Treasure in the Southern end of Appalachia

While those of us who work for Automattic, Inc. have an open vacation policy (no set number of days per year), we are encouraged to take at least 25 (paid) days off. Love that! And yet I realized that I have only taken about six of those days, and I’ve been here for a year on Sept. 15. Oops. Reflecting on this, Chris and I realized this was the perfect time to visit relatives we have been trying to get to for several years now.

Earlier this year, we visited my parents and sister in Pennsylvania. In early June we visited cousins in Maryland. In July we checked in with my cousin and his wife in Boston. For August, we decided to take two weeks off and have some eclectic adventures. Our first stop was traveling south (after a golf game with my co-worker, Sam, and our friend Amy) to visit my aunt and uncle.IMG_20150829_153045315

I do believe I took the longest road trip I have ever been on last week. Certainly in my almost-24 years of marriage. Chris and I petted our car, told it what a great job its been doing over the last few years and encouraged it to keep that up as we journeyed from one end of Appalachia to another point in the mountain ranges of North Carolina. Whenever we have a trip that entails over 8 hrs of driving, we generally hit the skies. This time, we hit a hotel instead, breaking the 11.5 hr trip in two. It was a good idea, although we figure we might sleep in the back of the mini-van at a state park next time we do that.

It’s unusual for me to get sick, but I was nailed with a nasty cold after camp week, and my body was still dragging, although the cold had broken a week prior to this visit. When my aunt asked what we might want to do (museums, tourist attractions, etc), I commented that all we wanted to do was sit and relax and see their world at the other end of Appalachia (I always pronounced that as apple-long A-cha, but apparently it’s a short “a” such as “throw an apple at-cha.” The things I learn. To our great delight, this is exactly what happened. We arrived at their house around 4:30 pm on Sunday and sat and yakked until 1 am when we forced ourselves to go to bed only to wake up the next day and start the gabbing all over again until the wee hours of the next morning.

This chattering was only interrupted by occasional naps (I was so relaxed, I took TWO naps the first day I was there. Talk about luxury) and by the serving of amazing food. We had pulled pork with coleslaw on it the first night (with a side of fried okra) and we also had livermush and shrimp and grits (yum!!!). Aunt Anne served up a feast each morning. Her idea of a light breakfast is several cereals, some sort of cooked egg, livermush, sausages, bacon and some sort of toast/muffin/coffeecake. My idea of breakfast (coffee only) was tossed to the wind. Amazing. I might need to reconsider this breakfast concept.

Uncle John’s brain is a treasure trove of history just waiting to be tapped. I swear he saved me back in the fifth grade when he tutored me in history. He took me beyond the dates to the actual stories, making the human connection that fed the love I have for history to this day. That hasn’t changed a bit. He still has the knack and has passed on this gift to his son. My cousin John $ regaled us with fascinating tidbits of life in the hills and the history of the Cherokee. I am more familiar with the Seneca nation so it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences in the tribes from different parts of Appalachia.

Chris, $ and I met my uncle’s cousin as well. Peter was visiting from Illinois, coming back to the mountains where he grew up for a dulcimer meeting. He blogs about his music, and to our delight, he gave us a mini concert.

I think I will write a post about this in the future so I won’t go into too many details here, but the musical conversation was very interesting and inspirational. My aunt did a nice writeup on the visit on her blog page.

On our last full day there, $ took Chris and me off to play in the mountains. We hiked for several hours through incredible views. I saw fantastic fungus and fresh-ish bear scat in addition to tempting camping spots. My biggest regret was that we hadn’t packed sleeping bags and planned to stay longer. Now we know for next time.

We completed the perfect day by going to a fabulous Mexican restaurant then headed back to the tranquil house for more yakking before hitting the hay. Wednesday morning came all too soon, and we pushed off leaving as long as we could. Aunt Anne kindly played the piano and sang The Angel Gabriel at my request. If you ever want a glimpse of heaven, you need to hear her beautiful, clear voice singing that.

Topping off the trip, we stopped in PA on the way home and visited with my niece who is in college there. We had such a nice visit, but I forgot to take a picture 🙁 Next time… We also hit the Buffalo WordPress meetup as we journeyed homeward. Now I have one week left of my vacation. The car did great, and we are so proud of it. So much to see and do, and lots of relaxing with loved ones on the agenda. We are blessed.

A Testimonial to a Tree

Yellow Transparent Apple Tree
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See that beautiful yellow transparent apple tree over the shed, shading our kids as they play?

We almost chopped it down the year we bought our house. That was 20+years and un-countable pies and cans of applesauce ago. We had this large tree right smack where our driveway ought to be, and it didn’t even bear fruit.

Or so we thought.

An elderly couple stopped by and asked if they could continue getting fruit from the tree. Observing our baffled looks, they explained that we had a unique tree in our yard. It was the yellow transparent apple tree and bore fruit every other year. It was the key ingredient in applesauce such as you have never tasted before.

That tree inspired us to chop, peel, and puree and even inspired this high-powered applesauce gadget. When winter winds trapped us indoors, we could pull a frozen pie out and pop it in the oven. The aroma and slightly bitter taste brought back memories of blue skies and picnics up in the branches of this beautiful flowering treasure.

Two years ago we came home from a trip to my mother-in-law’s and discovered that the tree was so heavy with fruit that a giant limb fell. It was a sad moment for all. But time went on, and the tree still showered us with enough fruit to keep us super-busy at canning time.

This Tuesday morning was pretty uneventful. My husband and I were were at my mother-in-law’s house once again while the kids held down the fort at home. The phone rang, and when I answered, my son said, “Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that we are all fine. The bad news is that the apple tree fell during the storm last night.”

That tree gifted us right to the end. It blew down in the sweet-scented pile of its own blossoms. While it could have hit cars, the neighbor’s house, our house and/or our shed with kayak and canoe on top, it didn’t. It slightly scraped the neighbor’s house (and she didn’t care at all, bless her heart), and fell without damaging anything. I took pictures just in case we needed records of this in the future then put my phone away and moved on with life.

Later in the day, my phone chirped, telling me it put together a Life Events reel. I giggled a little at the dramatic impact music the device threw upon the saga of our fallen tree. But as I reflect, I do believe the phone was right. It was a life event. That tree gave us food and beauty, drew us closer to neighbors, gave our kids a hangout spot when they were younger, shaded our yard, and it will now provide warmth for my husband’s studio this winter. Thanks, tree.

Three Songs – My Favorites – What are Yours?

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

That’s today’s assignment. As a music-lover this should be easy-breezy right?

Bet you thought I would say it was difficult!

But actually, it was pretty easy for me.

I have eclectic taste in music. I enjoy the Disney channel on Pandora as much as I love Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis, Broadway tunes, Skrillex, Aerosmith, Rachmaninov and Pavarotti.

But I still know my three.

1. Edvard Grieg’s Wedding at Troldhaugen

Back when I was a little one, my mother played this while I played with my toys. Watching her hands fly across the keyboard was a true delight. When I was nine we went to Norway, and I got to see Grieg’s studio overlooking the fjord. It tugged at the very root of my Nordic ancestral soul. When I was in seventh or eighth grade (I can’t remember which), I was able to play this in a school performance, and my best friend played it at my wedding. She loved it so much, she had it at her wedding, too.

2. Little Brown Church in the Vale by William Pitts

This one’s a bit hokey, but that’s part of why I love it so much. My in-law’s have some cabins at a little tiny church campground. My mother-in-law has been going there for over 80 years. For ten days every summer, a group of families gather for worship, singing, games and general relaxation.

Our tabernacle is a building in the center of the campgrounds, and the sides of the building are propped open when the weather is nice. At night when we gather, we are generally tired from doing crafts and classes in the morning, walking through the woods and swimming at Little Falls where we also hunt for crawfish. We sing together, and often wind up belting out a hearty off-key rendition of this song. Although tired, we leave this place to have ice cream and yak with our friends.

It ain’t fancy, but that little tabernacle in the camp is a haven for my family and me.

3. And finally…Brokedown Palace by the Grateful Dead

This will hopefully be played a my funeral someday.

Let me be frank. I want no pomp and circumstance when I go. I’m cool with taking the next step in my journey and look forward to heaven. I don’t need a tombstone, and I don’t want people to spend $ they don’t have for travel unless they really feel they need to.

That said, if I could plan my own ideal send-off, it would be aweseome if my loved ones had an all-night party, celebrating life. Goodbyes are important, I know. So tossing my ashes into some body of water as the sun rises and this song plays would, imho, be the perfect way to part. The rising sun symbolizing a new beginning for my loved ones in a world without me, and for myself as I embrace paradise.

Mama, Mama, many worlds I’ve come
since I first left home …

Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
to rock my soul

If you had to name your three favorite songs, what would they be?

Larry Boy Greets my Boys

PISTACHIO - VeggieTales.Box ArtThe other day I woke up with a VeggieTales song stuck in my head. Since my kids are 15+, this is not a common event anymore. It was a great way to wake up, though, and reminded me of one of my favorite interviews.

Years ago I interviewed Mike Nawrocki (VeggieTales co-creator and voice of Larry Boy), and he gave my kids a special greeting at the end of the interview. Although they are quite a bit older now, it’s still a family treasure:


A year or so later, he allowed Hudi to interview him (Hudi’s first official interview). Really great guy. Another reminder that a little kindness can make a great impact on others.

Here’s the song I had stuck in my head:

Save Money on Music Lessons

Last week, our son became a pianist thanks to the Internet (the video of him playing is at the end of this article). We didn’t have to pay for lessons, and we didn’t have to nag him about practicing. All we did was offer him an Internet connection, and he did the rest on his own.

Before our kids were even born, we decided to constantly surround them with music and art. We offered them lessons, but didn’t force anything. CJ became a clarinetist then taught himself piano, Hudi took to the trombone, and Zeb? Well, for several years now Zeb has excelled in Rock Band (drums and guitar). I’ll tell the tale of how our family has bonded over Rock Band another day. Today, I’m going to write about YouTube.

YouTube Rocks

That’s right. YouTube.

Zeb found a tutorial online that showed how to play a Chiodos song he enjoyed (Lindsey Quit Lolligagging). It demonstrated how to play note-for-note.

Within a few hours, Zeb was playing an identifiable song on the piano, an instrument he had never been drawn to before. That’s no replacement for lessons, you might point out, and you are right to some extent. I get it. I was a keyboard (piano) minor in college. I guess the real question comes down to why you want to learn music.

  • Enjoyment? Zeb certainly had that.
  • Structure and discipline? He plays for hours on a daily basis now.
  • Music theory? Ah, that might be the catch, but Zeb naturally found a way around that, too.

Learn Music Theory Unconventionally

Zeb was so interested in his music that he found the sheet music online and printed it out. He laboriously went through and labeled all the notes. He researched key signatures, time signatures, and brushed up on his rhythm.

It was way cool.

Now Zeb set his iPod touch to blast through the speakers, and he plays along. Check it out in the recording. This was after he had been playing a few days. Yes, there are some rough patches, but I figured that’s good because it shows that it really is he who is playing the keyboard.

I love hearing that boy play. Watch him play and let us know what you think.

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