F is for Fudge

I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, during which I’ll write a blog post every day in April except Sundays. The topic for the first day begins with the letter A and I’ll work my way down to writing about something beginning with Z on my last day.

This year I’m going to choose a random word for the blog post topic, but I’m going to tie it into a memoir I’m working on about Nanny, my maternal grandmother. I hope this will allow me to think about her in a more creative way and unlock new memories to mine.

Here we go!

F is for Fudge

I couldn’t really decide on the topic for today’s post so when I picked my daughter up from school I asked her, “What is the first word you can think of that starts with the letter F?”

Stupid. Oh, so stupid. Mom fail.

As soon as that moronic question left my lips I realized my mistake.

Quickly, I said, “Waitwaitwaitwait, the first F word that’s not that F word.”

*giggles from the back seat* “What word is that, Mom? What F word are you talking about?” She was mocking me. I’ve raised her well.

I couldn’t turn around to look at her or I’d probably have wrecked the car. When she was finally able to mutter words instead of laughs she choked out, “Forest. And Fudge.”

Whew, I could work with both of those. I figure I should probably write about fudge since I spend a good chunk of time writing about forests already.

My Aunt Sharon makes the best peanut butter fudge ever. Like, ever. She uses a recipe from her 11th grade Home Economics class and it’s the real deal. It calls for real butter and peanut butter mixed with milk and sugar and vanilla. No marshmallow crème in those babies. It’s so delicious. Back in the day I could eat several pieces at a time it was so yummy.

She also makes a mean chocolate fudge, Fantasy Fudge to be exact. Most people think this is the culmination of Sharon’s fudge-making repertoire, and though it is also nomalicious, the peanut butter fudge is what I dream about at night. When I dream about fudge.

Since we couldn’t celebrate Christmas together as a family this year, I had to make my own damn fudge. Luckily, Sharon had given all four of us cousins a family recipe book as a gift years ago, so I had the recipe ready. Made my grocery list and came home armed with lots of sugar, butter, and chocolate chips.

My Aunt Sharon I am not. Here is how the recipe is written in Sharon’s pretty, cursive handwriting:

2 pkgs (24oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips

So I bought two 24-ounce packages of chocolate chips. Right? That’s what anyone would buy, I know!

Turns out the recipe called for 24 oz TOTAL chocolate chips. Whatever mélange I concocted that day smelled like chocolate fudge and kind of resembled chocolate fudge when you looked at it up close, but Fantasy Fudge it was not.

Oh, it tasted chocolatey enough to satisfy a sweet tooth, but it was hard as a rock. We had to chip away flakes of it like we were archeologists digging out dinosaur bones.

We tried to remedy the situation by mixing in all the other ingredients in equal proportions to make a double batch. The effort was worthy, but the result disappointing. We were going to have to make do with wafer-thin, chocolate-flavored slivers of fudge-like substance.

The recipe has been edited so I don’t make that mistake again.

Now as I’ve said before, Nanny wasn’t much of a baker, so we don’t recall her ever making fudge of any kind. My Granddaddy, though, he made some killer chocolate fudge. I never got to taste it, and since he didn’t follow a recipe, nothing was ever written down. It was all in his head. Sharon says it was the best chocolate fudge she’s ever tasted.

She recalls he used Hershey’s cocoa powder, sugar, maybe some cream, and then a little scoop of peanut butter at the end (genius)! He whipped it for a long time (or what was a long time for a kid) and she and Mom couldn’t get enough of it. If anyone’s ever heard of a recipe like that, please let me know. I’d love to find something similar.

I don’t think it’s possible to have too many good fudge recipes, especially when they’re family heirlooms.

E is for Elastic and Wedgies and How I Stole My Friend Anne’s Maternity Skort

I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, during which I’ll write a blog post every day in April except Sundays. The topic for the first day begins with the letter A and I’ll work my way down to writing about something beginning with Z on my last day.

This year I’m going to choose a random word for the blog post topic, but I’m going to tie it into a memoir I’m working on about Nanny, my maternal grandmother. I hope this will allow me to think about her in a more creative way and unlock new memories to mine.

Here we go!

E is for Elastic and Wedgies and How I Stole My Friend Anne’s Maternity Skort

A couple weeks ago I decided I was going to walk around the park next to my office every day at lunch. Just a walk, no pesky sports bra or workout clothes necessary. All I needed was a pair of socks and sneakers.

I had just finished reading this book about the brain and early onset dementia and I was petrified my brain was turning to mush. One of the ways you can hold off dementia is by exercise. We all knew that right, but for whatever reason, that day I was convinced I had to go for a walk so my neurons would stay elastic and keep firing to make new brain connections.

The day I decided to start my new routine I wore an old black skort with an elastic waistband. For those of you that don’t know, a skort is a skirt with a pair of shorts underneath. I would live the rest of my life in skorts if I could.

Best Skort Ever

This particular skort had an elastic waistband that was large and thick and heavenly. It was short enough to wear with boots (when you’re a short girl like me, there is a certain boot-to-skirt ratio you must adhere to otherwise you just look like a pair of knees walking around) to make it dressy, but it was casual enough to wear with flats or tennis shoes.

Best of all, though, was the big piece of wide elastic that was sewn into the entire waistband. Comfortable for the two days post-stomach-flu glory when I walk around like a super model, but also for the days when I pig out on tacos. Multi-purpose! And comfortable.

Which is exactly what it’s designed for, since it’s a MATERNITY SKORT.

My friend, Anne, let me borrow three big tubs of maternity clothes when I was pregnant with my children. Dressy clothes, casual clothes, pajamas, you name it and it was in one of those big tubs. I can still remember my favorite khaki maternity pants and the blue denim shirt with the embroidered flowers. That was practically my preggo uniform. Anne essentially clothed me for two years of my life.

Ah, good memories from a time when society expected me to wear elastic clothes. When I gave those clothes back, I conveniently forgot to include the skort.

Here’s where it gets tricky (after the whole stealing your friend’s clothes thing). I had my youngest child in 2011. It’s now 2021. I borrowed the skort from Anne when I was pregnant with my oldest child, born in 2008. I’ve been wearing a stolen maternity skort for 13 years.

But it gets worse. I’d finally worn the elastic out of the skort. The day I started my walking routine I noticed the skort felt much looser than usual. Good for me! I must have lost a couple pounds!

Turns out it’s just a skort whose elastic is past its prime. I’ve worn out elastic before and while this skort wasn’t the worst elastic death I’ve witnessed (nothing compares to the men’s maroon boxers with the gray paisleys that were the only pajama bottoms I wore for YEARS), I was still really sad.

But also mad, because now I couldn’t go for a walk without running the risk of my britches falling down mid-stride and let’s face it, nobody wanted to see that.

So, I improvised. I pinched a bit of the waistband together and used a safety pin to hold it together. Didn’t work. The beauty of this skort is that the waistband is really elastic so it way too thick for a tiny little safety pin to hold together.

Safety Pin Fail

Plan B: a big ass paperclip. The only uses for those gigantic paper clips at the office is to hold together voluminous reports that nobody ever reads anyway. Holding my pants up while I went for a walk was a much more productive use for it.

Big Ass Paper Clip Fail

Except it didn’t work. The clip wasn’t quite tight enough to prevent the fabric from slipping apart. I was out of options. Either I could go for a walk constantly holding my pants up and look like a crazy middle-aged lady walking around the park talking to herself or I could let my brain rot and probably see signs of early onset dementia the next day.

Obviously, I had to walk. As I made my way to the trail, though, I discovered-and I can’t believe I’m putting this in writing-that if I pulled the skort up above my waist, like halfway up to my boobs, I’d give myself the wee-est bit of a wedgie, and I could walk for about 5 minutes without having to yank it up again.

And that’s how I walked 1.6 miles fighting a wedgie and saving my brain from imminent degeneration.

Now, how I tie all this into Nanny I’m not sure. Nanny was always naturally thin, like really svelte, and didn’t exercise a day in her life. She was proud of her figure. Her mother, however, spent years in the throes of dementia before she died. Nanny must have worried the same fate would befall her.

I’m not sure when the medical establishment linked exercise to a lower risk of dementia. I’m not sure even if Nanny knew about it, she’d have changed her lifestyle in any way.

I am quite sure, however, that the problem-solving process my brain went through to discover the power of wedgies to improve exercise activated 2 million new synapses and that I’m probably much safer from dementia than I was before, you know, when I was wearing regular non-maternity clothes.

Thank you, Anne, for my most favorite skort ever. I’m sorry I stole it from you, but it really has saved my brain. That counts for something, right? Please say you’re still my friend.

D is for Desiderata

I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, during which I’ll write a blog post every day in April except Sundays. The topic for the first day begins with the letter A and I’ll work my way down to writing about something beginning with Z on my last day.

This year I’m going to choose a random word for the blog post topic, but I’m going to tie it into a memoir I’m working on about Nanny, my maternal grandmother. I hope this will allow me to think about her in a more creative way and unlock new memories to mine.

Here we go!

D is for Desiderata

I am not much of a poetry girl. Most of it doesn’t make any sense to me. I get lost in all the meter, metaphor, and rhyme. It seems pretentious when a writer expresses an idea in such a beautifully complicated way that it becomes lost in the ether to Plain Jane Brains like me.

However, several poets do speak to me. Mary Oliver, for example. She is an author who writes what she thinks, what she feels, in a plainspoken way that makes me see what she sees and feel what she feels. I don’t have to think about it much; I’m present with her while she experiences her moments of awe and therefore I see the awesome in my every day. And that is enough.

I am mesmerized by the beauty of Pablo Neruda’s words. I am not a romantic at heart, but Neruda’s sonnets make me weep with gooey and luscious feelings of love and forever.

Nobody creeps me out like Poe and I still remember most of Casey at the Bat from 7th grade English. What fun it was to memorize that one!

Despite my aversion to poetry, I have a framed print of one of my favorite poems ever, Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, displayed in my home.

Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

I also believe poetry was meant to spoken aloud, to be performed. Below is a link to one of my favorite voices reading Desiderata (the poem is over at 2:37 into the recording).

My Nanny was a poet, preferring verse to all other forms of writing. She was an active member of various poetry societies and even won a few awards for her writing. She was friends with Jesse Stuart and eventually even had a small book of poetry published. Her poetry was more my style, more storytelling than ephemeral representations. Maybe that’s why I keep giving poetry second chances.

C is for Camping and Challenges

I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, during which I’ll write a blog post every day in April except Sundays. The topic for the first day begins with the letter A and I’ll work my way down to writing about something beginning with Z on my last day.

This year I’m going to choose a random word for the blog post topic, but I’m going to tie it into a memoir I’m working on about Nanny, my maternal grandmother. I hope this will allow me to think about her in a more creative way and unlock new memories to mine.

Here we go!

C is for Camping and Challenges

On my list of goals for last year, which carried over into goals for this year, was to go camping by myself. I’ve been camping tons of times – at established campsites, in the backcountry, car camping, and while backpacking, but I’ve never been alone.

I solo hike often, but I’ve never tackled camping by myself. Overnight, you know, where from within the flimsy shelter of my nylon tent every sound outside isn’t a leaf crunched by tiny little birds, but big bad bears coming to eat me. Or maybe even Bigfoot!

Every time I’ve thought about planning a trip, I’ve allowed real life, and if I’m honest, my fear, to get in my way. I know I have all the skills to survive for a weekend at camp. I can pitch a tent, build a fire, cook over a fire and/or a camp stove, and filter water. I’ve done these things so many times! I certainly crave being alone out in nature, so what’s the problem? Is it simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other like so many other challenges in life?

I never want to stop trying new things and challenging myself to learn and grow. I turn 50 this year, and to be honest, I’m having a hard time with it. 50 seems so old, yet I don’t feel old. My knees feel old, but the rest of me seems to be holding out alright. I fear becoming complacent and gliding through the rest of middle age only to suddenly find myself too old and creaky to do anything. Or worse.

So, I have a solo camping trip on my calendar this month and I am stoked. I’m excited for the challenge and to see what the days in the woods bring me. Maybe I’ll figure out what I was afraid of while I’m out there.

Nanny and me, 1974

Nanny wasn’t an outdoor person. My mom and aunt don’t remember going on picnics or to lakes or rivers to recreate or relax. Nanny didn’t garden; didn’t have any interest in flowers or vegetables. I’m sure she had to help grow her own food when she was younger and still living with her parents, so maybe she’d had her fill of working the soil. Or maybe she thought by moving to the big city of Ashland from Johnson County she’d left that part of her behind. I don’t know.

My Granddaddy was a mechanic and he worked hard. When he came home each day, he was too exhausted to do much except sit in his chair and watch TV. Even if Nanny had wanted to get outside into nature, she wouldn’t have had a willing partner.

She certainly would never have ventured into the woods alone. She craved people and social interaction and praise and love, not the solitude of wildlands where her only company would be curious forest animals. It probably wouldn’t have seemed appropriate for a woman of her generation anyway.

She wouldn’t have seen spending time alone in nature as a challenge either. I imagine she wouldn’t have wanted to. After all, if she could do things on her own, she wouldn’t need people around to help her. And she needed people around her more than anything else in the world.

Nanny died when she was 79. I’m fairly certain she lived most of her adult life with the constant, agonizing fear of being alone. What could she have accomplished, what kind of mother and writer could she have been, if she’d been able to face that demon head on and stomp it into the ground?

I’m looking forward to stomping around the campfire for both of us soon.

B is for Baking (and adventure)

I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, during which I’ll write a blog post every day of the week in April except Sundays. The topic for the first day begins with the letter A and I’ll work my way down to writing about something beginning with Z on my last day.

This year I’m going to choose a random word for the blog post topic, but I’m going to tie it into a memoir I’m working on about Nanny, my maternal grandmother. I hope this will allow me to think about her in a more creative way and unlock new memories to mine.

Here we go!

B is for Baking

I’ve always enjoyed baking, but over the last several years I’ve significantly upped my game. I went from making pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and Snickerdoodles at Christmas to concocting pan du muerto, cupcakes shaped like the poop emoji, and cheesecake. I’ve tried Key Lime pie, Norwegian butter cookies, and more types of muffins that I can count (so far, my blueberry ones are the best). I buy bananas every week just to bake banana bread.

And just when I was about to crown myself with a chef’s hat, I tried to make macaroons ala the Great British Baking Show. Not even edible. Sigh.

I may not be the best presenter of food and leave the decorating to my teenage artist in residence, but more often than not our experiments taste pretty darn good.

Punching out dough is a good way to release some stress too. You wouldn’t believe how many faces you can make out in the dough if you look hard enough! Plus, it’s a form of meditation to an anxious brain to specifically measure ingredients and figure out how do you exactly roll dough into a rectangle shape? Baking is good for the body and mind.

Discovering our yummy new treats has been an adventure in the art and practice of trying something new. To break out of the ordinary and discover new favorites and new traditions, and to make new memories. When you make new memories, you don’t have to rely on the old ones so much.

**

Nanny enjoying nature

I don’t remember Nanny being much of a baker. She always had meat, potatoes, and a vegetable on the table for her family while my mom was growing up, but by the time I came around, my mom and aunt did all the cooking. Except for broccoli casserole. Nanny always made the broccoli casserole. I have her handwritten recipe card.

I have no memories of her baking anything. No cupcakes or birthday cakes. No walking into her house and catching the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. My aunt Sharon doesn’t remember her baking either. She and Mom always had birthday cakes growing up, and she’s pretty sure they didn’t come from a bakery, but she can’t remember anyone baking them.

She does remember Nanny making 6-layered stack cake, though. Sorghum cake. Nanny and Granddaddy would go to sorghum festivals in Morgan County, Kentucky, and Nanny would make sorghum stack cakes and my Aunt Sharon said they were absolutely delicious. I don’t recall every tasting sorghum cake.

I bake for stress reduction and adventures. Nanny didn’t. What did she do to relieve stress? She didn’t exercise. After her doctor once told her to get a little exercise she said walking around the house was enough exercise for her. She didn’t garden and didn’t particularly enjoy being outside.

She did enjoy Sunday drives, though, a tradition my family keeps to this day, well until COVID anyway. And she was a writer. We have boxes and boxes of her writing and that’s not even the half of it. She wrote poetry and short stories and letters and faithfully kept a journal.

Sometimes I think about that when it’s 11:00 p.m. at night and I’m writing in my journal and I’ve written all the things I want to say but I just want to keep writing just for the sake of holding a pen and feeling it glide across the paper, creating new thoughts and ideas.

I’m sure getting her thoughts down on the page, where they looked back at her without judgment, was a form of release for her, a meditation.

She didn’t seem inclined to adventuring either. Though our modern Sunday drive shenanigans always seem fraught with a little fear and adventure, and certainly laughter, I don’t think Nanny’s were. I imagine them to be peaceful, slow drives in the country with her husband and her two girls because that’s what she wanted more than anything: her own little family to love and treasure her. She must have been her happiest self on those drives.

And as I continue to ponder the disunion of her desires and behavior, I am going to figure out how to make a sorghum stack cake.

A is for Alone

I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, during which I’ll write a blog post every day of the week in April except Sundays. The topic for the first day begins with the letter A and I’ll work my way down to writing about something beginning with Z on my last day.

This year I’m going to choose a random word for the blog post topic, but I’m going to tie it into a memoir I’m working on about Nanny, my maternal grandmother. I hope this will allow me to think about her in a more creative way and unlock new memories to mine.

Here we go!

A is for Alone

I don’t mind being alone. In fact, I kind of like it. I like to hike alone, travel alone, and be alone in my house for a weekend. When I’m by myself, it’s quiet, and there are few demands on my time or attention. I can allow my mind to wander, to creatively ponder whatever issues are wearing me down. Or, I can avoid to think about stressful problems altogether. It’s my choice. Unless one of those pesky matters demands attention, my brain relaxes for a while.

I don’t confuse being alone with being lonely. I am rarely lonely even when I am alone. I sometimes long for people that aren’t here anymore, family and friends from long ago, but that’s more of a lament for that particular person, the loss of their light in the world, more than personal sorrow for not having them with me. Sometimes, though, the pain of not having that person here to love and comfort me is the loneliest, most hopeless feeling I’ll ever experience. It happens.

I worry about being lonely sometimes, but only in those catastrophizing predictions of an anxious mind that wonders about the future, not in a real, urgent sense.

The Myers Briggs personality test consistently categorizes me as an Extrovert, but only at 51%. The other 49% of me is Introvert. This assessment rings true to me. I love being around people, sharing laughs, experiences, and inside jokes. Interpersonal connection feeds me in a way that anchors me. God knows I have needed people more than ever these last few years, and boy has my tribe responded with more love and support than I could’ve imagined.

Still, “Me Time” is no joke. I need it, and if I don’t get it, I get cranky. Just ask my children, who have been cooped up with me in this house for the last year, bless their little precious hearts. It’s like my brain functions in two modes: the All-Go-No-Quit-People-Personality or the I’m-Going-To-Hide-In-My-Pajamas-All-Weekend-And-Not-Answer-The-Door-Personality. And nary the two shall meet.

Maybe it’s because I enjoy being alone that I don’t worry so much about being lonely. I don’t know.

Nanny’s biggest fear in life was being alone. The devastating paradox for her was that everything she did to keep people with her drove them away. Did she consciously understand she had that fear? If so, was she aware how it informed her behavior? Was she cognizant of the causation between her unpredictable rages and the estrangement of her family?

I am not usually a very self-aware person. The introspective knowledge of my attitude towards being alone and being lonely isn’t typical. I have epiphanies about myself almost daily that many seem to have had when they were much younger. Was this lack of insight into ourselves a trait we shared? One passed down through generations of DNA?

If she was aware her instinctual behavior was alienating her family, did she try to change her nature, approach her family selflessly, and find herself incapable? Or did she dig in and move full steam ahead? For her, being alone was lonely.

By all accounts she continued to manipulate all of us, one against the other, so we would love her more, until she passed away. This is the saddest part—in a family as close as ours, we could have been so much more with her in it.

Can We Reconcile Unity and Rage?

I almost didn’t watch the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice-President of the United States. After the turmoil and outlandish events of the last four years, it felt anticlimactic. A part of me didn’t even believe it was real. I just wanted to blink and have new leaders and try to forget the old ones. I felt giddy, full of rage, and numb all at the same time.

But then one of my message threads started popping. I met the women in this group after the 2016 election. They have listened to me bitch, moan, rage, cry, and wallow in the depths of despair the last four years. I would not have kept my sanity without them.

 So if they were going to watch, so was I.

And I’m so glad I did. Chill bumps popped up on my skin when I turned on the coverage. Seeing former Presidents and First Ladies, Republicans and Democrats, rejoice in the triumph of democracy was hopeful. Refreshing.

The flags, the pomp and circumstance, the bright sunshine, it all promised a new day in America, the return of hope and optimism to this country and all of us blessed and lucky to live here. I was proud, not embarrassed. It felt good to be proud again.

I was electrified as the first Madam Vice-President took the oath of office. Much has been written about the historic milestone of this day, but even so I felt my breath catch in my throat. Historic, indeed.

As Joe Biden began addressing America for the first time as President, I took a deep, cleansing breath. And then another one. And another. He was not my first, or even second, choice for the Democratic nominee, but there he was: a testament to a persistent and steadfast democracy.

I was reminded of the way he spoke to America on November 7th, 2020, the Friday after the election and the day before the election was called in his favor. He spoke as a leader who wished to uplift us as Americans, to unite us as nation in the hope and spirit of democracy, troubled though we may be. In that moment I felt a visceral pang of longing for leaders who inspire us, not denigrate and divide us. I realized in that moment how much I’d missed the comfort and reassurance of a steady hand the last four years. I was astonished at how accustomed I had become to the hateful attitude of the last administration. How refreshing it was to be inspired by a national leader.

Patriotic words have value.

That sense of relief and hope returned as President Biden laid out the truths of democracy, and America, with his words. This moment in time is a victory for democracy, as it is precious and fragile, as we have seen.

Although our unique American way is restless and bold, we’ve become a nation of anger, resentment, hatred, and hopelessness, yet we can disagree without going to war. We need to stop the shouting and lower the temperature. Outrage is exhausting.

President Biden asked us to open our souls, not harden our hearts. This is very, very difficult for some of us. Admittedly, my home base is anger and outrage and my fury has only grown in the last four years. Exponentially. What if my heart is already hardened?

I’m one of those wafflers who fluctuate between, “Unity? Are you kidding me? Where has your unity been for the last four years? We need accountability and consequences!” to “When they go low, we go high,” and “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I can fluctuate between the two quicker than a chicken on a June bug.

Over the last four years I’ve tried to have conversations with those who don’t share my opinions. I’ve genuinely tried to understand their points of view. Often those exercises end in frustration and disbelief. Other times, I am able to see a different side to the story, even if I don’t agree with it. In once recent example, a friend called out the hypocrisy of an action I was defending and he was right. I saw something I hadn’t seen before, but I couldn’t let myself admit he was right on that particular point without calling out all the ways his side is also hypocritical. I hate Whataboutism. It solves nothing even it feels good. So I left the conversation right there. I couldn’t continue because I didn’t know how. How can I take the first step even if I demand an honest answer in return? If I can’t make that move, how can I ask other people to?

Reconciliation is not in my nature. Even as I watched today’s hopeful speech I want to say something snarky about Biden talking more about the pandemic in this one speech than Trump did for the last 6 months. I’m trying to leave that behind and let my better angels prevail.

So, for what it’s worth, I will try to open my heart. In the meantime, Girls Group Chat, I’ll see you soon.

My First Freelance Publication

Y’all, I got my first ever freelance writing piece published.

Woot!

https://smileypete.com/community/testing-the-water-caring-for-hickman-creek/

Black Bears Give Me Hope

Well, 2020, you do have some pleasant surprises in you after all.

A black bear was spotted on UK’s campus right smack dab in the middle of downtown this week. Here, see for yourself.

https://www.wkyt.com/2020/07/01/video-bear-spotted-on-uks-campus/

I smiled and squealed the first time I saw the video. Each subsequent time I see it, I grin from ear to ear. I love this black bear. And all black bears.

Lexington, KY, is a city of around 320,000 people, though most of us who live here still consider it to be a town instead of a city. A couple of weekends ago, a friend of mine who has a farm in the rural part of the county took a video of a black bear, maybe the same one, moseying across her gravel driveway in the middle of the day.

Bears! In my county!

Turns out, that same weekend there was a bear spotted in my favorite hiking area, the Red River Gorge, about an hour southeast of Lexington, as well as in the county due east of us. Kentucky has a healthy population of black bears in eastern and southern Kentucky, but seeing one so far north is definitely rare.

BEARS!

I have a long history with black bears. Back in the mid-1990s I used to camp and backpack a lot. On one camping trip in the Big South Fork, which straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee border, a friend and I were walking back down to our creekside campsite when I gasped and stopped short in my tracks.

Up the mountain to the left of us, climbing over a rock face, was the very prominent, and very obvious, backside of a black bear. It topped the rock and disappeared into the woods. I don’t know how long I stood there with my mouth hanging open, wishing it would come back. I held my breath, but it was gone.

I didn’t stop talking about that bear the entire weekend. On a later backpacking trip in the same area, a park ranger told us there had indeed been a Mama bear spotted in that area several times. Yikes! Mama didn’t seem to have any cubs with her the day I saw her and for that I’m glad.

The experience even led me to write about black bear reintroduction into the Big South Fork for my graduate school Capstone Project.

So when I saw the video of the bear on UK’s campus and heard about the sightings in other parts of Lexington, my heart exploded with excitement. One of the best parts of being out in the woods is seeing wildlife doing its thing, whether it’s turtles and frogs or owls and foxes or bears!

We obviously don’t want bears living downtown or in Lexington’s suburbs, but black bears out in the county? Sounds good to me.

The black bear downtown is probably a juvenile male, roaming and looking for territory. There is no breeding black bear population in Lexington. The bear in the video is likely right now working his way back to the woods of eastern and southeastern Kentucky, as he should.

I hope he gets there safely because humans can be so stupid. Black bears are not aggressive and have a natural fear of humans. While they are interested in our garbage, they don’t have an appetite for our pets. They want absolutely nothing to do with us, but that might not stop a scared or uneducated person from harming it. I hope that doesn’t happen.

Humans can be so toxic to our natural environment, but the pandemic has given me hope that our Earth can repair itself. We only have to look at the jellyfish swimming in the canals of Venice, the cougars in deserted cities in California, or the maps showing how much air quality improved all over the world during the initial shutdown.

For me, the visiting black bear came at the perfect time. We are seeing coronavirus cases spiking all over the country, we are worn down from social distancing, and we are more anxious and depressed as a country than at any point in my lifetime. That black bear gives me hope for all of us.

Twelve Things I Learned on My First Backyard Campout

My daughter’s Scout Troop had a backyard campout last weekend. Each Scout camped out in her own back yard with her family and checked in periodically with the rest of the Troop. Here are twelve things I learned on this campout:

 

  1. Cars make a lot of noise. Of course we all know this. We subconsciously acclimate to the sounds of engines, car horns, and tires screeching every day without even knowing it. It’s only when we don’t expect to hear it that it bothers us. When I’m camping, I’m usually in the backcountry where my lullabies are owls and bullfrogs or a gurgling creek. Engines revving all night long are not very soothing.

 

  1. Speaking of revving engines, overcompensators battle for dominance all night long. All. Night. Long. It’s as if they don’t have enough time during the day to show us their souped-up pick-up trucks that cruise 10 feet off the ground. Sometimes I wish they’d just stop, pull out the body part they’re worried about, and measure. It sure would be a lot less annoying for the rest of us who really don’t care how loud their motors are.

 

  1. Porch lights suck. I have a big motion-sensor security light on the back of my house as well as a motion-activated porch light on the deck. I like having them on because I feel safer, whether or not I actually am. However, I’ve never tried to sleep under their bright lights before. Even after turning both those lights off, our neighbor’s big security light shone through our tent with the brightness of 10,000 suns. Well, not really, but it was bright enough we had to zip up the back of the tent. Light pollution is real. I need to learn more about it and ponder the effects it has on my backyard wildlife.

 

  1. There is no sweeter face than that of my little baby boy while he’s sleeping under the stars. And the neighbor’s security light.

 

  1. Backyard campouts can be full of firsts. My baby girl, who is 12 now, slept in my little one-person tent all by herself. She’s 12, and her brother and I were in a tent right beside her, so it’s not really a big deal, except it is. It was her first time alone in a tent all night. And yet another proud yet devastating reminder that she is growing up.

 

  1. Food always tastes better cooked over a campfire, but turns out it tastes good cooked over a grill at a backyard campout too! My daughter learned how to operate the propane grill and cooked on it all weekend. She made burgers Friday night, followed by pancakes, bacon, and eggs for breakfast both mornings. It tasted so good and it was so much fun eating food she made herself while sitting under the sun in the wildness of our backyard.

 

  1. The smell of a campfire is the best smell in the world. Fight me.

 

No, really, I could wax poetic on the many reasons I believe this to be true: primal connection to the elements, many memories of good people and good times, s’mores…

 

I love how it permeates everything it touches and lingers in hair and on clothing. As much as I love a good shower after a weekend in the woods (or a back yard), I’m sad when my soap and water washes the smell of burnt wood away.

 

My daughter got to learn how to build a fire log-cabin style. She built it in a fire pit instead of a fire ring, but the basics of structure and safety are the same. However, I need to make sure she understands that pouring bacon grease over the wood to increase the size of the flames (as her dad demonstrated for her) is not a tactic she’ll find in her Scout handbook.

 

Bonus: The Fire Department was not called to our suburban bonfire as bacon grease burns away fairy quickly.

 

  1. Catching lightning bugs (and immediately releasing them) never gets old. I had just as much fun prancing through the yard after them as my 9-year old son did, even if he did insist on calling them fireflies like he isn’t from Kentucky or something.

 

These gentle creatures never disappoint as they patiently hover in our hands, letting us ogle their glowing bellies, in awe of nature.

 

  1. Always, ALWAYS, have a phone around to video spontaneous outbursts of Wild Kingdom. After the bonfire, er campfire, was extinguished, and the kiddos were told it was time to hit their tents, they morphed into two wild animals posturing against each other for dominance. I channeled my inner British nature narrator and it went something like this:

 

And here we have the wild Will in his native habitat, bravely challenging the larger and meaner wild Beth, who has emerged out of the darkness to defend her territory. And now the Will is beginning to bounce up and down, indicating his intention to charge the wild Beth. He paws at the ground and snarls and we wonder if he is ready to make his move. And, oooohhhhhh….the Beth has aggressively pre-empted the smaller wilding’s advance and pounced on him before he could react. Now they are just a wild mess of stinky shoes and dirty clothes rolling around the terrain with neither able to gain a foothold of superiority. How this battle will end we do not know, but it is clear they will fight until they can fight no longer.”

 

Or Mom says get to your tents. Now!

 

Wouldn’t it have been fun to get that on video?

 

  1. They provide growth opportunities for everyone.

 

Beth: Worked for over two hours to make a turtle out of paracord, fighting through anger, frustration, and tears. She persevered. And she was successful.

 

Will: Picked up more trash on our day hike to the park than anyone else in our family. Without being asked.

Me: Enjoy the time I have with my kids while they are still kids. They will never be this young or have the same perspective again. Be with them, love them, experience the wildness of back yards together.

 

  1. It still sucks to pack up in the rain. At 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning we heard thunder and saw a storm coming. Granted, we didn’t have to pack up everything properly to fit it into our backpacks before scrambling to safety, but it’s still a pain to make 500 trips from the back yard into the house hoping not to get struck by lightning in the process.

 

We survived. And it’s good practice for the real thing.

 

  1. This was not our last backyard campout.