Saturday, May 23, 2020

Cats, Squirrels, and Helicopter Seeds

My cat, Patches, is a gifted hunter who has more than earned her keep by eliminating the moles in our yard and the mice in our basement. In her hunting frenzy she has unfortunately killed enough birds that I have had to shut down my bird feeders. She treated them like her own personal smorgasbord.
I've realized yet another impact this cat has made, an indirect impact, but still, an impact. There have been fewer squirrels in our back yard lately. They have migrated away from our property, at least I would rather think they moved away instead of been eaten as dessert. That cat!

Today I noticed something else cat/squirrel related as I was pulling weeds around our brick patio. Many of the weeds were not really weeds, but tiny trees. So, is a tree a weed? It is, if it is growing amok in a place where it should not be. So I pulled. And pulled more. And more. There were tiny trees everywhere. I had never noticed so many, so I began investigating and connecting dots.
Beside one tiny tree was a clue. Laying next to it was what my children called helicopters, tulip poplar seed pods.  In our side yard is a huge tree, and its seeds that spin like helicopter blades were play toys for our neighborhood children. My son and his friends climbed into the tree and dropped them, aiming to hit the top of passing cars. Target practice.

I figured out the connection between the cat, the squirrels and the helicopter, so here goes:

A couple years ago I was preparing a power point presentation for an author visit to fourth graders. I wanted to illustrate word choices I made in writing my picture book, When Christmas Feels Like Home.
To give the reader an image in his mind, I used figurative language to describe the seasons of the year: when pumpkins smile, when trees look like bony fingered skeletons, when words float like clouds from your mouth, when mountains turn the color of the sun...leading up to Christmas, when trees ride on cars.

To illustrate how authors revise, I introduced the children to figurative language I wrote that didn't make it into the final book. One was about those helicopter seed pods: when helicopters spin from trees. In the end I didn't use it because not that many readers would connect the image of a helicopter to seeds spinning from the sky. They had to live in our corner of the world where poplar trees abound and where each new spring season brings the joy of spinning seeds. By the way, the children knew exactly what I was talking about when they saw them. They had spun the seeds themselves.

As part of the power point I wanted to show a picture of the seeds. I went outside my house back then, looking for seed pods to use.

But when I threw them into the sky, they didn't spin. The seeds were missing from the blade and the helicopter pod fell to the ground without spinning. Almost every single one was empty. I had to search to find enough to take that picture to show the children.

But what happened?

Easy answer. Squirrels. They had dined on my tulip poplar seed collection and left the empty hulls behind.

That was pre-cat.

Patches the cat arrived later that year and wreaked havoc with the nature in my backyard. With the squirrel population diminished, the seeds fell undisturbed the next season. Left alone, they sprouted.
Here are a few of the weedy trees I uprooted today, in various stages of germination. I'm talking hundreds of them.

These seeds had two purposes on this earth, beyond entertaining children. Feed for animals and becoming majestic trees. When they avoided being fodder for squirrels, they went on and did their thing and started the miracle process to become trees.

And I pulled them up.


Catch of the day,


Saturday, May 16, 2020

Pedestrians Prohibited, Except in the Age of Corona

When the Blue Ridge Parkway closed in response to Covid-19 safety concerns, I was disappointed. For years, that road has been a resource to my family for fun, relaxation, and renewal. It is easy access to us, less than thirty minutes from home and we'd be cruising at the top speed of forty miles per hour, enjoying unbelievable vistas accented by fall colors.

With the stay-at-home rule in effect, I really didn't feel a loss for the parkway specifically, as much as I did for my get-up-and-go life I left behind.


Sometimes when one door is closed, another one opens...or when one road closes, a once in a life time chance opens.

And I took it.

There is a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway called the Linn Cove Viaduct. Click on over and look at its beauty. It's a work of engineering marvel that clings to the mountains around it. I've driven over it many a time. I've hiked beneath it from the visitor's center. I've just never hiked on it because it is closed to pedestrian traffic.
There I am, getting ready to break the useless rule of no pedestrian traffic. I'm not a protester, but this was different. This was my only chance to walk on this part of heaven on earth, and I wasn't going to pass it up.
Who wouldn't want to be on the top of this world looking down on the view of a lifetime. No cars allowed.

We parked at the entrance ramp where a barricade blocked traffic from entering. Let me add, we parked with at least fifty other cars at the entrance ramp.

We walked the three mile round trip with other pilgrims, passing families pulling little ones in wagons as bicyclists sped silently past us. Skateboarders, too. We socially distanced from friends we saw by chance on the other side of the yellow line. There were encounters that brought tears to my eyes: Graduating seniors in their caps and gowns posing for a never before imagined portrait with the vista behind them and sparse crowds of strangers cheering for them, clapping, seeing their pride in celebrating an accomplishment.

In this one day in the Age of Corona, I escaped.

There is a scripture in the Christmas story in the book of Luke, something to the effect that Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Me, too. I will forever remember this day.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, May 9, 2020

Zooming Right Along

Among our many teacher's lounge topics over the years were things "they" never taught us in teacher's college. First on my list from the first day of my career way back when, was how to deal with irate parents when they find the nephew of their older daughter's killer assigned the seat next to their younger daughter in my fifth grade class. My baptism into teaching came fast.

I later learned the skill of hunting for lice on a child's head using the eraser end of a pencil. There is a technique, let me assure you, an on-the-job one I learned from fellow teachers probably the second week of my teaching career.

And then there was Swish Day Wednesdays. Our school community was not on city water at the time and therefore our good old country water was not laced with fluoride. For the dental health of our children, once a week we mixed a powder with water and squirted one pump's worth into each student's disposable Dixie cup. The teacher beside me prepared the solution in the bottle, served her class, and sent to mine. The troublesome preparation was one task I learned early on I could pass along to the classroom helpers of the day, and they didn't like the chore any better than I did. The students didn't like the once a week minute of swishing the solution around their mouths any better than I did either. Yes. Me. In a spirit of comradery designed to encourage even the most reluctant swisher, I took a sip, swished for the required minute and spit it back into the cup, on full display in front of the class.

Not on the teacher preparation list.

Fortunately, when city water became available in homes, swishing became a thing of the past only to be replaced by new, never-taught-in-teacher's-college challenges.

Never in a million years would any college or university conceive of their teacher training including a unit on "How to teach during a pandemic." This turns the lice hunting and the swish mixing into child's play. This is serious. This is the new reality, and teachers have adapted beyond imagination. I am so proud of those in my chosen profession.

They have innovated. They have adapted. They have gone beyond what any professor in the ivory tower could have guessed possible. They've helped with food distribution. They've prepared assignments students can do at home that are related to the curriculum, not just busy work to keep them out of their parents' way. They have packets prepared and set on the sidewalk for parents to pick up, and included little personal notes of love and encouragement to the children. They've posted signs on the school windows in case the stay-at-home child just happens to be fortunate to get a break and drive by with the family. They have formed caravans, and escorted by the fire department, driven in one long parade of cars past every home of students on the bus routes. Best of all, they have used every resource available to virtually meet with each child several times a week, either individually or in a classroom setting.

All of this with a broken heart.

I was fortunate to do an author visit zoom with a first grade class in Florida. Wow, what an experience. I've done author visits in person, but this is a different ball game. This is meeting children in the privacy of their homes as they sit in their own comfort zones and participate in morning lessons with their classmates.

I read my book, Hoop Hike, to them.
The premise of this book is to go on a hike with a hoop in tow, like when I took my students on a field trip to the local state forest. One assignment my class always did there was to throw a hoop into the grass or leaves or creek and record what they found inside the hoop. The characters in my book went on the hike and made all kinds of interesting discoveries.

After we finished the book, the children's assignment was to take their own hoop hikes around their yard or neighborhood (if they could) and take a picture of what they found in their hoops. Those who didn't have hoops innovated, using a lamp shade frame or a belt, more possibilities to be creative thinkers!

When they got home, they were tally what they found, graph it, take a picture of their work, and submit to the teacher. First grade!

This week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and this corona year called for new and innovative ways to honor the teacher in each child's life. What I've seen on the internet through facebook and youTube brought tears to my eyes and a warmth to my heart that I never before experienced.

It took a plague to show teachers they are really, really appreciated.

Thank you to each and every one.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, May 2, 2020

Who was that masked man?

Confession: When I was a little girl, I enjoyed The Lone Ranger, probably not because of the story, but the extras. True, the stories kept me staring at the old black and white tiny box screen, and no one could bother me during that thirty minutes of my life. But beyond the stories were the horses, and how the Lone Ranger jumped into the saddle from the back end, and how he yelled "Hi-yo Silver, Away!" And how the William Tell Overture played in the background.

The justice of it all. The admonition, "Return with us to those thrilling days of yesteryear." The loyalty to Tonto. Was this the influence that made me what I am today, a loyal, fair minded historian-wannabe?

And then there was the mask. I never heard why he wore the mask, and I really didn't care. I assumed he wanted to be anonymous, but the reason didn't phase me. In writing this blog I ran across an article by Andy Lewis, "Six Things to Know about the Lone Ranger," that explains it all, from the beginning, and answers many questions I didn't realize I had. So now I know, and now I appreciate the show even more.

And now, like him, I wear a mask.

In public.

I never in my wildest imagination as a child sitting in front of the television set considered that when I was an adult I would wear a mask. Only mine doesn't wrap around my eyes, but my mouth. And my nose.
I'm not sure if anyone has to ask after they had a conversation with me, "Who was that masked woman?" I haven't run across anyone who knows me in order to find out. Self distancing, you know.

But I do want to pay tribute to those many people in my community who have stepped up and used their sewing talents to mask us all. First there are the professionals in the furniture factories in my county who were, as the book of Esther wonders something to the effect of, "Who knows but that you were created for a time such as this." Rather than upholster beautiful stuffed couches and chairs, they have repurposed their machines to meet the mask needs. How providential in a time such as this!
Who is that masked beauty?
My beautiful daughter in her protective gear at work in the vet clinic

And then there are the women and men across the nation who are providing this mask making service from the safety of their own homes. The one I'm wearing in my picture above is from a friend who belongs to a quilting group at my church. I have another made by a friend who is a wizard at sewing and is the costume designer for our church's outdoor Christmas Trail. These ladies have taken their discipleship to a new level.

Not to forget thanking those with 3-D printers producing face guards. And those graduating seniors who are donating their useless graduation gowns to hospitals in their communities. Who knows but they were born for a time such as this!

I am in awe.

Catch of the day,


Monday, April 27, 2020

I Chuckle No More

Several years ago when I was writing one of my western North Carolina histories, Wheels and Moonshine, I uncovered a statement by my main character, Claude Minton, about the influenza epidemic of 1918. I remember giggling to myself while I was typing the paragraph where he claimed the flu didn't spread around his county because of one thing: moonshine. According to his comment, a daily dose of moonshine for everyone, children included, kept the flu away. At the time I was writing the book, I just recorded facts. I had no emotions about an epidemic beyond a historical view. I was close to being disrespectful, flippant maybe, as I chuckled about using moonshine to stem an epidemic.
I chuckle no more.

This Coronavirus has upgraded our thinking from epidemic to pandemic, world wide. Like in 1918, it is an unwelcome killer. It plows through a population without regard to wealth, status in the community, or educational level. We are all in this together.

And what the moonshiners, who by now are manufacturing legally, have discovered is that the world needs their moonshine more now than ever before.

Go figure.

Only this time, rather than slipping a swig or two from a jug, we are squeezing a glob or two from a plastic bottle. Seems that the ingredients in moonshine, when combined in a slightly different recipe, are killers equal to this 2020 virus, and distilleries around the world have repurposed their equipment to come up with a much needed product. Hand Sanitizer. They have stepped up to the plate for the goodness of mankind. Cheers for them!

Click HERE to check out this list I found of distilleries in the United States who have begun producing hand sanitizer. I recognized several names on the North Carolina list, don't ask me how.

Before this upside down world, I never thought I would be thankful for a distillery. But I am. Pandemics make strange bedfellows.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, April 18, 2020

Golf Saved Us

I was a homebody before being a homebody became the norm. I relish my alone time when I can sit on the swing on my back deck and mull over my latest manuscript. Silence feeds me as I write at my workstation without any distracting music or chatter.

However, there comes a time in every hermit wannabe's life when the outside beckons. Maybe that's why I'm still hermit-in-training. Once a day, my husband and I venture outside to walk a couple miles. We've watched the spring season advance bud by bud each time we make the two mile circle on the road around our house, noticing the flowers bloom and the leaves ever so gradually inch out.
We've learned to stop and appreciate each tiny difference, like the wild azalea pictured here. We watched it slowly come to life day after day.
Fortunately for us, several walking spots are still open and available (and little used by others)  beyond our backyard, and every so often we don our masks and drive there for a change in scenery. Life is different. In the not so distant past, I never would have written a sentence about hiking using the phrase, "don our masks." Strange times.

I also would never have written a post titled, "Golf Saved Us," but I have. I base this title on the children's picture book, Baseball Saved Us, about the Japanese internment camps of World War II when America families of Japanese heritage were taken from their homes and forced to live in confinement for the duration of the war. My husband and I often travel on a baseball tour bus going from city to city where we attend major league games with groups of avid fans. On one particular tour, a set of sisters were on the bus who had lived with their parents in one such camp. They developed a love of baseball during those years because the only entertainment available to them was to watch their father play on a camp team. For their father, baseball was his saving grace. Every game we watched together brought back his memory to them one strike at a time.

So now it's my turn. While I'm not equating my stay-at-home experience to the forced containment and humiliation these Japanese families endured, I can now appreciate their need for an emotional outlet. Where once I nodded and listened to the sisters tell about developing this love of baseball, now I reflect on their words, and my heart feels their longing for a much needed distraction.

We've turned to golf, one of the few recreational outlets still available in our state's stay-at-home regulations. My husband plays often, but once or twice a week I join him. We walk the course, well, half the course so far, nine holes.

Yes, that would be me, but don't look at the technique. Look instead at the social distancing behind me. I can pat myself on the back for that.

When this is all said and done and I can once again meet for breakfast with my people, I know we will share our personal stories about what helped us get through these days. Mine will be a story of deepening faith. I can also honestly add, "Golf saved us."

Catch of the day,


Saturday, March 28, 2020

History Repeats Itself

I'm sitting in front of my computer, hunkered down, waiting for the storm that hasn't yet shown up, might blow over, or might blow us all to kingdom come. Epidemic! Just the word alone brings a level of fear I never imagined this time last year, last month, even last week. Our state will go on stay-at-home status this coming Monday afternoon, although I see little difference between that and what I have already started. Schools in North Carolina have been canceled, at least through April, and children and parents have already settled into the homeschooling/work-from-home mode.

Two words I hear thrown about in regards to much of what is happening now in 2020 are "unprecedented" and "unchartered." While those appear to be convenient words as we flounder about looking for solutions to this virus epidemic, they are incorrect when applied to our response to this horrid coronavirus. There is a precedence. We have chartered a path before, although it was in vastly different times.

I'm talking the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Three years ago I uncovered a fascinating detail when I was working on a project about a school in western North Carolina. Deep inside a box labeled principal's reports in the archives in Raleigh, my researcher, Diane Richard of Mosaic Research and Project Management, found, copied, and sent me the mundane, run of the mill school year reports I requested. Like this one:

I read it with casual interest, just like I read all the other end-of-year reports pertinent to the dates of this Spring Creek School. Further down the page I found this:

Note two things. Under the number promoted, zero. Not one person in the entire school (okay, thirty-two students, but it was a small school tucked in the far away mountains of the state). Under the number of graduates, again none. But then the note, "School was closed because of epidemic."

Later in the report, Principal Woody penned in the details: school that year ran from August 5, 1918 to March 21, 1919.

Her closing remarks:
And here we thought 2020 was unprecedented. In 1918, this school closed for the year on March 21 because of an epidemic. Sound familiar?

Of course I included this in the book I wrote with Jasper Reese, Back in the Time: Medicine, Education and Life in the Isolation of Western North Carolina's Spring Creek.
Never in my wildest imagination did I consider that history would repeat itself. But it did, and here we are. Parents in 1918 were as fearful for their child's life as parents are in 2020. A hundred years can't erase the protection emotion of a parent. That is basic and hasn't changed, won't change. Medicine and computers and stay at home, keep the child busy techniques have changed, however. My grandchildren are doing lessons on computers. Their great, great, great grandparents did chores. They worked on the farm. They helped their parents. Wait. My grands are doing more chores now than they ever have. They are helping in the home, doing chores and classwork as their parents telecommute their daily jobs. They are learning what family does in crisis.

Don't tell me the children of this calamity have no future. They will be strong. They will learn to overcome. Just like their ancestors.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, March 14, 2020

Sunshine Award

Thank you, Joan Edwards, for recognizing me with a Sunshine Blogger Award. Check out her blog that just oozes with her lovely sense of optimism. I can always depend on Joan for an encouraging word and so must many others because she was recognized as a "Sunshine Blogger." Now she passes the award on to me and several others who she lists on her blog.
This sudden surprise made me smile. A sunshine award! Not that I'm always Susie Sunshine or anything (I can claim that title because Sue is my middle name), but my aim IS to be positive in my blog posts.

So here goes on what Joan sent me to reply, quoting Joan, with my answers in red:
  1. What makes you happy? Accomplishing what I hoped
  2. What is your favorite place to travel on a vacation? Taos, New Mexico Why? Besides being art colony to savor the atmosphere, it is where my daughter lived for several years
  3. If I could ask one question of an important leader of a country now or in the past, who would you choose, and what would you ask him/her? I am researching the Whiskey Rebellion for a project I'm working on now so I'd like to ask George Washington about his role in that.
  4. What is your favorite color? brown Do you have many outfits in that color? Yes. I prefer earth tones.  Attach a picture of you wearing one of your favorite colors.
  5. How would you prefer to spend your weekend? Creating great art, writing, movies, or hiking? A little dab of all four! 
  6. What is the most important quality of a friend? Truthfulness
  7. What is your favorite book? I can't pick a single book, but usually it's the latest book I'm reading. I meet with local writers once a week and each of them have new books out. I've read them all and enjoyed each for its uniqueness. Would you read it again? By all means, and I have read the haiku poetry book by one member a couple times.
Reading back through what I have written, I'm looking for the sunshine amidst the brown, earthy answers. I see it in the books I choose to read. I surround myself with positive books so I can keep my mindset on the joyful wonders of life rather than the darkness that creeps in when least expected.

I want to refer you to a few equally Sunshine blog friends of mine who deserve the "Sunshine Blogger Award." They are authors in our Foothill Writers group. To them I ask, "Why are you overflowing with sunshine?"

Polly Anna Watson writes about Biblical Joy in her book that is to be released this week on kindle, Joy Actions. Her blog, Joy Regardless is a companion to the book and worth checking out for the sunshine it brings.

Stefanie Hutcheson takes us on a journey as head wanderer in her blog, Wandering Through the Bible. Her book, The Adventures of George and Mabel, is a delightful book that she has extended through a facebook page, GeorgeandMabel Harrison, as she writes the sequel.

Also on an author facebook page is Jan Lindie, who does her own beautiful art work in her soon-to-be-released novel, From Darkness. I am so looking forward to reading it.

Stop by their sites, visit with them a bit and see why I consider them worthy of the Sunshine Blogger Award.

There are other authors in our writers' group that I want to mention who have published recently but don't have an online presence beyond personal facebook pages. Carol Starr writes poetry that she shares in her "Little Poems" book, Ripples. Vivian Satterwhite writes short stories and includes an award winning short in her book, Sweet Tea in Autumn. Thomas Ballantine, a pseudonym for our buddy we call Tom, released a novel, Ridge Runner, that entertained me with a trip back to my own early adult years. I just completed a novel by Gena Williams, Stolen. I had this book on my "to-read" list for a few weeks and saved it to last because a friend who read it warned me that once I started I wouldn't be able to put it down. Friend was right.

If you are homebound the next few weeks, you should find your own sunshine by reading these books.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, February 29, 2020

Leap Day Thoughts Bouncing Around in My Head

Happy Leap Day, World!

I'm not sure if that's the customary greeting for a day like today, but since Leap Day comes but once every four years, I thought I'd get into the spirit and wish you happy leaping! Meanwhile I'll muse a tiny bit about leaping and my books.

Since the last leap year in 2016, I published a book with Neil Armstrong's declaration upon landing on the moon, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." I've been to classrooms in two states with this book and fourth graders could recite that sentence. It's part of their culture. Yay for teachers who teach modern history! Makes me want to leap for joy.

There are also Leaps of Faith throughout my books, as in all great life stories. My mother's cousin, Lorraine Frese, took a giant leap of faith when she answered God's call to upend her life and move to the Salvation Army's Mountain Mission in western North Carolina. I wrote about her in 2013, nearly two leaps ago.

Dr. Jane Carswell likewise took that same leap of faith to move to eastern Kentucky and serve the people in a coal mining town as a medical doctor. Her biography is a book I've published since last leap year. I've published other books since 2016 that are also filled with life stories of men who took the leap of faith and went on to great (and ordinary, but necessary) accomplishments. 

With leap year comes election year, a topic I'm even more familiar with as I'm working on a new project with a retired politician. I am thinking in chunks of election cycles as I structure his memoir, which just happen to also be in chunks of leap years. 

Lots can happen in a quantum leap!

I'm friends on facebook with people celebrating birthdays on February 29. They laugh that they are younger than others since they have fewer notches on their sticks. Do they store their fun and games and blow them all in a once upon a four year day? I wonder if parents anticipating births this year will induce labor a day ahead, just in case, or if they will induce on leap day, just to be special. 

I can't help but also wonder what will happen between now and the next leap of year. Will I have other books to share with the world? Will I check off my complete bucket list and be searching for more? 

My wish for everyone is that we all take that leap of faith necessary to make the world a better place. Without leapers, where would we be! I hope in 2024 my blog title will be 

"My Leap of Faith Was So Worth It!"

Catch of the day,


Saturday, February 22, 2020

I Was Blessed

My mother has been on my thoughts lately, so for no special reason, I'm writing about her today. She died nearly two decades ago, but she never really left me. A fashion piece, she was not, although in my favorite picture of her, she appears quite stylish.
It's not her birthday, although she'd be a hundred and nine this coming November, so that counts for something. It's no longer Valentine's Day. She was too practical and would cringe whenever my father brought her flowers. She was a product of the Great Depression, after all, and spending money on such an extravagance went against her nature. It's not Mother's Day, the one day she did allow flowers, on corsages, white orchid for her to wear to church in memory of her mother, red rose for me because, as tradition dictated, girls whose mothers were still living wore red flowers in their honor. We only went out to eat at a restaurant once a year. Mother's Day. Even when we traveled we did not eat at a restaurant. We packed a meal or we brought out the Coleman stove and cooked beside the wayside picnic table on site.

She had gone on a cross country adventure of her own aboard a tour bus before World War II and before air conditioning. Each evening the bus stopped and unloaded cots for the women to sleep under the stars. She had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every single day for the three week duration of this adventure, consequently she never served me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Never. I had no idea they existed until I was further up in age.

I might have been deprived of a pb&j childhood, but I wasn't deprived of the wanderlust gene that I was fortunate enough to receive from both my mother and my father. They traveled around the United States dragging my brother and me into the most obscure museums ever invented. When they both retired, they traipsed across Europe visiting places they never imagined they would see.

Their life long goal was to see Alaska. That dream ended when my father passed away unexpectedly, so my husband and I picked up the dream and drove the Al-Can highway in his honor, dragging our two children to the most obscure museums ever invented. A few years later my mother accompanied me on a trip to Alaska where we traveled by state ferry instead of a luxurious ship chocked full of glamorous delights.

She wanted to see more of the world, so she promised her grandchildren she would take each one of them to any place on the face of the earth as long as she had not been there before, which narrowed the list a great deal. Her oldest grandchild, my niece, picked Ireland, and off they went. My nephew chose Greece. My daughter picked the Netherlands. And my son, the baby of the four, chose a safari in Africa.

Last fall my cell phone rang. My younger granddaughter was on the other line. "Granny Gretchen," she started. "You know how Daddy's grandma took him to Africa and Auntie Jenny to Holland?"

Where she heard the story, I didn't know, but "Yes."

"When are you going to do that for us?"

Guess what is in my future! Thanks, Mom. You're the greatest ever. I was blessed.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, January 18, 2020

Alexa, May I?

One game my friends and I played nonstop all those many, many years ago, was "Mother, May I."

Looking back through the lens of years, I'm wondering where in the world that game came from. We learned it at school, I'm sure, and adapted the rules to fit our circumstances in the side yard at home, but I wonder which teacher first stood before her class and laid out the rules. Probably a teacher who was determined we were going to learn our manners, come what may.

One person was assigned to be the mother. She stood at one end of the yard and we lined up at the other end. When our individual turns came, "Mother" gave us instructions we had to follow. Like "take two giant steps forward," or "hop like a frog three times." The object of the game was to be the first person to get to mother.

If we obeyed without asking "Mother, May I?" we had to go back to the beginning line. If we said, "Mother, Can I?" we had to go back to the beginning line. Sometimes we added the "please" rule, and that set us back even more. The mother in our games usually wasn't all that fair, either. I played with sisters who disliked each other and ordered "baby steps" when they saw each other winning. Life lessons there.

My childhood training in "Mother, May I" came in handy one day last week. I went to my volunteer job, opening the Red Awning Art Gallery where my books are for sale. I was alone and the building creaked as the wind howled, so I needed noise to off set all those imagined footsteps an author like me manages to create in her head. I plugged in the neon "Open" sign and leaned over to the music box and said, "Play music." Nothing happened. I said it again, "Play music." Nothing. I remembered the please rule and added that. Still nothing. I was defeated by a black circle. I felt like I was sent back to the beginning.
Alexa sitting behind some art work
on an antique desk at the gallery

Lightbulb moment.

"Alexa, Play music."


Who would have thought that some obscure game I played once upon a time would be a part of reality in this century!

Catch of the day,


Saturday, January 11, 2020

Play Pretties

I'm starting a new project that takes place in, you guessed it if you know my past projects, the mountains of western North Carolina. In my research I ran across the term "play pretty," as in "taking a play pretty from a baby" or "like a play pretty on the end of a string." What a delightful way to describe a toy. The Dictionary of American Regional English lists several examples of this southern way of talk, including a map showing where the expression "play pretty" has been found. Yes, the mountains of western North Carolina were on that map. Yes, my research was on daily life in previous centuries, although I found "play pretty" in the more modern Urban Dictionary.
Fort Defiance, Lenoir
When my fourth graders went on a field trip to Fort Defiance, the restored home of our town's colonial namesake, General William Lenoir, the docent taught them about play pretties from colonial times. One was the game of Graces, where players use a set of dowels to pass embroidery hoops from one to the next. 
(Public Domain,

Another play pretty was a hoop from a barrel that children could roll down a path using a stick to keep it moving and balanced. I wonder if any of those children in the Appalachian mountains all those years ago ever considered rotating the hoop around the belly. By the time I came along, the hoop went around the belly. And the neck. And the wrist. Times changed! Play pretties changed.

Our play pretties were simple. We played marbles until our school's playground was paved. Even the grassed lots didn't work all that well, since we couldn't find any sand where we could draw a circle for a game. 

We had metal pointy thingamajigs called jacks that we picked up each time we bounced a ball, first one at a time, then twosies, then threesies, and so on. I was not so adept at those evil play pretties. I doubt I ever picked up sets of jacks beyond the sixes or sevens. That's why I wasn't a fan, that and the fact that they hurt like crazy to step on in bare feet.

We skated, using another play pretty that wasn't so pretty when I skinned my knees and the blood dripped down my legs. I had a key for my skates. I inserted it into the metal slide between the two halves of a skate in order to change the size. I stayed in my regular shoes to skate and clamped the metal skates to them. Those straps around my ankles kept coming undone and tripping me. What a fun childhood I had!
I could write a book!

But wait. I am writing a book and the play pretties children found to entertain themselves three generations ago is a part of this book. Stay tuned.

Catch of the day,