Sunday, December 30, 2007

Black-eyed Peas

No, not the hip hop group, but Vigna unguiculata, known by many names, but mostly in these parts (the southern US), as black-eyed peas. Supposedly eating them on New Year's Day will bring you luck, and if you eat them with some sort of greens, usually turnip greens, you are promised luck and money!

All these thoughts came to the surface while I was putting my dried black-eyed peas on the soak. Yesterday in the grocery store, all the canned and frozen peas were sold out, but I happen to prefer the dried ones anyway. In years past they would have been cooked with lots of bacon or fatty ham, but in these more health conscious times they are cooked without anything but a little salt. However, in a salute to my ancestors, I will cook mine with a small amount of very lean ham. I will have turnip greens and cornbread, from my Mother's recipe, along with my black-eyed peas and sit back and wait for the luck and the money to pour in.

In the remote event that anyone is interested, black-eyed peas originated in West Africa, probably northern Nigeria and Niger. When I was assigned to Ibadan, in the West State of Nigeria, in the 70s, we saw pea vines growing in the ditches that looked like black-eyed peas. When I asked a local botanist about this, he told me that was the wild version of the plant, still growing.

Slaves brough black-eyed peas to North American and they also brought with them okra another southern traditional vegetable that originated in West Africa, in the region of Nigeria. This rather furry veggie with big soft seeds is not to everyone's liking and in an effort to make it more palatable, the traditional way to cook it is to slice it in little rounds, coat it well with cornmeal and fry it. If you boil it you get a gelatinous unappetizing dish.

These two vegetables were long thought of as poor folks food but have now worked their way onto southern tables of all degrees.

Thinking of the slaves and their efforts to bring a little bit of home with them, reminds me of one of the most emotionally devastating places I ever visited. That was Elmina on the coast of Ghana. It was one of the "castles" built in the 15th -16th centuries to hold salves until they could be loaded on boats for transport to Europe and North America. Yes, I said Europe, slavery was not abolished in England until 1833, just a few years before the US Civil War. Elmina is one of more than 60 of these holding places built by the English, Dutch, Portugese, French. Many of these are now used a police stations, government offices, etc, but Elmina has been turned into a museum. The small dark rooms still had the chains attached to the walls and you could look down the shoot that the slaves were pushed down to load them into the ships. The fact that they managed to bring anything with them is a miracle.

It looks pretty nice on the outside, and some of it was, but the holding areas, really pens is the only word that describes this accurately, were in the lower levels, and were dark, dank, and very small. I read an article in the Christian Science Monitor several months ago that Elmina is being "sanitized" so that it will not offend the tourist trade. Everyone has to be so politically correct these days.

I don't know how I got here from soaking a package of dried black-eyed peas.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Termite Trouble

A recent inspection of my house revealed I had little critters chewing on part of it. Yesterday the contractor who is doing the repair work came and he and his helper started tearing up the floor and wall in the corner by the fireplace. Bella had to be shut away because she thought she should be intimately involved in all aspects of the operation and I kept going in and out of the room, torn between wanting to know the extent of the damage and not wanting to know.

After about an hour of pulling pieces of eaten wood out, and crawling around in the crawl space with appropriate sounds effects from two men, I finally got the news that the damage was not too bad and was confined to the one area by the fireplace.

They left me with a big hole in the floor, covered by a piece of plywood secured with one screw and with cold air leaking around the edges in large amounts. And I mean cold air, we are in the midst of some days with highs in the high 30s and it was rainy and misty. I finally took an old blanket and poked it into the biggest holes and managed to get the room warm enough that I could stay in it, albeit wearing two sweaters and with two throws wrapped around my legs. I had some work I needed to do at the computer but as soon as I got that finished I went to bed.

This morning they were back to do the actual work and it took surprising little time, they were finished in about 2 hours, although they have to come back tomorrow and put another coat of whatever it is you put on wallboard, and then there will be one more trip to paint the wall (fortunately I have some of the paint), and it should be finished.

The joys of home ownership.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

It was a wild and windy night!

A front is moving through central Arkansas and the wind is blowing very hard. I don't like wind, I never have and tonight it is really strong. Fortunately, Mozart will mask almost any kind of noise, except mortar fire. I discovered that in a couple of my assignments, but tonight it is Mozart's wind music just to keep with the theme.

Bella has been overactive tonight. She knocked over and broke a lamp, fortunately one that I got at an estate sale several years ago and have never really liked, but it lighted a dark bit of the room and will have to be replaced. She was trying to climb the shade and of course she pulled it over. It scared her enough that she is still circling the shade that I just put on the floor.

I finished the first week as bookstore manager and it was very interesting. The part I really enjoy, selling things, went well. I had one gentleman is late on Friday asking for help in picking out gifts for his daughter and wife. I asked him a little about them, and then suggested a heavy silver St. Francis pendant on a chain for his daughter. He took that, then I suggested an enameled cross for his wife and he took that. He then said he guessed he had better get something for his son-in-law, who is a deacon in his church, not Episcopalian but some unidentified "other" church. I suggested a small pocket datebook called the Christian pocket calendar. I showed him the pages that have holidays and feasts days and saints day indicated and gives the proper color for the day, etc. He decided that being exposed to some of those things wouldn't hurt the young man so he bought it.

It was a little funny, he took every suggestion, I just hope his wife and daughter like the items. I know his wife slightly and I think the enamel cross will be acceptable but as for the other things, who knows.

The other part of the job, trying to get the financial records in order, is less fun but extremely challenging. We spent two days trying to get the November bank statement to balance, and finally resorted to what I call "creative bookkeeping." I hope December will work out better since I have been doing the record keeping most of this month.

I went to a party Thursday night. Larry Benfield our Rector and now the Bishop of Arkansas had a party at his house for Christ Church staff and the Diocese staff. It was the best kind of party, one where I knew most of the people and didn't have to make a great effort to circulate and introduce myself to strangers. The food and wine were good, and it was over early, and I didn't have to drive. We went from the church in someone else's car and then went back to the church to pick up our own cars.

I baked this afternoon for Christmas. I had a brownie mix that I thought I would use and the directions said it could be made into cupcakes which I thought would be nicer. It took longer than the package said to get a toothpick to come out clean and it turned out after they cooled that I had chocolate stones. I would have built a retaining wall out of them that would have withstood the elements into eternity. So into the garbate they went and I did what I should have in the first place, I made chocolate cupcakes from scratch. I sampled on a little while ago and they are excellent. I froze them and will thaw them Monday night and put creamcheese frosting on them Christmas morning and colored sugar sprinkles. I also have pecan bars and lemon cookies, and that is my contribution to Christmas dinner at June's.

The wind seems to be dying down a little so I am going to try to read my book for a while. I have to get up early tomorrow, I don't have a Sunday volunteer for the bookstore so will go in to open it between services.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Curiosity Singed the Cat

All cats are curious, but I believe my cat, Bella, is the most curious cat I have ever known. She climbs everything in the house. I have had to remove the books and other items from the top shelves of the bookcases because she like to lie there and survey her queendom. She has been shut in closets so many times that she keeps toys there to amuse herself until I come looking for her.

But yesterday I think she got a taste of the results of all that curiosity. I was in the kitchen fixing dinner and had just put a pot on the stove to cook some pasta. She jumped up to see what I was doing and got in the fire. She immediately left the room for parts unknown, and I was left with the smell of burning hair. When I finally found her she was under my bed and it took me several minutes to get her to come out so I could check her. It appears that all she did was singe some hair on her chest, and about half her beautiful whiskers on one side. They are now curled up and strange looking and even this morning she is trying to groom them back into shape.

When I told Mackie about it her immediate question was "will they grow back." I assured her they will but she is going to be lopsided for a while. I hope she has learned a lesson about the stove that I have not been able to teach her before, because my kitchen is open to my sitting room and office and there is no way to shut her out.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Minor Rant -- and some observations!

I have unashamedly stolen the rant part of the title from someone else, she will recognize herself.

I went to church this morning, the first time since Mother's funeral. I actually dreaded going but the longer I put it off the worse it would get. Everyone is so very solicitous which is nice, but I really am getting a little tired of being asked "Are you all right?" Because on one level, of course, I'm not all right, I just buried my much loved Mother. But in reality, I am all right and ready to get on with my life. I just had a call from my cousin asking the same question. I must have sounded a little sharp when I replied, "of course" because she said she was just checking and I had to apologize.

This was not some sudden, unexpected, tragic death. This was the quiet ending to a long life, well lived. And whatever theology you subscribe to about life after death, she is at peace. She leaves a legacy of descendants who treasure her memory and live by the values instilled in them from early childhood. She had friends of all ages who visited her and supported me during the past few years, and she went out with dignity and a good laugh at the end.

In 1942, when I was Daddy got a job at the Jacksonville Arsenal and we moved from Warren, Arkansas, to North Little Rock. We lived in a succession of housing, always moving when Mother could find something better, and we ended up in a small house in a new neighborhood built right next to the Missouri Pacific Railroad tracks. My brother (I had only one in those days) and I would stand in our back yard and wave to the troops trains as they went by, earning the occasional candy bar as a reward. We never noticed the noise of the trains, and were happy to have a nice house and the only father in the neighborhood who was not in the military.

After the war we moved several times, and eventually all went our separate ways.

About 15 years ago, after I returned to Arkansas, Mother, Daddy, and I decided to combine households and I bought a large house on a hill in North Little Rock, overlooking what is now the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, the same tracks we lived by 50 years earlier. Once again we did not notice the trains except for the occasional engineer who played on the horn at the two crossings on either side of our neighborhood.

Mother and Daddy are buried in Edgewood Cemetery in North Little Rock, beside those same tracks. On Tuesday, in the middle of the committal service, a train went by with great noise and blowing of the horn. It was all we could do not to burst into laughter. It was like a final salute.

What more could anyone ask, to go out quietly, knowing you were loved, with a loud train horn announcing your departure.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Endings and Beginnings

I buried my mother last Friday. She was almost 94, in very frail health, and when she fell and broke her hip, she never got up from the surgery.

After many years of working all over the world, I returned to Arkansas 20 years ago to be near my parents. We had 15 years of life together, living mostly in a large house with separate quarters until Daddy died in 2002. Mother and I moved to smaller quarters and shortly after that she was diagnosed with chronic renal failure. We thought this diagnosis was a death sentence but with careful attention to her diet and excellent medical care she had several more years with a good quality of life until the fall.

So this December is an ending to one phase of my life.

I am a believer of that cliche "when one door closes, another opens." For me the opening door and beginning is an opportunity to do something new and different, something that may make a difference in a small way in the work my church does. I have volunteered to manage our church bookstore and try to get it back on its feet and to return it to its original purpose of providing a source of religious and spiritual books not available in the big box bookstores.

Another arrow in my new quiver is the opportunity to work with my niece (I am Tamsaunt), in her publishing business. We have signed a contract for me to edit some of her forthcoming books and I am excited about working with her. She and I are "soul mates" in many ways, our love of books, of anything English, and our animals; she is the daughter of my heart.

I don't know where this blog will go, we'll just have to wait and see.