Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Book-ish Christmas

Reading with Dennis

Quite a few books were given at our house this Christmas. I received my own little stack of books, and I'm looking forward to reading and studying them. They include a new encyclopedia of tree information, three books of Great Plains and Kentucky history, and a volume of Willa Cather with several stories I haven't read before.

I worked last weekend, so I haven't had a chance yet to read more than a few pages in any of my books. However, Dennis has dived into his new book about the history of the Natchez Trace and has been sharing all the best parts with me and providing commentary. By the time he finishes a book, I always feel I'm well-educated on its topic.

Today, I heard all about the Horrible Harpes. They were brothers -- a pair of thieves and cruel serial murderers who operated in western Tennessee and Kentucky in the late 1790s. They worked the Natchez Trace at one point in their career of evildoing.

Dennis is not reading the books that he told me he really wanted for Christmas -- the brand new books, reviewed in his history magazines, that I had to order from university presses. No, he's reading the used book that I picked up at a thrift shop because I thought he'd like it. It certainly proves that I know his kind of book when I see one.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

A windy Christmas Eve

The wind is ripping around the corners of our house and roaring through the trees tonight. We have a wind advisory, but our precipitation is going to be liquid, not frozen. We are outside the path of the big winter storm that is moving across the central United States.

My co-worker is on my mind tonight. She and her family are headed home for Christmas. They're in a car, somewhere between here and Texas. Their route included a stop in western Oklahoma to pick up her son who lives with his dad. The weather forecast out there includes a blizzard warning. When the roads are normal, their drive home takes 15 hours. I hope they are able to make the trip safely tonight.

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It's been a joy this Christmas to have a young friend back in Christian County for a visit. D. J. and our son Isaac went through elementary school and middle school, side by side. In fact, Keely refers to D.J. as her "other little brother."  D.J. now lives on the West Coast with his dad, but his mom still lives here.

We've been worried about D.J. because he learned about a year ago that he has leukemia. He has been taking chemotherapy, and he's doing very well. Please pray for him.

Update, December 5, 2012: 
I am so happy to add this note. In September of this year, D.J. was declared 100% cancer free!  This brings tears of joy to my eyes. 

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In 2006, I wrote about some Christmas memories in a series I titled, "Ghosts of Christmas Past." I hope you'll enjoy reading (or re-reading) these articles.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Growing Up Fast

All my children

A few days ago, a young man came through my checkout line at work. As I began ringing up his purchases, I realized I knew him. I hadn't seen Adam (not his real name) for at least five years. He was my daughter's schoolmate, a good student and an athlete.

I visited with him for a few minutes. He was wearing the uniform of a plant in Hopkinsville's industrial park. "You're at -----," I commented. "Yes, and I'm glad to be working!" he exclaimed. The fervor in his voice suggested a personal experience with unemployment.

Adam did not finish high school. He and his girlfriend married when they learned that she was pregnant. Adam dropped out of school and got a job. I used to see him pumping gas at one of the full-service stations in Hopkinsville.

Not long after their baby was born, his wife became pregnant again. I last saw his children when they were chubby toddlers. I'm sure they are in school by now.

Adam is probably 25 years old. His eyes are clear and honest, and he has a smile in his voice as he speaks of his family. I'm proud of him for "manning up" to his responsibilities.

I hope his job stays stable. I hope he's had a chance to get his G.E.D. I hope he can learn some skills on the job that will improve his qualifications. He's had a rough start, but he has ability and potential and many years of life ahead of him.

Thoughts cannot always be spoken. "Have a good Christmas, Adam," I said. "It's great to see you! Take care of yourself."

"I will," he promised.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

13 Links to Enjoy

A "Thursday Thirteen" of all sorts

Most of these links were sent by friends and readers, and the remainder came from my own web expeditions.

 1. Download and install free software easily at the Ninite Installer website.

 2. Daily Sodoku -- Just one of many Brainbashers at this site

 3. Easy Bib -- If you remember typing footnotes and bibliography the old-fashioned way, this site will make you cry, "Unfair!"

 4. Slide show of cowboy and western paintings. If you enjoy rural scenery and images of ranch life, you'll also like these photos of the American Midwest

 5. How to make a folded German bell ornament -- for your spare time between now and Christmas

 6. Whooping Crane Reintroduction website with Operation Migration Crane Cam

 7. Print a calendar for 2010.

 8. A great set of corner shelves, cut from a single sheet of plywood

9. Eagle vs. fox  -- An astonishing encounter over a carcass (verified by Snopes)

10. Views of San Francisco Bay from a Zeppelin at 1000 feet -- very cool

11. "Foods That Heal" -- but don't stop your prescriptions!

12. "Guess Your Number" game -- How do these things work so well?!

13. Independence Day quiz -- Can you answer 20 questions once used on the citizenship test?

Thanks to all who have sent interesting links to share!

There's usually a large number of Thursday 13 posts listed at the Thursday 13 website.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Decking the Halls in Christian County

A sure sign of Christmas

Are there houses you watch at Christmas, to see if their traditional decorations will be on display again? The house in the photo above is such a place for me. I pass it frequently; it's along my usual route to Hopkinsville.

I've never met the people who live there. I think their name is Oatts, and I think they own the nice farmland that surrounds the house. But these ideas of mine aren't verified facts; they are merely my deductions from reading the local newspaper, hearing people talk, and so on.

Every Christmas for the past decade or so, a big John Deere tractor has been parked in the front yard of this house. Santa is in the driver's seat, and a Christmas tree and gift-wrapped boxes are lifted high in the loader bucket. It's fun to see this scene in the daytime, and it's even cooler to see it at night.

The Christmas tree is always a red-cedar. Red-cedars grow abundantly around here. I've always imagined that sometime each year, they spot a red-cedar on their farm that is just the right size and shape to be the next uplifted Christmas tree.

When I saw their Christmas tractor for the first time this year, I called Keely. "All's well in Christian County," I told her. "The tractor with the Christmas tree is in its rightful place." She knew exactly what I meant.

I had a nice e-mail today from Rose Tooley-Oatts. She is the wife of Malcolm Oatts, and they live in the house in the photo above. Their farm is called the "Four Mile Farm".

Miss Rose said that they have been doing their Christmas tractor since 1993. Sometimes they talk about scaling back on their outdoor decorations, but they hear so many nice comments every year that it's hard to quit.

When they first started decorating the tractor, the packages under the uplifted Christmas tree were cardboard boxes. They filled the boxes with rocks (to keep the wind from blowing them away), wrapped them with white butcher paper (for moisture resistance), and tied them with big red ribbons. Eventually, Miss Rose happened to find some lighted Christmas boxes, intended for outdoor display, to put under the tree.

Red-cedars have been harder to find around the farm in recent years, so they now use an artificial tree. (My eyes expected to see a red-cedar -- and saw one!)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Joys of Cathood

Curling up with a good book

Skittles has a good idea about how to spend a cold winter day. I would like to do just that (take a nap), but I will be making Christmas candy. I'm getting Grandma Netz's annual box of homemade sweets ready to ship.

So far, I've only made chocolate covered peanuts. Today, I hope to make cherry bonbons and some peanut butter and chocolate fudge. Tomorrow, I hope to dip some pretzels and send the box. Sometime after that, I will clean up the chocolate dribbles and splashes in the kitchen.

Related candy posts:
Conflicted about Christmas Candy
Homemade Christmas Candy
Ghosts of Christmas Past 3

Related cat posts:
The Life of Skittles
Strolls with Skittles
Safe and Secure From All Alarms

Monday, December 07, 2009

Yarn Store Adventure

Enchanted Yarn & Fiber in Russellville, KY

Saturday, I went over to Russellville (KY) with Keely, Taurus, and Isaac. It's only about 35 miles from here, but we don't go there very often. Keely was on a mission to find a yarn store she had heard about (Enchanted Yarn & Fiber), and the rest of us went along for the fresh air and change in scenery.

Keely started crocheting when she was seven years old. I showed her how to do a chain stitch. She mastered that quickly, so I showed her how to single crochet. From there, she branched out. I don't know how many scarves, hats, afghans, and baby blankets she has made since then, and I'll bet she doesn't either.

Several of the ladies at Keely's workplace are knitters, and Keely has learned to knit since she started working there. She started with socks, moved on to hats and gloves, and she's now working on a fancy, lacy, alpaca shawl that she is going to wear on her wedding day.

All this history is background to an understatement: Keely really likes knitting and crocheting and yarn. She was so happy to wander around the yarn shop and choose a skein of nice yarn for a future project. (Knitters and crocheters have stashes of yarn just like quilters have stashes of fabric.)

The proprietor of the shop said that she is planning to increase the "specialty yarns" she carries. I guess those would be yarns that are harder to find. I did see many beautiful and unusual yarns. I saw on several labels that the yarn was made of or contained silk, and one group of yarn was made of sugar cane.

I think that "fiber" refers to a raw material, and it becomes "yarn" after it's spun. In the fiber category, I saw some braids of dyed wool, and some bags of silk thread that had been ravelled from silk fabric. The instructions said that the silk threads could be spun to make silk yarn, or they could be spun with other fibers to achieve special effects.

When we were at the Fort Massac encampment earlier this fall, we saw some Leicester sheep, so I was interested to see this Leicester wool for sale. Leicester is said to be a favorite wool of hand-spinners because it has long fibers. (And, of course, Keely would like to learn to spin.)

I have a feeling that if I keep hanging around with my daughter, I'll be visiting this shop again. (And again and again.) I may have to revive my crocheting skills.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Backyard Wildlife

Highlight of my day so far

Driving into our yard a few minutes ago, I startled some birds out of the apple trees and off the ground under it. I saw a mourning dove, two blue jays, a cardinal, a red-bellied woodpecker, and a brown thrasher. I enjoy seeing the various birds that live in and pass through our yard. That's one of the nice things about living in the country.

I've noticed that we seem to have a large population of rabbits this year. Every time I drive into the yard at night, the headlights of my car freak out several of them. I think the big piles of brush that still remain from last year's ice storm have provided extra habitat, and the wet summer gave them plenty to eat.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Christian County Wines and Whiskeys

Local winery and distillery

The last time I had an alcoholic drink was about 7 years ago, and it was the first drink I'd had in a long while. I'm not a drinker at all. However, I visited a liquor store with Keely, just before Thanksgiving. She wanted a bottle of white wine for cooking her turkey.

It was interesting to see some Bravard wines on the liquor store shelves. We know Jim and Janet Bravard, the owners and operators of the Bravard Winery. They live on a farm just off Highway 800 in northeastern Christian County (KY).

Around 20 years ago, we learned that my husband's employer (AAFES) was sending us to Fort Campbell, KY.  We were in Berlin at that time, and one of my husband's co-workers said, "You should look up my sister at Hopkinsville, when you get there." The sister turned out to be Janet Bravard. Jim was selling real estate at that time, and he helped us buy our house. They were very kind to us as newcomers, and their kids and our kids have been friendly ever since.

The Bravards have worked hard on their winery, improving their facilities little by little, planting more varieties of grapes, and producing more wines. Please note the name on the bottle on the right. If I were going to buy a bottle of wine, that would definitely be my choice!

Christian County now has a whiskey distillery, too. It opened for business a few weeks ago. It's located on a former Amish farm on Barker Mill Road, just east of St. Elmo in southeastern Christian County. The owner is Paul Tomaszewski, and his wife's name is Merry Beth Roland. (Is it a coincidence that the distillery is named MB Roland? I doubt it.)

I read in the Kentucky New Era* that MB Roland is distilling White Dog from white corn and Black Dog from white corn that has been dark fired in a tobacco barn. The MB Roland website mentions another whiskey, True Kentucky Shine, that is made with a traditional moonshine recipe and methods.  The website also says that they've made a couple of rums. These are the first locally-produced hard liquors in around a century, according to our county historian, William Turner -- not counting moonshine, of course.

There is very little chance that I will ever taste the White Dog, the Black Dog, the Shine, or the rums. I'm not curious about their flavors. I decided a long time ago that I don't like whiskey or rum. However, I am curious about the distillery, and I might visit someday, just to see how these spirits are made.

*"13 Cats and a Still" by Kevin Hoffman, Kentucky New Era, October 10, 2009. (Subscription may be required.)
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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.