if i knew that you were coming i'd a baked a cake.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

sustainable vs. organic

Wouldn't it be nice if all our food products could be trusted to have been BOTH sustainably and organically produced? Many times, they are. But the two terms are not interchangable, as this helpful article from The Sustainable Table shows. (Hat tip to Lawrence London of the soon-to-be launched Permaculture Piedmont NC blog for reminding me about one of my favorite web sites!)

"Are organic and sustainable the same?

"Organic agriculture is becoming more popular because consumers are demanding healthful and environmentally friendly food. In theory, organic agriculture strives to preserve the land for generations to come, but increased demand has interested large agribusiness corporations who intend to profit from the trend.

"The issue can be very confusing -- for example, even though organic is certified by the USDA, large corporations have found ways to raise dairy cows in confinement, use massively large acreages to plant crops (monoculture), and ship food thousands of miles to sell. These practices are not considered sustainable.

"This means that organic and sustainable agriculture are similar in some respects but different in others. The following table is a comparison of the two farming techniques.

Organic [vs.] Sustainable

O) Must be independently certified every year and approved by the USDA
S) No certification necessary

O) Can confine animals. Only need to give animals "access" to outdoors; don't actually have to let them go out.
S) Animals must be permitted to carry out their natural behaviors, e.g., rooting, pecking or grazing. A sustainable farmer might keep his animals indoors in bad weather, but the health and well-being of the animal comes first.

O) No antibiotics allowed
S) No legal restrictions, though sustainable farmers either will not give any antibiotics at all or only when the animals are sick and need to be treated. Antibiotics are never routinely put in feed or water to promote growth or to ward off potential disease.

O) No hormones allowed.
S) No hormones used.

O) Large corporations can raise food organically.
S) Sustainable food production is carried out by families who live and work on the land.

O) There is no limitation on how many acres can be used to grow crops.
S) Sustainable farmers use various placements of crops and plants as a form of pest control and to build soil fertility. Crops are not raised on massive amounts of acreage.

O) Food can travel thousands of miles before reaching your dinner plates. Organic food does not consider the use of fossil fuels or extended amounts of time that can result between harvesting/ processing and eating.
S) Food is raised and sold as close to the farm as possible. Buying locally and eating as seasonally as possible are sustainable practices

"Please note that many organic farmers are also sustainable. The confusion has come about because the USDA organic rules alone are not necessarily sustainable. And many small farmers chose to give up their organic certification when the USDA put their rules into effect in 2002 because the paperwork was overwhelming. But these farmers are still raising animals and crops using organic or what some are now calling "Beyond Organic" methods.

"In addition, large food companies have started to buy organic companies, which hurts competition and can eventually drive down the price farmers are paid while increasing the profits of the corporation. These large corporations are more likely to have monoculture, where one type of food is raised on large tracts of land, as well as confined animals. They also will ship food very long distances.

"Even though this can be potentially confusing, don't be discouraged! As a consumer, it's important to know where your food comes from. Purchasing products from local, independent family farmers – whether organic or sustainable – is your best option.

"Knowing where your food comes from is essential to eating sustainably."

There is a wonderful radio show called Beyond Organic, and you can listen to their current show and their archives on their web site.

Here's an excerpt from An Organic Cash Cow by Kim Severson, published in the New York Times today, that makes this point perfectly!

photo of cows at an organic factory farm, courtesy OCA, see link later in article to sign petition"The ethos of organic milk - one that its cartons reinforce - conjures lush pastures dotted with grazing animals, their milk production driven by nothing more than nature's hand and a helpful family farmer.

"But choosing organic milk doesn't guarantee much beyond this: It comes from a cow whose milk production was not prompted by an artificial growth hormone, whose feed was not grown with pesticides and which had "access to pasture," a term so vague it could mean that a cow might spend most of its milk-producing life confined to a feed lot eating grain and not grass.

"Exactly how much time cows should spend grazing before their milk can carry the government's organic label is under scrutiny. Several hundred farmers and organic advocates want organic dairy rules tightened so that cows have more than what they call token access to pasture.

"The issue may be ultimately decided in court, said Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute in Wisconsin. His organization is fighting the rise of confinement organic dairies, which, by his estimate, account for about 30 percent of the organic milk sold.

"So, what's a well-intentioned milk drinker to do? Decide what matters to you most.

"First, weigh the importance of the organic label. Milk from the Ronnybrook Farm Dairy in the Hudson Valley, which is sold in bottles at Manhattan's Greenmarkets, is not certified organic. The dairy uses no artificial growth hormones, but it treats sick animals with antibiotics. In the summer the animals eat mostly pasture; in the winter they eat hay with grain mixed in.

"It is a sustainable operation whose owners decided that the term "organic" was becoming co-opted by large corporations, and that the extra cost of the federal organic label was not worth it. For some, milk that has not traveled far and that comes from cows in small pasture-based operations is more important than an official stamp."

Here in Greensboro, I buy my milk and butter from Homeland Creamery. They have a booth at the Greensboro Farmer's Curb Market, but they also sell their dairy products at Earth Fare, Deep Roots Market, and other markets. They are not organic - they are local and sustainable dairy farmers.

You can find out more about organic/unsustainable dairies such as Horizon and Aurora at Organic Consumers Association and sign a petition. An organic/sustainable dairy cooperative who did not choose to weaken their values for profit is Organic Valley. When Wal-mart demanded a price that Organic Valley could not produce without compromising their standards, Wal-mart turned to Horizon Dairy. (From the November 1, NYT article What Is Organic? Powerful Players Want a Say by Melanie Warner, reprinted at OCA.)

"George Simeon, chief executive of Organic Valley, a cooperative of mostly small organic dairy farmers, wrestled with the high cost of organic production a little over a year ago when Wal-Mart asked for a 20 percent price cut. For three years, Organic Valley had been Wal-Mart's primary supplier of organic milk.

"'Wal-Mart allows you to really build market share,' Mr. Simeon said. 'But we're about our values and being able to sustain our farmers. If a customer wants to stretch us to the point where we're not able to deliver our mission, then we have to find different markets.'

"Mr. Simeon told Wal-Mart to get a new supplier.

"Dean Foods' Horizon Organic was better equipped to satisfy Wal-Mart's demands. Horizon gets about 20 percent of its production from a 4,000-cow organic dairy in Paul, Idaho, which is small in comparison with many conventional dairy farms but huge by organic standards."

If you can't buy milk from a local dairy and you can afford organic, please support Organic Valley for standing up for their principles over profit. Boycott Wal-Mart, Dean Foods, Horizon Dairy, and Aurora Organic (and, as always, MONSANTO!). Embrace your power as a consumer.

(For a related post, see honesty and organics.)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

honesty and organics

If you have been reading my posts about the organic controversy, you might think that I'm upset because I buy only 100% organic food. No, I'm not an organic zealot. I'm upset because I don't like dishonesty, and we have to protect our food supply from the further influence of big ag and big food, because they have proven themselves untrustworthy. I advocate buying food locally from farmers and food producers who use sustainable processes and ingredients whenever possible.

I was in a debate on the Slow Food listserv this weekend about the rider to the Agriculture Bill that weakened organic standards. The debate, between me and an owner of a large organic processing facility, was very helpful in clarifying my thoughts on the subject, so I was grateful for the opportunity. One of the points that I regret not commenting on was that the "USDA Organic" seal does not state that the product is at least 95% organic on the label, so that is why it is misleading.

Here is an image of how four different cereal boxes might look under the current standards (from Organic Food Standards and Labels: The Facts).

Now look at just the second one from the left. Without knowing the particulars of the USDA Organic system, and without seeing the comparisons with the products on either side, might you think that this product was totally organic?

Here's the link for Labeling Requirements for foods that are at least 95% organic. Why didn't they simply decide to use a seal that says 95% organic instead of the same seal used for 100% organic? That would have been a good compromise.

Since the consumer does not have access to this information on the package, usage of the USDA seal implies that there are no synthetic ingredients used. Whether the ingredients are benign or not has nothing to do with the fact that this label misleads the public. Personally, I don't care if organic manufacturers use baking powder or ascorbic acid in their foods. That's not the issue. The issue is that others might, and the labeling should be accurate and transparent.

For example, Monsanto and the USDA think that genetic engineering is beneficial to agriculture. Whether something is benign or not is highly subjective. But you can't make a synthetic ingredient organic. Once you begin re-defining words to make them fit what you would like for them to mean, you are opening the door to an Orwellian world of uncertainty in what should be an objective process.

Okay, let's say that you don't find that these 38 added ingredients to the National List are a big deal. Neither do I, really. You haven't seen the most disturbing part yet. This paragraph at the Organic Consumers Association sums it up:
"For the first time, the Secretary will have the power to expedite petitions for access to the list of substances that are commercially unavailable in organic form. Right now there are 38 synthetic substances on the National List that have been carefully reviewed and approved by the National Organic Standards Board over the past ten years. Eight more synthetic substances have been reviewed and approved by the NOSB and are awaiting USDA authority to be placed on the National List. The industry has requested that 517 more synthetic substances be approved. In all likelihood, this new power granted to the Secretary will be the opening of the floodgate to these hundreds of synthetic ingredients being allowed in products labeled 'USDA Organic.'"

"The Secretary may develop emergency procedures for designating agricultural products that are commercially unavailable in organic form for placement on the National List for a period of time not to exceed 12 months."

See this page for the specific language of the amendment.

The Secretary of Agriculture is Mike Johanns. From the Center for Responsible Politics:

Corporate Connections:

Archer Daniels Midland; Kraft (Altria); Tyson Foods; ConAgra

Raised on a dairy farm in Iowa, Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns was nominated by President Bush to take over the Department of Agriculture from Secretary Ann Veneman. First elected in 1998, Johanns became the first Republican to win a second term as governor in the state in more than four decades, according to the Institute on Money in State Politics. A little more than $108,000 of the $2.3 million Johanns raised between 1999 and 2002 came from agricultural companies including Archer Daniels Midland, Kraft and Tyson Foods and the Nebraska-based ConAgra, Follow the Money reported. While these businesses are key to the state’s economy, they are also subject to federal regulations set by the department that Johanns will be heading. The bulk of Johanns' campaign war chest came from individual contributors, who gave a combined total of more than $900,000, or 38 percent of his total, Follow the Money reported.

The Secretary from 2001 to 2005? Ann Veneman. I guess that we should count our blessings (from Common Dreams):

"Veneman has served as a key member of the Reagan and Bush administration farm teams, as director of the California Department of Food and Agriculture during the gubernatorial administration of agribusiness favorite Pete Wilson, as an agribusiness lawyer and as a member of the national steering committee of Farmers and Ranchers for Bush. In those positions she has rarely missed an opportunity to promote a free-trade regimen that advances the interests of international food production and processing conglomerates, to encourage policies that lead to the displacement of family farms with huge factory farms, to open public lands for mineral extraction and timbering, to support genetic modification of food and to defend biotech experimentation with agriculture. Indeed, Veneman is a biotech absolutist who served on the board of Calgene, the corporation that launched the first genetically engineered food in 1994. Veneman told a forum last year, 'We simply will not be able to feed the world without biotechnology.'"

So. Do you, as an organic or sustainable consumer, trust the Secretary of Agriculture or the USDA to regulate organic certification? The Bush administration has three more years until we boot them out. The way things are going in D.C. Bush may appoint another director of a Monsanto-owned company to the post before you can blink an eye. Think that the Democrats would be better? I wouldn't count on it. Most of them are as brainwashed about industrial agriculture as the Republicans.

Buy locally and sustainably produced foods and food products. Ask your farmer and food artisan about his or her practices. Many are organic or mostly organic and cannot advertise it because they are not certified. Many have chosen not to be a part of this flawed system.

Show the power of the organic consumer by not buying these "organic" products (from the Non-Corporate Food Shopper's Guide) when they display the USDA Organic seal without the 100% designation:

  • Brand Name(s): Silk Soy Milk, Horizon Dairy
    Owned By: White Wave
    Principle Stockholders: Dean Foods
    Significantly Owned By: Citigroup, Coca Cola, ExxonMobil, General Electric, Home Depot, Microsoft, Pepsico, Pfizer, Philip Morris, Walmart

  • Brand Name(s): Balance Bar, Boca Burger
    Owned By: Kraft Foods.
    Principle Stockholders: Philip Morris

  • Brand Name(s): Knudsen, After the Fall, Santa Cruz
    Owned By: J.M. Smucker
    Significantly Owned By: Pepsico

  • Brand Name(s): Stonyfield Farms
    Owned By: Danone
    Principle Stockholders: Citigroup, Exxon, General Electric,Walmart

  • Brand Name(s): Arrowhead Mills, Bearitos, Breadshop, Celestial Seasonings, Earth's Best Baby Food, Garden of Eatin, Health Valley, Imagine Foods, Terra Chips, Westbrae, Millina's, Mountain Sun, Shari Ann's, Walnut Acres
    Owned By: Hain Food Group
    Principle Stockholders: Bank of America, Entergy Nuclear, ExxonMobil, H.J. Heinz, Lockheed Martin, Merck, Monsanto, Pfizer, Philip Morris, Walmart, Waste Management Inc.
    Significantly Owned By: Citigroup

  • Brand Name(s): Cascadian Farms, Muir Glen
    Owned By: Small Planet Foods
    Principle Stockholders: General Mills
    Significantly Owned By: Alcoa, Chevron, Disney, Dupont, ExxonMobil, General Electric, McDonalds, Monsanto, Nike, Pepsico, Pfizer, Philip Morris, Starbucks, Target, Texas Instruments

Items in bold are companies that I personally boycott and not a judgment one way or another against others on the list. It won't be easy to boycott all these items, especially the Hain Food Group and Small Planet Foods. But I think that I can find alternatives until they do, and I'll feel better for it.

And I'm not worried about the OTA's claim that "if Congress had not acted, many of the organic products consumers know and love would have disappeared." Puh-lease. Just change the labeling so that it is trustworthy, as over 300,000 of your customers have asked. Give us that much respect, and don't try to trick us into paying premium prices for misleading labels.

If we don't fight this, what will we do when the government and industry wants to force the next new questionable ingredient on the organic standards?

Later this week: Sustainable vs. Organic.

Monday, September 12, 2005

a taste of floyd

My partner and I went to Floyd, Virginia on Saturday to a Slow Food event called "A Taste of Floyd." After tasting samples of delicious local foods and wines from Villa Appalachia and AmRhein, you could then go inside a wonderful store/gallery/cafe, Harvest Moon, and purchase the items of your choice. There was music and interesting conversation - in other words, it was a terrific event.

Foodies line up to taste farmstead cheeses from Meadow Creek Dairy and egg salad from happy hens at Copper Hill Farms.

My favorite apple was the Jonagold.

Apples from Blue Ridge Cider and Good Food, Good People may seem to have ruled the day, but there were peppers and pears from Five Penny and Mood Indigo Farms, goat cheeses from Ladybug MicroCreamery and Lotsa-Cedars, "ewe"gurt from Icelandic sheep at Sunny Hill Farm, buffalo jerky from Brush Creek Buffalo, tomato sauce, sausage, coffee, and local honey as well.

After all this, hubby was still hungry! On a great tip from Billy the Blogging Poet, we headed to Oddfella's Cantina for a late lunch. I was full from the Farmer's Appreciation Day breakfast at the Greensboro Farmer's Curb Market and apple slices and goat cheese,
so I just had a pint of Newcastle and took in the ambience of the place. Sandy had a chicken chimichanga, which was one of the best I've ever tasted.

Oddfella's states on its menu that "our ground beef and our greens are organic, and, in season, we make extensive use of local, organic growers." Everything on the menu looked wonderful.

The wooden floors, old storefront windows and doors, and lovely patio in the back added to the relaxing atmosphere. We were especially charmed that all the tables and chairs were different, many of them vintage. The owner, Rob, told us that he'd been asked why he doesn't open another Oddfella's in another town, such as Christiansburg. He said that he would not be able to furnish it in the same way because of health regulations - for example, the drop leaf table at which we were sitting would probably not pass. What a shame! This is not the first time I've felt that the government has lost sight of what is important in regulating food and food production.

A small curtained stage in the corner provides a venue for old-time, blues, jazz, classical guitar, Irish music, and other performances, such a Spoken Word event in which Floyd bloggers Fred and Colleen will participate Sunday, Sept. 18.

Add food, beer and dirt, and I'd say that pretty much adds up to everything I need. We didn't go here; that will have to wait for next time. I hope that "next time" will be soon - three hours is not enough time to savor the atmosphere of Floyd.

Friday, July 29, 2005

101st thing about me

101. When I eat at my mama's house, I usually have more butterbeans for dessert.

That concludes "Butterbean Week" at ...slowly she turned.

Monday, July 25, 2005

100 things

  1. I have six cats that are like children to me.
  2. My husband is my seventh child.
  3. We enjoy being children together.
  4. I am typing this on a ten-year-old computer that I am too stubborn to give up.
  5. I snarled at my husband when he replaced the 15" monitor with a 17" monitor.
  6. I have been playing a DOS game called Empire for about 14-15 years now.
  7. I'm just a trifle reluctant to try new things.
  8. Ten years ago I would have been happy just to have a 40-hour M-F desk job by now.
  9. Five years ago I thought I'd be a professional Web designer by now.
  10. Three years ago I thought I'd be in the loony bin by now.
  11. Two years ago I would have been happy to have a 40-hour M-F desk job AND co-workers who didn’t give me migraines by now.
  12. One year ago I realized that I’d made it and things were gonna be okay.
  13. I got my B.A. in drama 22 years ago.
  14. I have seen one play since, only because a friend’s husband was in it, and it wasn’t very good.
  15. I am a graduate student in a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program.
  16. Money is not important to me.
  17. Saving the environment is important to me.
  18. I'm an artist but since I began blogging I've thrown all my creativity into that.
  19. I am a lapsed tapestry weaver.
  20. I am a maker of jewelry, but I wear very little jewelry.
  21. I don't wear make-up.
  22. I'm twenty pounds overweight.
  23. I used to care, but I'm okay with it now.
  24. I would wear T-shirts, jeans, and flip-flops everywhere if given the option.
  25. I was a boy until I turned eleven.
  26. I am a recovering agoraphobic.
  27. I used to smoke a pack and a half of cigarettes a day.
  28. I quit smoking ten years ago.
  29. I am a farmer's daughter.
  30. My garden is my refuge.
  31. I hate to sweat.
  32. I can’t believe that I tested as an INTJ. Twice.
  33. Yet I am a proud liberal who thinks that tax-supported government programs made this country great.
  34. I am a 5 with a strong 4-wing on the Enneagram, meaning that I’m 60% hermit computer geek and 40% neurotic drama queen.
  35. Governor’s School East, 1978, English.
  36. I didn’t really believe in my heart that being smart was a good thing until I was around 35.
  37. I’ll kick your butt in Scrabble. Come on, it’s go time.
  38. I have a thick Southern drawl. It makes some people think I’m stupid.
  39. I just learned to like olives this year.
  40. If it wasn’t for seafood, I easily could go vegetarian.
  41. I don’t eat veal or lamb.
  42. I don’t eat factory-farmed meat and poultry.
  43. I eat Peter Pan peanut butter straight out of the jar.
  44. I am addicted to Pepsi One.
  45. I once watched “American Idol” for ten minutes.
  46. Except for those ten minutes, to my knowledge I have never watched any reality shows.
  47. A new Star Wars movie. Ho-hum.
  48. A new season of “The Sopranos.” When? When does it start? Huh? Huh? Is it time yet?
  49. I’m beginning to look like my mother.
  50. I would like to get rid of half of my possessions.
  51. I would like to get rid of my husband’s jet ski and buy two canoes.
  52. I love Lyle Lovett and Bela Fleck.
  53. I might not look you in the eye when I talk to you. Please don’t hold it against me; I probably don’t realize what I’m doing, and I’ve been working on it for years.
  54. My husband calls me Lori. My name is Laurie.
  55. Even though we’ve been together 20 years now.
  56. I’m fascinated with the idea of doing more with less.
  57. Yet we have four computers in this room right now.
  58. I like to drink beer.
  59. I am very allergic to perfume.
  60. Once I had my photo, large and in color, on the front of the Life section of the News and Record. The caption was “The Agony of Defeat.” No, I didn’t save any copies.
  61. It was taken at a pinball tournament, a game at which I used to excel.
  62. I also used to excel at tennis.
  63. Now I excel at Microsoft Excel.
  64. The caption under my baby picture at my mother’s obstetrician’s office: “Liz Taylor’s got nothing on me!”
  65. I daydream about living in, outside of, near, or closer to Asheville.
  66. As a child, I read “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” to the end and turned back to the first page dozens of times.
  67. I am a lapsed 18th century re-enactor.
  68. I’m afraid of flying, but I’m going to Tuscany next year anyway.
  69. If you don’t understand what I mean, I’m probably trying to be funny. It’s okay, just laugh.
  70. I’m trying to learn patience, but it's taking so freakin’ long!
  71. I have bad skin. See #59.
  72. Women have broken my heart more often and more deeply than men.
  73. I have never ever said the words, “I am a people person,” in a job interview.
  74. I am honest to a fault.
  75. Next to my DH, Squirt the Buddha Kitty claims my heart.
  76. I have missed out on some really great events because I don’t like crowds.
  77. I don’t know what people are talking about half the time because I watch so little TV and listen to NPR. Is this good or bad?
  78. I daydream about living off the grid, growing my own food and living off my creative talents.
  79. I’m not tough enough.
  80. But I do like tofu.
  81. I’m not afraid of spiders when I’m awake. Usually.
  82. I am lightly medicated.
  83. I hate shopping for shoes.
  84. I think that people who don’t support full civil rights for gays and lesbians need to get to know more openly gay people.
  85. I can pick up a soccer ball with my toes.
  86. I played bells and baritone saxophone in high school.
  87. I am childless by choice.
  88. I am one of the whitest white people I know.
  89. I love rocks.
  90. Smart, pleasant Republicans totally freak me out.
  91. I daydream about owning a used bookstore.
  92. I never know who’s in the Super Bowl or the World Series. Is that bad?
  93. I was a spelling bee contender, but nerves got the best of me at the state level three years in a row.
  94. I have an easel and oil paints set up in the next room, gathering dust.
  95. My favorite D&D character’s name was Argentina Brunetti.
  96. I want to eat dinner at Sushi 101 tonight.
  97. Seriously, please take the money you were going to spend on me for Christmas and give it to charity.
  98. But I’ll take a back rub. Or a plate of chocolate chip cookies.
  99. A “B” is a “D.” A “C” is an “F.”
  100. For my superhuman ability, I pick talking to animals.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

nyuk, nyuk, nyuk

When I went to the Piedmont Triad Bloggers meet-up last month, I was thrilled when a couple of people immediately picked up on where I got the title for my blog.

You see, I was looking for something a little punny that started with the word "slow," because of my fascination with the Slow Food movement and the idea that I was planning to write about my garden and my life changes as a result of embracing this philosophy. And, I just happen to be a big Three Stooges fan.

All I could remember was a routine in one of the Three Stooges films in which Moe says "Niagara Falls! Slooowly I turned. Step by step, inch by inch..." Then, predictably, something violent happened.

Well, my life is a bit complicated, and I can't tell you just how APPROPRIATE this title has been! I really picked it because my life is improving step by step, and I have confidence in the idea that we can all change the world inch by inch, one choice at a time. It was good to have a descriptive title that had a bit of subversive humor in it, though, because there have been quite a few times since I began this blog when I would have just loved to poke somebody in the eyeballs. Whenever I get a bit too serious about my "mission" or depressed about politics, I get a little reminder of slapping Curly upside the head, and I smile.

I did a little research on Google, and learned that this is an old vaudeville standard. The Stooges built one of their shorts around it in the movie "Gents Without Cents" in 1944. The same year, Abbott and Costello performed the bit in "Lost in a Harem." Bud and Lou used the trigger word "Poko Moko" instead of "Niagara Falls." I understand that Lucy Ricardo also did a version of the routine in Ricky's club where she was attacked by a man when she said "Martha," but there are differing accounts of this. I'll let a Lucy expert correct me in the comments.

Here's a link to the Abbott and Costello script. And the Niagara Falls Reporter wrote a good article on the overall history of the routine.

Googling "Slowly She Turned" turns up all kinds of torrid romance, however.

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

Monday, June 13, 2005

lake waccamaw

My cousin owns a beautiful place on Lake Waccamaw, where a house that my grandfather built in 1952 stands next to a sandy beach under bald cypresses. Across the road from the house is a canal where alligators swim and sweet bays grow wild.

Lake Waccamaw is a natural lake with some species that don't exist anywhere else in the world. Its origin, along with the other smaller Carolina Bay lakes, has been a subject of much research and speculation. The theory that the lakes are fed by artisian springs makes a lot of sense to me, since this property boasts one of the few artisian wells on Lake Waccamaw. The water rises through an old pipe and is icy cold and clear.

Thank God the alligators don't seem to have any interest in the lake. That's probably because it is sandy and clear (at least in front of "our" place), with water the color of iced tea. When the wind blows, it can turn up whitecaps and breakers. When it is still, it looks like glass. You can walk along a pier and see down to the bottom. It is shallow for a long way out, which tends to make it warm. This is good or bad, depending on your point-of-view. Kids love it. And it is a perfect place for sandcastles.

Swimming in Lake Waccamaw is not one of my favorite activities. If the wind isn't blowing, it's a little like taking a warm bath on a hot day. Usually, we're happy on floats. It is a wonderful lake for boating. We've been out on sailboats, jet-skis, canoes, kayaks, speedboats, and pontoon boats. We cheer the trick water-skiers as they tear by, twisting and flipping over the wakes. Once we were picked up by the locals and whisked away to a great party. A flotilla of pontoon boats had hooked together and were grilling burgers onboard, drinking beer, and playing water volleyball at the far end of the lake. At Christmas, a wetsuited Santa on a jet-ski leads lighted boats around the lake.

Mostly, I love Lake Waccamaw for the family history and its serenity. There are two old gliders on a screened porch facing the lake that are perfect for reading and napping. Whenever I need to close my eyes and go to a peaceful place, I imagine that I'm listening to the waves lapping up on the shore. The house brims full of memories of my Aunt Willie Dell, Uncle Dallas, and Daddy. There's a painting of a magnolia blossom that my mother painted in 1960, the year before I was born. Crumbly old black and white photos of Great Aunt Mildred and Great Aunt Addie in their bathing suits at the lake often resurface at family reunions. Floating on the edge of the lake is where, in 1985, my mother first confided her concerns to me about my father's health, and where, for the first time, she spoke to me for hours about growing up during the depression. She told a story about hiding a six-pack of beer in the lake house in the 1950s, which was about as wild as my mother ever got, as far as I know. On that day, under the Spanish moss, under the spell of her gentle drawl, my mother became more than "just" my parent. Two years later, I spent my wedding night in the lake house.

My cousin Fred and his wife, Weezer, have made a lot of improvements as far as appliances and furniture, but there are a lot of features that have remained since the early days after it was built. It's not a ritzy place. It has no air conditioning or heat, and it is no place for people with critter phobias. Most of the mosquitoes don't make it through the window screens, but the old-fashioned screens don't cover the windows totally. There are spiders and fire ants, and the lizards, although awfully cute when they puff out their red throats, don't seem as cuddly on the inside windowsills. The house itself is built directly on top of a cement slab, so when there's a lot of rain, the water seeps right up through the kitchen floor. Hurricanes flood it, and you can see the water marks on the bed posts. My friend Donna calls it the Red Bar Lounge, named for the rubbery red surface of the counter where we eat. The cabinets, like all the walls in the place, are constructed of unpainted dark knotty plywood, and the doors do not care to stay closed, occasionally giving an under-vigilant drunk a bonk on the head. Many of the dishes and much of the bedroom furniture have been there all my life. If the house were to be jacked up to build an foundation under it, it would surely fall apart from the termite and post beetle damage.

Still, I understand why my cousin refuses to make any substantial changes to the lake house. Our family has speculated for a long time that it was on its last legs, but yet it survived Fran, Floyd, and numerous tornadic storms. "I like it just the way it is," Fred insists, and closes the subject. It is the only thing left that belonged to his parents. A browned, barely legible piece of paper remains taped next to the front door from Aunt Willie Dell with instructions to renters of the 1970s. The house at Lake Waccamaw is a time capsule in a rapidly changing world. I agree with Fred. I wouldn't change a thing.