Monday, June 30, 2008

These Ain't Your Grandma's Blueberries

But they are my grandma's blueberries. Aren't they lovely?

We have had a busy few days around here. On Thursday, the boys and I drove the four-hours one way tip to Tennessee just to pick some of these fantastic berries. Of course, we did manage to stay two days to enjoy family and to breathe some of mountain air, which is significantly less oppressive than the air around here, even if it isn't that much cooler.

I'm not sure how long Grandma has had her blueberry bushes, but they are huge. She gets around 20 gallons each summer, and all of her friends and relatives who want to can take a turn picking. We got there just in time to glean some of the last fruits. In fact, my wonderful Grandma had saved two bushes just for us. Calvin had a blast picking...or eating...the berries with Grandma. Hobbes was more interested in pouring them from one bucket to another, dumping them on the ground, and generally undoing our work. He eventually decided it was more fun to play hide-and-seek in the bushes while we picked.

So now I am home with a gallon of berries, some of which I will freeze for use in oatmeal and pancakes and muffins throughout the year. Many of them we will eat in handfuls of juicy, sweet goodness. The rest will go into Grandma's blueberry batter pie and a batch of these. I am still searching for the perfect blueberry muffin recipe, so if you have a good one, send it my way. For that matter, send me any good blueberry recipes you have. I'd love to know what other people do with them!

Grandma's Blueberry Batter Pie

Melt one stick butter in the bottom of a 3 quart baking dish.

Mix 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk, 1 cup sugar, 2 tsp. baking powder, and a dash of salt. Set aside.

Combine 1 quart blueberries, 1 cup sugar, and a little water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil on stovetop and remove from heat.

Pour batter over melted butter in baking dish. Spoon blueberry mixture evenly over batter and pour remaining juice on top. Bake at 350 for 3o minutes or until batter rises to top and begins to brown.

Best served warm with some vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"If you can't find a friend, you've still got the radio..."

If anyone knows what song that line comes from (no Googling) I may just send you a surprise.

I have never been much of a radio girl myself, but living where I live can make just about anyone love the radio. We have the most fantastic public radio station I have ever heard. I'm the sort who doesn't like 24 hours of extremely biased news reporting. If I hear too much liberal news, I am likely to rebel and go listen to Rush Limbaugh. If I hear too much conservative news, I rebel by turning on some NPR production. But I definitely prefer NPR's reporting to anyone else's, and my station gives me just enough to keep me interested without making me turn on WGOP (or whatever broadcasts Rush).

They also take plenty of breaks from NPR to give me fabulous shows like BBC Newshour, the Story, and my all-time favorite, Backporch Music. Most of these are available online. You definitely can't get better than Friday, Saturday, or Sunday nights with the BPM folks playing everything from the old-time mountain musicians to the newest in folk and bluegrass. Who wouldn't want to spend an evening with Ralph Stanley, John Prine, Lucinda Williams, and Kickin' Grass?

And if I get tired of public radio, which I rarely do unless Diane Rehm is interviewing yet another author of yet another book on the war, I can always turn to this station. My husband and I make fun of their motto, "If you're listening to great classical music, you're listening to WCPE." But they really do play great classical music all of the time, excluding their Thursday night opera music. (I can handle opera live, but over the radio is too much for me.) When we lived in Illinois, I used to listen to the station over the internet while I worked. Now Hobbes gets instantly quiet when I turn it on and complains if I switch back to public radio. If you like classical music, or have a fussy toddler, you should definitely check it out.

There you have it, a shameless plug for two of my favorite things in North Carolina. What about you? What do you listen to when you are in the car?

Monday, June 23, 2008

This is War, and I Need a Peacemaker

If you're looking for a post about our country's current political involvement, move along. If you have some good mothering advice, please read and help!

My parenting these days is less than stellar. In fact, I have never been too great at this mommying this, and these days I'm pretty much drowning in it. Summer is here, which means heat and long hours stuck indoors and two children at home all of the time with no breaks for my weekly Bible study or neighborhood playgroups. As far as I can tell, this state of affairs leads to one thing: all out war between brothers.

Calvin and Hobbes are only a year and a half apart, and they are one another's favorite playmates. Even when we go to playgroups or parties with other children, they tend to stick together and ignore the other kids. Most of the time, this is fine. But it's not working out so well now that we are confined to this small house for good portions of the day. They love one another fiercely, but they can't be apart, even when they are fighting. I am so overwhelmingly tired of breaking up fights or of teaching them once again to ask nicely, to take turns, to share or play alone for awhile. The only solution I have found is putting on a video, and I am doing WAY too much of that lately.

Getting out of the house is great, but we can only go to the pool, museum, library, or mall playground so often. Too many trips out in a week turn my little homebody Calvin into a monster. And now that the humidity and heat have kicked in, we basically have until 8:59 am to get in any outdoors time that doesn't involve water. The water restrictions mean that I can't use the sprinkler hose or the baby pool in the backyard too often, and these were my lifeline last year.

I think you are getting the picture. Have you been here? Do you have any suggestions? I know this is an important time for my children to learn to cooperate, to speak kindly to one another, and to play independently when they need to. I want to foster a pleasant environment in my home, and to teach my children to respect one another. That is hard when I am so worn out from the constant bickering that I get impatient and start yelling and picking fights too. Sometimes it's like we have three children and no adults. Help!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

One Night Stand

I almost finished a book in one night last night, and I read the last 3o pages this afternoon. That's the first time I've done that it a long time. But Adriana Trigiani's books are always like that for me. She and Jan Karon are what I pick up when I need a good story with endearing characters that allow me to escape from my world into theirs for a few solid hours. I actually bought, Home to Big Stone Gap, when it came out a year and a half ago, but I let my mom and sister-in-law borrow it and just finally stole it back from one of their shelves in Tennessee. I won't say whose shelf I had to steal it from.

All of Trigiani's books are great reads, but I am especially fond of the Big Stone Gap novels. Perhaps it is because they talk about places and things that are home to me. Johnson City and Bristol. Music at Carter Fold on Saturday nights and small mountain churches on Sunday mornings. Biscuits and gravy and soup beans and cornbread. Curvy mountain roads and independent mountain people. But even if you aren't from there, you will fall in love with her characters and get drawn into their stories. You may even find yourself staying up like a college student again.

So if you are looking for some good summer reading or something to help you forget your whining, fighting, disobedient preschooler and toddler...not that I am saying anything about my own precious boys...pick up one of Adriana Trigiani's books. You'll be hooked.

Oh, and I must mention that this book found a special place in my heart for it's condemnation of mountaintop removal mining.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Good for a Bowl of Popcorn

Hubby and I love watching movies, and we are always looking for good recommendations. Consider that an invitation to review movies on your blog and let me know about them. In case you are looking for some films to add to your queue, here are a couple we have watched and enjoyed lately.

A disclaimer, I am not one of those Christians who determines the quality of a film by counting the number of curse words or sex scenes in it. In fact, I have a high tolerance for "offensive" movies if they tell a good story and reveal something true about the world, humanity, or the Divine. If you are easily offended, you may want to do your own research before renting one of my recommendations.

This is, in fact, a very "clean" movie. It is also profoundly beautiful, highly sacramental, and obviously (or most likely) made by someone with a Catholic worldview. Oh, and though it ends redemptively, it is also pretty sad. It is hard to give a review without giving away the whole story, so I recommend you just look into it. It does present a very strong picture of family and explores the issue of adoption. It is a powerful story of guilt, forgiveness, and redemption. Sorry, that isn't much to go on, but trust me, it is good!

The Lives of Others
This German film about a secret police agent monitoring a playwright in 1980's East Germany is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. I'm not sure how we missed this one when it came out. The actor who plays the police agent (who looks spookily like Kevin Spacey, really I thought I was watching him the whole time) does an incredible job. In fact, my husband and I both noted that it was one of the best acting jobs we had ever seen in a film, and the character barely talks the whole film.

If you are a literature person like me, you will enjoy this film on many levels. It is a great story and character study in itself, but it also presents an excellent allegory for writing and storytelling. It can also be interpreted as a spiritual allegory regarding freewill and divine intervention. Really, it is incredible on so many levels. It is set in East Germany, and not necessarily happy, but it has an incredibly powerful story to tell and does not end in complete despair.

There are two suggestions for you. Let me know some movies you have enjoyed lately. Our tastes in this household are pretty varied.

"Warning Signs are Everywhere"

Calvin has become obsessed with warning labels lately. He notices every one around, and he asks me what they say. I usually ask him what he thinks a sign says, and with the words he can sound out and the help of the picture, he can tell me the gist of it.

I suppose there are some benefits to this new obsession, though not the ones you might think. Calvin is learning to read all sorts of new vocabulary words, "injury" and "serious" being two of the most common. In fact, the other day I heard him in his room with Hobbes asking, "Do you like choking hazards, Hobbes?" To which Hobbes answered a resounding, "Yes!"

Most of the time, however, the warning label obsession is problematic. For one thing, Calvin's mommy is not terribly safety conscious. I am of the house-proofing the baby instead of baby-proofing the house philosophy. Calvin has more than once asked me to read a label on a toy he shares with Hobbes that reads, "Not for children under 3. Choking hazard." He hasn't asked yet why his negligent mommy lets Hobbes play with these toys, but the time will come. To be fair, I don't let Hobbes have things that are really, truly choking hazards, at least not without supervision. But I suppose that highlights my whole issue with this warning labels business.

My problem? Most of the items that have warning labels in our house are not really dangerous. For example, Calvin's step stool in the bathroom is a sturdy, low-to-the-ground plastic thing that has never once tipped over or caused an injury, even with all of the tricks my boys play on it. Still, it has a warning label, big and ugly and yellow, stuck to the side of it. I am not going to fold up my stroller with my child inside of it, but there is a warning label just to make sure I don't. I've always had issues with this, but I never realized until now just how much I had learned to ignore the warning labels on nearly every single children's item in my house. Calvin's keen eyes have helped me to see them all again.

Ours is a safety obsessed society, and I am bothered by what that means on so many levels. I am bothered that we are lawsuit crazy, that we think we have a right to a pain-free and problem-free existence, that we have become a culture of victims who are unwilling to take responsibility. But those are all posts for another time. Suffice it to say that traveling abroad is always refreshing to me for the lack of warning signs.

But I do wonder what to teach my kids about this issue. It is important to be careful, to look both ways when crossing the street, to use caution on ladders, to make sure no one is at the bottom of the slide before you come down. I don't want my children to grow up to be overly cautious or unwilling to take risks, but I would prefer to keep them alive. I know that most parenting advice in America these days seems to emphasize safety to an extreme without considering the negatives of being overly protective and cautious. I want to strike a balance.

Thankfully, my husband and in-laws do not subscribe to this philosophy of safety. When we are with them, my kids help their Gram drive the loader, help Daddy build fires, and watch Grandpa cut down trees. We teach them common sense and safety in those circumstances, always keeping a close eye on them, but we don't keep them away from places other folks might consider dangerous. Isn't it better to teach kids to respect fire than to tell them never to touch a match? Certainly, Hobbes is young enough that we keep matches and lighters out of his reach and teach him not to touch them, but one day he is going to want to play with fire. It's better that he ask his Daddy to come help him than that he try to build a fire on his own and burn down our house in the process.

I guess the question is about my priorities for parenting my children. I want to keep them alive, but I also want them to learn to deal with dangers and challenges that may come their way. I'm glad Calvin reads warning labels, sometimes they are useful and important. But more than following external warnings, I want my children to learn to face challenges with courage and common sense, to see the things that are truly dangerous and to learn when to attack them head on and when to run. I want to raise children who know how to have adventures and take risks and who sometimes are better of for ignoring the warning labels and taking responsibility for lives lived well.

I've just made a big parenting confession here, one that might make some of you wonder if I am fit to raise kids. I'd love to hear what you have to say on the subject.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Start of Summer

record highs...too hot...cannot think...or write...summer lasted through October last year...90's and 100's the whole time...please let it no be so again...I miss summer in the mountains...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Just Telling a Story


Persons attempting to find a "text" in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a "subtext" in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise "understand" it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.


I knew when I read this notice at the beginning of Jayber Crow that I was going to love Wendell Berry. I haven't finished the book yet, but that certainly isn't because I'm not enjoying it. Berry is a fantastic storyteller who captures the essence of the place and people about whom he is writing. He is one of those authors whose words ring true at some very deep place in my soul. Those are my favorite books, the ones where I finish a passage and say, "Yes. That's how it is. I just never had the right words to say it." There are only a few authors who do this consistently for me, William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe being the top two.

When I look back at the works I studied in college, the ones I loved the best were the ones that told good stories, true to the human experience. I was usually lukewarm at best about the works we read for "feminist" or "multi-ethnic" literature classes that spent too much time trying to make a political statement. There were exceptions in these classes, of course. Toni Morrison and Sherman Alexie are two that I can think of off the top of my head.

What do Berry, Faulkner, Wolfe, Morrison, and Alexie have in common? They tell stories. Perhaps it is no coincidence that these writers come from storytelling cultures. When Faulkner was asked about the themes or intent of his writing, he often responded by saying that he was just telling a good story. I really think he was, he just happened to have such a keen perception of Southern culture and of the human condition that his stories revealed true experiences and strong themes already running through his culture. Even Thomas Wolfe, whose stories are often more internal monologues, has passages that very simply and beautifully convey ideas and emotions that are essential to our experience as humans. Perhaps Faulkner's famous Nobel Prize speech expresses this idea better than I.

What am I rambling about? I'm not really sure, except to say that I have spent the last few years rebelling against my college training in deconstructing texts. I am learning to enjoy stories again and to see that those convey truths more profoundly than any critical essay or political manifesto thinly veiled as a novel ever could. This is not to say, of course, that there aren't writers who can combine philisophical or political ideas and story. Dostoevsky, who may be the greatest writer ever, certainly did that and did it well. But he always anchored his philosophical and spiritual meanderings in the context of a story, in the mind of a character enmeshed in the complexities of human experience.

Perhaps it is my own culture which influences this view of what makes good literature. I come from a storytelling people, who teach their history and values and truths through story and song. Maybe other people hear truth better in different forms. But I, for one, am going to keep enjoying my stories and be glad to have another good storyteller to add to the list. Now, back to Port William...