Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas 2016

Merry Christmas Everyone!!!

Our family presents are bought, wrapped and soon to be delivered, and I can't wait. I'm going to enjoy this year's festivities. Yes, I am.

Just like my husband's great-grandmother did in 1919 when she went to the mailbox and found this Christmas greeting.

The sentiment is the same, even after a century of its sitting in a cardboard box.

I'd like to be a pretty wreath of Christmas pine or holly. 
Then you could hang me in your house to help make Christmas jolly!

Have a jolly, holly Christmas! From our house to yours,


Monday, November 21, 2016

Why I Write

I was at a meeting a few weeks ago and a man approached me. Last spring he had purchased a copy of my Lessons Learned book.

He wanted to share a story with me. Although he was originally from the community where the book (nonfiction, by the way) takes place, his family had moved away before he was old enough to attend the school. But his sister was, and there-in lies the story.

This sister is now living in a constant care home, suffering from Alzheimer's. She barely recognizes her family, isn't aware of the world, and rarely reacts.

He brought the book to her room on a visit one day. He had read it, finished it within days of first purchasing it, and he found his sister in it in a group photograph. He wanted to show her, hoping for at least one more connection, anything. He would take anything.

He read the pages around the picture to her. Then he showed her that picture. She found herself. She pointed to others in the pictures and spoke their names, every one, even the teacher.

With tears brimming his eyes, this man said to me, "I want to thank you. For five minutes, your book gave me my sister back."

This is why I write.

Catch of the day,


Monday, November 14, 2016

Election Reflection

It's been almost a week, and what a week it's almost been.

I was there. On the front lines. All day Election Day, from before six in the morning to well past eight in the evening by the time all the legal paperwork was signed and submitted. As a precinct judge, my job was to remain impartial and ensure our system of choosing people to represent us continued. At least in our case, Gamewell Precinct Two, the system worked. I witnessed it in action.

As an observer looking for potential characters in my writings, I was not disappointed. I saw an elderly lady dressed to the nines, no doubt specifically for this day. Not appearing was not an option for her. I saw young mothers, babies in their arms, shifting them to their hips to free their hands to ink in their choices. I saw parents steering their children to the table so they could watch them make choices that will affect the world they will grow up in.

We made judgments on voting in several cases, namely voting out of precinct in a provisional ballot. One case in point, a married couple had moved this summer from one end of the county to another. The man took the time to go to the election board and change his residence. His wife assumed it would be done automatically for her. It wasn't. She would have had to drive to the other side of the county, before work even. Wouldn't happen. So together we judges allowed her to fill in a ballot and the chief judge placed it in a provisional envelope. After the election, when the final canvas happens, her ballot will count if her other precinct did not list her as voting there. The system worked.

It worked also for those people too feeble to walk inside. The chief judge went to their cars and with one more layer of paperwork to complete, allowed them to exercise their privilege as Americans and vote. We had reading glasses for those who could not see the ballot clearly. We had a machine specifically for those who were blind.

I handed the ballot (being careful that my fingers didn't point to a specific candidate, per my pre-election training, and yes, we still use paper ballots, but electronic counters) to numerous people who had no idea what to do next. Young and old alike, these people were voting for the first time ever. I could offer no suggestions other than to fill in the dot next to the person you want to vote for. How they voted, I could not hazard a guess. I could also not touch the ballot again. The voter had to insert it in the machine him/herself. That's how the system works.

The only time I was aware of individual's voting preferences was when I heard the machine kick the ballot to a separate direction if that person filled in any write-in candidate selections. Of course, I had no idea who, nor did I care. It was part of the open process. Vote for the candidate you think is the best. At the end of the day, we hand tallied the write-ins. No machine could read their handwriting, believe me. Jesus Christ got three votes. Mickey Mouse didn't get a single vote, contrary to what I would have suspected. For the most part, the write-ins were serious decisions people didn't take lightly, no doubt even those who voted for Jesus.

You know the rest of the story. Some people are pleased, others not. There have been protests. There have been individuals who interpreted the results as a mandate to hate.

I am humbled to have taken a small part in the process. Our democracy depends on its citizens to show up at the local precincts, including those in our small town in the foothills of the Appalachians. That's the way the system works.

Catch of the week,


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Magnolia Seeds

In an earlier post, I wrote about my Magnolia Inspirations with the bloom that has a certain southern air to it that can't be imitated, only appreciated.

I'm more inspired now since the magnolia tree in my front yard began producing seeds. Either I didn't notice in years past, or my tree has finally matured enough to sire offspring.
Perhaps in other years the squirrels found the seeds before I did. Or perhaps I just didn't look to appreciate what my yard had to offer.

First comes the white blossom, next a drab, nondescript pod, and finally the fire engine red seeds, bright with a beauty all their own. Soak them in water overnight, suggests the directions on the home and garden site. Following that, plant them in damp sandy soil, place them in the back of the refrigerator, and wait three months or longer.

My daughter who lives in New Mexico took several seeds home with her after this last visit, which just happened to coincide with the first ever, maybe, bursting forth of the magnolia seeds on my tree. Her plan is to follow the instructions and attempt to colonize magnolias at her home in Taos, New Mexico, probably an impossible dream due to different climates, but worth a try as far as she is concerned. No matter how much she nurtures this seed, waters it, and protects it from the elements, the plant might not survive in unfriendly conditions. Yet she forges on. I like her spirit.

This particular "mother tree" from which she is taking seeds was a volunteer. It sprang up next to our basement door where we watched it grow from a weed looking oddity to a three foot "we've got to do something with this" beginnings of a tree. The nearest magnolia to it was behind the house across the street, but who knows? We have no idea how it ended up there, if the wind brought it to that spot or if a squirrel dug a hole to hide its seed for future reference and then forgot all about it. We just know it wasn't planned. We transplanted it and left it to its own devices. Flourish, it did.

Sometimes life gives us tall, beautiful trees just because it can!

Catch of the day,


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.

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,


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,


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,


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,


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Flood of 1916

Hurricane here in the mountains? Yes, it's been known to happen, several instances in my lifetime as a matter of fact. I'm thinking Hurricane Hugo. Hurricane Hazel.

I'm also thinking of an unnamed hurricane, one that roared through western North Carolina a hundred years ago this month, back before giving recognition to a hurricane with a name became standard, back before the TVA and other dam projects protected the mountain valleys from these once in a hundred year floods. The people here probably didn't realize this dangerous storm originated in the Gulf of Mexico and followed the spine of the Appalachians and dumped its collection of water over Western North Carolina, water that funneled through the back hollars wiping away everything in its path. All they knew was that the sky rained bucket fulls and the wind blew with such force that a hundred years later, scars remain.

This was all documented in my Wheels and Moonshine: The Stories and Adventures of Claude B. Minton. Claude lived through it. He talked about it during a video taping of his life story collected by Wilkes Community College. I had to include it, because it was such a part of the setting where the book is located.

Here's his nephew, Johnny Turner, the co-author of the book, speaking about his uncle and the community of Grandin wiped out by the hurricane:
  • In the early years of the twentieth century, there was a train that ran from Wilkesboro to Ferguson and then further up the valley. Beside horse and buggy and a rare wagon trip to Wilkesboro, that was the first taste of going beyond the farm that most people had. A train trip to Grandin was a popular excursion on Sundays after church. I’ve heard Uncle Claude talk about riding that railroad when he was a little boy and realizing there was more out there than the farm around him. The railway was built for business, for the logging company. It brought the timber from the mountains to the sawmills along the line, and then the lumber from the sawmills out to market. A small town developed, Grandin, named after the timber company owner. It had a doctor’s office, a drug store, and more than enough people to make a community. But it didn’t last. Although the railroad was rebuilt after a flood that destroyed it in 1916, it was doomed by a second flood in 1918 and never rebuilt. We’ve always called Grandin a ghost town, because after the floods washed out the railroads, the town lost its reason to exist and people moved away, walked out and left the buildings just as they were. 
 It's been a hundred years since then, years of wars and peace and Olympics and disasters and births and deaths and prosperity and depression. Life goes on despite the hurricanes that interfere. Life lessons learned.

Catch of the day,


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Celebrating Blackberries

Weeks ago I posted about the overabundance of blackberries this season in a blog I called Blackberry Winter. 

Now those very blossoms have turned into huge berries, black, juicy, sweet berries, just ripe for the picking.

So  we celebrated at the Blackberry Festival in downtown Lenoir, North Carolina. Big time celebrated with a carnival atmosphere, fun games, vendor booths and, ta-da, a parade.

The booth where I sold books had a front row vista of this year's parade. I knew they were coming because the lead man, the one you can barely see in the front of this photograph, was playing "When the Saints Go Marching In" on his trumpet. 

All that to herald the most important part of the festival, the blackberry cobblers, ceremoniously carried in on platforms. By the hundreds. Free cobbler samples for everyone! And more for sale.

The one I purchased and brought home to my hungry hubby was baked and sold as a fund raiser by a local charity. The ladies spent hours...HOURS...using a tried and true recipe to bake hundreds of these ten dollar cobblers. HUNDREDS. 

Add a dollop of Cool Whip, and my, oh, my what a treat for a summer evening.

We know how to do blackberries around here.

Catch of the day,


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Mimosa, the tree

I was at Lake Lure, North Carolina this past week, enjoying a day out with a friend, looking for the stair steps from the film site location of Dirty Dancing, when I ran across this majestic mimosa tree.

I don't know if this season is any different from others, but for some reason I've noticed more of the pink blossomed trees than ever before. Maybe I've just never paid attention. Maybe they are making a comeback here in western North Carolina.

I call it a comeback because sixty some years ago, these trees almost became eradicated in our area. The old folks say it was "the blight." In order to keep the disease from spreading, infected trees were first chopped down and then chopped up...into oblivion, destroyed. Yet that's not the full story. The old folks had more to add, and from what I've read in my research, I did find an underlying desperation that accompanied this act.

Why destroy trees with beautiful, silky blossoms?
There were reasons.
Because at the same time, sixty some years ago, the polio epidemic was rampant here in western North Carolina, and parents were looking in desperation for any and every possibility of blame. These trees, with a blight infection creeping up their trunks, became a logical place to point. Local panic ensued. Parents looked above them in the canopy and saw the spread of death instead of the delight of beauty. A determined parent watching the evil of polio creep through the neighborhood would eliminate any threat to the family, real or imagined. This was available. This was tangible. This had to go.

A canopy of death?
Or delicate blooms of nature's umbrella?
Mimosa trees became the scapegoat for a much bigger problem. Maybe the blight would have killed off the trees anyway. Maybe not. But now, after all these years, the mimosas are back, in full bloom and regally adorning our landscapes. I look at the blossoms and see innocent beauty, with not a hint of peril.

Times have changed.

Life goes on.

Catch of the day,


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day 2016

My daughter is blessed. My son is blessed. They are what they are today because of the character strength they witnessed through growing up with three of the greatest examples ever, their father and two grandfathers, also known as my husband, my father, and my father-in-law.

Family Portrait
On this Father's Day 2016, I must comment about my patient husband, Van, who put up with years of carpooling giggling ballerinas and rough-housing squirmy boys and enduring teenage angst and setting rules and then reminding our children (and grandchildren) of the rules yet again. He was a saint through it all, well, mostly. And I thank him for that.

He learned his parenting skills from this man, Wesley Griffith, his father, the best father-in-law a bride could ever be so lucky to gain.

He also learned from my father, Glenn Holsopple, the mechanic, the patient man who put up with me and my crazy, immature acts. Perhaps he learned how to deal with me from watching the two of us together.

The bald headed one is me!

On our wedding day, my mother, my father-in-law, my mother-in-law, my father, me, my husband
A line up of heritage for my children - Wow, oh wow!
Honor. Dignity. Loyalty. Hard working. Those are but a few of the qualities the men in my life have passed along to the next generation. We are so blessed. On this Father's Day, I am humbled.

Catch of the day,


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Our Fly Fishing Heritage

I'm proud to say that I have facilitated yet another fly fishing book. I use the word facilitated because in this case I did none of the writing. The author, Alen Baker, wrote it all. I was the middleman, middlewoman, between Alen and the publisher.

Alen Baker had a vision. He could imagine a museum featuring the art and history and lore of the great sport of fly fishing here in the Southern Appalachians. Eventually he did more than imagine. He planned and he cajoled and he sought out equally minded individuals who would help him make this vision come true. It happened. The Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachians opened in Cherokee, North Carolina in June, 2015. I toured it last summer and learned so much.

And then he wrote about it, beginning with the early days of his own fly fishing experiences and his deep love for the sport. He tells the why, the how, and the who about creating a museum from scratch. His passion shows on every page.

We just finished the book. That's his hand on the cover, a selfie. 

Quotes from the back cover:

Alen Baker has led the way in creating a museum to capture a sporting legacy of great importance. This book traces the evolution of the museum and provides a vital resource for anyone who cherishes the high country, wild trout, remote places, and the waters of the good earth. It is a work no lover of the lure and lore of southern trout fishing should overlook.
-Jim Casada, author of numerous fly fishing books including "Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: An Insider’s Guide to a Pursuit of Passion"

Alen Baker’s quest to see a Fly Fishing Museum of the Southern Appalachian Mountains is borne out of years of experience as a dedicated fly fisher, an advocate for Trout Unlimited, and as such, a dedicated restoration practitioner. Few are more qualified, knowledgeable, or literate in calling for a museum to commemorate the practices, history, culture, and mores that make fly-fishing in the southern Appalachians so important.
-Chris Wood, President and CEO, Trout Unlimited    

Publication date, May 27, 2016, in time for Father's Day. It makes for great reading. Give it a try. 

Catch of the day, (literally!)