Are You Ripe Yet?

I recently purchased a cluster of vine ripened tomatoes. I made a caprese salad that night. Yesterday I noticed a bad spot on one. I threw it in the trash. Later I thought how I probably could have cut out the bruise and still used the tomato.

Today I noticed another spoiled tomato. This one could not be salvaged. I made another caprese with the rest of the tomatoes.

Of course, this discovery of rotten tomatoes only made me think of our human frailties.

Tomatoes…

Some of us are picked before our time. We’re ripped from the vine and taken from the sun. We’re left to come to fruition all on our own.

Some of us lay rotting on the vine, wondering if our time will ever come.

Some get tossed because of a rotten spot…no second chances to pare away the undesirable and see what can be utilized.

Cooking tomatoes tones down the bitterness and brings out their warmth. The same thing happens when we love people.

Both tomatoes and people are delicate. Handle with care. When time is taken and conditions are ideal, they ripen to perfection and burst with color and flavor.

Sometimes it’s all in the cultivation. What kind of a gardener are you?

Irene’s Evil Twin?

“The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.” ~Joan Didion

It had started to darken outside and I could hear a bit of rumbling and see a flash of lightening here and there. I decided to cook a quick dinner in case we lost power. About that time Dirt Man called.

“Have you looked at the clouds? They are mammatus clouds, really wicked looking. Go outside and look at them. Take your camera and get some pictures.”

I went outside and was amazed at how eerie the sky looked with those dark clusters of lumpy clouds with bits of light illuminating around the edges of some.

I’d hardly gotten back inside before Dirt Man arrived. We went back outside to look at the sky. At this point, rain was soft and sporadic, hardly any drops at all. We moved from beneath the tall trees into the cul de sac as we didn’t want the lightening to target us. The cloud rotations were quite unusual. We watched the clouds come together and pass through one another. When we looked at the opposite side of the sky, the clouds were pushing away from one another. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such amazingly weird cloud activity.

“Something big is going to happen. Conditions are ripe for a tornado.” I took that as my cue and went inside. Shortly later a tornado warning was issued.

While we were eating dinner we heard a whistle, sounded like a train traveling down the street. I looked out the front picture window to see a “tree” stretch across in a swirling fashion. It turns out it was actually the wind pulling through the azaleas. Then we heard thumping like someone was at the front door. No one was there so we assumed we were getting hail, but it was limb debris hitting the house. At this point, conditions were getting scary so we moved downstairs until the noise ceased.

We ate dinner with the electricity flickering only once. A while after dinner Dirt Man went outside and called for me to come out and note the street flooding. Usually our street does flood, but the water flows out within an hour or so. Sticks, pinecones, and leaves littered the yard. I turned the corner to see two huge limbs from one of the tall pines stretched across the side of the yard. I called Dirt Man over to investigate.

Then we saw what appeared to be a tree down in the middle of the cul de sac. You have to remember we were assessing the damage in the dark. We were trying to figure out which neighbor’s yard the tree came from when we discovered it was actually a couple of large branches that had been whipped off the top of a tree and scaled over (and clearing!) the power lines. There were actually a couple of leaves hanging on the wires, but how it happened without us losing our electricity is beyond me. The pattern of the down limbs indicated we possibly had a small twister come through.

Note that all of these photos are in color, not black and white. The appearance of black and white shows the intensity of the storm conditions. Dirt Man later read on one of the weather sites that our area had over 3600 lightening strikes in a two hour period and three inches of rain in ninety minutes…all I can say is WOW! Since we were fairly unscathed from Hurricane Irene, I can only wonder if this was her evil twin sister back for revenge!

These are the two downed limbs on our side yard.

This is another view of the limbs.

This is one of the fallen limbs from our neighbor’s tree. It actually landed in the center of the court, but the neighbor had moved it to the side early this morning.

These are the other limbs that were ripped from our neighbor’s tree. He moved these to the side of the court as well.

Traditions, Ever Revising

“What an enormous magnifier is tradition! How a thing grows in the human memory and in the human imagination, when love, worship, and all that lies in the human heart, is there to encourage it.” ~ Thomas Carlyle

Sometimes we go to great lengths to arrange our traditions like flowers to present an ideal bouquet in our lives, and other times they just fall into place. They provide our families with a rich fragrance and connection. Tradition seeps into our bones like water into a tea bag until it unifies and strengthens and we don’t remember life any other way.

We established many traditions with our own children. Through the years some remain and others have morphed into new ones. Of course, some have slipped into the warmth of memory.

One of our traditions is the birthday person can choose any meal to be made at home or can go out as a family to any restaurant they choose. A few years ago I chose to go out but could not decide where I wanted to go. I think Dirt Man came up with something and I agreed. I just wasn’t in the mood for any particular place. As we got to the end of the street ready to take a right, Youngest yelled out the name of a restaurant we used to frequent when they were little. Oldest and I shouted “yes” in unison as Dirt Man struggled to get the car into the left turning lane.

I’m not sure how or when this little family Italian restaurant had stumbled from the grace of familiarity with us. I suppose most likely our sons tastes grew along with them and preferred other types of restaurants, not to mention the fact it’s difficult to schedule a time convenient for the four of us and both of their girlfriends.

When our kids were small this place had Tuesday night “make you own pizzas” for kids. The first thing Oldest and Youngest did when we sat down was look for the pizza bar. Sadly, it had been removed. Still, we had a wonderful time reliving the past and enjoying the restaurant for the first time as a family of all adults. We swore we’d surely go back again soon. Sadly, we haven’t. However, Youngest’s birthday is coming up soon…I wonder if he’ll think to choose that place.

Like the tradition of burning the gardens and fields in the spring, we can look at the ending of a tradition as the death of it. Or we can view it as a renewal, an opportunity to create a new tradition.

As for future traditions in my family, I know my heart will expand to include more people, create more memories, and clothe those I love in comfort. Time is the creator and breaker of traditions. It has a way of melding the present into the past and tiptoeing into the future.

Sprite’s Keeper: Traditions

Strangers Among Us

“A stranger in town is like a white dog, he gets noticed immediately.” ~African Proverb

As our school bus starts down the hill, we can see the shape of something stretched across the road., green persimmons arranged into a huge letter E.

“Well damn, what is this?” sputters William, the bus driver.

We remaining seven kids start throwing out ideas all at once.

“E. Evil.” William offers his viewpoint. We kids fall silent.

He lets off the three siblings and heads around the bend to my driveway. Just as he’s breaking to let me off, we look over to the power lines that just happen to run through our property. A man, maybe in his mid-twenties is sitting beneath the lines smoking a cigarette. He has sandy brown hair with bits of sunlight streaking through, and it’s kind of ruffled and scruffy though it can’t be any longer than collar length. The strange thing is he is dressed completely in white, kind of what I’d expect maybe a doctor to be wearing. (At that time, I did not know the term scrubs. And no one in our neck of the woods wore all white.) When the man notices we are looking at him, he jumps to his feet and runs into the woods between the road and my house.

William pulls the handle that completely shuts the door. The emergency lights stop blinking and the beeping ceases. My cousin and I are scared speechless.

“Ya’ll know who that is? I ain’t never seen him before.”

In unison we nod our heads no.

“I ain’t letting’ you off here, girl. That might be the man who put that “evil” sign in the road. I’m gonna’ drop you off at the next stop with your cousins.” Don’t you go home ‘til ya Mama and Daddy get there. Ya hear?” We trust William to keep us safe. Still, feeling his concern feeds our fear.

I mutter ok and the bus starts rolling past my driveway. My cousin and I get off at her house along with her niece and nephew who live beside her. We go inside jabbering a mile a minute about this stranger near my house and the “evil” warning he placed in the road. We entertain her mom for a good hour with sinister tales of what this man is most likely up to. The forced closure of her lips hint at amusement while her scrunched brows emit concern. She agrees to let my cousin take me home in the VW bug we often use to zip through the family property.

As soon as we get to my drive, we see the stranger a few feet closer to our property line. He runs towards the quarry as we pass him. We do a quick turn and go back to her house. When my parents get home from work, she takes me back again. This time we don’t see the stranger.

I blurt out all the details over dinner.

“How do you know the E stands for evil?” asks my dad.

“Well, what else could it be?”

“Maybe, it just means east.”

“I wonder who it can be. I haven’t heard anyone mention visitors or anything about seeing a stranger in these parts.” My mom offers. She inquires again about his white clothes and concludes that he must certainly be an escapee from the mental hospital in a neighboring city. According to my mom, all strangers are either escapees from the mental hospital or prison because no one chooses to roam through the middle of nowhere.

I don’t sleep well that night or maybe even for a week or more. I am a bundle of nerves waiting for the school bus. In fact, I listen for the bus with the door open and run as hard as I can to the road when I hear it. In the evenings I hightail it inside and lock the door behind me. Eventually, the fear wanes, and the memory of the stranger fades as we never see him again.

It is only natural to fear what one does not know. Through the years there were other strangers that drifted among us, but those we saw more than a glimpse. We learned their stories and accepted them into the fold we called community.

A Time To Be

“Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life. Silence is a place of great power and healing.” ~ Rachel Naomi Remen

Most of us first experienced this comfort as a small child sitting in a parent’s lap snuggled into the soft warmth of love. We embraced our personal scents of love and protection. Even today as grownups certain fragrances might trigger memories of silent acceptance.

Those of us who allow others to penetrate our walls are usually graced with this gift again. It might be the shoulder onto which we cry, the embrace that says all will be fine, or simply the eye contact that emotes a love as deep as life itself.

Everyone deserves a relationship where they can simply be…times of silence without judgments or expectations. This is the relationship that provides us with the never awkward silence, one of the most blessed gifts we will ever receive

Today breathe deeply the scent of love.

Remember the warmth of acceptance.

Embrace the healing power within.

Rest in the silence of life.

It’s All In How You Look At It

“It is by helping others that we are helped, it is by giving that we receive, and it is by loving that we are loved.” ~John Harricharan (Morning Has Been All Night Coming)

We are each gifted with both the blossom and the spikes.

Which we choose to use creates our lives.

We may use our blossoms to delight the eye or soothe the soul.

We can use our thorns as a protective layer to keep others from getting close and penetrating the surface.

Sometimes we choose to jab others, even draw blood for no reason at all. We might be having a bad day, feeling ill, or just not getting our way when we want. When we choose this route, we are being selfish and hurtful. Are we even aware when do this? Does it really make us feel any better? When we put our own wants and needs above others, making ourselves seem of more importance, what does it really say about us? We are all guilty of this at one time or another whether we admit it or not.

When someone else pokes us, how we react says more about us than about the person inflicting the pain. I’ve had my days (and sometimes I still do) of reacting in anger, pain, and frustration. I’ve called names, yelled, and held grudges. Sometimes I’ve apologized for my behavior, other times not. We expect to be forgiven whether asked to be or not. And sometimes we choose to remain silent. It doesn’t lessen the pain, but it prevents escalating a situation that never should have been created.

We can allow our petals to unfurl, offering kindness and generosity. We can let our lives blossom with love. Or we can prick and snarl at others, hurting them and ourselves in the process. Do we really want to wither spirits, our own included?

The flower or the thorn? You decide.

We are all students of life.

Occasionally, we get to be the teacher.

And sometimes we are merely the lesson.

Reaching For Soul

If you cannot be a poet, be the poem. ~David Carradine

From first look this bush appears kind of homely with its scraggly burnt crimson buds. When you step a bit closer, you are taken in by its spicy aroma.

Soon you are absolutely smitten.

The fragrance calls to you.

The blossoms twinkle in the sunlight.

Even the dying buds curl into tiny art formations.

You become enthralled with the season of the bush…early spring you look for the first buds.

You delight in the aroma as the wind shifts in your direction.

You watch the red buds dance until they crumble to the ground.

You mourn the completion of the season.

The season of the soul is much the same as the season of the bush.

Often we don’t give those without stellar looks the chance to charm us.

And how often have we been disappointed to find the beautiful to be self absorbed or mean spirited?

Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised to find those we like the most to be people we have passed by. Maybe we thought they were unapproachable when really they were just shy.

How often have you felt misunderstood? Not valued? Do people give you the same attention as you pay to others?

The next time you meet someone, look a little deeper. You never know what rests deeper than the eye can see.

Take the time to take a second look at those you see every day. There might be something you’ve been overlooking. Listen to the words they speak and the tone in which they say them. Observe their actions.

Spirit deserves more than to be skimmed over. Give people a chance. Get to know them.

Ever received a fabulous gift wrapped in newspaper? What a pleasant surprise it is!

We are just packaging, some fancy while others plain. Our gifts are held inside.

Pull the paper back and experience the life that awaits discovery.

Everyone yearns to be known.

Please don’t miss the season of the soul.

Wine Of The Blue Ridge Gods

“What is the definition of a good wine? It should start and end with a smile.”  ~William Sokolin

Ever since I discovered this wine at my local Grape and Gourmet http://www.grapeandgourmet.com/, I’ve vowed to check out the winery on one of my visits back to my hometown in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This particular visit, we made a point of fitting it into our schedule…and we were by no means disappointed.

The open black pitch fence invited us to venture in. We traveled the dirt drive through the rolling green hills of the property which I later found to be the family homestead of a friend from high school.

If you proceed up the hill, you will reach the vineyard, barn, and homestead.

And if you go downhill you come upon the winery…yeah, exactly where I wanted to be! Don’t you think this sign is rather clever?

Ahhh, the tasting room, now we’re talking. I do believe that Nelson County has a dozen or so wineries, but this is the place that makes my beloved “Rotunda Red”. I’m usually a Merlot girl. Though I’ve tried most of their wines including a lovely white, Petit Manseng, I am smitten by the Rotunda…that was until this tasting session. I am now in love with the Lovingston Reserve Merlot 2006 and quite fond of the Pinotage. Ok, let me be honest, I loved them all. I’m not exactly a wine connoisseur and am more along the line of maybe a “wino”, so I’m not going to try to describe them for you as I’m sure I’ll somehow fail to give an accurate description. Instead here’s the website http://lovingstonwinery.com/.

I do want to mention the unpretentious atmosphere. The tasting session was casual and friendly. It is family owned and operated. Stephanie (owner’s daughter) was well versed in all aspects of the wine business. We had a perfect view of the vats and equipment, along with watching the winemaker from South Africa and family members perform various everyday winery tasks. We were even invited to come back to help pick grapes the next day. She said it as a joke, but seriously had I not had something else to do, I would have loved to experience it! I’ve always dreamed of stomping grapes, purple juice squirting through my toes and staining my feet blood red…yes, I’m a girl of small dreams!

This is the view as you come out of the winery. Absolutely gorgeous!

As a winery who prefers to remain low key and focus on the quality rather than the quantity of their wine and operations, it may be this very thing that charms the world, demands more of them, and gives them the ultimate gold stamp of approval.

“Wine is bottled poetry.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson

“If God forbade drinking, would He have made wine so good?” ~Cardinal Richeleu

Across A Clouded Dune

 “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

Fear of not knowing prevents many of us from taking on new projects. It might be fear of failure, or even success as that also alters our lives. Change in itself might simply be what holds us back. Many of us take comfort in familiarity.

While I am one to resist change, it is only through change that I am where I am and who I am today. I don’t like venturing through clouds as I like to have a clear vision of where I am going. Because I know this about myself, I have to encourage myself to try new things, to step out and experience life…otherwise I will stagnate instead of expanding my world.

Even if we think we can see where we are headed that still might not be where we end up.

It takes courage to open ourselves to possibility.

We never know how we’ll benefit if we don’t take that step into the unknown.

If we are afraid to venture past the clouds and dunes, we’ll surely miss the ocean. And truly, that would be a shame.

A Touch Of Autumn

There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been!  ~Percy Bysshe Shelley

The first touch of Autumn…

You feel it in the air as the chill tickles your skin, and every once in a while your bones rattle for a second or two.

You see the leaves are starting to drop, a bit of gold here and a little scarlet there. Soon the mountains will become a glorious speckled canvas of earth tones. The orange of pumpkins lay scattered across the fields.

You can taste it in a crisp apple as your teeth break the skin and the tart and sweet juices roll over your tongue.

You can smell it in the bales of freshly rolled hay. The sweet scent of apple orchards and vineyards waft through the rolling hills.

You can hear it in the hum of farm machinery, echoes of barking dogs, and the beating wings of the last hummingbird looking for sweet nectar.

The nights turn chilly and the mornings frosty as we break out our sweaters. The days end a little sooner as the nights fall upon us with thickened air.

Early Autumn harvests of pumpkins, apples, and grapes tantalize our senses. We are gifted with an array of color, texture, and taste…jack-o-lanterns, pumpkin pie, apple cider and pie, fresh grapes, and wine…I say bring it on!

Yes, Fall is right around the corner.

Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.  ~Stanley Horowitz