I forgot about my approaching birthday until the day before it. Not because I’m a doofus but because I had a ridiculous schedule the two weeks prior. I shot a wedding on a Saturday, left for Alaska on that Sunday, hiked 1, 2, 3 mountains, returned home way late Thursday, Friday was my son’s birthday and dinner, Saturday I shot another wedding, Sunday we went on a group hike to celebrate his birthday and all of the sudden, it’s Monday and my birthday was the next day, Tuesday, June 30. When I list it, it feels like I’m lying. But I’m not. For my birthday I wanted to do a hike and luckily the weather was in my favor. My friend Danielle met me in New Market and we headed to Skyline Drive. There is truly never a dull moment in her company. On our way over the Luray mountain, there were a few whoops and hollers and fragmented sentences and white-knuckle clutching coming from the passenger side. I got the impression my driving was making her nervous. We laughed. A whole lot. I almost hit a deer. Then we laughed some more. I’ve heard of Stony Man Mountain before but it wasn’t until I read the description in my hiking guide that I learned how the name was given. As we rounded mile 38ish on Skyline Drive, we could see the profile of ol’ Stony, and his chiseled manly nose, looking west. I couldn’t wait to get up there and look with him. Within moments of being on the trail, we met hikers ranging from diapers and pacifiers to fanny packs and canes. A really mild hike and certainly enjoyable for all ages. At the top we had a granola bar while enjoying an amazing view of the Shenandoah Valley. Danielle is a photographer, too, so we each got lost in our lens for a bit before returning to real life where we sat on Stony’s forehead and chatted about life. One of my favorite things about the trail guide I have, is that it tells about the flowers and trees you see along your hike and often it gives some history of the area. For this hike it said that we’d “pass red spruce and balsam fir, remnants of the Ice Age.” That’s pretty cool! So on our walk back down, we set out to find the trees. I was so eager I tripped over the same rock twice. We found what we think is a red spruce and/or a balsam fir. (You can judge us below.) We left the mountain content and with minds and hearts recharged from the vast beauty of our Valley. Our post-hike treat was a cheese plate and wine on my deck because Happy Birthday to me!
And just like that, I have a teenager. My son, my precious baby boy, is a teenager. We’ve all heard it before, and it’s true enough to repeat: time moves impossibly fast. It’s just leaving, right now, right past us. My children, who souls are most beautiful, remind me of this daily. It’s like I have three hearts and two of them beat outside of my chest. They exist, enclosed in the ribs of my children. A nearly perfect combination of me and his father, Blake is a kind young man with a heart of pure gold. He is wonderful with small children, has a ridiculous sense of humor, is sharp as tack and, most importantly, he loves his mama. (swoon) When I asked him what he wanted to do to celebrate his 13th birthday, he said he wanted to hike to one of his favorite waterfalls, Whiteoak Canyon, and invite friends and family. His request made me proud. I’ve intentionally been taking them hiking more frequently this year and we hiked Whiteoak in February. Then, the trail was covered in ice, snow and mud and there was hardly any green to be seen. This time, it was a completely different hike with lush life all around us. The air was surprisingly cool for a June afternoon so when we arrived I looted the soon-to-be-dropped-off-at-Goodwill bag in my trunk and tossed sweatshirts out to our shivering group. There were 11 of us total: a good group of adult friends, kid friends and family.
Want to know what happens when I go on a hike with 6 kids: I don’t take many pictures. That’s what. Those kids had my attention directed and redirected all over the place! All six kids and four adults, including me, hit the trails to Lewis Falls. On the hike back to the car, my daughter and I led the pack. We sang songs and talked and laughed. I think it’s safe to say that we all had a great hike that ended with a much needed stop at Jack Brown’s Singlewide on our way off of Skyline Drive. We refueled and headed home. Also, there are no photos of the falls on this post. As mentioned, I was easily distracted and never got a shot. Wamp. But hey, go see it for yourself!
One time when I was a little girl, living with my Nanny, she made a quick run to the grocery store. Nanny left me home alone watching He-Man and She-Ra, coloring innocently at the coffee table. She walked out the door and a beacon of light shined down onto a bowl filled with mini Snickers, placed just out of my reach, on top of the microwave. I tossed my crayon and tugged a chair across the thick carpet. Wobbly legs and tippy-toes. The dog, Fluffy, gave me a sideways stare. That bowl was mine. I tore into those Snickers like a boss. I probably threw back 15 of those suckers! One after another into my little tummy. I heard Nanny’s car pull up so I quickly put the bowl back (empty wrappers and all), returned the chair and resumed my coloring. Within the hour I was in full regret mode. I felt gross….then, I yakked. And if you’ve ever yakked a candy bar, you know exactly the terrifying alienesque blob that was staring back at me from the toilet. I didn’t eat a Snickers bar for 10 years after that day.
Ben and I woke up one Sunday a couple of weeks ago and realized that, for the first time in a long time, we were kid-free and obligation-free onthesameday! A beacon of light shined on our day and we were eager to get out. I was so pumped I skipped a shower and threw my hair up in a tangled knot, put on some week old shorts and grabbed my backpack. We decided to hit a trail that a co-worker had recently told me about with beautiful 360 views called Bearfence on Skyline Drive. The trail was rugged and included some rock scrambling that will put your ego in check. As promised, the views were amazing. The layered gray clouds hovering over layered blue mountains were perfect. The kind of perfect you see in magazines and wish you could visit one day. I showed off a yoga pose (which is really dang hard to do when you’re on top of the world!), Ben ate a bagel, we took some selfies and then we hiked back to the car. We filled the rest of our day with a stop at two vineyards: Kilaurwen where we got to go on a property hike and Moss where we watched a rainband move in over several sets of hills before heading home to watch a movie.
When I was a little girl, that day of over-indulging in mini Snickers taught me a very valuable lesson. Mainly: the good things in life are best when savored, not indulged. There aren’t many free hours in my life these days and that makes those rare gems of unplanned days better than any candy bar, mini or deluxe, that I can imagine. I truly savored our time on the mountain and every drop of wine that followed….and I did not yak up an alien blob of remorse that day.
I was the first one awake on Mother’s Day morning. My son returned home after midnight the previous night because of a band trip to Busch Garden’s. He was exhausted and my daughter likes to savor the morning so the house was quiet that Sunday at 7:15am. I filled a small pot with water and scooped some rich grounds into my french press, hearing the grounds hit the glass for maybe the first time ever. Light poured in the window as my coffee steeped, the house still and quiet. I tidied and swept the main floor carefully then tippy-toed the trash and recycling to the bin outside. The kids woke up one by one and greeted me with a hug and a “What’s for breakfast?” They ate sleepy-eyed and I packed our bag for the hike. We arrived at the Doyles River Falls lot around 11am and it felt a little like my house that morning. It was calm and still, as if our presence alone would wake up the residents. Not far onto the trail we rounded a turn and met a deer. Then, one after another, we saw lots of life on our hike: flowers, snails, millepedes (so many millepedes), gnats (so many gnats) and a snake (which I did not get close enough to photograph). We even passed our Harrisonburg friend Danielle and her boyfriend Cody on this trail! Doyles has two falls: upper and lower. The trail guide I have says “two waterfalls with different personalities.” I didn’t know what that meant until I saw the second waterfall. They were equally beautiful but so very different. And, they’re close to each other so you get two falls in one hike which is sweet. On our way back we passed a group of hikers that let us know there was a black bear ahead, peacefully turning over rocks, looking for food. I had a little tinge of fear, I’ll be honest. But it was way helpful to know it was up ahead and that the people who told us about it lived to tell us so… We saw it, I took a blurry photo of it and then we hauled it up the path. On the last leg of the climb, Ben and Blake raced to the parking lot. They each met their match…neither wanted to keep going and neither of them would quit. It was a fun sight for me and Ella, casually lagging behind. The day ended with one more pull-off along the Drive to take in the rolling mountains under gray skies followed by a Mother’s Day barbecue courtesy of my little sister, Brook. It was the perfect gift from her and a delicious post-hike meal for all.
It was me, three kids, a baby doll and enough snacks to survive a week in the wild. Snacks are essential. My kids are not cool when they’re hungry…and that says a whole lot because my kids are pretty cool. So there we were, snacks and all, driving up Skyline Drive. The sun was shining, the windows cracked, the radio up. My daughter and niece wailing T. Swift in the backseat. My son riding shotgun and happy to be next to me. (sigh) Things were looking good…then I rolled the window up and my son did a silent breakdance in the passenger seat until I realized his hand was stuck and those Elvis-inspired hip thrusts were actually jolts of pain. Dang it. He recovered quickly and we were back on our way. Even after that, I wasn’t nervous about the solo hike with three kids because, well, I’m always surrounded by kids: my kids, their friends, my friend’s kids, my family’s kids. Plus, it’s my job. I’m surround by teenagers all day Monday-Friday and they’ve got me well trained to expect the unexpected.
We pulled into an overflowing parking lot at 10:30am. It was filled with cars from all over the U.S. The kids read the license plates aloud as I searched for parking and I found myself feeling very thankful that this gorgeous part of the world is right in the Valley’s backyard. For our hike, I chose Dark Hollow Falls because 1) I know it’s a popular hike, would be highly traveled and therefore help would be near should I encounter a human-eating animal. I kid. Sort of. 2) I’ve hiked this trail with my kids before and they loved it. And 3) It’s a good workout but not a full day commitment. It’s a 1.4 mile hike with an optional .4 mile addition to the bottom of the falls (which we did). I read once that the Dark Hollow hike is .7 miles down and 7 miles back. That seems about right with the seemingly leisurely stroll down to the falls with a heck-of-a haul on the way back up. Shew. We passed lots of friendly hikers and everyone we saw that day greeted us with a smile. The kids enjoyed the day…and I think the baby doll did, too.
Cell phone summary:
With two shoots under my belt and flurries swirling towards my windshield, I darted up Rt. 11 on the brink of flight. Running late. As usual. A text came through: “Take your time. Latinos are an hour late for everything. No worries.” Well ok then. The text was from Anneke, my former teacher, current coworker, friend, professional spreader-of-joy…and, today, the interpreter. Anneke arranged this particular shoot after I did a call for tortilla chip makers on my photography page as part of my year-long Celebrating Life series. Being the connector that she is, she worked her magic and even agreed to come along. For this shoot, we were celebrating National Tortilla Chip Day by making homemade tortillas in the Cardoso household. Not chips…but hey, it’s my series so I can bend the rules, yeah?
When Lucina opened her kitchen door to greet us with a warm hug and a smile, a sense of comfort came over me. She was wearing a pink pearl-button apron that made her feel like family. My grandmother (Nanny) had variations of this apron for every day of the week. And just like Lucina, she wore it as a uniform of sorts for her day-to-day living. As I stepped into the kitchen a wave of bakery-esque sweetness smacked me in the face: freshly made cinnamon biscuits. Aw lawdy. Just hangin’ out in that blue bowl on the table like it was their job. I was immediately drawn to this unintentional still-life basking in the natural light. I swear though, in the half a moment it took me to press my shutter button, Lucina was elbow deep in a bowl of Maseca, flour and water.
Habiendo completado ya dos sesiones fotográficas, que realmente es un día completo de trabajo en sí, iba volando por la ruta 11 con poquito de nieve cayendo en el parabrisas. Iba a llegar tarde para la tercera cita a las 11:30. Tarde. Como siempre. Entonces, recibí este mensaje de texto: “Toma tu tiempo. Todo empieza una hora tarde para los latinos. No te preocupes.” Bueno, pues. El mensaje era de Anneke, mi profesora de la prepa, actual compañera de trabajo, amiga, y profesional repartidora de alegría… y, hoy, intérprete. Anneke coordinó esta sesión fotográfica después de que yo anuncié en mi sitio web de fotografía que buscaba a una persona que hiciera tostadas como parte de mi proyecto “Celebrando La Vida.” Anneke arregló esta sesión fotográfica. Siendo la que sabe contactar con todos, hizo su mágia y hasta aceptó acompañarme. Para esta sesión fotográfica, celebramos “El Día Nacional de las Tostadas” haciendo tortillas de maíz en la casa de Los Cardoso. No fueron tostadas, pero es mi proyecto y yo puedo manipular las reglas, ¿no?
Cuando Lucina abrió la puerta de la cocina para saludarnos con un abrazo cariñoso y una sonrisa, me sentí inmediatamente cómoda y a gusto. Llevaba un mandíl rosado con botones brillosos que me hizo sentir como si fuéramos familiares. Mi abuelita, (Nanny) llevaba mandiles semejantes a éste. Ella tenía un gran surtido y uno para cada día de la semana. Y, así como Lucina, lo llevaba como algún tipo de uniforme para su rutina diaria. Al entrar la cocina, me llegó a la nariz un aroma dulce de pan horneado: gorditas de trigo. ¡Ay Dios! Allí, no más estaban en el plato hondo azul, tapadas con una servilleta como si su único trabajo fuera existir. Inmediatamente me llamaron la atención en toda su belleza y bajo la luz natural. Juro que en el segundito que me tomó sacar una foto de las gorditas, Doña Lucina estaba hasta los codos en la masa.
Not a utensil in sight. Just Lucina’s experienced hands, a counter top and a green bowl. She poured water over the Maseca and flour until it just felt right and continued to knead the dough until it was a plump lump ready to have lots of little corn tortilla babies. Next she went through a prep ritual of laying a hand-crocheted cloth on the table (aka hot, airborne tortilla landing strip), pulling out the iron tortilla press, and lighting the gas range with a yellow Bic® (another thing my Nanny did). The woman knows her way around the kitchen, to say the least. Lucina has raised three children who have grown to love her cooking and they all come back home to Ma, eager to enjoy her made-with-love tortillas.
No había ningún utensilio a la vista. Sólo las manos expertas de Lucina, un mostrador y un plato hondo verde. Echó agua sobre la Maseca y un poco de harina hasta que la masa se sintió correcta y la siguió amasando la masa hasta que se transformó en una pequeña montaña perfecta de masa lista para hacerse tortillitas. A esto le siguió un ritual de preparativos que incluyó poner una servilleta para recibir las tortillas recién hechas en la mesa (también conocida como una pista de aterrizaje para las tortillas calientes), sacar la prensa, y prender la estufa con un encendedor amarillo Bic® (igualito al de mi abuelita, Nanny). Esta mujer sí conoce bien su cocina. Lucina tiene tres hijos a quienes les encanta su cocina y vuelven a veces a la cocina de su Ma, para comer sus tortillas amorosas recién hechas.
I observed Lucina’s painstaking repetitiveness: pull, pat, roll, place, press, removed, put on the griddle, wait…wait for it…turn it!, wait…watch it become a balloon, remove, frisbee throw that sucker onto the pretty little cloth. Sounds easy enough, right? She let me have a go at it and I had directions coming at me in English and Spanish and like a child, all I really wanted to do was toss tortillas around the room! The tortilla I made had a hole in it. Ah well. Here I am 32 years old, making hole-y tortillas when Lucina was hauling water from a nearby natural spring in El Dormido, Mexico to make tortillas with her nine siblings at the age of seven. 7! And on this particular day, I was just a fly on the wall for something she concocts 2-3 times each week. On top of working a full-time job and cooking other full blown meals for her family. Impressed.
Observé la repetición meticulosa de las acciones de Lucina: agarrar, arrollar, colocar, aplastar, remover, poner en el comal, esperar…esperar un poquito más… ¡voltearla!, esperar… esperar hasta que se haga una almohadita, removerla, y tirarla como un disco volador en la servilletita. Parece fácil, ¿no? Me invitó a tratar de hacer una, y las instrucciones me llegaban al oído a la vez en inglés y español, y como una niña, ¡lo único que quería hacer era echar las tortillas calientas por todas partes! La tortilla que hice tenía un hueco. Ah, pues. Aquí estoy yo, con 32 años, haciendo tortillas con huecos, mientras Lucina, a la edad de siete años acarreaba agua de un manantial en El Dormido, Guanajuato, México para hacer tortillas para sus nueve hermanitos. ¡A los 7 años! Y en este día que la visité, yo no más era una mosca en la pared observando algo que ella hace dos o tres veces a la semana. Además, trabaja a jornada completa y prepara comidas caseras para su familia. Impresionante.
When one tortilla was on the griddle, the next one was on deck. When one tortilla was complete, the next one was on the griddle. Over. And over. And over again. Until the plump lump was gone. There must be some peace in a routine like this. Some predictability and appreciation for something tried and true. A familiarity in the dough. The kind that connects you to your past through your hands that were once so young and inexperienced. A connection that carries over to the people you feed and love.
Mientras una tortilla se calentaba en el comal, la próxima estaba esperando su turno. Cuando una estaba completa, la siguiente estaba en el comal. Una y otra vez. Y otra vez. Hasta que la montaña de masa se hizo montañita y desapareció completamente. Ha de haber un sentido paz en una rutina así. Alguna previsibilidad y reconocimiento para algo comprobado. Una familiaridad con la masa. Del tipo que te conecta con el pasado por las manos que antes eran jóvenes y carecían de experiencia. Un vínculo que se comunica a los que alimentas y a quienes quieres.
By the time Lucina finished her batch of homemade corn tortillas and wiped every last crumb off the counter (just like Nanny would have), I had surely worked off the cinnamon biscuit I devoured upon arrival. As quick as my stomach grumbled, the spices of warming mole drifted up my nostrils. I couldn’t list all the ingredients if I tried but there was mention of bananas and chocolate and cloves and …almonds(?) and pork. Anneke and I sat by the window and drooled over the bowl of mole and rice Lucina had prepared for us. We wasted no time picking up a tortilla shaped utensil and scooping that goodness into our mouths. What a lovely way to spend a cold February morning.
Para cuando Lucina había terminado de hacer sus tortillas de maíz y limpiado hasta la última miga del mostrador (exactamente igual a lo que hubiera hecho mi abuelita), seguramente yo había quemado las calorías de la gordita de trigo que me comí al llegar. Cuando empezó a rugirme la panza, el aroma de un mole calentando llegó a mi nariz. No podría hacer una lista de todos los ingredientes si intentara, pero oí mencionar una banana, chocolate, clavo, almendras, y cacahuete (?) y carne de cerdo. Anneke y yo nos sentamos junto a la ventana y anticipamos con gusto un plato de mole, carne de cerdo, y arroz que nos preparó Lucina. No perdimos ni un momento antes de agarrar una tortilla y servirnos todo lo sabroso frente a nosotras. ¡Qué linda manera de pasar una mañana fría en febrero!
It seems that when I follow my passion, my grandmother says hello. “Hey, Birrrdieee.” I can just hear her…plain as day. On this chilly morning, Nanny said hello to me through Lucina. Through her pink apron, her yellow Bic lighter, that lacy white table cloth, her joy in a clean home and her insistence on feeding me until I pop. To Lucina: muchas gracias por un día muy especial.
Me parece que cuando sigo mi pasión, mi abuelita me dice “hola.” “Hola, Pajarrrrritaaa.” Puedo oírla… en pleno día. Esta mañana fría, mi abuelita, Nanny, me saludó por medio de Lucina. A través de su mandíl rosado, su encendedor amarillo Bic, ese mantel blanco tejido, su placer en mantener un hogar limpio y su forma de insistir que comiera hasta más no poder. A Lucina: “¡Muchas gracias por un día muy especial!”
“Mimosa ingredients stocked, dead stink bugs swept up. See you tomorrow!” <–that might just be the most flattering text I’ve ever received from a woman. That’s what local pastry chef (and more importantly, my friend) Rachel Herr sent the night before our shoot. At the beginning of January I did a call for pie makers, and lovers, on my photography page to kick off my year long series: Celebrating Life. Out of all the responses, Rachel’s story stood out to me because it involves memories and family and tradition…plus, her grandmother was mentioned and I was a goner. There’s a large chunk of my heart reserved for grandparents. A big, mushy, full-of-rummy-games-and-french-toast kind of chunk. Besides, Rachel is an amazing pastry chef (<–page 30!). I’ve been on the receiving end of her drool-worthy creations many times both in her home and at Local Chop and Grill House. I was thrilled for an opportunity to photograph her doing something she loves, and that also holds sentimental value. Rachel wrote: “…My dad makes one, and only one dessert…vanilla crumb pie with molasses.” Now, Rachel makes this pie for her family and enjoys a sweet bit of nostalgia with every oozing bite.
above: Rachel holds an old photo of her mom and dad…wadda bunch of cool kids.
Rachel said that Vanilla Pie is a recipe from her “grandmothers old falling apart Mennonite cookbook.” Below: Grandma Kauffman’s tried and true Mennonite Community Cookbook, inscribed to Rachel ten years ago.
Here’s a little Rachel Herr trivia for ya: What is Rachel’s favorite kitchen tool? ….A bench scraper. You can cut, divide, clean up…and, well…. scrape. But those orange handled scissors came in handy too!
Once the pie was concocted and placed in the oven, Rachel whipped up mimosas and dishwater. Warmth and sunlight and molasses-y aromas filled the room. I have a thing for birds…and not in a Portlandia kind of way. Not really in a bird kind of way either…but that’s a-whole-nother post… Anyway. It wasn’t until seeing the following series of photos that I realized the bird watching I was doing in the Herr household. 1) A cute grandma-esque birdie tea towel. 2) An original bird print on the refrigerator. 3) A drawing by Rachel’s son, Cole, that has an avian feel, if you ask me. 4) Rachel’s husband Mike’s impressive list of birds seen from their kitchen window. By the way, if you’re reading this Mike, we totally saw a Great American Bustard. 5) A stuffed, and I quote, “Rock Dove, also known as a pigeon” on the office wall. Normal. 6) The yellow eagle on Rachel’s shirt. And Mike, just kidding. It was a Red-tailed Hawk. I think. When the pie was finished we did what any respectable pastry chef-photograper duo would do on a Sunday morning and we took the pie for a walk around the house for photos.
At long last the time came for tasting. Somehow in my snap-happy frenzy, I forgot this shoot would end in delicious satisfaction. Good gawd. I will spare you the visual documentation of our first taste. They’re pretty hilarious images but I don’t want those as part of my digital dossier from here to eternity. And I’m sure Rachel and Ella would concur. Just imagine a bunch of faces enjoying something really awesome. Yeah… Rachel, in her happy place. Go ‘head girl…dance.
Read more about my Celebrating Life series here.
I am not complaining about my bulging waistline. Really, I’m not. It was a labor of love that I would do all over again tomorrow. I am so so thankful that my day was filled with three separate events, each with amazing family and delicious friggin’ food. I paced myself. I did. But as you scroll…you’ll see why there is more of me here this evening than there was this morning.
#1: Harrisonburg: Lunch
Happy day everyone.
After all the memories made on the first day EVER(!) of the Red Wing Roots Music Festival, I was stoked to know that two more days were still in store. The views of the Valley as I drove to the Chimneys made me extra thankful that this festival was brought to such a beautiful (and close!) location. The day was sunnier with a promise of a cooling evening shower. Sunscreen. Check. Camera. Check. Klean Kanteen. Check. Raincoat. Check. Water. Check. Day 2. Let’s do this.
Over on the Local Roots Stage, Bryan Elijah Smith & The Wild Hearts drew a decent crowd. Surrounded by happy campers.
Pearl & The Beard
For a little perspective, we hiked up to the top of the Chimneys. So so beautiful.
Back in time for a downpour and the sheer entertainment of The Wiyos.
If you haven’t seen these guys…add it to your list.
My night ended just right with The Steel Wheels.
…and still one more day to go…I could get used to this….
See also: Red Wing Roots Music Festival: Day 1
Copyright © 2013 · Photos by Brandy Somers. All Rights Reserved · friendlycitylens.com & brandysomersphotography.com. This material may not be copied, downloaded, altered, cropped, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting my creative property.