Wednesday, July 30, 2014

On The Road Again

 

Earlier this month I did something that, three years ago, I vowed never to do again. I got in a vehicle to drive 1,000 miles, give or take, by myself. Durham, NC to Brimley, MI. Any farther and I would have been in Canada. 

This drive was a little different than the last. Three years ago I was picking up and moving to the east side of the country. I just wanted to get there. This trip, on the other hand, was about the drive itself. The destination would welcome me when I got there, regardless of when that would be. Don’t get me wrong. I was very much looking forward to getting there. I simply had no set time to arrive. And more importantly, it had no scheduled return date.

ETA? TBD. Return date? Meh.

So, I took off in the car one day before Liz caught her plane to the same destination. I would arrive in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before her. In the car were two suitcases, and one backpack. One suitcase, and the backpack was mine. The other suitcase was Liz’s. I could just imagine her walking through airport security saying, “Yes, I am only carrying a purse.” Except she wouldn’t call it a purse. A bag maybe? A tote? A satchel? Let’s stick with a bag. “Yes, I am only carrying a bag.” And knowing Liz, that bag only had an ID, money, reading material, and a bottle of water. I am sure the TSA was wondering what this confident redhead was up to. Nonetheless...

In Charleston, WV I stopped for lunch at a hole in the wall taco joint. Think if a beach shack was dropped half a mile from the state capitol building. It was golden. As I crossed into Ohio I had an impromptu phone interview, before seeing farm, after farm, after beautiful farm. At the 10-hour mark I reached out to click “like” on the dash of the car. You know, similar to Pandora or Facebook. That was the moment that I knew I was in an I’ve-been-driving-for-quite-a-while place. Both the music and my right foot got heavy after that. The road straightened, and the land leveled. It was energizing to give it gas and just go.

“Welcome To Michigan” the sign said. “Exit 1 Starbucks”. The clouds opened, and the chorus sang. All was right with the world. That is until I found the Starbucks… in a grocery store… and closed. So, I picked up an energy drink and a coffee drink, and pounded both as I sped north through the middle-mitt of Michigan — fireworks bursting all around the highway.

The day had taken me from the mountains, through plains, to the Great Lakes. I wasn’t tethered to my phone. Often times I didn’t have reception. Maybe I was in a tunnel, in a river valley, or simply out in the middle of nowhere. I enjoyed the view of the road coming to a point on the horizon (except maybe for a little while in Ohio), all through the lens of a bug-splattered windshield. It was nice. There is a lot to be seen between point A and point B. 

After I crossed the Mackinac Bridge, and entered into the Upper Peninsula, I rolled the window down to take in the clean, fresh air of the Upper Peninsula a new-to-me tradition recommended by my father-in-law. The white bark of the Birch trees shone through the dark evergreen needles. The wildflowers were in bloom, and fragrant. This, I thought, is what I drove 1,000 miles for.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Cast Iron Anniversary


After Liz and I eloped in Asheville we wanted to bring some things home with us to remind us of the time we ran off to the mountains to stand at the base of a waterfall, profess our love, and commit our lives to one another. When all was said and done, we brought back several things (all from Oddfellows, a perfectly curated shop of dead people stuff).

We returned with two mid-century, narrow-legged chairs. The kind with tiny-tipped feet that Liz loves so much. A few old cinema signs. Days of the week. Matinees anyone? A couple of grey-green cans of “EMERGENCY DRINKING WATER” that are/were “PROPERTY U.S. GOV’T”. Drink up! And something that I had my eyes set on from the start – one of the few things that I knew would last the duration of our marriage, our lives, and beyond – a cast iron skillet.

Not just any cast iron skillet. A Griswold 5 cast iron skillet. Based on the logo on the underside of the skillet, this particular one was born between 1919-1940. It has been around for a bit. At minimum, more than Liz and I combined. Why Griswold? Why the 5? Well first, Griswold was manufactured in Erie, PA. My grandfather (the Simon of Simon Curtis) was born in Erie. And second, every time I hold that handle, and see the 5 emblazoned on it, I will remember that I married The One on 5/5.

The Griswold 5 was in need of a little care. I didn’t want to break her down with chemicals, but wanted to clean her up a bit. I cut a small sweet potato in half, poured course sea salt into the pan, and scrubbed. The poor girl had all kinds of gunk on her (I’m going to assume the good old cooking type). After a good scrub, oil rub, and a stove sauna, she was as good as new.

Maybe I am expecting too much out of a piece of old metal, but if it is up to me and Laverne, we will endure. We will be strong. We will serve the family. Oh, yeah.. My new/old cast iron skillet is named Laverne.

My family is going to have me committed if I keep naming my cast iron skillets.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Home Work: Raised Beds And Rocks




Where did that come from? What the hell is that? Why is that one in the middle of the yard? These are the questions I have been asking myself over the last several months of spring. Bulbs that have been buried all winter, monkey grass that has been waiting in the ashes of last year’s life, previously hidden honeysuckles, have all recently been reaching to the sun with all of their might. Now don’t get me wrong, much of the blooms and blossoms have been pleasant surprises. However, they have been a bit… confusing. Confusing in that I did not see them coming. In that I don't entirely understand the thought process of the previous owner. 

One thing I have not had to question is the vegetables and herbs that we have planted. It has been exciting (yes, I get excited about growing food) to see them thrive in proper soil as opposed to the brick factory we were trying to force at our old place. All this brings me to my latest backyard adventure: reinforcing the raised beds. 

When we moved in, I envisioned removing the existing raised beds, and constructing a more solid vegetable garden elsewhere in the yard. However, there were two existing raised beds, and turning the yard into my own sandbox wasn’t the highest priority on our to do list (close, but not quite there). There was also a flowerbed in the center of the back yard lined with large stones. The same stones, but smaller, lined the front yard. In the “level and rebuild” mentality I broke it all down. I stripped them for parts. I… created a rock pile in the back yard. With that I was left with two deteriorating, raised beds and a pile of rocks. Lots of heavy rocks. So, I did what any boy would do while playing in the back yard. I built a castle. 

So when I say reinforcing, it is not because the beds needed the structural support, but because I had two sad looking raised beds and a pile of rocks. By the looks of it, the result could guard against the invading hoards. A moat is the only thing that is missing. 

In all honesty, I am happy with the way it turned out. Especially for a temporary solution. There is a long term plan for the vegetable castle.

We have an area in the back corner of our yard that we refer to as the “thicket”. It is a group of small trees, bushes, and otherwise dense growth. It serves the purpose of providing privacy from beyond the fence, but that is about it. On the list of future “Home Work” assignments is to level the thicket and build it back up with berry bushes and fruit trees (and a pecan tree if I can swing it). Ideally, it would not only provide privacy, but also food, which seems to be a focus when we put things in the ground. The rocks would be repurposed to form rows, and borders, for new bushes and trees. As for the raised beds, they will be rebuilt elsewhere in the backyard with more room and more sunlight.

To be honest, I am looking forward to creating a more edible landscape. There is something natural, fulfilling, and simply nice about stepping into your yard to gather for a meal, garnish, or treat. I mean, I’m going to need sustenance if I plan to continue moving these stinkin’ rocks around the yard. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Honeysuckle

I have a nostalgic love for honeysuckles. For me the smell is directly tied to playing on Papa’s farm as a child. They will forever be one of my favorite springtime smells.

When Liz and I began discussing what to plant around our new home, honeysuckle was near the top of my list. To my surprise it has recently began to bloom in several places in our yard. The sweet smell that now hovers in the air makes being in the yard that much more enjoyable.

There is a certain timeless joy in pulling the pistil through the base of the flower before placing the smallest drop of nectar on the tip of your tongue.  I revisited that joy today, and thought that someone should somehow capture it. After some quick research I found that honeysuckle simple syrup is a thing. Excited, I spent the next hour outside – large mixing bowl in hand – picking four cups of the delicate, white flowers.

To my pleasant surprise, the end product captured the floral sweetness perfectly. I have successfully captured a childhood memory in liquid form. Now to mix it in cocktails, sweet tea, and flavored butter to top buttermilk biscuits. 



Monday, May 19, 2014

Blue Ridge Parkway


One of the nice things about eloping is the inherent flexibility of it all. It definitely makes for a more laid back experience. For example, we did not know where we were going to hold our ceremony until approximately 36 hours before it happened. It made for an enjoyable, exploratory adventure down the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We attempted to scout a few locations a couple months before, but found the Parkway was closed. The postponed hiking adventure gave us a chance to see the potential locations exactly how they would be during the ceremony. Just before our wedding day we meandered down the Blue Ridge Parkway to explore four locations.

Devil’s Courthouse: Milepost 422 - Legend tells that the devil held court in the cave that lies under the rock. Or according to Cherokee lore, the dwelling space of the slant-eyed giant, Judaculla. Regardless, it is said to have some of the most spectacular views in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and touts a variety of rare, high-altitude plants. We eagerly began our way up the .5 mile, paved trail before laughing at our lack of breath two minutes in. The trail description of “strenuous” is quite fitting, but the view is worth the effort.

Black Balsam Knob: Milepost 420.2 - A knob or bald is a treeless mountaintop worthy of many immature jokes. This one in particular features forests, meadows, and spectacular views from the clear mountaintop. We walked though a washed-out-waist-high trail, through a meadow, and up lava-like rocks to the top of the bald. A great hike, and a gorgeous experience, but we were determined to press on to the next trailhead.

Graveyard Fields: Milepost 418 - After skirting the chain link fence (technically Graveyards Fields was closed for renovations) we began walking through a tunnel of Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron. As we proceeded we took an unintended turn towards the upper falls. Come to find out smart phones are less than smart when between mountain peaks. We took a snack break before doubling back. We made our way to my favorite part – the boardwalk in the middle the fields – before playing like mountain goats (I speak for myself) on the rocks of the lower falls. The trail featured many great characteristics, but…

While we were worn out, our photographers had given us a last minute recommendation.  Our fourth and final destination.

Looking Glass Falls: 9.2 miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway on Highway 276 - Looking Glass Falls drops sixty feet in the Pisgah National Forrest. The lush foliage, coupled with the cool mist from the falls, sealed the deal for us both. As we climbed back up the stone stairs, we were already beginning to discuss what our ceremony would look like.   

While neither one of us envisioned saying our vows at the base of a waterfall (and totally wanted to say we were married at a place with a metal sounding name like one of the first three locations), we left the site knowing that it would be just right. And it was.  

As an aside, Looking Glass Falls is in Transylvania County.