Fall in the City of Trees, Crockpot Roast, Limoncello Cupcakes and a Dog Named Casey

I am continuing daily blogs in November toward the goal of sharing some of the recipes and traditions in our family for 100 years during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. I welcome your sharing of traditions and comments about the blog topic.  

Today was a semi-cloudy election day in Charlotte, NC.  We will have a new mayor tomorrow.  The trees are  nearing peak here.  So spectacular that we saw Fall colors come alive in the mountains and then come home to the city and see Fall come again…. Awesome!

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THIS SCENE IS NEAR MY HOME in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on the path of our two mile walk we travel several times a week. Most of our walking is on the greenway, but we take this shortcut through a nearby street to our house.  My parents lived in an apartment near here when they sold their Indiana home and moved to be closer to family.  Each time I walk it, in my mind’s eye I see Dad, walking his dog Casey down this street. I put my thoughts about them into a poem.

CASEY
You came into his life when his need for you was great –
at mandatory retirement age, he couldn’t envision
life without work at the electric power plant.
You arrived in a box just after his 70th birthday,
a tail-wagging, face-licking snauser –
and he named you Casey.

Your demands were few – Alpo, TLC and exercise,
he gave you plenty of each and
you gave him reason to look forward to the day.
Your daily walks kept him in shape.
You slept on his shoes while he played solitaire,
then wrestled on the floor, followed by
an afternoon nap with you tucked under his arm.
When bath time rolled around
you hit the showers together.
You stood patiently in the shower stall
after your bath, waiting for him to shower.

He loved music, and you learned to sing with him
pointing your nose in the air and howling along
as he sang your favorite song, “Home on the Range”.
You rode in the Lincoln on his daily errands
even sleeping in the car while he attended
Presbyterian church with Ina.
He slipped food to you under the table, although
as a young father his children were forbidden
from feeding pets at the dinner table.

Your master entered his 8th decade of life –
you grew old in dog years and slept
at his feet for the last time –
while his memories dimmed with dementia.
He missed the faithful companion
who had enriched his life –
– as long as he could remember you.

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This is one corner of our back yard, as seen from the back of our house.  Charlotte is known as the city of trees and we have our share t enjoy.

It is now November and I am engaged in planning our calendar for the coming holidays.   I am also getting out some of the decorations for Thanksgiving month.  I will show those tomorrow.  Another busy day.  We had crock pot roast, cooked slowly with onions, potatoes, tomatoes, brussel sprouts, mushrooms and some white wine I had on hand.   I make some lemon cupcakes with limoncello icing for dessert.   This time I just used a box cake, and added lemon juice and yogurt to the mix of other ingredients for the cupcakes – and the touches of icing is just limoncello, confectioners sugar and some powdered lemonade mix (crystal lite) for tartness.

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MY HOLIDAY PLANNING IS UNDERWAY. HOW IS YOURS COMING?
Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

The Holidays are Coming and It’s TIme to Get Organized

I’M IN! I have signed on to the challenge of NaBloPoMo month to write a post each day in November. I am starting a cookbook project this month, tentatively titled: 100 Years of Christmas Recipes and Traditions in the Marquis Family. I have recipes for five generations in my family, and will be sharing some in posts, along with the stories and traditions that have been passed down. I will, of course, be including some of my thoughts and ideas as well. These posts will necessarily be first drafts of course, to be edited later. As a new blogger, I appreciate your encouragement and comments in my journey and welcome your joining the conversation as the holidays approach, to share your traditions on the daily topics. I expect to learn much about my family, blogging and writing (and hopefully some of your traditions as well) during this engaging November exercise in creativity.

IN MY FAMILY, we don’t think about Christmas as just one day. We begin to plan for the winter holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas no later than November 1st – so our planning covers activities for the period from November 1st – January 1st. There is a lot of excitement in the air- and early November is the time to get organized! I don’t want to ever be so rigidly organized that I can’t live a spontaneous life. And there are days when I set aside all plans to participate in something unexpected or maybe just have a do-nothing day because that is what I want to do. The holidays with all the expectations and hoopla can be very stressful, leaving us to feel pushed and pulled in all directions.

BUT, HAVING SOME DEGREE OF ORGANIZATION, assures me that I will finish the goals I set out for myself. Pre-planning also lets me decide what I choose to do, and eliminate what I do not want to do – ahead of time.

THERE ARE TWO GUIDING PRINCIPLES that have served me well over the years as a busy working mom and professional woman.

1. I read a quote somewhere that I keep posted over my desk.(It used to reside on my refrigerator.) “I can accomplish more in one day than most people can in one week, because I am organized.” I have seen some of the lists my grandmother Marquis made. She was a mother of six and bookeeper for the family business. My mother made to-do lists – and my sister does too. Technology has greatly aided our ability to plan. I use apps to make lists and to keep a calendar. I do use a paper calendar for Christmas pre-planning.

2. Many years ago, when I had accepted my first administrative position, I read in one of the organizational guru’s books that successful executives had one thing in common: they decided at the end of a working day what they would tackle the next day of work. When they cam to work the next day, no time was lost in deciding what to do – she just started at the top of the list for the day. I have continued this practice for many years and look forward to quiet time at the end of the day to decide what I will do the next day.

SO, LET’S BEGIN our organizing for the Christmas season. In a very busy holiday season, things run so much more smoothly with investing time in pre-planning. Then we can enjoy the festivities with much less stress. The first thing to do is to organize my calendar.

CALENDAR:
I USE A LARGE CALENDAR, with space for writing notes in each cell, and enter the following information:

1.- SOCIAL EVENTS we will be attending (e.g., Nutcracker, Christmas symphony concert, plays) and social invitations we accept from family and friends, as they come in.

2.- ENTERTAINING we want to plan for at home during the holidays (e.g., tree trimming party, dinners, receptions)

3.- THE DATES SPECIFIC GUESTS will be visiting overnight (with names and number).

GIFT LIST
I USE AN APP ON MY iPHONE to make a list of each person that I will be buying a gift for this season. The phone is always with me, so I can add ideas as they occur to me, or check my list if I am out shopping, and I see the perfect gift. When I purchase it, I add the amount paid, so I can see what is complete and what is left to buy.

MENUS FOR SPECIAL DAYS
1.- I PLAN THE MENUS for each entertaining event, as well as for the days guests will be staying in our home during November and December. Thanksgiving and Christmas eves and days, I plan menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner and evening snacks – as well as the days we will have overnight guests. The menus are typed for each date. If I am preparing a special recipe, I add the cookbook and page number for easy reference. Having the menus posted in the kitchen lets guest know when meals will be on the table so they can plan their day, and you can easily assign willing guests to assist in preparing selected foods.

2.- I MAKE WEEKLY SHOPPING LISTS from the menus. It takes a couple of hours to plan all the menus and weekly shopping lists, but investing time early is SOOOO worth it. I no longer have to struggle about what to cook or what to buy at the grocery. The planning is done.

BAKING
I PLAN SEVERAL BAKING DAYS to prepare foods I can make ahead and store in freezer for the holidays (e.g., variety of cookies, holiday breads like pumpkin breads, Christmas eve bread, basics for pumpkin soup A and other entrees that can be made ahead and frozen). If unexpected guests arrive, I always have something to pull out on short notice. I love baking days! I put on some Christmas music and cook and bake and sing to my heart’s content. This is a special time to be creative – maybe prepare some new and unusual foods, as well as old-time favorites the family will be looking forward to savoring once again.

WHEN THIS PRE-PLANNING IS COMPLETE, I am ready to enjoy the remainder of the holidays. The many free spaces on the calendar give me multiple choices for when I want to shop, put up the tree, decorate the house, write the Christmas cards, visit the frail family members, go caroling and so on. Based on the plans already on the calendar, it is easy to look over and decide when there is time, and desire, to add something that comes along that looks like fun. Trust me on this. Hanging in there to complete pre-planning is really worth it! Now we can enjoy the holidays.

DO YOU HAVE OTHER SUGGESIONS FOR PRE-PLANNING?

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

100 Years of Marquis’ Family Christmas Traditions and Recipes

OK, I’M IN!  November is National Blog Posting Month, requiring a post for each day in November.  NaBloPoMo will be a challenge, but I have signed on to the task.  I have just started blogging: womenlivinglifeafter 50.com. 

I HAVE BEEN THINKING about a project that I will dust off and begin in earnest this November  – posting every day with some narrative or photo related to the book. I have collected stories and recipes for a couple of years in anticipation of writing this book.   I now have recipes for the Christmas holidays for five (5) generations of my family.  I thought it might be of interest not only to the extended Marquis family, but perhaps others to write them down, along with the stories and traditions that have been passed down in the Marquis family.

I’LL COMMIT TO beginning this project by writing each day in November a post that could be incorporated into the final book.  It might be a family story, or tradition that was passed down through the family, or a favorite recipe – or even my own experience related to specific holiday events.   The subtitle of my blog is “Learning something new every day.”  No doubt, I will learn a great deal in the process of writing this history. 

I HOPE YOU WILL be interested enough to stay tuned in November, sharing your encouragement and your comments about the posts.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

 

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Finding Your Own Personal Retreat

EVERYONE NEEDS A PERSONAL RETREAT.  My experiences in living, and my work as a family therapist, tell me how important it is to maintain a healthy life. A retreat is just as important to us in our life after 50, as it was in our overloaded earlier years when we were competing our education, were young mothers or establishing a career. 

THE WORD RETREAT has many meanings in everyday language.  Websters Dictionary defines “retreat” as a verb: to leave, quit, withdraw – words with negative connotations.  Other definitions of retreat as a noun include: asylum, den, haunt, haven, hideway, privacy, refuge, sanctuary, shelter – words of more appeal and comfort.  Developmental psychologists teach that our more senior years are a time of reflection and consolidation, a time of taking stock and giving back.  I view this time of life as a time to set new goals and to take pleasure in the blessings of my life as it unfolds.  Having a special retreat can facilitate the process of rest, reflection and well-being.

MY OWN DREAM FOR A RETREAT has always been a cabin in the mountains.  I was born in West Virginia, and my husband in Kentucky, two states with beautiful mountains, so  we both feel nostalgic about being in the mountains.  One Fall day, 10 years ago, we found our mountain cottage on a drive into the North Carolina mountains.  Our cabin is on the side of the mountain about 3400 feet elevation.  The expansive view of the Black mountain range and the valley far below is visible from the screen porch, kitchen, dining room and living room.  We spent limited time here until we retired from academic life to pursue new interests.  We are now able to stay on extended visits.
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IN THE SPRING AND SUMMER,  the woods come to life with rhododendron, dogwood and other mountain flowers, and new green on thousands of trees.
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  In Fall, the mountains are transformed as the trees slow production of their chlorophyll and the leaves wave their many colors.  We see mountain creatures and birds wander around in their natural habitat.  In October, sounds of chain saws are heard in the distance as wood is cut and stockpiled for burning in the fireplace in Winter- for folks who live there all year.
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In November, the scent of pine is in the air as Frazier fir, cedar and pine trees are harvested for Christmas trees and bundled in trucks for transport to the cities.The early fog shrouds the mountains as we sip coffee in the morning.  
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In this little house, we feel close to nature and to each other.  And, I might add,  more open and self-aware.  Here, in our retreat, we stop, rest, create, laugh, reflect, plan – and spend time together. 

PERHAPS EACH PERSON NEEDS A PERSONAL RETREAT, a place to go that is meaningful – a space of our own. 
MY PROFESSOR BROTHER’S retreat is his sail boat, where he enjoys alone time to read, write and sail.  He says he feels free and in touch with his surroundings and his creative self on the water. 
MY BROTHER-IN-LAW’s retreat is a motor home.  He and his wife take to the roasd finding a new location near a lake or the ocean to park for a spell to relax and make new friends.  
MY SISTER HAS CREATED a comfortable retreat in the corner of her bedroom to read and make her to-do lists.  Her chair has a soft afghan, and sets beside  a small table with room for a couple of books and her journal and a floral china cup with a dainty handle for her coffee. 

A COUPLE I KNOW HAVEFOUND WAYS to carve out a personal retreats for each of them – he heads to his woodworking shop and she to her sewing niche for some time alone to work and think.
A MOTHER OF THREE tells me she has an old rocking chair on the back porch she goes to when she needs to get away for a few minutes. She says even five minutes rocking with her head back and her eyes closed is a mini vacation for her.
A SENIOR CITIZEN who is a recent widow, takes a daily walk in the park. She greets other walkers, enjoys the fresh air and the changing seasons.
A BUSY ARCHITECT says he takes a drive alone in the car in the rural countryside for about 30 minutes to clear his head, after a busy day.
MY DEAR CHINESE FRIEND has created a meditation room in her house – the room is empty except for a yoga mat, candles, flowers, Buddha statue and music.
A RETIRED NEIGHBOR says that her time alone in her garden pulling weeds and touching plants helps her “sort things out.” 

I ASKED SEVERAL FOLKS, In an unscientific survey,  about their choices of a place to get away and what it did for them. The common thread in their experiences was that each individual had found a way to “lose themselves” for a time  – an intermission, so to speak, before re-joining their lives, refreshed.  Their retreats enabled them to recharge, find the resolve to manage a difficult situation, problem-solve, forgive, brainstorm, meditate, create, rest, develop and action plan, set goals, get in touch with their optimism, appreciate their life’s blessings – and find their joy for life deep inside.

WHAT IS YOUR RETREAT?  WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU? 

 

   

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Spaghetti, Go-To-Meals and All Things Pasta

IT WAS A PLEASANT OCTOBER DAY,  the temperature in Charlotte was in the low 70’s, the air crisp and the leaves turning colors in the city.  After grocery shopping in the morning, I enjoyed lunch and browsing in the clothing stores with my friend Barbara.  We try to meet once a week for lunch, checking out the food and ambiance in a different restaurant each time.  We always discuss the books we are reading. Then, we do something interesting,  such as viewing a new exhibit at the Mint Museum, browsing the huge Metrolina Antique Market, checking out a sale at a favorite store, spending the afternoon in a bookstore, or seeing a movie on rare occasions.  

I NEEDED TO PULL out one of my go-to-meals tonight, if I was to have dinner on the table at the usual time. LIKE SPAGHETTI. I typically change the way I make spaghetti sauce each time I make it.  The way I see it, cooking is a creative process and that is what makes it fun. 

I MADE A SIMPLE TOSSED SALAD of field greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, grated cheddar cheese and chunks of zucchini. 
I put the whole wheat pasta on to cook as I made the sauce. 
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THE SAUCE FOR TONIGHT’S MEAL INCLUDES: ground beef, onions, garlic, tomato paste, peeled and quartered tomatoes, thinly sliced carrots, mushrooms, salt, pepper, basil,  and oregano – and this time, I added a 1/4 cup of sherry (medium to dry).  Since I had limited time to prepare dinner this evening, I precooked the carrots in the microwave until partially done.  In a skillet, I cooked the ground beef and onions and spices until done, added the garlic for an additional minute or two, then added the remaining ingredients. 
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I LEFT THE SAUCE TO COOK DOWN somewhat to the thickness I wanted on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. 
I WATCHED THE PASTA carefully to not overcook and drained it and moved it to the back of the stove for the last few minutes for the sauce to thicken.  I set the table and put the garlic bread in the oven to heat.  Tossed the salad with a little extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I ARRANGED THE PASTA in my large white tureen, poured the sauce over the pasta and topped with fresh grated parmesan cheese.   I poured glasses of wine.  Tonight, it was Moscato Provincial di Pavia Castello del Poggio, Asti Italy.  Viola!  Dinner is served.
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I FOUND A LEMON PASTA at Trader Joe’s that is my new favorite – Lemon Pepper Pappardelle Pasta.  I prepare the pasta, then toss it with extra virgin olive oil, toasted pine nuts and onions sautéed in a splash of olive oil and butter – then sprinkle pasta I bowl with parmesan and oregano.  Serve with a quarter lemon to squeeze over top.  Delicious.  Really. 

IF YOU WANT TO EXPERIMENT with unusual kinds of pasta and can’t find a local provider who has a variety, I have found an on-line source.  Rossi Pasta (rossipasta.com) has 29 kinds to try, such as: Vino Rosso Linguini, Lemon Pepper, Saffron Linguini, Black Olive Linguini, Wild Mushroom Linguini, Spinach Basil Garlic Fettuccini, citrus Angel Hair, Pumpkin Spice Fettuccini (option to serve with sliced turkey) and many more.  CIAO.

WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR GO-TO-MEALS?

Sue Marquis Bishop October 2013

     

Trees Are Approaching Peak Colors and Jam Cake is for Dinner

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NATURE’S FALL EXTRAVAGANZA of Colors is on full display as we leave the mountains this week for the city. In every direction, I see a such a powerful vista that I concentrate on the views, trying to memorize the “now showing” moving pictures to recall during the coming Winter.

NC Mountains -Photo by SMB
NC Mountains -Photo by SMB

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NC Mountains Photo by SMB
IN LATE OCTOBER,changing light signals fauna and flora to orchestrate a final fling,
before rest and rejuvenation. Bright Fall skies light up the mountains
in an annual display, using all the best colors in the crayon box – copper, golden, nehi orange,
burgundy, scarlet and cinnamon.
Last Rays of Sunset on Black Mountains
Last Rays of Sunset on Black Mountains photo by SMB

EARTHY FALL COLORS ARE AT PEAK at 3,000-4,000 elevations bringing parades of tourists to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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THE YANCY TIMES reports bears preparing for hibernation are actively foraging
closer to homesteads, as the 2013 rains in the North Carolina mountains reduced the acorn crop
in higher elevations. We hide the bird feed and feed the dog indoors.

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Photo by SMB

THE WILD TURKEYS are marching again. I edged too close taking this picture in the yard. A second after it was taken, the tom turkey jumped on the hood of the car, fluffed out his feathers and screeched in such an unexpected and aggressive display, that I jumped back in fright.

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WE PASS THE OLD HOMESTEAD of the Honeycutt family as we reach the bottom of our mountain on the way to town. Descendents have built homes near this hollow. The old house is boarded up, sitting nestled in the crook of the hollow at the foot of the mountain. The old house is silent now, but the yard is well maintained by the family.

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Old Honeycutt House, Burnsville, NC Photo by SMB

THE WIND CIRCLES, blowing leaves from the trees,and they drift to the ground in heaps. We walk hand in hand, rustling the leaves beneath our feet like a taffeta skirt.

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I MAKE A LIMONCELLO STRAWBERRY JAM CAKE for dinner, an easy dessert and one of my family’s favorites. My Mother made hundreds of jelly rolls for us when we were growing up – and we loved them for dinner, snacks and breakfast. This is an adapted version of her jelly roll that I can put together faster when time is limited. Today I used a yellow cake mix. I followed the box directions, but substituted 1/4 cup limoncello liquour for part of the required liquid and orange juice for the rest, and added 1/4 cup sour cream. I made two layers, put them together with strawberry jam and dusted the top with powdered sugar. This is good to eat as is, but today, I added a dollop of lemon curd (from a jar) mixed with 1 tsp of limoncello and topped with strawberries.

Photo by SMB
Photo by SMB

I CUT A PIECE TO ENJOY in my chair overlooking the woods and light the fire.

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WHAT DO YOU LOVE about Fall?

Oh, To Be in the Mountains in the Fall

THERE WAS ALWAYS ONE DAY IN EARLY SEPTEMBER when my Mother would say, “fall is in the air” – and we would set out looking for bittersweet, cattails, wheat stalks and other interesting dried weeds and seeds to make into her Fall decorations. We knew fall had officially arrived, when we smelled her first loaf of pumpkin bread in the oven.

I LOOK FOR SIGNS OF FALL, as I take a break on the screen porch, with a second cup of coffee and an English muffin smeared with cream cheese and tomato marmalade. We are in the North Carolina mountains this week enjoying the cool air and gentle breezes.

THE MOUNTAINS are blanketed with trees stretching to the sky, their leaves mostly deep green now at summer’s end. The trees in our woods appear stately and still – as if their sturdy trunks, and all their leaves, are holding their breath – just before they exhale in a fall explosion of color. Fluffy clouds in the sky lay shadows here and there across the mountains in dark stripes, alternating with the sunlit areas, making the mountain range look like a giant head of just harvested broccoli or a boiled wool jacket in textured stripes of sunlit green and olive-black.

IT’S EASY TO IDENTIFY Mt. Mitchell, elevation 6,684 feet (ncparks.gov/visit/momi/main.phb), the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi. The climate at the peak is more like Canada then North Carolina, with animals and flora more alpine in nature. Some birds that make their homes on the highest peak do not fly south for the winter, but fly down the mountain to a more suitable climate for wintering.

Black Mountain Range Photo by SMB
Black Mountain Range
Photo by SMB

THE LEAVES ON THE DOGWOOD trees are beginning to turn red and berries are appearing on the branches. So far, only a few trees show evidence of changing colors. Red shows here and there through the woods. Dry leaves are scattered on paths. An occasional yellow leaf tumbles to the ground from high in the canopy.

I HEAR THE RAT-A-TAT of a woodpecker, and finally locate his red head pecking like a jackhammer, on a tree not far from the porch. The squirrels chase each other up and down the trees, stopping to gather nuts and seeds for their winter stash. A doe and two young deer appeared in the back yard again early this morning as we were making our coffee.  The fawn have grown and lost their baby spots.  They scamper and nuzzle each other like the adolescents they are.

Deer on Cane Mountain Photo by SMB
Deer on Cane Mountain
Photo by SMB
THIS AFTERNOON WE SEE WILD TURKEYS emerging from the woods. They are in a rowed flock of 15, playing follow the leader, as they climb up the steep mountainside, in an ascending column of feathers and bobbing blue heads. Blue heads? That was a surprise to me too. Blue as the Carolina sky! I always thought wild turkeys were skinny birds, not fat like the turkeys fattened for our thanksgiving tables.  Not so these birds.  They look fat to me.

A FEW LONE HUMMINGBIRDS ARE busy stuffing their tiny bodies with nutrients in preparation for the long trip south. My herb garden is getting leggy, as are our the geraniums and petunias. I pick the last of the tomatoes. I button my sweater against the cool afternoon. Maybe we’ll build our first fire of the fall season tonight. I make a mental note to arrange for a cord of wood to be delivered.

TODAY’S MAIL BRINGS notices about Fall festivals in the small towns throughout the North Carolina mountains – each one with a unique history – Brushy Mountain Apple Festival, Old Timey Days, Mt Mitchell Festival, Tomato Festival or Wooly Worm Festival. Children love the wooly worm races. Some old timers vow the thickness of the wooly worm’s coat predicts the kind of winter we will have. All the festivals have music,fresh produce, prepared food and beautiful mountain crafts. North Carolina is now 10th in grape production and wine stompings are more common. 

Fall Farmer Market Photo by SMB
Fall Farmer Market
Photo by SMB

AT TWILIGHT, I see the lights in the high school stadium in the valley below. Football season is underway at Mountain Heritage High School. I decide that tomorrow I will bring in pots of rust, orange, red and yellow mums to brighten the house and porch.  I’ll set some pumpkins and bittersweet on the screened porch and decorate the dining table and mantle with colorful leaves and pumpkins. It’s time to put away warm weather clothes and get out sweaters, jackets, corduroy, wool and hats. A good night for chili and apple pan dowdy.  

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A NEW SEASON.  My mother used to say that “each turning of a new season gives a person a lift.”  I understand what she meant because I feel the same way.  As a new season approaches, I feel emotionally uplifted, eager for new experiences and motivated to action. Time to make my action list for Fall.

What are the SIGNS OF FALL you look for?

What MEMORIES ARE STIRRED when they appear?

What FIVE WORDS would you choose to describe your experience of Fall? My choice is: colorful, savory, rich, cozy, industrious

Sue Marquis Bishop
September 2013    

 

 

Take a Mountain Retreat to a Literary Festival

ARE YOU INSPIRED BY BREATHTAKING SCENERY? Do you like books? Do you enjoy conversations on intellectually stimulating topics? Do you need a vacation? If the answer is yes, and you are in the regional vicinity of the North Carolina mountains, I have a splendid suggestion: make plans to attend this year’s Carolina Mountain Literary Festival. Or plan long range for next year’s – it’s usually in September.

THE 2013 ANNUAL CAROLINA MOUNTAIN LITERARY FESTIVAL is scheduled for September 12-14. Now in its 8th year, the festival is held in the mountain town of Burnsville, North Carolina. Burnsville is a small town nestled in the beautiful NC mountains, near Mt. Mitchell – the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi, near the Blue Ridge Parkway, 30 minutes from Asheville, NC and 2 hours from Charlotte, NC. The town is charming, organized around a town square that hosts many festivals and community events throughout the year. The largest is the Mt. Mitchell Festival held the first weekend in August every year.

THIS YEAR, ELIZABETH KOSTOVA is the keynote speaker at the banquet on Saturday evening at the conclusion of the Thursday-Saturday event. Kostova is author if the bestseller “The Historian” and her new novel, “The Swan Thieves”. Over 40 authors are scheduled for the conference this year. This literary festival has the flavor of the mountains – easy paced, nourishing, engaging – focused only on authors and readers who love books in common – with time to chat, question, learn and share in small groups.

MULTIPLE SESSIONS ARE HELD in various venues throughout the town. Walking a few steps, or a block, in the warm September air, with views of the mountains always in sight, is part of the magic. Some sessions are held in the new town hall; or upstairs at the JAVA Café; or the historic brick library, lovingly restored from an old high school; or Mary Jane’s bakery and cafe with organic foods, fresh baked bread and live music at noon; or the tea lounge over the sisters shop where they create lovely stationery with the paper they create.

ARTISTIC DIVERSITY REINS AT THE FESTIVAL – authors of fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, and writers of songs, plays and poetry are here. I have been to six of the festivals and have enjoyed each one – always learning something. When my sister attends with me, we choose one session that we know nothing about, so we are stimulated to learn something new – and it has always been rewarding.

SO, I AM HAPPY TO BE HERE in this special place, with time to spend with others talking about stories and books – for the whole weekend! There are dozens of small literary festivals in the country that do not get national advertising attention. Most small ones are held in out of the way amazing places. I recommend seeking them out and planning a visit in the coming year. You will be rewarded in unexpected ways.

IT IS THE END OF SUMMER, but the leaves are just starting to drift to the ground. I will share some pictures of this beautiful place – in Burnsville, North Carolina.

Website at cmlitfest.org

The Pie That Made My Dad Propose

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Photo and pie by SMB

WHEN DAD MENTIONED AN OLD GIRLFRIEND’S PIE, MOTHER SURPRISED HIM WITH ONE OF HER OWN.

MOTHER PREPARED A FORMAL DINNER WITH DESSERT every night of the week for her husband and four children, and the six of us ate together, at the table in the dining room, Dad at one end and Mom at the other. Whenever the dessert was cream pie, Dad would ask, “Did you know I married your mom because she made the best pie I ever ate?” Then he would pause and chuckle. “Even better than Josephine’s pies,” he would add with a wink in mom’s direction. Then he’d retell the Marquis family story.

MY PARENTS MET ON A BLIND DATE IN Charleston, West Virginia, in the spring of 1938. She said he arrived at the door in a brown checkered suit with a fashionable belt in the back and brown and white shoes. His first words were, “Hi, I’m Harold Marquis. Do you want to go dancing?”

HE NOTICED HER BIG BLUE EYES AND NATURALLY CURLY HAIR. She thought he was handsome and polite. They soon discovered they had something unusual in common before the night was over when he asked, “I would like for you to meet my twin sister,” and she replied, “And I would like for you to meet my twin sister too.”

ON THE DATES THAT FOLLOWED, they frequently went dancing, as this was the big band era. After dancing, they would often stop at a diner for some pie and coffee. Dad loved pie and had a unique way of eating it. He’d always tell the waitress to “Put the pie in a bowl and pour milk over it”. One night he happened to mention that his old girlfriend Josephine had made him a pie. Mom didn’t answer, but the next time he picked her up for a date, she had her old-fashioned cream pie waiting for him.

“THAT WAS THE BEST PIE I EVER ATE”, Dad always said. “I decided right then that I was going to marry this girl.” In December, 1938, Ina and Harold eloped and were married in Ashland, Kentucky. They were each 21 years old.

MY PARENTS HAD A LONG LIFE together filled with many blessings. They were graceful ballroom dancers and enjoyed dancing well into their 80’s. They both arrived in the world in 1917 and they both died in the same year – 2008 – after 70 years of marriage. I miss them every day.

OUR EXTENDED FAMILY of children, spouses, grandchildren and great grandchildren now number 22. All the Marquises know the story of the cream pie that started our family. We still make it sometimes and whenever we do, we retell the story, as we eat every bite of this delicious dessert and lick our forks.

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Original photo appeared in MADISION COURIER, Madison, Indiana

MARQUIS OLD-FASHIONED CREAM PIE

Preparation: 30 min Refrigerate: 4 house to overnight

CRUST:
12 graham crackers, broken in pieces
2 tbsp. sugar
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

FILLING:
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 1/2 cups cold milk
4 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
Raspberries (optional)

PREPARE CRUST:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Blend graham crackers in food processor or a few at a time in blender. Add sugar and mix until finely ground. Add melted butter and combine well. Reserve 1/4 cup of graham mixture. Press remaining crumb mixture into bottom and sides of 9-inch pie pan. Bake about 7 minutes until lightly browned. Cool while preparing filling.

PREPARE FILLING:
In large saucepan, whisk sugar, salt and cornstarch. Add milk and egg yolks and whisk well. Heat mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly until mixture begins to bubble, then cook one (1) minute longer.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, nutmeg and butter. Cool filling by placing pan in ice water, taking care not to let any water spill into filling. When filling is just warm, pour into baked crust. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for four hours or overnight. Before serving, sprinkle with reserved graham cracker crumbs. Add a few raspberries on side of plate when serving pieces if desired.

THIS PIE IS SO SCRUMPTIOUS THAT MY FAMILY OFTEN EATS IT STILL WARM WITH A SPOON, NOT WAITING UNTIL IT FIRMS UP TO SLICE. I also sometimes just make the filling and layer with angel food cake in a stemmed glass with fresh fruit – an impressive and delicious dessert for a dinner party.

A version of our family story and mom’s pie recipe was originally published in the June 2013 issue of LADIES HOME JOURNAL, and reprinted in savvydad.com

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

WORDS

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Photo by SMB

When I was a wee one, mother weaned me from her breast by reading, my back propped against her chest and a magical picture book in front of us.
WORDS ARE ABSORBING.

When I was a toddler, so I was told, trashing a scrap of paper with writing on it brought on tears of anguish.
WORDS ARE TREASURES TO BE KEPT.

When I was three, my mother read the “Night Before Christmas” so often,that I could say it by heart – for all of my life, and her 92 years.
WORDS STRUNG TOGETHER IN PLEASING RHYTHM FEEL GOOD ROLLING OFF THE TONGUE.

When I was young, I sometimes used words to let out my anger.
WORDS CAN HURT.

When I could read, I had my own library card.
WORDS BECAME STORIES AND BOOKS THAT FOSTERED IMAGINATION.

When I went to bed at night, my family said “I love you”, and I was lulled to sleep,
with the softly droning voices of adults, in low conversation.
WORDS CAN COMFORT.

When I was in junior high with awakening hormones,I wrote poems and stories of adventure and romance.
WORDS CAN EXPRESS INNER FEELINGS AND CREATIVITY.

When I listened to lyrics and song, images of love blossomed.
WORDS SET TO MUSIC STIR PASSIONS AND MEMORIES.

When I was in college, written and spoken words introduced me to science and art.
WORDS HAVE POWER TO INFORM AND TRANSFORM.

When I married, I said, “I do”.
WORDS CAN BIND LIVES.

When I was knee deep in my career, words enabled me to maneuver, lead, negotiate, compromise, propose, manage and teach.
WRITTEN AND SPOKEN WORDS ARE TOOLS TO AN END.

When I retired, words in books were my companions in leisure.
WORDS IN THE HANDS OF A MASTER WRITER CAN FILL THE MIND AND HEART.

In the afternoon of my life – if I could – I would take back any words that diminished another, and
SPEAK MORE WORDS THAT ENHANCED ANOTHER.

“Thank you.”
“It’s your turn.”
“I’m sorry.”
“You are right.”
“You are so talented.”
“I value our friendship.”
“I am so proud of you.”
“I love you.”

Sue Marquis Bishop 2012

A Home Without Books? Impossible

I AGREE WITH THOMAS JEFFERSON when he said, “I can’t imagine a life without books.” My mother read to me and her three other children from the time we were babies. I consider it the greatest gift a mother can give her children. It has made a difference in my life and my love of learning.

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH BOOKS really began in earnest when I received my first library card as a preschooler. As I looked up at the rows and rows of books in tall bookshelves, I felt a thrill of wonder and adventure that has never really left me when I visit a library or bookstore.

ADVENTURE AND ANIMAL STORIES AND FAIRY TALES fueled my imagination as a child. As a pre-teen, I loved books with strong female characters creating, exploring or solving mysteries like “Nancy Drew” or “Peggy Parker: Girl Inventor” (although Peggy Parker has too much racial stereotyping to recommend it to young girls today). When we wanted to know more about a topic, we consulted our encyclopedias. Today, we consult the internet – a vista on the world.

AS A TEEN, I was introduced to so many new books on classical literature, biographies, history and poetry. IN COLLEGE, the world of science, clinical practice and research appeared in books. I have kept a few books that were important to me in my life’s journey – books that opened new ways of thinking or feeling, promoted understanding myself or the world, or focused my appreciation for nature and humanity. As I chose a career in nursing and then the academic world of teaching, practice and research, books have been companions in my chosen work, and not just for leisure.

I associate a COMFORTABLE HOME WITH THE PRESENCE OF FLOWERS, CANDLES AND BOOKS. Books can be found in several places in our home – bookshelves in the family room, home office, guestroom and a cookbook shelf in the kitchen. Just one or two books can be found here and there, near comfortable and well-lit reading nooks, and on bedside tables. One of my favorite places to read in the Summer is in the rocking chair on the screened porch overlooking the mountains. In winter, I prefer to read in a cushy, jade green, Queen Anne chair near the fireplace in the living room.

I AM PUZZLING OVER an article in a home décor magazine suggesting ways to decorate with books. The author recommended buying books from a flea market that were all of one color, so the bookshelves would look color-coordinated with the room. SHE’S KIDDING, RIGHT? Another idea I heard on a TV segment was to turn all the books backwards in the bookshelf so the white was showing and the colored backs wouldn’t show. GOOD LUCK WITH FINDING A BOOK ON THOSE SHELVES.

OTHER DECORATING IDEAS I have heard include making lamps of books, or tearing the backs off books to frame as a picture. The most astounding idea I read once, in a marketing campaign for a bookseller, was to purchase books that would impress others. As someone who values books for learning and leisure, I can’t envision finding any of these suggestions acceptable.

Two years ago, my son bought a KINDLE for me. I love it.! Mine is in a snazzy red fabric cover that looks like a book (of course!). My KINDLE can store 3,000 books, is convenient for traveling and easy and quick to upload new books (less than one minute). When I am at home, I keep the KINDLE beside my bed to read a few minutes before sleep. Although I am enjoying e-books, I still purchase other books that are in various places in my home. If I am in another room with time to read, I may pick up the book and read for a few minutes. A few of my favorite books I read this year include: “Personal History” by Katherine Graham, “The Physician” by Noah Gordon and “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand.

Booksellers are losing market share and publishers are transforming operations, as we navigate through the transition of how we are to store, access and use information. One thing we can agree on, THE FUTURE WILL LIKELY NOT LOOK LIKE THE PRESENT.

WHAT DO BOOKS MEAN IN YOUR LIFE? WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE FUTURE OF BOOKS AS WE KNOW THEM?

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

The Unexpected Things We Learn in School!

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Photo of (1950’s) painting of “Bishop Bhend School”,
a one-room school in Kentucky, by Nora Young Bishop,
beloved first grade teacher, who taught school for 52 years.

BACK TO SCHOOL SALES ARE IN FULL SWING. As a child, I looked forward to the beginning of a new school year – new shoes and treasured school supplies – 64 crayons with sharp points, new pencils in a colorful pencil box, a sharpener and tablets. I packed and re-packed my book bag many times. The required supplies for children today are well beyond the simple supplies we had to bring.

I HAD MIXED FEELINGS when I escorted my own children to the first day of school. They seemed so young, yet grown up somehow, and I knew they were beginning a transforming adventure – as was I.

WHEN I WAS IN FIRST GRADE, I walked six blocks, with a neighbor in sixth grade, to Robbins School in Charleston, WVa. Mother assured me there would be lots of books and I was eager to find out. Unfortunately, my first grade teacher was not a candidate for teacher of the year. I told mother one day, “Miss Brown must not have any kids because she doesn’t know how to talk to them.” MAYBE NOT ALL ADULTS LIKE CHILDREN. I must have learned to get along with her, As it didn’t dim my enthusiasm for school.

IN THIRD GRADE, my school gave extra attention to music education. We performed skits and sang “Turkey in the Straw”, and I learned the stories behind classical music. I LEARNED TO APPRECIATE THE VARIETY IN MUSIC.

THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME POVERTY AND NEGLECT HAD A FAMILIAR FACE. I noticed that Maryelle, who sat qcross the aisle from me, was trying to use a stub of a pencil, with no eraser, so I gave her one of my new pencils. She smiled at me with a happy smile, as if I had given her something really big. Maryelle wore the same soiled dress every day – brown with three rows of white rickrack on the bodice. One of her brown shoes had a broken strap. Her hair was cut short in a choppy cut and it looked uncombed. Her arms were encrusted with dirt. I had never seen anyone so dirty and I was uncomfortable touching her, although I tried not to show it. She didn’t get a star when the dentist came to school for preventive dental exams.

IN FOURTH GRADE, I entered another school that scheduled TWO lengthy recesses every day. Whoa! We loved it. My skills in jump roping, tumbling, jacks and running relay games improved that year. The principal taught us to do the back flip. Most important, in free play at recess, I LEARNED ABOUT COMPETING AND COORPERATING with classmates who had different personalities and physical abilities.

WE MOVED TO A SMALL TOWN in WVa when I was in the sixth grade. The principal, Miss Berry, was the teacher. some OF her teaching methods would not pass muster today, as she liked to take the line of least resistance. We had spelling bees several times a week and I was thankfully, able to stand up for several rounds. I felt embarrassed for Billy and Joanne who missed most every word, and usually had to sit down first – ducking their heads as they made their way to their seats. A LIFE LESSON IN WINNING AND LOSING.

SHE READ TO US EVERY DAY – wonderful stories like “Treasure island”, “The Hardy Boys” and “Nancy Drew”. She seemed to enjoy them as much as we did. While she read, she had one of her favorite girls to rub her back. I noticed her dandruff and was glad I wasn’t one of her favorites. She also sent a favorite girl to her house on Thursdays to change the sheets of her boarders. She couldn’t get away with that today. MAYBE IT’s GOOD NOT TO BE TEACHER’S PET.

ONE DAY, MISS BERRY DECIDED we needed a fund raising project for the school. She had the cooks make enormous amounts of vegetable soup and fill dozens of mason jars. We were let out of school early for one week to try to sell the soup door to door. We pulled the heavy jars in a wagon – the jars sloshing as we went. I often came home with soup running down my arms. I only sold two jars – one to mom (who poured it out). SO MUCH FOR MAKING SELLING A CAREER.

Miss Berry assigned us reading and math story problems while she read to herself. We also had 8-10 hours a week to read books of our choosing. That was OK with me – and I FELL IN LOVE WITH BOOKS OF ADVENTURE AND MYSTERY THAT YEAR.

SHE FREQUENTLY LED US IN SINGING and she had a loud and lusty style. During the Christmas season we sang carols. I especially remember “Joy to the World”. She had a large bust and when she sang, “and heaven and nature sing”, she raised her shoulders up and down in a bouncing fashion with her chest moving in rhythm to the music. My sister was in her class three years later. All we have to do to break down in peals of laughter is to sing the even refrain,”and heaven and nature sing”, and raise our shoulders up and down. SO MANY FUNNY MEMORIES TO SAVOR.

SOME SCHOOL EXPERIENCES MAKE ME SMILE NOW – some contributed to my awakening to the world around me, while others tested my abilities. The most difficult aspect of my early school years involved our family’s frequent moves, requiring adjustment to new schools and classmates. I attended new schools in first grade – then third, fourth, sixth and seventh grades. When I was in tenth grade, we moved once again to Madison, Indiana for my dad’s work, where my parents lived for over 50 years. My younger siblings experienced fewer moves – my brother attended school for all 12 years in one school system.

FREQUENT MOVES TO NEW SCHOOLS during my elementary school years may have influenced my early shyness in new situations – and to be honest, I sometimes still feel a small buzz of uncertainty inside, when entering a new environment with a new group. The feeling is similar to the feeling that put me on alert as a child going to a new school. As an adult, I know now that this feeling of angst will pass quickly, as soon as I engage in the new situation.

ALTHOUGH I FREQUENTLY CHANGED SCHOOLS in my early years of education, I was blessed with a stable family life that surely facilitated my confidence in adapting to change. These early experiences of frequent change and adaptation may have enabled me to learn useful life lessons – how to check out new settings and individuals – and feel comfortable in a variety of environments and with diverse individuals and groups.

Did you learn an important lesson outside the formal course syllabus in your early years of school?

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Some Days I Want to Run

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“Possibilities” Photo by SMB

RETIREMENT BRINGS OPPORTUNITIES to chart a new life course and to set a new path – and I am loving this time of life to do just that. I have never had so much time at my command for what I really want to do – blocks of time, not just snippets. On occasion, however, I get so excited about possibilities and new challenges that interest me, that I am overwhelmed.

IT HELPS TO SIT DOWN AND GET ORGANIZED by making specific lists – setting priorities for what I am going to do today, this week or month – or even this year. Tackling my desires in this way presents reality to me, as there are only so many hours in any one day or week. More important, it turns maybes into goals. I have always used list-making as a way of focusing my priorities into action plans. As a wife, mother and career woman, and later a caregiver for my parents, I juggled multiple responsibilities. Staying organized was the secret to helping me to give attention where it was needed and to move forward to achieve goals.

SURPRISE – CREATING SOME ORGANIZATION IN MY LIFE TRANSITION POST-RETIREMENT is still a useful strategy. There is no more rewarding feeling of satisfaction and pride then accomplishing something we really want to do. On days when I feel I have so much I want to do and so little time to do it all, I remind myself to focus on the blessings of my life and the journey of adventure I am on.

I SHARED MY THOUGHTS WITH SOME OF MY WOMEN FRIENDS and learned we had a common perception. We agreed that this stage of life ushers in:

(1) A TIME OF VAST NEW POSSIBILITIES for our lives (including a few loose ends we want to address), and
(2) A GROWING AWARENESS OF FINITE TIME AVAILABLE.

This is vastly different from the age of early adulthood when we perceived unlimited possibilities – and all the time in the world to accomplish them.

In reflecting on our discussion, I wrote a poem, with tongue in cheek, to express the perception of fleeting time that occurs to women over 50 from time to time – and some of the varied items on our “want to do” list.

I WANT TO RUN

I just want to run.
Full out.
Life is shorter
in the afternoon of my life.
I know it well now – Still,
so much I want to do:
explore the small towns of Ireland,
master the flute,
make a quilt,
organize family pictures on CD’s,
simplify my life,
reconnect with an old friend,
search out my ancestors,
write our family’s story for my children,
publish a book of my poems,
take a class in seafood cuisine,
keep a blog, commune with nature,
improve my piano playing,
learn to play chess,
launch a new career,
plant a rose garden,
learn to meditate,
watch the Fall
arrive in inches.
I need to run faster,
reach farther, focus,
organize, hurry, scurry.
Lord, there is so much more
to do on my fleeting path,
I want to run sometimes –
but – don’t let me run so fast,
I miss what’s on the way.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

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