Saturday, December 30, 2017

What I Love About Winter

Accuweather's 10-day forecast for Mount Savage, MD
on Dec 30, 2017

Has your skin turned blue... are you frozen through and through?  Oh, baby, it's cold outside! But I'm trying to stay positive this chilly night before New Year’s Eve and find some things to make winter seem more like an old friend than such an evil intruder throwing a wrench into whatever I have planned.

What I love most about winter:

Sweats are fashionable
Hot cocoa
Crockpots full of simmering soup
Guessing at animal footprints after fresh snowfall
A crackling fire in the fireplace
Fuzzy socks
Little kids stuffed into puffy coats 'til they can barely walk
Snuggly puppies
Electric blanket (or electric mattress pad so it's warm from below)
Ice cold water from the tap
Chicken pot pie
Fluffy bathrobes
Hot spiced cider
Looking at seed catalogs & dreaming of spring gardens
Watching kids sled down a hillside
Colorful birds flitting about in bare tree branches
The way falling snow makes it look like you're inside a snowglobe
Catching snowflakes on your tongue
Steaming bowls of chili
Being covered in the afghan you're crocheting
Daydreaming about a Hawaiian vacation
Dogs with crazy sweaters
Slathering butter on bread right from the oven
Videos of dogs learning to walk in their new booties
Binge watching Hallmark movies
Rolling the "r" when you say brrrrr...
Cute boots (and cute hats and mittens and scarves, too)
All kinds of apple desserts
Fondling the Christmas decorations as  you  put them away

And probably my very favorite... Complaining about the cold!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2017 in Review

As 2018 is about to get itself underway, I find I’m still an accidental resident of Mount Savage, MD.  Accidental in that I never intended to be here and then when I found myself here, it was only supposed to be for a few days. That was just over a year ago.  My neighbors include a couple of giant raccoons, a fearless Momma possum, some rogue deer, and judging from the scratch marks on the deck… a black bear that wants to be a whole lot more friendly than makes me comfortable.  There’s an assortment of dogs and cats and even some humans, too.  I’ve managed to meet a few of them, even some of the people, this past year and one person, Barbara, has transformed from possibly the most negative and prickly woman I’ve ever met into a true and faithful friend.

I’ve only begun to explore my habitat but already found that Mount Savage is one of those historically significant places that no one’s ever really heard about.  Through the convergence of location and natural resource availability, it became a center of industry in the late 1800s and has fame for rolling the steel for the first railroad track ever produced in the United States. It was also a company-owned town for a time when the clay taken from the surrounding mountains produced a uniquely high-quality brick that’s still prized by collectors and those doing period-correct property restorations.  One day I want to find out more and go take some photos of the old brick ovens. I also want to check out the museum now housed in the town’s original one-cell jail built specifically to provide drunks a safe place to sleep it off.

One of the things that kept me from exploring was an accident early in the year where I badly injured my right shoulder. That ‘grounded’ me for several months. With Jack’s efforts as nursemaid, support brace, heating pad, exercise machine, and 24/7 comforter, the breaks and tears and nerve damage of a total dislocation are probably about as healed as they’re ever going to get now and it’s mostly ok.  There are some activities it inhibits, though… Like crocheting and cooking and cutting the dog’s toenails.  Those have become decidedly short-duration undertakings due to the numb fingers they trigger.  I also had to take time off school because I couldn’t get my hand up to the computer keyboard to post in discussions and write all those papers but I’m back at it now and making progress.  A few days ago I had that breakthrough moment where I actually felt competent talking Psychology and that this might be a real viable career choice for my last shot at that sort of stuff.  That was an awesome feeling!

The most exotic place I’ve been this whole year is the County dump.  It’s a unique arrangement here where you have to stop along the way at a specific Payless Drug and buy stickers to put on your trash bags.  They are $1 each and every bag needs one.  If you arrive on site without them, you’ll be ushered the 7-ish miles halfway back to town, or about the same distance on out the road to a different store in another town, to get them.  Just ask me how I know this…

I’m still being a culinary adventurer.  This year’s ‘new to me’ winner foods include quince, Sugar cakes, and Apple Pan Dowdy.  Quince is a fruit that resembles a yellow apple but has a much more perfume-like scent and taste.  I understand (now) that it’s meant to be cooked but when I found some at the grocery store I just bought one to taste and me and the boys ate it raw. I’m intrigued enough to put it in the orchard I’m imagining for my someday place… and Lightning, my resident foodie, found it delicious.  Sugar Cakes are huge, pillowy, cake-like sugar cookies.  Imagine a Lofthouse cookie and a homemade yellow cake had a round pale-faced baby… and you’re sort of close.  They can be frosted when cooled or just sprinkled with a little sugar prior to baking.  Oh, they are yummy! And Apple Pan Dowdy may be my favorite dessert ever.  It is the perfect combination of pie and bread pudding and caramelly baked apples. Where has this been my whole life?  The Sugar Cakes, Apple Pan Dowdy, and several uniquely Pennsylvania Dutch dishes like Slippery Pot Pie and Rivvel Soup are Barbara’s contribution to expanding my gastronomic curiosity.

Gizmo kissed a cat.  And the cat liked it!  Out of all my guys, his herding tendency made me worried about how he’d get on with the cats.  But he loves Crybaby, a yellow-striped tom that’s also part of this motley crew, and Crybaby loves him.  Crybaby actually likes all the boys and works hard to engage them in goofy little games much to his Mommy’s consternation…  Barbara is over-worried one of them is going to pounce “and break his back because they are so big and rough.” Yes, you just heard my eyes roll but I respect her discomfort and regularly call them off.

Plans for 2018 include finishing up the final classes for my BA in Psychology, making my final selection for grad school, and getting things underway for my MA.  My concentration area has been Social Psychology but I’ve enjoyed the Forensics classes so much more that I think that’s where I will focus my graduate work.  My other goals are pretty tightly focused on job and home and community getting adequately situated in all of them.  I also want to get back to taking little adventures and finding delight in the extraordinary details of day-to-day life that exist if I’m purposeful in paying attention to them. And if I can, I hope to sneak in some art and creative writing.  Which brings us to the goal that’s relevant to this blog: When my life isn’t all that interesting, I lose steam.  So… either I’m going to live a blog-worthy life or take the blog down in this coming year.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Life Goes On

There are times in your life when those words are exactly the truth you don't want to hear. While there are other times we mourn something or someone lost, I bet you, like me, think first of those excruciatingly and exquisitely painful first days after a loved one has passed away. You feel so much like something inside of you is gone. Irreplaceable and irrecoverable.  Yet, the world keeps turning on its trip around the sun. Grass grows. People go on about their business. And one day you find yourself awestruck that... life goes on.

Photo credit to her Daddy, Rory Feek.
I had that experience this morning. It was this simple picture of a little girl with a great big smile shared on the Joey+Rory Facebook page. She reminded me, in this moment her Daddy captured and shared with the world, of another little girl with an equally infectious smile and zest for living.  But it was his caption that while he could usually see more of her Momma today he saw himself that made me catch my breath.  The little girl in the photo is Indy. The other girl, the only child of a couple I knew in Georgia, is Kaydee. Most often when I see a picture of Kaydee, I think she looks like her Daddy but every now and again her expression is purely a reflection of her Mother. There was one just this past week that kept me staring and remembering the ultimate kindness, generosity, and cheerful words of a friend gone before we ever got to know each other nearly well enough.

You see, besides the huge grins and amazing spirit these girls have in common, Indy and Kaydee both lost their Mothers to breast cancer in the last year. I don't know a whole lot about the kind of cancer that took Joey Feek but the one that stole away Kaydee's sweet Momma is an insidious and stealthy killer for which there is no cure. Her cancer was one that masquerades as a host of other diseases making it easy to overlook and misdiagnose. One of the Atlanta television stations recently did a feature story on Inflammatory Breast Cancer that explains there's no lump or tumor to show up on a mammogram, only a reddish patch that looks a lot like a heat rash and the grim truth, that while treatment can slow it down, this cancer kills 100% of the time.

While we mourn the loss of their Mommas and marvel at the resiliency and acceptance of little girls like Indy and Kaydee, we find that truly life goes on.

With or without you, life goes on.

Note to self:  Choose to participate. Accept what is, work to fix what needs fixing, find your zest... Find your smile. Do it every single day.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Always & Forever Mama's Jacky

I am so glad Jack is mine!  And so thankful Derek found him on eBay and insisted we go get him when my heart was hurting over having to return Roscoe to the shelter and I really didn't want to "replace" him the same day.  Jack has become such a friend and blessing!!  And it doesn't hurt that he has the cutest personality, and hence, lots of silly little stories...

Waiting on a treat with rapt attention in May 2014...
Jack is a lover!

Were there a pillow under his chin here, this is the view I wake up to pretty much each morning - his nose.  With his head stretched out along side mine and his hot breath in my eyeball is how we frequently welcome the day.  All night long we sleep with some part of him touching me but usually along toward morning he migrates toward the top of the bed almost like a guardian angel watching for me to wake up.  (His thoughts might be more like "Get up and feed me!" but I can always imagine right?)  Then as time moves on, Jack is the boy most likely to come rest his chin on either my lap or chest and gaze at me for loves and kisses.  Especially if they come with a little treat!  And if I'm sad, he's the first in line to lick away the tears and kiss it all better.  You really couldn't ask for a sweeter canine companion. I ask him sometimes just how they got so much sugar in one puppy...

Jack is my protector!

One afternoon there was a white cat wandering along the treeline out back.  All the boys saw it and starting barking their heads off... but Jacky was all set to protect me from this threatening intruder.  He was growling and down in his attack stance and all the hair along the ridge of his back was standing straight up!  For them to bark at birds, the occasional cottontail or even leaves moving in the breeze isn't unusual... but for my little man to get this worked up?  It got my attention.  I stood back and watched with some amusement as the cat nonchalantly made his way through the trees and up through the yard of one of the houses behind us perfectly unaware of the ruckus he (or maybe it's a she?) was causing.  Once the kitty was out of sight, the boys all settled down.  Poor Jack's back legs were shaking so hard I wondered for a minute how he stayed standing!  He was scared out of his mind but would have gone right to battle to keep me safe!!

Jack is a giant!

A sleepy Jacky... all that growing is tiring!
My baby, the last of the dogs to reach the birthday anniversary every year, will celebrate his fourth birthday in July.  He's been visibly "taller" than his bestest buddy, Lightning, since he was a year old and I was sure he would fill out some.  But just a couple of days ago, I wondered if he'd gotten taller still! Gizmo can walk underneath him without crouching down at all.  Line the three of them up side by side and it's like a staircase... Jack has the longest legs! But he still won't jump and has to be boosted into the back of the car.

Jack is a clown!

A rousing match of mouth wrestling is in progress.
The way my boys play can be a little unnerving to the uninitiated... I sort of like to call this shot "The Gaping Jaws of Hell." It's Lightning and Jack playing together - mouth wrestling. They never actually bite each other, just open their mouths wide and growl and make other unusual vocalizations as part of a full body contact wrestling match.  Even when they put their mouth over the other's head or neck or other reachable body part, their jaws never close and their body language, wagging tail and happy facial expressions, tells me they are having fun.  This isn't how Jack usually plays with Gizmo, though.  And that's much to Gizzy's dismay.  It's almost like Jacky recognizes that Giz is only half his size and he spends a lot more time down on his elbows or rolling around wrestling in a gentler way.

This is Jack shortly after we brought him home.  Lightning was so excited to have a new puppy and turned into the best big brother/babysitter... His face seemed to say "A puppy!!!  Thank you Mommy for getting me the greatest toy ever made!!"

Baby Jack... He still fit in my arms and on my lap!

And this is him just a couple of months ago...  Just like all Mommies, I'm asking "why must they grow up so fast?"

Big boy Jack... but still my baby!

I sure do love you, baby boy!!

A Tale of Two Soups

In the past few months I've been introduced to a few Pennsylvania Dutch recipes that have an unfamiliar component called a Rivvel. I haven't quite decided if I like them or not, but I am intrigued enough to want to play with the recipe. A few days ago, Jason's Mom made a big pot of Potato Soup. Potato Soup... with Rivvels.

First appearances were very much like the potato soup I am familiar with and love. But the taste was a bit different. And the texture didn't feel like the thick and silky yumminess I crave on a cold wintery day. I'm not saying it was bad, just different.

I guess this is a good time to stop and explain what a Rivvel is.

It's a kind of free form noodle, or dumpling, depending on who you ask. On their own, they make me think very much of the Spaetzle I always got with my Vienerschnitzel at Seigfried's when I lived in Salt Lake City. But in soup, I'm struggling to love them.  I found this recipe for soup online at that explains how to make them.

2 c. unsifted flour
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
4 qt. chicken broth
2 c. corn
Combine flour, salt and egg together and mix with fingers until crumbly. Drop rivvels (little noodles) into broth. Add corn and simmer 10 to 15 minutes. A rivvel is a "little lump" or noodle.

Photo from
Switch the broth for milk and corn for potatoes and it's pretty much the soup she made. She's also made a version with navy beans and a bit of shaved ham. Searching, I found another site that called the recipe Amish and said it was a Depression-era way to stretch common (read "inexpensive") pantry items into a meal that would satisfy lots of hungry tummies. Add a few crackers and you have starch on starch on starch, so fill tummies it would!

The soup I had in mind when she said Potato Soup takes a bit more prep work to bring it all together...

In a stock pot or Dutch oven, bring 2 +/- pounds of cubed potatoes to a boil in just enough salted water to barely cover. Cook until fork tender.
Meanwhile, in a saute pan, melt 5 Tbl butter and add a chopped onion and an equal amount of thinly sliced celery and cook until translucent.  Add 3 Tbl of white all-purpose flour and stir until well combined. Cook for 2 minutes longer so you don't have a raw flour taste in your finished soup. Scrape into boiling potatoes and stir to combine and work out any lumps from the rue.  Reduce heat and add milk and/or heavy cream. Simmer, stirring often, until thick and creamy - don't let it boil after adding the milk because milk scorches easily. You may need more as it thickens to get the right consistency. When vegetables are tender, add black pepper to taste. Adjust for salt.
To serve, ladle into bowls. Top with a dollop of sour cream, some crispy crumbled bacon, chopped chives and grated cheddar cheese.

Oh yum!  I'm hungry now...

The Rock Piles of Appalachia

One of the more charming aspects of living in Appalachia are the stories. When I first heard John Denver sing that " is old there" (Country Roads, 1971) it was a truth I didn't have the means to appreciate. Yet. I'm learning that now through the sights and sounds and tastes and endless stories.

Everything has a story here... even the rock piles.

Most often the ones I see have a logical and evident explanation. They've been chiseled and then dry stacked as fences, retaining walls, foundations, stairs, road surfaces and structures. The early American settlers were surely not strangers to hard physical work. Think what it took to heft some of those stones into place even using cantalever!

A partially collapsed retaining wall. These are holding back terraces
which demarcate property lines on the downward side of a hill in
Mount Savage, MD.  If only it were mine... I would love to restore
this charming feature!

The old springhouse on the same property.  Time and neglect and [effective
though historically insensitive] rennovations have left it ravaged almost
beyond repair but how I would like to try...

You might be wondering what a "springhouse" is. I'm going to call it a necessity of both early American life and for those seeking a self-sufficient lifestyle not so tied to today's utility grid. The most basic purpose of a springhouse is to cover a spring with a simple, usually just one room, structure to keep the water clean and potable. It keeps out fallen leaves and animals that could introduce infectious bacteria to the water source. The cold water and stone construction keep a springhouse cool year round so it also provides refrigeration to store foods like cured meats, fruit, vegetables, and dairy products safely away from predators.

And then sometimes you randomly find a huge pile of stacked rocks out in the middle of the forest.  It's neat and ordered and shows intelligent design in its construction. It just doesn't make sense in context of its location. At least not with how the locale is used today. And since Appalachia has been continually populated by uncounted cultures for thousands of years we are left to speculate about the purpose these rocks served and any meanings attributed to them in the distant past. Couple that with a landscape that holds onto the secrets of what may hide deep within its volcanic ancient history...

This example is near Spruceton NY. I found it in this 2008 blogpost from
Rock Piles. They refer to them as cairns, which to me suggests
a burial site.  Perhaps?  It makes for a good story!

And there you have mystery and intrigue... essential ingredients to any good story!

Were these stones laid by some of America's first inhabitants? Perhaps they are altars of worship like The Book of Mormon describes... or trail markers, or defense structures in an ancient war, or hunting blinds maybe? Along with the equally mysterious stone circles (like Scotland's Stonehenge and the smaller less well known circles here in Appalachia) are they evidence of an ancient alien presence? Are they just stones cleared from the fields of a farm that has been reclaimed by nature? The answer, and the story, depends on who you ask!

I would say many of the less easily explained rock piles come from preparing a field for planting crops. Stones were removed to make it possible for the farmer to work his field and produce a crop. They were stacked somewhere out of the way. Most of us who grew up on or around farms or in families that gardened are familiar with the process and have likely spent some time "pickin' rock."  That familiarity tugs at the heartstrings... These rocks remind us that there's something both comforting and disturbing about the temporary nature of our time on Earth. This is work that's as important as it is fleeting... What once served as a family's livelihood is reduced to nothing more than a few tons of stone... and a mystery for future generations to wonder about.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Adventures in Pain Management

You know how the triage nurse, then the nurse, then the doctor, then every other health professional you encounter asks you, in a very flat way, to rate your level of pain following an injury? Their scale is usually 1-10, with 1 being pretty ok and 10 being the worst pain ever. I usually answer just as flatly "5" because I don't know quite what to say. That. And by the third or fourth time I'm out of patience and looking at them as a bigger pain than whatever has me in enough discomfort to be there. (I know... I'm a "difficult" patient. And I don't give a flying you know what about having that label.)

How do you rate something that's such a personal experience into terms someone else can understand and identify with anyway? We all handle pain differently. Personally, I don't even like to even think about it... Sadly, I've been having an adventure in pain control the past couple of weeks and spending a lot of time with hurting on my mind.  Maybe it's a bit sadistic, but to keep me entertained through the ordeal I came up with my own scale to more colorfully tell my tale of woe and agony.

Don't you think you've got a better idea of how I'm feeling when you hear me grunting my way through the room than me shrugging and saying "5?"


It's the dogs' fault. No, really, it's my fault. I knew I didn't have a safe hold on the leashes with my left hand when were exiting the car after a shopping trip and stop at the dog park. I knew it but I didn't stop to change how I was holding them when we were going inside so when the three of them made a concerted lunge for the porch, down I went. Face first. In the muddy patch on the side of the driveway. And if insult wasn't enough... I reached out to grab the support post that helps to hold up the porch with my right hand in an attempt to not fall. 260-ish pounds of solid and determined pure muscle are no match for my flabby slightly off-balance self...  So while my body felt nigh unto catapulted into Pennsylvania (which is really just a few yards up the hill) my right arm was mangled and flopping in the Maryland mud next to my broken glasses (which Walmart fixed for free even though I didn't buy them there). Then, even though I was literally seeing enough stars to organize my own galaxy from the pain and my arm could just hang there immovable, I still managed to finally get myself upright, put the boys in the house, finish unloading the car, take a shower and shimmy into clean clothes.

Then I started to wonder how bad I was really injured.  I think it's a sprain. It's starting to get better. The first few days, improvement was very small and measured by being able to lift my arm an inch or so.  Yesterday and today have been a little more dramatic as far as strength to lift it up and range to move forward and back and side-to-side. It's especially noticable early in the day while I'm well rested that I can move it further and easier than yesterday. By the end of the day I'm pretty hurty again, though, from trying to do as much as I can for myself. I'm ready for it to be completely recovered and it's not and that makes me complain that it's going slow. I need to put some effort into being satisfied that there is progress... and that things, like pulling my pants back up in the bathroom, that have been supremely challenging are getting easier.  Which is good since it's kind of frowned on to go pantsless most places!

My pain has been all up and down that scale every day.  Now, at day 12, it's hovering mostly around Take a handful of Advil and Breathe like a prego lady. I think I'm managing it pretty well.

But I still wish the pain would just go away!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Do I Talk Funny?

Recently I discovered Applachian Magazine online and have been thoroughly enjoying the stories they post.  It's just little snippets of life here in the mountain region, many from a historical perspective and many with a wry sense of humor, that surprise me often with the commonality to my young life.  I grew up in rural Idaho but I identify pretty strongly with many of the customs and sayings they claim as uniquely Appalachian.

Photo from Appalachian Magazine's article "The Story
Behind More _____ Than Carter's Got Liver Pills" dated
January 24, 2015 (link imbedded in post).
This morning's reading was about the origin of Carter's Liver Pills.  Kind of interesting in and of itself, but what caught my attention and amused me were the golden little idioms of speech that peppered the story.  Considering myself a "word person," etymology is always one of my interests. And when I find a new saying, or even just a really fun to say word, I start thinking about how to work it into a casual conversation if for nothing more than shock value.

I like these colloquialisms!  You may have heard some of them, or you might find something new listed here, but hopefully you'll appreciate the colorful way with words and let them set your imagination, and conversations, afire.

When something is desirable:
On that like a fat lady on a donut... white on rice!

When someone is ugly:
...face could haint (or haunt) a house.

When someone is shaking (from cold, afraid, laughing):
Shaking like a cat crapping a peach seed.
Jiggling like a bowl of jello.

Speaking of someone being clever or if it's really icy outside:
...slicker than snot on a door knob.

When someone doesn't shoot well or doesn't understand something obvious:
...couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

When one holds a tool differently than most of the population:
Just like a pig with a pitchfork.  (This was used about how I hold my crochet hook once...)

When there's a large quantity:
More ____ than Carter's got liver pills.

When one is angry:
Madder than a wet hen.
...could thread a sewing machine – and it runnin'! his knickers in a knot!
...pitched a hissy fit!
Well... that just dills my pickle!

When you have done a lot or have a lot to do:
Busier than a one legged man in a butt-kicking contest.
Running like a chicken with it's head cut off!

When you are surprised:
...coulda knocked me over with a feather.
Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit!

Describing finances:
I'm so poor I can barely afford to pay attention!
Don't even got a pot to piss in (or a window to throw it out)!
Too poor to paint, too proud to whitewash.

Describing someone who is vain or conceited:
...thinks his #^%@ don't stink.
She thinks she is all that, and a bag of chips.

When something isn't happening fast enough:
...slower than cold tar at Christmas-time!

When you are thirsty:
...wet your whistle.

Describing being thrifty or cheap:
Pinch that penny so tight you could pick the boogers from Abe Lincoln's nose...
Squeeze a quarter so tight the eagle screams... tight he could back up to a wall and suck a brick out!

When something unfortunate happens:
No use crying over spilled milk!

When you are feeling especially good/something very fortunate happens:
...finer than frog hair and twice as nasty.
...finer than a frog hair split four ways.
...grinnin' like a possum eatin' a sweet tater.
Happy as a hog in slop!

When something is fun or funny, or used sarcastically when it's not:
More laughs/fun than a barrel full of monkeys.

Describing one with a distinct lack of musical ability:
...can't carry a tune in a tub.  (My friend, Heidi, once went on to describe me as being able to sing two parts: solo and tenor.  "So lo" no one can hear it and "ten or" fifteen miles off key.  So much for thinking I should ever try to sing outside the shower, huh?)

When things are going right/you finally understand:
Now we're cookin' with peanut oil!

When someone pretends to be something they are not/has bad character:
He's all hat and no cattle.
He's lower than a snake's belly in a wagon rut.

To describe a nasty wound/bad period/miscarriage:
...bleeding like a stuck pig.

When a woman becomes unexpectedly or unintentionally pregnant:
____ got bit by the trouser worm.
...gone and got herself knocked up.
(and my Grandma's shout out to an expectant jaywalker: "hey lady, you know you can get knocked down, too!")

Describing the weather:
It's so hot I just saw two trees fightin' over a dog!
It's dryer than a popcorn fart...
Raining cats and dogs!

Referring to a child/childhood/events that happened before a child was born:
...knee-high to a grasshopper.
You weren't even a twinkle in your daddy's eye yet...

Describing nervousness: a cat on a hot tin roof.
_____ needs to go pop a valium!

Describing being confused:
Doesn't know his [backside] from a hole in the ground...
Don't even know which way is up!
It's like reaching around your [backside] to scratch your elbow.

Describing a liar:
Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining.
That dog won't hunt!
You'd call an alligator a lizard.
...windy as a sack full of farts.
Her mouth is goin' like a bell clappin' out of a goose's [backside]!
If ____'s lips are moving, s/he's lying.

Describing stupidity:
If ____ had a thought it would die of loneliness...
Light's on but no one is home!
...ain't got the sense God gave a goose!
If his brains was dynamite, he still couldn't blow his nose.
____'s crazier than an outhouse rat.

When you hope to do something:
God willing and the creek don't rise!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Emmanuel Episcopal Church

Photo from website of Emmanuel Parish of the Episcopal Church

The Cumberland hilltop where Emmanuel Church now stands was originally the site of a trading post for the Ohio Company, who sold land to would be settlers and supported America’s westward expansion by selling them needed goods and offered a place to trade the things they produced.  It was also the cultural and social center of the community.  On Christmas Day in either 1778, or more likely 1749, the first Christian worship service in this region took place. It was led by Christopher Gist, known as a devout Anglican, who ran the trading post and is likely the origin of the current Church’s name, Emmanuel (meaning God is with us).

George Washington.
The center portrait by John Hancock Snubs courtesy of the New England Historical
Society is the familiar look we associate with George Washington,but the flanking
ones by James Peale that hang at Mt. Vernon may be more similar to how he would
have looked during his time in Cumberland

In 1754, a young George Washington, then employed as a surveyor for the Ohio Company and a Colonel in the Virginia Militia, brought troops to push the French out of territories claimed by the British Colonies. He failed.  And his surrender at Fort Necessity (about 50 miles away) was the impetus for the French and Indian War. In 1755 the British Army occupied the land and erected Fort Cumberland, named after the British Minister of War, to serve as logistical headquarters for the forces under General Edward Braddock.  At the time it was the largest military installation in North America.  Braddock’s expedition ended as a complete disaster with his defeat in the Battle of Monongahela but troops continued to be garrisoned at the fort under Colonel Washington’s leadership for the remainder of the war. Local settlers and soldiers met together at the Fort to hold church services, some of which were led by Colonel Washington when a Chaplain was not present.  It was last used as a military installation in October 1794 when President George Washington brought troops to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion.

Tunnel Below Emmanuel, Photo from website of
Emmanuel Parish of the Episcopal Church
One of the features of Fort Cumberland was a system of earthworks known today as The Tunnels.  The Tunnels, and a cabin that’s been moved to a city park, are all that visibly remains of the Fort. Originally these tunnels served as storage for perishable foods and gun powder and played a part in the Forts defense system.  Because the Fort was made of wood, it was highly vulnerable to attack and required out defenses ¼ mile to the Potomac and Will’s Creek that were accessed by trenches extending from below the Fort’s walls. 100 years later, the same tunnels and trenches became the way that escaping slaves got up under the Church to the safety of the Underground Railroad station here.

In the early 1850’s a young escaping slave named Samuel Denson arrived from Mississippi and decided to remain, pretending to be a freedman, and work for the freedom of others rather than continuing on his own journey to freedom.  He conspired with the Reverend David Hillhouse Buel, Rector of Emmanuel Parish, who had also worked with other Underground Railroad sites in Sykeville and Westminster before coming to Emmanuel in 1847. Buel gave Denson the job of Sexton which included keeping the Church and Rectory looked after, keeping the furnace going, ringing the Church bell and doing custodial work at the Allegany Academy (which now houses the Public Library).  In that capacity it was a natural part of Denson’s job to traverse the tunnels regularly.  It was the perfect cover for his role with the Underground Railroad!

Part of the old Fort’s defense works ran from the east end of the Church down the hill to Will’s Creek.  In those days this was an area where rail lines came together at the Terminus of the C&O Canal.  It was called “Shanty Town” because of the proliferation of saloons, brothels and shacks where canal workers and lowlifes lived… a natural hiding place for someone on the run.  Escaping slaves were instructed  to hide out there while waiting for the next moved to be signaled – Samuel Denson ringing the church bell in a special coded way - and then bringing them to safety under the Church where could rest, eat and get other aid for a day from Rev. Buel and fellow abolitionists.  Then they followed a tunnel under the Rectory and out the cellar door into a [then] unpopulated part of town and be transported over the Mason Dixon line 4 miles away.  For many, the tunnels below Emmanuel Church were the last Underground Railroad stop in slave territory.

Monday, January 16, 2017

For Whom The Bell Tolls

I know... cheesy to steal the title from the ever more famous and great writer, Ernest Hemingway, but I like it.  And it works for this post about church bells.

There is a pretty little Catholic church, St. Patrick's, on the next block.  Jason's Mom said it used to have a contingent of Nuns and even, at one point, served as a Monastery but now was vacated for lack of a large enough congregation to warrant the expense of keeping clergy there.  Someone still rings the bells, though.  And the parish website lists a full schedule of meetings and masses. So who knows?

Photo from the website of
Our Lady of the Mountains
Roman Catholic Parish of Cumberland, MD
I've noticed the bells several times at 6:00 am, noon, and 6:00 pm.  At first I thought they were marking time.  And then I became vaguely aware that there were significantly more than 6 (or 12) peals... This morning I counted 22.

And so I went to Google for some answers.

I learned that the history of ringing church bells dates back to 400 AD. Paulinas of Nola was the first to introduce them to the Christian church and Pope Sabinianus sanctioned them in 604 perhaps as part of the meshing of Pagan practices into the early church as more people became members by force if not by choice.  Pagan winter celebrations have long included ringing bells to drive out evil spirits perpetuating the idea that bells have great spiritual significance though nothing in the Bible distinctly calls for the ringing of bells as part of worship.

Today's Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican churches ring bells at 6:00 a.m., noon, and 6:00 p.m. as a summons for members to pause and recite The Lord's Prayer or Angelus.  This schedule is also steeped in ancient tradition. Christianity draws from Bible verses speaking of thrice daily prayer:

Psalms 55:17 says "Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice."

And Daniel 6:10, "Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime."

Praying 3 times a day is consistent with the Jewish practice of visiting the Wailing Wall.  And sounding a call to prayer is analogous to the Islamic tradition of the adhan from a minaret.  I think it's very interesting that we draw from so many diverse cultures and traditions for something so pleasant as bells on neighborhood churches.

About St. Patricks, their website gives this history "The rich history of Mt. Savage includes one of the first masses celebrated in the area in 1793 by Fr. Stephen Badin (the first priest ordained in America). As the Catholic population grew, St. Ignatius Church was built between 1829 and 1835. When a larger church was needed, construction began on what is now St. Patrick’s Church, named for the predominance of Irish immigrants. The new church was formally dedicated in October of 1873. Mt. Savage is also the birthplace of Edward Cardinal Mooney (1882-1958) who was elevated to Cardinal in 1946 by Pope Pius XII."

Pretty cool... While I still have no idea if 22 bell peals at 6:00 a.m. has meaning, or is just the result of an especially enthusiastic bell ringer, I can say I've walked in the footsteps of America's first priest now!