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Winter in the mountains is not for the faint of heart.  As much as I tend to dread the heat of the summer, it is most always an allowing sort of weather.  Winter brings further isolation for a mother of small children.  While a romp in the snow is fun, it only lasts about 10 -20 minutes for my girls before they holler – COLD.

This winter though has been more than mild.  I feel like more days than not we’ve been able to get outside.  This is our fifth day in a row without leaving the Confluence and I was so grateful to get to take a walk and see some sun.  The last snow is melted off and only leaves some heavy icicles hanging from the cliff sides.

I did really well with isolation when we first moved back to the mountains.  But, now, I remember how easy it was as a teenager for me to get sad about not being able to be with friends.  I’m a loner at heart, but even for someone like me, there can be too much alone.  I remain the only woman on the place.  John and I are the only family.  The other full time resident on the holler is a bachelor, and for our landlord this is a warm weather home where his family comes to visit.  So, when I see someone, it is usually a man.  A very helpful, kind, and fun to talk to man, so I’m not complaining.  No way.  But, sometimes girl talk would be nice.  I find myself missing the little community of mothers that the city gave me.  Folks to trade babysitting duties with for date nights.  I haven’t had one of those in a long, long time.  Hanging out with my sister and best friend on weekends.  I think that is what I miss most about the city.  That and access to decent food (organics and such) on a regular basis.  I don’t know how to describe it really because I do know people here, and in our homeschool groups.  I see the homeschool families monthly.  Yet, time and opportunity for those deeper connections is short.  We are all spread out so.

I dream of an intentional community where I can still live privately, yet, work as a part of a functioning group that is there for one another.  I’m feeling kind of down this winter.  No, winter in the mountains is not for the faint of heart.

Last week, we were away from home for most of the week.  It was Science Week for Confluence Academy.  We had to take one of the family to see a doctor in Lexington and we had two field trips while there and then two more when we got back to the mountains.

Here is a captioned pictorial review of our adventures!  I must say that at The Living Arts and Science Center there was an awesome forest exhibit that was so engrossing I forgot to take pictures.  There was a worksheet to take you through each station and a probing question.  It was perfect and the girls had crazy fun.  Not to mention it was FREE!

We really had a great trip and it was much needed.

Getting cozy in a fluffy hotel bed.

Getting cozy in a fluffy hotel bed.

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Exploring the impact of paper on our forest friends with an endangered species and recycling exhibit at The Living Arts and Science Center.

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Making an endangered Noonday Snail figure for play.

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I found my friend’s habitat!

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Enjoying some kinetic energy at Monkey Joe’s!

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Big sissy jumps too fast to catch her airtime.

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I take what my big sissies call Move Your Body classes at Confluence Academy. Today I am exploring the function of my hands.

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Tired in a sea of green downy softness.

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Some bearded dragon action at The East Kentucky Science Center in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. We also saw a planetarium show, and experienced hurricane winds in a simulator. We bought some fancy polished rocks and astronaut ice cream for an inexpensive treat.

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My 5 Senses! Ivy having fun at the preschool work table during Science Day at Kentucky Mountain Homeschool Association’s monthly meeting.

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Discovering just how well Dawn dish soap repels grease (fat). Also, during Science Day for KMHSA.

We were blessed with a sunny day and warm enough weather to get outside and enjoy it.  Enjoy it we did!

We walked down to the barn, fed the chickens, and walked back to home.  As soon as we made it to the yard, Deladis said, “We can swing!”

Then, we walked on up the holler passed our house to my favorite spot in the little valley.

After seeing the emptiness of this valley thanks to Google Earth, I plan to thoroughly explore it with the girls.

Deladis is learning about the root and seed children that spend their time sleeping snug inside Mother Earth through the Winter.  We couldn’t help but notice many of the mosses and lichens have awesome blooms of red and yellow, or simply the brightest green.

Even our animal friends got in on the warmth.

Our dog, Lars, is a bird whisperer.  Have I mentioned they will lie next to him?

Lately, Deladis has been really in to AbbeyRoad by The Beatles.  John has our CDs with him most of the time, so we listen to the record collection.  John’s dad gave us his records and Abbey Road was one of them.  Deladis has Brer Rabbit, Fat Albert, and Chipmunk Punk, but Abbey Road trumps those every time.  Deladis’ favorites are “Come Together,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Something,” and “Her Majesty”(the one about Madge being a really fine girl – I think that is the title).  I won’t forget the day she told me she liked “Something”.  She asked me what kind of song that was and what was it about.  George Harrison moved my four year old.  She’s a thinking girl.

We sang sunshine songs as we walked.  “Here Comes the Sun” was included of course as it is on most days of  our singing.  As well as “The Sun Shines on Everyone” by Snatam Kaur, and “You Are My Sunshine”, which Ivy has learned to sing really well thanks to her new auntie.  🙂

It was a fine and refreshing time.

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The tree next to this rock is my favorite tree in our yard.  I can’t recall ever seeing one before we moved here, but I think I have finally discovered its name – Lynn Tree.  It is a rhododendron of the large variety.  It has lovely white blooms that are larger and less neatly formed than a magnolia.  Its branches twist and turn like my favorite plant the mountain laurel.  This tree is absolutely gorgeous.  Because of an old fence, I have never been able to get close to it, but now that they have made the new road, I ‘ll be able to get a closer look.

My dad took me out for my birthday this weekend.  We took the girls into the city to a Halloween party at the Borders Bookstore and to play in the mall playground.  I got to do a little shopping with gift money for clothes that I have desperately needed.  It was a nice trip.  The girls really enjoy the attention of their grandparents.  But, it was at his house that I tasted Lynn Tree honey and connected it to my tree.  This honey is the best I’ve ever tasted.  It is almost clear, being a light lemony yellow color.  If you could bottle the smell of magnolia and make it perfectly palatable, you would have Lynn honey.  Apparently, it is very hard to find as there aren’t many of these trees left in the mountains for whatever reason.  My dad who is an environmental engineer, confirmed that my tree was a Lynn.  I haven’t been able to find anything about it on the internet.

I was also excited when I went to the calender and found that the end of my 40 Day Commitment ended on my 31st birthday.  It has been a different spiritual experience for me.  I am sleeping better.  I’m off caffeine, at least for the time being.  I am learning how to be still.

The mind is energy.  Regluate it.

– Yogi Bhajan

This lesson has been reiterated to me in so many ways over the last weeks.  What is life, if we aren’t living it currently?  If we are always in the past or the future?

I was happy to be led to a new online journal of Appalachian literature – Still: Literature of the Mountain South.  It is edited by mountain writers, Silas House, Jason Howard, and Marianne Worthington.  It is free to read.  I loved all of their reasoning behind their naming it Still, but this one, again, brought my lesson to the forefront of my day.

To be a writer is to learn how to be still.

Take a moment and do some reading here.  I’m celebrating this journal.

I’m excited that at the end of this week will be my favorite holiday – Halloween!  I can’t wait to write about it.



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For more Wordless Wednesday visit here.

Autumn is our season for hiking.  It is something the four of us can’t get enough of this time of year.  Today, was the first cool day of the season with no humidity.  We decided to celebrate with a hike to Bad Branch Falls.  The falls is a nature preserve in Letcher County, Kentucky and rests on the state’s second highest mountain – Pine Mountain.  The hike is short, but of moderate difficulty.  However, we were able to make it with the girls just fine.  I’ve been making this hike regularly since childhood.

I think I’ll let our pictures do most of the narrating.  Despite the fact that I was battling bad batteries and trying to take pictures quickly, the beauty speaks for itself.

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Much of the trail is tunneled in mountain laurel – my favorite flowering plant.

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Ivy stops to watch the rushing water coming off the mountain after two days of hard rain.

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The water is unbelievably clear and safe to play in, but I’ve always wondered if it is safe to drink.  It’s tempting.

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There is magic in these hills.  Without man’s intervention, nature provided the perfect seat for a rest.

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The reward!  There was more water than I have ever seen coming off that mountain.  The sky rained every last bit of humidity left from summer over the last two days.

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There are hidden spots all over these mountains like this.  The kind that make you stop and be in the moment.  Place yourself within the bigger picture.  Meditate.

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Join me on Wednesday for Wordless Wednesday and my best shot of the falls . 🙂

We’ve had wonderful weather this weekend.  It’s been reminiscent of autumns past and autmun to come.  I got to spend some time at Wiley’s Last Resort for MARS Fest.  It was a family friendly event, so the girls got to go too.  I spent quite a bit of time there as a kid as it was the home of a good friend then.  The house he lived in has burnt down and it has changed a lot, but it is just as much a lovely place.  I am happy that I got to share it with the girls.

Here is a video tour of the place.

The girls loved it.  Ivy roamed and I followed.  Deladis played in the sand.  We enjoyed looking at art and hearing some pretty good music, but mostly the air and the mountain.  Pine Mountain, where the resort is located, is the second highest mountain in Kentucky.  It rests in Letcher County closest to the countyseat of Whitesburg where I grew up.  The highest mountain in Kentucky, Black Mountain, can be seen from Pine Mountain.  It rests in Harlan County.

A while ago, the state allowed a coal company to begin a strip mining job on top of Black Mountain.  I got to see the results of that while I visited the resort this weekend.  Looking out over the landscape I couldn’t help but turn my head at the barren top of Black Mountain.  Sure it will be reclaimed in some form or fashion, but forever changed.  I couldn’t for the life of me imagine how a state can allow for a landmark like its tallest mountain to be stripped, essentially knocked off.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is an activist group that produced this video.  I like the perspectives in this series of videos they have made and posted.  I do very much believe, however, that the solutions to the issues like coal that face the Appalachian people will have to be found within the mountain people.  We are a stubborn sort and often resistent to change.   That quality serves us well at times and hinders us at others. It is very unlikely that we will listen to folks from outside of our area when they are trying to tell us our problems and how to fix them, even if they are other Kentuckians.

I pray that we will take back our culture and stop trying to blend in with mainstream America.  I hope that we will remember the battles of our ancestors and how they were nearly enslaved to the industry once it was allowed in.  I wish that we would open our eyes and realize what our assets are, and learn to utilize them, before more tragedies like Black Mountain take place.  Because, like it or not, coal is not a renewable resource.  It will run out.  Then, what?  A middle ground needs to be found, and a nation wide change in priorities has to take place.

I hope if you are a Kentucky resident or live nearby, that you will take the time to visit the mountains of eastern Kentucky.  We have so much to offer.  I think we also have so much to show that will teach you about the path our country has taken, and how cultures are being lost everyday.

I enjoyed my time on the mountain.  It was time to just be.  I think of all the men and women who are worrying, and can’t just be because they work in the coal industry and their jobs are on the line.  They wonder what will happen to them if the coal industry leaves the mountains.  I think it is time to start creating the answers to those questions.

*The following is the first part of a two part post dealing with the degradation of culture equating in the degradation of the quality of life.  This first section is about food.  Part Two is about mountaintop removal.  Both of these issues are extremely important to me, but the issue of mountaintop removal has been the hardest to address because of the weight it carries in my east Kentucky home at the present.  Please, leave your thoughts in the comments section of these posts.  Good, respectful discussion is the key to finding answers.

The most informative blog (for my needs) that I have found so far is Nourished Kitchen.  Jenny blogs about “real” food and the ways of traditional food preparation.  She writes from a place of well researched thoughts, and a recent post she made added some flame to thoughts I had been having recently.  Prisoners in the Illinois prison system are being fed a soy-based diet where they are eating upwards of 100 grams of soy daily.  This isn’t normal for any person of any culture.  What makes it even worse is Illinois has started a pilot program of this sort as lunches for children.  What is so horrible about that?

Watch this 4 part video on the dangers of soy from the president of the Weston A. Price Foundation – Sally Fallon.

Get it straight from a world renown doctor – Dr. Joesph Mercola.

As if that wasn’t enough… Have you incorporated soy as part of a low fat diet?  Do you have thyroid issues?  Read this.

All this cheap, fake food is lining the pockets of big food corporations and the Illinois governor, making the rich richer at the expense of people in need of rehabilitation and our children!  Some of you may be of the mind set that prisoners are being punished, so why not feed them as cheaply as possible.  Not every man or woman in the prison  system is there because they consciously chose to commit a  crime.  We also must think that the majority of prisoners will be released one day.  Do we not want them on the road to rehabilitation?  John and I watched this Frontline two part documentary about that subject recently.  About the children – for goodness sake they are growing beings making physical and mental leaps and bounds on a daily basis.  They should be fed the best food possible to insure their future health.  That is our responsibility as their caregivers.  It’s not our lives we are taking in our hands, but the life of another.

I could write a book of ranting on the issue of food alone, but I think this is one symptom in the disease of America and other industrialized nations.  It is the disease of the industrialization of culture.  It’s embracing the easy road like there is some kind of prestige in a life that contains too much leisure.  It is the replacing of the “real” with manufactured impressions.  It is a sad state, and it is deteriorating any joy, love, and meaningfulness that we can glean from life on earth.

We can see the symptoms all too clearly when we take into consideration the lives our children lead and the things they contend with today via the media.  Think back on your childhood and the images that filled your days.  We are quickly becoming a nation void of culture that is outside of the culture that popular industry would have us adopt.  Traditions are being lost and replaced with those that perpetuate capitalist ideas and goals.  For example, the after Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza.  What is the need, really?  Who are you benefiting by putting yourself in debt or spending your money on frivolous things?  How long will that feeling of joy last, if you even obtain it at all?

We are a nation that puts to much faith the system of gaining and utilizing monetary wealth.  We listen to what industry tells us are the quick fixes to all our problems from our looks to the food we eat.  It is not a wonder that we are becoming the most obese nation with the myriad of health and emotional  problems that come with that.  It is unnerving the many ways this diease affects our lives and the way we have become dissensitized to the effects.

Please check back tomorrow for Industrialization of Culture – Part Two (Coal).

Yesterday, I considered that it was a good possibility that I am trying too hard again – expecting too much of myself.  Instead of working on any writing after the blog, and pouting about not being able to relax in savasana without somebody coming in the room and dancing around my head, I decided that the key might actually be rather than focusing intensely on said task or goal, it could be more beneficial to focus on nothing at all.  It occurred to me that that could be the element I’m missing in finding mental peace.

With this in mind, I put Ivy in the mei-tai and headed out to the blackberry bushes.  Deladis chose to stay inside and play.  I’ve been picking them everyday as they ripen.  I’ll have a pint soon, but I’m going to keep picking until they are gone.  (If you have any good traditional blackberry recipes to share, I’d love to read them!)  I wanted to get some of the leaves this time to add to my new kitchen experiment – fermenting cucumbers… pickles.

I have been taught since childhood about the importance of watching out for snakes.  I learned how to identify the different species and the ones that were the most dangerous.  I was told what to do if I saw a snake, or if I was bit by one.  It comes with the territory being a child of Appalachia.  One of the things that I have always remembered is – where there are blackberries, there are snakes.

I don’t know if it is the brambles that attracts them, or the plethora of little critters coming to eat berries.  If I were a snake, I’d say it is a little of both.  In my recent blackberry picking extravaganza, I’ve been going into some areas that are very grown over to get to those luscious dark berries.  I try to get at every ripe berry I see.  I have been being very careful and watching where I step.  Having done this for a week now without seeing a snake, I’ve been braving the places that you’d need a machete to cut through the weeds… if you wanted to cut through the weeds that is.  🙂

I picked more berries than I had been able to find during any other trip up the holler.  Lars (our dalmatian) was with me sniffing here and there.  I was standing in some brush having picked all the berries on that particular vine.  I started picking some of the larger leaves to use in the bottom of my pickle jars, when I got a strong feeling that I needed to look down and out a bit.

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I did, and about 3 feet from me laid a large copperhead.  His head was up and his tongue was flicking, catching my scent.  He wasn’t poised to strike, but his body was held in a way that he could do so if the need arose.  I looked him in the eyes, and he me for a moment.  It was a weird feeling.  My heart didn’t pound.  The copperhead is one of the most feared snakes in the mountains.  I didn’t become alarmed.  A little nervous, but not scared, for when our eyes met I sensed nothing but a mutual respect.  If I showed him proper respect, he’d have no reason to hurt me.  I had always been told by my Dad that if I saw a poisonous snake, to move slowly, but not to hang around.  This was only one of many times I had encountered a copperhead, but it was the first time I had been so close to stepping on it.  When I could pull my eyes away from his, I called Lars and eased my way back to the trail.  I walked at a normal pace toward home with Lars leading the way.

It might be a few days before I take my blackberry picking on up the holler into those dark places where my parents always told me not to go.  I’ll go back though, because for one quick moment I saw clearly where I fit into the bigger picture.

After yesterday’s worrying about the inside of the cabin and fun trip to Hazard, I decided to spend a bit more time outdoors with the girls.  We waited until late afternoon for things to cool off a bit, and then went blackberry picking.  We just came out of an odd patch of weather that I’m thinking was a blackberry winter of sorts.  It didn’t get above the 70s for about a week, and we didn’t have to use the window unit air conditioners.  I thought that might be a sign that we would find some ripe blackberries.

berryThese aren’t quite ripe, but we did find a handful after braving the snakey areas of the creek.  I’ll have to freeze them as we pick them.  I’m aiming to get enough to make blackberry dumplings, or something good.

basketDeladis was all about carrying that basket of berries.

We got back to the cabin and I watered the garden some.  The water loving plants are getting a little wilty, though we are getting mass amounts of goodness from them.  We have no water hose or efficient way of watering things, so I joyfully carried a five gallon bucket back and forth from the garden to the outside spicket twenty times over.  (I really was joyful. 🙂 )

Ivy has taken off verbally and physically these last few weeks.  She slides by herself, goes down the back porch steps, and is attempting to say many more things.  Her favorite combo is “Where we going?” as she is walking through the yard toward the dirt road that leads us out of here.  This evening I asked her where she was going, and she was clear that she was off to the sand.

countrygirlDon’t even think for one minute that you are cut out for the country if you can’t walk barefooted across the gravel.  John’s aunt Danita used to tell him that all the time.  She’s probably laughing a smooth, thick laughter in her perfect place in heaven right now, proud of her little country girl.

toesiesThen, cool those tootsies off in the evening sand.

sandboxThey do have a sandbox filled with store bought sand, but does that matter?  Absolutely, not!  Who needs toys when there’s a world to explore?

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Last night, I sat in my living room watching the lightening bugs flicker in the misty twilight filling the hills with flecks of gold through darkened hues of green, brown, gray and black.  I watched the spectacle and thought about those who live away from here.  Sure, every place has beautiful scenes that the world should see, but I’m partial to the Kentucky mountains because they are home to me.  If I had to pick ten things to share with outsiders to help them understand where I come from, these would be them.

What I’d Love to Share with You…

  1. An evening of just listening… Sitting on an old timer’s porch swing just as it starts to turn off dark, we would listen to their tales of “making do”, playing in the mountains, courting their sweetheart, and working their fingers to the bone because that’s what you do.  We’d listen and learn that there is more to life than celebrity, money, what you have and what you can buy, and whether or not you live within a short driving distance of a strip mall with a Super Wal-Mart.
  2. The view from the mountain in front of my cabin...  We’d hike the steep hillside in front of our cabin until we reached the large rocks placed on the mountaintop by movement of earth and time.  It would be early fall and we’d be quiet there letting the strong breeze work its way through our bodies with a sweet purity that fills us up with serenity and appreciation.  We’d learn that yes, there is something bigger than all of us, that made us a small part of this beautiful creation.
  3. Bad Branch Falls I’d love to take you up Pine Mountain by Wiley’s Last Resort and on down to Bad Branch Falls.  The small falls is a local respected landmark that is a public park that in many ways still feels like you are the first person to see it.  We’d let the falls rinse us clean and play with our children in the little pools of fresh mountain water.
  4. A morning on George Gibson’s porch listening to his banjo ring… After a “full” breakfast, we’d walk down the holler a piece to visit George Gibson at his cabin.  He’d play his banjo for us in the old-time Knott County way (that isn’t Bluegrass which was created by the likes of Bill Monroe in the 40s).  I’d have to ask him to play “Jubilee” because it hits you in the chest and makes it unnecessary to breathe.  The music breathes for you.
  5. A dinner of Appalachian soupbeans, cornbread, kraut, fried potatoes and onions, pork tenderloin, and fresh sliced tomato and cucumber… The meal of all meals that makes you wiggle while you eat.  All of it will be cooked in cast iron with bacon fat.
  6. Scare the pants off you with a bobcat hollering in the night… Sounds like a woman screaming for her life.  A banshee woman.  It’ll scare the bejezus out of you for a few minutes until you realize (only because someone’s told you) it was only a bobcat.
  7. A mountain church service… You’d have to stay two Sundays because I’d want to share with you both the Old Regular Baptist and Pentecostal traditional services.  I’d want you to hear the mournful sounds of the Old Regular’s lining out their hymns (you will cry whether you want to or not) and the soul catching sounds of a Pentecostal band with all the instruments playing in such a way that draws you up out of the depths and makes you dance with joy and praise.  Oh, and then dinner on the grounds. 😉
  8. Experiencing mountain hospitality… You’ll never go hungry or lack for a place to lay your head.  We’ll be waved at by those in passing cars.  We’ll pull off the side of the road for funeral processions.  We’ll always have time for a few words with a neighbor.  If the car breaks down, we won’t be long or scared on the side of the road.
  9. Carcassonne Square Dance We’ll go to a real mountain square dance called and played by some great folks.  We’ll dance ’til our legs give out and then we’ll dance some more.
  10. Coal Mining… I’d share with you both a mountain top removal (strip mine) site and an underground mine.  There is great dualities in this issue.  On one side coal is the largest employer in the mountains, but on the other side strip mines are ruining our mountain landscape and causing havoc in the balance of things.  I’d want you to understand the sacrifices our people make in bringing you your electricity.  I’d want you to understand that when you turn on the light that you are using an non-renewable resource that comes from a real place and is pulled out of the mountains by real people.  Our miners deserve respect as do the people living in coal producing mountains.  It is my personal belief that most coal companies have placed us in a situation of indentured servitude and they abuse our people and our homeplace.  Solutions have to be found so that mountaintop removal becomes unnecessary, and our people can still be gainfully employed.

I believe there is magic in these hills.  Sure, we are a clannish bunch, but for those who take the time to listen and pay attention you’ll find a place.

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About Me

An Appalachian woman born and raised, mothering two little girls in a place that is non-existent to AT&T or UPS. Happily working toward a sustainable lifestyle and writing on the demand of a loud muse.

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