Saturday, December 17, 2016

Remembering Christmas Past

Christmas has always been a happy time for me, and now, without Jim, I have many memories of happiness for comfort. I remember three Christmases in particular as I think about the holidays of the past.

One is an image of teens, boys in white shirts and dark trousers, and girls in white blouses and dark skirts. The year was 1960 and I was among this group as we progressed, two-by-two, up the center aisle of my high school auditorium. Each of us held a lighted candle in our right hand with little paper drip pans pushed up through the bottoms. All the girls wore corsages of sprigs of holly tied with a red bow, which we had helped to pin on each other as we waited in the library. We sang the words to “O Come All Ye Faithful” as we slowly walked to the front of the auditorium, and we glowed in the admiration of the onlookers, our parents and friends filling every seat. 

We filed into the rows of our designated seating and blew out our candles, wisps of white smoke floating upward. We heard the special music of soloists, one I remember in particular.. She was a tiny little girl with long black curly hair, but her voice was anything but tiny. I don’t remember her name. She was younger and in a lower grade than I was, but when she began to sing “Oh Holy Night”, I got goose bumps all over. She was magnificent and captured the complete attention of the entire audience. I’m thankful for this special Christmas memory of my junior year in the glee club.

Another Christmas I remember well was my first with Jim as his wife. He was an Airman Second Class at Dover Air Force Base, and, of course, we were poor. I think his monthly allotment was something like $125. Credit cards were still in the future and our rented living quarters were tiny. We managed to get a small tree and a few decorations and lights from my Mom. I can see myself sitting on the sofa in the dark, watching them blink on and off as I waited for Jim to come home on Christmas Eve.

The only presents under the little tree were from our relatives, and we agreed presents were not important between the two of us. We were happy just to be together. But when Jim came home, he was carrying a huge heavy gift-wrapped box. I couldn’t imagine what it could be, and I knew whatever it was, we had no money for it.

He wanted me to unwrap it right away and I was eager enough. There would be time for questions later. It turned out to be a portable stereo record player and in another package there was an album of our favorite songs by Peter, Paul, and Mary. We played that album until we knew the words of every song and the order in which they would come up. Jim’s favorite, Old Stewball and mine, Blowin in the Wind, were played over and over that night and for many weeks afterwards. Nothing could have made me happier

Even later when I found out the way the present came into being, my enthusiasm remained high. It seems Sears and Roebuck had discovered a way for everyone to spend money in their store for Christmas. It was called a revolving charge account. I won’t tell how much that stereo ended up costing. But it was worth every penny.

The third Christmas I think of is a sad one, but has ended up being a wonderfully happy memory for many people. In the summer of 1986, Jack, Jim’s older brother, was diagnosed with colon cancer. Surgery revealed the cancer had already spread, and he was given less than a year to live. As Christmas neared, his family decided to make it a very special one since it might be his last. All Jack’s friends and relatives were invited to a huge Christmas party in his honor. People brought every food imaginable, games were played, the kids, and even some grownups, put on hilarious skits and went out of their comfort zones for laughter and memories.

One of Jack’s daughters took rolls of pictures and had copies made for all the relatives. I still have my set and always pull it out near Christmas time each year. Everyone looks so happy, doing their very best to make Jack’s Christmas special. I always get a warm feeling as I see the faces of love in those pictures.

I have many other happy Christmas memories, but these three are way up there at the top of the list, and it makes me feel good just by sharing them.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Me and Mopsy

Almost all suggestions welcome… except the one somebody said about getting rid of the cat.

If you have a pet or have had one, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say pets can be destructive. I don’t think they mean to tear up things, but they learn ways to get what they want, and they are focused.

Mopsy sleeps a lot during the day, and maybe during the night, but eight hours of continuous sleep is out of the question for her. She takes what we call “cat naps”, usually four to five hours in duration, and when she wakes up, it’s chow time no matter what the clock says. I always leave dry food in her bowl and around 3 A.M., I’ll hear her crunching, but her favorite fare is the canned stuff. She’ll take three or four bites of Meow Mix, or whatever the flavor and brand of the month is, and then, silence. This is where I drift back off to sleep. In just a few minutes, I’ll feel this tickling fuzziness on my nose. Mopsy has jumped up on the bed and started her nightly routine, the one that always works.

She tickles, and I turn over and cover up my head. She sits there awhile and then moves on to a ‘smell of the ocean’ candle I have on the nightstand. Mopsy loves different smells and she is madly in love with this candle, rubbing her face all over it, knocking it from side to side, moving it around, and eventually crashing it to the floor - her goal.

I lie very still pretending to be deep in sleep. Then I hear her jump down and attack the wires from the lamp and the tv, rattling them as loudly as possible. Next on tap is her scratching post, stretching, pulling, clawing, in preparation for the morning race down the hallway at warp speed. I breathe a loud sigh and always think, yes, now I can go back to sleep. And I do for around five minutes until she’s back.

The next sound comes from my bathroom. Never mind that Mopsy has bowls of water in the bedroom and the kitchen. No. She’s up on the sink. She must have her drink from the tap. I’m drifting in and out as I hear the paper cup being knocked around, then the bar of soap gets slapped into the sink. Silence for a few minutes as she waits to hear if I’m getting up. Then the thump of her drop to floor and in seconds she is tickling my nose again. I pet her a few times and say, “Mopsy, it’s too dark to get up”, but English is not her second language when it’s contrary to her desires. She sits awhile, again, and I drift off.

Now come the real guns, that sound no cat owner ever wants to hear. Chewing, slurping, crunching, rattling. I don’t even have to open my eyes to know what’s up. Mopsy is sitting on my sewing machine, pushed behind the pillow I have purposely placed against the window to discourage her bad behavior, which obviously doesn’t work and has never worked. She is gnawing on the cords of the blind…as loudly as possible and with purpose and passion.

My feet hit the floor as I switch on the lamp. You wouldn’t want to hear the next few words that come out of my mouth, but Mopsy thinks they are manna from heaven. She pauses for a second as my feet search around for slippers, but she continues to chew so as not to slow down my forward progress. I’ve glanced at the clock and grimaced at 3:15, but what the heck, I’m wide awake and already up.


I walk over to the window and delicately start to lift Mopsy from her munching perch. I can see her body tense and I at least know enough to back off. She’s mad but she pauses to listen as I say, “Okay, let’s go get some fishy.”

Understanding English perfectly now, she jumps down and races me to the kitchen.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Is Showing Better?

I thought I'd share some writing assignments I did awhile back on "showing, not telling." Some are true, some are not. You can decide.

1. My father was quiet.

Daddy hoarded words like leprechauns bury gold, sharing only with family. He developed a new disease called cacklephobia when my mom had her tupperware parties. I watched from the top of the stairs as each lady did her best to engage him in conversation only to be met with funeral parlor silence. Unable to accept his one syllable answers, they twittered like canaries finally drooping their wings and hopping off in a new direction.

2. She's always hostile.

My Aunt Sadie was an old maid, who reluctantly babysat me when no one else could. She reminded me of a very unfriendly bull my pop-pop had on his farm. Whenever I got within seeing distance of old Red, he charged the fence to get me out of his territory. My pleas to Aunt Sadie to play games or partake of dolly teatime were greeted with snorts, downward glances, and hunching shoulders just like old Red. I learned to steer clear of them both.

3. She was unhappy.

After a loose dog in her neighborhood attacked and killed her cat, Charlotte felt as lost and saddened as Jody in The Yearling when facing the reality of death. Her kitty, Sandy, was only a year old and trying to stay cool in the shade atop a tire on an old pickup truck. The German Shepherd from up the street escaped his yard, spotted her, and came barking. Even though little Sandy jumped down and tried to run, she never had a chance of avoiding his jaguar speed and vampire teeth. Charlotte chased the Shepherd off like a banshee and rushed to the vet with Sandy swaddled on a pillow. After a quick examination, the look in Dr Young's eyes gripped her like the fingers of the Boston Strangler, leaving her unable to swallow her grief.

4. The room was scary.

The phenomenon of floating enveloped me as the flourescent lights zoomed past like telephone poles. I shivered under the light blanket when the hospital aides whisked me into the dim, icy-cold room filled with blinking computer monitors. Awash with fearful anticipation, the thumping of my heart now seemed even faster than the 180 it had been registering on the monitor in my room. I was lifted from the gurney onto what felt like an ironing board, minutes away from the mysterious procedure called Catheter Ablation for SVT. Listening acutely to the broken English of my doctor, I understood he intended to block some of the overly abundant electrical signals making my heart race. He cautioned me to lie very still. Watching the masked men moving all around me, I felt like Alice, only I was on the table instead at the table. The ironing board became my intimate enemy during the next few hours, torturing my spinal column. I wondered if I would ever be able to walk again, but, just like the pain of childbirth, time and the joy of a normal heartbeat erased the memory of the suffered discomfort and fear.

5. My grandmother was a thief.

When grandmom babysat me, I looked forward to our afternoon visits with her two closest farm neighbors. Grandmom would grab my hand and we would take off on foot down the two-track dirt lane that led from her farmhouse to the slightly wider, dusty dirt road beyond. Hesitating only for a second, it was left to Mrs. Water's or right to Polly Wooleyhand's. She picked, I followed. Inside the neighbor's parlor, Grandmom expressed her special interest in seeing the neighbor lady's jewelry box. She would ooh and ahh over each piece like Queen Elizabeth had just taken it off. The next morning when I rode in the truck with Pop-pop to take the filled milkcans to the corner, he would make a stop at the neighbor's house we had visited the day before. Telling me to stay in the truck, I watched him go to the door and hand something to the lady of the house. I noticed his red face and sharp tone when he got back in and slammed the door ignoring my questions. Later, when I was older, Pop-pop told me Grandmom always "mistakenly" brought a favorite trinket home in her apron pocket.

6 He was self-conscious about his weight.

I never saw Joey wear anything but one size too big, loose-fitting clothes. At lunch he ate salads as we ate fries and burgers, and when I asked him about it, he turned red and told me to mind my own business. In PE, he always pulled the "I'm sick and gotta go to the nurse" routine. In the shower, his butt looked like it had been damaged by hail. I wanted to be friends but he kept putting "Fat Freddie" between us. It got old.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Back to the Past, One Day A Week

I have volunteered for something else yet again. About five miles west of my home is a State Park called the Dudley Farm. It is a working farm meaning crops are planted and farm animals are kept onsite. The farm and its grounds were gifted to the State by the last Dudley family member to live there. Myrtle, a daughter and part of the third generation willed Florida the farm in the mid 1980s with the stipulation that she could live there until her death.

The Dudley Family

Sugarcane Syrup Making Day

Priming the Pump


The farm dates all the way back to the mid 1800s just before the Civil War when the Dudleys moved here from the Carolinas and bought a bunch of land, totaling at one time over a thousand acres. All the old pine farm buildings have been restored even down to the outhouse. Cotton, sugarcane, sweet taters, and tobacco were the main crops at the time and evidence of this is seen in the tobacco barn and the cane grinding wheel, then and now turned by mule power. A few Florida cattle, mules, and donkeys are kept even now and used as they were in the Dudley's time. The sugarcane crop is almost ready for cutting and thousands of visitors will show up for "cane day" in December when the mules will again turn the grinding wheel. Cane syrup is the finished product and that brings me to what I volunteered for.





There is a small gift shop or store on the premises where handmade donated items are sold including the cane syrup that will be made on the farm in December. I volunteered for 3 shifts a month (4 hours each). Last Thursday I was oriented and trained and will have my first solitary shift next Thursday. Most of the items in the store are donated but some are purchased like the Dudley Farm t-shirts. All the monies go back into the running of the farm. Most visitors show up on the weekends when the farm has its special events, a children's monthly craft day, cane day, and many others, so Thursday will probably be a lonesome day at the store although I may get a few customers from out of town. I will take along some knitting and of course a notebook to keep me busy. And then I am an organizer so I will be squaring up and tidying the things for sale. There’s even a basket of handmade children’s toys including a corncob/turkey feather toss (from turkeys on the farm with no fowl harmed in the process). The game is similar to today’s ring toss.

The gift shop itself is an old building originally a little store donated and moved to the site from the nearby town of Archer. All the buildings are constructed of local pine. The shop has a little front porch with 3 rocking chairs one of which I will be utilizing during my shift. It is a "shotgun" type structure meaning the back door and front door align allowing the most refreshing breezes to go through, important when there is no air conditioning (or heat). Three windows (no glass) with hinged shutters allow for more air circulation.

I first visited the farm a couple years ago for a Gainesville Fine Arts Association plein air paintout. Did you know North Florida, especially Alachua County, is renowned for its artists who paint landscapes out in the fresh air? I walked all around the grounds feeling lots of nostalgia from my early years on a farm up north, corncrib, chicken houses, a hand pump, a root cellar, a truck garden, and a smoke house, all things familiar to me. I knew why this was a great place for a paintout as I watched the many artists pick their subjects and begin to sketch out their compositions. It is a beautiful place, one that almost poses for you and takes you back in time. While I was there this week a group of amateur photographers were strolling the grounds, almost puzzled by what to “shoot” next, such was the abundance of subject material.

So my list of volunteer work grows, and I realize the word “rich” has very little to do with money. If you haven’t visited Dudley and have the opportunity, I hope you will take the short ride west of Jonesville on State Road 26, look for the Dudley Farm sign on your right, and follow the winding black macadam road to another kind of Oz.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Wakulla Springs

I went on a bus trip with other seniors a few weeks ago to Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee, Florida. As soon as I heard the words “boat ride included”, I was ready to go. And the mention of Wakulla Springs brought back the memory of a book I had read, Murder at Wakulla Springs by a local author and environmentalist, M. D. Abrams. My curiosity was peaked.

We pulled out of Gainesville around 8:30 and traveled via 441and I-10 for most of the trip, weaving and winding through little back roads to reach our final destination. We arrived at the springs, which is a State-owned park, just in time for lunch, mine to be a tasty vegetable and pasta alfredo with garlic bread, a tossed salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing, and key lime pie for dessert. A ranger familiarized us with the history and layout of the springs as our food settled. I learned Wakulla was originally made famous through the writings of John Muir in 1867. The Lodge where we ate was a sort of hotel, restaurant, and gift shop combination with beautiful old-style Spanish architecture, lots of marble, mosaics, arches, a 16-foot Cyprus beamed ceiling, and a red-tiled roofline, truly beautiful in its natural woodsy setting.



As I ate, if I looked out the lovely arched windows across the green lawn, I could see the springs where several people were swimming and sun bathing. There were two huge wooden decks in the water for sunning or jumping off and another two-tier deck for diving into the now tannin-colored river. We were told the water temperature of the springs was a consistent 68-70 degrees and although normally crystal-clear, it was tea-colored now because of recent rainfall.

The Wakulla River which originates at the springs and where we would have our 45-minute boat ride was the best part of the trip. Forty-three of us split up into two covered and flat-bottomed slow-moving tour boats. We leisurely made our way a few miles downstream as our pilot, actually another park ranger, pointed out all kinds of wildlife. We saw anhingas, egrets, ibis, all kinds of ducks, herons, bitterns, limpkins, turtles and so many others I can't remember them all. Florida alligators rested or slept on every little sandbar sticking above the waterline and a rather rowdy one swam directly across the path of our boat. The literature boasted 182 different seasonal birds and I believe them. It was truly a nature-lovers paradise.





As our ride neared its end, we circled the springs and were surprised to see a gator gliding along the edge of the roped-off swimming area. Our ranger navigated our boat so we were behind the wily creature and he successfully "herded" him back out into the river as we and the divers watching from the deck breathed a sigh of relief, I think, or maybe it was "old hat" to them. I don't think I'd want to go swimming there, but what a beautiful place it was.





A thunderstorm came up as we docked and the second boat's ride was cut short, coming in right behind us. The swimming area was closed and the lightning drove all of us inside just as the rain began...on to the gift shop where there was an old-fashioned soda fountain in back of a long marble bar. Candies of yesteryear festooned the top and I overheard many talking about sugar daddies and candy cigarettes. We spent the rest of our trip there parting with a few dollars and enjoying homemade scoops of ice cream, one with the unusual name of “muddy shoes”. I hesitated to try that one opting instead for my old favorite of mint chocolate chip.





Our driver escorted each and every one of us to the bus via a big black umbrella when it was time to head back home. It continued to rain as we pulled out, and we didn't see sunshine again until we got back to Gainesville around 6:30, everyone eager to get up and out and stretch. At home Mopsy greeted me at the door with her chastising expression like she was ready to read me the riot act...or maybe not. I think she had just wakened from a long nap, but soon she realized she was hungry and everything was back to normal again.

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Contest Full of Surprises

Some of you may have heard me mention that I am a member of an online writing group called “writing.com.” I joined it in December of 2008 during a time when I was Jim’s caregiver. It saved my life, or at least saved my sanity, by providing me with an hour or so each day of normalcy during a period in my life that was anything but normal.

In the beginning I read the writing of others and provided tentative feedback, unsure of my own ability to do more. It was late February of 2009 before I was brave enough to “publish” a poem, a poem about my kitty, Mopsy, and a visiting friend named Oliver. We called him Ollie and he belonged to my daughter who, at the time, had moved into an apartment that did not allow pets. The poem was terrible, but I have left it “published” to remember how it all started. Now, I have over 232 published items of which some are book items, meaning they have more than one entry, for instance, my blog and my memoirs, which have several.

A couple of years ago I was promoted to the role of moderator on the site because of my activity and involvement with others, I guess, not really sure why. It’s not a big deal, but it does allow me to do certain things such as edit newsletters, judge contests, try out new site tools before others as well as being helpful and positive when questioned about things on the site which sometimes I can answer and sometimes not.

Finally, slow though I am, last month I, along with two other moderators, volunteered to judge the monthly official writing.com contest. The other two moderators were old hands at judging. This contest is called “Short Shots” and the required story of up to 2,000 words was prompted by a photo. From my viewpoint, the picture was eerie-looking, mostly dark green and blue with patches of bright light shining in from above. I saw old buildings around a lake, rocky and barren backdrops, with industrial smokestacks in the distance. My first thought was of a book I had read awhile back called Among Others which was set in a coal mining area of Scotland. The small town’s laborers worked in factories that made charcoal briquettes. Not one other person who entered the contest saw the picture the same way I did.

First, let me say, the judges had to read all the entries and give a written review of at least 250 characters which is not really very long. This is what amazed me. Nearly every story was sci-fi or fantasy, and there were 49 entries. The closest I have gotten to reading science fiction and fantasy would be Steven King and J. K. Rowling so believe me, I was not prepared to “understand” most of the entries about supernatural caves, dragons, aliens, fantasy warfare, fairies, time warps, black holes, spaceships, middle earth, and on and on. So to say I got an education in an unknown genre would be an understatement.
In order to write the review I had to try to understand the story that was being written. Sometimes this took four or five readings and “googling” strange words.
After reading all the stories my judging job was to pick my favorite ten, with number one being my most favorite and so on. The contest ended on the thirtieth of July and my selections had to be submitted by August 15th. I wasn’t supplied with the entries until the first of August because editing was allowed until the end of July. With my lack of knowledge in the genre I placed the extra burden on myself of finishing all my reviews by August 15th. How could I make an intelligent decision otherwise? Then the moderator of the contest would compile the selections attaching a point system to determine the top three, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places. The prizes are in writing.com gift points of $100, $50 and $25, and you must have a paid membership to be eligible. I had no idea so many people would enter.

The winners were announced on August 22nd and I was shocked to see that my first three picks had won 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places just as I had selected them. So I guess the moral of this story is that even though you may not think you know what you are doing, if you try to do your very best, you can get through it and maybe even learn something along the way. I anticipated emails from writers who laughed at my reviews, but all the responses I received couldn’t have been nicer, and several actually said I “got” exactly what they were trying to say. That was a big surprise.

My comfort level with sci-fi and fantasy has improved, but I’m not sure I would knowingly volunteer to judge another contest in those genres. I did learn a lot, not only about writing but about people, and now that it’s over, I’m glad I put myself out there and saw it through to the finish line.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bread

Over thirty years ago I was given a bread maker for some holiday, Christmas or birthday, I can't remember which, but I've used it very little. The bread it makes is okay tasting but weird looking. The loaf comes out square and not the right size for anything. Nowadays I buy my bread at the Publix bakery, sometimes sour dough, sometimes sunflower seed and they are very good and make excellent toast. I usually get it sliced and freeze it, taking out a piece as I want. Publix loaves run between $3.50 and $3.95 per loaf...which got me thinking about my bread machine.

I pulled it out of the cabinet last Monday where it's been stored along with its instruction booklet and began to read. I found I could make dough and shape and bake the final product myself. Of course, I read this long ago, it just didn't sink in or may have seemed like too much bother...for someone who needed a bread machine. I had all the ingredients on hand except for fresh yeast so when I was out on another errand I picked up some new Fleischman's, and Monday afternoon I made bread.




After I put in all the ingredients and set the timer on "dough", it took around 80 minutes from start to finish. I have to say it called for dry milk but since I had only a can of evaporated, I mixed that with an equal amount of water and used it to replace the water called for in the recipe. Who likes dry milk anyway? I always use evaporated milk for cooking because almond milk is my daily fare and its flavor does not lend itself to macaroni and cheese for instance.

Once the machine beeped indicating I could dump the dough I expected a sticky mess but wonder of wonders, it dumped out fairly clean. I had my spot prepared with a sprinkle of extra flour. I punched down the puffy ball and shaped it into a new one, letting it rest a few minutes before rolling it out to an 8 x 12 rectangle and then rolling it up from the short end, jelly-roll fashion to form it into a loaf that would fit in my already sprayed bread pan. I covered it with sprayed Saranwrap and set it in a warmed oven. It doubled in size in around 30-35 minutes and then I baked it at 350 degrees till brown and crusty on top. The smell was "devine."



I dumped it immediately onto a wire cooling rack and when it was completely cool, I sliced it (I made 20 thin slices), slid it into an old bread wrapper, smoothed out the air and put a twist tie on the end and popped it into the freezer. Okay, I confess. I ate a piece and it was yummy.

So, then I tallied up my cost...50 cents! What a savings.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Her Name Was Hazel But She Was No Lady

Were you ever in a hurricane? That’s a silly question to ask a Floridian. The answer is most likely “which one?” But today I’m thinking of one long-ago hurricane, Hazel, and October of 1954, as it neared the State of Delaware.

I was in the fourth grade, Mrs. Quillen’s class at Harrington Elementary, not quite ten years old. Mommy and I listened to the news the night before as the weatherman told us Hazel was in the Bahamas and not expected to be a threat to the U.S. mainland, but by the time I was on the school bus on the morning of October 15th, and unknown to us at the time, Hazel had made a unexpected left hand turn and was about to slam into North and South Carolina.

I remember looking out the huge plate glass windows on the east side of my classroom and wondering why it was getting so dark. All the lights were on in mid-morning. Then the announcement came, buses were coming to take us back home. I saw them lining up out front. I swallowed a few times and wondered if Mommy would be home from work or if I would be alone. I never thought to tell anyone.

As we gathered our book bags, Mrs. Quillen hurried us along and marched us outside in a line. It seemed like nighttime, still and quiet. The ride home was like any other day except for the headlights of oncoming cars. The bus driver didn’t drive any faster than usual and I chatted with my seatmate about everything including the hurricane. None of us had ever seen one before and if this was what all the hullabaloo was about, it didn’t look like anything to be scared of.

The bus stopped to let me off and I used my door key to get in, in to darkness. The wind was starting to blow and I felt a few whopper raindrop plops as I stepped inside. Mommy wasn’t there. I turned on all the lights and wondered what I should do. I looked out the living room window. The wind was picking up and flattening the tall dead grasses next door. The sugar maples planted along the highway out front must have shed hundreds of orange leaves as the wind swirled them past my lookout post. I wished for Mommy to come home. I stayed glued to the window even though I couldn’t see much. It wasn’t long until my wish was granted.

I saw the headlights bobbing through the rain as the vehicle neared our driveway. The driver kindly pulled in and deposited Mommy almost at our front door, and I held it open as she quickly came inside, turning to wave to her friend that all was well.

That night was one of the scariest of my life. Rain pummeled our house, the wind screeched and blew things against our walls that we could not see. The power went off and we were in total darkness until Mommy lit the kerosene lamp and then the shadows made me think I was in a horror movie. It rained and rained some more. We played gin rummy by lamp light and I ate melting ice cream until I felt sick, all the while listening to the background noise of Hazel. Finally, I fell into a stressed, nightmarish sleep.

I woke to an eerie dawn almost like twilight, no wind, no rain, but the air seemed full of something. I heard frogs croaking and saw that water covered our lawn. Sticks and limbs and crushed maple leaves were everywhere. Out front a couple telephone poles leaned, stretching the wires tight. Big power trucks were already parked a ways down the road. Mommy was fixing us cereal with warm milk.

Later that day Uncle Parvin brought concrete blocks and boards, and he made a bridge-like path for us to walk above the water. He warned me not to get brave and walk in the water because you wouldn’t know what might be in there. I wasn’t that brave anyway. It took the water forever to go down. The muck and yuck that remained had a not so nice smell.

After the power came back on, we heard that the winds had been over 100 miles per hour, that the storm had roared through at 50 miles per hour, and that a lady in Wilmington was killed when she was picked up and slammed into a trolley car. A few days later we rode by the Dover Armory and saw its roof lying on the ground, deposited there by Hazel. Newspapers reported a total of four Delawareans perished as a result of the storm. Hazel left its footprint on Rehoboth Beach, my favorite place, with damage to hotels, the boardwalk, and excessive beach erosion.


Hazel traveled on up into Canada, merged with a cold front but continued to do lots of damage. It was unusual that a hurricane, a category 4 when it pelted the Carolinas, got that far north and stayed that strong. I thanked my lucky stars that Mommy came home when she did. And better yet, no school for a few days, which usually only happened for snow. Even hurricanes had a tiny silver lining.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

I have to title this Hillary!

I have been cocooning again. Jim's 4 year anniversary came and passed on the 19th. I write in all kinds of things to do on my calendar for those days before and after but that's as far as I get. I have been doing my usual yard work so that's something.

I don't usually write about touchy subjects like politics and religion but.... Why does Trump get so much press time? Everyday it seems he does something newsworthy. Hillary just chose her vp and I had to search to find it. Trump has mastered the con, the art of evasion, and how to get airtime without paying for it. I'm not in love with Hillary but I'm not a sheep either...although I did belong to the Woolgatherers once. I think that's what it was called...my memory, yikes.

I have relatives and friends who love Trump and I can't figure it out. No matter what stupid, racist, blah blah thing he says, it's okay. Have they been brainwashed? Maybe that's what it is. Remember the 70s and all the cults? If you repeat something long enough, people start to believe it. "Make America great again." All I can do is shake my head and wonder why. And I'm doing it, too. Almost all my post about Trump. Damn!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Writer's Workshop Plus

            A few Saturdays ago I attended a writer's workshop sponsored by my local writing group. They called it "Writers in the Woods". An author in the group, whom I'll call Sophie because her pure white hair makes her look so sophisticated, allowed us, 40 of us, to pile into her historical country home to learn a little more about writing. We got a bonus.

            Sophie, a widow, owns 110 acres a few miles southwest of where I live. Early in the morning I traveled the interstate to the exit for her country road and drove around twenty miles on a nice atmospheric two-lane highway bordered by thousands of blooming pink phlox. Then my directions indicated a turn onto a limestone road that wound and wound for a couple more miles. I saw cattle, tilled fields, and huge standing pines. At last I arrived at Sophie’s and was directed by another writer I recognized to park with others in a field behind a stacked stone border. Flowers, shrubs, and trees blossomed and quaint blue bottle stepping-stones dotted the grass of the wooden-fenced front yard. On the inviting open front porch, crowded with rockers and hanging impatiens, two other writing acquaintances checked me in. Inside the old-fashioned kitchen, donut holes and hot coffee and tea sat waiting. Folding chairs filled two large rooms which sported high ceilings, paddle fans, and airy screened windows. They were known as the North Room and the Dining Room on our programs, which listed poetry, publishing, blogs, photography, and freelance writing as topics of interest to be presented.

            Sophie welcomed us and told us a little of her home’s history. It was built around 1903 and had once sat on Noble Avenue in a nearby town. Her family purchased it to save it from demolition, and they had it moved to its present spot in the 1990s. Much work, effort, and many dollars went into its renovation in the ensuing years.

            The day was split into two sessions, morning and afternoon, with a catered-lunch served around 12 o’clock. We could eat outside at picnic tables or inside, wherever we liked. After devouring heaping platters of rolls, pork barbecue, coleslaw, beans, and chocolate chip cookies, everyone was invited back inside to listen to some original tunes by a couple of our own writers. Needing very little encouragement, the audience sang along to a parody of Crazy, that old song by Patsy Cline, reworded to be about writers, of course.

            When all the presentations were finished, our hostess offered to guide anyone interested on a tour of some of her land. We walked about an hour, part way on an old railroad berm. For those who don't know what that is, it's the built-up area for the tracks. The tracks were no longer in place, but the flat area made a perfect walking path. The day was clear and sunny, about seventy degrees.




            As we trailed after our leader, around fifteen of us breathed in the resinous scent of the towering pines, heard a few birdsongs, and carefully stepped over obstructions. Small rocks (lime rock) and fallen twigs littered the path just waiting for an ankle to twist. Sometimes I noticed tire tracks and then I walked in their ruts, thankful I’d worn tennis shoes.

            We dallied at the edges of several lime rock pits on the property, used for that purpose years ago. The ground around them declined steeply, dotted with some scraggly new-growth trees and even a few pieces of old rusty equipment. At the bottom lay twinkling ponds. Sophie had named one particular pond Lucy after that Beatles’ tune, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. It glimmered and glittered in the afternoon sunlight. Overhanging rocky faces greeted us on the far sides of the man-made lakes, rising perhaps a hundred feet in height.




            We noticed a large object sticking up out of the water of one pond, far out near the middle. Sophie, winking, said someone had gifted her a mattress when the water level was low, then she went on to tell us how some of these pits went right down into the aquifer, that place where we get our drinking water. The water never leaves the ponds, but the level rises and falls with the rain. Our facial expressions began to change and the chatter became more serious. We started to see problems, water contamination, dangers to children, unsightly trash. Sophie told us of a child who had drowned a few years back. What at first seemed aesthetically appealing now had other meanings.

            Borrow pits as they are sometimes called seemed an appropriate moniker. The material from these pits is borrowed for use somewhere else. But the digging opens a clear chute into our drinking water system, all connected underground. The property around Sophie’s is cattle and farm country. Runoff trickles directly into these pits and our aquifer. Think fertilizer, weed, and pest spray.

            Yes, this day we learned a little more than we had bargained for. Somehow it makes a difference when you see the dangers in your own backyard even if it is someone else’s. As homeowners our efforts seem like a drop in the bucket and of not much consequence. For years Jim and I used Roundup for weed control thinking it safe, but now we know one of its ingredients is a probable carcinogen. As one person I probably can’t do very much, but I think someone said change starts with one. I can only do my best to stay informed and be that one, thanks to one far-reaching little walk in the woods.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Easter Fun

Since Easter is coming up, I’ve been thinking back on ones in the past. Making up baskets for the kids, big Easter dinners, church services, Easter outfits, all bring back memories of happy times. And then I thought of Easter egg hunts.

When Jim and I owned that mobile home park in Delaware in the late sixties, we inherited a tradition from the previous owners, the annual Easter egg hunt. Mr. and Mrs. Allison always hosted this festivity for the children in the park, and when we took over, we thought it a good idea to continue.

The first year Mrs. Allison, along with some mothers in the park, came to help, bringing extra pots and coffee cups for dyeing. I don’t know about your Easter egg hunts back then, but the ones I’m talking about were with real hard-boiled colored eggs and involved several dozen of them.
The park had sixty-five rental spaces and a couple times as many kids ranging in age from toddlers to teens. And they all participated in the hunt. Back then without cell phones and other electronic gadgets, fun consisted of simpler things.

We were up at dawn on the Saturday before Easter to start the boiling which took several pots since the eggs have to be in a single layer to avoid cracking. We needed to bring them to a rolling boil, and let them set for fifteen minutes for the perfect hard-boiled egg. I think we made something like twelve dozen eggs so you can imagine that this took awhile. The kitchen got steamed up and doors and windows were flung open even though outside was not that warm. Husbands cared for the little ones during this occasion so that it could be kept a secret, sort of. We, moms, took advantage of our time off and made it festive with appropriate refreshments and a certain silliness only friends working together enjoy. We were like kids, competing for the prettiest ones, wrapping eggs with string, marking them with crayon words, swirling in different colors, which we made ourselves from food color and vinegar. And there were two special glittered gold and silver eggs for first and second prizes of Easter baskets, but every participant got a chocolate bunny. We put all the eggs back in the cartons to dry and then into the fridge till show time. Then we made up the Easter baskets stuffing them first with that green grass that ends up everywhere.

The mobile home park was called Whispering Pines, and it did have a few huge pine trees interspersed among the lots, but the egg hunt was held at the front of the park in a large open area sort of like the inside of a U with the entrance and exit streets circling it. Mrs. Allison was a gardening whiz. Right now, just thinking about it, I can almost taste the tartness of her fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie made with the real thing fresh from her garden. She had planted azaleas, forsythia, daffodils, tulips, and dogwoods all around the perimeter of this central grassy area. It was beautiful in the springtime, and this is where the guys, carrying flashlights, hid the eggs early on Sunday morning under a pre-dawn cover.

At the designated time, I think it was around 9, parents lined up their kids side-by-side, empty baskets in hand, little ones in the front row. They got a head start, sometimes being helped by a parent or a teen sibling. The rest of us stood drinking coffee, watching the action with smiling faces. Some tiny ones got exasperated and had to be helped, directed and cheered on by the rest of us.

Enthusiasm kept the hunt to a minimum amount of time and almost all the eggs were found within a half hour with participants returning to proudly exhibit their colorful baskets. When the special eggs were found, shrieking marked the spot and the “findee”. Smiles stretched across the faces of the proud parents. We distributed the prizes which were usually shared and eaten on the spot. I’m not sure who had the best time, the kids or the adults.


We kept up the tradition for the five years we owned the park. It was a good way to get better acquainted and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Even now, almost fifty years later, my mind can see certain moms dipping those eggs with delight. We’re all kids at heart, aren’t we? Think I can talk my daughter and granddaughter into coloring some eggs when they come for Easter dinner this year? Then we can turn them into deviled eggs, always a request on this occasion.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

An Irish Thing

According to historical accounts, St. Patrick was born in England (in Roman times), not Ireland. He arrived in Ireland via kidnapping and was sold into slavery. Eventually, he escaped to a monastery in France (Gaul). He returned to Ireland in 432 A.D. as a missionary where he converted thousands to Christianity, driving out the Pagans, or "snakes" as they were called. There are no real snakes in Ireland, depending on your definition. He became a bishop and was named Ireland's Patron Saint.

Irish emigrants to the United States inflated St. Patty's Day celebrations as a way of connecting with their roots, green rivers, green beer, green clothes for the green isle. When I was in elementary school if I didn't wear green on St. Patty's Day, I could expect to be pinched. I wore green. We even exchanged St. Patrick's Day cards. It was a big deal...and I was English way back when sometime.

And then there is this luck thing that's associated with the green day. The three-leaf clover is a symbol of the trinity, but a four-leaf clover brings good luck. And kissing the Blarney Stone, that makes you lucky in love. Leprechauns, another Irish thing, were paid by fairies for their work with golden coins. Once I had a little leprechaun in my garden to protect my plants from danger. It didn't work. I think you need a green thumb for that and mine is mostly brown, but he was pretty. In time, the rain ate some of him away and he had to be discarded.

There's special food and drink on the green day, corned beef and cabbage and a good pint are the most popular. Here where I live we have several pubs (bars) that cater to the theme all this week, Dirty Nelly's, Mother's, Beef O'Brady's. If you have imposed food restrictions on yourself for Lent, the Irish give you permission to lift them for this one day, March 17th.

My husband was Irish, but he wasn't much for celebrations. Leprechauns interested him though. We'd all like to find that pot of gold, and rainbows are beautiful whether there is gold at the end or not

All things considered, the Irish have given us a lot of things to think about, things we wouldn't know of without them. I was lucky in love without the Blarney Stone, but if I happened to be nearby, I'd have to give it a try.



Sunday, February 28, 2016

Delaying the End

You can probably tell from my book list over on the right side that I like to read. No, let me rephrase that, not like, love to read. This love started at a very young age and has never waned. It’s unusual for me to start a book and not finish it whether I like the story or not. I feel as though I have made some sort of pact with the author when I read that first page. I can’t always be sure the book is a bummer after reading just a little bit even if it feels that way. I have to keep going, looking for the good stuff. Didn’t someone say, “I never read a book I didn’t like”? I may be mixed up with Will Rogers on that one.

The book I am currently reading is giving me a problem I rarely have. I don’t want to finish the story, and it’s not because I don’t like it. I just don’t want it to end. I’m afraid I may not like the ending, or I may be disappointed by it. I may just start over.

I selected this book because it deals with grief. My husband passed away almost four years ago, and I’ve read zillions of nonfiction about getting through the death of a spouse, but this book I’m reading now is fiction. The nonfictions say the same thing because we are all basically alike in our grief. You read one, you’ve read ‘em all. I’m not sure why I had to read so many to understand that. Most of them depressed me even more than I was and kept death and loss in the forefront of my mind. I should’ve known this would happen. Here are a few of the ones I liked enough to own.

 

But this book I’m reading now is different. To me it seems truer than the nonfiction. I think it may be like the suggestion one gets in a writing class for memoir, to write a difficult portion of your life as a fairytale. It's supposed to make it easier to write and the truth may come out of it, a truth you didn’t know when you started.

I don’t remember how I came across this book. I placed the large print edition on hold at my library and got it rather quickly. The title is A Man Called Ove (proper pronunciation here). The name is Swedish. The author, Fredrik Backman, wrote the book in Swedish. It is his first novel, but since this one he has written two more. An inside page says it was translated by Henning Koch in 2013. I was quite surprised when I discovered Mr. Backman was born in 1981. He is definitely an old soul. I love his answers on this interview, especially about how he wrote his novel.

If you asked me why I like this book, I couldn’t tell you. It’s a feeling I have and that will have to be good enough, for now. The ending may change things, but I think I’m ready.

3/1 - Yep, I knew it. I cried through the last ten pages.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Something To Think About

My writing group sponsors a library speaker (writing related) one Sunday each month. Last Sunday we had a local professor, Dr. Kevin McCarthy, a prolific writer, author of many, many books (62), all non-fiction, on a vast array of topics. He writes 500 words every day (every day) and turns out two books each year, some published by our university press and more through Createspace, for which he had only good things to say. We had a huge crowd who enjoyed his laid back presentation. Research was high on his list of how to be successful at non-fiction, and he gave several good sites for this, mainly Florida research since that is his specialty which he calls "Floridiana".

Another good point he made was to write your non-fiction book for a particular audience. He has written some on towns in Florida, which he said makes for a captive audience, practically everyone in the town will buy one. I've never considered anything like this before, but thinking about it, there are several things I wish there were books written about...so....

And even if writing a non-fiction is not a goal, it could be lots of practice for the goal. Goodreads has a nice listing of non-fiction sub genres.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Ellen and Edgar and Me

I arrived at the University of Delaware in the fall of 1962 fresh off the farm, although I didn't really live on a farm then. I think unsophisticated is the word I'm searching for. Due to efforts of my guidance counselor in securing scholarships, my road to further education continued to be surprising and dreamlike to me.

Aware that my roommate was from Wilmington and an upperclassman caused me some concern. People below the Delaware/ Chesapeake Canal where I lived were looked down upon by people living above it. They were city folks and we were country folks.

Ellen was already there when I arrived, and had claimed her side of the room. Sophisticated described her perfectly. She had blonde hair, colored and styled, and wore a plaid skirt, white blouse, and the ever popular knee socks with penny loafers. Her face was photo-session ready, and her nails were manicured and polished a bright red to match her lips. I noticed the top of her bureau was filled with all kinds of make-up, perfume, nail polish, and hair rollers. I found out later she never missed a night without those hair rollers.

Then she surprised me by extending her hand and saying, “Hi, I’m Ellen. I hope you don’t mind I took the bed on the right.”

That was the beginning of one of the most satisfying friendships of my life. Ellen was the perfect roommate, always considerate and helpful, and even though she was a Sophomore, she always treated me as an equal.

Her being an upperclassman had many perks and smoothed my transition to university life. She was my campus guide, mapping out my class destinations, warning me about frat parties, and accompanying me to Friday night dances. It didn’t hurt that she had a cute brother, either, especially for the Sadie Hawkins’ Day Dance.

Orientation week, that week when Sophomores do everything they can to humiliate Freshman, was bearable because of Ellen. She stuck close by as I wore my beanie cap and poster board. Everyone knew her, and she was the reason my board filled up with the required signatures so quickly.

Ellen was Catholic, had graduated from Tatnall in Wilmington, and faithfully went to mass on Sunday mornings. I am sorry to say I didn't follow her lead, and only attended church services about four times the entire year. Her dad worked for the DuPont Company and, of course, they were all members of a country club. She had plenty of things to boast about, but never did.

When my birthday came up in November, she surprised me with a chocolate cake and a copy of the Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe. She knew I liked the twisted tales and she liked the poetry. We both shared the wonder of “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee”. That well-worn book has maintained its honorary place on my bookcase for 53 years now with its "Happy Birthday. Ellen" written inside. Some friends down the hall crowded into our tiny room to munch on chocolate cake, and we all talked late into the night to make it a memorable birthday even though I was far away from home.



When the weather got cold, Ellen taught me how to knit. I was not a fast learner, but she didn’t give up, and I ended up knitting a cabled Christmas sweater for a boy I knew who had recently joined the Army. She gave her time and talents freely and thought nothing of it. Now, whenever I knit, I think of Ellen.

Later that winter when I was sick with the sore throat of the century, she brought me chicken soup from the dining hall, kept the drapes pulled so I could rest, and managed to keep the dorm noise to a minimum. My mom would have been proud of her. I was such a complainer, it makes me wince to think of it.

Ellen was a thoughtful, caring, and humble person. She put others ahead of herself, and I'll always remember her as the kind friend she was to me.

After I married, we lost touch. A few years later I saw a wedding picture of her in our local paper. I cut it out and have kept it all these years. Even though it's worn and yellowed, Ellen’s happiness shines through to me.