Friday, September 30, 2011

A Week, in Review

Honestly, I thought when I retired I'd have more time to blog but the opposite is true. Now my days are so filled I never finish all the things I want to do. This week has been another busy one at our house--from dealing with garden produce, having visitors, cooking, getting the foundation finished, working on storytelling and keeping up with eBay, the days just zoom past. Yet when I try to look back to see what I did, I'm stumped! What did I do all week? Thank goodness for photos--they remind me.

First, the peppers finished drying. This is what's left of a half-bushel of sweet peppers--red, yellow, purple and green. I loved it that they kept their color when they dried. I did these in the dehydrator.

The herb garden took until August to take off, and now it's overflowing with good-smelling and good-tasting herbs. I harvested parsley this week, and dried it in the oven with the pilot light. I prefer not to use the dehydrator for herbs because it almost cooks them, I think. The oven temp is perfect.

Two trays full of parsley = one pint.
eBay has kept me hopping too. I keep adding to the things listed for sale and ship packages almost daily. Amazon book sales are not nearly so brisk! This week's challenge was a child's hanging horse swing. It sold to a lady in Nevada and I had a time figuring out how to pack it. We finally custom-crafted a box for it so the shipping was within reason and I sent it out today. Typically I have 3-5 packages going out and I have learned how to schedule a pick up by the mailman so we don't need to run to town to ship them. I do all postage online but a lot of packages are too big for the mailbox. Jack the Mailman doesn't mind coming down our driveway to pick them up and it save us time and money.

My storytelling friend Donna came to visit on Tuesday. We had a grand time! We talked storytelling and anything else that came up. I made corn chowder and sweet tea for lunch and we strung my hot peppers and shucked the Indian corn as we talked.

The table was so pretty by the time we were finished:

Meanwhile I've been working at adding things lie this neat made-in-Yugoslavia enamel kettle to my eBay listings and working on getting contracts and RFP's mailed out. I also picked a couple bushels of pears for the cellar, and Larry worked on this:

He finished up today--so the foundation for our new log room is done. Now to find the money for the subfloor so we can start stacking logs.

Today was paperwork: contracts and so forth. Then this weekend I'll be away at a meeting.

So that's how it goes: garden, eBay, storytelling, log room, cooking. Not a bad way to live, when I think about it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Flower Gardens Walkabout

I took advantage of the beautiful weather this morning to walk around the gardens. I harvested some parsley, picked and put a bushel of pears in the cellar, and then just meandered, looking at the flowers that are still soldiering on as the autumn weather cools and days shorten.

The begonias actually seem to like this cooler weather and are outdoing themselves with bloom. I may bring this pot indoors for the winter to provide some flowers in the cold months.

The morning glories have climbed about 10 feet, up the trellis beside the deck, up the deck rail and now to the top of my porch light. They had their first blooms about 2 weeks ago--they're not covered in bloom but those they have are just gorgeous and large, like this one:

In the other beds, some flowers are still looking pretty, like this Autumn Sedum:

And the Cleome is surely acting like Queen of the Garden, her other name, as the rest of the flowers slowly give up:

The one tea rose I still have is blooming again after taking a rest through the summer's heat:

The Knockout roses by the driveway are having one last fling before frost too:

The asparagus are seeding, and some wild white ageratum (I don't think that's they're real name but that's what I call them) are making themselves at home amidst the asparagus:

This old chair is just about hidden by the flowers spilling from the pot on its seat.

The bucket of flowers hanging on the pump almost didn't survive July, but they are making a comeback now:

My pink hibiscus is full of seeds. If you would like some, leave a comment on this and I will mail some to you as soon as the weather clears again--since beginning this post the rains have arrived and everything is once more soaking wet!
So,  how are your flowers faring this fall?

Stuffed Peppers

So here is how I made my peppers. I found lots of recipes online and in my cookbooks but I never found the one I used to use--it has to be in one of my cookbooks but where? That recipe said you could prepare them and then freeze them before baking so you would have an almost-ready meal ready to go. I know I didn't dream it!

I started by washing the peppers (I had 11 of them), then cut off their tops and scooped out the innards. This year's peppers have very few seeds in them, probably because of the hot dry weather (although I thought peppers were from Mexico and didn't mind heat and drought?). I hate to waste anything, so I cut all the good pepper bits from around the stems and chopped those up to add later to the rice.

I put on the rice to cook; I used the boil in bag brown rice, and I cooked two of the bags.

I browned about a pound and a half of ground venison (ground beef is fine too), drained it and set it aside. Then I sauteed one medium chopped onion, a clove of garlic and the chopped pepper until tender; I chopped up one medium tomato while those were cooking and added it at the end, giving it just a quick stir or two. Then I put the browned meat in, added some thyme and oregano, pepper and salt and about a 1/2 teaspoon of paprika. I beat 4 eggs well and stirred them in last.

By this time the rice was done. I added it to the meat mixture, stirred it in well and then used the mixture to fill my pepper shells. There was a lot of the meat mixture left over so I put that in a casserole dish to bake too.

The other peppers cooked for about 30 more minutes before they were tender. I topped them with some leftover tomato sauce and grated cheese for the last 15 minutes. I served them with the extra rice and a salad. I wish I'd had some fried apples to add to the meal--I think that would have made it perfect.

I imagine you could stuff peppers with a wide variety of mixes--I saw one recipe for Italian-seasoned stuffing, another that added nuts, and one with butternut squash. What do you use when you stuff peppers?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Too Tired to Write

My bad cold is pretty much gone, which was a blessing because this turned into one busy weekend. More tomorrow--and the pepper recipe I promised. Promise!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Good Neighbors

Good neighbors. They show up at your door with warm biscuits, ripe peaches and three squirrels ready to be dressed out.

For those of us who live in the country and who enjoy wild meat, squirrels are a real treat, a delicacy that when fixed properly rivals anything a chef can prepare. For us squirrels are not furry little friends who come out to play, although we do enjoy watching them as much as anyone. Our meat however is mostly homegrown or harvested from the woods around us, so we look at wildlife a little differently than people in the cities and suburbs. Bringing in our own meat is a fact of life here.

Our good neighbors knew I'd been down with a cold. So on this windy rainy evening they bundled up and traveled up the ridge to see how I was getting on. We added some homemade jam to the biscuits, made coffee and poured sassafras tea for Delmar because he doesn't drink coffee, and had a little feast. The squirrels will wait until tomorrow to be cooked for dinner.

Good neighbors. They're worth their weight in gold--and squirrel meat.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Project Peppers

Today's project: getting the peppers put up. Dinner tonight will be stuffed peppers. I'll share the recipe tomorrow, or later today if I have time.

I put most of the peppers in the food dryer because I have a lot of leftover frozen ones from last year that need to be used up.

 I will use the dried peppers in spaghetti, chili, meatloaf and other dishes.

Then I have these left to do:

I will string up the chili peppers to dry, but what to do with the hot banana peppers and the jalapenos?
Does anyone have any awesome recipes for these?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Gas Fridge

As promised, here are some photos of the new fridge. I did not think to take any yesterday while we were installing it--being sick makes you not think clearly. Basically, however, there is a gas line attached to the back instead of an electric cord. There is also a place for 4 batteries to run the lights. I'm pretty sure batteries are not cheaper than electricity for the lights, and there seems to be a place to hook an electrical cord for the lights but there was nothing in the instructions about that.

It looked big when we got it in place. It is shorter and wider than our last refrigerator, and has to sit firther out from the wall due to all the gas tubing stuff on the back of it.

All settled in with magnets and calendar!

The freezer compartment is really deep. It holds more than my old one.

See? Room to spare. The old one was crammed full and had the same things in it. (And yes, that's a book on top. I got it free at a yard sale because it had gotten wet. It's a bird book so how could I say no? You can save wet books by freeze-drying them. Just put them in the freezer for a week or so, take them out and let them thaw, then repeat the process until the book is dry. I did learn something in library school!)

The inside is big too, and the shelves are adjustable. I started with them set up like this, but that may change. The bins in the bottom are small--that's because the gas equipment is behind them, I suppose.

The refrigerated section holds more, too. It's very deep which is good and bad--things can get lost back there in the deeps.

I love this door! Three shelves and plenty of room. I am not too spoiled when it comes to refrigerators--I've always had fairly simple appliances with no bells and whistles. The last two had icemakers that we never used.

This little panel, located under the screen at the bottom of the fridge, is what is different from others you've seen. It lights pretty much like a hot water heater: turn the valve on the right to on, the second valve on the right to 3, then depress the ignitor on the far left which works with electronic ignition. In between is a "flame indicator" that shows green when the fridge is lit, red when it's off.

The complicated panel :) The main problem we had with the small gas refrigerator we had years ago was a tendency to build up carbon around the flame. We were using propane then. I am really hoping we don't run into that issue with this new appliance because it was a pain to relight--and if we're gone when it happens that could be a mess. I think part of the issue was where we had the little fridge and the fact that it was a camper fridge and not really meant for the heavy day-to-day use we gave it. This fridge is Amish-made, which is usually a sign of good quality.

Behind the fridge is bent piping that contains ammonia, water and hydrogen. You can read how it works here. The flame is about the size of a pilot light so it produces little heat, and uses very little gas. I wish I'd taken photos before we got this thing in place so you could see a little more.

It's all settled in now, I think--we'll see how it does over the next few days. So far, so good. And a nice little side benefit: I have a clean fridge! I sure wouldn't think of showing you the inside of the old one.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Yuck. Sick.

What a day. I thought I had gotten the better of this cold, but it snuck up from behind and got me in the throat. So today it's been like this: Netti Pot, ZiCam, Goldenseal gargle and Goldenseal in my tea, Peroxyl gargle, Ibuprofen, chamomile tea, chicken noodle soup and a few cough drops. Nasty things, colds.

Still, we progress. The new gas refrigerator is currently getting cold, I hope. It's about the same size as the one we had. Pics tomorrow, I promise! The block came for the foundation of the new log room. Larry cut some grass in between other projects.

I sniffled and felt sorry for myself, made some bread and some chicken soup with homemade noodles (throwaway soup again--this time I had leftover chicken and some cooked broccoli, cauliflower and carrots and the noodles; added garlic, dried crushed celery leaves, a little salt and pepper and a couple bay leaves), did a little laundry and cleaned up behind Larry, who is absolutely the messiest man when it comes to doing something that requires tools. He gets the job done, but he leaves a wide wake!

This evening I've worked on eBay, listing more things and getting things ready to mail. I do enjoy doing this, sorta like making money in my spare time. And I get to browse around junk stores and find neat stuff. Win-win.

Larry also picked a bushel of peppers so guess what I'll be doing tomorrow? He's bringing in pumpkins and butternut squashes too. The gardens are really done, but a few hardy tomato plants are keeping us in tomatoes still, and lettuce and greens are thriving in the cover crop on the lower garden. Last evening I thawed the last of last year's cider and canned it in quart jars, which are so much easier to use than big frozen gallons.

The new chickens (the ones we raised from chicks this year) are beginning to lay so we're getting some cute little pullet eggs. There's a new rooster in the henhouse too--I don't know what kind of chicken he is but he's so cute, looks like he has a buzz cut or something. We'll be culling old hens soon, and they will be canned so that they'll be tender enough to eat.

One thing we have not missed is the pressure of getting in firewood. Every fall that was the dominating chore that had to be taken care of. With free gas, we can heat with ease. I cannot tell you how nice it is. I used to worry about what we'd do when we got old--would we still be able to get in wood? Now we need only get in enough for the fireplace.

Time for bed; last night was a sleepless one so tonight I hope to make up for lost time. Sleep tight, friends.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ups and Downs and All Arounds

Goodness, it's been a strange week.

Saturday we took granddaughter Haley to Charleston so she could participate in the annual Capital City Challenge, the Charleston triathlon (bike, run, kayak). It was a beautiful day for the event and this year there were twice as many entrants as last year. Haley, however, was the youngest by far--no one else in the race was under 19 years old. So she won first place in her class, of course--but better than that, she improved her time from last year by about 30 minutes. So she was very happy about that. I have to admit to getting granny jitters to think of her out on the Great Kanawha River all alone in her kayak, but she did superbly. Why do I worry?

After the race I drove to Sutton in cerntral West Virginia to attend a meeting for a new project for West Virginia Writers. I had time to kill so of course I used it wisely--browsing in junk shops :) I got lucky, too, finding a Fenton glass bear for a dollar, lovely table linens, some dishes made in Paden City, West Virginia, and many other pieces of vintage glass. Most of these items will eventually be listed on my eBay auctions.

eBay has become a good little sideline over the past two months. I'm not making a fortune, but I am meeting my goal of paying for my phone, cell and satellite internet costs with some $$ left over. I'm learning a lot too as I research various glassware, learn what sells and what won't (hobnail milk glass-no one seems to want it. Aprons? everyone wants them!). I'm also still selling books on Amazon and while not as lucrative as eBay it is a lot easier to sell books, and so much easier to pack them. It's not the income producer that eBay is, however. Still, every little trickle of money is helpful. If you want to look at what's listed right now, check my sidebar link. My inventory is down a little because I can't list items until the computer is working again (insert frustrated sigh).

Sunday morning was devoted to reviewing stories for the Mothman Festival that afternoon. I had my set list but there were two new ones I wanted to tell and I needed to be sure I had them down well enough for performance. We drove to Point Pleasant that afternoon and enjoyed the sight of people dressed as Men in Black and Mothman after the storytelling. I was in the State Theater for the performance and was very pleased with the audience. Since this gig was finalized only a week before, it had little publicity but there weer 50 attentive people there to listen.

Mothman, some of you might know, was an apparition that scared many people in the Point Pleasant area in the 1960's. Described as a large, gray creature with red eyes and large wings, the creature was said to be able to fly 60 mph. Many people credited Mothman with some of the disasters and troubles that have occurred since the sighting, like the collapse of the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River. Many theories have been advanced as to what Mothman actually was, and there is a whole museum dedicated to the story in Point Pleasant.

My computer modem quit working Sunday morning, so that's been an interesting wrinkle in my usual routime. Since I place many listings to end on the weekends, it meant I had no way to verify and ship my orders. I worked on it for a while and concluded there was no hope, so Monday I called Hughesnet and ordered a new one. The tech on the phone offered a free replacement! How cool is that! So I sprung for expedited shipping and hope the thing will arrive today or tomrrow.

Without the computer, there was only one thing to do--use my new smartphone to look up what sold, pack and weigh the items, then head to the library to print shipping and labels. That's what I did. It was cumbersome and took more time than I wanted to spend, but the packages got shipped.

On the return trip home, we stopped to talk with a neighbor who is getting ready to build a new house. Larry has some block laying in his future, I think. While we were talking he asked us if we wanted the little log building on the property. You know what my answer was! So we have another project to work on over the winter.

(The log room we are currently working on is moving slowly ahead--the footer is ready and the block for the foundation will arrive this week. We plan to get the subfloor in place and the logs stacked before winter, but the way things are going we might not get that far before the ground gets too muddy to work.)

My cell phone rang as we were discussing the log building with our neighbor--it was the delivery truck with the gas refrigerator we've been waiting for. He had it ready to deliver--on a tractor trailer! Now if you've been reading my blog for a while you know there is no way a tractor trailer can get to my house, and really should not even try to get up Joe's Run. So Larry and the neighbor went out to meet the truck and brought the fridge home at last. I am not happy at all with Lehman's Hardware about this shipping service. We paid for delivery to our house, but it turned out to be a total hassle. word to the wise if you ever buy an appliance from them--they seem to be clueless about how to arrange a suitable delivery to a place in the country.

We finally settled down to dinner and then decided to watch a movie--a rare thing for me since I am usually busy with computer work in the evenings. Just as we got settled someone knocked on the door. Visitors! We spent the evening talking with them. It was a nice way to end the day.

Sometime in the night the electricity went off. I woke to a pitch black room. Expecting it to be back on shortly, I snuggled under the quilts to sleep some more. We woke at 8 am, late for us but it was dark and gloomy outside and there was still no electricity. I got up and called the power company--the power would not be back on until 2pm. That kind of messed up our plans to put in the new fridge, so we decided to take care of some business in town, mail more eBay packages and so forth. So that's where I am now, at the library printing labels, catching up on email and writing this blog.

This is only Tuesday. I wonder what other surprises we'll have this week. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tom Dooley, Guilty or Innocent?

Many of you remember the ballad about Tom Dooley  (actually it's Dula, but you know how we Appalachians like the "e" ending on names ending in A) , made famous by the Kingston Trio in 1958.

The version I like best was sung by North Carolina native and folk musician Frank Proffitt, who said he learned the somg from his grandmother who had heard Dula singing it while in prison. Frank Proffitt's voice is perfect for the song; he's one of my favorite of the old-time ballad singers for his renditions of so many of the Child Ballads and other mountain songs. Proffitt passed away in 1965, but his voice lives on in his recordings.

But about Tom Dula and Laura Foster: Tom Dula was born and raised in Wilkes County, North Carolina. Wilkes County is still rural, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and about just as pretty a place as you'll likely ever see.

 Location of Lottie Foster's cabin

Tom lived a couple miles from the home of a prostitute named Lottie Foster.

Site of Tom Dula's home, which was torn down some years ago and a new house built on the property

Lottie had a daughter named Anne. Tom and Anne were sweethearts from an early age, even before reaching their teen years. Anne Foster got married when she was 14, but not to Tom. Instead she married James Melton, a man about 7 years older than she was, with a respectable career as a cobbler, a home and a farm.
 Only known photograph of Anne Melton.

Anne's marriage did not stop her relationship with Tom, however; they continued to see each other and according to many accounts, slept together while Anne's husband was in another room. Odd.
Site of Anne Melton's home just across the road from her mother, Lottie Foster, and about a mile or less from Tom's home.

Dula and James Melton signed up for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Tom became a drummer, but was often sick and in and out of Confederate hospitals. Eventually he was captured and sent to prison at Point Lookout, Maryland. Melton was a prisoner in the same camp at the same time. They were released eventually and at the end of the war they both returned to Wilkes County.

At this point things begin to get complicated. Tom, possibly jealous of Anne's continued marriage to Melton, began courting Anne's cousin, Laura Foster. Another cousin, Pauline (pronounced Perline) came from Caldwell county to live with Anne and James as a servant. Pauline apparently had the "pox," or syphilis; Tom, Anne and Laura also had the disease, either catching it from Pauline or, as some speculate, from Tom who may have returned for the war with the illness (is it possible that this accounted for his many illnesses and hospital stays during the war?). Anne was, by some accounts, jealous of Tom's ongoing affair with Laura, and Pauline also had a crush on Tom.

Eventually Laura got pregnant. At this point, versions of what happened veer into the land of conjecture. What is fact is that Anne and Tom were at a party the night before Laura disappeared, and both were very drunk. Laura went missing the next day; her horse was found but it took 3 months to find her body. The day Laura went missing, Anne was seen in bed in the middle of the day, with a pile of muddy clothes and shoes beside her. Tom was seen along the road with a mattock very near where Laura's body was later found--he said he was fixing the road. Some time later Anne and Pauline got into a terrible argument and Pauline threatened in front of others to tell something bad about Tom and Anne. Pauline disappeared soon after that fight.

Laura's body was eventually found and it was evident that she had been murdered-- she had been stabbed with a knife and buried in a shallow grave. Tom Dula left the county soon after the discovery, perhaps because word had gotten around that Laura had told a woman she met on the road the day she disappeared that she and Tom were running off that day to get married. Suspicion had already swirled around him anyway.

Tom was captured in Tennessee and returned for trial. Because of things Pauline and Anne had said, they were also arrested and held for murder. Tom Dula was tried and convicted; the verdict was thrown out by the North Carolina Supreme Court and he was retried and again convicted. Pauline turned state's evidence and charges against her were dropped. Tom gave a written statement exonerating Anne so charges against her were also dropped. Tom always said he was innocent, and on the gallows he repeated that claim vehemently.

So what really happened? Did Anne murder Laura out of jealousy, and engage Pauline to help her bury Laura? Did Tom actually meet with Laura and argue with her, and in the course of the argument kill the young woman? Or did Pauline do the murdering at the instigation of Anne, or both Anne and Tom? No one will ever know the truth. Anne died insane a few years later; Pauline disappeared from history. Anne is said to have made a dying statement to her husband and her doctor, but neither ever revealed what she said.

Two recent books have opened the discussion again, over 100 years after the murder. In Wilkes County, however, the discussion has never truly ended. Every person seems to have an opinion about the matter; most believe that Tom was innocent and went to his death to protect Anne Melton. I went to Wilkes county this week to attend a seminar given by Sharyn McCrumb as part of the book release celebration for her book The Ballad of Tom Dooley, the latest addition to her "Ballad Series." Her conclusions, which I will not reveal here, are surprising and a new twist to the story. Karen Reynolds' book, Tom Dooley: The Story Behind the Legend, which was published this past spring by Little Creek Books, has yet another possible solution and her version is the basis for the outdoor drama performed in Wilkes County each summer.

After reading about the case and visiting the sites where much of the story took place, I've formed my own opinion, which is not one likely to be favored by Tom's proponents. One of the oddities in the story is that while Laura was supposedly running off to Tennessee with Tom, she told him to meet her at a place that was a mile in the opposite direction. Why would she do that? And the meeting place was located next door to Anne Melton's house; if Anne was as jealous as legend claims, surely that was foolhardy of both Tom and Laura?

I think this is a possible scenario: Laura told Tom she needed to talk to him. She may not have told him yet that she was pregnant. He knew he would be staying with Anne that night so he suggested meeting at the Bates place which was close by. Or perhaps Laura had told him about her pregnancy and he had said meet me and we'll figure something out. Maybe he asked Anne for money to "buy off" Laura. He would have chosen the Bates place as somewhere out of sight but close enough for him to not have to travel far after a wild partying night.

Laura was confident that the only solution Tom could propose was to marry her, and quickly. So that was what she told the woman she met on the road that morning. When Tom arrived he found Laura expecting to run off and get married; he was not at all expecting that and may have argued with her. Tom was one who liked the ladies and being tied down with wife and baby doesn't seem like something that would be attractive at all to him--and he was still deeply involved with Anne.

Laura might have gotten angry and physical--she might have pulled out a knife (in ballads it seems many women carried them!) and in the struggle he took it from her and stabbed her, or perhaps she fell on it. After he realized what he'd done, he ran off, leaving Laura's body on the ground. He ran back to Anne's and told her what he'd done. Anne seems to have been a calculating, planning kind of person and it's likely that she told him what a fool he was. Then she got Pauline and the three of them returned to the scene, dragged Laura's body a good distance away from the Bates place and dug a quick grave and covered the body. They would have been exhausted which would explain the muddy clothes and Anne being in bed in the middle of the day. It would also explain Tom being in the road with a mattock near the grave site.

My version also explains why Tom claimed innocence--Laura attacked him and it was her own knife that killed her.

So there you have yet one more possible solution to the unsolved murder that is almost 150 years old. The ballad will continue to be sung as it was written, books will continue to be written and people will continue to argue about Tom's guilt or innocence. And in the end, we will never know for certain just who killed little Laura Foster.

This time tomorrow, reckon where I'll be
I'll be way down yonder
hanging on a white oak tree

Tom Dula's grave is on private property and the landowner does not allow visitors. People go there anyway, and the gravestone is badly chipped by souvenir hunters. Laura Foster's latest stone was purchased by Zsa Zsa Gabor, who became interested in the story. Tom Dula's home is no longer standing; neither are the homes of Anne Melton or Lottie Foster. But if you visit Wilkes County, you can purchase a listening tour that leads you to the main sites of the story and see the places where it happened. Then you can form your own opinion of the truth.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Back At It

I tried to post yesterday with no luck--my new cell phone, smart though it might be, would not let me write a blog post.

So you all did not hear about my trip through two tunnels, across three states, over mountains and rivers. It was a wild ride, full of stories, exciting events and even a murder mystery. Sound like fun? It sure was.

I went to North Carolina, to Wilkes County, to attend a seminar by author Sharyn McCrumb on the Tom Dooley legend. McCrumb has a new book, a fictionalized account of the story that is based on the history of the region, the time period of the murder and the background of the people involved. Earlier this year I reviewed Karen Reynolds' book about Tom Dooley so you might be wondering, how much more could there be to know?

The answer is plenty. Because there was no actual evidence and the case was based on he said, she said, there are many people who believe Dooley was an innocent man hanged for a murder he did not commit. And there is enough doubt to allow any student of the case to draw several different conclusions. McCrumb's version is vastly different from Reynolds, even though they both worked from the same historic records, documents and legends.

I will post a few photos tomorrow, and more about Tom Dooley and the murder of Laura Foster for those unfamiliar with the story. Right now it's past this old granny's bedtime and the thunder is crackin' outside, so I'll say goodnight and close this computer before things get electrifying.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Moon over Majestic

It was ghost stories night at the Majestic Theatre in downtown Chillicothe, Ohio.

Friday night: clouds skittered across the sky as the moon rode, almost full, behind them.

Chillicothe is an old city, the first capital of Ohio, with a rich history and a tradition of ghostly tales that has been in place long before there were people called storytellers coming to tell tales. This year I was one of six tellers invited to share a ghost story during the Southern Ohio Storytelling Festival. There were other stories Thursday evening and all day Friday, of course, and on into Saturday. We got there in time to hear some of our favorite storytellers tell, greet friends and enjoy the lovely park setting at the Pump House by the river.

Then it was time to head over to the Majestic. I went early just to feel the history and the past of the place. The setting was perfect for ghost stories--a quiet street, an arching neon sign glowing red in the darkness, the moon flitting in and out of the clouds.

I watched her for some time, enjoying the juxtaposition of moon and neon and old buildings. Then I ventured inside.

The stage was lit up and ready for us--and the air, apparently, full of orbs. They certainly showed up in my camera anyway (click the photo to see it in a larger format; you should be able to see the orbs then). Some people believe that orbs indicate the presence of spirits. Whether you believe that or not, there are many stories about ghosts being sighted in the theater along with other odd occurrences. A man in top hat and tails, for instance, is said to stroll the isles from time to time.

(If you enlarge this photo, you can see some odd shadows in the seats to the left. Probably just a trick of the camera, right?)

I don't know if we disturbed any spirits, but we told some fine tales. There was an obligatory "vanishing hitchhiker" story, a jump tale with a funny ending, a strange tale of conjure and magic from the days of slavery, a literary tale by H.G. Wells, and one teller told an original story she had written. I sang a ballad and told the story of Big John, a coal miner who died in the mines and supposedly came back to save his brothers.

I learned during the evening that Chillicothe hosts a ghost walk and I do believe I might have to return to this pretty town and see what other spirits may linger in its historic buildings.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Refrigerated Story

Yesterday we were in Kidron, Ohio, the heart of the Ohio Amish country, to visit Lehman's Hardware and buy a natural gas refrigerator. I have never been there before and I was totally surprised by what we saw. I knew there were Amish in that area and that Lehman's started out as a supply place for non-electric items for the Amish lifestyle. What I did not know was that the Amish community in that area is thriving! There seemed to be as many buggies and horses on the road as there were cars. We saw beautiful farms, new homes that had no electricity, Amish schools, horsedrawn plowing being done, Amish women mowing grass (one was a granny on a riding mower!). We even saw a wagon stuck in a ditch--evidently their load shifted. They had unhooked the horses and one man was hoofing it up the road to get help. We saw a woman in a buggy eating take-out food (fries); we heard people talking in a language we didn't understand but which I believe is called Pennsylvania German. It was eye-opening.and ear-opening.

I'd like to go back to explore the area a little more. I had thought it was all tourist hype, but instead found a thriving culture. And all only 2 hours from home.

As for that refrigerator--Lehman's offers several different sizes by two different companies. All are expensive. I tried to figure out which one was best through their online catalog and their paper catalog but I was not sure, and it was a lot of money to spend without being sure. So I knew we needed to visit in person. We found the store with little trouble--it's big and seems geared mainly to tourists although there is still plenty there for the Amish customers. But the parking lot was filled with cars, not buggies, and the atmosphere was that "commercial country," as I call it. We walked back to the appliance area and found the fridges, but what I had hoped for was to be able to compare the 15, 17 and 19 cubic foot models to really see what space was available. I'd called earlier in the week and left a message saying what I needed. I got a call-back message (not at the time I specified when I called so I missed the call) assuring me the fridges were on display.

Well, some of them were, but not the 17 cubic foot. I found a salesman and asked him if they had one. "Oh yes--at our other store." Other store? Who knew? He gave us basic directions and we set out for the other store. I wasn't too happy about having driven 2+ hours to find out I had to drive still more to see what I needed to see. The route was through beautiful country, though, so that was consolation.

We found the second store after a few wrong turns and indeed they had the models I needed to compare. the 17 cubic foot model (at $2099!) was the one I wanted. It's about the same size as the fridge we have now, with the nice feature of being able to hold gallon-size jugs on the door. I found a salesman and told him we were ready to order.

It turns out he had never placed an order for an out-of-state customer. But he was willing to figure it out and after several calls and a consultation with another staff person, we got going. Then the snag--we wanted it delivered to our house. Now, Lowe's, Home Depot and many other places have no problem with that. I was willing to pay their advertised delivery fee of $175. The problem? They weren't sure they could deliver to my house--and weren't sure if the fee would be $175.

Hunh? That was the amount listed on both website and catalog! "Yes," said the woman clerk, "but we don't really pay attention to that?" What!? Really? I was stunned--why advertise it if that's not the cost? We could have driven our truck up, of course, but decided that delivery was a better option and the cost seemed fair. Now we were being told that it was not a relevant fee? After more phone calls and discussion, it was determined that they could indeed deliver and for the stated price. Whew. I was not feeling like a happy camper by this point, although out clerk was as friendly and helpful as he could be throughout.

So the fridge is ordered and paid for and should arrive sometime next week. Getting it into the house should be interesting.

I should say that the second Lehman's was much more what I expected--a local hardware store with just about everything you can think of, even replacement racks for water-bath canners! I bought two because mine are rusted and pretty much done for. You could also buy shower curtains, eye hooks, hinges, lamp chimneys, canning jar rings, candy, paint and just about anything else you can imagine, but without so much of the tourist atmosphere. Many Amish customers were in and out while we were there. One man was getting a piece of glass cut--it's that kind of place. The other store may well offer all of the same merchandise and services, but it's BIG! I liked the smaller store much better--felt right at home.

Although getting the fridge was more hassle than I expected, I cannot say enough about the friendly staff--they're great. As a home canner, I loved being able to order canning jar lids in bulk this year; 354 lids so I never ran out. That was absolutely awesome. If you're planning to buy some major appliance, though, maybe more advance phone calls would simplify the process. I learned that lesson but in the end I am glad we went up there, and I am excited about the new refrigerator that will help lower our electric bill significantly.

In the Mine Part 2

Yesterday I mentioned safety lamps. This is a safety lamp that was used prior to the electronic metering devices used today. The color of the flame determined whether there was methane present and if the mine was safe to work. (I can't remember what our guide said was the correct color, blue or yellow, so I won't try to tell you until I can find out.)

The "fire boss" was responsible for checking the methane levels--in early days, the fire boss would run through the mine with a candle! I don't think that job would be worth the extra pay.

Most people have also heard about the use of canaries in mines to test for methane. If the bird quit singing, the miners got out.

This is the teapot lamp I mentioned yesterday. A wick would be put into the spout, and the teapot filled with lard, cooking grease or kerosene to provide illumination. The hook by which I am holding it would hook into a metal holder on the front of the miner's cap. In those days, miners wore cloth caps which did not offer much protection in a roof fall.

I caught this shot as Sonny was showing us how a miner might work at the coal face. Here he's swinging a pick; there was also a breast auger there that you can't see in my photo. I will have to post some pics of one of those later.

I was standing up in the trolley car when I took this. You can see that the rock ceiling was lower where Sonny was--the mine was cut out higher to allow for the tourists to be more comfortable when the project was developed. Even so, I'm only 5'2" and my head was bumping the ceiling when I stood up in the car.

The ceiling is almost always wet, and water drips regularly. You can see the dampness in this photo. In some places in this mine moss was growing; I don't know if that's typical. Rats also inhabit deep mines, and many miners consider them friends because the rats will know of danger from a roof fall and vamoose. If miners see the rats leaving, they leave too!

 I took this photo as we were traveling deeper into the mine. What is odd about this photo and the next one is that Sonny was driving the car ahead of me and he should have been in the photos. But he's not there; I got quite an eerie feeling when I uploaded these on my computer!

 I tried to take a photo of the kettle bottoms in this area, but could not get a good shot. That is a miner's lunch pail sitting on the kettle bottom. The lunch bucket has several parts: the lid can be used as a plate, there is usually a flat plat called a pie plate, then a deeper section where the miner might have his sandwiches or beans or whatever, and in the bottom was water to keep his lunch cool.

 Light shines through cribbing, the stacked wood blocks that help support the mine's roof. In some mines, called pillar mines, pillars of coal were left to support the roof. When the mine was mined out, miners would go in and "rob" the pillars, meaning that would take out the pillars and let the roof fall behind them--hopefully getting out of the way in time! My husband remembers pillar-robbing as a boy in abandoned mines to get house coal. It was dangerous occupation for a young boy, I'd think, but it provided the coal they needed for cooking and heating.

This is just one of many side tunnels that branched off the main tour. We did not go down these but I was intrigued at the way they curved off into the darkness. How far did they go? Are there more tunnels branching off? How many tunnels are under the town of Beckley anyway?

I didn't notice this sign as we entered the mine, but saw it on the way out. Underground mines are always cool, so we all wore jackets.

If you should ever have the opportunity, this tour is fascinating. It's not claustrophobic, oddly; perhaps because it's well-lit and the tunnels are wide. I'd like to go again--there is so much to see and think about.

Still to come: the buildings we toured after returning from the mine.
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