Pop Pop All Day

I never had a grandfather growing up. I was surrounded by strong, loving, generous, spirited, and feisty southern bells. I used to daydream of what having a grandpa would be like. It seemed to my young mind that grandpa’s held a magic unlike all these women around me, that they held the key to secrets of life I was missing out on. I also thought all grandpas could whittle wood, and I thought this past time was part of the secret life of grandpas.

I didn’t have a grandpa, but I did have one heck of a dad. The best dad actually. And what I couldn’t conceive of then, was that the best dads make extraordinary grandpas – or Pop Pops in this case.

I am overjoyed that my kids have a Pop Pop. Now, Pop Pop does not whittle wood, but watching the way he speaks to and interacts with my kids, I’m convinced the secrets to life only grandpas know are being whispered, and tickled, and laughed, and shared. I see the magic in the love between these tiny new people I helped create and this older, wiser father of mine. Their relationship with him is completely different from mine. There is an ease and steadiness that comes from experience, and a new depth of love that grows with every generation. There is this unspoken bond of truth like two souls acknowledging each other as both equals in love and learning.

I cherish these relationships, because that’s the good stuff. Relationships and experiences are what create a life. I have a permanent smile plastered on my face everyday Pop Pop is here because I get to live vicariously through my kids. I get to see them enveloped in that magical grandpa love, and I don’t need to know the secrets. I’m perfectly happy watching the show.

“The closest friends I made all through life have been people who also grew up close to a loved and loving grandmother or grandfather.” – Margaret Mead

The Last Frontier

Whenever a bunch of fellows would get together, someone would start talking about going up north…Things were pretty much settled to the south of us…It’s only natural we’d start talking about the north. We bought out the Russians. We’d built canneries up there. The fellows who hadn’t been up was hankering to go. The rest of us was hankering to go back. ~ Martha McKeown, The Trail Led North

When I heard the word frontier, I always immediately also heard, “these are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise….to boldly go where no one has gone before”. This idea of strange new lands where few ever stepped foot was my idea of a frontier, and I didn’t really think there was a frontier other than outer space and possibly the depths of the ocean. Then I moved to Alaska.

Most people have a preconceived notion of Alaska. It’s cold, snow-covered, dark in the winter, moose and polar bears abound, brown bears and wolves eat salmon in your backyard. This is not untrue, it just doesn’t apply to all of the state.

Here’s the thing, Alaska is huge. If you cut Alaska in half, both halves would still be larger than Texas. If you overlay the state on top of a U.S. map, Alaska spans the map with Southeast Alaska taking up Florida, the interior filling the central U. S. and the Aleutian Islands reaching all the way to California. Due to the size, there are numerous ecosystems within the one state, thus, one notion of Alaska doesn’t quite fit.

Ketchikan is located in Southeast Alaska, regarding the U.S. map, it’s the Florida of Alaska. And Ketchikan is in a temperate rainforest. This means the weather is moderate and it rains – a lot.

When we stepped off the ferry in Ketchikan, our first stop was Buggies Beach, a rocky, log-laden beach on the south end of town. There were eagles flying, sea glass and kelp washed ashore, the sun was shining, it was beautiful. Our next adventure was Ward Lake. We walked the trails and noted the interesting plant life – prehistoric looking ferns, dwarf dogwood and devils’ club. It was misty and damp and smelled like wet earth and moss. We made it to our home and noticed it was surrounded, indefinitely, by the Tongass National Forest.

I have only one other time in my life felt the sense of bigness I felt when we moved to Alaska, and that was in Big Sky, Montana. As soon as we drove through Big Sky, I immediately stared upward and proclaimed, “Wow! That’s a HUGE sky!” Profound I know. But truly, there was an overwhelming sense of expanding horizons, a grandness that I never expected.

Alaska is this feeling for me. A bigness that is unmatched, a beauty and sense of place that runs deep, and heritage that is complex and intricately woven into the very rock of the island. Moving here gave me perspective. Perspective on people and culture, the difference between a mile and an Alaskan mile, family, and myself.

I am continually outside of my comfort zone. I hike up mountains! Not North Carolina mountains, but Alaskan mountains. I ride helicopters and land in the alpine, or take float planes to remote lakes in the Misty Fjords Wilderness, or boat past humpback whales to access recreation cabins as part of my job. The only way off this island is by boat or plane, and it basically takes a full day to get anywhere close by, and two days to get anywhere else. Most folks that live in town think the 20 minute drive to our house on the north end of the island is a haul. Food is expensive and choices are limited (in February the only guaranteed fresh fruit are apples and oranges). And the community here take these things in stride, and mostly, don’t mind.

These differences from the lower 48 and challenges have given me perspective. And I appreciate this experience and the people who have helped me along the way. They have helped me test myself and participated in my growth. In this big place that is still wild, I have found a home in a small community. I have found friendship and mentors. I have watched my children thrive and be loved by strangers. This big wild place, this last frontier of the north, has imprinted on my heart and mind. It’s more than just post card perfect photographs and cruise ship memorabilia, it’s community and stewardship and living. It’s a place where strangers become family, and where you are welcomed just as you are. I know that when I leave, I’ll have a hankering to return.

 

 

St. Patrick’s Day

My mom is great at celebrating. It’s actually one of her best qualities. She is always ready to love you and celebrate you with food. Growing up she not only tried to make all the holidays a celebration, but also an education. She would break out the encyclopedia (yes, you read that correctly) and we would read about the holiday, the history and the food. These are some of my favorite memories and I’m trying to keep these traditions of learning and loving food alive in my family.

When I was young, my mom would usually make corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day supper, occasionally she would make shepherds’ pie. When I was in high school she would research the best Irish Pubs in Raleigh and we’d go to sample traditional Irish food, listen to traditional music and get a snipit of the culture. I’m sure all these simple plans took an enormous amount of forethought and money we didn’t have. But I don’t remember that part, mom kept all the grownup planning behind the scenes. All I remember is the look in my mom’s eyes as we read those encyclopedias, cooked in the kitchen and ate in pubs. It was a look of pure joy and love, and of wanting to be exactly where she was, with me.

Super Simple Corned Beef and Cabbage

Ingredients:

Corned Beef (prepackaged is great, grass fed is better) about 3-4lbs.

1 head of Green Cabbage

1-2lbs. Red or Yukon gold potatoes

Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper

To Make:

Place corned beef in crockpot and set on low for 8 hours.  During the last hour prepare the cabbage and potatoes.

I make my cabbage a little differently than my mom, but she approves. Rinse cabbage, and cut into large rounds or cabbage steaks. Place on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Rise potatoes and place on another baking sheet, coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Heat oven to 400 degrees, place cabbage and potatoes in oven and roast for 45 minutes. Depending on size of cabbage steaks and potatoes, cabbage may be ready in 30 minutes, and if potatoes are large, they may require and additional 10 minutes. It’s jazz remember, just test it out and adjust as needed.

Enjoy!

 

 

More Tacos

My son was in preschool when his teacher asked the class to tell her one thing that would make the world a better place. Most kids said more hugs, being outside, more puppies…my son said more tacos! I was so proud.

In honor of my son’s wish to improve the world with delicious food, here’s a quick and easy, build it yourself recipe for halibut tacos with mango salsa. You can substitute different fish, rockfish is tasty, and the toppings can be adjusted for your taste. Some recipes are classic and require strict adherence, some are jazz and just require an appetite. These tacos are Jazz – make them your own, and make them often.

Ingredients:

4 halibut filets

1/2 tsp cumin, coriander, chili powder

2 tbs olive or coconut oil

2-3 mangos

lime, cilantro, green onion

salt & pepper

corn or flour tortillas

Method:

Season halibut filets with cumin, coriander, and chili powder spices, and salt to taste. Sauté filets in oil at medium low heat until cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side.

While halibut is sautéing, dice mango, and chop cilantro and green onion. Mix mango, cilantro and green onion with juice of one lime. Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste.

Once halibut is cooked through, remove from pan, place in tortilla, top with salsa, eat, repeat.

If you’re feeling fancy, adding quick-pickled red onion to the taco is a good choice.

Cheers!

Life In The Daily

I get ridiculously excited about shampoo. To be fair, shampoo and conditioner. To be more fair any new kind of product that I get to pick out and use. Hair care, skin care, cleaning, kitchen gadget. I get so incredibly excited. Close to, if not at times surpassing Christmas level excitement. I plan the time of purchase, I research and think about the pros and cons of the brand and product, I comparison shop, I day dream about what it will be like to finally have that new shampoo. I may be certifiable, but if so, I’ll take it. Because I experience true joy in these small mundane everyday experience.

My mom says I have always been this way. That even as a child I would plan and day dream about next month when I get to go to Walmart and buy new shampoo. I would debate the scents of Aussie verses Suave. I would talk about what life would be like when I finally washed my hair and got the full Suave experience. Or my favorite day dream, would salon selective finally have the number 30 conditioner I knew my hair needed…every one must need it, it is always out of stock. Mind you this was way before amazon and everything you need being a click and 3 day shipping away. If my conditioner wasn’t in Zebulon, I was out of luck, Knightdale (30 mins away at the time) was too far to go for shampoo, and Raleigh was out of the question. Not to mention the fancy store markup.

Celebrating life is important. Celebrate the small stuff. Life is in the in between moments. Not all life is a mountain top experience but that’s okay. Without the failures and disappointments of everyday life, the small joys would be overlooked because they would not amount to the mountain top. Learning to see everyday as an opportunity to celebrate your life is where the good stories happen.

I have been reading this book about Haines, Alaska called If you lived here I would know your name. The author talks about how you spend your days being how you spend your life. That can be difficult to grasp when you have one idea of the kind of life you are living, or the kind of person you are, and then have to admit that your days do not reflect that truth. The minutia of the daily, the in between moments make up 90% of our days –  10% are reserved for vacations, concerts, fancy parties, mission trips… Those mountain top experiences matter, they charge us, shape us, but they are not our lives. The days spent home with sick kids, the day the hot water heater breaks and floods the garage, forgetting your wallet at the checkout, the grocery store trips, coffee dates, the weekly staff meeting…these are our days. And these moments make our life.

Focusing on each day with fresh gratitude and love is the only way I can make sense of my daily toils being the sum of my life. I have a very clear image of my most perfect life. It includes 9 hours of sleep every night, lots of yoga, painting, hiking, laughter with kids, no arguments ever, family gatherings, awesome meals (gluten free and dairy free, of course), best friends that live next door, two dogs and a Prius – This is not my life. I love my life and I have managed to incorporate some of these things (come on, I have two kids kindergarten and under, no one in this house sleeps 9 hours a night), but others that were in my plan have not been, thus far, in God’s plan. I live in Ketchikan, Alaska. I love it here, but my family and best friend live in North Carolina. I live in Alaska. Good luck finding anything gluten free and dairy free that you don’t make from scratch over the course of an entire day unless it’s salmon or halibut.

So my life does not always look the way I want, or the way I planned.  That is okay. The point is that the daily is a challenge. Whether it’s sick kids, broken furnaces, homesickness, sleep deprivation, or a serious hankering for a muffin (I would pay so much money for a pre-made baked good that wouldn’t end me), the daily is where we shine, redeem ourselves, grow, learn, and love. So with that in mind, I try to be grateful for every new day and greet it and those in it with love. So that even if my life does not look the way I planned, the way I spend my days, is the way I spend my life.

There is a story, always ahead of you. Barely existing. Only gradually do you attach yourself to it and feed it. You discover the carapace that will contain and test your character. You find in this way the path of your life. ~ Michael Ondaatje, The Cat’s Table

Five Fishy Fingers

One of the first Alaskan facts I learned when we began living in Ketchikan was about Salmon. I learned the species of salmon  found in Southeast the same way all the cruise ship tourists learn, the five fishy fingers. Essentially you hold your hand up, like your going to give a high five, and use your digits to remember the five species of salmon: thumb rhymes with Chum, pointer finger can poke your eye for Sockeye, middle finger is the longest for King, your ring finger is where you wear Silver, and your pinky finger is Pink. More officially, Chum salmon (dog salmon), sockeye salmon (red salmon), king salmon (chinooks), siver salmon (coho), and pink salmon (humpys). All salmon also have two names in Alaska.

The next thing I learned was how to preserve it. Smoking salmon is an art. There are endless varieties of brining recipes, dry or wet versions, smoking times and best practices. I have tried many, and failed a few times. My favorite version to date is the most simple. A two ingredient wet brine with medium smoking time. This recipe is adapted from a recipe given to me by a local commercial fisherman who was born and raised in Ketchikan and spends more time with fish than people.

For the brine:

Equal parts sea salt and brown sugar (I used a cup of each for a small batch- roughly 2-3 salmon). Enough water to cover salmon (varies with container size).

Method:

Brine salmon overnight, then remove from brine, pat dry, and lay flat to dry, preferably with a fan blowing over salmon. The salmon needs to dry out and develop a tacky outer film called the pellicle before smoking. This step is key because the pellicle allows smoke to better adhere to the meat. Drying time varies on size of salmon pieces or fillets, but usually a minimum of 4 hours.

Now you’re ready to smoke. I used red wine barrel wood chips for my last batch and thought it turned out amazingly well. I have used various wood in other recipes and found some varieties can leave a bitter note, so try some different varieties and see what works for you.

I have a Big Chief smoker. I load it up, equally spacing the salmon pieces and smoke it until desired doneness is achieved. I prefer a more jerkey-like texture to my smoked salmon, but not too dry. For smaller pieces, this takes between 6-8 hours of smoking time. (If canning is your end game, less smoking time is required because the canning process cooks the salmon and the smoking time is just for added flavor).

Once desired doneness is achieved allow salmon to completely cool, then store. Smoked salmon will last a few months in the fridge and roughly a year in the freezer.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

The Least I Can Do

I was watching Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, and the idea of the least we can do was discussed. Essentially, we say phrases like, “oh, it’s the least I can do”, all the time without really understanding what those words mean. In the episode, Jimmy returns a phone call saying it’s the least he can do, then Jerry does not return a phone call to demonstrate what the least he can do looks like.

This made me think not only about the least I can do, but how I communicate to folks every day. The least I can do is pretty shocking to think about. It is literally nothing. For any situation the least you can do is to not do a thing. It seems to me that most people, by default, tend to do something in most situations, making the phrase ineffectual. The implied meaning of the phrase is that of course I would do this thing because to not do this thing would be to do nothing, and what type of person does nothing? Therefore, I do this thing as the least thing I could do because not doing this thing is uncivil.

This idea gave me hope because more often than not people are giving you their most. I did not say their best, but their most. When you have the snappy and rude receptionist at the pediatrician office, that is the most she can do in that moment. Who knows why her most is so much less than we need, but it’s still the most. The least would be not a thing. When we fail at a new skill or a big project, it is still, for better or worse, ego or not, the most we could do. The least would be not a thing, which means no failure because no attempt.

This idea of the most we can do gave me even more hope. What in the world would the best look like? What if we decided to forget the least, forgo the most, and deliver the best. The best we can do in any given situation. This idea also comes with a dose of grace. We would not be allowed to diminish our best by saying, “well, this is the best I can do, sigh”….Oh no, that is the most we can do talking.

The best we can do is truly our best and worth being proud of despite pitfalls or failures. Because at times, even our best is not enough. But imagine a world where we all give our best.  When you see someone in need of a kind word, give your best. When you see someone struggling, give your best. When it’s your turn to provide snacks for 30 elementary school kids, give your best. All these instances will look different every day, for everyone, and the best given will vary because we all vary. I think this shift in thinking is the primary difference between feline and canine psychology. Cats do the very least, while dogs strive to give their very best. I imagine a rabbit is somewhere in the middle. But to think that by simply changing the way we think about what we are giving, and the way our intentions bleed into the world around us, could have countless opportunities throughout countless days to positively affect the people we encounter…..to give our best, that is the least we could do.

Legacy

Legacy is defined in the Cambridge English Dictionary as “something that is a result of events in the past”. Legacy is also money or property that is left to someone by someone who has died. I have been thinking a lot about legacy lately. The legacy that was bestowed to me (the events kind, not money), and my personal legacy that will be bestowed to my children.

For me, legacy is not a material thing. It is a vapor that envelops me like a warm hug from the past. A weaving of all the hearts that have loved me since before I was even a spec. It is outstretched arms from the fields, the sky,  and the soil; it is the weather-worn tan skin, callused and rough, of the hands that worked from sun-up til sun-down so I could become exactly who I am this very moment; it is smiling when I want to curse because I was taught better; it is being gracious to those I think deserve a swift kick in the rear because I was brought up better than that; it is the sound of laughter and the sweet smell of honeysuckle under a brilliant blue indian-summer sky.
I come from a legacy of strong, hard-working, eastern North Carolina women. Sounds simple enough, but the values and ideals these women ingrained in me with every word, every hand gesture, and every head nod, are a unque gift that was bestowed to me. My Aunt Sissy’s spririted laughter and mischevious grin, my Granny’s knowing smile and “Lord, hunny”, and my Grandma Ann’s hand holding and clicking winks – These are my unique legacy. And I have the honor of adding to them and handing down an equally unique legacy to my own son and daughter.

Every generation builds on the foundations. We add to the layers of our personal history and slowly but surely lift up our future. I am constantly aware of what I am adding to the layers. How am I building up my children’s future? What will they remember, what will be important to their story? Probably too many curse words and an unreasonable fondness for cake, if I’m honest.

Even still, I hope that the central components to the legacy I bestow to my children are unconditional love and integrity. To love without conditions, including the condition to be loved in return, and to act with integrity, are the two most basic truths I can think of. And the most challenging. Life becomes seemingly much easier when we block ourselves off with conditions, and when white lies are okay because they keep us from uncomfortable conversations. But this only muddies the water. I know I fail, probably daily at times, with these two truths. But I carry on. I start over everyday, just like my mother, and my grandmothers, and my great grandmothers before me clearing the way for those coming behind us. We continue to propel them forward toward a better life than ours.

 

Sharing stories and taking names

I read once that everyone has at least one good book inside them. Maybe a spicy romance novel, a vampire-zombie young adult novel, or a memoir. I hear a lot of people say if they just had the time, they would write a book about _____ (you fill in the blank).

I believe we all have stories to tell. It’s just that some of us write them down, and others don’t. I want to be a part of the write our stories down group. I want to write and share my stories with all my heart. I have wanted this as long as I can remember, I just never thought I had the time, or had anything of particular interest to say.

That doubt is fear. Plain and simple. And yes, I am terrified of writing my stories down. There are so many ways to fail once you write down your brilliant ideas and share them with people who may, in fact, not find them brilliant at all. Because you see, I am not writing fiction. No vampire thrillers or murder mysteries here (I love both by the way). I am writing down my stories. My memories, thoughts, and lessons learned in my near 40 decades on earth. I am writing my Granny, Ms. Beulah’s, greatest sayings (“We are in the short rows now, honey”), my mother’s insights on life and faith, my family legacy – my father’s barbecue sauce recipe, my hopes, my fears, my sorrows and my joy. I have a long row to hoe, as Ms. Beulah would say, but the short rows are coming. I just have to start.

I read two books recently, both women authors, both Christian lifestyle genres, and both talk a lot about the word yes. In For the Love, Jen Hatmaker talks about living with a yes attitude, and saying yes when God asks something of you. Then there is Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist, and not only does she have “Yes” tattooed on her arm, but she talks about saying yes to scary, life changing things, and starting where you are. These women write words that hit my heart and soul. Reading their words I feel like I’m their family, and soon we will all be around the kitchen table cooking, laughing, and learning. They write their own stories, and those stories inspire me to move forward with mine. Their stories ease my fears, restore my hope, squeeze out tears, release laughter, and focus my mind on being the kind of wife, mother, and woman I desire to be. Their stories make God more a part of my everyday in such a relatable way, that I can picture Him being a neighbor who is always invited for dinner parties. Isn’t that awesome? And I do not mean the 1990s awesome, I mean the true sense of the word, awe inspiring, jaw dropping awesome. To write stories so that when I am talking about God, or friends, or family, you can picture them living in your neighborhood, eating your barbecue and drinking sweet tea in your backyard, is my greatest hope – To write with such familiarity of daily life that the extraordinary in your own life is exposed.

So I am saying, yes! Yes, I want to write stories whether they are read by anyone or not. And yes, I want to write about family, food, and faith so personal, that if by chance someone does read them, they will picture sitting at my table, eating by Daddy’s barbecue in my backyard. I have said yes….so now what? I am going to start where I am.

My idea for Farm to Family began incubating in March 2016. Here is what I wrote that day:

It is a fairly nice March Monday in Ketchikan, Alaska. The sun is peaking through the evergreens, the air is crisp and smells like damp moss and rich dark earth. I am five minutes from running out the door to pick up the kids from daycare, I have a giant loaf of homemade bread in the oven to go with lentil soup for supper. I am home today because my husband had a vasectomy exactly three days ago and I am trying to take care of him. And I am starting. Ms. Beulah always told me to “start out like you can hold out”. Let’s see how this holds out, shall we?