Sunday, May 30, 2010

Straw bales, bees, and happy cousins.

For a couple days last week, I had the privilege of catching up with some extended family in Bowie, MD. Some of my cousins, on my paternal side, who sadly I have only met a handful of times, graciously hosted me and my friend Fred. We desperately wanted to check out their house, ideas, and lifestyle. They have a truly lovely home and acre of land. The main house and then two separate out buildings are made using straw bale building techniques. Straw bale building is on the forefront of eco-construction practices, here is the wikipedia link: The house filled with tons of DIY and personal creative touches here and there was a warm and inviting place. The bathroom was complete with a compost toilet... which I think everyone should have, well, everyone not living in a giant apartment building in New York City. The two other buildings, one called the "eco house" which sat as an educational example for several months in the DC mall, has found its permanent home in my cousins side yard!! The second little building is Kappy's studio/retreat space and evokes just that when you are inside... calm, peaceful, and quiet. Here is a picture of the "truth window" inside the studio. They are working on connecting the two buildings right now, utilizing found/donated/recycled supplies. Fred and I spent 2 hours busting up old cinder blocks for the foundation!!! (I am now an expert sledge hammer slinger... sore muscles to prove it.)They have a beautiful garden, wood working studio, dog and cat, and jars of bees (Sam is a bee guru). Every book on every shelf is one I wish I had or had read. Something to aspire to. Thank you, dear Universe, for awesome family, which I have in abundance!!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

rain, slugs, ticks, and the AMAZING Appalachian Trail

After 2 weeks of hiking the Appalachian Trail, the question is.... when can I go back?! It is so addictive!! The first week, I did with my Dad and our friend Tom, and the second with my old friend, Fred. We quickly learned how bad ass the thru hikers were. They are the folks that hike the whole thing usually from Georgia to Maine in about 5 months. A lot of them were in Virginia in the same area as us having been hiking since March and working their way north. Most of them doing 25 plus miles a day. We were going south starting in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, and ending down in the Shenandoah National Park. So, we passed many hikers and met quite a few at campgrounds, shelters, and hostels. It is a funny and fascinating subculture. Everyone has trail names and only goes by that moniker.... like Sock Burn, Cool Tool, Switch Back, Crazy Bear and so on. There is also, in some people, a sense of competition, a cooler tougher than thou sorta attitude, but for the most part, people were really friendly, dedicated to the hike and enthusiastic!!The scenery was so great, ever changing, and ever interesting.... from fields and rolling hills, to rocks and cliffs.... small trees with dense under growth to areas that look like a botanic garden. We saw snakes, turtles, frogs, salamanders, tons-o-insects, birds, many flowers and beautiful growing things, mushrooms and deer. NO bear (but bear poop) ---- so this is why I have to go back and um um um, maybe do the whole thing!!!??Most nights we camped, cooking in my little camping stove. We had to filter water from mountains streams. We walked an average of 8 or 9 miles a day... which sounds really low to me but carrying almost 40 pounds and going up hill about half the time.... that is about all we had day light for. It seems with a month of it, perhaps our miles per day would go up!

It was a very complex experience to try to compress into a blog post... but I am so glad I went, it was very demanding, challenging and even cathartic at times... in the rain with sore muscles and dozens of ticks, but I do strongly feel that everyone at some point should spend a week or more in the wilderness with nothing but the bare essentials on your back... appreciate the simple things, like a hot meal and a tent to get out of the rain in. So, who wants to go next year?

Homemade Stanardsville

I have lots to tell you and I don't know where to start. So, I'll just start by telling you about my Aunt and Uncle's farm in Stanardsville, VA just north of Charlottesville... Laurie and Tom. Laurie is the sister to my step mom, and she and Tom are both very interesting, smart, talented, and generous people. I stayed there on and off for the last 2 weeks as they supported my hike along the Appalachian trail, waking up at 4 am to drop us off in the rain and picking us up on short notice with cold drinks in hand.
They live on 72 acres of protected land in a beautiful 1820's home. Most of those acres are used for hay production and about 1/2 an acre for a beautiful and highly yielding garden. They share the work and rewards with one other family. They have 3 lamas and 1 crazy unicorn sheep. Laurie likes making jewelry and took me to a wire wrapping class with her. That was awesome.
They have an out door wood burning brick oven and we made yummy fresh pizzas in there. Tom, and Laurie and their gardening partners jar and can and save and compost all they can from the garden and use it all year long. Tom is a bee keeper and they have tons of yummy honey too. Laurie made us meal after meal of amazing food including the best vegan biscuits I have ever had!!
I really had the best time there with them, planting beans in the garden, trying Tom's home brew, communing with the lamas and lounging around their beautiful home. Thank y'all so much, it really was a lovely and memorable time!!!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Carter Family Fold, for real this time!!!

Last summer on the road trip, Erika and I hit up the Carter Family Fold for a look see. The way our schedule worked out, we arrived there on a Friday, which does no one a whole lot of no good, as they are only open on Saturday nights. SO!! Last weekend, I drove up on a Saturday! I got there a couple hours before show time in order to check out the site: visit the museum and the boyhood home of A.P. As it turns out, last summer would have been a bad time anyway, as all kinds of renovations had been underway, so I got to see the new and improved grocery turned museum!I stopped in A.P.'s home first and a nice older man was there talking to me and showing people around. It is really just a 2 room cottage with a sleeping loft, finished with period pieces and some of the family's original belongings. When Johnny Cash died, his son donated his and June's favorite rocking chairs to the fold. I had my picture made sitting in Johnny Cash's rocking chair!!! I enjoyed looking at Sarah's pottery and other artifacts, and letting my imagination run picturing the Carters singing and picking on the porch.Next, I walked over to A.P.'s old grocery, which is how he filled his time and made a living after he got out of the music business. He, unlike Maybelle, never got the pay off. He died before their fame really soared, so for a while there, he had his grocery store with his son and lived a simple life. The grocery is now the Carter Family Museum, and it was stocked with the likely stuff: costumes and instruments and hand written songs. They have video footage of Sarah and Maybelle during the folk revival and some of the rewards they received in later years. I think I looked at every little thing 2 or 3 times!After, I headed over to the concert space, which looks like an old barn from the outside and I think over the years it has evolved from an outdoor show to a simi-barn like hoe-down to the slick seating and wooden floor set up that it is today. The state of Virginia finally got it's act together and started funding the fold's efforts. The crowd was mostly seniors and locals, with a few young families mixed in. Everyone seemed to be into clogging and stomping their hearts out! A few couples could really tear it up with their two-steppin. I had a great time! And, I would love to go back! Thinking about stopping in again on the 29th of May, who will meet me?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mississippi Wedding, Alabama Birthdays, and OIL on the mind.

Just a quick post to fill you in on the last week. My brother and I headed down to our home town of Ocean Springs, MS, for my step brother's wedding. It is about a 6 hour drive and the oil spill was heavy on our minds the whole way down. We were quickly and somewhat thankfully distracted by all the wedding preparations and events.

The rehearsal diner was at NoJa in Mobile, AL, where Alex (my step brother) is the chef. It was a very nice evening and the food was good, I recommend anyone traveling through town or living near by to head on down. Alex is vegan courteous, you just need to call ahead to let them know.

The next day we spent in entirety setting up for the reception. I did the flowers for the bars and table decor and a bunch of family and friends worked hard to make it all happen. Saturday was the wedding and turned out to be lovely and nice event. The rain held off long enough to tie up the ceremony and get everyone to the party. My Dad's sisters danced the night away, as per usual, and it was a fun time. I had fun too: dancing and meeting Alex's friends. So much fun in fact, that uncharacteristically, I didn't take any pictures. I'll get some from other folks and post them later.Each day I took some time to go for bike rides around OS. The mood was somber as everyone was bracing themselves for the oil to arrive... life as they know it to change for a long, long time. The shrimpin' boats were all docked in the harbor. A few pleasure crafts had for sale signs with big fat zeros on them. Biking through the National Seashore Park, a family was stopped by the bayou looking at a gator in the grasses. I wonder how they will fair in all this mess.

I am unsure now whether or not I will go back, after hiking the AT, to help out with the spill. It is unclear what there is to do and BP is not stepping up...yet. I may just go to help out at the research lab with Harriet, my step mom. She is a marine biologist there and has been for 40 years. Whoever is interested in that holler at me and I will keep you in the loop. I grew up in a beautiful, beautiful place with rich history and colorful people. It is a shame for this to happen so soon after Katrina. If you can't volunteer your time or donate money, please write to your congress man or woman and encourage her to support green energy. Monday we drove over to Orange Beach, AL for my Aunt and Uncles 60th birthday, and my other uncle's 50th. It was beautiful over there too and people were vacationing seemingly unaware... parents letting their kids play in the water. Orange Beach is just on the border of FL. There are no barrier islands like over in MS. The waves are bigger and more shells and sand dollars wash ashore. Here are a few pictures.