Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy in China

Now that the jet lag from hell has passed and so has the Christmas week from hell (2 damaging winter storms and no electricity), I am finally in a position where I can write about one of my positive experiences in China. I know you have all been holding your breath...
After I mostly recovered from what was finally diagnosed as "Common Cold" (which required going to the hospital and sticking my hand in a small hole in the wall so that someone I couldn't see on the other side of the wall took a blood sample and while that was occurring my translator told me she loved "Twilight" and really wished she was a vampire)and before Sally really came down with what would prove to be her version of "common cold," we made dinner plans with two twins who Sally had met in the hospital. Jin and Yu are both medical students in the university that is next to the Tianjin First Teaching Hospital (aka Rehabilitation Mansion); Jin (which means gold)is focusing on acupuncture and Yu (which means jade)is focusing on Chinese herbs. They decided they would bring their friend "Andy" along, not only because he is a very good friend, but also because his English is stellar. The five of us (twins, Andy, Sally and I) met outside the hospital just after dark on one of our last nights in Tianjin. Jin (who takes his role as the "older brother" very seriously) had prepared several dinner options for us to choose from. We chose to go to "Hot Pot," a very popular phenomenon which I will describe now below:
Hot Pot is such a good restaurant idea. There is a restaurant (our little establishment actually seated probably more people than the population of Hot Springs) with regular seeming tables. The thing that is not regular is that there is a burner in the middle of the table, with an electric heat source under the table which is turned on as you are seated. The server brings a large round pot that is divided in the middle with a curve shaped divider, so that if you look down upon the top of the pot, it looks like a yin yang shape. A basic broth with Chinese herbs and spices is brought, and heated in the pot. The diners choose from a very extensive list of ingredients available to order- all forms of meat, veggies, herbs, eggs, mushrooms, seaweeds, you name it. Condiments and dipping sauces too. Once ordered, the ingredients are soon brought on a cart that is wheeled to your table. The diners cook their own soup, adding ingredients as they wish to cook in the broth, and eating it as the ingredients are cooked. Cooked meats, veggies, quail eggs, funguses and such are extracted from the "hot pot" with chop sticks and dipped in special sauce to enjoy. The cooking, eating and socializing process goes on and on until the people just can't eat anymore. Special candied hawthorn fruits are available for good digestion.
Our hot pot dinner with the twins and Andy was one of the more fun dinners of my life.

Jin ordered so much food I can't even recall it all- lamb, beef, pork, fish, all manners of veggies and mushrooms and herbs, 2 dozen hard boiled quail eggs, bamboo shoots, Chinese yam vine root, I don't even remember all what. I do remember that it was wheeled in on a double decker cart and Sally and I didn't believe it was all for our table. We cooked the soup so that one side of the pot would be vegetarian and the other side would have all the meat. Sally was happy. We wanted some mellow rice wine, which the restaurant didn't have, so younger brother Yu, who was basically the sweetest guy ever, ran to the supermarket next door to buy us the wine we wanted. The conversation was very interesting, and focused on the twins' and Andy's studies in Traditional Chinese Medicine (Andy is finished with that and now working toward his Masters degree and eventually a PhD in neuroscience). We discussed topics such as the differences in Chinese medicine in China and in the States, and how Andy literally lives in the lab at his school (sleeps on a lab table), and marijuana ("what is that?" they sincerely wanted to know...). The mood was so good and the fellowship came so naturally that we all marvelled at how special the dinner was and how it seemed like we had been friends much longer than we had. I, of course, got a little silly and tried to make Yu laugh a lot, which worked, and that was supremely fun. The dinner and the fun went on and on and on. We ate and ate and ate. We laughed and laughed and laughed. At one point I looked over at Sally and she looked like she was going to explode or fall asleep, but she was too happy to do either so we ate on. After the dinner, we goofed off together in the elevator and outside, all laughing and announcing over and over what a special dinner it had been. Our hosts were so kind and generous and genuine. It was pretty much a redeeming experience of Tianjin for me (outside of Jenna's good health and strength improvements). We will remain penpals with Jin and Yu and Andy and host them if they come to the states, which might really happen because Andy is in the process of applying for neuroscience research internships here and Jin wants to practice acupuncture. (Yu, as the younger brother, will stay home and take care of his parents as they age). What sort of special American dinner could we treat our friends to if they come? My ideas: Bar-B-Que, Hooters pizza and beer( Brew and View?), or Mountain Magnolia Inn. Any other thoughts?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Solstice greetings

Warm Solstice wishes and welcome Sylvia Sparrow!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Funk Resolved

So, I must finish the story of my special case of Chinese Funk. I kept not feeling better and experiencing general malaise with a side dish of intermittent low grade fever. Jenna's nurses caught wind of my condition and sent me warning through Sally that I had better get myself over to the hospital (outpatient) to get checked out for H1N1 virus. Sally lined me up a translator to meet me there and I took a cab over. The translator, who was a young woman we knew quite well and liked, was waiting for me. She ushered me past a long line of people waiting for medicine at various windows to a quiet glass window where I paid a man some money and he sent me back into a room with doctors. They did the typical- "show tongue," "show throat," take temperature, listen to lungs. Then they sent me through another hall to a hole in the wall. I was instructed to put my hand into the tiny window so that a (not visible) person on the other side could get some of my blood. At that point, I started to feel a little freaked out. I guess the translator could sense that because she tried to distract me with what she must have thought was pleasant conversation. She inquired as to whether I had seen the new Twilight movie "New Moon," and then she said " I would really like to be a vampire" as my blood was being extracted into the tube. This did not comfort me in the moment.
While we waited for the blood test results, we went back to the first window, where I paid the man more money. Then back to the doctors' room through a drafting waiting area, where some people were curled up sleeping in big blankets and others were smoking cigarettes. The translator informed me that I had inflammation inside and they were prescribing an herbal formula plus some pharmaceudicals. When I asked if I had H1N1, everyone laughed and finally someone said "No, you have Common Cold."
I paid for the meds and left. As I was leaving, the translator told me about 5 times that I should avoid visiting Jenna and that Sally should too, because she might be carrying the virus I had and since Jenna is suseptable to infection, we should protect her from exposure. Sally had no signs of sickness, and we talked it over and decided that if she showered and changed into clean clothes just before leaving and wore a mask, it would be fine for her to be with Jenna. So the next day we ignored the translators' advice and Sally went ahead in. Well before noon she was kicked out of the hospital and told not to return until I had been without fever for 2 or more days. She was told that she was carrying the virus and even if she wasn't sick, she probably would be soon. She would put Jenna at risk. We were so pissed off. What about all the nurses and PTs and docs and massage therapists and such who treat all kinds of people everyday and come around Jenna? Are they somehow safer than Sally? We had to abide though, and arranged for two English speaking young ladies from China Connection (the agency who arranged the program for us) to come be with Jenna for a good part of each day until Sally and I were allowed back. At least she would have someone to communicate with even if it wasn't her sister or her good friend.
As for the funk, the next night I finally broke a sweat and the sickness started to leave. No more fever and I regained my energy, but I kept coughing like crazy and being congested as hell. I realized after days of this that it wasn't going to clear up until I got home and breathed clean air. And that is exactly what happened. As soon as I got home it quickly cleared up and now the funk is virtually gone. As for Sally, she come down with a Common Cold about 2 days after my special diagnosis. We didn't tell the people at the hospital though, because we couldn't handle them rubbing it in. I blamed her absence on "cramps," which didn't go over so well either, but at least no one could say, "We told you so..."

Emerging from the apartment for the first time "after the funk"

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Home is the place where I inhale fresh cold air and the water appears clean. There are trees and beavers who eat them, and I buy frozen pizzas at the grocery store. I work for a company called The Dirty Hoe, and for Christmas they give each crew member her own "You Go Girl," a lavender colored rubber funnel that you can pee into, thus eliminating the need to swat or sit to do your number 1 business. Ahh, home sweet home. It's great to be back.
But people let me tell you something. I have Jet Lag something fierce. I mean it is brutal. The fatigue is so compelling I feel nauseated, and I cannot seem to formulate a thought. I am finding myself excrutiatingly hungry at the most inconvenient of hours, and sleep is disturbed by waking up... I realize I have never truly suffered Jet Lag before. I didn't get it on the way over to China but I got it now.
I have more to write about China, but I want to be at least partially remotely cohesive to do the stories justice when writing them. Maybe tomorrow. One thing I will report now is that a mysterious someone has been commenting on this blog, and when you click on his/her name it links to some weird Chinese nudy girl. What the fart? Also, international site visits (to this blog) from all around the world have increased exponentially since I went to China. What is that?
Thoughts, comments and answers are welcome here. And I will give you more stories from China soon.
With delirious affection,
ps This is a photo of the front of the restaurant where I saw all that weird stuff going on out back (cutting the meat in the alley, the cook blowing the snot into his bare hand...) It looks deceivingly normal from the front, no?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Funk

Sometimes getting your funk on is good, like for example when you are cutting a rug to "She's a Brick House" (gag me) at your uncle's wedding. And sometimes getting your funk on is just downright funky, and I don't mean in a good way. It started innocently enough about a week ago. I had been in China 2 weeks and was rockin' it. I woke up Sunday with a case of "not quite right," but I went to Beijing to meet Sally anyways. Later that night, "not quite right" progressed to an achy fever and a case of "if I move I am going to puke my insides out." Not fun. But the next morning I was pretty much back to "normal." The next day I was still "mostly ok," and took my chances going on the day trip to the mountains. Well the next morning I woke up with a case of "I have a little sore throat, but nothing major." I wore my mask, got acupuncture, drank herbal concoctions that explain the extra hair which is now on my chest, etc. That ailment lasted 2 days, until this morning when it evolved into a full blown case of the "Chinese Funk."
What I am calling the Chinese Funk is nothing more than a head cold. But supposedly it is diagnosed as a "wind cold invasion " instead of the typical American "wind heat invasion." According to one of Sally's Chinese teachers in acupuncture school, a true "wind cold" really only occurs in China. It is true that anything anyone in my family has complained of the entire time we have been here, the response in the hospital 100% of the time has been "too cold." Stomach ache?- "too cold- wear more clothes." Head ache?- "too cold, wear more clothes" Hip pain?- "maybe you should wear more clothes." And on and on. Last night walking home from the hospital, Sally and I experience the epitomy of a "cold wind." It was nothing short of horrendous. It has snowed earlier and the sky was grey, but at about 5:00 huge winds blew in from god knows where, clearing the sky, lowering the temperature, and blowing all manners of dust, leaves, dirt and Chinese funk around the streets. 5:00 traffic was insane. Bike riders and walkers had dirt blowing in their eyes, things were falling and breaking. It truly felt crazy. And this morning I felt like crap.
Crap or not, we still have to eat. And with Sally being the only one of us healthy enough to accompany Jenna in the hospital (Mom and Dad are homeward bound), it was up to me to obtain some groceries today, as we ate nasty smelling and tasting leftovers last night because we missed seeing the restaurant we were going to eat in (the windstorm had dirt in our eyes.) I decided that an early morning trip to the supermarket wouldn't be so bad- maybe I would miss the crowds. Not so, dear readers, not so. That turned out to be the largest damn supermarket crowd I have ever been a part of. All manners of Chinese people (including one dwarf and one overweight man) playing bumper carts in the produce section, digging their way through bins of fruit to select only the best; stink from the fish department, where the meat is laying out in the open and there are also racks of all manners of fresh seaweed for sale and tanks of live fish available for slaughtering now or later; meat counter ladies yelling promotional information through microphones; long chaotic lines extending in every direction to have your produce weighed; a man yelling angrily at a check out girl; the man's friend dragging him away while he still yelled; long lines for check out and a lady tried to butt in front of me in line while I hold my own; bright bright florescent lights and so many people. I had to breath through it the whole time to keep from getting dizzy on myself. Supermarkets can be so weird when one is under the influence of the Chinese Funk.
But all is not lost here... This morning I thought maybe my next book will be called Through Viral Lenses: Seeing the World while Under the Influence of Foreign Pathogens (Alternative Title: Gettin' My Funk on: Making the most of Foreign Travel with a Fever). The book will open in the Chilean Altiplano: I am under 200 layers of woolen blankets in an unheated house in an abandoned village. It is midnight and mid winter. I am alternatively puking into some sort of vessel and crying out for my mommy. My companion, SJ-S is alternatively trying to snuggle with me and throwing my puke from the vessel out the front door. I would like to puke under the open sky, but because of "la puna," my severe altitude sickness, I do not have enough air to make the trip from the bed to the door.
Or maybe the first scene will be in a Mc Donald's in Krefeld, Germany with a near-crisis tampon situation.
Either way, the book will also cover hallucinating with food poisoning in Peru and Day of the Dead in Mexico while under the influence of the fever of a flu contracted from a Mayan lady who beat me with a bundle of herbs in a "temascali" (sweat lodge of sorts) ceremony. I might throw in a piece about a Guatemalan fever and maybe even some domestic tales, like having delirious food poisoning at my grandfather's funeral in Dayton from eating that last minute organic peanut butter sandwich on the way to the airport (damn that organic peanut butter...) Each anticdote will draw on highlights from the last to tie the stories together. I will end with shopping for produce with the Chinese Funk, which I most likely picked up from Dad or Mom or Jenna or maybe it was someone like that cook in the alley that our apartment overlooks. He walked out the back door of the kitchen the other day, blew his nose into his bare hand and then flicked gobs and gobs of visible snot off his hand and into the street. Then he wiped his nose many times with the backs of both hands, and then he stepped back into the kitchen for more cooking (minus the assumed handwashing.)
I knew there was a reason I like to live tucked back in the NC hills where the humans are few and far between and the supermarket is not crowded first thing in the morning (or ever). I love it back home. Where are my red shoes???

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What tiny slice of this place fits into my frame of reference?

Today Sally and I paid the big bucks to hire a driver and an English speaking guide to take us out of the city to a place where the Great Wall goes through the mountains and then to another mountain called Panshan. Through the windows of the backseat of the shiny black 4 door sedan, we witnessed the hazy, foggy concrete and metal city of 12 million fade into blue sky, sunshine and a mountainous terrain of rock and dry vegetation. The farms of green wheat sprouting in the valleys watered my parched spirit with serenity and offered a brilliant constrast to the dusty mountains rising in all directions. Villagers dried sliced hawthorn berries and ears of corn by the bushel on drying racks on the sides of the road and on rooftops. We chit-chatted with "Susan," our 23 year old guide, about matters of culture and history, finding her English to be nearly impeccable (aside from the mysterious misuse of male and female pronouns, which seems to be a particular Chinese quirk.) Our conversations included many important topics, such as : homosexuality (accepted within the younger generation), modern day concubines (not uncommon among the elite and government officials), the one child law (they tie the woman's tubes afterwards), and the government's protection of ethnic minorities (they are allowed more than one child). Of course, Susan's perspective is but one of over a billion, but what else do we have to go on for making any sense of this nation in our little American heads, other than our first impressions?

The sunshine, mountains and fresh air gave me the psychic space to both laugh freely and to think (an ordinary, everyday task which seems to come only with strained effort amidst the respiration of this city, 12 million souls moving their way through their world, collectively inhaling and exhaling a grey, coal powered breath of smog and strangeness). My mind wandered to the phenomenon of "first impressions." When a place is entirely new and foreign, what ability does my mind have to perceive the place the eyes are seeing, the nose is smelling, the ears are hearing and, perhaps most importantly, the pulse the soul is sensing? How can my mind possibly register any part of this place other than the parts that are perceived as familiar? I go back and read my very first impressions of China, and what I wrote about was the way I felt I could relate to the movement of people through space here and to the perceived demeanor of the people. Other first impressions are most certainly comprised of a series of comparisons of my perceptions of this place to what I know of the place that is my home. My standards for comprehension are entirely based upon what I know. What tiny slice of this place fits into my frame of reference?

That led me to ponder one of my big life quests: What does it take to know a place? Maybe to know a place requires remaining in that place long enough that I merge with the place. That the pulse of the my life attunes itself to the pulse of the place- its seasons, it schedules, its music, its gods, its demons, the waxing and waning of its life forms- its very breath. And living with this pulse with continually renewed awakeness. I hope I can do that in my home. I surrender hope of doing it anywhere else.

(Jesus, I should start a seminar at Greenlife Community Center. It could be called: "The Soul's Knowing of Place: Continuous Renewal of Awakeness." It could be a sliding scale cost of $135-$480 for a half day, and maybe it could be facilitated by someone named Shanti Imari Flying Eagle Watersong...)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Monday morning, Nov 30

Monday morning, Nov 30 in China means Sunday night November 29 at home. I am recovering from either a case of food poisoning or a 24 hour stomach bug. It wasn't too bad, but did include a fever and lots of discomfort. Soooo, ole Dane is home alone at the "gongyu" (apartment) today, keeping her own company. Sally got here last night, which is great. Momma and Poppa Nagle and sick Dana and Sally had a funny night in this small apartment, with various combinations of people being up and down all night and conversing for various reasons. I was in the weird world of fever, Sally was in the weird world of jet lag, and who knows what weird world the parents were in. Probably the weird world be of being super excited for another English speaking person to talk to. Fresh blood.
After I write for this blog I will probably entertain myself by sitting in the back window and watching restaurant
Sally and I are going to try to hire a driver to take us to a place called Shanhaiguan pass. It is the place where the Great Wall goes into the sea, and it's about 3 hours north of here. It will be nice to get out of Tianjin, which is very industrial and grey and ugly. I hate to call the home of 11 million people ugly, but it just is. Lots of days there is a haze of smog or fog or a combination of the 2 so thick it makes me feel like I am half awake all day. You can't see very far and the sun weirdly filters through (if it filters through at all). I am surprised Mom and Jenna are not suffering vitamin D deficiency for being here 3 months.
I am including photos of the city. I like a blur and foggy aspects of some of the photos, because that is sort of how it is here for me- foggy and blurry- the days smush into each other in a cold bizarre haze. The street shots are of the walk from the apartment to the hospital. The big pink building at the end of one of the photos is the hospital. It is actually called the First Teaching Hospital Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine International Medical Rehabilitation Mansion. I kid you not. I am also including a picture of the hospital at night, with the name all lit up in red. Did I already mention that they treat 4000 outpatients a day and there are 1000 inpatient sick beds? More people cram into the elevators there than I would have to a party...
The picture of the hazy skyline is the view from Jenna's room.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fo-Pas and such

Today I was in the elevator at the hospital and I tried to say "12" to the elevator attendent in Chinese, and everyone in there (I mean everyone and the elevators are crowded) looked at me and repeated what I said and cracked up. Later I was trying to say "bye bye" to Jenna's helper Lulu and I accidentally said "dumpling." Lulu and I spend our down time in the room teaching each other words such as "apartment" and "God bless you" and "carrot."
Today was Sunday, Jenna's day off, and Jenna and I came over to the apartment for the afternoon so that she could get the hell out of the hospital room. (The doctor almost didn't let us because "many people on the outside have H1N1".) We sat in the "sun room" and watched some people in the alley down below cut up some bloody meat in a plastic garbage bag down on the nasty ground and then put it in a big vat to take in the back of the restaurant that is there to cook.
Last night I was looking out the window and I swear I saw a ferret run through the parking lot. I guess it could have been a cat. Also, dump trucks worked late into the night delivering loads of asphalt fixins to the road next to the apartment. And there is a little girl directly upstairs who alternates running crazily through the apartment, playing the piano very badly and having temper tantrums.

Friday, November 20, 2009

My Chinese treatments

We are at the First Teaching Hospital of Tianjin, which is the biggest and most famous Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital in China. It is a teaching hospital, where doctors receive their training. Every morning, the doctor, who looks like a combination of Dr. Spock and the antagonist Jade Fox from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, comes in the room with about 8 trainees. They are wearing masks. We (whoever of the Nagle family is wanting a treatment) are expected to be lying on the beds and ready when they come in promptly at 9:00. First the doctor needles Jenna all over her head, face, ears, and legs. Then she pulls down half of my pants to needle me in the butt, hip and low back (because I am getting treated for what has become chronic hip pain). My needles stay in 10 minutes, and Jenna's stay in 20 minutes. Once my needles are removed they haul in this device called a "Computer Fumigate", which I lie down on and put my butt in a large basin that has small holes in the bottom. Underneath that basin is a pot of steaming herbs. My butt and hip are steamed from this device for 30 minutes. After that a nurse comes in for "cupping." This is where many glass cups are suctioned onto the body using a heat vacuum (from a small flame). Jenna gets 12 cups over her lungs for 5 minutes, and then I get 8 or so cups over my butt and hip and low back. This leaves many round bruises from the suction. The cupping improves circulation and such. After that, the nurse brings in a hot herbal compress wrapped in a towel that is placed on my hip for 20-30 minutes. Then the nurse pulls down half of my pants again and rubs some black salve all over my hip and puts a heat lamp over it for 20 minutes. Then for the rest of the day I take herbal pills and drink nasty bitter hot herbal tea from a plastic bag. It is quite intensive. Jenna gets acupuncture again in the afternoon and also tui-na massage. She also gets physical therapy (called "functional exercises" in China) and drinks herbal drinks and such. Sometimes a translator comes in and says things like (to my Mother) "The doctor says you elder daughter probably has pain because your elder daughter does much hard labor." Or (to my mother) "The doctor says perhaps you have stomach pain because perhaps you should wear more clothing." The doctors, physical therapist and massage therapist all answer cell phone calls while treating the patient. The physical therapy has been great for Jenna, but maybe more on that in another post.

Today my hip is starting to hurt less and last night I did not wake up from pain at all (first time in months). In fact I slept so hard Mom had to kick the bed to wake me up after 10 hours. Either my hip was better or I was having some sort of delayed jet lag...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dear Readers: (from China)

Dear Readers,
I am happy to report to you that I am safe and sound in China. Tianjin to be exact. I am also happy to report that Jenna, my mei mei (little sister), is doing well, gaining weight and improving her balance and working really hard on her health program here. I am less than happy to report that China does not grant access to my blog, which means I cannot update it from here. Don’t you worry, though. I have connections in USA who will transcribe tidbits onto the blog for me so that you, Dear Readers, can be “in the know” (or “in the no” however you want to look at it…)
First of all let me tell you that it is really cold and crowded and dirty here. There are frozen phlem balls and other such nasties all over the streets. There are people and cars and bikes everywhere, a constant flow of movement of humans. It is very different than the atmosphere I prefer. But having said that, let me notify you that my first impression of the people here and the way they move through their world has been surprisingly pleasant. They seem practical and industrious, traditional yet curious, modest but confident, non aggressive yet assertive. They seem like a paradoxical and complex bunch. These are just first impressions.

Let me provide you with 2 lists:
First, Things in China that Delight Me:
*Steamed Dumplings
*Crimped Hair-dos
*Older women doing some sort of dance routine in a courtyard early in the morning with red fans when it is 20 F degrees
*The commonplace use of medicinal herbs everywhere and seemingly by everyone
* Weird shit that’s in fashion like the belt buckle in photo
* Quail eggs
* Jenna’s caregiver Lulu who stands in the window and gazes out over the city and sings to herself very beautifully and quietly

Things in China that do not Delight Me:
•Being a foreigner who does not understand jack for shit
•Piles of miniature dog shit
•Having a doctor pull down my pants in front of a bunch of interns to stick
Acupuncture needles in my hip (ass showing to all)
•Concrete jungle

Those are a couple of little listy-poos for you. Other than that I am just staying busy being with Jenna, getting treatments myself, walking to and from the hospital, trying to learn some Chinese, manhandling family dynamics, etc. Thanks for checking on me and keep checking. If this post works I will try to do more through USA friends.
Love, Dana

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Big Day #1

I like to buy beautiful, serene, and remotely located land from my good friends, and then eat chocolate truffles and drink toddies out of lovely china. Then a few days later, I like to go to China, to a crowded and dirty city that is, pretty much, the polar opposite of the land I just purchased. But that's just me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cornflower Blue Mix, in some detail

Rosemoon (see Moonmeadow Farm blog link) recently did a blog post which was a sort of an ode to the color blue. I found out she had never heard the Kate Wolf song Cornflower Blue, so I decided to make her a mix cd that starts with Cornflower Blue and then contains a set list of songs that I feel compliment it. Here are the songs I selected and maybe a little something about each one:

1) *Cornflower Blue by Kate Wolf: This song is not only the most beautiful musical ode to a color that I have ever heard, it is also the sweetest and most sentimental of love songs. Kate Wolf takes her sweet time in the delivery of this song, which makes the quality of sweetness top notch.

2) *Southern Moon by the Louvin Brothers: This ode to the South, the moon and old times, delivered in the classic harmonies of Charlie and Ira Louvin, does country music justice, big time.

3) Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show: This song is perfect for driving or dancing around the kitchen. It is incidentally also about coming home South.

4)*In the Great Beyond by the Primitive Quartet: sweet Western North Carolina gospel about life after death (in Heaven of course)

5)*Trouble in Mind by Roscoe Holcomb: This man lived and sang and played banjo in Kentucky. His voice is excrutiatingly high- very exhilirating

6)*Pale Moon by Uncle Earl: This song is a dear waltz by an old time girl band. The lovely fiddle is played by my friend Rayna Gellert.

7) You are My Flower by Willie Nelson ( a Carter Family song)

8) *We Will Pray by Eliza Lynn: a waltzy, lullaby-like song that is so comforting you might cry

9) *Rush of the Fall by Eliza Lynn: so sad, so beautiful; another waltz

10) Rambling Boy by the Del McCoury Band (a Carter Family song)

11) I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes by the Carter Family: call me crazy, but I think Carter Family love songs are kind of creepy, but in a way I like...

12) My Rose of Old Kentucky by Bill Monroe: Songs about roses are quality. Period.

13) Mother Pray by Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama: This is an a capella rendition of an old spiritual that I can listen to over and over.

14)*What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul by the Monroe Brothers: Emily Staton put this song on a cd for me and when it came on the harmonies almost made me gasp. I listened to the song over and over.

15) Van Lear Rose by Loretta Lynn

16) Love is a Rose by Linda Ronstadt: I'm partial to rose songs, obviously.

17) *If the Devil Wrote a Honky Tonk Song by Lance Mills: I heard Lance Mills play (accompanied by Will Straughan) at Trail Fest this year in Hot Springs. The music was so beautiful I bought a cd. I have practically worn that thing out over the last 6 months. This song is a catchy and clever blue grass tune about good old fashined sinning.

18) Dear Someone by Gillian Welch: I admit this song is sort of cheezy. But it is a waltz and it is sweet and lullaby-ish and I like it pretty well.

19) Gold Watch and Chain by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (A Carter Family song): "Oh the white rose that blooms in the garden, it grows with the love of my heart. It broke through on the day that I met you. It will die on the day that we part." Very nice arrangement of this song, including what sounds to me like an accordian...

20) *Telluride by Kate Wolf: This, ladies and gentlemen, is my idea of a perfect song. It has everything a song should: it tells a story, it has sentimentality at an almost unbearable level, it conveys a strong sense of place, it has real characters, it has a lovely instrumental section, and the harmonies are perfect. Once again, Kate took her time delivering this song, and even so, it always ends too soon. Because it is a perfect song.

* These are songs/artists that I highly recommend listening to if you haven't before. Of course, I think you should check out everything on this list, but particularly the marked ones.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A cheesy story

This is a little story I have been meaning to tell you for about a week and a half. Here's how it goes:
About a week and a half ago I was at work with the Dirty Hoe, which, for those of you who don't know, is a gardening and landscaping company. We were working out in Brevard on a site and got rained out about hafway through the day. On the way home, Heidi (company co-owner) spotted an employee of a certain store (which will remain anonymous) "chucking" multiple boxes into its dumpster, which is visible from the road. She said, "Call Paul and tell him about this!" Paul is the Dirty Hoe resident dumpster diver.
I called Paul and informed him of what we had witnessed. He went down there to check the scene, and about a half hour later he showed up at the house (which is also serves as the Dirty Hoe Central Control Panel) with cases and cases of mozarella cheese and a big ole honkin wheel of Morbier's Charles Arnaud semi-soft cheese (aged over 60 days). He deposited the goods and then went back for a second round.
While he ws gone, we decided we would cut into the wheel and see what it was all about. Donna (other company owner) obtained the finest wooden cutting board and the sharpest, shiniest kitchen knife. She very deliberately cleared the counter and positioned the wheel on the board. Before she cut the cheese, she considered long and hard what was the best way to make the first cut. I mean she was handling that cheese like it was the $300 piece of fine cuisine that it was, not like it was something that was scored for free at the local dumpster. She cut the wheel slowly and respectfully, and when she had cut off the first piece, we passed it around and smelled it and oohed and ahhed like people who were very very impressed and excited. Because we were. Heidi's mom and her friend were in town from Austria, and we all know those Austrians really like them a good snack. Someone had the good idea to cut up some pears to go with the cheese, and we may have even pulled ut some specialty schnapps, I can't recall. But I do recall that there was so much delight taken in snacking on this cheese that you could never imagine. And the way Donna handled it like a professional was just classic Donna. Crucial. They did some research later and found out that this particular cheese is made by a dairy cooperative somewhere way up in the Alps on the France Switzerland border. The farmers take their cows up to high altitudes to graze during the summer season, and the quality of the milk changes dramatically due to the difference in plant materials. The quantity of milk the cows give reduces, but it becomes richer and higher in a certain bacteria that aids the making of this cheese. They do not add extra cultures, and protect layers of fermenting cream with a layer of ash, which creates a beautiful charcoal colored stripe in the center of the cheese. It was lovey to behold and rich and gamey and delightful to the taste.
When Paul came back and all the mozarella was cleaned and sorted through and any marginal cheese was discarded, we ended up with the entire wheel of Morbier's Charles Arnaud and about 50 pounds of mozarella! Get it Paul.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Galax, VA: the next frontier (An Ode)

Has there ever been an ode to Galax, Virginia?
My friend Sara F. and her family moved there from Charlotte something like 2 years ago to get out of the city and try their hand at farming. Sara and I have been friends since high school. On time we rode bikes downtown and walked right into the First Union sky scraper where my dad was working. We took the elevator to the 12th floor and found Dad giving a presentation to about a dozen or more straight backs in a conference room that had all glass windows around it. We knocked on the big window and waved and smiled real big at my dad. I think he might have been embarrassed. Maybe. We were sweaty and Sara had something like purple hair and some sort of facial piercing at the time. When we got back outside her bike had been stolen. One of those things, I guess. Anyways, she is back to brown hair and her regular (gorgeous) face now, and she is a vegetable (and future apple) farmer in Galax.

When they moved to Galax I thought, gee, how much more po-dunk could you get? I mean, it sounded really po-dunk to me. Not that I mind po-dunk, because I really rather like it. I just didn't know what brand of po-dunk Galax was.
Well, let me tell you, Readers. Galax is the good brand of po-dunk. The kind where a typical errand may include a trip to "The Bake Shoppe," a cake making supply store (very good, and thorough...) which doubles as a stringed instrument rental shoppe, which also doubles as a gospel and country music cd store. It was the best shoppe I have ever been in. I went there with Sara, who went there to rent a banjo for her son, who was starting lessons. I think the lessons had something to do with the Heritage Center (I hope I am getting these details right), which is my other favorite thing about Galax. The Heritage Center is this fantastic place located right by the Blue Ridge Parkway in Galax. They specialize in Appalachian heritage and cultural preservation. Just about every day of the week, they have live old time music in the "breezeway" for free! It goes on pretty much all day. Old people were there in rocking chairs to listen to the music. It was so great. There is also a lovely walking trail that meanders through the woods and the pastures around the center. Very very fine.
My other favorite thing about Galax is Sara and her family. They are very much fun and a handsome clan to boot. Her boys are 8 and 6 and pretty much the coolest kids on the block. Her husband likes hockey and foul humor and could probably successfully rock a serious mullet if he ever chose to do that. He can also custom make the hell out of some cabinets. And Sara is funny, generous with her candid honesty and viciously loyal to her clan. You always know where you stand with Sara, which is so refreshing here in the South. She assembled quite a tailgate market scene in Charlotte and then moved to the next farmers' market frontier: Galax. They have done an enormous amount of work on their 10(?) acre farm, and their vision for their place is inspirational to me. Git it Sara. I'm proud of you and your Bake Shoppe frequenting self... And I am an official fan of Galax (pronounced Gay-Lax).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Emily and Michael went to the beach

Emily and Michael went to the beach. While they were there, they utilized proper eye protection techniques while they sight-saw a stampede of wild majestic horses.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mama, there's a girl in the paw paw patch

As some of you may know, I have been "frequenting" a certain "paw paw patch" for the past 2 fall seasons. A certain retired mail carrier, a gentlemen by the name of "EB" (who bares an uncanny resemblence to Robert Duvall in The Apostle I just discovered thanks to the Hot Springs library movie collection), gave me unlimited access to his paw paw trees. Well, actually, they used to be his paw paw trees, but he recently lost the property in a divorce, but that's just details... Anyways, I have been collecting pounds and pounds of paw paws weekly for the past few weeks and enjoying the H-E-Double-Hockey-Stick out of them. I've been giving them away freely, which is buckets of full, and I have been eating them freely, which is also buckets of fun. My favorite so far is to peel and de-seed 2 paw paws and blend them into a smoothie with some raw milk. Tonight I am baking chocolate chip paw paw bread. I just substituted paw paws for bananas in a banana bread recipe and added chocolate chips. (And for that special last minute touch I sprinkled extra brown sugar and some cinnamon over the top of the loaf before baking...)
Last week while picking paw paws I met two ladies, residents of Dry Branch Road where the trees are, and we stood around talking paw paws and Dry Branch history. As it turns out, one of the ladies, Sophrania, had a granny who grew up in the house where the paw paws are. It was fun standing around talking. The other lady told me that when I pick paw paws down there, everyone on the road watches. Figures. She told me that her son or newphew or some relation like that came in the trailer and said something like "Mama, there's a girl down there in them trees." She told him it was OK because I was a friend of "EB". She told me if he ever looks at me funny to just smile and wave. That's a good strategy.

For those who do not know, paw paws are a native fruit tree to the Appalachian mountains. They grow in the woods, especially by rivers. The fruits are mango-ish shaped and taste like something of a mix of banana and mango and custard. They are good as hell and nutritious to boot.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

One Crazy-Ass Type-A Mommy Blogger

Some things never change. And some things change a lot.
Her name is Kerry Ferguson, but I will forever think of her as Kerry Mulvaney. Meg and I met her in the first grade in 1982 and watched with pity as her Mom dragged her down the hall and into Ms. Carter's classroom as she wailed and screamed and cried and clung for dear life. That child did NOT want to go to school in the morning and EVERYONE heard about it. Meg and I felt sorry for her, I guess, and somehow we all ended up friends pretty quick. One thing that has not changed: Kerry is still very expressive and maybe a tiny bit dramatic. One thing that has changed: Kerry is OK walking into a classroom without her mother (she is a college professor now).

Over the years, Kerry and Meg and I grew up together, being our weird selves and collecting all sorts of weird memories, such as chair dances for traffic in the middle of Queens Road West, Andreas Bolanos following Kerry home from school in 2nd grade, The Meg and Kerry Show, the Small and Brown club (don't even comment on that one), trips to BB Jamz where we actually saw Andreas Bolanos as a White Night dancing for himself in a studio mirror (and we almost got the shit kicked out of us for mocking all the White Nights' dancing), Meg doing the bloody finger in a box trick at Kerry's school's football games, raps about Phil Kornhauser, and the list goes on. One time when we were young, the three of us tried out at the Charlotte Children's Theater to be in the play Peter Pan. Kerry and Meg were both cast. I was not.
One thing that has not changed: Kerry and Meg are both still officially artists (in fact Kerry is both a writer of plays and a director of them) and I am officially not. One thing that has changed: We don't see Andreas Bolanos anywhere anymore (sadly).

Last weekend Kerry was in town for a Type A Mommy Blogger conference. One thing that has not changed: Kerry is a Type A personality. One thing that has changed: Kerry is a mommy. We got together twice during her weekend in town and one thing that is very major that has not changed is that Kerry is a most dynamic story teller and dancer at a party. Please notice her captivating expressions as she tells me a story about a Mr. Willie Williams III, who was a young black man from New Orleans back in 1988 when his car broke down in front of the Mulvaney's house in Charlotte.

The story is that he knocked on the the Mulvaney's door to get some help. Well Kerry's dad, Mr. Mulvaney (you'd have to know him to get the full effect) invited Willie Williams III in, sat him down, gave him advice and money and told him to call. This was the beginning of what would be be a life long relationship between two unlikely men (Mr. Mulvaney seems to specialize in unlikely relationships, come to think of it.) The latest news in that friendship is that, 2 years after Willie Williams III successfully started a golf club for disadvantaged youth in Houston (inspired by Mr. Mulvaney's love of golf), Willie has been selected as a player on the next season of "The Biggest Loser," a reality show about weight loss. He is going to dedicate his weight loss on the show to his angel and mentor, Mr. Michael Mulvaney.
One thing that has not changed: interesting and bizarre things happen to the Mulvaney's. One thing that has changed: we are old enough to have the life perspective to realize just HOW interesting and bizarre some of these things are.

Saturday night Kerry and I went to the roller derby and then she talked me into going to an art party at the Phil Mechanic building in West Asheville by the river. A poetry teacher of hers was a host of the event. I said I was only staying a half hour. Yeah, right. Not if Kerry's in there telling some stranger to call her Chauncey after my childhood pet, a hermaphrodite schnauzer, and the stranger proceeds to casually refer to her as "Chaunce" for the rest of the night. And when she is in there bustin it on that dude's theramone with her little striped hoody and shit eating grin.

And then she's bustin some old school moves on the dance floor and playing with her shadow and laughing her head off and not giving a shit. Some things really never change. And then again some things do, because at the end of the weekend Kerry went home to her husband and children in Spartanburg to return to her role as one bad ass type-A mommy (who blogs something fierce- but sorry, her blog is private members only...). I love her. And that will never change.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The sun shone for our equinox yesterday, thanks to all the forces that be. BIG thanks. I got up at daybreak and stepped outside. To my surprise I heard a loud roar which was nothing other than the very largely swollen French Broad River. I decided it was a good equinox sunrise pilgrimage to go check it out so off I walked, stopping only at L&K's convenience stop parking lot to say hey to a buddy who was sitting in his truck there, and stopping again at my favorite horse chestnut tree to gather a few nuts for the equinox. The river was gorgeous at 11 feet, brown and rushing.

That much water is scary and exhilarating. I heard on the radio that the river was at 21 feet in some more southern counties!

Later I had a nice drive up to Bluff to pick up some mums and pansies from a certain really beautiful nursery up there.

On the way back down the mountain I passed a caravan of mule and horse drawn covered wagons. There were 6 or 8 of them. I asked a lady where they were going and she said, "We don't know."

They appeared to be on a leisure tour.
The day was sunny and lovely. Later I got to pick up EL, whose car broke down in Newport on the way to Nashville. We had a nice and chill time watching some "Breakin' 2" and then some Northern Exposure.