Family owes Muir for years of memories

Family owes Muir for years of memories
October 8, 2020
This Week News

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” John Muir (1838–1914)

When I first visited Yosemite National Park, the beauty overwhelmed me: towering mountains; treetops that seemed to touch the clouds; the rushing river that never ceased its cleansing quest.

I felt so small yet peaceful amidst the reverent hush.

That was 47 years ago. I can visualize my young self seeing it all. I don’t think I could have put into words what I felt at the time. But all these years later, I remember the awe and sensory euphoria more than mountain names.

Then five years later, I had my first experience in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. I hiked the trails and to the tops of mountains breathing cool air as I gazed at the smoky haze settling over the mountain range.

I felt awe once again being surrounded by God’s creation. A new kind of quiet and peace covered me. I breathed deeply and felt revived.

The Smokies is where my husband and I camped with our children and met people we never would have met otherwise from around the country and the world.

These experiences are what people like John Muir hoped for when the national parks idea first began.

Muir was a naturalist, writer and advocate of U.S. forest conservation. He founded the Sierra Club and published essays pushing for the establishment of Yosemite National Park, which was created in 1890. Muir became a major figure in the creation of parks for the Grand Canyon and Sequoia regions as well.

My husband and I have visited the Grand Canyon three times. The vastness is breathtaking. Words cannot capture the experience.

Last summer, we watched Ken Burns’ 2009 documentary, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” again.

Muir was front and center throughout the many hours of this series of films. The history of the U.S. National Parks system is artfully and factually filled with the history of the parks themselves.

The series did not gloss over history that we don’t smile about. Case in point: The removal of the residents of the Smokies, including the Cherokee.

Watching this series was especially gratifying since this year we were not able to make our planned camping trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for various reasons.

Many of our memories are documented in photo albums. But the best memories are the ones we talk about even today.

In the 70s, there were no reservations available. We drove all night with the children asleep in the back seat. We arrived, often before sunrise, to wait in line for a campsite. We were young and even after a sleepless night, had energy to set up camp and head out on the trails.

Jean and Lee Schilling were local musicians who entertained campers at the campground amphitheater. They played guitar, dulcimer and autoharp and sang mountain songs. One trip, we went to their music shop, a cabin literally in the woods, and Bob bought a kit to make me a dulcimer.

We always drove though the Cade’s Cove loop and saw deer and bear. The latter often creating what is called a “bear jam” because people stopped on the narrow, one-way lane to take pictures.

We finished each day with a campfire, music, s’mores, and star gazing.

Last October we felt the years march past since we started camping in the Smokies. Our two grandsons, then 19 and 22, and one of their friends, rode their motorcycles to Tennessee to camp with us on the tent pad next to our Airstream.

The experience gave us new, precious memories made possible by forward thinkers like Muir.

When learning new skill, desire is half the battle

Day by day

When learning new skill, desire is half the battle

By LIZ THOMPSON

October 13, 2015 This Week News

When I was a single mom, thankfully not for long, I made do with what I had — whether it was food, clothes, a car or any tangible, everyday item.

My daughter calls them our “oni-oni days.” Macaroni and cheese was 10 cents a box in 1977 and sometimes I added pepperoni, thus the oni-oni. Not completely nutritious, but we did fine.

Sometimes I bought juice bottled in glass jars with small openings. Once emptied, I washed the jar and used it to make juice from concentrate or tea. I used the thin end of a wooden spoon — one of my favorite kitchen utensils to this day — to mix the liquid. The spoon end, obviously, would not fit in the small opening. I never gave it a second thought.

When my daughter started her own family, she was mixing a drink in a gallon pitcher with a typically large opening. When her husband saw her mixing the liquid with the thin end of a wooden spoon, he asked her why.

“Because my mother did it that way,” she answered.

She realized the humor in it and asked me. Once we figured it out, we laughed. Funny the things we do just because our parents did something a certain way.

My cooking skills didn’t really improve for years to come, probably because I had no interest as a youth. As a teen, I even messed up Jell-O the only time I tried to make it.

Once I was remarried, with both my husband and I working full time, it meant a lot of quick meals for hungry children when we got home from work. I became a short-order cook and made a lot of what I called “skillet suppers,” with whatever we had on hand.

I became creative in how to make fast meals such as chili or Johnny Marzetti with many different ingredients, hiding vegetables at times. No one went hungry, for which I’m thankful.

This was pre-Food Network, and cookbooks such as The Joy of Cooking and Better Homes & Gardens were guides for home cooks. I gathered recipes from family and friends, too.

When I called from work to check in at home one day, our oldest daughter asked what was for dinner.

“Whatever you’re cooking,” I told her.

“Really?” she said excitedly.

And we had Joe’s Special for dinner, which was delicious. I likely cleaned up, as a special thank you.

Soon all three children were taking turns cooking and baking — and they excelled. Their children followed suit and know their way around a kitchen.

This proves we can learn new things, if we’re willing to try and be taught.

In my journey to improve my cooking skills, 35-plus years ago I decided to make noodles. Eggs and flour, right? My mistake was cracking eight eggs into eight cups of flour. (If you make pasta, you are cringing right now.) Disaster.

Seeing my dilemma, in the form of a huge blob of flour and eggs, my husband said to call his sister. Gin had already given me tips on pie crust, so I called her, knowing she wouldn’t laugh into the phone.

After I told her what I’d done and what my goal had been, she said: “Liz, throw it away. But not down the drain.”

This much I knew.

“Then take one egg and a partial cup of flour and mix it, adding flour as needed and maybe a little oil.”

I made noodles. With this experience, I learned to ask first and that I was teachable. But to this day, when I make pasta, I think of Gin’s advice and start with one egg and a partial cup of flour, not eight of each.

More than I’d like to think about, I have heard excuses such as, “I can’t cook,” or “I don’t cook,” with the latter puzzling. Or “I can’t write/read well,” and general statements about a person’s inability to do something they’d apparently like to be able to do.

I’m living proof that most things can be learned, if the desire and willingness exist. No excuses with finding resources. Libraries are packed with books, and the Internet has recipes, how-to tips and information about any topic. Julia Child led the way and now cooking shows and cookbooks abound.

If the people in your life have experience they want to share, be willing to learn. If it’s cooking, have your children join you.

It might make for a tasty meal. I guarantee good memories.