A Little Catching Up……

Well, hi there, Dear Reader. Yes, it has been a while – all summer it seems. But lots of things have happened since the middle of May, so lets do a little catching up.

To begin with, the computer that I used for the past few years was a laptop I had for work. I knew it was on its last legs and had already received a new computer and transferred all work files, but I was still bringing the old one home to write and post.
Well, it crashed. So I was without a computer for a bit.

Then, I quit my job.

It was a great job and I had it for over 11 years. But the stress in the last 2 years had increased exponentially and it was affecting my health. It was a little like working in a minefield, always anticipating the next explosion. Not good for ones physical or mental health.

So I chose instead to stay at home with my Mom. As you may or may not know, she has been under hospice care since last August. We had two extraordinary women taking care of her while I was at work, but that cost was about the same as my salary. So now, we pay me instead.

The first week in June, we were hosts to much of my family and many friends from all over the country, as well as our dear friends here in the Ozarks, to celebrate my 60th birthday. It was a night of great music, food and drink, fire jugglers and a huge fireworks display that rivaled anything I had ever seen. It was declared a wild rumpus and it was exactly that!

KODAK Digital Still Camera

KODAK Digital Still Camera


2015 party1 (3)
2015 Party

As you know, I love nothing more that having my house filled with the people I love, so this was heaven to me. And I still get a little giddy just thinking about it. One of my dearest friends, Sharon and her husband, stayed the next week and we had a absolutely great time.

One day, we went to Eureka Springs, AR, to shop and have lunch. In one of the shops, we had a very serendipitous meeting with an artist, a lovely woman, who had been a portrait artist on Jackson Square in New Orleans. She asked if any of us wanted our portrait done – and I thought – why not!
DSCF1147
As she sketched, I guess it took about 20 minutes, we visited and got to know a little about each other. Then after the portrait was done, she said, “If anything happens to your husband, look me up. I’m bisexual.” I laughed and gave her a big hug. And told her that was one of the nicest propositions I had in a while! I got the biggest kick out of that!

It was a crazy couple of weeks to say the least.

Since then, I have been taking care of Mom full time. It is wonderful to be at home and to be able to care for her and talk to her and laugh with her. We have settled into a routine and so far so good. I am still trying to sort out time away, not only to do errands and grocery shop, but to have time to lunch with friends or go out with Bob. That is still a work in progress.

And one last thing from this crazy summer, I dyed my hair pink. Well, I’m calling it raspberry.
pink 3

I LOVE it though it is fading rather quickly. Now starting to think about what color to try next – maybe violet or lavender!

As you can tell from the lack of posts, I haven’t been writing much of anything. I have dusted off The Last Really Good Shack posts and have them to someone to edit. I have an outline for a beginning, middle and end for that story, so am making that a priority for the fall. I would love to get a completed manuscript in the hands of a publisher this winter.

And I have my eyes on poetry written the past two years or so – maybe trying to get them into shape for publication.

And I have created a few tiny books of poems – I will be writing a posts about that soon.

So thank you for your continued support of my writing. I appreciate your notes of friendship – it means so much to know that you drop by and still read my poems.

All the best to you and I promise to keep in touch.
Kathleen

The Last Really Good Shack #39

The Last Really Good Shack by Carol Allen

back in the shack
by John Matthew Waters

you’ll find it in the middle of somewhere
surrounded by a fog in a field of woods
discoverable through a natural maze
filled with a variety of wildflowers

walking through the door you swear
you became someone other than yourself
and the moment you sit and open your mind
the shack is filled with a beautiful light

copyright j matthew waters

A good friend wrote a wonderful poem this week and on reading it, I was instantly carried back to our old home, the last really good shack.

John’s poem beautifully describes the feeling I have for that house and how it changed me in the decade we lived there.

I don’t know if I have told you much about any of that personal stuff. How a city girl fell so head over heels in love with a rocky piece of land on the side of any Ozarks ridge and the worn out old shack that clung to the side of that ridge.

Just as the poem says, it was in the middle of somewhere, but somehow completely separate from the world around it.

There, the world revealed its magic to me and I was an enraptured pupil.

I would walk that steep acreage almost daily, visiting the blackberry brambles, or the wild dog roses, or the frog pond at the top of the ridge nestled in a grove of black ash trees. I found each spot that the wild ferns grew, knowing that if I dug there under that rocky soil, a spring would bubble up to the surface.

I knew where the deer rested with their fawns and where the squirrels hid their harvest of black walnuts. I learned how the sun moved along the eastern ridge during the seasons and, at night, we were mesmerized by the visits of comets and meteorites.

With Bob’s skill, we created a home out of a hovel, adding what everyone who visited will still tell you was the best porch in all of history. My mom called it the healing place. I said it was the navel of the universe where all possible good resided.

It was visited by friends and family, and an occasional angel.

And in those ten years, I learned more about myself than in any other decade. I made choices that have changed me, and changed my path in life. I became more spiritual and open, more aware of my place in the universe.

I became a better wife, daughter and friend.

And all these changes came about from lessons I learned while we lived in the last really good shack.

And I am grateful for each minute I lived there.

***

A special thank you to John Matthew Waters for his gracious permission to use his wonderful poem, ‘back in the shack’. You can read his poetry on his website jdubqca.com and his twitter account @jdubqca.

Vashtu Homa

The Last Really Good Shack by Carol AllenIn our Ozarks home,
the last really good shack in Benton county,
a woodstove was our only source of heat.
A beautiful hulk of metal
that would keep bright embers alive
thru the cold winter nights.
Its warmth pervaded the old drafty house-
silent and holy as the sacred fire.

Ritual feeding with fragrant split red oak
and removal of spent gray ash-
a daily blessing and curse.
Beginning in the cool evenings of early fall
and extended into warm days of late spring,
morning and night each had its own ceremony.
Formal practice of gifts
given and taken-
kneeling before the fire,
feeding the flame to give it life
and in turn,
we received the same blessing.

** A Hindu fire ritual – Vastu homa- a house-warming; to encourage good Vastu (energy in buildings)

The Last Really Good Shack #37 – Black Walnut Season

The Last Really Good Shack - porch

black walnuts<

The heavy thud of black walnuts falling to the damp ground is a constant for a few weeks in the fall.
I didn’t know anything about this particular variety of tree nut until we moved to northwest Arkansas. Having spent my childhood in pecan country, Texas and south Arkansas, where even the standard walnut seemed a little foreign and exotic- the black walnut was completely new to me.
When I first saw the big green globes hanging in the trees, I actually speculated that they were a variety of bois d’arc or horse apples as we called them when we were kids. Didn’t take long to figure out that they were a nut under all that green hull and that they dye your fingers a dark walnut color pretty quickly when you pick a few up off the ground.

Of all the trees in the Ozarks, black walnut trees are not the most gorgeous tree in the woods. They can be straggly and rangy looking, the last to set leaves in the spring and the first to show yellow and fall in autumn. Their occupation is to create these hard to crack nuts and then rest for the balance of the year.

We had several on our property, and I must say, one of the nicest looking black walnuts was on the northwest side of the shack. It was not crowded by any other trees, far enough away from the huge white oaks in front and just enough room from the tree lined fence on the north part of the dog yard.
Each season, for however long it chose, it was a full and quite nice shade tree, airy and lacey, given dappled light to the yard swing and perennial lily bed. Bob would sit on the step at that end of the porch, while I sat in the swing and listened to him play his guitar, or we would play ball with the dogs in the shade of that walnut tree.

A cottage industry springs up in the fall as the nuts ripen. A local company will buy the nuts from anyone who shows up with a bag or truck load. So many an afternoon along the narrow Ozarks roads, you will see folks with sacks or buckets retrieving the fallen nuts.
In autumn, when the harvest began, a young family would drive slowly up our little lane, the dad driving and the mom and her two youngsters would pick up the fallen walnuts. Tossing them into the trunk or one year in the back of the station wagon, they would pick the road clean. Each year when they came by, they would ask if they could gather the walnuts from our tree. Of course, that was always fine and we welcomed them each season.

I always hoped it would help them – this was a hard way to earn money. When you took the walnuts to sell, they would place them in a spinning hopper to release the nut from the hull. Once that was done, the nuts were weighed and you were paid $11.00 for one hundred pounds! That took a whole lot of nuts in the back of a station wagon to bring home $11.00.

With each gust of wind, I hear the heavy thuds – its black walnut time in the Ozarks.

**** Dear Readers, I know it has been too long between stories of the shack. I am in the process of editing the previous stories and The Last Really Good Shack will soon have its own blog. I hope you will continue to read and enjoy these little snippets of our life in the Ozarks.
Thanks, Kathleen

The Last Really Good Shack #36

The Last Really Good Shack - porch
It has been a while since we talked about the shack. But it’s spring cleaning time around here and it reminded me of the springtimes we enjoyed in our little piece of Ozarks paradise.
I would want to start my spring cleaning in early April but always waited until most of the pollen had let loose from our old white oaks. They were huge and really just about the last to flower, tassel and then pour out all that gritty green goodness that covered every possible inch of everything. My car and Bob’s truck would change colors to this dusty yellow green – thick as West Texas dust. It would make you sneeze just to look at it. And you know, the owners of every car wash for miles would be grinning from ear to ear and taking wheelbarrows full of rolled quarters to the bank every night.
Anyway, after the worst was over, I would scrub every inch of my house, washing walls and scrubbing floors, changing the linens from the warm woolens of the winter to the light cottons of spring. Furniture would be cleaned, rugs taken up and stored and light curtains hung in all the windows. Even the scented candles would be changed from sandalwood to lavender. And after all the inside of the house was fresh and airy, perfumned with the scent of Murphy’s Oil Soap and bleach, we would start working on the outside.
Now as you remember, our front porch was humongous – 10 foot wide and 35 feet long, covered with a tin metal roof and furnished with the rattan furniture given to us by Mom when she moved to the townhouse.
For the first couple of years, the spring cleaning would begin with shucking the slip covers off to wash, scrubbing the furniture and floor with Murphy’s (just love that stuff) washing all the decorative things that were left out to get covered in the oak pollen. And then after washing the railings and front of the house, the windows would be washed. Then the newly laundered slip covers were shimmied back onto the cushions, spring pillows plumped and arranged, newly washed accessories returned to their places, well shaken rugs laid back in their place and we were done!
In the third spring of the porch, a little more elbow grease was called for. We re-stained the floor and the railings and paint the trim. We used a transparent gray stain for the flooring and the bottom rails and stiles. Then the trim and top rails were painted a wonderful shade of burgundy called merlot. These colors just sang against the white siding. And in an area that believed in earth tones only – seriously every house and building was painted in shades of brown and beige – yikes – well, our color choices stood out.
After the porch was done, the rattan furniture was carried out to the side yard, scrubbed with bleach water and painted with a couple of coats of clear satin poly. Then all the other spring cleaning rituals insued with the slip covers etc etc.
And I loved my slipcovers! My mom helped me make them. We picked out gray and white striped pillow ticking and made big huge envelopes to tuck the cushions into. I found colorful flowered pillows to add to the comfort and locally made rag rugs on the floor. Now remember, this was the early 90s, and country was a very ‘in vogue’ look and we DID live in a country house in the country. So no snickers.
It was a comfortable porch, where we would eat as many meals as possible, sit and read or just while away the day. If family was visiting, there were always bubbles to blow, games to play and stories to tell. A magical perch to watch the seasons move across the ridge, be delighted by evenings illuminated by fireflies, and to watch comets in the starry night sky.
I will close for now but will write again soon about the spring visitors we would see each season.
Until then……

The Last Really Good Shack 26

I was driving home with my mom last week and our road off the ridge had a short space where the trees had touched overhead to form a tunnel. And mom reminded me of the road down to the shack – she said that was one of her favorite things in the summer – the tree tunnel all the way to our home.
That road turned off a state highway about a mile and a half north of the house and ran along side a creekbed on the west side of the road. It was a gentle slope along the hollow between the two ridges; a dirt and gravel road, well maintained by the county, and ran all the way down to Spring Creek. Once the only road south to Rogers, AR, it is still called the Old Rogers Road on some maps.
We found out the history of our area as we learned more about our road. The roadside along the  creekbed was reinforced by a solidly built stone wall. As we explored the creek, we found an inscription on one of the stones explaining that this wall had been built by the WPA. So this was one of the road projects in the 1930’s that helped men make a living during the Depression’s hard times. I admired the wall even more once I considered the hardships that these men must have faced in this area during the Depression. Never an easy place to scratch a living, the Ozarks must have been hit even harder during those years.
We began to visit with the folks that lived down the road. I mentioned one of them in an early post, our neighbor whose son sold us the shack and who would stop and share a beer with Bob on hot summer afternoons. His wife told us that this road was used by both armies of the Union and the Confederacy during the days of the Battle of Pea Ridge. The armies marched and rested alongside the creek. And the spring house in their yard was used to house the wounded as the armies moved south. Artifacts of the battle would occasionally turn up in the villiage’s garden plots or newly dug foundations. Bullets, buckles and buttons were common but the most unusual was a cannonball that had to have the bomb squad come out from Rogers. We never found anything other than a few old bottles or broken china on our land.
We loved the road and would walk it with the dogs every day, looking for new wildflowers or roses in bloom. I would gather rose hips for autumn arrangements and we would pick blackberries in the sunny spots. Each fall a family would come by gathering black walnuts to sell at the villiage farm store. They would always politely ask to come on our property to pick up the hard round nuts and we would happily agree.
In the summer, the road was a tunnel of trees from the state highway to the north, all the way to the beginning of our property. As the road made a gentle curve to the left, our home on the side of the ridge, would come into view. Then as you passed to the southern property line, the trees would again fold over the road.
The temperature would drop by 5 to10 degrees as the road descended down the hollow. It was wonderful in the hottest time of the summer to roll down the windows and breathe in the cooler air.
And then in those hot summer nights, the trees would be filled with fireflies! So thick it would seem to be strings of fairy lights illuminating the road. Absolutely magical! Add a  few children, our nieces and nephew or friend’s kids, and you would really have an enchanting scene. We would walk under that tree tunnel, covered in the glimmering lights of the fireflies, and could almost see our shadows.

I can still see the children’s faces looking up in wonder at the trees. A beautiful memory shared by everyone who walked that road.  Until next time….

The Last Really Good Shack 25

It was soon after we built the shed, but before it had walls and still had the camo tarps, that my dad saw the house for the first time.

Now before we begin this story, I need to explain my relationship with my dad. Basically – we adored each other. I was his first born and his baby girl, having the good fortune to have two younger brothers. We each thought that the other was just about the funniest, most entertaining person we had ever met. I often describe my dad to people who were not lucky enough to know him, as a traveling circus. He was funny with the greatest laugh! It could be heard for miles and was a sound that can only be described as joy in action. He was handsome and interesting, always had a joke or story to tell. And he was a terrible singer and dancer but that never seemed to stop him. We would tap dance in the kitchen and sing at the top of our lungs at church, much to the chagrin of my musically trained and choir member mom. He loved me and I never ever doubted it.

When Dad first learned of our wonderful purchase, he decided that maybe I wasn’t his kid after all. After raising me in a nicely appointed home in a good neighborhood, giving me pretty much everything a daughter could need, and working hard so that his family would never want for anything, his daughter buys a shack on 7 acres in the middle of the Arkansas Ozarks. Not only does it have a shallow well for water but there is no heat source and there is not a decent kitchen in the house. It is over 100 years old and – well – a shack!

But he was ready to come see us and my mom decided that the house was in good enough shape that he could visit without the concern of another heart attack. So, they rented a little trailer and loaded up all the flotsam and jetsam that we had left in their attic, and headed north through Oklahoma to Northwest Arkansas. Of the many talents my dad possessed, loading trailers full of junk was not one of them. The trip began late because of repacking the trailer and proceeded slowly, due to the shifting of the assortment of stuff and then the stopping and retying of the load.
The final repacking happened somewhere in eastern Oklahoma on a deserted country road. It was deserted until Dad had all my stuff scattered along the roadside and a schoolbus was caused to stop on its way down to the next farm houses.
Well, everyone on the bus had to get out and give advice until one young boy just started putting things back in the trailer and tying everything down. My dad just watched in amazement! Soon all was put back and everyone was on their way with many waves from the kids on the bus.
No other stops were required – the load never shifted!
It was several hours past the time they should have reached our home when they finally pulled up into our driveway.
My dad’s first act, after lots of hugs and kisses, was to hang a bird feeder in our tree. We would spend many hours sitting out in front of the house, visiting and watching the birds. He loved this house. I only had him here a few times, but each time was special.

Later that summer, cancer was discovered and he lived not quite two years. My heart still aches as I write these words. But what joy to have those happy memories.

Until next time…..