Saturday, October 22, 2016

Last Okra Bloom of Summer

I don't have to read the weather forecast or check online. The wind outside announces fall has finally caught up to western North Carolina. Sad day, my husband said this morning as he looked longingly at the stack of shorts he was stowing in the back of the closet.

The leaves are still green on the trees in my yard. Green, I repeat, and the calendar says today is well past the Ides of October. Those few leaves that obeyed nature and started to change are being stripped from their branches today, going directly from green to brown - and then to the ground.

In all this I did find one plant hanging in there, daring winter to come, defying the looming frost. In our garden I found one last okra bloom.

There it is. The last okra bloom of summer. Okay, so it's not as well know or poetically appealing as the last rose of summer, but I go with what I see.

That okra plant is still alive and kicking it! Nearby the bloom, there are tiny okra pods developing just in time for me to add to my vegetable soup or to my western North Carolina version of gumbo.

Although this close-up shot makes them look like gourds, they are only two inches tall at best. Best means almost ready to harvest, before the green outside hardens so much it can't be sliced for cooking, and while the slimy juice from the inside still oozes to thicken the soup.

Fortitude is the word I'm thinking of right now as I see these tall plants swaying in the fall winds. Never give up. Hang in there until your purpose is fulfilled.

I've taken a little liberty here and substituted the okra concept for rose in the poem that I studied all those years ago, with apologies to poet Thomas Moore and my English Lit teacher, and thanks to  here's the first stanza reinvented:

The Last Okra Bloom of Summer

’TIS the last okra bloom of summer
  Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
  Are cooked and gone;
No bloom of her kindred,       
  Nor okra pod is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
  To give sigh for sigh.

Its theme is a little on the depressing side, but then again, so is the fall of the year when brilliant colors mask the impending winter darkness ahead. Since my teachers "encouraged" us to see ourselves or the world around us in everything we read, today I'm viewing this poem anew from a different perspective, from rose to okra, from teenage, to senior. When I was sixteen I did not understand it as I do now in the autumn (not even close to the winter, I want to insert) of my life. Like the okra bloom, I had to mature a bit to turn into the fruit that my life was meant to be. Like the okra bloom, I will fade away, but I choose to be like this one, blooming til the last possible second.

But wait!

Unlike the okra bloom, I will come back next spring, rested from the winter and ready to bloom again. Take that Thomas Moore!

Catch of the day,


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Memorizing Scripture

When I was in eighth grade, my teacher, Mr. Hampton (loved him) assigned a Psalm a week for us to memorize. This was on the cusp of the change in public school education, back before we realized the world was diverse, before prayer was removed, and before being politically correct outranked learning fine literature from the Bible.

Oh, we grumbled. Mainly because this was in addition to the verses we were required to memorize for our weekly Sunday School Classes and the once in a life time confirmation classes.

When would we ever use this?

I hear that cry now from Algebra I students (and parents) who don't realize the lessons learned in basic Algebra are so embedded in daily life that no one realizes they are there. Same as in learning phonics. All those basic ABC's and vowel rules and syllabication make reading new words possible, just ask those friends of mine who attended schools those years when phonics was tossed aside. To be without a skill makes life a degree more difficult.

I now have an answer to the "When would we ever use this?" complaint about memorizing scripture.


Just like Algebra. Just like phonics.

The soul also needs basics to call upon. In times of stress, life becomes bearable when a bit of scripture floats up from the depths of the brain to bring comfort and reassurance. Like in these coaster tiles a friend gifted me this week.

My favorite, Joshua 1:9 The Lord Your God is with you.

I'm about through with my cancer radiation treatments, two more to go (Yipppeeee!) and I can see the light at the end of the cancer free tunnel. It's not been an easy or smooth journey, let me assure you. But it has been made more bearable by support from my friends, and a few strangers too. Many of the cards they sent had scriptures on them and after a while I noticed the wide variety of verses that spoke to me. So I copied them and held to them and remembered some of them from my eighth grade teacher. Wow, just wow. I wish he were still alive for me to share my enlightenment.

Here, from the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament, a list of scriptures I found on the cards sent to me this summer:
  • Psalm 5:3 In the morning O Lord, you hear my voice. In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.
  • Psalm 62:1 My soul finds rest in God alone. My salvation comes from him.
  • Psalm 91: 1,2 He who dwells in the shelter of the most high will abide in the shadow of the almighty. I will say to the Lord, "my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust."
  • Psalm 37:7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.
  • Psalm 50:15 Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honor me.
  • Psalm 145:18-19 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.

There were more scriptures from places throughout the Bible, many that I had also memorized as a child. When I read them in the cards, they rose from the recesses of my brain. Perhaps they had been engraved on my heart by those dear Sunday School teachers who put up with my shenanigans and wondered after an hour with me in a closed room, if I even learned anything. I did.

One thing about the battle between life and cancer, the warrior needs support. That, I found, in my husband, my family, my friends, and my scriptures. Whew.

Catch of the day,


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.

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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,


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,


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 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,


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Snowball Bush

The first few years I taught fourth grade my classroom was in an old 1925 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 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,


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,