31 October 2008

Last night Rebecca, Kristen, Brandon, Kathryn, and I gathered for our third annual pumpkin-carving. We served hot cocoa made on the stove and fresh-baked pumpkin bread (both courtesy of Kathryn); the pumpkins Kathryn and I had picked up that afternoon at a little corner garden shop called Carter's Corner, the grounds of which were laden with gorgeous round richly-colored pumpkins and occasional hand-scribbled notices informing us of the 39 cents per pound cost. I subsequently searched out the smallest and lightest pumpkins although after several minutes of searching the grounds among the little kids and their parents, my biceps were rebelling against my awkward two-gourd load. When I whimpered a feeble protest at Kathryn's more thorough search, a man smoking a cigarette calmly insisted upon taking one and carrying it to the counter with us, seemingly happy to witness another "guessing."

I got the impression that this was one of his fall entertainments, the guessing contest, as he stood placidly by watching the transaction. "Oh, I'm not very good at estimating weights," I said to the girl at the counter when she urged me to guess for a free pumpkin, but she and the cigarette-man pressed me until I half-heartedly tossed out "10 pounds?" "Go up," the girl told me conspiratorially, so I revised my guess to 12 pounds. Bingo! The first pumpkin was free. I had a go with the second, immediately surmising it a bit lighter--11 pounds perhaps? but dully stuck with my original guess to keep things simple and overestimated it by a pound. I'm still kicking myself for not going with my gut and nabbing that free pumpkin, but hey--I don't mind supporting a good business, right?

We listened to my favorite artist, Vienna Teng, as we chatted and carved until 11 at night. Rebecca carved the most artistically, executing a full-blown rose with shading carved at various depths--quite skillful. Brandon finished a jolly face in minutes, and Kathryn outlined the Beatle's logo with a pointed wheel. I think she still means to carve it out. I tried my hand at a simple school of fish, hacking out about five goldfish that don't even look as good as the cracker. Pumpkin carving is not my forte. Kristen "came to the rescue" and chiseled out swirls among them, but let's just say it's a good thing pumpkin-defacing comes only once a year for the Moore girls.

But the evening finished with three more or less completed jack-o-lanterns, a compost pile topped with stringy orange globs, and nicely toasted pumpkin seeds. I do love fall!

simple Saturday

19 October 2008

Yesterday I celebrated my birthday, and it was a pleasant day spent with Kathryn, Mom, Dad, and later on in the evening, Rebecca. Having declared the night before that I wanted few reminders of my advancing age, we spent the day as we might any ol' Saturday with only occasional interruptions of sheepish "happy birthday, Valerie"s.

I was eager to try out this recipe I had seen for Parmesan encrusted chicken, so I made some for our supper. It is a very easy yet flavorful recipe which is perfect for slicing up in a salad. I tossed spinach, greens, tomatoes, and toasted whole almonds with a simple dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, and honey which I learned from Hazel and served it with the chicken. Kathryn sliced up little purple, red, and gold potatoes, drizzled them with olive oil and salt, and baked them at medium high heat for our side. Dad and Mom put together the crowning glory, however, an eight-layer jiggly tower of chocolate cake filled with vanilla pudding and glistening with ganache over the top and sides. Its daunting presence in the middle of the table testified to where my edible priorities lie.

We rounded out the day with a quick game of a Monopoly copy-cat called Bookopoly which my parents' had picked up in the garden shop of all places. Instead of the Boardwalk or Park Place we bought lovely book-properties like Goodnight, Moon, The Sound and the Fury, and To Kill a Mockingbird. The dreaded jail space was T.V. time-out and one of the penalty cards read: Caught reading Cliffs Notes; go back 3 spaces. Isn't that fun?

a glimpse of life forward and back

16 October 2008

Last week I accompanied Kristen on her data collection trip, and we spent the weekend monitoring seat belt use in western Virginia. If ever you see a petite girl wearing a yellow reflective vest, red hat, giant purple sunglasses, and clicking dials on her clipboard, make sure you and your shot gun passenger are wearing your seatbelts properly. She can see the glint of the unused seat belt buckle dangling behind you. And she will mark you a "No" when she does.

It's rather strange the intersections we found ourselves haunting--a corner outside a general store, the edge of a big white house's lawn, a cotton field. Very little traffic passed by, but a good percentage of that traffic was friendly. More than a few times a car would roll to a stop as the inevitable elbow poked out the window, bracing the curious driver as he leaned out--"what are you doing?" "Are you selling something?" "Honey, did your car break down?" I usually watched these interchanges from Kris's car, feeling rather like a ninny in my skirt and flats in the tall dewy grasses. I could just imagine some of the unfriendly types snorting about how the damn government spends our damn tax dollars paying two lumps to chat along the side of a random road. No, for most of the sites I would read or nap in the front seat, popping out only occasionally with a funny story about a budgie or to snap photographs of fields.

Ever since I left England I have been searching for the home and land I want to own some day, and western Virginia is a step in my dream's direction with its friendly population, mom-and-pop stores, and fields--oh yes, and livestock like cows or, best of all, GOATS. The pace of life is slower here and people are content to lounge on their front porches as the cars go by. The house I will own will have a porch, a porch that's big enough for chairs and the odd table or two. I can see my children running around, my dogs scattered on the steps sniffing the air, and the occasional waft of fragrant goat wisping from the back, bug-tusseling with the sharper scent of jasmine that's planted alongside the house. I shall have vegetables planted on raised beds, a few fruit trees and soft fruits, and copper gardening tools tucked in the shed--where, ahem, my sweet little children last left them.

These children--five or six--I will teach at home, training the older to teach the younger in some subjects. They will have chores around the house and farm and no television. I want them to cultivate imaginations of their own. There's no telling what they'll come up with as entertainment--they might form an entourage of talking cats named, oh, Melissa and Maria and Mary; they might make their own mystery movie called something like "On the Verge of Darkness" that involves clever twists that truly puzzle their viewers. They might don their fluorescent Ninja Turtle helmets with interchangeable eye bands that they for some reason picked out at the toy store having never shown any interest at all in Raphael or Michelangelo and cycle around bends as they evade the "cops" since they're "robbers." They might take on the role of busy mothers named Marge Smith and Marjorie Boushingles who take their kids to ice-skating lessons--and who might inadvertently show up at the dinner table instead...

...On second thought, maybe television is villainized. I um, think I'll park them in front of the tele for the whole day 'cause there's no telling what shinanigans kids'll come up with these days...or in days in which their mother grew up.

Wwoofing Adventures #3

12 June 2008

As I pray in St. Paul's Cathedral, a choir begins to sing...softly. The sopranos are light and the basses are gentle. I see the offering pouch I noted last summer, still beneath the candle stand and proclaiming in squeaky magic marker letters that I HAVE BEEN STOLEN FROM ST. PAUL'S CATHEDRAL. I also hear the thud click and ratchet of commercial tourism layering its tinny sound over their holy melody. Is it a fitting illustration of the old fight between God and mammon or am I overdramatic with sleep deprivation? The information booths and stands advertising guided tours for four pounds do seem to suck the marrow out of the cathedral as the stamps authorizing our right to enter thud and click, thud and click.
Setting out from the Bird's Nest after breakfast, we had returned to central London for our self-guided walking tour along the Thames. I loosely plotted a route from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey where we would also pass by the Wibbly Wobbly Bridge (officially known as the Millenium Pedestrian Bridge), St. Paul's, Leicester Square (for the half-price ticket booths Meagan and LeeAnn were anxious to peruse), and Covent Garden. Having been awake for a day and a half by then, plodding through London forced our bodies to keep up with the new time zone and provided us with a mental map of the area which we would visit for the next few days. It was gratifying to walk through my memories of London which had lain dormant since I returned from last summer's two literature classes, and whenever I spied something familiar I rejoiced in the clarity that comes from recognizing what you have not seen in awhile.

It was overcast and every-so-often it sprinkled, but I don't think we minded much; we were still amazed to be in England actually beginning our long-anticipated wwoofing adventure. "Can you believe we're here walking around?" we breathed, words which would be repeated and rearranged as our staple phrase for the next two months. It would crop up at all places in our conversations accompanied by never-flagging head shakes and exclamations: "Oh I know!" "No, no I really can't." All the nebulous dreaming and paper-laden planning now took on real textures and experience: the slippery slick stone of the pavement and the spitting precipitation of the London sky reminded us that we were indeed here at last.

Our elatement dipped at times throughout the day such as when LeeAnn could not find a working phone card and, bordering on hysteria, finally resorted to purchasing a rip off at a small shop, or I, teetering even closer to hysteria, couldn't find a bathroom and cursed myself at every step for drinking coffee and lots of water that morning. Yes, my elation dipped as my search for a toilet took me several blocks up and down the street until I finally gave in and entered Starbuck's, traitor to the British experience. I knew they had restrooms, however, so I bought some exorbitantly-priced fruit bread to justify my use of their facilities and returned to St. Paul's where we trudged up the hundreds of steps to the outer dome and my skirt caught the wind and flew up to my chin.

--Note to self: a light and airy skirt is inappropriate for windy days and climbing openwork metal staircases with fellow tourists climbing directly beneath you.

We trudged up Fleet Street and walked right past Dr. Johnson’s house; the rainy pavement sent our cold, flip-flopped feet skating; the bridge on the way to Covent Garden turned out not to be the bridge on the way to Covent Garden. Our enthusiasm and vigor waned as the afternoon wore on until we finally sought shelter beneath the columns of the Lyceum Theatre, chilled, wet, hungry, and tired.

We decided to head back to the Bird’s Nest and finish the route tomorrow.

meet Philbert

08 October 2008

He's part puppy, part goat, part horse, part donkey...ready and, I might add, eager to play at whatever part he's needed. He's an animal of many faces and moods, something the world has never seen the likes of.

He had humble beginnings as a man's extra-large lambswool hand-me-down, fabric scraps, and buttons. Actually, I never used the buttons, but they were nice in the picture.

All of him fit on one felted sleeve, a truly economical sort of chap.

Sewn by machine and stuffed with shredded batting, he emerged in three dimensions, ready to claim the heart of any unsuspecting child.

He's attentive...

and eager to play...

He's mysterious...

and content to ponder the intricacies of life.

He is called Philbert, and he's waiting for someone special.

busy photographers

07 October 2008

This afternoon Kathryn and I toured the neighborhood with Dad's SLR as we explored the features of the old camera. My favorite thing about a manual is the control it allows me over the depth of field--it really allows me to choose exactly what I want the viewer to focus upon, literally.

So armed with manual, notebook for recording our experimental techniques, and the eager eye of the amateur photographer, we set out to learn what we could about aperture and shutter speed.

We shot a whole roll of film on our adventure.