Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bet You've Never Been So Happy to Not Be on a Christmas List

This year I've decided that I'm going to buy most, if not all, of my Christmas presents in Cumberland County. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be showing you examples of some of the little gems that I, have already, or plan on finding. Oh, and just for kicks, I've also decided that I will have a color theme for each person (there is absolutely no rationale for this). I put the following colors in a basket and then drew a different one as I scrolled down my list of recipients: green, red, blue, black, yellow, orange, purple, white (don't start with the, "white isn't a color," nonsense), teal, maroon, pink, and chocolate brown.

For the time being though, here are a couple of suggestions...
1) Consider concocting your own wine, bottle it, and then make your own labels (check out: A friend recommended the following recipe (from and it truly was super easy. I settled on a white grape concentrate, and apple concentrate, and an already-prepared cranberry (just added the yeast to the gallon jug). All have been sitting now for about 4 weeks; I'll let you know more when I've actually tasted them.

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
4 cups sugar
1 (12 fluid ounce) can frozen juice concentrate - any flavor except citrus, thawed
3 1/2 quarts cold water, or as needed

Combine the yeast, sugar and juice concentrate in a gallon jug. Fill the jug the rest of the way with cold water. Rinse out a large balloon, and fit it over the opening of the jug. Secure the balloon with a rubber band. Place jug in a cool dark place. Within a day you will notice the balloon starting to expand. As the sugar turns to alcohol the gasses released will fill up the balloon. When the balloon is deflated back to size the wine is ready to drink. It takes about 6 weeks total.
2) For that one, non-local, purchase, choose wisely... Whimsical dog socks from Walgreens are a sound option.
And, this, my friends, is one of the many reasons I said "yes" to Andy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Elusive Art of Gratitude

I love that Caroline can sing the praises of Kanye West's new album, highlight an NPR interview with Jay-Z, and post an incredibly thought-provoking Chicago Tribune essay all within a 48 hour time span on her Facebook of the many reasons I think she's so cool.
I want to think that I am capable of the emotions and mindset that Schmich so interestingly describes, but I know that there will be days when I roll my eyes and find her disconnected and pretentious. And, that's okay.

"Even the terrible things seem beautiful to me now:
A mother's insights on gratitude become clearer near Thanksgiving"
Mary Schmich

November 21, 2010

"My mother once said something that has played over and over in my mind in the few months since she died, and I hear it strongly as we get closer to Thanksgiving.

"Even the terrible things," she said, on a sunny day in what would be her last September, "seem beautiful to me now."

I rarely saw my mother cry, despite the many reasons she might have, but on that afternoon in her backyard, she cried a little, tears that I sensed were equally for the beauty and the sorrow in her life, and for the recognition that, when it's all done, beauty and sorrow are one and the same.

Even the terrible things seem beautiful to me now.

What she was saying that day, I think, was that it's all life. The things that hurt your heart, wound your pride, drain your hope, leave you lost, confuse you to the point of madness. That's life, life with its endless, shifting sensations and its appalling urgency and its relentless drive toward mystery.

What could be better than that? What could you be more thankful for than that?

At Thanksgiving there's a lot of talk about gratitude, a word that has been so merchandized — on calendars and coffee mugs and in self-help manuals — that when you hear it you may want to reach for the hand sanitizer to wipe away the goo.

In the commercial version of gratitude, life is filled with cozy meals, cozy weather, friends and relations who smother each other in hugs and greeting cards. To the extent that hard times figure in, it's only once they've been vanquished and can be toasted farewell with a glass of premium wine facing a perfect sunset.

It's easy to be grateful for such easy pleasures. Who can complain about cozy meals and friends who put up with your annoying behaviors?

But to see the beauty in the terrible things and to be grateful for those moments — that's an elusive art.

I think you have to be old to see how beautiful the terrible things are, my mother said that afternoon, and I suspect she's right.

Maybe we can't see the beauty in the terrible things until we're approaching the final beauty and terror. In other words, death: the ultimate proportion gauge.

Maybe only when you take your last step back from the canvas can you see how gorgeous all those wrong strokes and smudges look when viewed together.

All of the best times in my life have grown directly out of the worst times. What feels like manure often turns out to be fertilizer.

But what I took from my mother's remark wasn't just that good may grow out of bad. It's that the bad is its own beauty.

We all resist what's difficult and painful. We run from it. We curse it. It comes anyway, as inevitable as weather.

Most of us have gone through at least one time in our lives that we would call terrible. Everyone I know well certainly has.

A disease. A rape. A parent's suicide. The death of someone you love. The collapse of a dream.

These are things you would never wish on anyone, just as I would never have wished for my mother some of what befell her.

But as we approach Thanksgiving, I'm more grateful than ever to her for the ways she helped everyone around her understand that the hard times make you whole. They make you play the entire keyboard. They allow you to experience the full range of the most basic thing we give thanks for: being alive."
I have long thought (and have even elected to tell multiple people) that Jay-Z, Beyonce, and I would be good friends.

And, remember, nothing says "Thanksgiving" like an ABC Beyonce special.

And, yes, my desire to perform "Single Ladies" lingers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Tribute to My Favorite Reader

I do a Library article for the Cumberland County News each week. I thought it only fitting to use the space this past week to pay tribute to my favorite reader.
Curtis Turner was a farmer and a teacher for much of his life. He never made a lot of money doing either, but he enjoyed both nonetheless (well, maybe not the paperwork, as many High School and Central Office staff members have told us over the past few days). He was a farmer who loved his horses, cows, dogs, and cats almost as much as the three little pony-tailed girls who likely drove him crazy for 32 years with pleas of pony rides – both actual and the occasional “buckin’ bronc” game in the living room – , fishing trips, and opportunities to hang onto ropes and “ride” the horse walker. He was a good teacher (based on my own experience and on those that others have been kind enough to share with me), one that could make us laugh with some dry, offhand comment and scare us in the same breath with both his knowledge of “a little bit about everything” and with the pointy toes of those classic cowboy boots. He was a teacher that cared about one’s gender, race, or class even less than he did about that paperwork Jill, Ellen, and Margenia pulled teeth to get. He doled out praise and discipline to the “good ‘ol boys” in the same manner as he did to those admirers who took his class primarily because of his “pretty blue eyes” (according to one visitor at the funeral home, and by implication of much of the hospital staff, Curtis Lee was “eye candy”). And, this is why we loved him – we knew any of us could earn his wrath or his appreciation on any given day.

Come sundown, though, Dad was neither farmer nor teacher. He was a “eat supper with my wife and kids” man. He was a “help with homework” man (even if that “help” was often in much more practical terms than the formulas and theories proposed in textbooks – he often said, “now think about this in real life,” and then proceeded to explain math concepts based on the distance from the house to the barn). He was a news watcher. He was a reader. He loved to sit in his big brown chair in the living room, often with a dog squeezed in right beside him, and pull out his favorite Wendell Berry collection. He enjoyed horse magazines just as much as books of political theory. He appreciated Kentucky authors. He had an affinity for collections about agriculture, sustainability, and simple pleasures in life. He was open to trying poetry, although it wasn’t his favorite and sometimes invoked a little eye-rolling or sarcastic comment. And, this is one of those everyday things that I will miss everyday – walking by and hearing him repeat some line he found particularly interesting or ridiculous, a line he was able to read only because he had not lost his incredibly dirty glasses that given afternoon – but one for which I am incredibly grateful. I appreciate the love of reading that he instilled in me and I feel so fortunate to be in a position now where I can share that love, Tuesday-Saturday, with those of you who feel the same.

Thank you so much to those who made a contribution to the Cumberland County Public Library in lieu of flowers. The money will go toward books in his honor that I know either he would have enjoyed himself or those that we think he would have enjoyed reading to Isabella Kurtys.

Classic pick of the week: The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry (who, by the way, will be speaking at Centre College in Danville on Monday, Nov. 15; it's free - if you live nearby, take advantage)
Dad always liked Alan Jackson. This song reminds me of him.