My virus scan had slowed my computer to a crawl, so I spent the morning cleaning out the mess at the top of the basement stairs, which was used as the cleaning closet by the previous owners, despite the fact that it is less than three feet square and is in fact the stair landing and needs to be used to get up and down, and brainstorming how to rearrange it.  We had gotten mop clips to be put up, but you can never just do one thing.  There is a circuit box there, for which a giant hole was cut in the plaster wall and never finished, leaving cable, rough plaster edges, and the inside of the wall exposed, and something needed to be done about that.  We brainstormed and decided to surround the thing with pegboard, so I put chicken in the crockpot for green chile enchiladas later, and we went to Lowe’s and then off to the mountains again, figuring there wasn’t any daylight in the staircase so the afternoon would be better spent where there was.

We went to Pleasant Creek WMA, where we didn’t find skunk cabbage, and then back down to see if we could actually find Arden, a swimming spot on the Tygart Valley River.  We weren’t planning a swim, but we got lost in the wilds of Barbour County a few years ago while planning a picnic there on the way to take our daughter to the Pittsburgh airport.  It was meant to be the scenic route, and was, but not what we had planned, and we wanted to try again.  We did find Arden, a pretty spot on the Tygart, and then went over the hill to Moatsville, a beautiful spot on Teter Creek just above where it joins the Tygart.


So while Robert finished the pegboard, I made these brownies.  I found the recipe while adding all my recipes to this blog, partly as part of the “automate menu planning and the grocery list” project, for which I’m using Ziplist, but don’t want to copy all my recipes there.  I can put them here, link their ingredients there, use them for schedule and grocery list generation in Ziplist, and still have them under my control.  I suspect this was my mother’s recipe, but I don’t remember her ever making them – and I haven’t either.  An experiment.  I suspected from the tiny amount of flour that they would be the kind described as “fudgie” but they are more like baked mousse or maybe divinity (and way less trouble than divinity).

And the top of the stairs now looks like this, and will be quite lovely, as basement stairs go, once we paint it all gray to match the kitchen.  Broom closet

IMG_3216Our pileated woodpecker showed up this morning, for the first time in months.

Robert above the Swallow Falls

Robert above the Swallow Falls

We hadn’t been out in the mountains for six weeks or more, since Robert’s cousin Priscilla was here. We hadn’t been anywhere much but Lowe’s, Home Depot, and a few other forays for bits and pieces for our refurbishing projects, more of which soon. Nature was limited to our views of the yard (not too shabby), and watching the activity at our bird feeders (dozens of goldfinches, with some excitement like a towhee, which I had been hearing for weeks, but hadn’t seen.)

I put on long johns, jeans, my heaviest sweater, a flannel shirt, a fleece vest, my down jacket, a pashmina scarf, a wool hat, my down jacket and hiking boots, and we headed out for another attempt at skunk cabbage at Cranesville Swamp.  We now know that the snow isn’t plowed on the last stretch to the parking area (tantalizing visible from the plowed road) and there is no other place to park and walk in.  So four-wheel drive (or maybe chains) are required.  But the views driving there are grand.

Driving on, we came to the sign for Swallow Falls State Park, just over the Maryland line, and decided to try it.

We walked the trail to the Swallow Falls

Swallow Falls of the Youghiogheny

Swallow Falls of the Youghiogheny

Image Image   Image

Muddy Creek Falls

Muddy Creek Falls

and then down the Youghiogheny to the mouth of Muddy Creek and up to its falls.

I always enjoy just driving the backroads in this part of the mountains. I noticed a lot of stores and mailboxes that said “Friend.” Those families are descendants of Anders Nilsson Frande, a Swedish trapper and trader who lived and traded on the Potomac in the very early 1700s or before. My pioneer Germans moved in a generation later with the first permanent settlers. The high plateau holds the headwaters of the Youghiogheny and Potomac, and also branches of the Cheat and Tygart Valley River. When it was first settled, the Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia lines were in dispute, so naturally my ancestors moved about freely, leaving traces in all three states (not to mention multiple counties in each, as the counties split.) The plateau now, reached by winding up Laurel and Cheat Mountains, holds wide vistas of beautiful rolling farms, interspersed with pine and hemlock woods and alpine bogs.

As I was writing this, we received word that Priscilla died unexpectedly after what was expected to be minor surgery. We took her to Blackwater Falls in January, and she was thrilled with the mountains, and curious about the geography and history, a treat for me. She was looking forward to more travel, and we to visiting with her. We will miss her deeply.

A friend asked for a picture of the view from my writing corner in the dining room, which looks out onto the patio, which is a story above the ground and looks out over the West Fork valley (not that you can see the river for the trees).  Photographs don’t really capture the feeling, or the way the mirror on the dining room wall opposite the French doors pulls the view into the room.





The birds are at eye-level.


And one of the even better view from the upstairs bathroom, which is actually three stories up.


How different the explosions in Boston and West, Texas, and our reactions to them.   

Here is a quote from Amy Goodman:
“The first blast in Boston occurred behind a line of fluttering flags from around the world, reflecting the international stature of the oldest annual marathon in the country – flags that reminded me once again of the words of Howard Zinn:

    There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

The blood in Boston is on the hands of one or two people, driven beyond the bounds by some extreme ideology or twisted personal thinking, we assume.  Tiny drops from West are on all of our hands.  Nitrogen fertilizer was responsible for the largest industrial accident in US history, in Texas City 66 years ago.  Fertilizer has made cheap food for the US possible, and fed most of the world, except Africa.  It has also polluted more than half of the rivers in the US, created a growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and sickened the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay, among others.  And more people die in the US every year from industrial accidents than have died from terrorism since 1970.

Maybe it’s too uncomfortable for us to think that the factory (or the coal mine, or the power plant) next door, that employs our neighbors or friends, or even us, and supplies, directly or indirectly, our electricity and our food, is more dangerous than terrorists.  But it is true, and maybe we need to be working more to prevent death by changing the way we do things every day.

It is one thing to read about the Holocaust, about the banality of evil, about the ordinary Germans who turned on their neighbors, about our own internment of Japanese citizens, about lynchings in our South, about many horrible things that people have done to people in fights over territory, principles, and even in the name of religion.  It is entirely another to have it brought home that those thoughts are here today, in ordinary people, friends, neighbors.

Last fall, I quoted on Facebook

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence, or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Martin Luther King Jr. delivered 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

I was taken aback at one response, from a vocally Christian friend:

Get the radical Islamist, Russia, the Taliban and the Sunnis to agree and I am all for that.  Oh…I forgot to mention the Chinese, the Serbs and the others who want to kill us….

And then, late last night after a weekend church workshop and a wonderful evening service, I found this Facebook comment on someone else’s post in my mailbox, from a retired teacher, friend of a Facebook friend:

Our government is out of control !! Look at how they have imprisoned 4 United States Marines for pissing on the bodies of those traitors/terrorists !!! I find our soldiers’ message appropriate and true from our hearts !! It is against the Geneva Convention ?? Obama and Hilary take exception and APOLOGIZE for insulting those fork-tongued ,treacherous devil-worshippers ?? WTF !! How about those heathens’ practice of beheading our soldiers and dragging their bodies through the streets —I guess that is okay and not that big a deal—they are just Americans.

These are the most extreme of what I have heard lately, but almost every day someone says, with vehemence or, more distressing, casually, something that judges some individual or a whole group of people as Other, irretrievably different, lesser, immoral, evil, to be scorned or annihilated, violently or slowly through neglect or abuse.  I belong to a denomination whose first principle is “the inherent worth and dignity of every human being.” My daily meditation is the Metta  Sutra. But working on my own compassion for all seems like not nearly enough.  It feels as if we are going down yet another dark and shameful maze of twisty little passages, all alike. How can I, how can even we, heal the hurt, the anger, the fear, the mistrust?

For millennia, all across the northern hemisphere, human beings have huddled in the cold and dark as the winds picked up, snow fell, and the days grew ever shorter.  Hunting, gathering, farming done, they gathered together, kept up the fires, visited, told stories, sang, and feasted as much as they could.

All across Europe, the Yule log, the largest and straightest to be found, gave warmth through the longest night of the winter. From Rome to Ireland, holly wreaths were worn at solstice celebrations. In Egypt, palm trees brought indoors symbolized resurrection; from Rome to the far northern reaches of Norway, evergreen branches were brought in and decorated, celebrating life in the dead of winter.  In Germany in the 17th century, people started bringing in trees on December 24, the Feast of Adam and Eve, to represent the Tree of Paradise.

In northern Germany and Scandinavia, the Julebok is everywhere. Originally it symbolized the goats that drew Thor’s chariot, which he sacrificed to feed his guests and resurrected the next day. Made of the straw left from the harvest, it was burned at Yule.

Mistletoe is the ancient Norse plant of peace. The death of Baldur, the god of vegetation, by a spear of mistletoe wood, brought winter upon the world. Baldur was resurrected, and his mother Frigga declared that it would be a plant of love, not death.  Enemies meeting by chance in the woods beneath mistletoe had to declare a truce, and people kissed beneath the mistletoe to celebrate life and Baldur’s resurrection.

The new year begins in late fall in India, with Diwali, the Festival of Lights, a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.  The house is cleaned, family gathers, and dozens of small oil lamps burn all night. Jews light Hanukkah candles, to commemorate the rededication of the Temple, for eight days starting on a day in the dead of winter, chosen because it was the day when Nehemiah had miraculously rekindled the altar fire from remnants of coals hidden generations before, when the Jews were taken into their Babylonian captivity.  At the very end of winter, just before the spring equinox, Iranians of all religions prepare for the New Year with a Festival of Lights, jumping over bonfires and crying “Give me your beautiful red colour and take back my sickly pallor.”

We gather in the cold and the dark with our friends and family, decking our halls with evergreens and lights. We tell each other stories of love, hope, rebirth, and the return of warmth and light.  We sing and feast as much as we can. Jesus’ birth is part of one of the old, old stories of death, sorrow, love, and rebirth.

Let all of us say to each other many greetings and not begrudge one another the warmth of love in the dark and cold.

From the Daily Yonder, bits about the Farm Bill, which may be hidden in the deficit reduction and renewed for 5 years without any hearing or debate, and competitive markets for agriculture,  and from New America, some thoughts on obesity – the majority of the US is now overweight. And there’s another salmonella recall.

Whether we live in the country or the city, a farm state or not, we all have to eat.  The industrial food system is part of the corporate takeover of our society and government, and another way our system is not working for our health and happiness; we need to pay attention.

An apparent high school suicide in our community, attributed to bullying, has emotions running high, and a lot of memories of our own young experiences coming back.

I did some looking around when it was said that the school involved had no policy, and in fact had a “no tattling” policy, so that children were discouraged from reporting.  What I found was that there is a state anti-bullying law, a statewide policy, and local policies and programs.  I also read a good bit of teacher discussion on “no tattling”, and found that teachers are aware of the need to distinguish between tattling to get someone in trouble, and telling to get someone out of trouble. But I didn’t agree with the approach the laws, policies, and programs seem to be taking. I think we may be emphasizing “fixing” the bullies too much, and strengthening our kids in how to react, too little.

When I was young and harassed, I was repeatedly told “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Now, apparently, we are telling children, and each other, indeed, words can hurt us.  When I was young, I never quite got what it meant.  I could see part of the difference, but the words did hurt. Being excluded hurt. It didn’t help that my mother’s mantra was “What will people think?” I couldn’t wait to get out of my home town, where it seemed hardly anyone understood or liked me.

In my twenties, I read Albert Ellis’s book A Guide to Rational Living, which includes “Ten Irrational Ideas” which I wrote about here.  Putting what he said into practice changed my life. His irrational ideas are things that people tell themselves that make them miserable. The first one is “It is a dire necessity for an adult to be loved or approved by almost everyone for virtually everything he or she does.” Aha! Words hurt because I tell myself they do.

I think we need to be telling our kids – at home, at school, at church, in clubs, on teams – that it not a dire necessity that everyone love or approve you. It is not achievable, and the desire to make it so will make you miserable, possibly suicidal. Much of the harm from even physical and sexual abuse comes from the “awfulizing,” both by the community and the victim. We tell child abuse and rape victims “It’s not your fault, and you are not a bad person because of it.” We need to tell harassment victims “It is not your fault.”

It’s not your problem – it’s their problem – if they don’t like you or say mean things because you are tall, short, black,white, gay, red-headed, cross-eyed, rich, poor, fat, skinny, smart, stupid, or ugly. If it is sticks and stones – physical – report it; that’s not acceptable. If it’s words – consider whether it is something you did, something you can change, that caused it – if it wasn’t – that’s their problem.

Of course, we don’t want to raise kids who are self-righteous, or be that ourselves. Not everything is “their” problem, either. Human society doesn’t work without people considering other people’s needs. If we are inconsiderate ourselves, that’s our problem. Bullying works because of that – we always have to consider if part of what they say is true, or if there is something else we do that makes us a target.

Bullying never goes away. There is a whole literature on bullying in the workplace.  At work, as at school and home, it is a tempting way to gain power, and there are grownups as well as children who just gain pleasure from hurting other people. So bringing up children to deal with it is a life skill. It is a life’s work, and the work of our religions, to learn what truly hurts us and others, to examine our consciences and learn what  is important to change and what it is important to ignore.

Every day I have more than one smart-aleck remark on the news, and occasionally a deep thought.  Sometimes I can even tell the difference.  Rather than continue to pepper my friend’s Facebook news and email boxes with them, I’m going to start posting a link page, with comments.  Here’s the first.

Mayor’s last-ditch effort to save Detroit would privatize 88,000 streetlights

I think this really mean out-source – tax money to a for-profit contractor.  It reminded me of a report I’d seen last week on an energy-saving streetlight system being installed in Spain

New System of Intelligent Management of Street Lighting Enables 80% Savings in Energy

This works by having sensors to determine whether there are people or cars on the street, and dimming the lights if there are not.  It is also networked.

Seems to me Detroit could truly privatize its streetlights by using EZPass – turning lights on for only those walkers and drivers who have paid for the privilege.  After all, why should those of us who seldom go out at night pay for lights for those who do?

On the other hand, maybe making things nicer for each other helps us all – cleaning up vacant lots has reduced gun violence, vandalism, and stress in Philadelphia neighborhoods, and people are getting more exercise. And people in Manchester and Sheffield, England, say they would pay more in taxes for public landscaping with natural areas and trees.

Especially for those who think Solyndra was just another example of US government corruption and waste – Scientific American reports that perhaps Solyndra failed because Chinese subsidies for its solar industry were bigger than ours.

And especially for my Texas friends:

Mr. Perry said Monday night that “I’m the first to admit I’m not the most polished candidate out there.”

Well, what is that on his hair, then?

Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. - Howard Thurman.

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