Sunday, August 31, 2008


For her birthday, Leah's Aunt Juju, Uncle Will, and cousins Caroline and Jamesy sent her two wonderful books: The 101 Dalmations, and The Cricket in Times Square. To continue the weekend-long celebration, on Saturday we went with Nannah to a shop that sells toys, furnishings, and art, all handcrafted by senior citizens. Leah carefully chose two dogs -- Missy and Lucky -- and a wooden nightlight. Nannah also gave her a vintage autograph book and a musical card.

Now it's Sunday, and we're all feeling a tad lazy. The heat has returned, but earlier this morning, Neal and I managed to fill a wire egg basket with maypops and marigolds before heading back inside.

As I write, I'm watching the underbelly of a small lizard twist and turn on the windowscreen outside. In our old house, we once found a lizard in the bathroom windowsill, so we set up a habitat of sorts. We never captured it, but we placed some shallow dishes of water, a few sticks and shoots, some smooth stones, and small bits of fruit and insects in the windowsill. It seemed to enjoy sunning itself on the stones and disappearing into the bamboo.

Friday, August 29, 2008

i spy

How best to talk about this.

My dad has lived overseas for years. My brother and his family do, too. My dad is in Oxford and my brother and his family are in Prague. I know what my brother does -- he is Chair of the Liberal Studies Department at the University of New York in Prague: I know what his wife does, too -- she runs a company called Vero Partners: For years, I have not known what my dad does. Once, my uncle Zombie (yes, that really is what everyone calls him) posited the theory that my dad is a spy. As outlandish as it might have sounded, it actually made a whole lot of sense at the time. It explained everything, like why, when I google earthed his address, the satellite picture was perfectly clear except for the spot where he lives, which looked as though it had been erased; why, when I asked him what he did, he answered using words that made sense, until later, when, well, they just didn't; why, when he wrote me a note on the back of some official, royal looking letterhead, I could find no mention of the institution's name on the Internet; why, every time he comes to the states, he always stops off in DC....

Then, a couple of days ago, I got an email from him, and he inserted his official signature: William D. Barnard, Chair, Democrats Abroad U.K.:

Well. I guess he's not a spy. I guess.

happy eighth!

Leah is eight years old today. I remember when she was a baby burrito, wrapped up tight in her receiving blanket. I let her use my pinky as a pacifier because I wasn't into the plastic ones. I remember her sleepy, milk-drunk eyes after she nursed. When she could finally eat mushy stuff and some finger foods, she loved chopped black olives and daddy's stir-fry. She called lasagne 'gazanga' and sang twinkle twinkle and twirled her hair and slept so soundly that I checked her several times a night even after she was well past infancy. (Well, I still do that....)

Happy birthday, Leahpeapie. I love you so much and I am so proud of you.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

you never know when something you own might become a haitian taxicab

Okay, you see that little maroon pickup truck behind my larger than life husband? That is Pop's pickup truck. We inherited it after he died at age 92. Today, we sold it to a pastor who is shipping it to Haiti where it will become a taxicab.

Pop had amazing cheekbones. His skin was the color of soft leather, and he walked and rode a tractor most every day of his life. Before the simple pickup truck, there was a Lincoln Continental, which was one of the first cars I ever drove. It had a speedometer with a horizontal orange line that grew longer the faster you went -- kind of like the blue bar that extends as you download something onto your computer. It also had an 8 track player, which meant that I spent gobs of time at the thrift store buying nickel 8 tracks. Then, one fateful night, I parked it in a dark lot on Southside, and after returning to it in an altogether tilted state of mind, I found that it was no longer there. My friends told me to wait until morning, when I would remember where I had REALLY parked it. Morning came, empty of any revelations pertaining to the REAL space in the REAL lot in which I had parked the Continental. The same Continental that my friends once (only temporarily) had stolen from me to go midnight spelunking. The same Continental that many times I had driven in circles around Lake Purdy. The same Continental that every single time had floated down the asphalt like a wide yellow raft on smooth black water. I loved that car.

If you ever find yourself traveling through Troy, Alabama, whether in a pickup truck, a Lincoln Continental, or a Toyota Prius, please take a moment to stop by the Pioneer Museum. It was founded by my grandparents, and my grandfather (Pop) was always there, every day, even on Christmas.

Curren and Margaret Farmer
Pioneer Museum of Alabama

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

melon surprise revisited

Checking on the wild cantaloupe this morning, I determined that it is actually a watermelon. A few feet away, however, in another patch that sprouted from another day of seed-spitting, there are two much smaller melons coming along, and they are indeed cantaloupes. So while everyone is beginning to look forward to winter squash, we are tending sweet melonfruit. And not just sweet melonfruit, for the biggest surprise of the morning was finding passion fruit growing from a wild passion flower vine in the same area. I cannot wait to make maypop jam!

Being in a fruitful mind, the kids and I finally picked the crabapples that were growing from a small tree at the foot of the drive. I suppose I'll make jam with them as well -- I can't really think of anything else you can do with crabapples, except eat them raw and make a funny face.

The other shots are just some wildflowers we planted a while back. I should explain that all of the pictures you see on my blog were taken using a cell phone. Not that they would look any better if I had used an actual camera, but I like to think that they would.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

culture catch-up, counting the miles

Did I mention that school started on August 7th this year? All summer, I drove past the sign thinking that the 2 had fallen off. When the 7th was dangerously close and no one had bothered to put the 2 back up, I started to panic. Luckily, I had purchased all of Leah's supplies at the end of the last school year, and they were simply waiting for her on her first day. I understand most of us don't need our kids as farm hands over the long summer days anymore, but still, the shorter break takes some getting used to.

It is finally starting to cool off a bit. The early mornings are agreeable for running, and I'm beginning to contemplate the timeframe for building up to the Mercedes marathon in February. The heavy training will take place during the fall and winter -- the best time to run. The biggest challenge will be waking up early enough to do the double-digit mileage so that I don't miss any family time. The four o'clock alarm is not pleasant, even when it's set to sound like the ocean.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

you gotta fight for your right...

Sam got married on August 8, and the next day threw an outstandingly casual wedding party. Just found this shot whilst browsing through the pix folder. Please, God, don't let him be a beastie boy when he grows up.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

wj's house of birds

WJ is Lee's step-grandfather. He is a firm believer in blackstrap molasses. He is missing a finger, but I can't remember why. He made Leah a beautiful wooden doll cradle for Christmas one year, and he also made this birdhouse for us. The birds love it in the spring, but I didn't get around to taking a picture of it until now.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

counting cards, reading books

A few days ago, I bought one of those automatic card shufflers, along with two new decks of cards. I figured the kids would enjoy the shuffler, and as much as I like to shuffle cards by hand, I can't seem to do it without bending them. I am amazed to say that after making their way to the floor and then underneath the bookshelf, all 108 cards (including Jokers) have been recovered.

I'm teaching Leah to play solitaire. I remember when my grandmother taught me. First, she showed me a very easy version that involved making piles of cards face down and then turning them over one by one. At the end of the game, you end up with stacks of four of each card; in other words, a deck that needs shuffling. Then we moved on to the traditional version, which is what Leah is learning now. It's really quite complex for a seven going-on-eight year old -- she loves it.

I got on the card kick after reading Bringing Down the House, the true story of the MIT kids who gambled their way to fortune by applying their math skills to the game of Blackjack. A quick, fun read, but I still don't get the lure of Vegas. I traveled there on business for the first time this past May. It was 106 degrees. The hotel lobby was a labyrinth of slot machines, which to my dismay were just computers with touch screens, like the ones in pizza parlors and bars, only bigger. Some of them still have levers for people like me, who would miss the action (I still enjoy a good rotary phone), but still -- it just wasn't what I had imagined. I won $32.00 and promptly spent it on gin and tonic at the bar.

Moving on: After inundating myself with downtown Birmingham library books about raising chickens, I have finally found time to read some fiction (and some non-chicken nonfiction). I work three days a week from my house, and the other two days I travel to the office, which is located in a small town with a makeshift library in the diner. I am pleased to say that I have not purchased a book in months, aside from two good chicken reference books. The only downside to using the Mt. Laurel library is that its offerings consist of books donated by residents, so the selection is limited. There are a lot of those alphabetical mystery books and lawyer mystery books and forensic science mystery books. A lot of mystery books. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Here is what I've managed to find:

Mother of Pearl, Melinda Haynes
Okay, okay -- it's an Oprah book. There, I said it. Still, it's really wonderful -- written by a painter from Mississippi. There is an instance of the most graceful use of punctuation I have ever seen.

Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens, Jane Dunn
Historical text. There is no fictional story line in the world that can compete with true stories of European royalty.

Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea, Steven Callahan
True story of a man who survived for more than two months alone at sea, improvising tools to spear fish, filter water, and keep his raft afloat. Pretty amazing.

Heyday, Kurt Andersen
I LOVED this book. There were some plot contrivances, but overall a really wonderful way to experience mid-19th century America/Europe.

Those Who Save Us, Jenna Blum
I keep wanting to type something about shades of gray in Nazi Germany. Can I do that without sounding like a jerk? A very moving book.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Kim Edwards
There is no way to discuss the plot of this book without making it sound really bad, which it isn't.

Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
Almost didn't make it past the first six pages -- thought it was going to be lame. Glad I stuck with it.

Monday, August 18, 2008

melon surprise!

Look what Lee found while he was cutting grass in the field: it's a small cantaloupe that grew from seeds he threw out one day! Most folks who intentionally grow cantaloupe are already harvesting them by now, but we've got enough hot weather left for these to make it, I think. There are quite a few of them, and they're unprotected, but so far the chickens, rabbits, and deer don't seem interested. Stay tuned....

Saturday, August 16, 2008

recommended listening: Raising Sand

This is the best disk I've heard in a very long time. T Bone Burnett is a musical alchemist, melting Alison Krauss and Robert Plant into something lustrous and sublime.

Funny thing: I almost didn't pick this one up. I felt the pangs of middle age while contemplating the purchase. Jeez, I thought. I mean, I love 'em both, but together? This is either going to be really cheesy or really brilliant. It was T Bone that finally sold me -- you really can't go wrong when he's involved. It's not middle aged; it's mystical, magical, mesmerizing: mmm.

princess akwadooda

Check her out. She is my favorite princess. This was her wedding attire. She is now married to Mister Prince Sakwadooda. She also has a pet panda. Groovy.

Monday, August 11, 2008

hanging out to dry

Last year, we pulled a clothes line between two big trees from which to hang our clothes, but we grew tired of the way the long line obstructed the view of the yard, so this year we installed an umbrella hanger instead. It holds about three or four loads, drying remarkably fast in the hot summer sun. We still have our dryer, which we reserve for rainy and/or wicked cold days, but we haven't had to use it much.

I find it's most convenient to clip the pins to myself in between loads, hayseed flapper style.

Recycling is not as easy here as it was in the city. Birmingham residents may leave non-glass recyclables at the curb and drop off glass at the Conservancy downtown. We must stow all recyclables in boxes that we haul to the Conservancy every month or so, when we're in town for some other reason. Between recycling, throwing things into the compost heap, and feeding the chickens, we produce a lot less trash than we used to.

Speaking of compost, our marigolds finally bloomed! They grew crazy high and green for the longest time -- I was afraid the soil (which consisted primarily of compost) was too rich for them. Then one afternoon I gazed out into the field and saw yellow and orange blossoms standing taller than any marigolds you will ever see in flats at the garden shop. I cut most of them on Sunday and combined them with some pink crape myrtle, geranium leaves, and lemon balm in a glass jar for Samantha's wedding party. My hands smelled good for a really long time after that.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Today we went to Montgomery to visit Granny Jane and Grandma. Neal asked Granny Jane if she had chickens in her backyard. He is practicing the art of chicken netting. He hasn't quite mastered the stealth aspect, but he's got determination down pat.

Every night at bedtime, he asks if I will lie down with him. Months of living together in a tent made each of us accustomed to the others' warmth. Some nights I snuggle with him, some I don't. Last night I wasn't going to, and then he said, "Mommy, if I were the grown up and you were grown down, and you said will you sleep with me, I would say I will sleep with you, baby." So I did. Clearly, he is skilled at the art of mommy netting.

Friday, August 1, 2008

green eggs and apples

Lee has a habit of befriending his customers, and the other day he was talking to a woman from China about wanting to try a century egg. She walked over to her cabinet, pulled one out, and gave it to him -- told him that if he liked it, she would tell him where he could get them. If you're not familiar with this kind of egg, go here for more fascinating information:

That same day, another one of his customers sent him home with a big bag of fresh, hand-picked green apples. Is there anything nicer and more heartfelt than a gift of food?

In other news, my friend Ashley and I played a show with my younger brother on Wednesday night. He was kind enough to play with us after only having heard the songs for the first time a few hours before the show started. With no monitors and no real idea of what was going on, we managed to pull it off and have a good time at that. Josh rocks.