protect themselves and led to the showdown we are facing today. The Bush administration's policy has been “no direct talks” with North Korea, but even Jim Baker, Secretary of State under the first Bush administration, has said, “It’s not appeasement to talk to your enemies.” For more on “Solving the Korean Stalemate,” I recommend yesterday’s New York Times Op-ed by Former President Jimmy Carter, Here. fandango2.jpg

13. On a lighter note, Floyd Fandango is coming to town! Hosted by the Floyd Fest folks at the Floyd Fest site, on Saturday, October 21, it boasts a carnival, beer tasting, a ferris wheel, music, sword swallowing, fire eating, vaudeville entertainment and more. Check out HERE.

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October 11, 2006

A Day Well Spent

Tryptophan is my friend. I woke up this morning at 8:00 a.m. with that sentence in my mind. The capsule of tryptophan (the amino acid found in turkey and milk) that I swallowed at 4 a.m. had made me groggy, but it was worth it. I slept.

Yesterday, I rode out to Ellett Valley in Blacksburg with my friend Elizabeth to meet with a book club group that had read my book, The Jim and Dan Stories. We had lunch first at The Daily Bread Café. I discovered that those pre-made sandwiches wrapped in plastic are actually good. Mine was chicken salad with blue cheese and spinach. Or was it tuna? I’m groggy and … the day’s events … are coming back to me slowly.

We pulled into a nearly hidden dirt driveway along a creek bed that led to a rustic looking shingled house surrounded by woods. By the time all the women had arrived and gathered, there were at least 12 of us. There was tea and cake and big picture windows too look out onto the autumn colored trees. I was only a little nervous, knowing soon I would be giving a “talk.” One woman, who was probably in her 80s, was wearing a “Webb for Senate” button on her dress. Two of the women I actually knew and one was vaguely familiar. I remembered them from when I used to spend a lot of time in Blacksburg, working at the Seeds of Light bead shop. One woman had a thicker Boston accent than mine and knew where Nantasket beach was (my hometown beach that figured in the book).

The most memorable comment I received from one of the women was a new one. She was struck by my lack of judgment, regarding the fact that my brother Dan’s death was ultimately a consequence of his behavior. The book made her want to strive to be more forgiving in her own life, she said.nine.jpg Another woman referred to the photo in the book of me and my siblings (9 of us), saying she had to count us out on-by-one and was sure there must have been some husbands and wives in the crowd. We all laughed, and I recited the childhood prayer from the book while holding up an enlarged copy of the photo: God bless mommy and daddy, Jimmy, Kathy, Colleen, Danny, Sherry, Johnny, Joey, Bobby, and Tricia.

“What did you mean when you said your mother was the physical center that everything happened from and that your father was the heart of your family?” one woman asked. A discussion of woman’s roles and the generational differences between us ensued. This was a group in which some members had been meeting for over 30 years, who were willing to get into life’s deeper issues.

Remember the saying we learned as kids, “Don’t spend all your money in one place?” My energy is like money and I don’t get the same allowance of it that most everyone else does. I left the house yesterday at 11:00 and by the time I got home at 6:00 I was too tired to do the simplest of tasks. But sometimes you just have to spend the bank and trust that what you get back in return will be worth it. It was.

Post Note:
Jim and Dan are the bookends in the photo, which goes, backrow: Jim, John, Joey, Bobby, Dan. Front row: Sherry, Colleen, Kathy, Tricia.

Please self-edit any typos in the above entry. I’m off for a mid morning nap, either that or some more caffeine.

October 10, 2006

The Romance of Wild Red Apples

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1. A car trunk-full of foraged apples played a role in the very first meeting between my husband, Joe, and me. Years later, a red apple was offered and ceremoniously eaten during our wedding on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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2. To this day, we are still held under the spell of wild apples, and each other. Every October, we hike into a remote valley off the Parkway to pick apples. As soon as we climb over the cow gate, it’s as if we enter a fairy tale, a place where paradise still exists and magic is possible.
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3. Avoiding the cow patties, wet from the weekend rain, we pass an abandoned house site on the way to the hidden orchard. Or maybe the rubble of weathered chestnut timber on top of a flattened tin roof was a barn. The first tree we see full of red ripe apples takes my breath away.
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4. A little further on, the pasture drops down into the bottom of the valley, where one lone apple tree stands. It’s our favorite. Something about the rich red color of its apples against the wide open blue sky feels timeless and renews my sense of the scared. A black crow calls a warning. A few grazing deer scatter as we approach.
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5. Besides apples, we find pears. With our knapsacks full of bounty, we keep our eyes on the sky as we hike our way back up to the road. The late afternoon sun is already casting a golden glow as it drops low. But there’s still time to make it to the Saddle Overlook (where Joe and were got married 10 years ago) to watch the sunset. Sunset in the Blue Ridge Mountains is like a like an exclamation point at the end of a “once upon a time” day.

Post Notes:

1. To read about last year’s apple picking romance, go HERE.
2. Regional bloggers and those who read blogs are invited to the Café Del Sol on Thrusday at 11:00 to meet Terri Dulong of Island Writer. Terri is a published author and a Cedar Key neighbor of Floyd county tree farmers, Pat and Tom Devrin, who winter in Cedar Key.

October 9, 2006

Finding Voice

hulltimes.jpg After completing “The Jim and Dan Stories,” my writing didn’t abruptly stop, but the book had its own rhythm and timing and there came a point when the story was told. I continued to take notes and some stories came like aftershocks, too late to be included in the book. Soon, I put “The Jim and Dan Stories” aside and moved onto other things. The war in Iraq was gearing up at the time, and I had a lot to say about that, and so I let myself be consumed with writing political commentaries. I wrote a couple of small poems and went to my writer’s workshop, where I mostly gave feedback on other people’s writing.

“The Jim and Dan Stories” was published a year later using local resources. A few months after that when I was in my hometown of Hull, Massachusetts, I was interviewed by Susan, the editor of the Hull Times newspaper, about the book. I remember looking out from her large picture window onto the bay. It was a bright sunny day and a sailboat was going by. She was asking me some typical questions and taking down notes in a small notepad. Towards the end of the interview, she posed a question that caught me off guard. “What’s next?” she asked pointedly and put down her pen.

Writing a book is a bit like having a baby. There’s a point of conception, a gestation period, followed by hard labor and lots of aftercare. After you’ve had a baby, or have written a book, you feel pretty accomplished (having followed through with it) but you also don’t want to think about another one, at least not right away.

“I can’t imagine another story as compelling as what happened to my brothers and how it played out,” I eventually answered. Maybe I would put a book of poetry together (which I did), I suggested.

Back at home in Virginia, I wrote an update for my webpage about the trip. I began taking notes about my experiences following the book’s publication and the feedback I was getting. Even so, I felt uninspired, less alive than I did while I was writing the book, and as though I was a writer laid-off from my job. At that time, my muse was a lingering presence that manifested as a sense of weighty tension.

Three weeks after I returned home from Hull, the tension finally broke when Susan emailed me my first look at the newly published interview. In it she wrote, “The Jim and Dan Stories reads like a writer’s diary, a keenly observed, anecdotal account of small-town life nearly a half-century ago in Hull, and today in Floyd, Virginia …”

Susan’s descriptive naming of my style of writing was like getting permission to do more of it. Her words to me in the week that followed, as we struck up an e-mail conversation, were an encouraging validation as well. She said:

I don't think you need tragedy to find an audience for your work. Yours is an authentic voice and, whatever the subject matter, if you market the piece correctly, it will find an audience.

A downpour of writing soon ensued.

October 7, 2006

Grief: What to Make Of It

moonwatch.jpg Remember when you were a kid and you made an ugly face and someone told you that you better watch out because your face could get stuck that way?

I recently came across the following description of grief in my journal: Grief is like the heat it takes to soften metal. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it will re-shape you. I think you have to want for it to re-shape you into something positive and valuable; otherwise it will only leave you hardened, stuck in a shape you will have to live with.

The writing I did after my brothers, Jim and Dan, died 5 years ago became the book “The Jim and Dan Stories.” Writing it was a form of active grieving and an attempt to shape something constructive out of loss.

Considering that Jim and Dan both worked in metal shops, I think my description is particularly fitting.

Dan would have been 55 today.

October 6, 2006

From Dishwasher to Night Watchman

“I have never liked working. To me a job is an invasion of privacy.” - Danny McGoorty, Irish pool player

My father wanted me to be a doctor, but I had a secret romantic idea that I wanted to be a peddler, either that or join the Peace Corp.

The following entry was inspired by my niece, who recently posted a list of her jobs on her blog. Family members on the Love-Link, the group e-mail that was started when my brother Dan was in the hospital 5 years ago, have been doing the same. deadshowsx.jpg

Because of my issues with Chronic Fatigue, which started during my 6 year tenure as a day care teacher, my jobs have been mostly part-time and often untraditional. They are listed in order from the time I was a teenager up to the present and do include a little peddling and work in human services.

1. Babysitting
2. Helping our neighbor Mrs. Brody open her beach house for the summer. I washed dishes and sometimes slept over because she was elderly and didn’t like to be alone.
3. Washing dishes at the Stonecrest Nursing Home.
4. Hat check girl at the Surf Ballroom in my hometown of Hull, Massachusetts. Sonny and Cher played there.
5. Sales person at an upscale woman’s clothing boutique in Boston. I smoked pot with my bosses and sometimes did live-mannequin modeling in the window.
6. Private duty nurse for an elderly man who had no legs. I was actually a nurse’s assistant but worked the night shift on my own. I ate a lot of chocolate chip cookies and watched old movies. I was recovering from a major depression/anxiety disorder at the time.
7. Worked in a factory with my sister Sherry (now an RN), who I also shared an apartment with. We called this period our “Laverne and Shirley” days. We painted fire alarms red.
8. Day care teacher at South Shore Day Care. I got this job via the un-employment office after telling them that I wanted to work with the blind or the mentally handicapped. I started as an aide, got accredited, and worked my way up to a teacher.
9. Full-time Mom. The highlight of my life.
10. Took an elderly man shopping once a week.
11. Freelance writer. The first piece I sold was to Mothering Magazine.
12. I worked in a pre-school nursery at a church and a gym, never went to the church or worked out at the gym.
13. My life as a waitress lasted only 1 week. You couldn’t pay me …
14. I was a night watchman at the B-Real Ethanol Plant in Floyd. I watched the moon more than anything.
15. Sales person at Seeds of Light, a bead shop in Blacksburg. I did jewelry repairs and ordered the store’s books. More on that HERE. and HERE
16. Jeweler. I peddled my wares in shops from Floyd to the Caribbean and was a Grateful Dead parking lot vendor.
17. Foster care provider for an individual who was blind and mentally handicapped. (See # 8) for 9 years.
18. Author of The Jim and Dan Stories, blogger, and freelance writer and poet who occasionally gets paid.
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Addendum: I also sold peppers to the Harvest Moon food store one year when I had a surplus crop. I was hired as a poetry tutor for a child, and worked behind the scenes with kids for a kid TV show pilot briefly. I once auditioned for a TV commercial and modeled ski wear in a fashion show.

Post notes: The first photo is of me and my son Dylan and was taken around 1990 at a Grateful Dead Show. The second one is of me doing potato print art with kids at South Shore daycare in 1977. Feel free to leave a list of some of your jobs in a comment.

October 5, 2006

A 13 of Thursday

13hex3jpg.jpg 1. I live in a log cabin on 3 acres. When describing it to others, I like to lower their expectations by referring to it as a humble abode, lived-in, country, or rustic.

2. My neighbor’s yard is like the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and mine is like the U.S. side. He mows more than us and has a landscaped entrance to his driveway. Our property tends to be more “naturalized.”

3. One of my top criteria for where I live is having enough privacy to sunbathe nude if I want to. More on that HERE.

4. It seems that summer just slipped through my hands. Season changes are like BIG-O birthdays to me. When I first turned 30, 40, and then 50, it felt abrupt and I was initially in denial. I feel the same about the season’s changes. I need time to get used to them and eventually I do.

5. It’s ironic that the word “hex” means witch in German and usually refers to a curse, but the Pennsylvania Dutch use hex signs (a folk art) to bless their homes with good luck. The one that hangs on our porch symbolizes “abundance and good will.”

6. We had a couple from Switzerland here for dinner this past weekend. When I asked them about their impressions of this country, they said they were surprised at how little we recycle and commented on how our news was so American-centered.

7. The irony and hypocrisy of Congressman Mark Foley professing to be protecting children from internet predators while at the same time being engaged in cyber sex chat with teenagers, is explained in psychology as “projection,” one of the defense mechanisms identified by Freud and still acknowledged today. According to Freud, projection is when an individual attributes to other people impulses and traits that he himself has but cannot accept

8. Although Foley is a Republican, Fox News labeled him as a Democrat several times during a recent airing of The O’Reilly Factor. They wish.

9. On the drive to Roanoke on Sunday to look at a house that my son and his wife might be buying, the sky was filled with the most amazing cloud formations I had ever seen. I thought of them as “schools of clouds” because they looked like giant whales swimming across the sky.

10. Most people know that a group of geese is a gaggle, but a murder of crows, a gulp of swallows, a pride of peacock, a parliament of owls, a flamboyance of flamingos? Who comes up with these words?

11. My answering machine message says: Leave your poem after the tone. I finally got a good one today from my friend Melody. She said: Colleen … what a dream … it sounds so distant … and reminiscent … of you.

12. I once called a person whose last name was White. Their answering machine message said: Hello. You have reached the White House.

13. This Health Blog picked up my post, “Floyd Loves Barbara Kingsolver,” about the sustainability of using local food. The Floyd Press story on Barbara’s visit to Floyd is HERE.

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October 4, 2006

Spider

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Strand by Strand
her world closes in
By her own design
she hangs by a thread

October 3, 2006

The Green Café

porchtable2.jpg Teacups and pens … are the clutter of quiet … in the green café … of my own yard …

There’s a new place to sit and write in the green café of my own yard. It’s a small round glass table, minus the umbrella, pulled out of the shed this past July when we had a house full of company in town for my son Dylan’s wedding. It sits on one end of the porch in between the wooden swing and our rarely used grille. I bought the grille for the propane burner on it because I feel helpless if I can’t make tea when the electricity goes out.

Wind chimes call me … to this place of worship … I follow the birdsong … a mantra of presence …

My café table has a green-and-white-striped cushioned chair that matches the missing umbrella. From it I’ve eaten the food of summer on the lunch menu – big garden salads with fresh tomatoes and basil – and watched butterflies flit about the yard. In the hole in the middle of the table where the umbrella is supposed to go, I put a vase made by my potter son and have kept it filled with flowers, zinnia, cosmos, purple coneflowers, and marigolds.

The sound of it pouring … brings me back to the present … like water falling into Bridget’s Well …

There is no waiter to take my order, no disruptions either. It’s a great place to sip my tea and read the mail. The sun shines on me while I sketch low-tech my latest thoughts into my notebook. With a small adjustment to the chair, I can be in the shade.

3 cups full … a holy trinity … flowers bloom in devotion … of the summer’s immaculate conception … all colors of the rainbow under one sun …

But my green café days are numbered. The butterflies have already moved on to warmer climates and spiders have taken their place. It took living in the country for me to understand why spider webs are a symbol of Halloween. They appear in large numbers here at the first sign of fall. Like developers taking over the neighborhood, they first began weaving a city of webs along the forsythia bushes and have since spread out onto the porch rafters.

Far away dogs … like an unanswered phone … bark the urgency of the world …

Soon it will be too cold to sit outside and my café will no longer be a green one.

October 2, 2006

Floyd Loves Barbara Kingsolver

bkingsolversm.jpg“Having something to say is more important than guessing what people want to hear.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver, spoken at the Floyd County High School auditorium, September 16, 2006

The line of people waiting to meet the acclaimed author, Barbara Kingsolver, wound from the school library table where she was signing books, out through the library door, into the hall, up the stairs, and into the school lobby. At the close of her talk, I rushed from my seat like a single woman determined to catch the bouquet at a wedding and discovered the fast track to her table. It involved a first stop at a book sale table, set up by the owners of Floyd’s independent bookstore, noteBooks. After purchasing a copy of “Small Wonders,” I was ushered into a much smaller line that dovetailed with the longer one.

I’m happy with my personally signed copy of a book written by Barbara Kingsolver, but the book I really wanted wasn’t for sale. The one I’m most interested in is the non-fiction one that she read from that evening, called “Animal, Vegetable, and Magical,” due out in May.

Barbara, who grew up in rural Kentucky, was recently living with her family in Tucson, Arizona, but living in Tucson – which she referred to as a “space station” – made her nervous. Everything that sustains life has to be flown or trucked in, she told us. She estimated that each item on her family’s dinner table that wasn’t grown in their garden probably traveled “Fifteen hundred miles” to get there. The water in Tucson, brought in from other places, is called “borrowed water.” “Like a keenex,” she joked, “do you really want to give it back?”

So, what does a person do when they know the oil companies are at the Arctic Preserve door with drills, and that the food on their family dinner table is part of the reason why? With a degree in biology, a history of environmental activism, and a background in journalism and science writing, Barbara decided that the subject of her next book would revolve around an experiment, one that would involve her whole family. They would get all their food from local sources. In order to pursue what she called “food choices with family values,” she and her family set about to move to a farm in Southwest Virginia, which is how her new book begins. bkings2.jpg

As a speaker, Barbara is engaging, articulate, and comfortable in her own skin. She’s also funny, so much so that my husband referred to her talk as stand-up comedy! I don’t think anyone in the audience that night will forget the scene Barbara read, the one about the family-farm turkey that came-on to her husband. The hilarity of the “turkey hokey pokey” story was preceded by an account of the state of commercial turkey production, in which commercially raised turkeys not only can not reproduce on their own, but because they are bred to produce the maximum amount of meat and are top-heavy, they can’t even walk without tipping over. Barbara’s reading illustrated one of her strongest strengths as writer. She knows how to take a disturbing situation and educate her readers about it in a humorous or otherwise entertaining way. In the case of using local food, there’s nothing to protest or boycott, “doing the right thing is fun!” Barbara said.

In telling the story of her family’s experience living on local food, Barbara’s youngest daughter Lilly figured in. Lilly has an egg business, and because she was the subject of some of the passages read, towards the end of her talk, Barbara invited Lilly on stage. The audience cheered Lilly on, as though they had a vested interest in the success of her egg business, a business that Lilly hoped would eventually allow her to make enough money to buy a horse. “Did you get your horse?” one woman asked during the question and answer period. “Not yet,” Lilly answered.

A lot of us in the audience understood the experiment that Barbara and her family had taken on, either because we were from a local farming tradition, or because we moved to Floyd years ago for the same reason Barbara and her family had moved. Since the back-to-the-land movement of my generation, which started in the late 70s and brought so many of us to Floyd, interest in the sustainability of using local food has grown. As I looked around the auditorium, I saw the familiar faces of neighbors, homesteaders, market gardeners, wild-craft herbalists, and those involved any one of the several Community Supported Agriculture Farms in Floyd. I couldn’t help but smile as I imagined our collective chickens, gardens, and goats.

It turns out that Floyd and Barbara Kingsolver have a lot in common. The Harvest Moon, which started as a small health food coop over 20 years ago and is now a large two story building on a sprawling lot, was hosting a major event on the day of the evening that Barbara spoke. It was a Slow Foods Event, called “A Taste of Floyd,” where an array of locally raised and grown foods could be sampled and purchased under a canopy of colorful tents. It was not a coincidence that Barbara’s appearance was scheduled on the same day as “A Taste of Floyd,” and, in fact, Harvest Moon staff members have reported that Barbara did indeed attend. She may have also attended Floyd’s first Country Fair, part of an annual Homecoming and Harvest Festival in recognition of the county’s 175th year anniversary, where homegrown fruits and vegetables, canned goods, baked goods, jams, jellies, and pickles were featured and competed for blue ribbons.

Apparently, Barbara liked what she saw (and tasted) in Floyd. She began her talk that evening by announcing to the crowd, “I really love Floyd.” Considering the filled auditorium and the reception the audience gave her, it was obvious that Floyd loves Barbara right back.

Post Note:
The donated proceeds from “An Evening with Barbara Kingsolver” are earmarked for the expansion of the Floyd Jessie Peterman Library. Special thanks go to Floyd’s “Friends of the Library,” and in particular Mary Stratton, for inviting Barbara to Floyd, and to Barbara for loving libraries enough to accept the invitation. Read more about Barbara’s trip to Floyd at this Loose Leaf post entitled “Advice from Barbara Kingsolver.”