On The Blackwater

Musing on retirement, writing, puppies, and whatever else strikes my fancy

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Spending my life in 20-year increments: DC, Calif, Maine, & now in the BlueRidge Mountains of VA, where my YoChon, Sadie Mae, has started to blog...

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas was sweet~

How nice to have a quiet Christmas this year. Dick had an awful cold, only now winding down, and he generously passed it on to me, although it was much less debilitating. Since we've been having cold rainy weather--and we do need the rain--we both pretty much stayed indoors and let Santa do all the work.

Yes, I did get my new digital camera! It's a Canon PowerShot A560 (whatever that means) and has more dials and controls than could be imagined. There are 3 separate books of directions (besides the 3 in Spanish, which I tossed). One book is the brief "introduction to the camera." Then there's a more detailed instruction book. And finally, a thick book of advanced directions! ARGHHHHH

Yes, I did take some pictures, of Dick beside our tree wearing the Auburn, Alabama orange tee-shirt and cap his son sent to him. Tomorrow, I'll see if one of those 3 books can show me how to take a picture of our tree without a flash, as it is one of the prettiest (fake!) trees, already lighted, ever.

When we lived in northern Maine those 19 years, we'd cut our own tree, haul it home, and set it up right outside our sliding glass doors onto the covered front porch of our log home. It was sheltered from the heaviest snow falls, but was always dusted with snow that blew over the porch. We'd see tourists stop and take pictures of our house on the side of a small mountain, and we'd always drive over to the other side of Echo Lake to look at the full effect of the colorful lighted tree.

Now, though, with just the two of us, we've opted for the fake already lighted tree, set up in the front room's bay window. Dick put a string of twinkling colored lights all the way up our quarter-mile driveway, and I'll miss them when we take them down at the new year. That's the Royal "we" since I tend to point at the lights as he climbs the ladder to take them down~

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Clark Brothers of Rocky Mount WON!

Had the News-Post not run a big front page story, above the fold, about the Clark Brothers from Rocky Mount entering the final round on The Great American Band show last night at 9 pm, we never would have tuned in to the Fox channel to watch. A big watching party was set up in downtown Rocky Mount, at the Resource Center, using their big-screen TV, but we stayed home and watched our own big-screen broadcast of the show.

I'm not a fan of reality shows, but this was an interesting contrast indeed. They were down to three finalists, after 12 bands had auditioned out of thousands that applied. The judges were a bit scruffy, as were some of the bands that were already eliminated. Smeared black eyeshadow, dirty hair, torn clothes, manic behavior. Goo Goo Dolls? ARGHHH. One member of that group was a judge, and a frightening-looking woman, another judge, played with a truly terrible women's band which was heavy on just-off-the-beat drumming. GAHHH!~

The other two finalists were a big band-type with a good lead singer and many brass horns playing recognizable covers, and a country group also playing covers. Then came the Clark Brothers! What a breath of fresh air. Three young men, the oldest may be 20 if that, playing the Dobro, mandolin and acoustic guitar (I believe one of them played the fiddle in another piece they played). They wore normal (ie, not profane) tee shirts, jeans without torn-out knees, sneakers. Their hair was clean, Beatle-length, simply parted in the middle. The lead singer (acoustic guitar) sang softly and with complete sincerety, with the Dobro player joining in harmony. The very large audience was enthralled; several teens carried signs, and I suspect teens were the predominant voters in this competition. The two runner-up bands were composed of 30-40 year old musicians.

But I don't think it was entirely an age-related selection. Even the Goo Goo Doll judge said he'd been aware from the time the competition began that the Clark Brothers were REAL. In an aside, he said he'd tried to fake that kind of passion and not succeeded.

I read in today's Roanoke Times that the Clark Brothers surprised everyone at last night's gathering by showing up and playing for them. Darn! We should have gone those six miles into town after all. But with the major recording contract they have now won, and the nationwide appeal of this competition, I think we'll have lots of chances to watch and listen to the Clark Brothers.

What a breath of fresh air. Normal tee-shirts (what, no profane messages?) normal (not torn) jeans, sneakers. They played dobro, acoustic guitar and mandolin, with one of the boys playing a fiddle in one number. They apparently write most of their own music, and sang soft ballads, one of them gospel-like. They just brought the entire show up out of the grungy

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Memories~

As with most families, there are distinct memories that stay with us for many years. One Christmas, when my daughter Cathie was about 3 or 4, all she wanted was a pink kitchen. That's right, a pink kitchen. Now, Cathie is in her early forties as I write this, so this was not a time when plastic kitchens, complete with "microwave" and cell phone, were being produced.

I had found a heavy-duty pink cardboard kitchen set with a double sink, stand-alone stove, a tall fridge complete with "freezer" top, and a pantry. There was no way to set it up ahead of time...the set was much too cumbersome. So there we sat, her father putting together a small two-wheeler bike for our oldest son while I tried to match numbers with slots with pieces of wood that stabilized the kitchen set.

We'd finally gotten our three kids to sleep by encouraging them to listen for those reindeer on the roof. Living in northern California, we couldn't put pawprints in snow, but our whole cul-de-sac was lit up with enough colored lights to guide Santa right to us, I assured them.

Christmas carols played softly in the background as I struggled with what I had thought would be an hour's task. HA! More like 2 or 3 hours. But I did get the kitchen set finished, and surrounded the brightly blinking tree with the pieces. There were small pots and pans, and miniature packages of "food" for the pantry, as well as empty small cans of soup and veggies. I left the tree lights on, enjoying the sight of Cathie's wished-for pink kitchen. WHEW! I wiped my brow, drank my last swig of eggnog, and finally got to bed. The bike had taken nearly as much time, so the kids' father was snoring away.

Something woke me just a few hours later. Soft singing? A gentle clatter? I tip-toed down the hall towards the living room, using the glow of the lights from the tree to guide me.

There, in front of the pink stove, my little daughter stood in her long pink flannel nightgown, ruffle around her bare feet, wielding a pancake turner in her right hand while she "cooked" and softly sang. I went into the kitchen, plugged in the coffeemaker, then joined her in the living room, picking up the camera as I passed the dining room table. Sleep? Nah, I didn't need any more sleep, with such joy going on under that Christmas tree.

Yes, somewhere I have a picture of Cathie, her long blonde curls down her back, as she cooked and sang. But I don't need that actual picture; it lives in my memory. She still has long blonde hair, although the curls are gone, and she loves to cook. She's a better cook than I, by far. She's suffered many trials and tribulations, but that little flannel nightgown-clad barefoot babe still lives inside her, and she has a joyful soul.


Monday, December 17, 2007

PC back from shop...and a recipe!

They doubled the memory on my computer...I asked if they could double MY memory, but they only laughed.

Meanwhile, Dick came down with a terrible cold, so I made a large batch of chicken noodle soup, using his gluten-free noodles. Here's the recipe, just a bit different from most:

Olive oil
Baby carrots, sliced lengthwise in half if necessary
One large sweet onion, sliced
The middle parts of celery hearts, with leaves, sliced
One pack (or more) of chicken breast filets
2 boxes of chicken broth (or more if desired)
1. In large soup pot, pour 2-3 tbs olive oil. When heated, add the carrots, onions, celery and a bit of salt and pepper, dried parsley if desired. Saute' until carrots are sweet, abt 5 mins.
2. Remove veggies from pan, add a bit more olive oil if needed, and add the chicken after cutting it into desired size. Brown nicely, then return veggies to pot. Season more if necessary.
3. Pour in the chicken broth. You want enough to be able to cook up the pasta, so have another box in reserve at this point. Bring it up to a boil and add the pasta right to the pot.
4. Time the pasta, and stir a bit to be sure it continues to boil. As the pasta swells, add more broth or water if you are out of broth.
It's possible you may never eat canned chicken noodle soup again, after scarfing down this soup.
Dick's cold is better, and I have enough left over for him to have tonight. If you are feeding kids, add toasted cheese sandwiches for a complete meal.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Musical Christmas Party

Every year at this time, the barbershop chorus called The Harmeneers (yes, that's how they spell it) have their Christmas party at the Olde Liberty Station restaurant (formerly a train station) in Bedford. Everyone dresses in holiday attire. I wore a red silk Mandarin coat, complete with red and black sequins in the design, over a black pants outfit. The men wore red sweater vests over white long-sleeved shirts, with their red silk ties covered with gold musical notes, and black dress pants.

The meal was (Oh my!) prime rib with a couple of glasses of merlot to wash it down. Yes, I could have ordered raspberry chicken or a small square of broiled salmon instead, but this is the only holiday event we attend annually, so I'll just stick with salads for a few days to counteract the effect of the meal. I've recently lost 8 pounds, and don't want to ruin that loss.

What is particularly joyful about the evening is the singing. The acoustics in the restaurant are wonderful; the men all sang together at times, just spontaneously or in some cases directed. Some of the quartets (including Dick's quartet, the Waterfront Four) sang, and their voices just melded together. A few awards were presented; Dick, as Barbershopper of the Year last Christmas, announced this year's BBSOTY. We sat with four delightful folks; most of us women don't know the other women there with the exception of the three other wives in our own husband's quartet, but there were lots of hugs and cries of delight as we circled the room.

Still, it was a night for the men, and there is something about mens' voices blending so well together. BBS is a capello, with no music sheets and only a pitch pipe at the beginning of a selection to get them on the right note. One fellow still going strong is 92 or 93 years old! He always wears a red and white plaid vest and a green tie, seems never to forget a song, and this year, it appears he brought a girlfriend along!

Our church Christmas cantata was on Sunday, and now we've enjoyed our musical Christmas party. Life is good~


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Heifer International at Christmas

If your kids or grandkids are old enough to be socially conscious, a gift from Heifer International could be your last-minute solution to the Christmas quandry. Just Google it if you've never visited their Web site, and find out how you can send a gift of baby chicks or ducks or geese, or even bees to a deserving family in Africa or another needy area.

Of course, you could send a heifer! Or a water buffalo. Or a share of a water buffalo.

Here is how it works. Heifer International will arrange to send baby chicks, feed for them, and someone to teach a family how to raise the chicks, how to trade or sell the eggs in their village and on up to raising and then eating or trading the grown chickens. It is possible to save an entire village with just a few gifts of baby chicks. Bees arrive with a hive and more in-person instruction; they not only provide honey, they pollinate surrounding crops.

Heifer International sends you beautiful fold-out cards to send along to the person in whose name the gift will be presented. At this late date, you would probably want to print out the cards from their site. It is also possible to have Heifer International send an e-mail to your recipient. They get very, very busy this time of year, so you might want to Bookmark the site and use it for a birthday gift. School classes sometimes raise funds so the entire class can send a significant animal to a village.

What a powerful way to show youngsters that they CAN make a difference in the world.

Friday, December 07, 2007

An Old Mantle Clock

Dick prizes an old wooden mantle clock that his grandfather owned, and that he grew up with, hearing the chimes sound the hour and half-hour regularly. When it was passed down to him, it sat on our fieldstone fireplace mantle in Maine, and was wound every week on Sunday. I had to take it in to the clock repair shop at least once, but it was still working down here in Virginia until somehow (not me! not me!) it was over-wound; both the chimes and the time coils were too tight, and it just plain quit.

I missed it terribly; the bong! of the chimes kept me aware of the time anywhere in the house. If I woke during the night, somehow those chimes soothed my soul.

Every once in awhile, I'd take it down from the mantle, peek inside the door to the works, gently tap on the coiled springs, insert the key...but it wouldn't turn, and nothing happened. Back it went on the mantle, silent, useless really.

Two fellows in our choir at church are familiar with old clocks and they periodically clamber up into our church tower to re-set the clock there. I'd thought about asking them to look at our mantel clock, but just hadn't done so.

Now it was years since the clock had chimed, and I would dust it, polish the wood a bit, and leave it alone.

This holiday season, it occurred to me that I hadn't found anything to get for Dick yet this Christmas, so maybe I'd go look for a mantle clock that worked. After all, he is a grandfather and now a great-grandfather; he could start a new tradition with a new clock. In preparation, as I cleaned off the mantle for our nativity scene, I picked up the wooden clock, placing it on my lap to give it a good dusting. Christmas carols were playing on the radio, and as I polished the clock, I said a tiny prayer: Please let this clock work again.

Just that. Simple words, simple thought. And the clock began ticking. Strangely enough, it had the correct time on it...5 pm. The chimes rang! Five times. Sadie Mae was next to me on the couch and must have wondered why I was laughing out loud. Later, when Dick got home from hunting, I excitedly had him come over to the fireplace as soon as he'd taken off his boots and jacket. "Listen!" I told him, "just listen!" His hearing isn't that great, but I'd turned off the radio so there was no other sound but his grandfather's clock, ticking.

That was Tuesday evening. It is now Friday, and the clock has been working, ticking, sounding chimes, AND keeping the correct time to the minute since then. I'm not making this up, but that clock never did keep good time.

The yellowed paper directions inside the door to the clock recommend periodic oiling, but only with special clock oil from a company that existed 50-75 years ago. I think I'll ask those church friends where to find clock oil, and where to apply it. Along with a bit of prayer.