Collard Greens

I am consistently asked to bring collard greens to family gatherings because folks seem to like the way I prepare them. So I am sharing the secret with you. Let me know how it works out.

  • 2 bunches of collard greens
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 3 T of olive oil
  • 1/3 c of soy sauce
  • red pepper flakes

Wash, remove stems, and roughly chop the collards. Sauté the onions, garlic, and pepper flakes in oil in a large pot for 5 minutes. Add collards and soy sauce. Cover, then reduce heat, allowing the greens to steam until done (15-20 minutes). Stir to distribute onions with greens before serving.

This dish can be made to travel well for holiday gatherings. Simply toss the onions, garlic, and pepper flakes in the oil to coat them and leave them in the bottom of the pot. Add the greens on top and cover for transportation. When you arrive, add the soy sauce and cook on med-low for 25-30 minutes. You’ll have hot greens but you’ll be able to stay out of the kitchen (mostly) and you’ll only use one burner on the stove top.


One of the best things I did this summer was visit my local landfill. But this was not a normal landfill; it was a landfill in transition. A time capsule. A tomb.

The Orange County landfill in Chapel Hill is now closed. It’s full. Its history is a controversial one involving environmental justice, politics, money, and garbage. Lots of garbage. But this visit was not about that. This was a funeral. A chance to pay our last respects to the landfill before it was sealed in its grave.

You see, most landfills aren’t sealed. They are just piles of garbage that get covered with dirt. But the good folks at Orange County Solid Waste Management have tried to do this right. Muriel Williman is an outreach coordinator for the department. She met us early one morning to talk about all of the layers engineered into the system.

rubbish03Here’s a piece of the plastic liner that goes underground. It’s moderately rigid but can be rolled up in large sheets. Think one of those red, plastic, rollup toboggans you had as a kid. That’s what’s underneath the landfill. Back before it was a landfill.

rubbish04Now, start piling garbage on top and compacting it. For years. And when the mountain of garbage gets just too high, start covering it.

rubbish02Another liner and several layers of fabric on top help to keep water out. Then it gets covered with dirt. The goal is to create a giant rubbish-packet. It’s sort of like an enormous ravioli.

rubbish06Here you can see the layers of fabric being applied. The foam mesh keeps things springy and prevents the rubbish-packet from being punctured.

rubbish08You know how your garbage can smells? Well multiply that by the county population over the life of the landfill and you can imagine some of the gases this heap puts out. Luckily, the engineers put pipes deep down into the rubbish pile to provide a way for those gases to escape. And then to capture them. Here’s Muriel at one of the gas valves on top of the pile.

rubbish10The gas (mostly methane) is collected and piped away for burning to make electricity.

rubbish05Here’s a view from the top of the heap. It’s the third highest site in the county.

rubbish11It’s interesting to think about that rubbish heap. That packet of garbage. That ravioli of our lives. Inside is a record of what we did on this little part of our planet. What we ate. What we read. Toys the children outgrew. Job offers. Divorce papers. I’m sure you could read the rings by just finding the layers of Christmas paper inside.

I don’t know if we’ll ever open it. Will some archaeologist of the future raise his lamp to an opening and exclaim, as Howard Carter did at Tutankhamun’s tomb when Lord Carnarvon asked if he could see anything inside: “Yes, wonderful things!”

It turns out we don’t have as good a plan for the future as the Egyptians did. This packet is only good for a few decades. There really is no long term plan for our garbage after the gold rush.

Summer is over now and I went back to visit my old friend the landfill. This is what it looks like now.

rubbish13Seems fitting. It was a pleasant day and he was silent in his crypt. Slowly the grass is growing and the dirt settles, as is common among graves.

It is a solemn place to consider our past. Our future.

The Best Way to Eat Figs

Ordinary figs are a delight, but this method is my absolute favorite way to enjoy these end-of-summer fruits. Your mouth will fall newly in love with you.

Cut away the stems and quarter the figs, but don’t slice all the way through. Open the quarters like a flower and place a small crumble of chèvre in the center of each. Drizzle balsamic vinegar on each fig. Cover and heat until the cheese melts and the vinegar infuses the fruit.


Do you have a favorite way to enjoy figs?

Baby Cardinals

This spring I noticed a little nest in the bush right outside my bedroom window. I wasn’t sure if it was abandoned or new. But then one day, three little eggs appeared.

cardinals_01I wasn’t sure who they belonged to until mother showed up to sit on them.

cardinals_02One day she kept looking underneath herself. “What’s going on down there?” This is what was going on.

cardinals_03They weren’t beautiful, but they were hers.

One day, I looked out the window and saw a most unwelcome visitor sniffing around. I moved him far away from the house, but I wasn’t at all convinced he wouldn’t find his way right back.

cardinals_04The babies were growing very quickly. They seemed to sleep all the time, which made them completely helpless. But I understand that they must have been exhausted from all of that hard work growing.

Here they are as youngsters, unaware of the danger on the ground below.

cardinals_05I wasn’t sure who was going to get to live.

Here’s what kept happening.

I’m happy to report that all three fledged soon after and are busy in the trees around my house.

To the Virgins

I awoke this morning and stumbled into the kitchen to find our Amaryllis in bloom but fallen over on the table, its weighty blossom too heavy a head to hold. I righted it and took this picture, knowing that its beauty would not last.

It put me in mind of this poem.Amaryllis

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And, while ye may, go marry;
For, having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

-Robert Herrick, 1648

You can click on the photo for a larger version.

Bluebirds – Construction Begins


This pair of bluebirds has decided to build a nest in my garden. The box has recently been moved and we were worried that this pair might not come back this year. To encourage them we’ve not been using the garden entrance.


I planted cotton last year and have left some bolls lying about the garden in hopes that someone might use it to make a comfy bed.


They’ve been checking it out for a few weeks. Mother came and sat on top to survey the garden for safety and the potential for bugs.


Yesterday they decided to go for it and this morning has been all a-flutter. Papa stands guard on the fence ready to call out a warning or fend off intruders. Meanwhile, Mama has been gathering sticks for all she’s worth. She’ll disappear into the hole, and then the whole box will shake as she redecorates. Then it’s off for more.


Prairie Wolf Press Review

barnI grew up in a log cabin that my father built, and my grandmother lived in a little house halfway down the long gravel road between my cabin and the county road. Every day after school the bus would drop me off and I would stop at my grandmother’s house and say “I’m starving.” She would feed me a fried apple pie or some other treat she’d made, and I would find out what she was making for dinner. Then I would go home and say to my mother, “I’m starving,” and see what I could get from her. Whoever had the best dinner plan was where I would make my evening’s reservations.

I’ve just published two poems in Prairie Wolf Press Review about that time. It was glorious. Tell me what you think.

There was a hog farm just down the road from us that was glorious in a different way. I suppose one makes one’s fun with what is at hand. The Gospel Chicken House is a real place.

I’m curious what others remember from those days. Did you have one of those elastic book bands? I’m sure they must be forbidden now.

All In

OK. Here’s the thing. This is a picture of my son’s plate as he helped himself to dinner. I have noticed that children consistently put their plates only halfway on the table. This phenomena extends to other activities as well. For example, when working on a project, the object under development will often be balanced precariously on the edge of the workspace, with screws, spare parts, and other potentially valuable or messy things rolling around, scattering, and dripping to the floor.

Why is this?

At first I thought it was because they were short. That is what they have claimed, at any rate. But the oldest, and the villain who set the very trap in this photo, is now taller than I.

No, I think something more fundamental is at work here. Something… elemental.

I think the reason that people balance the things they love precariously on edges is because they are treading lightly. Too lightly. They instinctively hold back. They don’t want to fully commit. They are not all in.

And while I am now, at this stage of my life, a firm plater, confidently centering myself over my own stable dinner, there are aspects of my life that I still set up for failure. That I rig for fragility.

Why would any of us do this?

I see this especially in creative endeavors. Writing students tiptoeing into a scene. Dancers apologetically letting their minds steer their bodies like student drivers attempting that first halting merge into traffic.

It is the same for me performing music. If I am not fully committed to the performance, if I hold back, then the rhythm is shaky and unstable.

Only by going all in do we reach that stable center.