Morning Porch Sittin’

Our rustic home for 3 days in Happy Valley, Tennessee

I turned over in bed and noticed the faint light penetrating the thin muslin curtains. Ah, morning time. I love the first streams of light and the soft nudge they give me to wake up and start my day in the stillness.

Brewed coffee in hand, I step out of the 100 year old cabin onto the front porch. The wooden screen door creaks on its hinges. I catch it carefully so it doesn’t slam. I breathe in the damp mountain air; feel the moisture on my skin of the fog rising off of the Smokies. I settle into the rocking chair with my books and notebook. THIS is what I came for. These next 120 minutes of time to think, reflect, observe, and be at peace in my mind.

I notice the chorus of little birds on the hillside across the quiet street. Swooping and calling in playful movements. So many varieties playing chase in the meadow.

My devotion and prayer time come first. I picked up a bible from the end table inside, inscribed with “Bobby Christian.” It molded to my hand, soft and malleable from years of use. I wonder what life was like for Bobby? Did he and his family attend the church two lots down?

A deer appears near the top of the hillside. His head on a swivel; frozen in place and looking for enemies. I beg him to relax and feel the safety of this place. He knows the area much better than I and the risk of being out in the open. Finally, he settles and feeds on the dewy grass.

Next up, notebook time. I let my mind process some of what the last month, last year has held. My role as instructional coach was put on hold to address many different needs in our building…tech support for teachers and families, teaching 6th grade math online, teaching 3rd-5th grade writing online, teaching in a very challenging 5th grade classroom in person for the last nine weeks, preparing for my son’s high school graduation and the open house that followed. Putting these thoughts on the page allows them to leave my mind; breaking the cyclical thinking attached to them.

My eyes search the unruly overgrown wire fence separating the road from the hillside. The green of the trees brings peace and calm to my being. I’m not sure what it is, but trees have this immediate effect on me.

I open Mary Oliver’s collection called Devotions. “I Worried” spoke to me. I love the last stanza: Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang. Then I read “Passing the Unworked Field” about Queen Anne’s lace, how it stands straight on its thin stems how it scrubs its white faces with the rag of the sun how it makes all the loveliness it can. Sitting in a rocker on the porch of a 100 year old cabin reading Mary Oliver. The perfect setting to feel the essence of her poetry.

I hear a rustle in the cabin. The others wake to the start of the day. My solitude time is over, but I am filled up and ready for the family time ahead.

The view from the front porch

The Everglades: A Photo Essay

Soup Sunday #SOL21

Yesterday was the last soup Sunday of the season. Soup Sunday occurs every Sunday at the Bless household between Fall Break and Spring Break. Our evening meal is some type of soup usually paired with a bread. I always seek to try out a few new soup recipes each year. This year we tried a buffalo chicken soup that will stay in the rotation, and a hamburger soup that was a “once and done” recipe.

The first and last Soup Sunday of the season is usually a crowd favorite: Bless chili. My mother in law is famous for her chili recipe. It is always a hit at tail gate parties, post game celebrations, and family gatherings. My husband loves this chili and would eat it every week if I would make it. I’m surprised he didn’t write into our wedding vows that Bless chili would be made at least four times each winter.

Bless Chili

Brown 1 lb hamburger with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar.

Drain grease and mix in minced onions, one packet of Brooks chili seasoning (original or hot if you like it spicy), and a can of tomato soup. Simmer on low while you prepare the beans.

In a blender, blend one can of Brooks chili beans until smooth. Add beans to the hamburger mixture. Thin out with V8 tomato juice. This is what make this chili different from most…you have the bean flavor without the bean texture.

Cook macaroni noodles; about 1 cup. Drain and add to the hamburger mixture. Continue to thin with V8 juice until desired consistency.

Top with Fritos, oyster crackers, sour cream, and shredded cheese.

The best part about Soup Sunday: it is usually followed up by desert. This week was apple pie a la mode. I’d say we went out with a bang this year!

Bottle Up the Moment #SOL21

  • little man in his khakis and two toned blue Columbia fleece jacket
  • stubby legs running, full of energy
  • tuft of blondish red waves of hair
  • crossing his arms emphatically
  • having a conversion with made up words
  • sneaking into the kitchen to investigate
  • What does a sheep say? “BAAAA”
  • What does a cat say? softly with a shy nod of his head “meeooow”
  • “Doggie” over and over
  • hugs and pats for Josie
  • grabbing a blanket to cover Josie “night night”
  • sending the cars flying on the laminate floor
  • attaching the trains and pushing them over the tracks
  • still loves the Baby Colors book; now knows many of the objects: ball, baby, doggie
  • finding the lids that match the toy tubs
  • sitting in the tub of books
  • pushing the tub around the house
  • fell down; brief tears and crying; quickly soothed
  • big hugs for us
  • wrestling him into his PJs
  • playing “boop” with the stuffed hippo; cracking up laughing

My nephew’s son, Hudson, is 20 months old. Their family relocated to our town when Hudson was 2 months old. It has been a joy to watch him grow and change. Sometimes I feel like as a parent I was not able to enjoy these stages (and I definitely didn’t write about them to keep them as a lasting memory). With Hudson, it’s been different. I am able to fully focus on him when I am with him. I can appreciate and notice the ways he is growing and learning. With COVID, we haven’t seen them as much, but when we do, I cherish our time together…I want to bottle up the moment.

Coach and Player, Father and Son

They communicate via hand signals on the field. They huddle around the ipad watching film. They discuss plays over a dry erase board. They stand shoulder to shoulder on the sideline analyzing the game execution. Coach and player. Father and son.

Watching from the stands, I am on the outside looking in. But I know what I see. A season in life that will be bitter sweet. One we will look back on with fond memories. One that is slipping away and will be gone before we want it to be.

It’s part of the family DNA. Coaching, teaching, making an impact on young lives. My husband and his 2 brothers were coached by their father. All three went on to become high school teachers and coaches. They have impacted countless young men, but their most valuable impact has been on their sons and learning life lessons through the game of football.

As I prepare my heart for what might be the last game where father coaches son, I am not ready. One is still the young coach holding his infant son smiling after a victory. The other is still the 8 year old ball boy running on and off the sideline. Eighteen years of father and son together on the field. I’m sure in those final hugs there will be tears of joy and sorrow but most of all tears of gratitude for getting to experience something so special.

Three generations of Bless men

A Piece of Living History

I turned on the old player and inserted the CD. It was New Year’s Eve, we were staying in, and I needed some good cooking music. I pushed play. The sound took me back. 1980s. Summer vacations at my grandparents…

After a long day at the beach, everyone was taking their turn to shower and get ready for an evening out to dinner. My granddad and grandmom would visit the beach for lunch, but would head back to their condo for naps, so they were already ready for the evening.

Grandad sat at the black electric organ in his dark dress pants and light collared shirt. He chose a beat to start the music from the many buttons and lights on the his beloved machine. Then his fingers danced up and down the keyboard. His feet jumped in rhythm on the petals below. His body swayed to the tempo. The music filling every space of the modest condo.

We filtered in one by one to find a seat in the living room for our private concert. Grandmom bopped around doing odd chores, wine cooler in hand, whistling along with the music. She eventually sat in her swivel chair to enjoy the sound to its fullest. Grandad would take requests of old familiar tunes. Girl From Ipanema was my dad’s go to, while I held out for I Just Can’t Smile Without You. After several songs, Grandad would turn the power off, and we would head out to a local restaurant for our seafood dinner.

…As the CD continued to play, I found myself so grateful that my grandparents took the time to record my Grandad’s organ playing. It is a living piece of our family history. Since December 31st is my Grandad’s birthday, it is only fitting that I make this my annual New Year’s Eve playlist. Happy Birthday Grandad!

My Grandad played at many parties and events in his retirement. He loved organ playing!

The Good Ole Days

Today’s slice is inspired by Writing With Ralph Lesson 1.

Sometimes I remember
the good ole days

Packing towels and sunscreen,
ham sandwiches, Mikesells potato chips, and Twinkies

The four of us piling into
the station wagon

Driving for an hour
to Uncle Walter's barn

Dad messing with antique boat
while David and I explored 
years of dust and treasures
hidden in the wooden structure

Hooking up the Chris Craft
and pulling it to the causeway

Mom backing the car down,
dad guiding Bubba in
and driving him to the dock

Mom holding the boat
at the edge of the bobbing dock
while we unloaded the day's supplies

Dad driving the car with the trailer bouncing,
dripping with water to the parking lot

Starting the boat and embarking on the water
Finally ready for a day on the lake

I still can't imagine
anything better than that.
 

A Not So Normal Trip to the Grocery #sol20

Sunday I ventured to the grocery store. I had heard the reports that people we lining up an hour before stores opened to get a chance for hot items like meat, bread, paper products. But, I couldn’t do it. I did not want to be around that rush, so I waited until noon. I wasn’t prepared with a list like normal. My mindset was, Get whatever you can to sustain your family for two weeks. I had my baggie with Clorox wipes and my reusable bags, and I was out the door.

As I pulled into the parking lot, things seemed fairly normal. I got my cart and wiped down the handle and began to the produce section. There seemed to be no shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables. Good, I stocked up on everything I could find, ensuring lots of healthy sides for our upcoming meals.

Next, I passed the bakery section. Stocking up on some fresh baked breads, because my family loves breads. Actually, that might just be me. Moving on to the seafood, I grabbed our go to salmon plank hoping for a nice day to grill out this week.

Then I encountered the meat section. Where is the hamburger? Where is the chicken? Empty. I scanned for other protein items. Pork tenderloin, stew meat, roast. I can make something with those things. Hopefully the freezer section will have some other items I can work with.

I continue on my shopping journey. The bread isle. I see a sign posted. Only 3 bread items per customer. I continue to see this sign throughout the store, in the dairy section, in the paper section. I am shocked at several aisles. Absolutely no tortillas, no paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, cleaning wipes, milk. MILK. My kids drink a lot of milk. I have to settle for two half gallons of random organic milk and one chocolate Fairlife to stay within the limit. That will not sustain us for two weeks. We will need to limit our consumption.

Several people have masks on throughout the store. I try not to make eye contact with people for fear of being drawn into a conversation. I need to stay away from close contact. I see a colleague and we exchange pleasantries and wish each other safety and good health. Every door I open, I use my wipe to protect my hand from any germs on the handles.

I think I’m finally ready to check out over an hour later. My cart is filled to the brim. I have never bought so much food. I hope people don’t think I’m hoarding. I’m trying to be responsible and get everything I can think of so I can stay home and flatten the curve.

The man in front of me has a mask on, is spraying the conveyor belt, and wiping down everything in sight. He hands me two wipes for my cart. He tells me stories of people who are sick and individuals that have died. This is not helpful. He is spreading fear. I keep taking deep breaths. I thank the cashier and bagger for their continued work during this difficult time. I exit the store hoping my family can stay away from the grocery for two weeks. So far we are on day 4, and the milk is already running low.

Silver Linings #sol20

I’m writing my first phone post using the WordPress app due to the fact that my internet is down at the moment. It’s ironic that I sat down to write a post about the silver linings during this challenging time, and I have to deal with the frustration of my internet not working. But even that won’t damped my spirits.

I’m looking for silver linings (I think I heard that phrase from Kelly Gallagher). And I keep finding them. The last two days have been particularly full of them.

  • Last night, I heard the dishes clanging in the kitchen. My son without prompting was unloading the dish washer. I can’t tell you the last time this happened, if ever. I yelled, “Is this one if your elearning assignments?” “Nope,” he replied.
  • My husband and I started watching our first ever Netflix show. We watched the first episode last night. Today we’ve already talked about watching another episode later. It’s fun to have something new to do together.
  • A colleague introduced me to the Marco Polo app. I have connected with high school friends, my mother in law, a friend’s mom who is out of state, and more. It has warmed my heart to see their faces and hear their video messages.
  • My daughter has organized themed google hangouts with her college friends she is missing. Tonight is western night and she came down in her plain shirt and cowboy hat ready for her virtual party.

Silver linings are everywhere if we stop to notice. I don’t ever want to downplay the tragedy of this virus, the many families that are losing loved ones, the financial hardships many are enduring. But, I do think there are many things about our world that are changing for the better. And I need to hold on to that right now.

A Simple Treat #sol20

We were finishing dinner, yet already thinking about our evening snack. With the quarantine, cooking/baking and food in general has become an important focus of each day.

“We had ice cream last night, and I’m getting sick of peanut M & Ms,” my husband stated. Popcorn with plain M & Ms is another favorite, but doesn’t seem quite right if you aren’t watching a movie.

I think about my recent rampage at the grocery store and the supplies I gathered in a rush. “What about peaches and cottage cheese?” I suggest. The look on the kids’ faces! “Disgusting,” my son blurts out. I think back to my childhood and vaguely remember my mom making this simple, sweet treat.

So I text her: Did we used to have peaches with cottage cheese and nuts for dessert? Her reply: Half peach with cream cheese, a little peach juice and chopped pecans mixed. We just had that last week! Not cottage cheese…yuck!

After the evening walk and a little work time, I start making the simple treat. Two tablespoons of cream cheese, open the can of peaches, add two tablespoons of peach juice, a handful of chopped pecans, mix together. Spoon out several slices of peaches in a bowl (I didn’t buy halves, but will next time), top with the cream cheese mixture.

My first bite brought back instant memories of my childhood. The sweet, satisfying mixture was just what I needed to tide me over until breakfast. My husband was pleasantly surprised by the taste. And the kids? They wouldn’t even try it.