Wednesday, August 31

Achy All Over

Don't know if it's all the news of devastation from my beloved Gulf Coast, the physical labor I've undertaken this week or anticipation of a very full schedule that has left me feeling achy tonight.

There are words and phrases bubbling in me but can't quite seem to make it to fruition. Maybe their desire to take shape and fly free is the cause.

Whatever it is, I'm taking the weekend off...visiting some nearby state parks with my dog, my favorite purple pen and a blank journal.

Pictures and poetry to follow soon.

Sunday, August 28

Still Here

It's been a busy week...haven't had much time to blog.

Sitting at the table this morning watching the birds, something occurred to me. The more time I spend here, the more my spirit is fed, the more my spirit is fed, the less I need to feed my body.

I have a Sunday morning ritual where I make a big breakfast with scrambled eggs, bisquits, coffee, etc... This morning, instead of 3 eggs, I only scrambled two and instead of 2 bisquits, I only had 1. This wasn't a conscious act on my part. It's as if my body and brain were in conversation without me knowing it. Kinda cool.

Thursday, August 25

In Stillness

Pulsing, raucous cicada song
announces the demise of summer
as thirsty trees litter the ground with the unessential

Message rises from wooded path
through souls of feet to subconscious...
change is coming

All is at rest...waiting
dragonfly wings beat slower, softer
hover lazily over water
no more darting and skirting the surface
causing tiny ripples that never quite reach the banks

Stillness has settled in
throwing a blanket of anticipation across my shoulders

Lying in deep darkness
breathing in the night sky
will I witness the change
or will it flow unseen on
autumn-tinged air?

Tuesday, August 23

Overheard at the Local Walmart

Today, in the "Bath Decor" section of the local Walmart (the locals call is Wallyworld?!?) two women shopping together, either life-long friends or sisters were browsing the "Bath Decor" items when one said to the other, "Oh...I want me one of these!" to which her friend/sister responded, "that's too fancy for me...I only got $20 to spend...we could get the same thing at KMart and save 25%."

Then they walked away, pushing their buggy filled with treasures.

I admit it...I'm a snob. The fact that I was even in a Walmart has probably sent a few of you into fits of hysterical laughter. But you know, now that I'm living the Bohemian life of a poet, I could learn a thing or two from these ladies.

Monday, August 22

Liberation Day

As a follow up to my post about chiggers. I haven't been able to shave my legs for 3 weeks because of the welts caused by the chigger bites. Last night, I couldn't take it any more and enacted one of my favorite rituals, shaving my legs, putting freshly-laundered soft sheets on the bed and crawling in. Mmmmmmm.

Sunday, August 21


There's been a recurring theme to my week...a vast array of aromas, such as:

Frying Bacon - a family (single mom, two teen-age kids) who cooked and ate bacon day and night

Skunk - see previous blog about Mocha's big adventure...oddly enough, that close up and in that concentration, skunk smells like a really garlicky marinara sauce...or maybe that was the V8 juice we bathed in...hmmm

Cornbread, Rice, Fruit, Tabouli, Couscous, Spinach, Cake - a group of women who were leading a retreat in African-American heritage, religion, dance, art, etc... did what most southern women do...spent most of their time in the kitchen together cooking, laughing, sharing stories...gorgeous women, food and smells.

Chemical Toilets - I had the joy of emptying and cleaning the chemical toilets from the Hermitages. I'm thankful for my hospice training, which has heightened my gross-out threshold.

Corn - not the corn itself, but the sweet, sweet smell the blossoms emit in the early morning and evening. There is a beautiful cornfield across the road from Penuel Ridge and the scent drifts up the driveway and into my nose.

Did I mention SKUNK?

The Hermitages

There are two small cottages tucked in the woods for folks who seriously want to rough it. They have no running water or air conditioning. Process that thought for a running water flushable toilet. Each is equipped with a tiny chemical toilet. All that's missing is the hair shirt!

That's the Dorothy Day Cottage...very cute and pink and the Howard Thurman House...very butch.

Saturday, August 20

Flora after the Drought

Just as in the desert, intense rain after a long drought produces spectacular flowers.

Thursday, August 18

What is THAT smell?!?

Why, do you ask is Mocha in wardrobe? She's been to the local groomer and they thought a fetching blue bandana would ease the humiliation of being sprayed by a skunk. Yes friends, my smart, well-trained dog could not resist chasing a skunk. As fate would have it, I did not pack any de-skunking supplies for my move to Tennessee, so we had to comb the back woods for tomato juice. After she and I bathed in tomato juice, only mentholatem up the nose could block out the smell. My efforts just weren't bright and early the next morning, we sought professional help. Now she smells better, I smell better, my car however, still has a distinct odor even after the application of two bottles of Febreeze. When I asked the guy at the local auto supply store if there was a car detailing shop in town, he looked at me like I had 3 heads. Guess I'm going to have to venture into Nashville for this project or else live with this uninvited passenger.

Tuesday, August 16

Good to Know

Here are a few things I have observed after living 3 weeks in rural Tennessee:

1. Most people here think that Texans have an overinflated ego/opinion about the great State of Texas.

2. They don't like Bud Adams either.

3. Road kill is road kill...but here they know how to turn it into a meal.

4. When the road sign shows an approaching curve and a suggested speed, you best take heed. When it says 25 mph...take it at 25 mph else you might find yourself careening over the edge of a ridge.

5. No matter how smart and well trained you think your dog is...they will ALWAYS chase after
a skunk.

6. Don't even think about leaving home without going to the bathroom first. It's 20 miles to the closest town and they aren't too keen on letting you use the bathroom, no matter how bad you have to go.

7. 5 corner intersections do exist....I don't know why, but they do.

8. A man walking down the road with a chainsaw in one hand and pickax in the other is not necessarily a serial killer.

9. Weather is weather and the local TV personalities get just as hyped about it here as they do in Houston, although I haven't heard the phrase, "there's ponding on the freeway" yet. That may be special just for Houston.

10. Speaking of are a few oddities:

*if you go the posted speed on the interstate, people look at you funny as you pass them
**if you go the posted speed on the loop, people look at you funny as they pass you
*** the abbreviation "pk" after the name of a street is not parkway, it's pike
****the same street can change names 3 or 4 times as you drive across Nashville and they keep apologizing for it...I just laugh

Bonus: Being in this remote setting is both a blessing and a curse. When I open my mouth to say something, my accent is not that different from the people around me, but I often feel like a foreigner in my own country. My politics, my faith, my social agendas, my "liberal" views are not shared by many I encounter.

Sunday, August 14

A Different Kind of Tomato

For two weeks, I haven't worn makeup and my hair has been up in a pony tail. Last night, it was time to bring out the girl in me and hit the town. After a pit stop at the Tomato Art Festival (see blog below) Joanne and I ventured to a local night spot called The Lipstick Lounge, where there were tomatoes of a different variety.

I was a little put off that we had to pay a $5 cover for karaoke, but we werent' disappointed. This is Nashville for God's sake, full of hopeful singers and songwriters. These folks know how to throw down some serious karaoke. This is a really great's owned and run by two identical twin sisters with bleach blonde buzz cuts. The best way to tell them apart is that Rhonda, or is it Jhonda(?) has big red lips died into the back of her hair.

After two weeks of limited contact with the real world, it was great to sit at the bar, drink a beer and hang out with a mix of folks from all walks of life.

Houston has Art Cars - East Nashville has the Tomato

Ok friends...file this under, "the heat will make you do strange things."

Last night, Joanne and I went to East Nashville (reminds me of the Heights in Houston) for the 2nd Annual Tomato Art Festival. Uh huh....that's right...the tomato.

So picture this: Art lovers, tomato lovers and the curious all milling around a funky art gallery trying to look cool looking at tomatoes.

The Festival featured:

All forms of art with the tomato as the central theme
Bloody Mary Contest
Recipe Contest
Heirloom Tomato Tasting
The Most Beautiful Tomato Contest

OK...I love the tomato as much as the next guy, but a Festival? There were some interesting items:

Tomato Pasties (the kind you wear, not the kind you eat) the tomato pasty model was getting a lot of attention...kind of like a cut tomato drawing flies.

Hand Lotion that smelled like freshly picked green tomatoes - made me itch just sniffing it.

Gotta stop bloggin now...all this talk about tomatoes is making me hungry.

Saturday, August 13

The Real Deal

This man goes by the name Cowboy. Mocha took to him right I knew he was for real. Last night, the three of us sat on the side porch in the dark, listening to the Grand Ole Opry from a transistor radio pinned to the strap of his overalls. During the commercial breaks, he turned the volume down and we swapped stories. 10 years on the professional rodeo circuit, moving cattle and riding fences in Colorado, training bomb and drug sniffing dogs for the Feds and companion dogs for the disabled in California, dropping out of school in the 7th grade to work on a dairy farm...ending up homeless in Nashville and working his way off the streets.

Cowboy dropped a lot of one-liners into his stories...ranging from sage advice to zingers. Hands down, the most profound was, "The best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse."

There was a long, comfortable silence after he floated that one out there. We picked up the banter again after a while and our voices wove themselves through strains of country, gospel and bluegrass music until we were too tired to talk.

Today, I went a-googling to see if I could find the source of that quote. Would you believe the following list of men are credited with having said it?:

Lord Palmerston
Winston Churchill
Teddy Roosevelt
Will Rogers
Ronald Reagan

I'm going to go out on a limb and declare that none of these decorated men can take credit. It's a "Cowboy" original, not because he uttered the words first, but because he lived them.

Friday, August 12

My Trusted Friend trusted friend since Freshmen English has fractured somewhere in the letter P. I don't know whether she'll become a burnt offering or if duct tape is in order. Any thoughts? that you?

For two days, longears has ventured up to my bedroom window for an afternoon snack. Little does she know Mocha is fast asleep under her little pink nose.

The rabbits are so tiny here...maybe some things are bigger in Texas?!?

Thursday, August 11

Aisle 6 at Lowes

Yes friends...I'm off to Lowes today. So far this morning, I have reattached the mailbox to its post which was knocked off in the middle of the night. Not as simple a task as it once was. Had too many screws, not enough holes and a lots of broken pieces to figure out.

Why am I off to Lowe's you ask? I need hooties to anchor screws into sheetrock...the towel rack in one of the bathrooms came off the wall and then there's the assorted list of things that any self-respecting. toolbox toting girl needs to survive in the wilderness. I'm sure I'll find everything I need...I always do.

What Lives Here?

We stumbled upon this tiny cave...not large enough for even a small child to enter but from the smooth edges of the entrance, some creature calls it home.

Wednesday, August 10

My New Home

Picture Mocha perched on the deck scanning the front and back yards for rabbits, picture me...being still, tuning my ear to the soundscape of the middle Tennessee countryside.

This is the west end of the Retreat House. The upper level is known as the "Dayspring" room which opens onto the deck and has windows on 3 sides...perfect for bird watching.

Tuesday, August 9

A Bridge Leading To...

We didn't venture across the bridge to see what was on the other side, but the splash of morning light at the end of the trail was inviting!

Force of Nature

This morning, Mocha and I discovered a dry creek bed that meanders along the property line between Penuel Ridge and our neighbors to the east. It's obvious there must be periods of tumultous rainfall to have created this. The stones are smooth and round as if the rough edges have been worn away by centuries of rushing water.

The Chapel

Affectionately known as "The Well", this is the chapel at Penuel Ridge. Using straw bale construction, it was built by volunteers. A metal roof from a grain silo tops it off...I look forward to being inside during a rainstorm.

They are in Abundance

Butterflies are everywhere...

Monday, August 8

The Veil

There is a "garden" behind the retreat house where fossils, bones and petrified or charred wood are lovingly placed on a bed of pine straw. I can only presume as a tribute to the flora and fauna who were companions of the land. I wasn't sure what to call it and a retreatant suggested, "The Veil." I like the name and the garden.

An Annie Dillard Moment

The following is NOT for the faint of heart...if you get squeamish, you might want to skip this one:

So the idea of serving as host has truly come to fruition at Penuel Ridge. I'm not talking about greeting the guests, making them feel welcome and comfortable...I'm talking about chiggers! My body has become host to 108 chiggers....yes, I counted the bites. They are fascinating parasites...a cross between ticks and spiders. They don't suck your blood, they enter your body through a hair follicle, secrete a mucous that causes your flesh to deteriorate and then feed on your dying flesh through a tube in their head. Once they are engourged with liquid flesh, they burrow out from under the skin, hop off and move onto another developmental phase. I'm all for Southern hospitality, but this takes it to new, itchy and irritating heights!

Annie Dillard must never have had the pleasure of a chigger infestation or it would have been featured prominently in Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek.

Saturday, August 6

A Place of Pause

This banner hangs on the upper deck outside the retreat house. It reads:

It is good to make an end of movement,
to come to a point of rest,
a place of pause.

My eyes and brain, still working at a fevered pitch, read this as "a place of peace". Today, I realized it actually said "a place of pause". I wish you all a place in each day where you can pause and breath deeply.

From Hermes to Hiking Boots

Mocha and I hiked for 4 hours today...pretty amazing considering I'm more accustomed to Hermes pumps than hiking boots.

Wild Turkey Correction

So I've learned that what I saw were the mommas and the boy/girl pappas...apparently they don't hang out with the brood this time of year. Highly developed matriarchal society...I'm looking forward to learning more!

Thursday, August 4

Wild Turkey Parade

I don't have pictures to prove it, but this morning, I witnessed a wild turkey parade across the back yard, through the meditation garden and down toward the meadow. There they were, big as day, wild turkeys of all sizes, mommas, pappas and babies. Mocha just about went crazy and I've learned to carry my camera with me at all times. Soon, I'll be looking like a Japanese tourist in my own back yard. If they reappear tomorrow, I'm ready and you'll get to see them for your very own selves.

Be Still

Statuary in the meditation garden

Looking Down from the Low Trail

There are these great vignettes nestled here and there you just stumble upon as you're hiking.

Tunnel to the Meadow

Can't you imagine Ichobod Crane charging up this path on horseback?!? You should see it at night when the fireflies are out. It's like an enchanted cave.

Sunrise on the Lake

If Monet were alive, he would paint this.

The Stables

The stables are empty now, but a horse or two would be a wonderful addition.

The Red Tractor

So many the tractor or the golf cart?


In the back woods of Tennessee, we only have dial up internet service, so it takes about 15 minutes to load one picture. Below are a few pictures to get you started. I'll add a few a check back in to see the morning hike unfold!

Wednesday, August 3

Penuel Ridge Photos - morning hike

Hiking the lower trail at Penuel Ridge was glorious this morning.

Spring Fed Lake

The high trail takes you up to the top of these trees. Quite a view from up there.

Mocha in Her New Home

Mocha romping across a dew filled meadow.

Monday, August 1

Day One...Sun is Setting, Humor is on the Rise

I swear I'm not making this up....this happened on Day One

So this Reverend from Kentucky who's staying at the retreat center calls out my name in distress..."Laura, can you help me?" Sure David, what's up? Looking at his feet the whole time, he sheepishly says, "I've tried pushing and pulling, but I can't seem to get the bathtub to drain. Can you help me?" " "Well Reverend, I'll get on my knees and see what I can do." five minutes of me pushing and pulling on the stopper ended in the same result, no bathtub draining, so I put in a call to the couple who used to work here. They get on the line, I explain the problem and ask if there's any magic I need to do to get the bathtub to drain, without missing a beat, the woman says to me, "Yeah, it's a little finicky, except when the Buddhists are here. It always seems to work fine after they have gone!"

No Pictures But Some Great Stories

First....Mocha and I made it to Tennessee in one piece. It was touch and go there for a while, but we braced up and made the 766 mile treck from Houston to Ashland City. No pictures yet, but I'm making it a priority tomorrow to get some on the site.

Day One: it took 13 hours to drive from Houston, TX to Little Rock, AK thanks to a flat tire, hitting a deer, stopping to repair the electrical system on the trailer and getting damn lost in Texarkana.

Day Two: Little Rock , AK to Ashland City, TN - only 7 hours - btw...Mocha slept the entire time, bless her heart.

Here are a few awards to bestow on unsuspecting people and places (no one knew this was a competition!)

Best Dairy Queen - Jefferson, TX for having an extra wide drive through that I could pull the trailer through

Best Town Name - Bucksnort, TN...(I am not kidding when I say I just about wet myself laughing so hard and yes, I snorted!)

Best Appearance by a Guardian Angel - Susan McAdams and her son Jeremy
Susan and Jeremy drove 45 miles to help when the back passenger tire exploded on 59 North outside of Carthage.

Best Question and Response -

Question: Roadside Assistance Operator, "Could you tell me the closest cross street to where you are?"

Response: Me, "Somewhere between the brown cows and the black cows."