Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Hard Part

I went into town today for a few reasons.

I took my two big wethers to the sale barn. It's the most unpleasant part of what I have to do as a responsible goatkeeper. The truth is, I have to do this, because if I didn't, the rest of the herd would suffer. I can only keep so much stock on my property with my budget. There are many months, and this is one of them, when I do without for myself so my animals can eat.

Yesterday I watched my big Togg wether who I've had for so long...who I've kept for purely sentimental reasons...push poor skinny Freaky Didi away from the alfalfa. Freaky is going to be a lovely doe if I can just get some weight on her. She will produce beautiful purebred Nubian kids and give me milk with a 4 to 5 percent milkfat. Winky does nothing but eat and laze about in the pasture and lord his great size over the other goats. He's done this for five years here.

So, today I loaded up Winkin' and Bolly and took them to the sale barn. I did this because I don't want to be remotely associated with assholes like this cruel fuck.

Sheep Hoarder charged with animal cruelty

POSTED: 2:40 a.m. EDT, March 29, 2007

APEX, North Carolina (AP) -- A man who kept 77 sheep in his suburban home was charged Wednesday with 30 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty.

David Watts, 47, was being held at the Wake County jail in lieu of $12,000 bail after a court appearance. A judge denied a request by Watts' lawyer to release him pending trial.

Watts surrendered the flock to animal control officers Monday after police found some sheep grazing on artificial flowers in the town cemetery in Apex, a suburb of Raleigh.

Thirty of the sheep were euthanized because of various health problems. In addition, sheep bones and carcasses were found in Watts' yard.

Veterinarian Kelli Ferris, who examined the flock, said some of the animals' hooves had never been trimmed, causing infections that led the sheep to walk on their knees.

Watts kept some of the younger sheep on the ground floor of his house and kept the others in pens in the yard, authorities said.

Watts denies abusing the animals. He told The News & Observer of Raleigh on Tuesday that he was overwhelmed by the number of lambs born this year.

Watts, who said he has raised sheep for a decade, called the animals "relaxing to be around."

"It's like in Florida, you can swim with the dolphins. If you can get sheep to follow you, it might be a similar experience."

A high school in western North Carolina adopted 13 lambs. The lambs will live on the school farm, where students will care for them. It was unclear where the rest of the sheep went.

I don't know where my boys went. It broke my heart to leave them there. But I know they lived a pampered healthy life while they were here with me. But I had to let them go for the good of the rest of the herd. Am I playing God? I guess I am. But isn't that what we do when we, as humans, raise an animal solely for our own pleasure, comfort or food? As the gods of these souls we have to make the hard decisions. If we don't, we become some unspeakable something else.

My other task in town was a much better one. I went into the Newport Animal Shelter to give Flash a groom and bath in preparation for his trip to Charlotte where I had coordinated placement for him with A.R.F. Flash is a cocker youngster who got returned from his first shelter placement for objecting to a toddler pulling his ears.

As I clippered back the mop of hair on his little head, I half gasped at the lovely shape of his head. It was so much like my Hi-Lite's. The cocker spaniel who really was my first rescue...the one who drew me into this crazy mess. I haven't had another buff since.

I so wanted to take Flash home with me, then and there. And when he bussed me on the nose to forgive me for trying to scissor his paws, my heart gave a lurch. There was much of Hi-Lite in this pup.

But I bundled him up after his bath and placed him in his nice clean cage. Tomorrow he travels to Charlotte and hopefully soon, a wonderful forever home.

Why? Because that's what I'm committed to doing. The hard part.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Southern Spoonbread

Steaming Hot Spoonbread with Pear Preserves

It is probably my favorite of the corn based Southern quickbreads. My mother did not make it often enough when I was a child for my taste, but when she did make it, it was a very special treat.

We all eat cornbread down here. Some like it sweet. Some like it crumbly and dry. But spoonbread is in a class all of its own. Basically, it's like a moist cornmeal souffle. Like a souffle, it needs to be served immediately out of the oven before it looses its loft. It's called "spoonbread" because of its soft texture, so different from cornbread.

I like it best drenched in butter with honey or homemade preserves. But it is an outstanding accompaniment to beef or poultry. It's the cornbread to use for a holiday meal or a meal too proud for plain simple cornbread. But it is also excellent if you just want something very comforting on a cold day.

A Tale of Two Spoonbreads

I have exactly the same recipe from my two grandmothers. They collected the same recipe with minor changes to it from the same place but forty years apart. The reasons they were in the place were very different.

Grandmother Rita's recipe is credited to Berea College in Kentucky. My grandfather on that side of the family had an early career as a professional student and they traveled widely from university to university while he picked up his many degrees. They would have been in Berea somewhere between 1900 and 1910.

Grandmother Rita was a refugee from the golden age of leisure. She got her college degree in 1902. They kept up their formal Victorian manners for their entire lives and seemed perennially stuck in the Fin de Siecle. She was a master of the culinary arts. While she was perhaps considered a "new woman" of the late 1800's, she would be more old school by the 1920's.

My other grandmother credits her recipe to The Boone Tavern also connected with Berea College. My grandfather worked on the Southern Railroad, and it is possible that he actually collected the recipe. You see, Grandmother Rose was a dreadful cook. When they first married, the first bag lunch she sent off with him was a black-eyed pea sandwich. She was from a family of seven sisters from Lakeland, Florida. Judging by the archives of the family photos, these were girls who knew how to have a good time (she is shown in the photo on the left holding the dog). Even the photos of them from the teens in their white dresses ala "A Little Night Music", have the sisters lolling around on picnic blankets with wine and beaux. They eagerly welcomed the roaring 20's and each sneaked off to have their hair bobbed.

The reason always given for her kitchen disability was that each of the sisters was given a particular part of the household to oversee. Rose's was the housekeeping. And she certainly excelled at keeping house. But the kitchen duties were shared by Emmy Jo and , I believe, Pearl(the other two flappers in the photo). So my poor grandfather learned to fend for himself and the best family recipes from those two are actually his.

Berea College or Boone Tavern Spoonbread

1 1/4 cup corn meal (water ground)
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 and 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 well beaten eggs
1 and 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

Stir cornmeal slowly into cold milk in a saucepan on medium heat. Stir constantly. Remove from heat the moment it begins to boil and add the remaining ingredients. Mix well and pour into a buttered casserole dish. Bake for 50 minutes at 400 degrees.* Serve immediately in the same dish.

*note: this does better in a modern oven at 350 for 30 minutes. The later version of this recipe makes this adjustment. Watch carefully and do not overcook.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

An Easter Story ~ Part 1: Gethsemane

An Easter Story ~ Part 2: Faith of our Fathers

An Easter Story ~ Part 3: A Man Hath Friends

An Easter Story ~ Part 4: Cock Crows Thrice

An Easter Story ~ Part 5: The Empty Tomb(final)

But for a time, he was very happy living in the pink house in the hollow on the mountain.

He attended church each Sunday and Wednesday at the little church across from the cow pasture and reveled in the hellfire and brimstone services that he loved so well. His beautiful singing voice soared during the songs and his heart felt full in the presence of these people. His people.

Until there was an instance when he publicly drank some beer at a local gathering. It got back to the preacher of his church and he was publicly upbraided one Sunday in front of the congregation. He didn't feel comfortable going back to the little church across from the cow pasture after that. They had hurt his feelings.

He had been here a few years before I met him. And I had been here a few years more before we met.

I had heard of him. Someone would say, "You know Scott? He's that big goofy guy from South Carolina?"

"No, I haven't met him yet." I would say.

"Thought you might have, you'uns being from the around the same part of the country."

I never explained that the lowcountry and the upcountry of South Carolina were entirely different worlds.

I was pumping gas when he first introduced himself. I was fairly bedraggled that day and still wearing my barn clothes. An impossibly tall man with a shock of wavy brown hair came toward me. His face seemed fixed in a perpetually bashful expression. I remember thinking to myself that he looked close to my age, yet was really just a big kid.

"Hey! Are you the 'Goat Lady'?" He asked, ducking his head slightly.

I holstered the pump and screwed the gas cap back on my jeep.

"Some folks have called me such." I said and wiped my hands on my overalls, looking up at him.

He looked embarrassed for a moment.

"Miz Busbee told me all about you. I'm Scott."

"Oh, yes!" I said, "She has mentioned you to me. She has good things to say about you."

He blushed in the cold and ducked his head the funny way he has that is so incongruous on such a tall, big man.

He told me that he was on his way home from his Garden Club meeting and laughed about how he was the only man there. We exchanged some pleasantries about who we knew. I took note of his dialect that had none of the east Tennessee twang that I had finally deciphered.

"You sound like you are from my neck of the woods." I said.

"Well, I'm from upstate South Carolina, but most of my relatives are up here on the mountain."

I invited him to come by the farm for coffee and a visit. He asked me if I had any goat manure I could spare for his rose bushes.

"I've got plenty of that. All you have to do is shovel it up." I said. "You are most welcome to as much as you can carry."

I didn't see him again until the next winter. I'm not sure what he was doing in the meantime. Mrs. Busbee would mention him now and again. He would come clean her flowerbeds out for her. We always seemed to just be missing each other. He never came for the goat poop.

I was getting in my car after visiting the Newport Bargain Barn one cold winter day when I saw him again. His face looked different somehow. He was paler and his bashful face looked like a puppy who had just been kicked.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries about the weather and Mrs. Busbee.

Then he said, out of the blue, with a yearning look, "Do you ever feel lonely...well, alone...up there on the mountain?"

I searched his face as I searched my mind. I could tell he was looking for a certain answer.

"No, Scott. Not really. I sort of like my own company."

He looked embarrassed and a bit frantic, like a startled deer.

"Don't get me wrong," I qualified, "I love company. I just don't mind being by myself."

"I just get so depressed." He said, haunted.

I drove away with Scott laying heavily on my mind. A few days later I drove up to the pink house in the hollow to give him a bar of my pine tar soap for his psoriasis. It was a gesture of friendship that I was making, but I knew I should go slowly with him.

We soon became close buddies. I knew he was gay from the first time I met him. But it soon became evident to me that he hadn't made peace with that part of himself. I didn't say anything, and avoided any attempts on his part to discuss the topic. I knew that when he was ready to say the words that he would.

That time came after he tried to hang himself.

He sought help at that time for his depression and began that introspection that we all must face at one time or another...for some reason or another.

I was the first person he told.

He sat down in my big leather armchair and explained what he had been going through.

"Well, you see..." he said, blushing and stumbling over the words, "I think I'm gay."

I smiled gently at him. "I know, Scott."

He looked at me in a panic for a moment, his eyes large.

"Why? Do I look gay? Sound gay?" He said, mustering a bit of outrage.

"Gee, I don't know, Scott." I retorted in my smartass voice, "Maybe it was because when I first met you were on your way home from your Garden Club meeting? Oh no....maybe it is because of your vast knowledge of Absolutely Fabulous? Look or sound gay? Oh no...not you...Mr. Studly Rose Gardener!"

"Fuck you!" He said in mock indignation. "Fuck you very much!"

Almost all of my good friends say this to me at some point in time. That he felt comfortable saying it made me feel good.

We talked further about his feelings about the subject. He was still convinced that he was going to burn in hell. I assured him that he wasn't, though I knew it would take him a long time to figure this out for himself. He had a lifetime of mixed messages to sort out.

But mostly, he was concerned for his family. He was terrified that they would never want to see him. That they would not love him.

"I suspect, Scott," I told him, "that they probably have had their suspicions. But give them time. Tell them when and only when you are ready. This isn't a race."

He placed his big head in his big hands. And as I had so many times before, I wondered how such a big man could be so fragile.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

An Easter Story ~ Part 1: Gethsemane

An Easter Story ~ Part 2: Faith of our Fathers

An Easter Story ~ Part 3: A Man Hath Friends

An Easter Story ~ Part 4: Cock Crows Thrice

An Easter Story ~ Part 5: The Empty Tomb(final)

It wasn't by any means the first time that he didn't know what direction he was going in.

He fled to the mountains first, to give his life to God.

His folks were from here. His mother was a gentle soul who took her youngest son with her on Garden Club meetings and bridge parties. She infused him with a love of flowers and culture. But she was born in these hard scrabble hills and never forgot the place or the faith she was raised in. The old time religion of the mountains still sang in Scottie's soul. She was his anchor, his rock, his north star. As long as she lived, he could grasp her hand and feel quiet.

His father was a tall, erect military man, a veteran of multiple campaigns, with sharp eyes and a willing heart. The sort of man with direction and purpose. A man of faith. The sort of man who you were glad to have guarding your back. He didn't miss a trick. He could be harsh, but he was also fair. If you were looking for a hero, you didn't need to look further than George Smith.

Don't even think of filling this man's shoes. It can't be done. They just don't make them like that anymore.

Scottie's values were the values of his faith. The values of his parents. In all the years growing up, following his family to different countries as his father was stationed at different military bases, they kept their faith. The faith of the mountains.

Like the mountains, the faith of the mountains has sides both light and dark. It has it's greatest beauty in the fiery oratory of the pastors, the transcendent harmony of the music, the giving and friendly nature of the people and the womb-like sense of community they inspire. It's more than just literally accepting the Bible. It's more than just being saved or witnessing. It involves following a strict morality code.

Very near the top of this morality code is "Thou shalt not be homosexual." It is enforced with an iron fist. Not only is the sinner shunned but the sinner's entire family can be shunned. There is no single other faceless group that the worshipers hate with such intense biblical rage. The persecution is not a new thing, they were merely picking up a baton from generations of misunderstanding of human nature.

But Scott had a face. He truly was one of them.

He loved his family more than tongue could tell. He wanted to be everything that his mother and father wanted him to be. He really tried. But he couldn't remember a time that he wasn't gay. That he didn't feel gay feelings. The conflict of believing so fiercely in his faith created a destructive worm of self-loathing that he couldn't escape. He worried constantly about burning in hell. He really believed that.

Scott's closet was a dangerous place where he was being slowly eaten alive.

He held it together until his mother died. As long as he had her there, he felt he had an anchor. He could hold everything together for her.

And when she died of cancer, the bottom of his world dropped out.

The rain that night fell like bullets down onto the glassy black of the freeway that other time he took off in his truck eight years ago. He drove blindly with tears streaming down his face. He turned off onto 40 from Asheville and headed towards Knoxville. Lightening crashed in the mountain passes lighting up the interior of the truck.

He had a vague plan to drive his truck off the interstate into the Pigeon River. Scott knew his bible. He knew the penalty was for what he was. It was unlikely that anyone would try to solve this problem for him. He was a mountain of a man and intimidating by his very size.

The route he was taking was toward Grassy Fork, where he had spent so many happy childhood summers with his mother and his large extended family of cousins. As he skidded around a particularly treacherous hairpin curve, light seemed to fill the cabin of the vehicle. Time seemed to stop. His ears were roaring.

He screeched to a halt in the middle of the strangely deserted freeway and stumbled out onto the middle of the road. Weeping he fell on his knees on the pavement.

"Why, God, why, why, why.....?" he wept.

Suddenly, his mind became quiet. He felt a voice speaking softly in his mind.

Go to the mountain, Scott. Go to the mountain. Give your life to Jesus.

He felt at peace suddenly. It was his epiphany. It was the story of his "saving".

Scott got back in his truck and headed toward the mountain. He knew just the one.

The rain had let up as he pulled into his aunt Tullie's driveway. He hadn't seen her since he was a little boy and had fallen into her outhouse. He banged on the door like a madman.

She peeked out cautiously through the screen door wearing a faded print house dress. Her jet black hair stood in sharp contrast to her weather worn face. Her eyes were wide and alarmed and she wondered if she needed the shotgun.

"Aunt Tullie!" Scott said in a rush, his face aglow, "It's me, know, little Scottie, from Pickens! Sarah's boy. I've come to give my life to Jesus!"

Tullie opened the door and embraced Scott. She squealed in excitement and happiness for him.

There was great celebration on the mountain that night. The night Scottie was saved.

And Scottie felt he'd finally come home.

And indeed he had. He moved there shortly after that so that he could feel the peace of the mountain all of the time.

But while Jesus had changed Scott in so many ways, he had left him the same in others. He was still the child that God had made.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

You guys are great. I don't know who nominated me for this, but thank you so much.

Blog Of The Day Awards Winner

Whoever did nominate me said:

- to the peace of a gun-toting lesbian goatherdess who KNOWS COUNTRY LIVING and how to live with REAL diversity. Graciously.

If you can't find peace in her neck of the Blue Ridge, it can't be found.

Whoever you are...and I gots me totally GET IT. You totally get what I'm trying to do here. What my life is about. To ask for inclusion means practicing it.

An Easter Story ~ Part 1: Gethsemane

An Easter Story ~ Part 2: Faith of our Fathers

An Easter Story ~ Part 3: A Man Hath Friends

An Easter Story ~ Part 4: Cock Crows Thrice

An Easter Story ~ Part 5: The Empty Tomb(final)

In summer, the creek runs burbling and laughing past the pink house in the hollow. The profusion of roses climbing every trellis, every possible surface grips the pink house in a desperate embrace. The scent is intoxicating. The azalea bushes bloom and every sort of bulb and tuber capable of bursting forth life whisper to Friend Scott and tell him that they love him, for he has loved them so well in return.

It's how it is in the mountains. Life here bursts forth, screaming in birth agony. It hides the pink house and its humble condition. The pink house is a dilapidated old homeplace that is barely habitable and hidden in the recesses of the dark little hollow. But only in winter do you realize this. In winter, the pink house's dusky shingles look dirty and dull. The rose vines are bare and barbed waiting to ensnare. Waiting to prick. Leaf mold lies rotting in the forest and the bones of the mountains threaten. It's dark. It's cold. It's lonely.

He had stamped off the porch of the pink house that grim winter morning. The light was gray. It was the sort of day when you could imagine the weather would never change. That it would always be dark and muddy.

He took with him a rope and went into the woods behind the house and selected a tree. He hadn't actually given much thought to the selection of this particular tree. He had just sort of picked it at random. No doubt, the big stump that was next to it made it a more appropriate tree to choose. But he hadn't actually taken much time to examine the tree. To touch it or feel a kinship with it. A kinship he felt keenly with all things of a botanical nature. I doubt he even noted that it was a locust tree.

Cold tears fell on his hands making them colder as he sat on the stump and tied the rope into a noose. He made no sound as he did this. He made no sound as he put the noose around his neck. Then he stood on the stump and threw the other end over the branch of the old locust tree. He looped the rope twice over the branch to make sure it would hold and tied the knot.

He said a prayer. He asked God to forgive him, but he couldn't keep living this way. The pressure of being something that he was constantly told was an abomination was just too much. The pressure of hiding for so many years so that those he respected and loved would still love him. Too much in the dead, winter cold of the mountains. Where spring was unthinkable. Where summer was impossible.

Then he flew off the stump, like some giant bird, trusting his six foot nine frame to snap his neck.

But it didn't . The limb broke and he ended up in a heap in the decaying leaf mold. If he had been paying attention to the tree, he would have known immediately that the locust borers had gotten to it. That the tree was on it's last legs and that each branch was a hollow sham of itself. The seemingly solid bough had been eaten up on the inside. Much as he had been.

He lay there for a while in the cold, panting from the exertion. Panting from the release of adrenaline. His hands clenched in fists, gripping the rotted leaves. Crumbling them in his fists.

He thought to himself, senselessly, "This will be about right for mulch come spring."

Then he said, to God...or to no one in particular or perhaps to his father, "I can't even do this right."

That was the day the bough broke. That was the day he realized that things had to change. He had hit bottom and he wasn't going to dig anymore. There was no place left to go.

Like his choice of the tree, he had no idea where this was going to take him. But something inside him had snapped. Like a graft taken too close to the trunk, he had no idea if this would take and bear fruit, or wither...costing him all he held dear.

He shrugged out of his noose and got in his white pickup truck and drove forth into the cold gray dawn.

He didn't know where he was going.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Mutton and Chops

Baa-ram-ewe, baa-ram-ewe.
To your breed, your fleece,
your clan be true.
Sheep be true.

These are silly, silly beasts. I quite love them.

I picked up Mutton and Chops yesterday with Betsy. They've been on the porch and will stay there until I get that fleece sheered. I'm told that this will be the best plan for training them on the electric fencing. The fleece will insulate them from any shock from the hot wire and they are wild, skittish beasties. It is unlikely I'll be able to catch them once they are out in the pasture.

Mutton is the light colored one and we are getting along just fine since Mutton is a pig. He will eat out of my hand at this point. He has a hopeful, sweet face and really wants to trust. Because you have the snacks.

Chops is the pretty dark one and he's much more distrustful of the entire situation. Chops is going to be a tough one to tame. Chops rolls his eyes at you all the time.

It's like he's saying, "MINT SAUCE...Do I smell MINT SAUCE???!!!....Run for your LIFE!"

Actually, every third thought that goes through their minds is apparently, "RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!"

Neither of them seem capable of eating without leaving half their dinner smeared all over their shirtfronts. I can sympathize.

Essentially, what they do is, imagine some sort of horrible calamity then run for their lives to the other side of the porch. They roll their eyes and then start to eat again. They can seemingly do this for hours on end.

They are actually very sweet boys, just not very socialized. Friend Scott is going to come over to assist me with the shearing. He says he'll bring Xanax. I think we might need it. Not for the sheep. For us.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Goat Yoda and I took a journey into K-town today with Daughter Dorie. Betsy was delivering a handsome little Nigerian Dwarf she had sold to a fellow and his family. We also had a little doe kid who was being delivered to a Mennonite family. And I was going to get two Shetland sheep from the same Mennonite family.

I'm telling don't know what fun is until you are heading down the interstate in a mini-van with three chicks and a couple of goats.

We met up at Tyson Park where an SCA tourney was taking place.

The Society for Creative Anachronism is the group where people get together to study and re-enact skills from pre-17th century Europe. It's what the nerds were doing before computers.

I used to be in the 25 years ago. Back then, I was much slimmer and fitter...not to mention lupus and scary clotting I really enjoyed donning my fighting gear and wailing the hell out of other people with a rattan broadsword and lugging around that big shield. I thought myself quite the badass. The SCA was where I first learned to make armor. A skill I parlayed later in life in the theater.

We sat on the grass with the baby goat who drew the expected crowd of sweet faced children. One little boy was really excited and going on about "Kitty! Kitty!"

He got within three feet of little Lizzy and ran screaming in terror. Musta been the eyes. Goat eyes. They'll get you every time.

We took a detour by Betsy's Greek Orthodox Church. It's a homeless ministry but was really wonderful. They had some very cool relics and stuff. I want Betsy to take me back there for a service.

I mentioned that we were on our way to pick up sheep. One of the older homeless men's face lit up at the mention of sheep. He used to herd them back in Utah. Big herds of them. It was a happy memory. He liked sheep.

I stopped myself from asking, "Like in Brokeback Mountain?"

But that was what went through my mind. Because I'd seen the movie, I sort of knew the kind of job he had once had. Probably without the romantic interest, but still.

So, I'm back home with two woolly buggers on the back porch. I'll keep them there until they get a bit more used to me. I promptly forgot the names the Mennonite family had given them. I don't think they know their names anyway.

I've been calling them "Mutton" and "Chops".

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I rarely rant but I really need to.

My internet tubes are so clogged, I think it's time to call Computer Router.

And it's not my machines or internal phone lines. It's Bell Fucking South AT & Fucking T...or whoever the hell it is and their failure to provide equal and adequate phone service to mountain residents. I don't mind being on dial-up. But the phone lines here only can handle 26.6K modems. They are the very same phone lines that they put in after the flood of '72.

I just really resent paying full price for substandard phone service and there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it.

Last time this happened it was a DNS issue, so I switched to openDNS. FireFox is barely functional so I'm limping around on SeaMonkey.

So...if I haven't been commenting on your blog, it's because your comment page times out before I can get to it. I can read your blog...I just can't comment on most of them. It took me 45 minutes to get this posting field to come up . Yesterday's template redesign took me 12 hours. Not because I didn't know what I was doing...most of that time was loading up windows in the browser.

So, hopefully they will mosey on over and find whatever phone box is now home to a litter of possums or whatever has chewed a hole in the phone connection between here and Big Creek Market soon.

Secret Agent Hot Dog Man

On another note. I was in town evaluating a cocker spaniel at the shelter and meeting the new director and stopped off to get a hot dog at the new A&W joint in Newport. It's roughly where Hot Dog Man used to set up. I hadn't thought about Hot Dog Man for a while.

When the hot dog man showed up in Newport, I was partly thrilled and partly dismayed. Thrilled because most people here wouldn't recognize the superiority of a Nathan's Skinless Frank. I like Hebrew Nationals, too, but they are a bit salty for my taste. Folks here like the sort of wieners that come 40 to a bag and are bright red. So Hot Dog Man had a little Nathan's cart just like in New York. So that was why I was thrilled. Real Nathan's Hot dogs in lil' ole Newport!

I was dismayed since it was pretty obviously an incursion from the outside world that I fled from. I nervously wondered if a Starbucks couldn't be far behind.

Anyway, Hot Dog Man showed up during the FBI investigations. These had actually been going on for a long, long time. As far as I know, they are still going on. But at that time, they were still investigating the cock fighting. And the Sheriff's Office....well, just about any sort of government office is investigated in Cocke county. We still have that old-timey corruption thing going for us. Boss Hawg and all that. I like it. It's charming.

A rumor started circulated around that Hot Dog Man was an FBI informant. Hell, by the time it got around town, he became an undercover operative for the FBI.

'Cause, you know cockfighters love a good hot dog. Everyone does. I used to order the chili-cheese with extra onions. He never asked me any probing questions.

Well, they busted the biggest illegal cockfighting arena in the United States here back in 2005. We made CNN. And Hot Dog Man mysteriously disappeared. I thought I saw him over in Cosby once. The rumors got so pervasive about his involvement in the raid, that the local paper, The Newport Plain Talk, ran an article where Hot Dog Man denied any involvement with the FBI.

"I'm just selling hot dogs."

The Plain Talk is one of those papers that you say, "The Newport Plain Talk...Bless their hearts!" They just are very gullible. They seem unusually trusting for journalists...even of the community variety. Yes. I subscribe to it. Bless their hearts.

I guess what brought it to mind was that Scott mentioned recently that Hot Dog Man had testified recently in one of the many court cases from all of the FBI's investigations in Cocke county.

So damn. He was an informant.

Secret Agent Man...Hot Dog Man.

I wonder how bad you have to screw up at the FBI to get sent undercover in Cocke county, TN pushing a hot dog cart?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Blackberry Cobbler

Blackberry liquor bubbling up from a slit in the crust.

I usually save this post for blackberry season...but peach season is coming up and I use the same exact recipe for it.

Cobbler is to southern desserts what apple pie is to American desserts. We just associate it so much with our region. Actually each area of the country, I have found, has their own version of something like cobbler.

In a way, it is a very old dessert dating back to colonial times. When I lived in the U.K. there were tons of desserts similar to cobbler. They are traditionally served with hot custard in the winter. They are very "rib sticking" which you don't actually mind if you are bundled up working on a film set in the cold drizzle. So, I'm relatively sure that our Scots/Irish/Brit ancestors brought something like cobbler with them.

I remember fondly the first time I saw the words "Spotted Dick" on a menu. It's such an outrageous name for a hot rolled up bread pudding log with raisins that is then served with treacle sauce and hot custard.

So, cobbler does come from the long and honorable tradition of stodgy hot desserts. We prefer to serve it with ice cream.

I have several cobbler recipes in my cookbook, but I'm going to share the most unusual and most satisfying one with you. It has some odd steps and it's a very old recipe. When I say very old, I'm talking 1900. My oldest cake recipe from my family is from around 1810. I have copies of the same recipe written in the hands of 5 generations of women.

But this one, this one was from my grandfather's sister, Emma. I have tested it, and it has quickly become my favorite cobbler since the boiling water step produces an extremely satisfying crunchy/chewy crust. You can substitute your favorite seasonal berry or stone fruit for the blackberries.

Emma's Blackberry Cobbler

2 cups berries
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 and 1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 tsp. Flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. cornstarch or flour
1 and 1/4 cup boiling water

Dredge berries in 1 tsp. flour and place in a deep baking dish or pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Cream together 1/2 cup of sugar and butter. Add flour, baking powder, salt and milk, making a batter. Pour this over the berries. Sprinkle 1 cup of sugar and cornstarch on top of batter, then pour boiling water over the sugar. Bake for one hour at 375.

Emma and Floyd Coats ca. 1910

To three columns, that is.

Please bear with me as I reconstitute the page in this new format.

I know you are all jonesing for food porn...I'll get it up as soon as I get this thingy done.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It's about this time of year, when the thunder is heard in the distance, like a car hitting the side of your house. It comes crashing up suddenly on a day when you thought it might rain but just weren't sure. Those are the early spring days that you like to go out and dig. The ground is soft from the rain last night and the glare doesn't hurt your eyes.

It's a gentle sort of day, but an unpredictable one. It's like a lover you know you should drop but can't. Because they are usually so pretty or sweet or kind. But you're never quite sure when they are going to go apeshit on you and punch a hole through the living room wall. That's the sort of day you find spring lizards.

And you never know where you will find them. They are special that way and you uncover that wet clammy earth with your shovel and there it is. All red and black and shiny.

Belated you worry that you have hurt it. You wonder if the shovel nicked it and you are always a bit afraid that the shovel has cut it in two. So you pick it up, expecting to find a soft, wet, pliant body. But it's not any of those things. It's sinuous and strong and if you aren't careful it will bite you.

And that's just how it is with spring lizards. It's how it is with some people, too.

When I was a child, my big brother and I would go down to the spring house to find them. I would squat on my haunches and look under rocks for them. The harder you looked the less likely you would find one. Salamanders, they are, and love the damp places under rocks. They don't like the light.

The light shows them in all that red, black and shiny truth.

I'd gather some watercress to take back to grandmother for sandwiches made on salt-rising bread with mayonnaise so as not to go back empty-handed.

And that's just the way it is with spring lizards. And some people too.

They just aren't what they seem.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Just to let you guys know. Idgie, the editor, over at Dew on the Kudzu, has done gone and nominated me for The Million Writer's Award over at storySouth.

The Dew is the only ezine that publishes me on occasion. Primarily because Idgie contacted me first. As you all know, I am notoriously lazy about submitting my work to places. All that talk of SASE's and mean editor talk just makes my head swim and I end up saying screw it, I'll think about it next week. Honestly, I wouldn't mind having a mean editor to whip my ass into shape now and again. Fish net hose and spike heels are strictly optional but highly recommended if you are interested in the job.

Everyone has been so supportive of my writing and I do recognize that I should make more of an effort to get out there and get published. I will try to do better. Next week, maybe.

The story that was submitted was Cat Fur Jelly. This was my story about my pilgrimage to Martha and Lizie's grave one fine spring day and my reverence for these two lovely, elderly mountain women who I never met. Re-reading's a good story, but my verb tenses forgot to wear their underpants.

storySouth is a fairly well distinguished online literary journal that focuses on writers and writing from the "New" South. For this reason, it has not been on my short list of places to submit, but I'm quite sure there will be some excellent stories and writers nominated and the competition will be quite stiff.

The Million Writer's Award is open at this time to reader and editor submissions. You may nominate a 1000-plus word story that you have read or published as an editor as long as it has appeared in an online literary journal or ezine during 2006. Here are the rules.

If you are an editor of an online ezine or literary journal you may make your editor nominations on this page.

If you are a reader and would like to nominate one story you have read in an online literary journal or ezine you may make your reader nominations here.

Nominations will be accepted until April 15, 2007. Then 10 of those stories will be selected by the editor of storySouth and voting will begin on May 15th and continue through June 15th.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Beacon and Vi-vi

That is Violette (Vi-vi) in the foreground and her sire, Beacon, in the background. She looks more and more like him each day. Her spots are gray "moonspots" while his are white. Both seem very shy when the camera comes out, unlike BossyToe who loves to have her picture taken. Actually, I think BossyToe thinks the camera might be tasty.

During Vi-vi's entropion confinement, she developed a taste for udders other than Blinkin's. It's my fault really. Vi-vi refused to suck from the bottle and each feeding session became a wrestling match with most of the milk ending up on me. The solution was to put her to Pearlie and Maggie when they came up for their twice daily milkings. Vi-vi heartily approved of this plan. Pearlie and so much so.

As long as Pearlie and Maggie are being securely held or in the milk stanchion, they will put up with this outrage. Vi-vi doesn't understand this yet and this results with her being head-butted quite a bit for being a brat out in the pasture. But Vi-vi is now very gentled and not afraid of me at all. She follows me in the hopes of me holding down one of the other does for her to have her illicit drink of milk.

I'm now working on little Rose. She's the runt of this year's doe kids now that Bridey has shot up in height. Rose takes the bottle very readily so I'm bringing her indoors and giving her a bottle. She will calm down very soon. I'm wondering if Rose is just going to be a small
stature goat. I'll wait and see if she starts to get some size on. If she doesn't, I may pet her out. I need her to at least get as big as Maggie.

The other spotty doe is Sonya. I've developed a bit of a soft spot for her and her sloe-eyed self. She lacks Freaky Didi's patrician roman nose and her eyes are wide spaced and oddly set. But she whinnies and nickers like a horse and it's a sweet sound with all of my bawling discordant Nubians and grades. The Saanens have sweet sounding voices, but Sonya is now the nicest singing voice of the lot.

She's very sweet and comes running when I call her name. Very affectionate little goat.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

An Anniversary

It was the first day that I had thoughts based in reality and not in the odd coma world I had lived in for the past two months.

I had been swimming, or trying to swim all of that time in my head. The dream repeated itself over and over again. I knew I was in a hospital. But I had decorated it to my liking with a big chunky schoolroom clock and bubblegum lights. I thought, for some reason, that I was in the Sol Blatt P.E. Center at the University of South Carolina in Columbia where I used to swim. I was aware of the ka-chunk-hiss-ka-chunk of the respirator. I heard the doctor's voices. One of the interns from India had a high-pitched whiny voice and it seemed like she was always getting fussed at despite the fact that her father was someone important. Her name was Mehta. I felt the presence of my family at times. Sometimes I thought I could see them. I remember feeling angry that they would not let me out of the bed to go to the bathroom. It did not occur to me that I could not walk. It did not occur to me that I was hanging on by my fingernails to sentience. But the dream was always the same. I was firmly convinced that I needed to escape. It was foremost in my mind.

I say, a dream, but coma dreams are horrifically real. The line between reality and dreams does not exist in the coma world. There were "visions". It is Alice's world. I would rise from the hospital bed. I would release one of the other patients from the machines because I knew they needed to escape too. Sometimes I would have to carry the other patient. We would get to the elevator and take it to the bottom floor. The pool was the destination. If I could only get to the pool, we could get out of this torture chamber. The underwater lights at the ends of the lanes. That's where we needed to go. The end of the lane. Into the warm, wet heat of the pool where movement was easy and I could feel the water sliced by my efficient stroke. Sometimes we were chased. I could hear Mehta's voice sometimes whining that I had gotten lose again and had taken this patient or that patient.

The outcome was always the same. Sometimes I would get in the water and sigh at its warmth but the moment I dove below the surface to kick off I would be back in the hated hospital room. I played this scenario over in my mind thousands of times in the coma world. I kept changing bits of it to see if another scenario would work. I went by myself once...fleeing the pleading of the other patients who wanted to come with me. I took the stairs. I changed bits of the puzzle in minute ways to see if I could finally reach my destination. I never did.

That's how I kept my brain alive for two months, trying to escape Wonderland.

What was going on in reality was much harsher. It was very hard on my siblings. I wasn't expected to live. They didn't know the battle I was fighting in my head to keep my brain alive. My chest had been split open to the heart and left that way so the mediastinitis could heal from the inside out. I had fevers of 106 that required a "cooling" blanket...basically a plastic duvet filled with circulating ice water. My sternum was removed and my chest required plastic surgery to reconstruct it. I had every "last chance" antibiotic available dripping into my veins. I died several times.

I also had young, sweet, new doctors who sneaked into my room to look at my chart and cheer me on...though they had nothing to do with my case. I met some of them, as well as a surgeon who had held my beating infected heart in his hands. The intimacy of it all was painful.

Later, when I visited MUSC in Charleston, where I actually was during this, I would run into them in the halls. Their eyes would light up with joy and they, strangers to me, would want to touch and hug me. Then tell me their story and how they knew me. What they did during my darkest days. How hard these men of science prayed for me. I'm still overwhelmed by what they did for me.

But on this day, 10 years ago, they took me off the ventilator. I remember the wet sucking squick of trying to cough it up and that first gasping, painful breath. I couldn't move, but for some strange reason, I thought I could. My brain had been working out fairly vigorously for the past two months and my body didn't realize it wasn't part of the plan. I could barely speak, but I thought I was speaking clearly. I had lost 70 pounds.

I remember my brother being there and looking very upset and worried. Expectant. Dr. Strange, head of the ICU, held up fingers and asked me to indicate how many he was holding up. My words were barely understandable but I had the right answers.

My eyes focused on my brother. "Guy Bebo, that fucking asshole!" I croaked at him, mentioning the name of the idiot G.P. that got me into this mess.

The doctor looked at my brother with concern, perhaps thinking my profanity a sign of brain damage. People with brain damage are often profane when they come out of their coma dreams. This was, after all, their greatest concern. I'd been gorked out for an awful long time.

A wide smile lit up my brother's face making him look like a young boy again.

"Yeah! That's her...She's back!" He said.

Dr. Strange continued his examination by asking me if I knew where I was. I did. Then he asked if I knew what day it was.

I thought he was being something of a smartass. I wanted to say, "Well, see, it's like this, I've been unconscious and don't you think it a bit much to ask me what day it is?"

But there was a calendar just over his shoulder where my eyes could make it out.

"It's March 17th. St. Patrick's Day."

Friday, March 16, 2007

Carolina Barbecue and Pig Pickin's

Hickory Chips Soaking

Gather 'round close now, chirrun's, cause I'm 'bout to lay some serious BBQ wisdom down upon you'uns heads.

This will be primarily of the eastern Carolinas tradition...having nothing to do with the barbecue of Tennessee which is entirely different. Barbecue philosophy is a subject of heated debate, so these are merely my opinions here. There are also those out there way more bubbalicious than moi who have made it their life's work to perfect these arts.

I'm from the lowcountry of South Carolina. This means a few things in terms of barbecue. First, it means primarily talking about pig. When I lived in Dallas, I was quite flummoxed by the concept of barbecued beef. This just seemed wrong in so many ways. I've since had and learned to make and appreciate beef done this way, but it still doesn't seem like "real" barbecue to me.

The second thing is cooking. We are talking smoking pork over a pit or some sort of grilling device that allows for a long smoking period. Purists snort at gas or propane grills. I have a strong preference for well-fired oak coals that are then fed wet hickory chips. The tell-tale "pink line" is how you tell if the barbecue is authentic. That is the smoke ring. It will also have a bit of char on the outside of the meat. Authentic barbecue is always served separate from the sauce.

The third thing is sauce. Carolina style sauces all have mustard of some variety in them. The oldest of them have no tomato products. I've read that since our barbecue tradition is perhaps the oldest and dates back to colonial times when tomatoes were largely believed to be poisonous, that this is why we favor the vinegary, mustard based sauces. Don't know if that is true, but it sounds about right.

This is my uncle, Dr. Roy Gleaton's, Barbecue Sauce Recipe. I'm sworn to secrecy as to where he actually got it from, but the recipe dates back to the 1940's. I could give you my own personal secret sauce...but then I'd have to kill you.
Savannah Secret Sauce

2 bottles Catsup
1 cup vinegar
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup regular vinegar
1/2 bottle Worcestershire Sauce
6 teaspoons prepared mustard
6 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
1/2 stick oleo

Mix mustard and sugar well before adding other ingredients. Simmer about 30 minutes and decant into hot jars.

Damn, I love a good pig pickin'.

I'm sort of sad that it has been so many years since I attended a pig pickin'. It used to be a fairly common event, particularly with political rallies. This is the best place to experience the type of barbecue that I've just described. I've often thought my farm would be an ideal location to have one.

A Pig Pickin' (not to be confused with a Hawg Killin' though a Pig Pickin' was often the celebration following a successful Hawg Killin') involves cooking an entire hog in a hand dug pit over a period of about 8 to 12 hours for a large group of people. A variety of sides are prepared to go with the pig. Hash and Brunswick Stew are the most common ones, though there should be lots of loaves of white bread, corn bread, hushpuppies, red rice and other things of the Southern covered dish variety. If you have room left, coconut "wet" cake is a nice finish.

Adult beverages, most often beer, are frequently involved since the menfolk are the ones presiding over the cooking of the pig. This is an almost ceremonial task. No. Not almost. It's thinly veiled pagan ceremony. Shirtlessness and fire are involved.

It's called a "pickin" since the pig emerges from the pit in its entirety and the meat is shredded off the bone then served with the sauce.

Most pig pickin's are fun family affairs celebrating the food and offering a draw for a church or a politician. Somehow though, it's the pig pickin's that got out of hand that I most remember.

I remember one pig pickin' I attended back in college. It was to celebrate the eviction of the student tenants at this particular house on Blossom Street. There were many kegs. Much drunkenness and crazy dancing. Barefoot Harry was there. The cops were called. We gave them some pork and turned the music down.

My brother once attended a political pig pickin' near Charleston for Brantley Harvey that featured whole venisons sewn up in entire hog's skins then roasted in the pit.


The entire idea is just Julio-Claudian in its excess. They were supposedly delicious. This truly is a food pornilicious concept.

I've been dying to try it ever since I heard of it.

Damn. I love a pig pickin'.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I went off-farm today to get fudge making supplies in town and to return my library books. It's been very hazy today and is now threatening rain. I love it when it rains after a hazy day. The shoots of steam rise up off the mountains like wisps of souls escaping the earth.

The forsythias and daffodils went into full bloom without me knowing. My own poor daffies are little munched upon bits of green just clearing the ground. Goats love landscaping. Nothing seems quite as tasty as something planted by Momma's hand and lovingly tended. My lemon balm is coming up. This is, at least, one plant that the goats won't touch, but I love very dearly. I love the smell it leaves on my hands when I touch it in passing.

I'm looking forward to my first cups of lemon balm tea. I ran out of all of my dried tea sometime in mid-winter. I'm a big tea drinker. I hope the tiny wild mint that came up so prolifically last summer comes back. It's odd, but each year we have different wild mints. One summer we has do much horsemint that I could barely keep up with drying it for teas and making mint sauce with it. That tiny mint was much better for teas than the big leafed horsemint. It hides, close to the ground, and sometimes the aroma will engulf you when you are working the ground, but if you try to find it, you can't. It's like a fairy mint.

Vi-vi's eye corrected itself. So I suppose it was just a spastic entropion brought on by some small injury. She's back in the field with everyone else now. Her time with me has gentled her and she is now following the kid pack up to the porch for snacks in the morning and evening. Since she would not take the bottle, I had to hold Maggie and Pearlie for her to nurse. Mother goats don't take too kindly to strange kids nursing them. But now, Vi-vi feels quite entitled to nurse on whosoever she pleases. She follows me at milking time because she knows I'll hold the other mothers so she can take a long drink. Because of this, she has shot up in growth.

I now am working on Blanche and Rose. They will need to come and spend some time on the porch as well. Then my entire little doe kid pack will be gentled. Blinkin's triplets do not have the instinctual love of tummy rubs that the purely dairy bred girls do. This is something they will need to be taught so that they will enjoy being milked when they are big girls.

With Vi-vi off of the porch, I spent all of yesterday cleaning and de-goatifying the back porch. It was a relief to not have a sick goat back there screaming at me for once. I spent the entire day cloroxing and scrubbing down all of the wood and cleaning the dog crates out.

Unfortunately, I came down this morning to find it once more splattered with goat vomit. It was Phoebe's turn to be sick. She and BossyToe like to sleep back there. Phoebe doesn't seem to have it too badly. I mixed some maalox in her bottle and gave it to her to settle her tummy. Then hosed off the porch this morning. Again. I am distressed to find that a google search of "goat vomit" brings my blog up as the fifth entry. At least Fias Co farms has me beat in that respect.

But, I'm grateful to welcome springtime to the mountains. As I drove down the mountain I saw many gardens had already been tilled and disced. A bunch of new comers were doing some early planting. They had plowed up their kudzu patch and were planting something there. I didn't have the heart to tell them that the kudzu would overtake their little garden in only another month or so. The plowing would only break the roots and make more kudzu. Goats can control it, but they would need pigs to eradicate it.

Ah, well. Let them dream of new potatoes.

It will soon be time for me to do much the same.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I just don't seem to have a life outside of them these days.

Today a a pretty much wasted day. I didn't rise until noon and then spent most of the day just keeping up with my milking and baby feeding. Not doing much of anything else.

Vi-vi is warming up nicely. I've been bringing her inside to take naps with me on the couch. She gets a bit fidgety when she has to wee so I know when to take her back outside again. But she curled up on top of me and napped for about an hour today.

She has entropion in her left eye. I've been putting ointment in it and rolling the eyelid back into position by hand in hopes that it will correct itself. The vet wants 250 dollars to fix it surgically. This is way more than Vi-vi is worth. Even if she were a full grown milker with excellent production, it would probably be more than her worth. So I can't really justify spending that sort of money on her. I looked up the various ways to treat this and will try some of those. Betsy has michel surgical clamps and I can use those without anesthesia to try to hold her eyelid in place. I looked up how to do it and it isn't that complicated. This condition happens to lambs and is inherited in sheep. They don't know if it is inheritable in goats.

A woman shared with me one of the local remedies for livestock eye problems. Put salt in the eye. Don't think so. 10% sterile saline with a bit of boric acid is as close as we'll get to that. You have to exercise some judgement with the suggestions they give up here. They used to give animals kerosene for whatever ailed them. My feeling is most of the successes were from self-limiting conditions.

"Little" Phoebe is a force to be reckoned with. She must weigh 35 pounds at this point. She likes to nurse rather energetically on my earlobes. She has picked up all of BossyToe's bad habits but unlike BossyToe...who is still small enough for me to pick up and heft back over the gate...Phoebe is so enormous that she's hard on my back.

So...not much today. I'm just sort of worn out with all the goat nursing. At least the pastures are starting to green up.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Jbeeky has asked that I blog about my former work as a psychic reader. And since it looks like a slow news day in Grassy Fork, I'm happy to oblige.

I was nearly late to the gig thanks to the complicated and uncomfortable costume I'd had to throw together at the last moment. Of course, I had a standard set of costumes that I wore to such gigs. I favored lots of flowy silk things and turbans with big dangly earrings. I'd once had to put together a sort of futuristic gypsy get up that was really popular.

My kit box banged against my knees as I impatiently waited for the escalator to get to the next floor of the big Dallas convention center. In it I had my light box, an electrified platform I'd made of Plexiglas, that made my crystals glow with an eerie blue light. I carried several sets of tarot cards that had been ritually purified by my sleeping with them after burying them in the earth for two weeks and then carefully wrapped in China silk. Just in case, I had my bag of runes that I'd carved into river rocks with my dremel, but it was the many pounds of quartz crystals that were really weighing me down.

The events company manager had called me in an angry panic.

"Juwanda the goddamn Root Woman has the Goddamn flu...or so she damn well says...and we already have the goddamn tiki hut up on site. I need you to get over here pronto and throw the goddamn bones looking like you belong in that goddamn tiki hut."

I hadn't actually met my competitor, Juwanda the Root Woman. I had seen her "medium" shot. That's what a head shot is called for psychics who are represented by an agency. I was, at that time, in talks with Juwanda's agent who was interested in representing me. Juwanda was a really large and beautiful black woman who dressed up as a Caribbean voodoo priestess. She looked great in her get-up.

"I don't throw the bones. I read cards and runes." I said calmly...knowing this would further send him into a rage, but also knowing the level of his desperation. Because, though I didn't know it entirely at the time, I was beginning to suspect that my true "gift" was an uncanny ability to sense the obvious.

And this was how I ended up strolling into this particular corporate special event looking like a Caribbean pirate's whore in blackface wearing a ratty black wig pulled from the Dallas Theatre Center's stock of wigs, a poofy long ribbon skirt and an obscene number of bangles. Every visible inch of my lily white perfect for my usual Celtic persona...had been liberally smeared with Light Egyptian Max Factor. It was clogging my pores and I hated wearing so much make-up. Freakin' blocked my aura. I was sure of it.

The events manager came up to me with a relieved look on his face. The clients were already starting to wander in. I saw a handwriting reader I'd worked with before and smiled at him. That was a sweet gig. All he had to do was walk around in his business suit with a pen and pad. The freak mime was there, the little ponce.

The events manager points toward the tiki hut and hands me a Styrofoam container.

"What's this?" I say as I open the container.

Inside are a collection of chicken bones left over from someone's lunch.

"It's the bones." He says, "Just throw the bones."

I firmly hand the Styrofoam lunch container back to him.

"I don't throw bones. I don't know how. And I'm certainly not throwing somebody's leftover lunch."

He slyly looked at me and said, "Come's just an act, right?"

"Yeah, well, call somebody who does improv." I say and start to march out.

"Wait, wait! It's okay...just try to make it look more like Juwanda...just do whatever you have to!"

I knew there was no danger of me losing the 150 dollar an hour fee with the three hour minimum. Because I was there, in costume, and people were starting to line up. Again, my mysterious gift of the obvious.

The truth is, you do have to believe it to be any good at it. You have to wrap your mind around that New Age space and embrace it. When you do a reading for someone, or as I often did, hours of reading many people, you always have dead-on hits. Especially, if you are, as I am, a natural cold reader.

I was completely unaware of the concept of cold reading when I was working as an occasional psychic for hire. I'd fallen into it innocently enough. I was highly educated in the liberal arts like most followers of "new age" thought. Basically that meant that I had little to no experience in critical thinking. Unfortunately, most of the US public has little knowledge of critical thinking skills, making us an extremely gullible nation. It hurts us in a myriad of ways.

A friend in Atlanta taught me how to read tarot cards and as I did readings for people and moved about, word got around that I was very good at it. Before I knew it, I was being asked to do large special events readings. I had a code of ethics I followed. I took money from the large events companies. I never asked for anything from individual clients. I wasn't out to defraud anyone. I really believed I was doing something special.

And based on the number of people who broke down in tears in front of me, called me later to tell me about something that I'd "predicted" had come true, or just ran away frightened from my readings...I did seem to have something going on. I received constant validation and "proof" of my "gift". It's nice to be appreciated.

I think it's a very seductive trap. I think some people with my gift do take it one step further to become charlatans. Perhaps they hang on to the belief that it is something special that they have because it pays so well if you know how to market it. And if you look at it with the same searching eye that you use to look at the people you read for...well, then you wouldn't be able to do it anymore. I guess that's what happened to me. I looked at myself with the same eyes I used to gaze at others.

My gift isn't anything supernatural. I have the gift of paying attention. Of empathy. Of being aware of body language and seeing minute changes is behavior. It's a gift that might have benefited from a PhD in psychology. I know how to put people at ease and how to channel their own thoughts back into themselves. It's not anything special and it's something everyone can do. All you have to do is listen. Really, really listen without involving yourself in that process.

My conversion to skepticism came gradually. My attraction to "mysteries" became less conscious and I became more interested in the great and terrible beauty of the universe and truth. And that is something very tangible if you let it be so. I became more at ease with the fact that just because something can be proven empirically doesn't make it any less wonderful or fantastic. I started to educate myself in critical thinking, because I was tired of wasting money on things that didn't work and blindly believing everything I read. I read Carl Sagan, who so eloquently and poetically described science as the wondrous thing that it is and taught me how to look at claims and beliefs with healthy skepticism.

If I had to put a date on when the worm began to turn for me from new age to skepticism, I suppose it would be sometime during the dawn of August 17th, 1987. I had gathered with about twenty other dedicated "Rainbow Warriors" on a distant hilltop about an hour outside of Dallas. We had spent the night around camp fires drumming, chanting and smoking lots of marijuana. Nothing really happened that dawn.

Damn you! Harmonic Convergence!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

When I was a child and asked, as all children who live with the change of the clock in the spring and fall, why this happened, the answer always had to do with the farmers. That somehow the change of time would give the farmers an extra hour of daylight.

And like most children, I accepted this rationale for a time. It's a great one for parents since it will be many, many years before the child reaches the ability to figure out that the clock and the number of daylight hours aren't actually connected in any sort of real way. So it stops any sort of annoying "But why?" followups.

I've never had much of a problem with the changing of the clock. Back when I worked, I just went to bed earlier to make up for that lost hour in the spring. No biggie. But then I moved to my current agrarian life. And I realized what an incredible bullocks it was to blame it on the ag folks.

The animals don't tell time or use clocks. Unless you are this guy in Canada's chickens.

Canadian poultry producer Marty Notenbomer notes, "The chickens do not adapt to the changed clock until several weeks have gone by, so the first week of April and the last week of October are very frustrating for us."
I've always suspected the superior intellect of Canadian poultry, but this sort of creeps me out. Why are their chickens so much smarter than ours? Should we not be...well...concerned?

My chickens don't tell time, nor do my goats, geese or dogs. Time is a purely human invention in so many ways. Additionally, my own life has nothing to do with clocks. I rise with the sun and work until it sets. Then I sit around and watch cartoons till the wee hours of the morning. Most farmers live much the same way with the exception of the cartoon thing. That's just my particular kink.

It was that sexy beast of the 1700's...that colonial Austin Powers , Ben Franklin, who came up with the idea while in Paris. He japed about the Parisians never rising before noon and came up with his essay on Daylight Savings.

So, I found all this info on Web Exhibits. Let's revise what we tell the kids. It's not our fault. We've been against it from the get-go. We could suggest that it was so the French could get out of bed sooner. It's the popular thing to do. Yeah...blame the French since it obviously wasn't 9-11.


I have some excellent happy Sunday photos awaiting battery recharge to upload. I'm considering festooning all of my household electric sockets with Nihm battery chargers. In the meantime, I'll just post some reruns from buzznet.

PS...another reason to get this damn camera situation solved. I just went up to the shelters to freshen everyone's water. Took Vi-Vi with me on a leash and her mom, Blinkin', unbeknownst to me, evidently signed a termination of parental rights over to me for Vi-Vi with Goat Protective the little Bat Goat with her incessant wailing is evidently my responsibility now. Can't really blame the Blinks. Just a few days of that noise has driven me quite mad.

Anyway...while I'm up there, the geese attack Beacon, Vi-Vi's daddy. One grabs him by his floppy ear and the other grabs him...I kid you the ball sack. Beacon bellows and takes off at a gallop with one 25 pound pound goose hanging by his ear and another hanging on for dear life by his balls. They are such badasses those geese. Took Beacon a good 25 feet to shake them.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Barbecue Pork Ribs at Wanda's BBQ Garden and Cafe
Cosby, TN

Yeah, baby...That's what I'm talkin' about!

My mother and uncle grew up during the Great Depression in Savannah, GA. They didn't have it too bad since my grandfather worked for the Southern Railroad and they ran a boarding house out of the old house on Jones Street up from Clary's. My grandfather kept a garden out on Hutchinson Island where he also trapped and raised rabbits. Still, it left my grandmother with an unfortunate case of OCD geared toward saving scraps of tin foil. I was always a little afraid as a child that upon opening the pantry door I would be crushed to death by the largest tin foil ball known to mankind.

Ribs had a shady reputation as poor folks food. It was one of the few cuts of meat you could afford to buy during the Depression. But still, even after my uncle became a kazillionaire designing mines in the African Congo and being an aircraft magnate in South America, he remained stubbornly in love with the humble rib. I remember the long letters he wrote my mother always telling of how they cooked ribs in such far away places as Ankara and Morocco. The man never saw a rib he didn't like. He had to have them everywhere he traveled.

So...Tuesday, Betsy and I met over at Wanda's B.B.Q. Garden and Cafe to sample these legendary ribs and some of Wanda's other offerings.

I'd seen the BBQ garden across from the Cosby Elementary school on Cosby Highway next to the House of Douglas Bakery, but had never gotten around to trying it out. So when Betsy told me about these ribs...well, what can I say. It's in my gene pool.

The cafe is basically an old soda fountain/bakery set-up with booths and tables. Some funky art and lots of potted plants. It's a nice place to go during the cold winter months. It reminds me of some of my old haunts in the Virginia Highlands area of Atlanta. Back before VH became so precious.

But the really wonderful space at the BBQ Garden is the patio. Wanda built a large screened in dining area with a stage for the Bluegrass performers that frequent the garden during the high season months. It's very "down home". Plastic tablecloths and food served on disposable plates. The day was warm so we ate out there. But you know me. I'm more interested in what's on the plates than the plates themselves.

We took Betsy's daughter Dori along with us and she ordered the ribs. Everyone had to put up with me sampling their food. Anyone who eats out with me knows this is not unusual. I was born with a silver stealth fork in everyone else's plate.

I had the pulled pork plate with garlic green beans and sweet corn. I must say that those green beans are quite possibly the best green beans I've ever had. They were crisp french beans drenched in butter and garlic. Very yummy and will sneakily make you think you are staying on your diet. The pulled pork was served on a tomato basil roll. It was really wonderful and I didn't even ask for some mustard to convert it to Lowcountry style. ('cause you know where I stand on that side of the great war of the bbq sauces!)

Betsy had the pulled chicken also on a tomato basil roll. Her sides were french fries and the baked beans. Betsy loves Wanda's baked beans.

We also ordered the amazing onion rings pictured. Yes...they were every bit as good as they look.

I'd say the stand outs from the excursion were the BBQ Pork Ribs, which are amazing. The garlic green beans and those amazing onion rings. All of the food was delicious, but those were my three favorites. I'm told that her corn fritters are to die for. I have no reason to doubt this since it sounds like she makes them just like I make mine. The menu is best described as down home eclectic. Every once in a while your eye will be drawn from the expected BBQ joint fair to something like "jasmine rice"(the only sort of rice I eat at home), or those garlic green beans or that tomato basil roll. The prices are very reasonable with the most expensive item, the barbecue sampler, being 12.95. The median range is in the 6 to 8 dollar range. The place looks extremely kid friendly with lots of finger food available and paper towels.

If you are traveling down I-40 between Asheville and Knoxville, it's a nice side trek to get off on the Foothills Parkway then turn right onto Cosby Highway. The BBQ Garden is on the left just a few miles up the road.

I stayed for a while after our meal to talk to Wanda. I really like her. She's a bit of a character and I'm all about characters. She came to this area from Baltimore back in the 70's when Gatlinburg was still sort of a sleepy mountain town with a growing tourist trade. I'm not surprised she has food in her blood, being from Baltimore which is one of my favorite food obsessed cities. She's been working around restaurants all of her life. She doesn't follow any specific philosophy of barbecue, preferring to "do her own thing" so to speak. And it does seem to be working for her.

I was fascinated by her description of living here then, in a sort of hippie tent camp for three years, outside in all weathers when the winters were still very cold here. They used to have to go to town and pay a few bucks at the old bath house to take showers.

She mentions that her kids would sometimes ask why they couldn't go camping.

She'd say, in that husky Mercedes McCambridge voice, "Hell, NO. I did that for three damn years!"

Go see Wanda. Eat her food. You'll like her. You'll like her food.