Sunday, December 27, 2009


Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Blog (
When I saw the rhododendron leaves tightly curled up in elongated rolls, I knew they were preparing to cuddle up for warmth. They do that, you know. My dad used to tell me the rhododendrons will let you know when the cold's on the way, and this Christmas eve, the clusters of those beautiful slender leaves rolled in as tightly and closely to each other as they could announced the arrival of a thick coating of ice long before it arrived.
By Christmas morning, I awoke to what sounded like transformer explosions, only to find out that the noise was the deafening snaps of large - really large - tree branches all through the woods. The red-lit numbers on the clock radio beside the bed were non-existent, and although I could hear my mom up and about in the kitchen, I didn't sense the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting down the hall. Within minutes, the phone began to ring--calls from family members and friends to inquire if we had "lost power" as well. Yep, before daylight, it was obvious this Christmas Day would be one for the memory keepers.
Stories of everyone's situations began to circulate. Miss Hal and family were bringing in snow to melt by the fireside to use to flush the toilets...Mrs. Bessie Mae Hicks called to let us know she was OK...Worried about the spike in Uncle Frank's blood pressure, Aunt Lera called to see if they could come over to the Shook Shelter...Aunt Audrey's phone was out, so we just had to assume Bill and Sylvia had taken care of her...Aunt Mildred (only about 4'10" and less than 100 lbs.) called to say she went out in the snow and ice to clean off her car and couldn't move once her feet sunk down in the snow, which was above her knees. Fortunately, her feisty nature surfaced and she lumbered slowly back to her house...Uncle Bradley and Aunt Mabel were stuck at home and couldn't begin to get out until someone broke open the road to their infinitum...Over the course of the last two days, some 30,000 people in Watauga County have been left in the dark.
Fortunately here on Russell Drive, the power came on later in the morning long enough to fix a pot of coffee. People became a bit more verbal and less moody as a result. When the electricity went off for the second time, we waited about 5 hours until it returned. We definitely were some of the lucky ones.
During the outage, Petie and I summoned Papa's spirit to build a fire in the fireplace, and before long, the den was hotter than my Grandpa Hoyle's living room in the middle of winter. We warmed up some leftovers and a pot of frozen soup Petie had in the freezer. Actually the soup came to a boil as fast on the hearth as it would have on the stove! I took a walk to make sure there were no branches compromising the roof / gutters / cars and did the best I could at shoveling ice off the walkway.
Two days later, the area does look like a war zone. The pine trees suffered the greatest hit and brought down many power lines. Their branches become really heavy with ice, and their root systems are shallow; hence, if it were prior to decorating season, everyone in this part of the country would have had greenery to spare for his/her houses. Higher up in the mountains, there didn't appear to be such extensive damage. At least over toward Pigeon Roost, the breakage seemed less stark.
It's been about 24 hours since I've heard branches snap around our house. Hopefully the 3-day inconvenience of an 8-hour storm will be soon behind us all. Tomorrow I hope to get out and take a few photos of my own.

Friday, December 25, 2009


The ASU Mountaineer mascot, Yosef, woke up this morning to find his beard frozen to his face and icicles hanging from his hat, fists, and armpits. Icicles in the armpits could be quite uncomfortable, but Yosef seems to be saying, "Bring it on!!"

Over the course of 8 hours last night, ice coated the entire area, making it such that for Christmas dinner here at the Shook house on Russell Drive we dined on PB&J sandwiches and Petie's frozen packages of homemade soup which we literally heated on the hearth. Couldn't have been better!

The temps rose during the daylight hours, creating a lot of slush and yuk. One could hear branches breaking and falling all day, and when we ventured out to see an afternoon matinee, the debris covering the highways was pretty intense. Thankfully nothing fell on my new car (new to me at least), and Mom's house escaped getting bashed by lots of limbs. Tomorrow we'll have a better sense of what there is to clean up.

Actually, it's been a great day...If we couldn't get out to go to Grandma's house, the next best thing was to stay here all day, and that's exactly what we did. Lots of nice gifts, too much stuff to nibble on, and a really, really toasty fire in the fireplace created a good space to relax, knit, and read. For me, having the day with Samuel and Eliza and seeing them enjoy each other after five long months was my greatest gift.

It's barely 9:00 PM, and I'm off to bed...Hope everyone had a great day...May 2010 bring us all peace, lots of joy (and money) and fewer losses and problems.....

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I posted a shot of the irises in bloom outside a while back, but when the cold weather blew through last week, I went out and clipped the remaining buds from the plants out by the garage. Sure enough, one of them opened up. Irises in the house in December doesn't make the spring seem so far away.

A friend, Whitney Huck, brought this orchid to me when Molly shed her earthly coil and headed toward the light. It's been gloriously in bloom since early November.

FINALLY, I have a brugmansia in bloom! I've spoiled this plant, given to me by Sherm Koons, for two years, and when I brought it in in the fall, I thought I saw the beginning of a bud. Sure enough, the gargantuan plant that fills a good portion of my bedroom has successfully produced this amazing bloom. The photos doesn't do it justice. I'd estimate it to be at least a foot long, and it has a sweet, intoxicating, exotic aroma that fills my room.

Posted by PicasaAnother view of the brugmansia...I tried to get better shots, but this plant is surrounded by all the others I have in my bedroom, and I just can't get situated for the perfect angle without rearranging 15 other plants. So for now, these record the images of the short-lived, but amazing blossom of this December flower.

Friday, December 11, 2009


The holidays are upon us, and I'm counting the days until The Farm family comes home to spend precious time together in celebration of another year of love and blessings. Each year as I reflect on the gratitude I feel to be alive and thriving, I am reminded of the joy and laughter we experience here at The Farm, as well as the passages of those whose lives have been so much a part of ours. Life's perplexities keep me a ponderin' from time to time, but many, many more moments of unadulterated joy and laughter resonate in my heart as I look back on 2009.

Samuel will be home for a much needed week of farm R&R in a couple of weeks...Eliza returns to The Farm from her dad's house in just a few days...Joe's here and keeps the fire roarin'...Lori's counting the days until she flies in from Maui...I'm nudging Bobbi and Isabella to come this way to celebrate the New Year...keeping my fingers crossed on that one.

Brett and Betsy will visit via Skype from Bulgaria (or from whatever exotic place they're choosing to visit for holiday break), and hopefully, we'll get some news from Dana, James and Wendy. Meera'll be in our hearts from the West Coast, and hopefully,we'll see Tom and Chintu, Norm, Diane and Andrew multiple times as the celebrations continue.

I'll default to my list making for an account of Farm happening for 2009....Here we go...


1. Joe's return to The Farm in July with his beloved bassett hound, Rufus Thomas.
2. Samuel's acceptance into the MFA program in Creative Writing at American University.

3. Eliza's selection as section leader of the Warren High School Marching Warriors Color Guard.

4. Petie's visit to The Farm in November and our subsequent trip to Indianapolis to see Eliza perform at the Grand Nationals band competition.

5. Seeing family at the huge Shook / Michael family reunion in July at the
MatneyCommunity Center.
6. Laida's visit with my family in Boone during Thanksgiving

7. Reconnection with many folks from my past and former students via Facebook..

8. Celebrating my mom's 91st birthday on December 10th.


1. The passages of Pepín Carro (March), Grandma Ruth (June), Sally Johnson (September), Molly, the corgi and sweet, little Rufus (November)

2. The passage of Diane's Grandma Gracie, also in June.

3. Tumultuous, dysfunctional, vicious happenings at my workplace.


1. Good health, lots of laughter, and fun.

2. The barn's still standing.

3. The bounty of the land...early veggies in the garden this past spring, lots of glorious flowers during the absolutely beautiful fall...

4. The love of family and friends.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


When we take to the fields here at The Farm, we grab whatever garment is near and available to keep us warm on our spur of the moment walks. Last Sunday's journey into the back pasture provides a clear picture of what the world of "haute couture" refers to as "FARM CHIC."

As she sets the trend in Farm Chic, the Farm Mom always follows Grandma Ruth's advice and wisdom - "Keep your head covered, your hands, neck and feet dry, and you won't get sick." Worthwhile advice to consider since in her 107 years on Earth, Grandma never had a cold.

Farm Wannabes should take note of Farm Mom's ensemble - seasoned clothes she slept in, accentuated with old farm jacket from days gone by, the double scarf look, woolen gloves, thick socks (white is always preferable), and handy garden shoes. Her accessories include The Farm's retro WalMart canvas beach bag and spunky hat (see close-up below), a loaner from José's MFA thesis show, "Cossett Canoodle."

Close-up: Cossett Canoodle hat with knotted scarves. (On colder winter days, Farm Mom would probably wrap her head in a wool scarf and top it off with one of her hand-knitted Farm Toboggans.)

José's head cover of choice is the bright orange ear-flapped flannel hat that's been sitting around at The Farm, waiting for someone with the right sized head to wear it. It's a flexible piece of headwear and can be sported backwards, as José models here. Joe's neck stays very warm as he wears Cato as his scarf.
Please feel free to call upon any current or former Farm resident for advice regarding staying warm, Farm fashion, or where to purchase Farm garments. Stay warm...Stay healthy...And have a good chuckle along the way!


The holidays are upon us, and here at The Farm, we seek to manifest total joy and peace as we move toward Solstice, Christmas, and the New Year. The greening of the house is in progress, our Christmas tree is soaking up some preservative in the garage before we put it up, and as always, I'm contemplating when I'll get shopping done....a last minute thing for me always...

Today's list.....

1. Joy at the thought Samuel will be home for Christmas...the first time in a year....I can't wait!

2. Joy at the thought Eliza will return to The Farm in a few days to spend Christmas. When she's at her dad's, I miss her immensely.

3. Joy at the thought Joe is a permanent fixture at The Farm.

4. Joy at the thought Samuel, Eliza, Mom, Myra, and I will be in Boone together for Christmas Day.

5. Joy at the thought of sitting by the fire with the Christmas tree lights aglow.

6. Joy at the thought of New Year's Eve again here at The Farm.

7. Joy, great joy, in feeling the love all around.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


This crisp November morning, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, has dawned with flawless blue skies, bright sun, and the quietness and solitude that brings me total peace here at The Farm. As the huge buck I've protected over the past few years regally sauntered across the front field just a moment ago, a flock of geese flew overhead, and the crows were chattering out the driveway. It's so good to be at home today....I don't plan to leave...Joe's at the office, and Eliza's got plans, so Annie, the cats, and I will hold down the fort...I might just do a little yoga.

The Farm family's been on a whirlwind of a trip this fall - great, great joys contrasted by huge sorrows... I really don't know where to begin, so I'll just make one of my lists....

1. Eliza's senior year has been memory-packed...Band activities, trips, fundraisers, and responsibilities define her days, and months of hard work culminated last week in a trip to Grand Nationals, where she shone radiantly and beautifully across the big screen in the Lucas Oil Stadium with the Warren High School Marching Warriors. Petie (91), Tita, and I were there to watch her perform, and as the band walked on the field, I was so consummed with pride that my smile covered my entire face. Petie and Tita cried with joy...I finally had to tell stop or they were going to miss the show! Later, we were able to catch up with E. and her friends at a mall in downtown Indy, and Mom got to meet some of the kids she hears me talk about all the time.

2. The weekend before Grand Nationals, Tom and I drove down to Boone to pick up Petie. I brought her home on Eliza's 18th birthday, so fitting since she and Papa were here 18 years ago for three weeks after Eliza's birth...Mom visited for three days before we road-tripped to Indianapolis. It's the first time she's been here since Samuel graduated from high school, and I am still in awe of my mom's get-up-and-go at her age. She visited my classes and met many of my colleagues, as well as had some time at The Farm with Joe and me. My heart hasn't been that happy in a long time...My mom came to visit me (!!!), and we spent some wonderful time together talking. I learned a great deal about her childhood that I'd never heard before; much of what I learned allows me to understand the dynamics of her family better than I've ever known until now. I love her so....

3. Samuel's had a heck of a semester at American University...His profs have referred to his work and insights as amazing and to him as the "relentlessly hip underbelly of the 2009 MFA inductees." I'll hand it to him - he's worked full time in retail in downtown DC while carrying 12 hours of graduate work, three courses of which have been in literature. Additionally, he's had two rounds of flu, two other infections, and has been held up at gunpoint. Quite an initiation into the city....Can't wait to get him home over the holidays and let him relax.

4. It's been a difficult time at work. Just too crazy to even begin to describe.

5. It's been a fall of passages, as we've said goodbye to our beloved Molly, who taught us all a great deal in her last days, and to sweet, loveable Rufus, the bassett hound puppy Joe loved like his own child. We could experience and accompany Molly toward her passage, but Rufus's unexpected death has been a huge emotional challenge. There's an immense sense of their absence here that's still raw and sad, but we're moving along. As always, the farm mantra applies: slow and steady will win the race as we patiently move from being overwhelmed with saddness to greater moments of joy. It's incredibly lonely at moments without Rufus's constant energy and Molly's sweet smile. The two of them were great friends...A great consolation for me, however, is to imagine them together with my dad in the spirit world...Papa feeding them both under the table...Rufus brought my dad back to me more than anything since Papa died, and as I played with Rufus, Daddy was right there with me, chuckling all the while.

Other farm happenings:

a. Eliza and I checked out the University of Cincinnati. It's a toss-up for her, I believe, between Cincinnati and Miami of Ohio for study next year.

b. I'm in the market for a new car since Eliza had a bump-up in the Subaru (on the morning we were all to leave for Grand Nationals).

c. Joe and I have a good pile of wood ready to burn in our newly chimney-swept stove.

d. As we prepare for Thanksgiving, I'm looking forward to time in NC at my grandmom's house in the mountains with my dad's family and my friend, Laida, who's coming up from Miami.

There's probably more I'll add to this post as I do some more thinking, but for now, that's all folks....I'm grateful for this beautiful day and my many, many blessings.....


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Tuesday, October 27, 2009


As I sit down to write this post, I can look out the window and see Molly's resting place underneath the chestnut tree in the side yard. Her life on Earth ended yesterday, and she left us to soar with the spirits and join the other animals who have been such a part of our lives here at The Farm...She's in good company, for sure...
Twelve years ago about this time of year, I went to see two corgi puppies who lived with some not so nice humans across the field from where Eliza took riding lessons. Her instructor knew we were considering a dog, and Kara, one who would never, ever turn a critter away, mentioned we might want to help these little ones out. When I spoke to the man who had them, I told him I was interested in a puppy, and he proceeded to tell me that if I didn't take both dogs, he'd just "tie a rock around the other one's neck and toss it in the pond" He needed to "get rid of them both, one way or another." The next day, Sam went to get both Annie and Molly, and by the next morning, Samuel and Eliza had decided both puppies had to stay at The Farm. How could we separate the sisters??
As a little puppy, Molly's long nose and tail quickly distinguished her from her sister. Her little belly was so bloated when she arrived she looked like she weighed a ton, but from the get-go, Molly's smile shone, despite her discomfort and malnutrition. Over the years, she and Annie would comb the farm from one end to the other and make enough noise in the night to incite the neighbors to call the dog warden (!). Like geese in flight, the corgi sisters knew instinctively in which direction to run, when to change course and how to accelerate like greased lightening after everything from a fox to a mole. With her long nose that proved to be quite advantageous when burrowing, Molly holds The Farm record for most moles brought in from the back field. Since Rufus's arrival, she spent many afternoons with him out in the field, teaching him about "mole-ing."
After Sam moved away and when I was alone here, Molly hung by my side constantly. She and Annie became my housemates, and we talked to each other, sang songs, and danced all over the house. On some mornings, Molly would wake up in a goofy mood and would run back and forth through the house with a huge smile on her face while I would sing, "Molly's a silly....Molly is a silly." Finally, she would stop for a breath and laugh hard, ears turned back and nose to the sky.
Other great Molly memories come to mind at the moment:
The day she treed a raccon up a telephone pole and wouldn't EVEN begin to think about coming in for food or sleep. She stayed there a good 48 hours, determined to outlast the patient raccoon.
The day she got her head stuck in the railings on the back porch., Tom came over and was ready to dismantle a rail when Molly jerked her head right back out.
The trip to Boone from Lexington one Christmas when she got carsick and used a vomit bag Samuel managed to stick in front of her.
The many evenings I would call her and Annie to come in. Annie usually obeyed while Molly would turn to look at me, laugh and take off in the other direction.
The day she tried to take down a Great Dane and Mastiff at the same time because they attacked Annie.
The many afternoons I would find her and Annie with Eliza, who had dressed them up in some sort of costume or baby clothes. Molly's Halloween costume now goes to Rufus.
Molly with an old bagel, hot dog bun, or piece of bread in her mouth that she'd carry around and guard for days.
Watching her come running to me when I'd come home from work with a huge cow patty in her mouth time after time after time.
The time Sunday night when Eliza, Molly, and I were alone in my bedroom in silence as Eliza shared her love with Molly.
Her love for Annie and Annie's love for her. With the exception of an occasional hour here and there, they were never apart.
As opposed to the rest of her entire life, the past two weeks have been hard ones as cancerous tumors overtook her body, weakened her and robbed her of her ability to walk, eat and seek water without struggle. As difficult as the process was to experience, I am grateful to have been there every step of the way with her, and I am honored that I could hold her head in my arms and let her bury her head in my chest as she drew her last breath. She drifted away in my arms, and I felt her spirit take flight. It wasn't easy, and I cried hard. I am so grateful to Joe and Tom who made it possible for me to be totally with her during the process and who cared for us both before and afterwards with love and tenderness.
When we put Molly in the Earth, I made a bed of bright yellow leaves for her to rest upon, and we covered her with a baby blanket and more leaves. Annie watched from the flower bed a few feet away, and Hendrix (channeling Samuel there to be with us, I'm sure) leaned up against me as we placed the soil back on top of her. Rufus was at our side as well, and the other cats sauntered by as we worked.
As I was sitting alone in the warmth of the afternoon sun shortly thereafter, I closed my eyes and asked for a sign...something to let me know Molly was OK...When I opened my eyes, a HUGE red-tailed hawk came flying along the driveway in front of me at the height of the railing on the deck. I could have reached out and touched it had I wanted. He flew across the yard and over the top of the pines at the end of the side yard. Before he was out of sight, I heard him squeal and watched him spiral into a circle. Then he disappeared...Molly had sent her messenger, and I was embraced by peace.
It'll take us a while to adjust to Molly's absence. As Annie came into the bedroom last night, she growled out of habit, thinking Molly was there to challenge her for her food. The perplexed look on Annie's face as she looked around for Molly indicated Annie sensed our life had changed. When I got up this morning to let Annie out, I held the door open and called for Molly to come....I'm sure all of us will need a little time to process her absence.

I've read this poem by Walt Whitman many times over in the past couple of weeks....I include it here in honor of Molly...

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain'd,

I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their conditions,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their self-importance,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things.
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is disrespectful or unhappy over the whole earth.
Everyone here at The Farm is a better human being by virtue of having lived with Molly. As I told her the other night, we'll never ever be without her...As Joe reminds us, she's here, just in another forever.
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Friday, October 09, 2009


Cato demonstrates one of his favorite uses of recyling bin lids. Cato's a fan of direct afternoon sun.

Exhibit #2
Oscar prefers a comfy snooze on his back with porch railing shade.

Exhibit #3
Rufus likes to spread his wings, have the sweet aroma of a rawhide bone near his nose, and snooze comfortably with his eyes half open on his yoga mat.

Exhibit #4
Clouseau prefers the body shaping perch for his R & R.

Photos of Annie in her relaxation mode coming soon when I can catch her with my camera.....
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Thursday, October 08, 2009


Most of the time, this amazing plant produces flowers in the middle of the summer. This year, in July, we had a couple of blooms that came out while I was in Boone. I lamented the fact I didn't get to see them; the blooms opened and were on the ground before I got home.

For some odd reason, the plant decided to open up again - this time in October after temps have already plummeted to near freezing levels. I was really shocked to see two buds last weekend, and over the course of the week, they've opened, bloomed and faded away.

The lifespan of the glorious flower is only 24 short but so breathtaking while it lasts!

Monday, September 21, 2009


In the back woods, chubby Goddess keeps an eye on all the plants and critters from atop her tree stump perch where I sit and think about things. She's gotten a little crack in her left side over time and picked up some moss along the way, but neither seem to bother her greatly. She's a jolly woman, happy to live in the woods and not have to deal with much more than an occasional passerby on a walk.
There's a huge, beautiful, one-of-a-kind fungus growing at the base of a tree down the path from chubby Goddess, and it's one of the most striking works of art I've ever seen in the natural world. It engulfed a strand of barbed wire as it grew, and the waxy appearance is really quite spongy to the touch. It's totally breathtaking!
This close-up image below allows one to see the interior complexity of the mass.

And this is what it looks like as one approaches it. I had no idea what I was looking at from a distance. It was only when I got closer that I discovered this amazing, glob of orange, salmon, and pale yellow stuff.
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Monday, September 14, 2009


Saturday morning, September 12, 2009, Sally Johnson said goodbye to this world and began her journey into the world of spirit. Friends for almost three decades, Sally and I have woven in and out of contact over the thirty years, but most recently, by virture of Facebook, our connection has been strong and very special.

One of the first of many powerful and inspiring women I met when I moved to Ohio from New Orleans, Sally was a young mom of three active, energetic and highly talented, creative children. Her husband at the time worked as a glassblower, and he and Sally lived on a small farm in our area. One of my first memories of Sally is of a barn dance out at her and Doug's farm - - a birthday celebration for a mutual friend's birthday. When I close my eyes, I can see the beautiful birthday cake Sally decorated with sweet-pea flowers for Cathy and her dancing with each of her children all night long as the moon shone through the slats in the barn siding. Oh, how they loved their mom!

Sally was a force of nature...a founding member of the Dumb Club, a true back-to-the-earth, tofu-making, hippie mom who set the bar for me as the mom I wanted to emmulate when it became my time for children. She birthed her children at home and attended many, many other women who chose to do the same. I am touched by the number of younger adults now who now honor her for being with their moms at their respective births. Sally always, always, always, advocated for women and kids and the Earth...Thanks to Sally Johnson's efforts there is a rape hot-line in Marietta for women in crisis.

Artsy, creative, funny, sarcastic and at times cynical and opinionated, Sally's path was not always easy, but she unfailingly came out on top, whether it be from the throes of divorces or battling a chronic leukemia that has reared its nasty head in her life for the past few years. Her love of the mountains of southwest Virginia and her grandson, Max, defined her truest inspirations and became the topic of most of our recent conversations. I treasure our emails in which she talked about both.

Recently Sally turned 60 and spent a week at the beach with her family in celebration. AS I understand, not long after their return from this special vacation, her body again began to need attention. Blood and platelet transfusions did not spur her marrow to take hold again, and she weakened steadily and quickly. Appropriately, her family was with her as she took her final exhale last Saturday.....

I downloaded the above photos from Facebook...Sally in the mountains....Sally with her grandson....It's been hard to veer my thoughts away from her passage, but when I went on a walk yesterday through my fields, as the sun shone, as the butterflies savored the last of summer's nectars, and as the crows and hawks called in the distance, I felt her presence strongly...peaceful and serene...

Goodbye to an amazing woman.....godspeed, my friend....