The Orientation Express

A few weeks ago, we headed south for Big’s college orientation.  Two days on campus for him—and for us—to figure out what’s what.  Years ago, when I was looking at colleges, the question was often jokingly asked, “How’s the Clemson graduate?” with the reply, “He’s out--standing in his field!”  This was a joke, of course, because Clemson is South Carolina’s land grant institution, and, although, it was originally a military college, it quickly became a top agriculture school.  It still is, actually, renowned for its agriculture and forestry programs, but there is so much more.IMG_2151Like most parents, we are proud of our son, but, honestly, I wasn’t too worried about his being accepted to Clemson.  It was his first choice because of its engineering college, and I knew Clemson was steadily climbing the ranks of top universities, presently number 22 (US News and World Report Top Colleges).  Still, I wasn’t really worried.  I mean, it’s Clemson, right?  Ignorance is bliss, as they say.   For this year’s freshman class, there were 17,000 applicants—and 3,000 were accepted!  Sixty-five percent are in-state; 35 percent are out-of-state or international students.  Nine hundred of the 3000 plan to be engineers.  The Mister said, “Son, it’s going to be competitive.”  The son said, “Yessir, it is.”
IMG_2143 We started with some seminars about college life and about academic success.   We had some break-out sessions for parents of engineering students.  It was during one of these meetings that I said to the Mister, “I feel as if we are standing on the depot platform of Dumbville watching him steam away from us on the train of knowledge.”  Even my illustrations are antiquated! After his engineering student sessions, Big could not wait to pick up his new laptop!  He was beyond excited.IMG_2134 Clemson’s stadium, known as Death Valley, is, of course, a huge draw for most everyone that visits the campus.  Seating 84,000, and overlooking Lake Hartwell and the Blue Ridge mountains, it is an exciting place to be on a fall afternoon.  It was a hot place to be on a July afternoon, but the parents were invited to lunch in the President’s Box. IMG_2133I am looking forward to watching the Tigers play, but mostly I love the tailgating and visiting with friends and family before and after the games!  Here’s the Mister, taking a call before we resumed our schedule of meetings in the Brooks Center.IMG_2142
Tillman Hall is the keystone building on the campus, dating from 1889, I think.  It is surrounded by other red brick buildings, trees, and gorgeous landscaping.  There is very limited parking on campus, which makes for a beautiful, walkable park-like setting.  Buses shuttle students pretty much around the clock during the regular school year.
As part of its tradition as a great agriculture school, Clemson is known throughout the region for its locally produced blue cheese and its famous ice cream and milk shakes.  The Mister and I enjoyed a cone on the patio while Big met with his academic advisor.IMG_2150Before heading home, we stopped in a couple of the downtown shops to buys a few souvenirs for Little and Middle.  Judge Keller’s is a must stop for all Clemson visitors.   Big picked up a Clemson Mom and a Clemson Dad decal for the Mister and me.
And here we are are with our own college freshman.  Clearly, the Mister is making a statement about tuition with his pose!IMG_2137 Go Tigers!

She loved . . .

Blackberry cake       making homemade blackberry cake from her mother’s recipe, beach       the salt air of the Carolina beach,SquareDancing   square dancing with her husband, whom she loved 49 years,
western moviewatching a western on a Sunday afternoon,good booksgood books,  
the Good Book, childrenchildren and grandchildren.
Oh, how she loved.



You say tomato . . .

Within the past year or so, one of my favorite publications, Southern Living, began a new feature in its hallowed foods section.  I believe it’s called “Mama’s Way/Your Way,” and the general idea is to take an iconic Southern dish and share the old-school recipe and then offer an updated version.  Usually, the modern adaptation offers considerable savings in either prep time or in artery-clogging ingredients. 
Here’s my version of “Mama’s Way/Your Way” featuring the beloved tomato sandwich.
The traditional tomato sandwich is both simple and perfect, relying on key ingredients that must not be changed.IMG_2131A locally grown vine-ripened tomato is, of course, the most important ingredient.  Please, no substitutions.  If the tomato grew in your garden, so much the better; if not, the farmer’s market or a roadside stand tomato will work fine.  A grocery store tomato will not suffice.  Next up, Duke’s mayonnaise.  This brand is not available everywhere, so you may have to make do on this one.  Hellman’s will work.  I like Jane’s Krazy Mixed-up Salt, but regular salt and pepper will be just as good.  Now for the bread, personally, I use whole wheat bread these days, but, remember this is “Mama’s Way,” so white bread is the authentic choice. IMG_2132 So slice the tomato, and let the slices drain for a minute or two on paper towels.  Then, salt and pepper them well.  Slather the bread with mayonnaise, add the tomato slices, and give the whole thing a gentle press.  If possible, eat this on a back porch while drinking sweet tea.  For dessert, have a fresh peach.
I say tomahto . . .
The updated tomato sandwich offers a lot of great  flavor, too.  And the ingredients are no less important, although there is more room for creativity.IMG_2128
A vine-ripened tomato is key.  Again, no grocery store ‘maters will do.  Fresh basil is a must; as is fresh mozzarella.  I like ciabatta bread as the base for this sandwich, but any hearty country bread will do.  If you like, drizzle the bread with a flavorful olive oil, and then add the tomatoes, basil and cheese.  Top with Jane’s Krazy Salt or another favorite seasoning.  These are great sandwiches to take to an outdoor concert or to enjoy for a light supper with a glass of wine.  Again, a fresh peach makes the perfect dessert.
Coming soon, a recipe for the best tomato pie ever!

Technology rules,

but it doesn’t rule me! 

I try to use only my original material on this blog, but this was too good not to pass along. I hope you’ll take the time to read past the first five paragraphs (the scolding) to the real message.   Happy (disconnected) Saturday!

Tweet Less, Kiss More

Published: July 16, 2010, The New York Times

I was driving from Washington to New York one afternoon on Interstate 95 when a car came zooming up behind me, really flying. I could see in the rearview mirror that the driver was talking on her cellphone.

Bob Herbert

I was about to move to the center lane to get out of her way when she suddenly swerved into that lane herself to pass me on the right — still chatting away. She continued moving dangerously from one lane to another as she sped up the highway.

A few days later, I was talking to a guy who commutes every day between New York and New Jersey. He props up his laptop on the front seat so he can watch DVDs while he’s driving.

“I only do it in traffic,” he said. “It’s no big deal.”

Beyond the obvious safety issues, why does anyone want, or need, to be talking constantly on the phone or watching movies (or texting) while driving? I hate to sound so 20th century, but what’s wrong with just listening to the radio? The blessed wonders of technology are overwhelming us. We don’t control them; they control us.

We’ve got cellphones and BlackBerrys and Kindles and iPads, and we’re e-mailing and text-messaging and chatting and tweeting — I used to call it Twittering until I was corrected by high school kids who patiently explained to me, as if I were the village idiot, that the correct term is tweeting. Twittering, tweeting — whatever it is, it sounds like a nervous disorder.

This is all part of what I think is one of the weirder aspects of our culture: a heightened freneticism that seems to demand that we be doing, at a minimum, two or three things every single moment of every hour that we’re awake. Why is multitasking considered an admirable talent? We could just as easily think of it as a neurotic inability to concentrate for more than three seconds.

Why do we have to check our e-mail so many times a day, or keep our ears constantly attached, as if with Krazy Glue, to our cellphones? When you watch the news on cable television, there are often additional stories being scrolled across the bottom of the screen, stock market results blinking on the right of the screen, and promos for upcoming features on the left. These extras often block significant parts of the main item we’re supposed to be watching.

A friend of mine told me about an engagement party that she had attended. She said it was lovely: a delicious lunch and plenty of Champagne toasts. But all the guests had their cellphones on the luncheon tables and had text-messaged their way through the entire event.

Enough already with this hyperactive behavior, this techno-tyranny and nonstop freneticism. We need to slow down and take a deep breath.

I’m not opposed to the remarkable technological advances of the past several years. I don’t want to go back to typewriters and carbon paper and yellowing clips from the newspaper morgue. I just think that we should treat technology like any other tool. We should control it, bending it to our human purposes.

Let’s put down at least some of these gadgets and spend a little time just being ourselves. One of the essential problems of our society is that we have a tendency, amid all the craziness that surrounds us, to lose sight of what is truly human in ourselves, and that includes our own individual needs — those very special, mostly nonmaterial things that would fulfill us, give meaning to our lives, enlarge us, and enable us to more easily embrace those around us.

There’s a character in the August Wilson play “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” who says everyone has a song inside of him or her, and that you lose sight of that song at your peril. If you get out of touch with your song, forget how to sing it, you’re bound to end up frustrated and dissatisfied.

As this character says, recalling a time when he was out of touch with his own song, “Something wasn’t making my heart smooth and easy.”

I don’t think we can stay in touch with our song by constantly Twittering or tweeting, or thumbing out messages on our BlackBerrys, or piling up virtual friends on Facebook.

We need to reduce the speed limits of our lives. We need to savor the trip. Leave the cellphone at home every once in awhile. Try kissing more and tweeting less. And stop talking so much.


Other people have something to say, too. And when they don’t, that glorious silence that you hear will have more to say to you than you ever imagined. That is when you will begin to hear your song. That’s when your best thoughts take hold, and you become really you.

Summer Reading List

I love to read year round, and I read almost everything but science fiction and true crime.  I like history, biography, popular fiction, inspirational, chick lit, and classics.  Once, when I was a newlywed in a new city, I decided I would read all my branch library’s great women authors; I got as far as Willa Cather before I found gainful employment.  Sorry, I digress.  Occasionally I will read a book a second time, and it seems that summer is when I re-visit a few favorites, a habit held over from childhood when hardcover copies of  Homer Price and Harriet the Spy  held pride of place on my bookshelf.

Harriet the Spy

I loved Harriet the Spy and probably read it at least half a dozen times.  Who can resist Harriet, Janie, and Sport?  And, of course, Old Golly.

The Golden Evenings of Summer golden

I’m not sure when I first came across this gem, but I make a point to read it every summer.  Set during the Great Depression, the story perfectly captures the boredom, mischief, and innocence of a young boy experiencing his first crush, his first smoke, and his first broken heart in a most hilarious way.  Stanton is a first-rate storyteller, and the book is read aloud, laugh out loud funny!

And Ladies of the Club

book cover of 

And Ladies of the Club 


Helen Hooven Santmyer

Admittedly, I haven’t read this in a few years, but I was deeply engrossed in this saga of two young Ohio women who form a friendship in a ladies’ literary club shortly after the Civil War.  Spanning generations, the hefty book (around 700 pages) left me thinking about its characters for weeks after finishing it.


What happens when an Ivy League educated Episcopalian and a Bible college Baptist girl marry and settle down in fictional Listre, North Carolina?  Well, both do a lot of growing up, and I do a lot of laughing and smiling when I read this book.  Clyde Edgerton reflects the dialect and dialogue of the Carolina Piedmont perfectly.

The Big House

I love most books about houses, but this may be my all-time favorite.  In this memoir, George Howe Colt writes eloquently about his family’s house and their summer life on the Cape as well as how modern life and maintenance conspire against keeping it.

Objects of Desire

Objects of Desire: The Lives of Antiques and Those Who Pursue Them by Thatcher Freund

For an antiques lover like me, this book is practically addictive.  Journalist Freund follows three top-drawer antiques to the top of the market, with brilliant descriptions of the pieces themselves, their provenance, their sellers, and their new owners.  It’s now out of print, but well worth the trouble to find a copy!

Read on!

Ode to the Onion

It’s hot as blue blazes just about everywhere it seems, and the Mister and I (especially I!) are big believers in the adage of “if you can’t take the heat, then stay out of the kitchen.”  So, since we are childless for a few days, we decided to get out of town for the evening.  When we left at six-thirty, the temperature was 95 degrees; 33 steep and winding miles later, the thermometer was reading a cool 70.  Ahhhhh.   IMG_2115Flowers outside a Saluda antiques shop.  I loved the yellows of the pot and the chair, perfect for the deep greens and pinks of the geraniums and vinca.IMG_2117 The Mister considers mountain cabins on the market.  Someday, maybe.IMG_2118I loved these arched windows.  Most of the town’s buildings are designated historic sites.
We were eager to re-visit a restaurant we had enjoyed a few weeks ago, with friends and two of our children, for an early Father’s Day dinner.  It’s called The Purple Onion, located in Saluda, North Carolina.  Specializing in  organic, locally sourced, and sustainably harvested produce, seafood, and beef, The Purple Onion offers a casual atmosphere with lots of outdoor tables.  Near the covered patio area is a natural mountain spring, surrounded by fern and cress and other native plants. IMG_2123IMG_2124Everything served is fresh and made-to-order on site.  Choices offered the night we were there included: corn husk roasted mountain trout, duck breast with balsamic fig and red grape chutney, and an Appalachian green plate special, featuring heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, okra, greens, and beets.  Blackberry cobbler for dessert. Strawberry and Blackberry Cobbler
Saluda itself is a sweet little place that started as a railroad town.  Originally known as Pace’s Gap, the community was primarily a stopover for traders and herders. IMG_2119 As railroads began crossing the country, Captain Charles Pearson, chief  engineer of the railway,  was sent to determine the best way to traverse the Carolina mountains.  After assessing the topography, with its sheer cliffs and multiple underground streams, Pearson made the decision to have the tracks built across Saluda Mountain rather than through the gap.  The cost to the railroad and to the community was high.  Many lost their lives building the line that became known—and is still known—as the steepest mainline standard gauge grade in North America.  The Carolina Special painted by Howard Fogg.  The Special ran from Charleston, SC, to Cincinnati, OH, crossing the 5.3 /100 Saluda grade.
The first passenger train to climb Saluda arrived on July 4, 1879.  Soon, some eight passenger trains a day steamed into the tiny depot, occasionally bringing such notable writers and artists as Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Dix, who found Saluda a restful haven.
IMG_2114 Today the glitterati are long gone; a few art galleries  and antiques shops cater to the day trippers.  The summer residents enjoy cool mountain hikes and Appalachian sunsets.  And, I suspect, frequent dinners at The Purple Onion.

Oh, beautiful for spacious skies

The Mister and I have had an unusual holiday, in that all three children are away from home today.  We did receive a brief update from Middle’s  Scoutmaster this morning:  Summitted Baldy Mountain yesterday.  All are healthy.  Happy Fourth!

baldy mountain philmont nm Baldy Mountain, elevation 12, 441 feet.

Happy Independence Day!

IMG_2113  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. . . .declaration_of_independence_630
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Please note that spellings and capitalization are as on the original document.  To read more about the Declaration and other Charters of Freedom, visit the National Archives at
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