Seeing the Bear

I went on a hike with my aunt to Abrams Falls at Cades Cove a couple of weeks ago. The information online said the hike was “moderate to strenuous.” Oh, it was. My aunt pointed out, “That was five miles uphill both ways.”

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Abrams Falls

My aunt and I both love to walk. We both love the entrancing beauty of the outdoors, the incredible wonder of God’s Earth. We both have a not-so-secret desire to hike the Appalachian Trail. After that moderate to strenuous hike, though, I doubt whether I could handle it. We would’ve turned back if not for our guides, a couple who have hiked to the falls before. They had walking sticks. That should’ve been my first clue.

I had on a pair of athletic sneakers. By the time we reached the halfway point going to the falls, I felt like I was wearing flip-flops for all the support they gave me. My feet were sliding around in them, and I could feel the point of every rock on the pads of my feet. My dad and brother have hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail. I remembered my brother’s hiking boots and his layers of thick, thick socks. Hm. Now I get it. I remember their regimen months before they hit the trail. They got up in the mornings to go to the local football field and run up and down the bleachers. As I peeled away my soaked t-shirt from my back, their stamina-building exercises made a little bit more sense to me.

In Dragonfly Prince one of the main characters, Ivan, is captured by the dragonflies while he is hiking the Appalachian Trail with his dad. Ivan’s parents are divorced. He doesn’t live with his mom or dad. He lives with his aunt—his mom’s sister—and his uncle. His dad remarried and has another family. His dad is also in the military and has been away overseas. Ivan’s mom takes care of his autistic brother two states away. So, there’s been very little family quality time in Ivan’s life. That hike with his dad was incredibly important to him, though he’d never admit that.

The paragraph above is not spelled out in Dragonfly Prince because it isn’t told from Ivan’s perspective. It’s told from Casey’s. She’s the youngest in a family with two daughters brought up in a middle class neighborhood in a predominantly military town right in the eye of the Bible belt. She’s grown up taking morality for granted. She’s used to people going out of their way to be considerate to each other. She’s also used to the social leniency granted towards outspoken American women. She expects to be respected because, well, she deserves respect. And being the youngest, she’s used to wielding a certain amount of power to get her way with Mom and Dad. She’s shocked by this land the dragonflies take her to, where she has no protection and no rights. She reacts in anger and frustration without thinking out the consequences. She’s never had to. The consequences have never been this big a deal.

Ivan understands the environment he’s been surviving in for the past ten or so months. He tries to explain it to Casey, and he doesn’t say it nicely. He wants to shake a little reality into her. The reader figures this out faster than Casey does. She’s not in her quaint little world anymore. She’s not owed anything. All the roughness Ivan shows to Casey, which she detests him for, isn’t lost on the reader who is, in fact, relating to Ivan better than to Casey. Through Casey’s fights with him we come to care for Ivan, to root for his side. The fact that we know Casey’s perspective is skewed makes us feel less sympathy for her.

Ivan resonates, though his bad points overpower the good ones. Because of this my readers have polar reactions to Ivan. They’ve met him. The ones who’ve experienced an Ivan in their lives are disturbed by Casey’s relationship with him. They tell her to run. Some of my readers have begged me not to kill Ivan off. Inwardly, they think he deserves it, but they want him to succeed. While I’m touched by Ivan, Casey is the one who resonates most with me. I know so many more like her. I love her because she’s so mixed up and needs help.

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Me and my aunt in front of Abrams Falls. We made it to the falls!

On the way to Abrams Falls a small, black bear crossed the path ahead of my aunt and me. I saw it, clear as day, but I didn’t register that, hey, there is a bear cub not fifty yards from me, fancy-free and well-clawed. And probably tailed by Momma Bear. The danger began to rush over me while we kept walking. Up the mountain I heard the bushes rustling, right over our heads. And I thought of the snacks I’d packed—raisins and apples and half a cheese quesadilla from lunch…a zipper bag of dark chocolate chips. I unzipped my backpack and stuffed my wallet and phone in the pockets of my cargo pants, thinking I wanted to be ready to relinquish my pack as a peace offering to the curious bear if he got any friendlier. Then it occurred to me that I had very little need for my wallet, or my phone for that matter. We had absolutely no phone signal. We hadn’t had a signal for a good thirty miles getting into the national park. So, basically, all this was going through my head, and it never would have if I hadn’t seen that bear.

The bear meandered away. Didn’t touch us. Nothing happened. But legitimate fear had peeled back the false sense of protection. I realized how much I take for granted about my safety. Not just at Cades Cove. There are so many freedoms I enjoy.

Ivan gets that. Though he grew up with more freedoms than most, he didn’t grow up with that sense of entitlement that Casey has. He despises her when she refuses to listen to his warnings. He’d like it if she got what was coming to her, but…he can’t seem to stop protecting her.

Yes, I’ve been up to that character research stuff again. Will I ever quit that? Um, probably not. Unless the bear gets me.

Advice for the Newbiewed Cook

My sister the newlywed lives a few minutes away from me now. She’s new to the area and calls me when she’s shopping for groceries.

“Is this a good deal?”

“Do you like this brand?”

“Can I substitute in this recipe?”

I love it. I love being the one she calls when it comes to cooking. When it comes to cooking. Just wanted to emphasize that because I emphasized it to her.

“Marital advice is not my forte,” I told her before she got married. “Call Mom.”

She nodded and pretended I’d told her something she didn’t already know. She’s kind that way.

Her estimation of my cooking/grocery advice must be pretty high because, so far, I continue to receive her calls. This pleases me very much. It has also helped me realize that I have some pretty fantastic advice to give! So, now I’m going to give it to you. No need to thank me for my generosity. Really.

Woman Cooking in a Kitchen.
Woman Cooking in a Kitchen. (Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives)

Advice for the Newbiewed Cook

Make a Weekly Menu.
The weekly menu is the hub of all kitchen activity for me. I’ve tried monthly, and I tired of it quickly—tired of the meals, tired of the planning. I can handle one week. I think most people can. If you can handle more, great! Most newlyweds have enough to handle, so why not start with one week?

Keep your Special Meals Special.
The majority of your evening meals should be something you can make in a reasonable amount of time. Pounding out meat and rubbing fresh herbs into it is special. Keep it special or you might get overwhelmed.

In my first year of marriage, I made so many new recipes. That got old fast, and not just for me. Realm looked up from his plate one evening after we’d finished some crazy dish and asked, “Can’t we just have fried chicken?”

Oh, and don’t turn your nose up at those staple meals you make so well. Your life is one big change right now; give yourself permission to make the staples. You have years to impress him with your culinary skilz.

Crank up the Crockpot!
I make at least one meal a week with my Crockpot. Once you’re planning menus, throwing ingredients into the Crockpot is a breeze. I’m not one for “brown it first and add it to the Crockpot.” If it can’t go in all at once, I might make that one of my special meals for the week. I don’t have a timer on my Crockpot, so it’s only turned on low when I’m cooking overnight.  My Crockpot generally goes on high in the mornings so it’s ready by 5:00 p.m. We eat later, but it can be on warm. (You can always make it cook slower, but you’re generally stuck once you figure out you need it to cook faster.)

Cut the Process in Half with a Food Processor
I can’t cut. I’ve discussed that more than once on my blog. Chopping on a chopping board isn’t my thing, either. I tried one of those manual choppers when they were thought to be so wonderful–you know, for cutting up onions and stuff. Meh.

I have two pieces of equipment I use in my kitchen every day: my Ninja* and my Salad Shooter*. The food section parts of both of these appliances are all dishwasher safe. I’ve gone through half a dozen food processors. That means I’ve rendered at least half a dozen food processors useless. I’m tough on them. The Ninja is the only one that’s lasted. I bought my Salad Shooter at a garage sale for $12. Or was it $7? Anyway, slicing is a joy.

Be Prepared to Paper-Plate-It.
Yes, I’ve turned ‘paper plate’ into a verb. I’ve repeated this one the most to my sister. It’s really my best advice. It’s true that paper products cost money, but scrambling to catch up with the dishes costs time and causes stress. Provide yourself with a fallback plan. I also keep plastic cups, forks, and bowls on hand, which makes life so much easier when the kitchen takes on the decor of a mass science project involving volcanic eruptions and tornado devastation. Yep, that happens sometimes. Just to clarify, this is a fallback plan. Regular dishes really should be the norm.

So, there you have my 5 amazing tips after 17 years of wedded cooking. What are some things you do to make your meal-making run smoothly?

*These links depict the models I use. I receive no money or other remuneration of any sort from Amazon or the manufacturers of these products.