Saturday, September 17, 2016

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life



I didn't plan to write this particular post. In fact, I was only planning to let a few close friends know my innermost difficulties. Thank goodness, things didn't turn out that way.

The Sunday before surgery to remove a malignant tumor, aka breast cancer, I requested prayer at church. Maybe a few people knowing wouldn't hurt, I reasoned. Then came facebook and my husband. First he posted for everyone to pray for successful surgery and once that was accomplished, he posted a "My wife is cancer free" praise. It's hard for me to "Praise God!" on the one hand and fuss at the husband on the other. So instead, I embraced it. I began posting updates on my own facebook page.

At the time I didn't realize my faith in a higher power's ability to heal had long ago prepared me for this journey. All I had to do was turn to that and let God take over. That happened, for sure. I guess God really took over by sending me all kinds of love from all different directions. I began receiving phone calls from concerned friends, cards from people reassuring me that they were with me in thoughts and prayers, emails, and private online messages, visits from neighbors, flowers, food so I wouldn't have to expend energy cooking, more cards, and numerous get well likes on my facebook postings.

I developed an extensive kit of tools to help me fight this battle, all from the kindness of others.

Displaying 0917160740-01.jpg

Look closely and you'll get an idea of the embodiment of kindness. It's a "Smile, Happy is Beautiful" box stuffed with get well cards from friends and strangers. It's a pink journal with colorful gel pens where I take notes on my daily radiation treatments. It's a "Purpose of Pink" drawstring bag from the Cancer Support Center. It's an armpit sized teddy bear that gives my lymph node stitches relief at night. It's a tie-around-the-neck, heart-shaped armpit pillow that helps me get through the day. 

And behind everything is a prayer quilt made by the Hartland Quilters from my church and community. If you look carefully in the lower center of the photograph, you'll see yellow threads sewn into the fabric. That's the prayer part of the quilt. The Sunday morning that the quilters presented it to me during worship service, they invited others to come forward and tie a knot with the threads to represent a prayer said for me. I was humbled watching the pews empty and people coming forward to pray for me. On the flip side of the quilt they attached a cloth note, dated August 7, 2016, with the inscription, "This quilt was made with love ~ Each knot represents a prayer that was said for you." I felt the love.

My immediate thought was to put this treasure up where nothing would mar its beauty, especially the cat with the fur flying, and the dribbles of food and drink I might drop. Instead I wrap myself in the comfort of a comforter (quilts are called that for some reason, right?) that reminds me of the power of prayer. The cat sits on my lap, snuggling its body into the prayers, adding yet another layer of comfort for me.

So these are the tools I'm using now to get through the days. I'm over half way finished with radiation treatments and will not, make that a capital NOT, have to undergo chemotherapy. I've been cancer free since July's operation, so every procedure I'm enduring now is for prevention of recurrence. The doctors have been beyond miraculous. The nurses outstanding. I can handle this. My daughter is home for a month. My son's family sends good vibes. My patient husband has held me up through all this. 

Scriptures come to me often. Thank goodness I'm from the generation that was required to memorize passages of scripture, because now they dredge up from the far recesses of my mind when I most need them. For these gifts I've received from people in my life, I can affirm from the twenty-third psalm, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."

Catch of the day,

Gretchen






Saturday, September 3, 2016

Fiddlers Convention

I'm heading to a convention this weekend, a fiddlers convention. What a concept!

Fiddlers haven't exactly received the best press throughout history. Hillbilly and fiddle seem to go together, while mountain man and violin conjure up an entirely different vision. And how about Nero, the one who fiddled while Rome burned? Or Ole King Cole, that merry old soul, called for his fiddlers three - as he lived the life of luxury?

My mother often wondered what happened to her father's fiddle. He was a coal miner in western Pennsylvania who picked up his fiddle whenever he had a chance, rarely, according to her descriptions of their rough life.

Fiddles have always been mainstream here in the Appalachians. In fact I read in a book (as I was researching a completely different topic) that fiddles were essential to pioneer living and campfires and settling down with horses roped for the night. Not for the joy of music to sleep in a comfy lullaby sense, no, fiddles were needed for defense from things that go bump in the night, or woof, or grrr.

A screeching draw of the bow across the fiddle strings was enough to send the predators running for the hills. Maybe they used sticks instead of the bow, or anything else handy to screech a high note on the strings and frighten the coyotes or wolves or bears or ... you name it. Well, fiddlesticks! I can only imagine.

This picture I took last night is a little blurry,
but clear enough to see what goes on at the fiddlers convention
Now the descendants of those early fiddle guards are convening in a modern day Eden named Happy Valley here in Caldwell County, North Carolina. They'll compete against each other and yes there are plenty entered every year in the youth classification. Thankfully, the tradition continues. All these fiddlers, youngest to most ancient, will compare notes about instruments and songs and techniques. They'll tell tall tales about their experiences and laugh when their names come up in other fiddler's stories. If they screech, no one in the audience will run for the hills. It's all a part of the show.

The only predators threatening them are fans seeking autographs.

A must at a fiddlers convention -
Wooden board for clogging
Sounds like a wonderful way to spend Labor Day weekend! Check it out, the Happy Valley Fiddlers Convention. I hope to see you there.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Magnolia Inspirations

One of my all time favorite movies is Steel Magnolias, a tear jerker for sure. When I'm in need of steeling myself against the world, I slide a copy into the DVD and watch away. I see so many traits of my friends in the strong characters that come and go as the story unfolds. Every time at the end of the movie when the tissues have settled and the tears dried, I resolve to become more like those southern women, delicate as the magnolia blossoms now adorning the tree in my front yard...delicate with a hidden strength of steel.

This past week was not an easy one for me as I began breast cancer radiation treatments (stage one, so not as dire as it sounds). Even so, I needed to have nerves of steel, so Monday I turned to the magnolia bloom for inspiration, creating this internet poster from a picture I snapped of a bloom in my front yard.

The scent of a magnolia is beyond description. I've searched the Thesaurus for the exact word and the closest I came was honeyed. Well, there was also sweet. Not to mention saccharine. Saccharine, maybe a bit deceptively sweet, sickening in sweetness. That would be a steel magnolia. One that emits sugar and spice and all things nice, and at the same time girding oneself against the odds. Like this spider I snapped on another blossom.
Greenish spider on top of petal
with its honeybee prey wrapped in silk on the petal below
Life in a tree. It goes on. The spider survives because of its ability to use this delicately scented bloom, yet the bloom itself doesn't survive. It turns brown within a day or two and the petals drop unceremoniously to the ground and the spider moves to the nearest ready blossom, because there will be more blossoms. That's the way magnolia trees work. 

If you look carefully above the white blossom on the tree in my yard, you can see an outdated, dried up, well past its prime, brown blossom. And if you look even closer, you will note more brown beneath the tree on the ground. Those are not only the droppings of past petals, but also leaves the tree has recently shed. A magnolia tree loses its leaves year round, not all at once. It's evergreen, bringing color to the drabness of winter...no blossoms though. That's reserved for summertime pleasure. 

When I need inspiration, I think of these deceptively delicate flowers surrounding my home. I need strength of steel behind my smile and in the magnolia I find a symbol to hold to. I'll say I'm fine, and I am, but I'm also struggling like that brown version clinging on the branch. The good thing about an evergreen is that through all the shedding and dropping and bees and aromas, this tree will still be there, sporting different blooms no doubt, but still there. Like a promise of tomorrow.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Snowball Bush

The first few years I taught fourth grade my classroom was in an old 1925 building...no air conditioning...bat drippings oozing down the walls from cracks in the super high ceiling...wooden floors with so many years of summer wax job buildups, a fire would have spread instantaneously...ancient radiators that hissed steam...windows above the radiators that spanned the rest of the height to the ceiling...gravel (muddy) parking lot for teachers.

The good old days.

While building maintenance was hard to keep up to standard, beautification projects kept a certain air of dignity about the campus. I don't remember all that many flowers except for a string of bushes that bloomed gigantic white balls. The children called them snowball bushes. I looked upon them as pesky. The sarcastic teachers called them death traps.



Let me explain to all of you who don't remember life in a hot classroom with no air conditioning, even before global warming reared its ugly head. Closing the windows was not an option. Lowering the shades helped some, except that often the one most needed had scrolled its way to the top of the window frame and the janitor was nowhere around with a ladder to reach the cord that pulled it back into position. Electric fans would have helped, except that the wiring along the string of classrooms on my side of the hall was tricky. If the teacher next door was showing a filmstrip, power to my plug just didn't happen. Children learned early how to turn yesterday's math worksheet into a paper fan. Teachers learned early to go over the important skills in the relative coolness of the morning.

And bees learned early that the insides of the schoolhouse offered all sorts of tasty, inviting juice remnants. Which brings me to the snowball bushes arrayed beneath the windows of my classroom and the swarms of bees doing what bees do when the flowers are at their peak. They made a bee line to these delectable snowballs, and often made a few detours in the open windows. Only one year did that cause a concern, the year of the superallergic, ten minutes to get a shot from my top desk drawer or die, student. We took this shot outside on the playground every day. We took it on field trips. For the entire year it accompanied me, unused, thank heaven. One child's beauty is another's tragedy.

This past week my husband and I traveled to Shatley Springs Restaurant  near Jefferson, North Carolina for a breakfast treat, no small treat, I might add. It's served family style and offers any and every breakfast item a southern home cook would offer, including country ham, sausage, bacon, gravy, grits, eggs, potatoes, stewed apples, biscuits and strawberry jelly. Make that homemade biscuits and homemade strawberry jam.
The pancakes came later
On the way inside we passed a noisy snowball bush. No, the bush wasn't making the noise. The bees were. Too bad this photograph I took of the bush doesn't come with sound. I'd love for you to hear it. That's the restaurant in the background, on the other side of the bush, at the end of the walk that goes directly below the bush...and the bees. My guess is that when the blooms start shedding their individual petals, the ground is as white as the winter snow. But this is summer and the tasty food and accompanying smell of fried country ham overrode my fear of noisy bees. I was not disappointed.


Dodging bees there at the bush brought these schoolhouse memories back. Strange how the most unexpected thoughts come from a simple morning out.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Myrtle and Sharon

Sounds like two ladies, Myrtle and Sharon, but they're not. They're plants. They live in my yard. In fact, they thrive there.

Here's Myrtle
And here's Sharon











Crepe Myrtle and Rose of Sharon, that is. I took these photos this week, in their peak. Their greenness and color are a welcome sight every summer, because both of them are downright bare during the depth of winter.

Here's winter Myrtle

And here's winter Sharon






One of my projects has involved research of French botanist Andre Michaux. He trekked through western North Carolina in the late 1700's, in fact on Bastille Day was not all that far from where Myrtle and Sharon now stand. He introduced Crepe Myrtle to America, brought it from Japan through the Charleston, South Carolina harbor where it thrived and spread and generations later, found its way to adorn my house.

Rose of Sharon, on the other hand, was already a part of the early settlers' awareness. It's Biblical, mentioned in the King James Version of The Song of Solomon, Chapter 2, verse 1: I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley. My reasoning here: This is the Bible belt. Rose of Sharon would have ranked well up there for ornamental plants.

One thing I've learned through all this writing about flowers, there's always a story to catch even in the beauty of my backyard. I'm going to keep researching until I find where the names Myrtle and Sharon fit into the grand scheme of things. Sounds like a plan.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen







Saturday, August 6, 2016

Highway 64, Part 2


After last week's post about US Highway 64, I thought I would add more details as to why this road is near and dear to my heart. Not only do I live off it in North Carolina, and my daughter lives and works off it in New Mexico, it's also featured in one of my books!



Chapter three. Page 26:
There was only one main road on the western side of the South Mountains, state road number #181, a narrow unpaved gravel/mud road that connected the town of Morganton to the town of Rutherfordton, thirty some miles to the south. A trip over that road in the 1930’s meant the traveler in a car, or most often, horse and buggy, must ford at least thirteen streams between the two towns. The roads branching off from the main artery had deep ruts and even deeper mud holes that became next to impossible to navigate during rainy periods. Conditions were so bad that in March of 1936, rural mail delivery stopped.
In March of 1938 the US government approved federal aid to North Carolina for the improvement of #181 south of Morganton. Engineers plotted the road to the Burke/McDowell county line. With new techniques of road building and less winding roads, the travel distance between Morganton and Rutherfordton was reduced from thirty-five to twenty-seven miles.
  • The old road wandered all around creation, especially up there around my house. It went in front of my shop and on up past my garden and back to where highway #64 is at now. Climbed up the top of the next hill and circled back and went back down to Brindle Creek and crossed the creek and went up to the top of the hill and come back again. Goes as a matter of convenience from one property to the next. That’s how crooked it was. You don’t think nothing      about the road until you get to looking at where it used to be. Henry Lane, student, 1942-48
This new road included a tar and gravel surface and up-to-date banking on the curves for safety. It opened to much ballyhoo and excitement on July 30, 1940.
A mere two weeks later, on August 14, 1940 surging floodwaters from an unnamed hurricane destroyed most of that exciting new road along with the valuable farmland and crops throughout the valley. Many bridges on the road washed away.
  • They was so much water ‘til it looked like an ocean to me. The field looked like you could go swimming in it. All the stuff washed away, an old barn we had there, the stuff we had in it, the straw, hay. Crops. Everything was gone. It got it all. Preston Denton, construction crew, 1941-42
By September the WPA approved flood relief for farmers affected by the hurricane and employed local men to work on a farm-to-market road project designed to rebuild the road. The engineers returned and directed these men in repairing highway #181 with more federal money. They completed construction by the end of 1940 and designated this route as a part of federal highway #64. 

I love catching the stories behind the stories. 

Catch of the day,

Gretchen






Thursday, July 28, 2016

Highway 64

US Highway 64 is near and dear to my heart.

Strange statement, right? A road. An ordinary, run-of-the-mill, get-me-to-work, road.

But, as in just about everything that crosses my path, there's more to this story than miles of pavement. This is not just any road. It's a road that has intersected with my life in more ways than one.

To begin with, I live within siren wailing distance off the road. Maybe a little closer, more like noisy motorcycle revving distance. Our house is in a subdivision here in western North Carolina, a turn or two off the main thoroughfare, far enough for peace and calm, close enough for convenience.

If I drive east, staying on Highway 64, I'd eventually run into the Atlantic Ocean where the road terminates in the North Carolina Outer Banks. Been there. On 64, the only choice.

If I drive west, staying on Highway 64, I'd pass the schoolhouse I wrote about in my Lessons Learned book.

If I drive further west, further, further and further, staying on Highway 64, I'd arrive in New Mexico a stone's throw from the vet's office where my daughter works (and six miles from her house).

If I drive even further west, staying on Highway 64, I'd cross the Rio Grande on a bridge that scares me beyond imagination. This photograph shows the bridge spanning the river's gorge. Follow the river upstream and you'd be within hot air balloon eyesight of the back deck of my daughter's house where I greet the morning with a cup of hot tea.

Distant picture of bridge, taken after a hike on the western rim of the gorge

My husband Van, standing on the highway 64 bridge

With the creation of the interstate highway system, roads like Highway 64 became localized, funneling the major traffic to faster, more efficient routes. Here's where my story takes a turn, a right turn, heading back east turn. 

With a logic only my husband and I could fathom, we decided to explore US Highway 64. We had driven a load of odds and ends to our daughter's house in Taos, New Mexico. By the way, important to this story fact, odds and ends fit better in the back of a pick-up truck. We came out following Interstate 40 through western North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas until just after the state line in New Mexico where we took a side road across the mountains to Taos. This was a journey of two and a half days, not bad, except, remember, this was a pick-up truck with plenty of room for odds and ends (including his golf clubs) but only two seats in the cab, with a back space for overnight luggage, pillows and the all important food stash and ice cooler.

We visited for a week and helped renovate her back deck (so I would have a beautiful spot to sit and sip my hot tea and watch the hot air balloons). We plotted our return trip. Not hard to do. Drive six miles, get on US Highway 64 east, drive over a thousand miles, and get off a quarter mile from our house. No cheating. We would follow this road regardless, we decided. Ha!

"Be sure to stop in Cimarron at the St. James Hotel," a North Carolina turned New Mexico friend told us over breakfast the morning of our departure. St. James it was, our first major find in our journey. We stopped in and walked through the lobby where once upon a time the likes of Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Kit Carson, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid had also stopped in and walked through the lobby. Talk about feeling history!

Highway 64 took us all the way through the panhandle of Oklahoma, followed by the part that makes up the pan to go with the handle. (Enid, Oklahoma is a real place to me now after years of filling it in crossword puzzles...just another gem I uncovered on this trip.)
A view of the panhandle out the back window of the pick-up.
And an extinct volcano, out in the middle of  Oklahoma's nowhere.


We found a volcano.We found salt flats. We found a distributor selling tornado shelters. We found Cherokee, Oklahoma. We found Okies from Muskogee. 

We drove a few miles off the route to the museum of the Western Cherokee nation. Our eyes were opened seeing and hearing the Cherokee perspective beyond the North Carolina boundaries.

Museum of the western band of the Cherokee Nation

We drove the back country through Arkansas on a route that appeared to us as quicker and shorter than the huge dip Interstate 40 takes to Little Rock. We crossed the Mississippi on the interstate (no other choice) bridge and picked up the road again in Memphis, Tennessee. Off the beaten track in the back woods of southern Tennessee, we followed a sign that I never considered before. I walked a few steps to take its photograph thinking of those who walked the same steps with a vastly different purpose.


We drove through Tennessee's Davy Crockett State Park and spent yet another night (one of four on the return trip) this time in Chattanooga in the shade of Lookout Mountain. We crossed into North Carolina early on the final travel day and assumed we would be home in a few hours. Wrong. 

Highway 64 goes through some of the most rugged land North Carolina has to offer. The road itself was bypassed by newer highways. When the sign said "No thru trucks" we should have realized what was in store. But we were determined to follow this through all the way, even if it meant cliff hangers. Cliff hangers we found.

What our determination meant was a view of the river traffic jam. 


And a view of a State Park...


                         And a national forest.




Will we do it again?

No, even though this highway is near and dear to my heart, and even though it was well worth the effort. Yet there are other back roads and by-ways waiting to be explored. Those we'll take. We've already got out the map.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen