The Things We Keep

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I had the privilege of visiting Northwest Arkansas this past weekend.  I stayed in a cabin with a view overlooking the Arkansas Grand Canyon, floated the Buffalo River, attended a wedding where I didn’t know the bride OR the groom, and I got to visit with my new in-laws.  Along the way, I met some really interesting people, including the before mentioned bride and groom, and I saw some incredible sights.  I also snagged a recipe for the best potato salad on Earth!

I’m telling you about this because it has all stayed with me.  I think sometimes we are so busy with our lives that we just keep moving from thing to thing and life becomes a bit of a blur.  We stay in our comfortable worlds where things are predictable and familiar and we forget the benefits of experiencing new things and meeting new people. Sometimes it’s good to take a few steps out of our own lives and see what other people are doing in theirs.

So, I stepped out of my comfort zone last weekend.  I stayed in a cabin near Jasper, Arkansas that had a back porch with a tree growing up through the roof.  The porch had wooden rocking chairs and that was where we had our morning coffee as we watched the sunrise over the canyon before we left to float the Buffalo.

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The Buffalo National River was our country’s first national river and was designated such in 1972.  It’s roughly 150 miles long and is one of the only remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48 states. It’s also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.  It’s such a special place that many articles and even a book have been written about it.

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We floated for seven miles down the Buffalo.  There were six boats, one raft, nine people and one dog in our float group. The water was clear and cold.  The scenery was incredible.  There were soaring bluffs out of sandstone and limestone, natural waterfalls, dogwood and wild cherry trees in bloom, and turtles on rocks beside the banks.  The sun was shining on us and a feeling of peace and serenity like I haven’t felt in a very long time, descended over me.  One of my new brothers-in-law gave me a rock to mark my first time on the river…apparently a tradition in his floating group…and I will treasure it always.

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The next day was the wedding.  The bride and the groom are avid floaters so of course they got married at a river (Richland Creek) and next to a beautiful waterfall (Falling Water Falls).  After the ceremony, they, along with the bride’s son, jumped over the waterfall and into the cold water.  Talk about taking the plunge!  The man who performed the wedding ceremony used the analogy that marriage is like a river.  Some parts will be calm and still, while other times there will be rough waters.

But what made the wedding even more special was something the bride and groom and the bride’s son did.  They used their wedding day to do something for other people. The bride is a hospice nurse and the theme of the wedding was “Let’s Get Buzzed”.  For monetary donations to the American Cancer Society, they said they would shave their heads before the wedding…yes, all three of them!  For donations of $500, $2500 and $5000 respectively, the groom, the bride’s son and the bride all agreed to get buzzed before the wedding.  Others connected to the wedding joined in and agreed to get buzzed as well to encourage more donations.  And people rose to the challenge!

Buzz

After buzz

Photos of the bride taken by Caelli Hull of Rogers, Arkansas

I asked the bride why they decided to do this and this is what she said:

“I have had family members with breast cancer as well as skin cancer. Seeing how all those I’ve taken care of in hospice as well as how friends and family have been affected, has made a huge impact on me.  It’s a terrible disease and I wish to give my all to help in some way….I always feel as though it’s never enough…but if everyone would give, it would have a huge impact.

We raised $5,530! Hard to explain the impact my patients have had on me and on their loved ones as well. Wish everyone could experience it yet at times my heart hurts for them and it’s hard. My patients give me so much love and it’s so wonderful to give back. Each person makes a difference. ….maybe we can make it contagious and others will follow.”

This past weekend will stay with me for a very long time.

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None As Lovely As A Tree

Trees are your best antiques ~ Alexander Smith

Trees

This Friday is Arbor Day.  It’s always the last Friday in April and is celebrated around the world. It’s a holiday marking the importance of trees in our daily lives.  Many communities hold events which feature education about the benefits we receive from trees as well as how to plant and care for them.

The first American Arbor Day was held in Nebraska City, Nebraska on April 10, 1872.  It was founded by two Nebraskans, J. Sterling Morton and Robert Furnas. An estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska that day.

The Arbor Day Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit tree conservation and education organization.  It was founded in 1972…100 years after our first Arbor Day…and has over one million members who are dedicated to planting trees.  The mission statement of the National Arbor Day Foundation is:  We inspire people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees.

Pear tree

I have a thing for trees.  I admit it. I get attached to them.  I think it started when I was in elementary school and read a biography about John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.  He was born in Massachusetts but traveled west as a young man and would plant apple tree nurseries as he traveled across the Midwest.  He would teach the locals how to care for them, then go back periodically to tend to the trees.

My first tree love was a weeping willow in the backyard of the house where I grew up.  The long slender willow branches touched the ground and gave me a secret hideout.  I remember playing house and school under that tree with my friends.

My grandmother’s farm had an apple orchard.  As a girl, I would walk the orchard and say hello to each of the apple trees whenever I got to her house.  Of course I had my favorite.  The tree with the best tasting apples was also the one I liked to climb.  On hot summer days, I would climb as high as I could and sit on a branch and eat apples and observe the farm from my lofty perch.  Sometimes my cousins and I would hide in the apple trees and throw apples at one another.  But that’s another story.

Pear and Apple

My favorite tree of all on my grandparent’s farm was the pear tree at the edge of the apple orchard.  My grandmother knew how much I loved that tree and she would write or call and tell me when the tree was in full bloom with its white blossoms and when the pears were getting ready to eat.  Sometimes I would help her can pears from that tree.  But what I loved most of all, was reaching up and picking a beautiful perfect pear to eat while I walked around the farm.

I miss the plentiful evergreen trees of the Midwest.  I have a natural affinity for evergreens.  Maybe it’s because I have always loved Christmas Trees.   I planted three blue spruce trees in the front yard of the house in Michigan where my children grew up.  The trees grew along with my children and I had the privilege of watching them all grow.

Did you know we have a national tree?  In 2004, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation designating the oak tree as America’s national tree because it is a symbol of great strength.

When my children were small, I used to tell them they were like little acorns and some day they would grow up to be tall and strong oak trees.  They tease me about that now but they are all tall and strong so I was right.

We have a small volunteer evergreen that is growing underneath a crepe myrtle in our backyard.  I’m thinking we should transplant it this Friday so it has plenty of space to grow.  I suspect it will become a favorite too.

Evergreen

For more information about the many ways trees benefit our world, check out the Arbor Day Foundation website at www.arborday.org

 

 

Happy Easter…Happy Spring

Easter

Easter, or as some call it, Resurrection Day, was yesterday.  Christians believe this was the day Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, three days after his death on the cross.  By dying on the cross as payment for our sins, Jesus purchased eternal life for all who believe in him.  At Easter, Christians celebrate the sacrifice he made. In churches around the world, Easter Sunday brings the highest attendance of the year.

According to the book Family Traditions by Elizabeth Berg, the word Easter means “dawn” or “new beginnings” and in addition to our religious celebration, we celebrate springtime and the rebirth of the earth after a long winter.  Springtime is a time of renewal and fresh starts.

Springtime

When my son was a little boy…maybe four or five, he asked me, “Mama, why do we have holidays?”  At the time, I told him holidays were our way of celebrating things and that they gave us something to look forward to with our families.

Now that I’ve had a few more years to think on it, I’ve decided that holidays are so much more.  Life itself can be difficult and pretty mundane at times.  We all have things we have to do that aren’t always fun.  Holidays break up the monotony of life and give us things to look forward to and things to plan for, and to talk about with others.

Holidays provide us the opportunity to both honor and celebrate our religious beliefs as well as the different events and people in our collective past.  And holidays also give us a chance to reconnect with and enjoy our families.

We are able to establish traditions around the various holidays which give us all something to look forward to and to expect.  When I was newly married, I remember thinking about the different traditions my family practiced when I was growing up and deciding which ones to incorporate into my own family.

Sometimes our holiday traditions are passed down through our families…my grandmother and mother’s crazy good banana pudding for instance.  Other times, traditions are created by unique experiences we share with people.  Sometimes people have really funny stories about how their family traditions came about.

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When my children were growing up, we would color Easter Eggs every year.  Once the coloring was done, we would dump the colored egg dyes into the toilet and watch the different colors swirl together into new colors.

We colored eggs yesterday at my house.  Then, I got into trouble for starting to pour the egg dyes down the kitchen sink.  Didn’t I know how important that tradition still was to my um, 20 year-old youngest child??  I guess I should know better than to mess with tradition!

My son who asked that question so long ago, is getting married this year.  He and his wife will be able to borrow their favorite traditions from their birth families and to establish their own new traditions.  As a mother, I look forward to seeing which ones they keep and what they come up with that will be unique to their family.

What family traditions are most meaningful to you?  Were they passed down through your birth family or did you create them once you had a family of your own?

 

A Blood Moon and a Plant Slumber Party

With the North Texas temperatures set to fall to freezing or below last night, we covered our large potted plants and brought in the smaller ones.  The front porch plants spent the night just inside the front door.

Yes, the Gerbera Daisies slept with the Azaleas and the Celosia and the Verbena. Oh, and don’t let me forget the Poinsettia who just keeps blooming almost four months after Christmas…it joined the party too.  The Easter Lilly was left in charge, from its perch on the front hall table.  And yes, everyone got along and appears to be just fine this morning.

Plant Slumber Party

Once the plants were settled for the night, we set our alarm for 2:00 a.m. to get up and see the blood moon.  For those of you who don’t know…I didn’t…a blood moon is a lunar eclipse when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned with the Earth in the middle.  There must be a full moon for this event to occur. The moon passes directly behind the Earth into its umbra or shadow, and the refraction of sunlight by the Earth’s atmosphere makes the moon appear a dark (blood) red.

When the alarm when off, my husband and I looked at one another and wondered what in the world we were thinking.  However, we had committed so out the door we went armed with binoculars.  The night was cold and crisp and the sky was clear and filled with stars.  And yes, the moon was blood red and beautiful and I am so glad I got up to see it!

Blood Moon

Brett Bonine of Arkansas captured this view of the lunar eclipse

After a few minutes of moon/sky admiration, we were ready to get back to our warm bed.  I laid there in the dark thinking about the first time I had awakened in the night for a special event.  That one also involved the moon.

It was July 20th of 1969.  I was eight and my little brother was four.  Apollo 11 had landed on the moon.  Our parents got us up in the middle of the night to watch the first man, Neil Armstrong, walk on the moon’s surface.  We sat on the floor of our living room with sleep still in our eyes and watched that momentous event on our parent’s 17” color RCA television set.  At the time, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.  Looking back, I’m so glad our parents got us up to watch Mr. Armstrong make history.

The next blood moon is set to occur on October 8th of this year.  Will you set your alarm to see it?

 

Smith Corona

Smith Corona

For my 18th birthday in 1978, I received a brand new Smith Corona Electric Typewriter.  It was shiny silver and smoky blue and was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  It had white plastic keys and a manual carriage that I had requested because I wanted to be able to feel the progress I was making as I wrote each line.

I was so excited about my birthday present that I slept with it that first night.  I put it right in my double canopy bed beside me.  I was leaving for college two weeks after my birthday and it was the only thing I wanted.  To this day, it remains one of the best gifts of my life.

I used that typewriter almost daily for the next six years.  I loved the sounds it made as the keys punched onto the Mead Typing Paper. Years of class papers were typed on it as well as all of my articles for my college newspaper.

When I finished with my degree, I used it to type the papers my husband wrote for his master’s degree.  Of course, in those days, we usually wrote our papers on lined notebook paper then typed them very carefully so as not to have to retype or heaven forbid, use White-out on the typing paper!

Tools of the trade

I typed my first resume on the Smith Corona…and my husband’s as well.  Other than the car we shared, it was the most valuable thing we owned until we were out of college and working jobs in the real world.

After that, I only used the Smith Corona occasionally, and a few years out of college, it was taken from its home on my desk, put in its case and relegated to the back of my closet.  You see, in the days before everyone had a PC, Brother had come out with a great word processor which was much more user friendly than the old electric typewriters.

When my sons were small, maybe seven and five, one of them asked me what I kept in the “suitcase” in the back of my closet.  I took the Smith Corona out of its case and showed my boys what a typewriter could do.  They took turns pounding away on the keys and enjoying the sounds it made.  “But where is the delete button, mama?”

Over the years, my boys and later my daughter would occasionally ask me to get out the Smith Corona so they could “typewrite”.  They were just as intrigued by the sounds it made as I had been.  I would give them a stack of white typing paper and they would have a great time putting the paper in the roller and punching the keys.  Later, I would find typewritten love notes on my pillow.  “I love you mommy” followed by rows and rows of x’s and o’s.

A few years ago, as I was driving to one of my son’s high school basketball games, I passed a small machine business.  The sign in the window said “we service and repair all brands of typewriters”.  The next day, I pulled the Smith Corona out of its hiding place in the back of the closet and took it in.

The shop smelled like oil and grease and all things from another place and time.  The counter was littered with relics I recognized from my past….old record players and cassette tape players and typewriters of every shape, size and color.   The little old man behind the counter nodded appreciatively as he opened the case and looked inside.  “You don’t see many like this anymore” he said.  “Are you interested in selling it?”  I shook my head no.  “I was hoping you could check it to see if it needed any repairs.”

I couldn’t imagine parting with my old friend who had embarked on the journey to adulthood with me and had accompanied me ever since.  And, I may have grandchildren someday.  They may want to know about life when I was young.  And one of these days, they might just want to “typewrite” for old time’s sake.

Much has changed in the world of technology during the last 35 years.  I think sometimes our children don’t realize how different the world is now from the one we grew up in.  I had a typewriter for writing papers, and I called my parents collect from the pay phone outside my college dorm once a week on Sundays.  My mother also has a box of letters…yep, the kind written on paper with a pen…I sent her from college.

The beauty of our kids having laptops and iPads and cell phones is that we can keep in regular touch with them in a way that wasn’t possible for our parents.  As every parent knows, sometimes just knowing they are safe and that we can reach them puts our mind at ease.

Recently, while reorganizing a closet, I found my Smith Corona.  My daughter said,“You still have your typewriter!  I used to love to type on that thing!”  I opened the case and ran my fingers over the white keys…“Yep, me too.”

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Not Your Grandmother’s Mason Jars

Mason Jars

Right now on Pinterest, there’s a piece titled, “One million ideas for Mason Jars”.  I guess the old saying is true…everything old really is new again.  It made me laugh because I have a cabinet full of old canning jars and I’ve been using them for years.

The glass canning jar or fruit jar was invented in 1858 by John Landis Mason who was a tinsmith from Philadelphia.  Before Mr. Mason invented his glass jar with a threaded top for screwing on a lid, jar tops had flat sides and had to be sealed with hot wax.  The wax method of sealing jars was messy and didn’t always guarantee a good enough seal to keep bacteria from forming in the food in the jar.  Mason’s new canning jars made canning foods popular and safe in America.

Unfortunately, his patent on the jar ran out in 1879 and he never made much money from it.  In 1884, the Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company started making mason jars.  The company was moved from New York to Indiana in 1887.  Other competitors such as the Kerr Glass Manufacturing Company also stepped in and began mass-producing canning jars.

Company Ball Brothers

Mason Jars are made from soda-lime glass and the quart jars, which are the most common, come in either regular or wide mouth sizes.  The original canning jars also came in half-pint, pint and half-gallon sizes.  Mason’s original jars were stamped with the line, “Mason’s Patent Nov 30th 1858”.

In 1909, a primer on home canning called the Ball Blue Book was published and in 1918 the Ball brothers gifted a small college in Muncie, Indiana to the state of Indiana.  It was later renamed Ball State University and one of its famous graduates is entertainer, David Letterman.

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Business was so good for the Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company that they didn’t lay off a single employee during the Great Depression.  In 1972, the Ball company went public after 88 years as a family-owned business.

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The jars I own belonged to my grandmother.  When she died, it was the only thing I wanted from her house.  I remember many hot summer days in her farmhouse kitchen helping her can the bumper crop of tomatoes from her garden.  And she always had a bumper crop because that woman had the greenest thumb I’ve ever seen.

Back in the day, canning was a big deal and my grandmother would devote an entire day to it.  The quart jars had to be pulled out and washed, the tomatoes picked and washed, blanched and peeled before cutting them up to go into the jars for canning.  It was a long, slow, hot process but at the end, there were many jars of canned tomatoes to eat through the Midwestern winter until it was garden time again.

My grandmother was not partial to a brand it seems as her jars have different names on them…Mason…Ball…Kerr.  Many of the jars have embossed pictures of fruit and fun sayings.  Some of them say “Mom’s Mason Jar” and have a picture of an early 20th century woman complete with hair bun and glasses and holding an apple.  Some of them say “Golden harvest” and have an embossed picture of fruit.  One jar simply says Mason and has an embossed picture of tomatoes on the front. Some of them say “Made in U.S.A.” on the back and I really like that too.

Antique canning jars are very popular with collectors. The value of an antique jar is determined by color, age, condition, and rarity.  Colored jars are harder to find now but were considered better for canning as they blocked the light from the food and helped to retain both flavor and nutritional value.  Besides clear glass, canning jars came in aqua (called Ball blue), amber, shades of green, cobalt blue, milky white and black.

In the old days when every family saved buttons, many people kept their buttons in Mason Jars…and some of my friends still do.  I love to use my grandmother’s Mason Jars because when I do I think of her.  For years, I’ve used them as vases for flowers for both parties as well as for every day.

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My daughter uses a Mason Jar for her loose change.  When my sons are home, they like to drink beer from their great-grandmother’s jars.  I’m not sure what she would think of that!  On Christmas Eve, I put candles in the jars and line my driveway to light the way for Santa Claus.  I do the same on New Year’s Eve to light in the new year.

My grandmother’s Mason Jars are a part of my family and I like to think that somewhere she is smiling and enjoying watching how we use her jar collection.

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