Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Time for Growth

This week the breezes have quickened. They whisper to the dry leaves still clinging to their familiar stark limbs that it's time to drop so Mom can sleep and bring new birth. The yards painted shades of brown beckon their owners to get out, enjoy the beauty of sunshine and rake those dead soldiers into piles to be burned.

Every day I stand in the kitchen I see through the window the tree across the street with dead leaves unable to shake themselves from the cold limbs. Why, they ask? Look at my neighbors who still are green, why must I die when they stay alive?

And so those friends and relatives with cancer are asking the same questions, why me when others are healthy? I see the new year as a need not to rake their lives into a pile and turn the other way, but to keep some flame of hope burning.

Just like those leaves, I must drop some unproductive aspects of my life and allow growth of my person. I must listen more, talk less. I must find more time for silence. I need to quit stereotyping people. I need to care for those losing hope and life. Needs, Wants, Have-to's--can I achieve these in another year?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Year Ending, Another Beginning

As the New Year advances I'm reminded by how some countries celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next:

AUSTRIA - The suckling pig is the symbol for good luck for the new year. It's served on a table decorated with tiny edible pigs. Dessert often consists of green peppermint ice cream in the shape of a four-leaf clover.

ENGLAND - The British place their fortunes for the coming year in the hands of their first guest. They believe the first visitor of each year should be male and bearing gifts. Traditional gifts are coal for the fire, a loaf for the table and a drink for the master. For good luck, the guest should enter through the front door and leave through the back. Guests who are empty-handed or unwanted are not allowed to enter first.

WALES - At the first toll of midnight, the back door is opened and then shut to release the old year and lock out all of its bad luck. Then at the twelfth stroke of the clock, the front door is opened and the New Year is welcomed with all of its luck.

SICILY - An old Sicilian tradition says good luck will come to those who eat lasagna on New Year's Day, but woe if you dine on macaroni, for any other noodle will bring bad luck.

SPAIN - In Spain, when the clock strikes midnight, the Spanish eat 12 grapes, one with every toll, to bring good luck for the 12 months ahead.

Some of these ideas are interesting enough to observe ourselves: the gifting of the first visitor to the home, dinining on lasagna, eating the grapes. . .well, we have the blackeyed peas for good luck. And we make resolutions. No longer do I create a list, makes me ill-tempered. But for posterity this time, here's my compilation:

I want to

remind my family more often how much I love and respect them,
continue to fight clutter,
dole out more compliments,
hug more,
keep in contact with my generation of cousins and elderly kin,
work with my jewelry like I'm the Grandma Moses of jewelry,
enrich the friendships with those I've formed
pray more dilligently for peace, understanding of those different from ourselves,
continue to support my country and appreciate my freedoms.

As our young family was growing, we celebrated New Year's Eve at Ann and Harry's along with their kids and those of another family. Now those kids are grown up and having their own parties. Later through my school contacts we began meeting with Vivian M who loves people and has the grandest year-end celebrations --and after 20 years we anticipate the wonderful friendships Vivian has introduced us to when December 31 returns. She always starts the new year serving her great biscuits, grits, bacon, and coffee.

And we are reminded that same night that oh so many years ago we welcomed our second son into the world, relieved that he made it before the first of the year. He had the looks of his so-called North American Indian ancestry (my grandmother was supposed to have had an Indian in the family) with his dark hair and olive complexion. His older brother, just turned one, was confused by all the hoop-la. This time I wasn't the frantic new mother begging the nurse to tell me what to do when I got home with the bundle of arms and legs. I had had a year to get ready.

We were fortunate to hire an excellent caretaker to help me and guide wee brother Jim into a routine.The memory of that woman remains, her name is lost. She taught me to reserve time with the toddler, take care of myself, and educated me in the routine of general family life that I needed at that time. She and her husband, a part-time minister, were killed in an automobile accident only a few years later. Thank you, my Caretaker, for your lessons.

Second son celebrates his 45th birthday this Saturday night. His distance away hinders us from celebrating this important event, and there's always a hole in our hearts. As a family we are big on togetherness, communication, and support. Happy Birthday, Scott!

And Happy New Year to all my friends, relatives, and occasional visitors!!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Best Gifts We Can Receive--and Give

This Christmas season, I wish for America the gifts of deliverance, restored memory and renewed vision. She needs a self-esteem boost. ...

I have something to say, and, I have questions for fellow Americans.
America is spinning in self-inflicted ruts. We, her citizens, are bickering among ourselves as if we are of different nations. We are tearing away at our foundation, one tenet after another. We are relaxing our allegiance to God, our Cornerstone. Do we remember American's source of light in dark time, her peacemaker in trouble spots and her deliverer from oppressors? Why are we quiet about the path America once traveled, the authority she once revered and the high moral standards she once held? Lawmakers and culture-shapers are rewriting our family history and.. its.culture...and now debating whether to rename "Merry Christmas" "Winter Break." And we call this progress?

Change can be good or bad. Sometimes it's just different, not better. Someone will always be offended by something, at some time or in some way. That's the life of a diverse populace.

Fellow Americans, we are the "mother of exiles"--the "tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free". In what way and for how long can any politically correct reform fix our diversity?
We need to reflect on our image and behavior. We are looking ugly and sounding like bullies. Sometimes, we are embarrassed and made ashamed, Let's repent and forgive the bad and the ugly....We need deliverance.

The Golden Rule has proven to be our best recourse: "Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you." We can survive our differences and thrive, too, without dissolving the unity part of the United States...
'Tis the season to hear old words of peace and goodwill spoken to our broken spirits and troubled minds.We need to be reminded of some bold landmarks made in this country before the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Americans we need to reflect on our image and behavior. Let's allow truth to reign and give us peace again at home.

The above words were written by my friend Jannie Johnson in a recent column for the local newspaper. She has for decades run a school to teach wayward children the values and the rewards of being good. Her Caring and Sharing classes are held in her family home rich with the heritage of her parents' fight for equal rights among the Blacks in Mississippi. She was the first and only parent to ask me what I was teaching her son in the Spanish language class; the first to visit the class on several occasions; the only parent whose family lived the values they inspire others to achieve. Her School of Preventive Counseling relies on donations to exist. Nevertheless, she continues teaching little children how to be better, to achieve a purpose in life, to get along with their peers. In so doing she teaches their parents responsibility. She never wavers in her beliefs. Her friendship is valuable.

Write me for her address if you wish to donate to her cause at

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

What December Brings

December has proven to be an arduous month for us. We've been home in Mississippi just seven weeks and we've battled temporary amnesia we seem to be plagued with upon our returns each November: where is the shortcut to the airport? Wasn't there on that corner the restaurant we enjoyed last year? When did this road become a detour? Did Frank tell us he was moving? My gingko, taken in liquid form, isn't helping my memory any better than the capsules.

Then there're the decisions to make annually just before January when we want to schedule action: how to improve or upgrade our house. Let's face it folks, despite my boasting of living 4o more years, these decisions may curtail our lives considerably. All we've done these past years is shuffle the same furniture from one spot to the other,adding a few pieces here and there. Now we're ready to redesign our living pattern. And we can't decide which rug of the hundreds we'd like to live with for a decade or so! Decisions about redesigning the bathrooms leave us exhausted, design magazines lying like spilled toothpicks about the room; viewing bed frames on the internet until our eyes bulge; determining how to organize our precious junk-- I tell you, decisions are too much for our psyche!

The best decison came with celebrating our oldest son's birthday. He was born six days before Christmas. As the practice of overgifting on Christmas was not our choice, birthdays were and still are The Gift Giving Time. So despite his adult status, it was fun selecting his gifts and watching him enjoy the surprises as we've done in the past.

For a few years in his early teens, Jim always wanted a cheesecake for his special day. But only the cheesecake from the delicatessen of his choice. On one prior day to December 19 I made the purchase, took it home and placed it on the kitchen bar while I hung up my coat in the closet. Never did I think that Freckles would give Jim the worst gift. In the passing of two minutes, our Dalmatian couldn't resist the creamy cake in the box. He just swallowed it in a few gulps, leaving us with an empty carton.

We still laugh at that memory, and mourn the passing of this beautiful pet years later.

Then, unexpectedly, the shadow of disease darkens our doorway. My sister, living with us for a short time, receives the dreaded word that she has cancer. Just when we'd worked out a road map for her retirement. Helping her through two surgeries and impending chemo reminds us how precious life is and how easily cancer or another disease can redirect our lives. Richard and I have felt close to this disease with our friend Ed and my cousin Bobby and a number of other known friends and family battling for a few more years of life, feeling overcome by their fragility. Another cousin knows she has the disease but has chosen not to have any treatment, to enjoy the remainder of her life having a good time traveling and enjoying what is dealt. She plans to retire in nine more years. Perhaps she has the right attitude instead of putting those toxic chemicals into her body, reducing her to a wisp of a person, she's enjoying time she may never have again.

Our role as caretakers continue. First were the parents on both sides, now my only sister. I'll just dust off our cheerleader uniforms, pull out the pom-poms and practice the cheers.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Remembering the Season

Governor and Mrs. Haley Barbour sent this card to citizens with the statement inside, "God bless Mississippi and the wonderful people who make her great". They are standing in front of a yard on the Gulf Coast with only the statue of Mary still intact. A poignant moment captured to be remembered at this holy time of the year. The Bible verse quoted from Jeremiah states, "There is hope for your future, says the Lord, your children will come again to their own land." Take a moment to think or pray for those ravaged by the hurricanes who feel only bleakness in their lives.

I don't begrudge those who wish to say "Happy Holidays" or any other secular greeting. Those who consider this time in December as commemoration of Jesus' birth easily greet with "Merry Christmas", leaving others to use their own means of wishing happiness. It's not the words we use but how we use them and the tone of voice. We Southerners greet strangers easily with a "Good morning" or a "Hello" at motels, restaurants, on the street and always follow with "Thank you" after a favor is done. A greeting communicates caring.

Our tiny tree now sparkles with colored lights and six white dove sit precariously on the limbs. Digging into the few small boxes of ornaments passed from year to year, I'm reminded of the many years between Thanksgiving and December 19 (usually the last day of school) our three kids would make their own ornaments for the tree: painting wooden figures and making paper chains. It was fun also making gifts for neighbors, teachers, and their closest friends. Soon the idea of pasting pictures on soap with wax or hand drawing a picture or making their own greeting cards became passe, and only bought items would do.

One season when daughter Janie was in the third grade, she had decided not to give her teacher a gift, only to change her mind on the evening of the 18th. Because she had decided late in the evening I was quite distraught, needing to prepare for my last day of classes. We traipsed to a department store looking at all the possible gifts. Of course my ideas didn't agree with hers, so I gave her a hard sell. "Look at this scarf, see the way the flowers are arranged at each end? Anyone knowing this artist will appreciate this as a gift. Vera is a well-known designer. One of her scarves is a real gift." Janie had to muse over what I said as she gazed around the ladies' department, finally settling on a Vera scarf with some reluctance. Taking the selection home she wrapped the box her way and never spoke to me again about that gift. That was in 1971.

Several years ago I was in the local library chatting with some friends when that third grade teacher of three decades ago walked in. She asked about Janie and I proudly told her Janie's accomplishments. Putting her hand on my arm, she said, "I'll never forget that Christmas when Janie walked up to my desk and presented me with her gift. As I opened it, she said, 'That's a Vera scarf; anyone is happy to wear something of hers, she's a famous designer.' You know, I've still got that scarf and I've never forgotten those words of hers!"

Ironic as it was, three summers ago at our Kudzu Food and Goods Scott had purchased some Vera collectible napkins. I was pleased to learn more of this talented woman. Then one day a visitor who became a customer mentioned that he collected scarves and hoped to write a biography of her. During that same summer I picked up a budget decorating magazine and found an article about how a young man utilized his collection of her scarves: framing and hanging on his living room wall. They were just as beautiful as when they were originally designed.

What goes around comes around--just like this season. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

'Tis the Season

With a distinct chill in the air, the Christmas season has tumbled into Mississippi. My neighbors are busy decorating their yards and homes. Lights, I have to admit, at this time of the year twinkling from a tree or a porch or a door make me feel like a child of wonder again. Our tradition is to drive into other neighborhoods on Christmas Eve before dinner to see the feast of lights. We "ooh" and "ahh" like the children we are inside. There are many grown children who've never tired of twinkling lights and amazing life-like toy animal and human forms that bob and sway to canned carols and popular songs. They are the ones who continue the tradition of decorating for the delight of little ones peering through foggy automobile windows on frosty nights.

In our home there are no small children to celebrate with us, so we decorate minimally. I do enjoy having poincettias in various rooms throughout the house, shouting "Merry Christmas!" Like the two seen here. The reds are my favorites, more traditional; but this year I added the white and the pale red ones. Horticulture has changed the flower from its original form.

One season, many years ago, I arranged a trip to Mexico, for my students of Spanish. We boarded a bus Christmas Day afternoon and arrived 24 hours later in Monterrey. One of our side trips took us into a small village where to our surprise we saw a wall of an old house glistening in the morning sunlight Upon closer look we recognized the red leaves on a vine as our potted poincettias--our first to see it in its original growing form. An impressive scene.

Years later I bravely took another group during the season to Mexico City and to their delight the students celebrated the season twice. Most celebrations in Mexico and Latin America begin religiously in early December, attending church at midnight of the 25th. Then the real time for children begins. Anticipation rises over the approaching visit by the Three Wise Men. In the park our students saw three men dressed in long garments meandering from one child to another. They, as our Santa Claus, were listening to the children's wishes for giftsto be delivered on January 6. The park was decorated with play houses painted in bright colors depicting those in fairy tales. Commercial and retail establishments displayed in their storefronts the traditional layout of the town of Bethlehem with minature houses, animals, trees, roadways. At the top of a hill was the manger scene. Homes also decorate in this theme, adding to the town each year. Sometimes these layouts extend into many rooms .

I'm reminded by former student, Stella, who went on this trip, that at reunions of her high school class everyone says the Mexico trip was their most memorable.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Madison, My Madison

Despite the low wages Mississippians earn, there are perks in our state that many others don't have. One is lower property taxes for senior citizens. Those over 65 pay approximately one-half of the taxes levied. We have medical clinics, good public schools, a growing library. Our town is a designated retirement site. It also is an architecturally planned "city" and the efforts of our female mayor is paying off as the city progresses. We don't have a main street leading into downtown that is lined with fast food structures or used auto dealerships. Located a few miles north of the capital city, Madison is THE place for families. No apartment buildings strewn in the once cotton fields, no low-cost housing , no abominable condos reaching to the clouds, and right now a low-to-nothing crime rate .

Madison is developing into a lovely area, if you like progress that brings in traffic, an overload of businesses in form of upscale restaurants, movie theaters, dozens of fast food eateries (conveniently place in proper locations), strip malls--all designed with architectural guidelines set many years ago. We were the first city to force Wal Mart to conform to the guidelines (took them over 4 years to agree to build to the city's standards). The exit off I55 into Madison is the only one in the state that is beautifully laid in brick instead of just concrete walls(and you can believe many folks griped to the newspapers about the Highway Department affording this move). New homes are sprouting on either side of I55 and State Highway 51.

I'm proud of the progress of this place, which 40 years ago when we moved here was a tiny spot on the state map. It's the hurly-burly of this place (or any place that has progressed in size) that makes me enjoy Sullivan County, NY in the summer months.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

In the News

Mississippi has made the front pages in many newspapers in the last few months. The New York Times compared the state with Louisiana to energize Katrina rescue efforts. Big layout then. However, the latest articles concerned a good and a bad compliment: Mississippi is the highest in charitable giving and the lowest in household income. My, oh, my. We've suffered from an inferiority complex too many years.

We are charitable. I'm proud to say that schools and organizations in various directions of the state have continued to help Katrina victims. The local colleges and universities have each adopted a city along the Gulf Coast and the efforts of their students will have a tremendous impact. Local residents have formed their own helping hands groups and administer directly with families, churches, libraries, rather than push contributions to larger organizations like Salvation Army or Red Cross. Local restaurants are holding special entertainment with specific groups in mind. One this Saturday night will help the Walter Anderson Family in their restoration of valuable art work that was supposedly safe in another part of the Coast, but suffered water damage.

When on Peaks Island, Maine we attended a Katrina Fund Raiser and this tiny island of 1,000 year 'round residents raised $15,000 in one day. They didn't spend a lot of up front money to have this, most everything was donated. Through the efforts of my daughter she was able to convince the Fund Raiser Committee to send $1,000 to a library in Long Beach, MS that had lost everything. She remains in contact with the librarian who appreciates her efforts to have a book drive to help stock the make-shift library. So much to be done. This doesn't begin to relate the needs there.

As to having the lowest median income in the nation (Connecticut has the highest), we still manage to produce greats in art, music, literature, and sports. Someone recently reminded me that we have produced more sports greats than any other state.

Now a local advertising agency has taken on the responsibility of opening a website to "inform and educate the citizens of Mississippi, as well as interested parties across the U.S., about the wonderful people, aspects and facts associated with the state..." There will be public service announcements for print publications and posters sent to all schools, public and private.
Their campaign is "Mississippi, Believe It!" (see About Mississippi in the link). Everyone recognizes that Oprah, Willie Morris, Brett Farve, B.B. King, and Faith Hill are among recognizable people originally from Mississippi. And don't forget ME-- your humble scribe.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Solutions to Affordable Homes

We've been home nearly a month and acclimating to the traffic-choked streets and highways that I traverse is difficult. Why should I complain about the easy access to fine restaurants, excellent grocery stores, shopping spots within five miles either way? Why should I resist the material acoutrements in my kitchen , the space afforded in our home, use of two automobiles instead of one?

Living simply half the year in NY helps me appreciate what I've worked for ( accumulation of material things in a home paid for) and knowing that I can in an emergency or at my pleasure do without these acoutrements. I'm a bit upset over some of the hurricane "refugees" who complain of learning to live in less space or the lack of television in a hotel room--they've not tried mentally to decrease their "wants." Yes, they're stressed from the loss, but at the same time they should reaccess their lives and understand their present living is temporary and make the best of their time.

With the desperate need for housing, this is a good time for architects to design homes that utilize discarded materials. When in Taos, NM a few years ago, I had wanted to learn about building a house made from old tires and discarded soda cans. A company has built a community of homes set in the earth outside the town and all are solar powered and beautiful. Learn about Earthships in Taos, NM and around the globe at Granted, many homes built this way are expensive, but the theory of solar power and using alternative building products are applicable. Why aren't local architects and builders using this same principle? Those displaced already have mortgages and now must face a second one! Who wants to be beholden to two mortgages for the remainder of their lives?

Our daughter recently visited the small Alabama community that contains housing for lower economic families. These houses are designed and built by architectural students enrolled in the Rural Studio of University of Alabama. Amazing what beautiful structures have been conceived with easy-to-find materials. Why isn't this idea being utilized? We don't have many contractors with creative minds. I'm proud to say one architect, Sam Mockbee,(who lived just up the road in Canton) saw that need and started the Rural Studio many years ago. Look at the website for an interesting read.

We need to push the government to strive for economical ways to rebuild homes.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Finding Me Online

Listening to my favorite radio program (Kim Komando, the computer diva) Saturday, a gentleman called to ask if there was any way to get his name off public records, or at least get some profile info erased that is online. Sadly to say Kim offered no reprieve, only to state that the information highway will widen. So today, I plugged in my name with Google...Yikes! There I was, my profiles (with my password stated) with genealogy and camping message boards, my public radio essays...thank goodness I've not made any more ripples!
And then what to my wandering eye should appear---
a couple of other women who share my first and last name!
I have twins in Indiana and Florida! Should I connect? Are we alike?

Curiosity may get me, but for now, I'll leave them alone.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Scrambling to Unscramble

Recovering from several months in the East isn't an easy task. My brain refuses to unscramble the confusion that arises from shifting from one set of directions, friends, and general area knowledge to another. I thought ghinko biloba would help, especially in liquid form, but so far it is as slow as a computer without DSL. I dislike returning to a busy, traffic-choked situation, and I'm unable to function well without being in my woodland retreat. Even Richard has admitted living the way we did for nearly 3 months was far better than he would have expected. He worked on projects around the cabin so well that in coming home he's had a let down. He doesn't want to get involved with anything for awhile. Is that because the weather has turned colder? Is it because we've not unpacked all our belongings we brought home because they were unneeded there? Or is he also having a letdown from an exciting time?

Our only regret is that we didn't have time to socialize with many, many friends we've made over the last three summers. I managed to get in a few lunches with women whom I want to get better acquainted. One is hoping to move to Santa Fe, a loss to me because I've just begun to know her. However, what's to say I won't make a trip to New Mexico?

Two seasons are upon us and there are no children around to motivate us to decorate. What are you doing this year to celebrate Christ's birth and to give thanks for all the blessings you've received?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Leaving Simple Life for Conveniences

Fall colors on the Poconos along the Delaware River as seen from
our Barryville apartment.

If you’ve packed and moved at least once in your lifetime, you promise yourself not to repeat the process often. Before you know it, someone has to move to a new location, another is flooded out and has to rip home down to the studs, requiring extensive packing by many friends, then someone else has to get out of Dodge and you're the only one to help--it doesn’t matter for whom or what, packing is kin to having a bad case of influenza. You're left with no energy and little enthusiasm for EVER packing again.

We've been packing second son’s storage items and moving them to his property and preparing to leave our Sheds. Our packing is putting clothing in a safe box and covering furniture with sheets to keep out dust. We've learned quickly that living simply equates possessing fewer of everything. Our Blazer will be loaded with excess of everything we thought we'd need in the woods, but don't.

Leaving one place for another brings some kind of renewed spirit. Like my cousin’s move from his home of over 20 years to a rental near his son. He hated leaving his cozy home for a trip across town to a new residence. However, he felt a spark of interest in having this new home despite no longer sharing with his wonderful wife, now deceased. We’ll find that spark of interest when we arrive home to greet our cat Bobbisox, admire the autumn lawn, check out our maple trees, walk through the house to remind ourselves that nothing has changed, and finally settle down in our comfortable living room to check the fall schedule of television programs. (After all, we've seen little of the tv set in the last three months.)How quickly will we slip into old habits, renew friendships in the neighborhood, and day by day scrounge through three months’ mail, discarding the gillions of accumulated catalogs. Our NY friends will communicate via email, reminding us how fortunate we are not to be spending the winter in the East.

We have the best of both worlds and we appreciate that fact.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The City

When we first arrived on the NY scene, summer folks we met said they lived in "the City". Well, there are lots of cities that stretch from here, but I quickly learned that Manhattan was THE CITY.

It is difficult to think about leaving this quiet for the traffic sounds that permeate the City. However, we went in for an overnight visit and ended up wishing we had planned more days. There's something that tugs my psyche when I'm in New York City. I love to walk the streets viewing the upscale and odd retail stores, the delicatessens on every corner, the knock-off goods displayed on rickety tables along the sidewalks. I love to watch the people from every walk of life traipse on the sidewalks, hear languages I can't distinguish, smile at the outlandish styles of clothing. There's no way one can dress incorrectly in NYC. I can wear jeans, shirt, and throw a scarf around my neck and not worry if I'm dressed "correctly or not." Of course, if I attend a concert at Lincoln Center, I'd be more cautious about how I look. And, naturally, I have to return home with something I bought there so I can say to one who compliments my never-before-seen-in-Madison purchase, "This came from NYC." We women do love to say that! You can be sure it's NOT a tee shirt.

This City always has an array of great movies. We try to see at least on.This time we saw "Capote." At the end we left the theatre overcome with profound emotion. Be sure to see it.

Also, we treat ourselves to dinner at some new place. Chelsea is becoming the new Soho and many new shops, galleries, and restaurants are locating there. This time we sampled Korean dishes at D'or Ahn on 10th Ave: mushroom "bibimbob" with egg, black sesame dressing, chili; Beef which was sweet rice flour dusted sliced eye round, pine nuts, spicy mustard sauce; Black Cod, spicy poached with mustard bread pudding and braised daikon; and a side dish of sauteed rice, with crispy tiny shrimp. Ummm.....I'll not forget that meal for awhile.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Wintry Weather Arriving

First Katrina now Wilma promises to send more rain our way. We are holed up in our small apartment, feeling like we’re playing a role in an old b/w movie where we're stuck in a small motel in a deserted town and rain is falling endlessly. How much we miss the cabin,! But the heating has to be upgraded to withstand the night lows of 40's and 30's.

The colors aren’t as vivid this year as last; yet, the muted colors evoke a quiet mood. I still snap photos as each scene unfolds, only to erase them when the camera fails to capture the colors.

A local friend Carolyn has seen the brighter side of all this rain and shared with me, and now with you, this beautiful portrait of the season:

Autumn has arrived! The Oaks, Maples, Cherries, Beach, Birch, Witch Hazel, Dogwood, sumac, Virginia creeper and other deciduous trees and vines are showing brilliant color. What a delight to look out the window and have such a view The ferns are a mix of green, gold, coral, and wine. Winter birds have arrived at the feeders. the most frequent visitors are the chickadees, goldfinches, titmice and nuthatches, pine siskins, juncos and robins. Cardinals and rose-breasted grosbeaks come daily. Temperatures are lovely, we don't need either heat or air conditioning. It has rained off and on sometimes as much as six inches in twenty-four hours. We are high on the hillside so although the water soaks the ground it runs off down the hill to the river. Flowers continue to bloom, chrysanthemums and nasturtiums bring color to the deck and joy to my soul. Lots of yellow composites, goldenrod, white and purple asters, some blue veronica, deep rose pink spirea, white butterfly bush and some late blooming blue iris. The seedlings we planted are loving the rain, foxgloves and lupine are getting larger every day. I continue to enjoy going out on the deck to gather my own herbs for dinner. Put together a vegetable soup this afternoon that used basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, and a pinch of rosemary.

Can you see the colors in her description?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Pitter Pat? More Like Bam-Pow!

You hear folks say that rain on a metal roof is soothing. Well, rain recently isn’t the only patter that drummed on our metal roof! For 15 days of unrelenting downpours, we lay awake off and on during the night listening to pings and bams and plops of acorns, small branches, along with humongas spears of rain falling above our heads. Acorns and branch bits were the loudest, often waking us up wondering, “Is that a deer or a bear outside?” That’s how crashingly loud the sounds were.

Up here the soil is similar to loess, very fine. It takes a lot of rain to create mud, so walking isn’t a problem. Usually the soil soaks up the moisture, seeps into the streams, brooks, and finally the Delaware River. The soil becomes so saturated that the heavy trees can’t stay upright as the soil leeches away from its roots. “Don’t park under trees, as danger lies in trees toppling over from soaked soil.” This we hear on our weather radio. And topple they do. A tree expert told us recently that the hemlocks have shallow roots and fall more easily than pines. But not even the pines can escape such an end. If the loose soil doesn’t cause their downfall, the 45 mile gusts of wind we have this time of the year surely finish the job.

Sometimes waking up to a foggy morning we can't discern how the day will be. But in an hour the fog disappears and replaced with the blue skies. By noon we've quit shivvering in 5o degree weather to a warmth inching to 65. Each day a new experience.

Already I'm feeling sad about leaving this oasis (well, the other half doesn't see it quite the same). We were too involved this trip in projects and not enough in enjoying the surrounding towns and villages and our newer friends. We've continue to meet folks who are one generation from European parents who came here for a better enjoyment of life. Of one only natives seem to lose perspective.

High Waters Changed Our Schedule

The excess water from the heavy rains that fall here causes small brooks to rage like the Mighty Mississippi as they flow into the Delaware ,which rushes down from upper New York into Pennsylvania and along New Jersey. Last year the Delaware flooded this area twice.

We arrived here from Maine last September 2004 and found ourselves trapped at every bridge leading to Barryville. All bridges were closed preparing to be flooded. We were stopped at one point about 7 pm and instructed to go to the nearest elementary school where a shelter had been set up. That evening’s experience in the make-shift shelter was not unpleasant. The local Red Cross volunteers and the school cafeteria manager were well prepared: food already in the refrigerators, cookies baking, drinks in the coolers, games and books in the common room; and finally in the gymnasium army cots and shells that looked like one half of a mummy coffin with no padding were set up. For four hours we sat around getting acquainted with the folks who’d had to leave their homes located too near the rivers and streams. Finally, too tired to small-talk anymore, we chose a shell, put an army blanket under and one over us and tried to nap. The dank odor of the blankets let us know we were the first to use them in a loooong time! Not an hour passed before we were awaken to say we could return home.

However, we were the only ones who had to cross the Delaware. The only solution to our getting to Barryville was to go north on Hwy 84 from Port Jervis, NY to Middletown, then west on 74 B and south to south on 55 to Barryville. This included no bridges. After four hours of driving unfamiliar roads in the rain, we dropped into our beds after 3:30 am . I have to say all the people staying in the shelter were quiet and courteous to each other and to the volunteers.
We were grateful for the orderliness of the Red Cross, the preparedness of the cafeteria manager and their interest in our comfort. From that experience I've learned to carry a paperback book everywhere so boredom doesn't set in wherever we may land.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Ferns Are Dying. . .

Recent cold snaps have taken a toll on the ferns. Some still wear their summer green, while others are turning yellow to tan to cinnamon brown. One is more aware of the slow dying of these fronds, as they’re spread over vast areas. Tree leaves change colors and drop. Their bodies remain throughout the winter. Wild ferns are reduced to dried mulch.

Walking along the pathway with the ferns in their final colors is a constant reminder of three loved ones facing their own demise. One is tan to cinnamon brown as he survives each day wondering how much longer; another has some green edges with a body of yellow edging into tan, suffering one malady after another as his body weakens; and the third turned brown Saturday the 8th.

Driving from our cabin to the main road, I'm constantly reminded of these three men who enriched our lives and those of others.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Summer's Gone

Woowee! 40 deg nights are reminding us that the leaves will turn a bit earlier than last year. Our non-winterized cabins are good about holding in the cold air. Turkeys by the dozen walk prissily across the road and into the woods. Although we’ve not seen them, neighbors tell us there are several bears, coyotes and bobcats roaming. We did hear the chorus of coyotes singing one evening as we returned to the cabin by flashlight, making them seem closer. A black squirrel, thought at first to be a mink, dashed along the roadside one afternoon as we lumbered up the hill in our old Blazer to our cabin. The main grocery store has dried stalks of corn slumping like tired soldiers against the outside walls. All this reminds us sharply that fall is settling here in this part of New York.

Our trip last week to the closest launderette gave us a breathtaking view of both the Poconos and lower Catskills wearing early colors of yellow and red. Maples are usually the first to announce their new clothes. And the biggest and prettiest tree to watch is adjacent to the launderette.

The bath house has taken on a new coat of floor paint, the compost toilet is out of its packing box and sitting ready to be connected to all the myriad of piping that will wend its way through the roof. Richard is building steps up the bank to the nice path Joe made for us through the now-dying ferns to our parking spaces behind the cabin. We completed dressing up our patio. We hauled in white gravel that had been at the store the last two years to make a cushion over the stony ground on the southeast side of the cabin.

We now see that half or more of our clothing will have to move back to the South. We don’t need half of what is hanging in our loft. We could do with three changes of clothes for each season. Dressing up around here is wearing clean clothes. Easy to do.

Friday, September 23, 2005

"Water, Water Everywhere. . ."

We measure our water by the number of gallon bottles we fill. We use one and one half gallons per day depending on how much time we spend in the area. Our errands may take up most of the day, thereby reducing the drain on our captured water. No rain has fallen in a weeks, so filling the drip-drip from the mountains is unthinkable to capture it into several one-gallon containers. Thinking how much water we use needlessly back home, we hope to be more aware how precious this commodity is and alter our habits.

Campers staying in campgrounds in the East have to pay a quarter to shower for one minute. It doesn’t take long for one to learn to use that time wisely to avoid reaching out with a soapy hand to locate that elusive quarter on the outside shelf. Our first experience came in Massachusetts in a wooded location. We arrived late and with the camp store closed, we had to rummage through our RV to find enough quarters. I figured if it took me more than a minute to shower, I’d certainly learn quickly how to reduce the time before we got to the next state. Most of the owners of big rigs tell us the bathroom was their consideration in buying up from a smaller rig. That way no one had to worry about the water nor waiting in line for a shower. The presence of so many big rigs has given us exclusive rights to the camp restrooms, a real treat.

Friday, September 16, 2005

When Disaster Strikes

Since we've learned how little most citizens take preparedness seriously, I'm heartened by the photo in last week's New York Times of the young woman in New Orleans who had a year's store of water, gasoline, and food. She didn't want to leave her apartment; she was prepared to live there indefinitely. What caused her to prepare for a disaster? There's a story there.

In readying for our living in the woods, I did find one website from which I bought items for experimentation. You may wish to see it and others like it. This is I ordered some of the dehydrated food and must say I don't want too many packages a week to eat. However, other sites I roamed through let me know all kinds of equipment and supplies are out there for purchase. Another is which sells kits.

Our home in Mississippi is in tornado alley and despite my crowding our hall closet with 2 gals of water, a couple of cans of food, our meds, important papers, and purse, I'm still way behind being ready for emerging from that closet after a disaster. However, our simple living here is giving me ideas for what I need to stock upon our return home.One thing we do know, if we have to go to a central safety place, we will be carrying our "luggable loo."

We are pleased that most of our extended family has a place to go despite losing their homes or their suffering damage. Let's hope the outreach of money generated by relief programs will help everyone we know. Perhaps, too, more awareness of proverty in our own country will be addressed by states and the federal government. No more grants to those counting extinct flowers in Arizona or taking census of domestic animals or some such inane project.

How Kudzu Put Us in Eastern US

Our journey to and subsequent summers in New York State resulted when Scott opened Kudzu Food and Goods in 2002 in a 1934 gas station sitting at the northern edge of a hamlet. We met a variety of people, introduced the plant into their vocabulary, and sold them jars of kudzu jelly made by sisters in Atlanta.(Tastes similar to apple jelly.) "Kood zoo" was a soon-dispelled mystery as well as the rare comodity of three Mississippians in this part of New York. Who would have expected two of the three to be true storytellers when they entered a conversation. I'm reminded of what dear Eudora Welty said upon being asked, "Why are there so many writers in the South?" She hit it on the nail when she said, "Because we have so many stories to tell."

For us the new living experience enriched our lives. We found people with different philosophies, education, attitudes, work and speech patterns. We became acquainted with many people whose families were from old world countries, a rarity in our hometown. However, we discovered another Mississippian who moved to the Delaware area within a year of our store’s existence. Who could expect such a coincidence in this small town!

The store lasted the three planned years. But its name lingers as part of our story we relate to New Englanders as to why we Southerners are in their part of the country. As soon as I begin my story “Our store was called Kudzu Food and Goods” someone invariably hits upon the word “kudzu”, and a new conversation results. We Mississippians pronounce this Japanese word “kud zoo”. Just recently on Peaks Island a woman passing around me in the crowded art gallery heard me explain this to a transplanted Alabamian and stopped to tell me she had just finished contributing to a book called “The Book of Kudzu.” She went on to explain her trips to Japan to learn more about weaving and discovered the miraculous fibre of kudzu (and gave me the Japanese pronunciation as “koo soo”).Having seen how this much misunderstood plant in the South is so valuable, she agreed with me that because all parts of the plant are edible and useful, it should be considered by the government as a food source for poverty stricken areas. I related to her what I had learned in my reading and she suggested we work together to promote this plant. Interesting proposition.

In the August issue of Southern Living, Steve Bender writes about the discovery of kudzu as helping cure alcoholism. He fails to realize Krazy Kudzu Products, produced by those Atlanta sisters, puts out vinegars, honeys, jellies, jams and a cookbook with recipes using all parts of the vine.

Kudzu was introduced, as I understand it, into the country at a world's fair by the Japanese for soil erosion, and soon farmers in the South were planting it profusely. However, little did they know they had lost their land to this invasive, non-destructive plant. The Department of Agriculture in its literature states that eradication is iffy, as a poison should be administered over a period of seven years for best results. And to know a cash crop lies along the highways as a green mantle hiding decaying sheds, rusty vehicles, and disguising telephone poles and trees! If you wish a copy of the recipe book put out by Krazy Kudzu Products, look up their website. Very interesting. Anyone for sauteed leaves?

September on Peaks Island

Just as we were completing a week’s stay visiting our daughter, a well-written article appeared in the Boston Globe about the island. Her art gallery is cited as one of the places to visit. Read for yourself this insightful view of our daughter’s home at Locals emphasize that September is their favorite month, as there are fewer visitors and the weather exhibits sun, breeze, warmth and coolness just short of perfection. We agree and choose this time repeatedly.

Our island abode is at Eighth Maine. Our first encounter with this term was a mystery. Not an address as we thought, but a location. Built in 1899 as a meeting place for Civil War Vets who served in the Eighth Maine Regiment, it provides lodging for all the descendants of this regiment as well as for visitors to the island. This gigantic lodge faces the east side of the island, the Atlantic Ocean area of the bay. Crashing waves over the gigantic rocks put us to sleep nightly. Many interesting conversations with fascinating people have occurred in front of the fireplace on chilly evenings.

The islanders showed their generosity at their Katrina Relief program, September 11 with food, entertainment, games for the kids, and a silent auction of beautiful art and gifts, providing approximately $10,000 for victims. This matched a similar fundraiser for tsunami victims. For the small number of island inhabitants this is a magnanimous feat of which most cities and towns can’t boast.

We are learning yearly how wonderful these Mainers are, whether they are native born or baptized by their settling here. Many are transplants from other states, the South notwithstanding. Fiercely opinionated about all subjects, they are loyal, friendly, and cooperative. We like their open mindedness, although you need a persuasive argument if you offer a different opinion. We support our daughter’s fondness for this community. Her art gallery has brought a much-needed service to the island artists, so we’re reminded often, and she has loyal community support.

Since Wednesday we are in the woods, having returned to our newer living habits after a week of lounging in civilization, and realize how comfortable we are in this once primeval forest. Lots of projects keep us busy and the mundane responsibilities we face cheerfully.

Still haunting me is the less-than-three mile daily visit we make into town. It takes up so much of our day to make contacts, answer mail, buy groceries (ice is our daily purchase), and chat with friends we encounter. I still seek weeks of quiet, but I have to grasp it in fists of hours. Those hours are gifts. How grateful I am to be here as thousands deal with displacement and turmoil. That fact I’m not ignoring.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Pause and Observe

Below is the sculpture by Mom Nature, a branch and root of the mountain laurel. How creative she is! Throughout the woods are similar bits of her work, as though she's dropped them for me to find. Above is the beautiful mulch pathway from our cabins that friend and hard worker Joe made for us. He dug out the large boulders to make our walk easier. Notice the beautiful ferns are changing colors. Cooler weather is turning the ferns to yellow, and before we know it, into brown. This week will bring us mid to low 70's so it will seem more like Indian Summer here. Here's your assignment: when the recent tragedy gets too much, go to a nearby woodland and see what God has wrought.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

No Complaints So Far

Mom Nature shows the artistic endeavors of a heavenly hand. I search the ground for the crooked limbs of the mountain laurel. Some old branches have shapes that no sculptor could reproduce as beautifully. We collect pieces of bark shaped like tiny animals. At our feet the other day was a tiny piece with two holes that upon closer examination looked like an owl. On the shelf it went along similar specimens. Searching now for shapes I can apply silver clay and fire in my kiln results in a lovely reproduction for a pendant or pin. My eyes are down too often and I’m missing the blue skies with the soft white clouds fluffing by.

We have a routine of sorts: in bed at sundown, up at sunup. Well, almost. We may read for awhile and when we hear that one mosquito buzzing, we head for the covers. At our southern home we stay up late watching some inane television program; here we lie in bed listening to the night sounds, trying to identify the owners. Also, when the sun disappears the cooler temperatures set in and by the time we're under cover, we're glad. The temp has gone down into the lower 50's for the last week and the next morning the sun is slow rising to a comfortable heat. By 2 pm we shed our long sleeves and enjoy the sunshine.

We are recycling our water from the cooler to a pan which keeps our mountain water for drinking. I originally said we get water from the spring, but it’s really a pipe coming out of a hill where the water comes out of the mountain. The water is checked regularly to acertain its purity. I understand the water table is low here, yet there are numerous swimming pools scattered around. The Delaware has been low, but boaters are still maneuvering their canoes around the rocks that give the river a lumpy appearance.

We are far more social here than at home. We have a lovely group of friends of all ages who seem to enjoy our company. We often fall short of reciprocating, but right now they would prefer our getting our lives in order before they have to tackle the journey up the hill. We figure that when the compost toilet is working, we’ll give a wine/cheese/demonstration afternoon. No one can come here at night without getting lost or stumping their toes getting to their cars. No complaints, though. Life in the woods has been wonderful, so far.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Night Sounds

Around midnight Richard heard a crunching on the gravel between the cabins. Listening intently, he tried to discern how heavy the movements were. No pounding on the doors, so he assumed a deer and returned to sleep. The next morning we saw slight indentions that did indicate a deer. Thank goodness this visitor didn't taste my wet underwear hanging on the nail behind the cabin!

After returning from our morning errands, which seem to occur on a daily basis, we saw a fawn-- maybe a teen?-- standing in front of the cabin just nibbling away, unafraid of our car inching up the drive. Richard, ever the photographer (and you know how all those many photos of the same subject project no feeling upon viewing them), took time to wait for the appropriate moment to snap its picture.

No matter how many times we see wildlife, we feel privileged. My friend in Wyoming sees different animals and seemed so placid when I was jumping with excitement. I’ll never get used to the sight of wild animals.

Nights we are greeted by a cacophony of tree frogs who sing until midnight. I don’t remember sitting outdoors back home attuned to the sounds of nature, other than those of birds. Either the weather is too hot and humid or too chilly. Here the nights around a fire is as alluring to us as to those multitude of campers who are accustomed to this life.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Noise and Silence

Crack! Pop! A bear, he thought, as he dressed for bed.
Pop! Pop! Well, he said aloud to no one, that bear is staying in one place.
Silence. He gropes around in the dark and grasps the flashlight, goes outdoors to find the semblance of an animal. Nothing. He returns to bed
Crack! Crack! Maybe that bear has found some honey, not me. No worry.
Four hours later. . .
CRASH! BOOOOOM! CRACK! CRACK!BOOOM! The sonic boom wakes him. He lies listening. . .a small THUD, then another, and another.He distinguishes the sounds as trees falling. Close. Thank goodness no bear...and he falls back to sleep.
Next morning he sees 75 feet from the cabin, several trees felled by one giant hickory hitting the earth.

While I spent three days in civilization Richard was staying at the cabin experiencing the tree fall. I attended a silver techniques class in New Jersey enjoying every minute of learning something new. However, after 10 days in the silent woods, the experience of the predictable hustle of civilization was a shock. I couldn’t stand the traffic noise, wishing for the backwoods.I would never have thought just a few months ago silence is truly golden.

Monday, August 15, 2005


In the eleven days since our arrival in the Lower Catskills, we’ve finally settled into a routine with basics at our disposal. We were hampered the first week by my having pulled a ligament in my foot. Richard had never played the role of Fetch so much as he did that week!

Learned thus far: go to bed when Mom N turns out the lights; use water judiciously; keep a good sense of humor to compensate for inconveniences; value premoistened towelettes and paper goods(I know, that’s not eco); enjoy more reading and writing time; be separated from news of worldly affairs; be near a launderette (some things we have to work into cologically); possess a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap.

Experienced thus far: how black the nights are. . .how calm and quiet the woods. . . a thunderstorm roiling across the Poconos, over the Delaware River reaching the Sheds with a spectacular light and sound show. . . a flock of wild turkeys tripping the light fantastic. . .the taste of spring water from its source. . . the beauty of simplicity. . . total unpretentiousness. . .

Quietness is a jewel. Eco radio deafening. Weather radio necessary. Conversations more appreciated. Solitude healthy.

At our “communications center”, a small studio apartment in town, we have a spacious deck overlooking the Delaware River. While I use the computer, Richard sits outdoors with his binoculars checking out the female rafters . . . on the pretense of sighting a bald eagle.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Never Underestimate a Bear!

This guy will try anything for a snack!

Pow, Ping!!—The early noise wakes me; I curse my neighbor’s truck backfiring. Can’t sleep, start the coffee perking. Crash, Bam!—-Sounds get closer. I edge towards the door, see a shadow through the window. My neighbor mistakes my house for his-- again? Dark globs fly around, then crash. My eyes, too cloudy from sleep, need a jolt of caffeine. I fill my Moose cup, slurp half and peek out the front window. The door rattles. Yes, that’s my neighbor in that god-awful Hallowe’en suit. He pounds on the screen door. I hunker down on the floor and finish the coffee. Maybe he'll fall down the stairs in his drunken state. Daylight finally arrives. I open the front door to a war zone on my deck and dancing footprint designs in the snow. The calling card of a black bear.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Catskill Black Bears

In the Catskills black bears abound. Everyone has a Bear Story to relate. One recent account told of two bears walking a catwalk to the 17’ deck of a home deep in the woods to sample the meat roasting on the grill. The startled residents were indoors preparing a salad, and just happened to hear noises and saw their $$$ steaks getting a workout. No shot gun blast in the air turned a furry head. They kept eating and sauntered away after the feast.

Sandy told me how she used to brag that she’d never met a bear until one morning she opened her front door and hit one backwards off the porch! She never saw him again!

And my friend Jack, told of hearing a gun blast one morning and looking out his door moments later, saw a bear adjacent to his truck with buckshot in his rear. Snow was three feet deep and Blackie found a good cold seat at the front grill of the Ford. Jack was housebound for two days, the time it took for Blackie to move deeper into the woods.

And pity the poor man who found a bear sitting on his backporch in front of the open freezer stuffing into his mouth frozen meats from past deer hunts and managing to destroy everything else inside. Mister shooed the fur ball with a couple of shotgun blasts only to find him a week later in the same position. This time the Wildlife folks came to the rescue, drugged the bear and placed him in another part of the Pennsylvania woods.

Bears are attracted to bird feeders, so residents are encouraged to let the birds find their own food. Bears trespass, although they don’t think so. It’s not an uncommon sight to see a mama with her cubs crossing one’s property or a lone bear ambling across a busy roadway. Anyone here will tell you that the best way to scare a bear is with a pan and a spoon. Maybe those $20 steaks would have been saved with a good bam-bam instead of a bang-bang!

Our Destination

Here's our humble abode for the next several months--ta da! THE SHEDS. The forefront is the kitchen/living/dining room;the latter, the bedroom. The bath house is just left of the tree and will be featured later. We want to be sure the "throne" is ready to be photographed. We are going from a 2200 sf home to two 144 sf buildings--won't we have fun? You can't see the 8ft walkway in between. It is at the ends of the walkway that we may have to string a line of cans to allow us to sleep with the doors open--our bear alarm.

The Sheds are located about a quarter of a mile from the main road. In replying to friends' emails asking when we'll arrive, I realize we'll need a signal indicating we are home. I think I'll find a nice ribbon and tie around a tree at the road entrance to indicate we are "en casa." Suggestions? Email me.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Fantasy to Reality

A few of you have inquired about the meaning of " off the grid "; applied to living, it means no access to utility services: electricity, telephone, water, gas. Ever since Rodale published his first magazine 50 years ago about living off the land and economizing resources, I've wanted to try living a simpler life. I'm speaking for myself, as Richard is quite happy to be the audience at all golf and tennis matches held in our living room. Twenty years ago I gave up using paper towels and napkins thinking of all the trees I was saving, but that idea lasted less than two weeks. Richard said no! No cloth napkins! I pointed out Europeans have used fabric napkins for eons. Despite my plea for saving hot water usage, he wouldn't give in. Next, I tried to modify our nutrition. At that time no local health food stores sold stevia, jellies without sugar, food with no preservatives, stone-ground grits and flour -- you know, all those common commodities available today. So I returned to the SOS, frustrated.

So this living in the woods idea is mine and only partially Richard's. We both wanted a retreat and found this modular building we could use satisfactorily. At our age we didn't want to put excessive money into running a couple of poles for electricity and telephone a quarter of a mile into the woods and digging a water well, so we looked at what we had--Nothing But A Cabin. So one way my constant nagging to be ecological could count, since the Sheds are on a slope, was to have a compost toilet instead of an outhouse. But that toilet idea evolved over time.

In researching I discovered we could make our own toilet using a paint bucket with a toilet seat, graduating to a built-in. The bucket is nothing new to boaters on camping trips. Into this loo you use a mixture of leaves, cut grasses, and mulch to break down the waste. I chanted the entire book on our rides back and forth to NY for two years, trying to convince Richard this inexpensive way was the best. Finally, Richard thought of you, dear Folks, who may come for a visit. He couldn't see you going to a room to sit on a paint bucket (even if I decorated it!) and relaxing, then having to scoop some leaves to drop into the space you just filled! What if we give silver crowns for guests to wear while on their "throne"? I suggested. Would save embarrassment and provide lots of chuckles, I added. No, No, No, rang Richard's voice in my ear--hence, the compost toilet. If that ever fails to perform, the paint bucket is available. Don't worry, Friends, the compost toilet looks almost like the one in any bathroom.(Photo later) And we won't be distributing silver crowns, either. Richard won that argument.

I confess! this isn't all pioneer stuff. We're renting three miles from the Sheds, a tiny studio with a living room, kitchen, and bath. There the telephone, the computer and a television set are available. This will be Richard's escape from the quiet woods and our communications center. I can't live without my computer! This area overlooks the Delaware, so you can have your morning coffee while watching eager campers paddle down the river. Across the Delaware are the looming Poconos and Pennsylvania. On the other side is Highway 97 and the lower Catskills. A few doors away our landlord Yidell runs a small campsite and rents rafts. Up the road are a dozen campgrounds. A swift walk in the other direction is a country store where you can pick up the latest New York Times and a home-made muffin. Also there are several Bed and Breakfasts and two motels. Will that entice you to visit us? Come on. We'll be ready for you.

Our summer retreat is only 2 1/2 hours from NYC by bus and less time by train to Penn Station. It is on Scott's 50-acre property where he is constructing his small cabin. His guest house is a roomy screened porch that will hold two persons. You can sit on the porch with your coffee and look for bears, but no hot muffin nearby. Just a stone's throw is Scott's cabin and his outhouse. This is quite a nice walk from our Sheds. But a good way to get your daily walk.

In the Sheds are a propane camp stove, coolers with ice for a temporary fridge, and battery-operated and oil lamps. The double doors at each building when open are covered with mosquito netting to allow for circulation. Looking from one building to the other gives the feeling of one big room. Outside we have a screen tent for our outdoor all-purpose room. With space at a premium we'll have to caution local visitors to bring a jug of water (which we'll always need; otherwise we have to fill up at a near-by spring), a chair, a flashlight if staying past daylight, and a drinking glass. That will probably kill anyone's incentive to visit us. Out of town guests are an exception.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


Preparing for our first full-time adventure in a cabin without modern conveniences takes a lot of research. Our Sheds (called thus because that’s what they are, two sheds with raised roof to accommodate storage in loft and some adventurous sleep overs) were modular forms, put up on site in a two-day pouring rain. Construction and exterior painting in 2003; furnishing in 2004 with daily visits to check land clearing by Joe; final move-in date August 5, 2005.

I must note that our newly-found friends in the area are agast that we are experimenting with off-the-grid living. Many live in Manhattan and environs and have homes nearby. Why would anyone want to retro their lives? Do you suppose the fact that we're from Mississippi produces the assumption that we always live this way?

My advance research introduced me to a number of sites which sell products for emergency preparedness. Well, I call no toilet facilites an emergency, so I found what probably every camper or kyacker or canoeist already knows-- waste bags preloaded with Pooh-Powder™ a gel that catalyzes waste and decay and removes odor. We’ll use these bags until our compost toilet is installed in the bath house adjacent to the Sheds. Amazing, isn’t it, what’s going in the toilet world, as we make daily treks to our modern facilities? I almost bought for $19.95 the Inflate-a-Potty, something we could have used years ago on our trip West with kids.

We need a good noisemaker for fending off black bears, a commodity of the Catskill woods. We're told to make plenty of noise when they approach and not look at them directly. Perhaps the metal pan/spoon makes the best noise, but definitely not wearable, like a loud whistle. Neighbors with telephones keep each other posted of bear sightings; perhaps they can communicate with us via bullhorn. Neighbor Claudia says that we can’t snooze in our hammock outside, sleep with our doors open, or cook on a grill, without awareness of the approach of these furry animals. Remember those bobbing dolls we used to see on automobile dash boards? That's what we'll look like when you come to visit.

Ever heard of Buzz-Off clothing? Impregnated with natural flower essence to repel the gregarious no-see-ums and mosquitos. We're outfitted and ready to try them out. Beats those sweat boxes of shirts and hats with mosquito netting!

Saturday, July 23, 2005


Hello Friends: This is my way of sharing our experiences without having to write innumerable emails. Hopefully, you will be entertained and laugh with us about some of the situations Richard and I will confront. He is not too excited about camping in the wilds, but he's willing to wait until I scream, "Enough!"