Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What Do we Do When the Lights are Out?


I’ve learned there are lots of things we don’t really need to survive. Well, I already knew that from countless camping trips my husband and I took with the kids when they were little and we were poor. One of those unnecessary-to-life things we think we can’t do without is electricity. So, whether you’re on a primitive camping trip aka no lights or running water, or at home and a storm takes out the lights, you will survive.

First of all flashlights (or candles) will get you to the bathroom (or bushes) without stubbing your toes. And you can read by flashlight, find the potato chips and check to make sure the kids didn’t sneak out in the middle of the night.

Second, cooking on the grill or over a wood fire is fun – for three days then it’s a pain in the tail because the kids get tired of gathering deadfall.

Third, a five-gallon bucket and a toilet plunger will make a pretty good washing machine, and then there is the solar powered dryer, aka the clothesline. The sun will dry your hair. Save the battery powered radio for the news and weather report. When the lights go out at home and you have to go to work in the morning don’t forget to wind up and set the old alarm clock.

There are plenty of things you can do for fun besides watch TV: board games, read, walk, play out doors, sew, arts and crafts, talk, tell stories, look at old pictures and photo albums, play with the cat or dog, and wash more clothes in the emergency washing machine. Email withdrawal isn’t a real disease. Write a letter or read a book.

Telling ghost stories is fun after dark, unless you have young or impressionable ones. Oh go ahead, they can sleep with you and you won’t get scared either when you hear those things going bump in the night. If its not raining and you are sitting around the campfire (don’t forget marshmallows are non-perishable and should have been in the emergency kit) the Big Foot stories are the best fun of all. I promise you’ll hear him lurking in the shadows; he likes to eavesdrop whenever you talk about him.

Oh, and there is making love. What a nice way to make good use of that time in the dark. Of course, if you are camping in a tent with three kids that might be a little tricky, but, not impossible.

Finally, make a list of what you’ve missed the most, and what you find you don’t miss all that much. That might help re-evaluate your priorities later on when the lights come back on.

Monday, December 26, 2011

With My Survivor Skills I Believe Maybe I Could Win

My mama taught me to fish by the time I could walk. She sat me down next to a hole in the pier where a storm had pounded out one of the cypress boards. I caught more crabs than fish – crabs are real easy to catch. You don’t even need a hook. Almost anything will work for bait – dough balls, worms, pieces of hotdog, or what I used – cut bait. One little fish made for plenty of crab bait, and once I started catching crabs I even used pieces of crabmeat to catch more crabs.

So, surviving on a tropical island was not all that hard. They gave us a map to find fresh water. Thanks to all those years riding shotgun with my husband on family vacations, I know how to read a map. I also know how to walk in the woods and I don’t scream over spider webs. Trail riding on my horse in the woods, I learned to carry a branch out in front of me to knock them down before I ran into them.

At my age, the biggest obstacles were the contests, the physical ones. The mental ones I am happy to say were easy. I got along with the other folks okay. I learned that from arguing with my daddy. I soon learned it wasn’t as important to win an argument, as it was to love him. So, I learned to bite my tongue, even when he edged me on, and keep the peace.

None of the ladies worried about an over-weight sixty-year-old woman taking any of the guys they were eyeing, so I was okay there, too. The guys pretty much ignored me except at suppertime. I wasn’t asked to join any alliances, not at first anyway. And I voted carefully, mainly not to let anyone know whom I’d voted to leave. I kept that kind of information to myself. So, I played it cool, got along with folks, and since I wasn’t very physical I made up for it by catching our food and hauling water out of the forest. No one else wanted to do that, so they didn’t vote me off.

We had seafood chowder every night. I found wild onions growing in the edge of the forest. Cooking in the salt seawater, the onions, crabmeat and fish with the rice we were rationed made a good stew that was in fact darn tasty.

Soon it was nearing the end of the series of shows and I was still there on the island. I’d lost fifty pounds, so it was worth the experience no matter if I won or not. I’d gotten to know some very interesting folks and had written enough character studies in the notebook I’d brought as my one personal item, to start a novel, or two. When it got down to two people and I was one of them I was more than a little surprised. I had not even won an immunity challenge but I’d survived. Win or lose I was going home with some money. I would not have to worry about the rent money for a while. Maybe I’d just tell the world how dumb I thought the other 15 players were who couldn’t catch dinner or find water if their lives depended on it. Or how silly they were to be constantly bickering like children in the world’s biggest sandbox. Maybe I’d tell them I’d found the immunity idol and they could vote anyway they wanted to cause I was going home with a million dollars. No, better than that I was going to split it 16 ways and we could all go home with $62,000. That was more money than I’d ever had and I’d not have to worry about rent for seven years, and if I am still alive then I will have written enough books to get me by.

Waking up from this dream I ponder its meaning. I survived.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I Wish I'd Asked Grandma

“I wish I’d asked Grandma while she was still here about the time . . ..”

How many of us have said those very words? How many of us can’t remember the details of old stories once told out on the front porch after supper on a summer’s evening? Maybe we were young when the stories were being told and didn’t think we’d one day wish we’d listened more carefully. Wish we’d taken the time to write them down.

I am preparing to facilitate a weeklong writing workshop titled Front Porch Stories. In this workshop we will be preserving those old stories we used to hear the grownups tell out on the front porch after supper. Before TV and computers folks told stories for entertainment. On a summer’s night after supper we sat out on the screened in front porch to catch a cool breeze and let supper settle before bedtime. We sipped iced tea or lemonade and talked. The little children played in the yard, chasing and catching lightning bugs. But even the children finally came to rest and listen to the stories. We had our favorites and often asked requests: “Tell us the one about Great Grandpa Latham’s ghost!” or “I want to hear about the Lizard Man!”

Some told fantastical ghost or folk tales, some talked about family history. Some told of strange occurrences in nature, freak accidents or how it was in the good ole days. All of those stories are part of our history and culture and worth preserving - writing down on paper.

Hopefully, I can encourage workshop participants to ask the questions now they will regret having left unasked after parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are gone. Then the stories are lost forever or reduced to bits and pieces of memories. We will combine writing down what we remember, interviewing relatives and old friends, researching through letters and diaries all in hopes of becoming the keepers of the stories.

Readers, I encourage you to start today writing down your family’s stories. Don’t worry that you’re “not a writer” and aren’t sure about spelling and grammar. All that really matters is getting down the stories. Fifty years from now when your descendants find and read what you wrote they won’t care at all if the words are misspelled or the commas are in the wrong spots. They will treasure the stories for the gifts they are. Hopefully your children and grandchildren will keep passing the stories down for future generations. That is what matters.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Life is a Train Wreck


I hit a train broadside on the way to an Amway meeting. I saw the train, I hit the brakes, but it was too late. I remember the sound of the whistle, the feeling of flying through the air, and then nothing. And then I was conscious.

Before the ambulance arrived a black lady crawled into the back seat, leaned over the seat and talked to me and prayed for me. I don’t know where she came from, but she stayed right with me until I was in the ambulance. I never found out who she was. I have sometimes wondered if she was an angel.

The list of injuries included broken arm, broken ankle, broken ribs, cuts and bruises and a bruised kidney. After I was sewn and splinted up and in my hospital room I had the usual stream of visitors: family, neighbors and curiosity seekers.

One visitor was the woman who’d recruited me into the “Amway family.” When I told her I was not going to sell their products anymore she left and I never saw her again. Today I do not remember her name. Another visitor told me they’d gone to look at my car and saw a piece of my flesh on the seat, and another asked if my baby had been with me. I supposed they all meant well. Maybe their mamas never taught them how to be tactful.

Mama was there every day, looking so worried that it scared me. I know now it is just impossible for mamas to hide their love and worry for their children. By the second week I was getting very depressed at not seeing my children. In those days children under the age of twelve were not allowed in the hospital. So, their daddy began to bring them around to my window so they could say, “Hi, Mama.” I only got more depressed to see them and not be able to touch them. Finally the hospital relented and allowed a real visit from my little girls in my room. I think back and wonder if the visit may have frightened them, seeing me all bandaged up with casts on my arm and leg.

After two weeks I was released to go home. I was excused from appearing in court for my “willfully and unlawfully failing to yield the right away to a train” ticket since I couldn’t climb the courthouse steps with my leg in a cast. Upon the advise of a lawyer I pleaded guilty. I eventually got my ankle and elbow flexible again. Months later I picked a tiny piece of glass out of my knee. It took a while to work its way to the surface. There was no physical therapy back then. Things got back to normal just by using my body. I guess folks are in more of a hurry these days.

What still remains to this day, after forty some years, is that I am still startled when I am driving and anything approaches unexpectedly from the right, and train whistles still make the pit of my stomach clench into a knot.

Even though the wreck seldom crosses my mind anymore, I recognize it as a turning point in how I viewed life. Things CAN happen to me. With that knowledge filed away neatly in the recesses of my mind, I wasn’t as surprised as I could have been when one Thursday in 1991 my husband took me to buy groceries, have tags put on my horse trailer and caught up the bills. He helped me put away the groceries — then announced he was leaving, and he did.

Neither was I surprised when a series of other unfortunate events took place later in my life including finding myself a single mom for sixteen years as I raised my grand daughter. My father’s cancer and death, my ailing sister’s death, and finally my mother’s ordeal with cancer and her death were all painful events, but not surprising. More recently, when someone broke into my house and took the few things I had worth pawning, it just reinforced what I have known since the train wreck; stuff happens. I expect life’s unexpected events, and so far have survived. I ran into the side of a train and I am here to tell the tale.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Girl's Empowerment Day

Yesterday I participated in a Girl’s Day of Empowerment at Franklinton High School. I and three other ladies manned the Franklin County Arts Council booth to answer ninth grade ladies’ questions about our careers in the arts. It was the first I’d heard about Girls Empowerment programs but a quick Google search reveals schools and civic organizations are sponsoring these celebrations of womanhood all over the country.

At first thought it seems a little sexists. Why just girls? It is a little sad to think that the females of our species have such over-all low self-esteem that we need a day to remind us we can be powerful and successful in whatever we wish to be. But if it helps girls feel they CAN, then it’s a good idea.

My two books, Pale as the Moon and An Independent Spirit, have strong female leading characters with “I CAN” personalities. Gray Squirrel, a fictional character in Pale as the Moon, had a quiet spirit, but was able to rescue a small group of English colonists through her wisdom and intelligence. We don’t really know what became of John White’s Lost Colony, but we have strong evidence some did survive.

Betsy Dowdy, the lead character in An Independent Spirit, was daring, courageous and independent. We’ve all been taught about Paul Revere’s historic ride to warn the “British are coming.” You had grow up around coastal North Carolina to have heard the story of Betsy Dowdy riding her Banker Pony fifty-one miles, swimming the Currituck Sound in the process, to warn Lord Dunmore was heading for North Carolina from Virginia. Dunmore was stopped at the Battle of Great Bridge due to her warning. By the way, Revere only rode thirteen miles, no swimming involved.

I am glad I had a small part in yesterday’s celebration, Girl’s Day of Empowerment. I hope they learned about all the opportunities the world has waiting for them beyond high school. I hope each and everyone of those ninth grade ladies feel in their hearts, “I CAN!”

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Inspired by Wild Horses


The inspiration of my children’s books, Pale as the Moon and An Independent Spirit, are the wild horses of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. There are five main locations where the horses live: Corolla, Ocracoke, Cedar Island, Carrot Island, and Shackleford Banks. The wild horses I am most familiar with are the ones managed by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

The horses have been designated North Carolina’s Official State Horse. North Carolinians cherish the horses for the part they have played in our heritage. When you think about it, had it not been for horses we would not have gotten very far in exploring and settling the New World. The horse helped us in our work, farming, transporting goods, in war and peace. And it all started with the tough, small, Spanish horses first introduced to the continent by European explorers.

It is a tribute to their toughness that descendents of those first horses still roam freely in parts of the North Carolina Outer Banks. But development and so-called-progress has dealt a hard blow to their survival. Because of the dedication of a few citizens the horses are hanging on, but for how long we don’t know. Its going to take a lot of people working and campaigning for these beautiful animals to survive.

The hardest thing for me to understand is the cruelty of some human beings. Why would anyone run down a foal with a four wheel drive or shoot these horses? If you find that hard to believe go to Corolla Wild horse Fund’s Blog and read the entries. If it doesn’t make you want to cry then I think you have a hard heart. If it does move you to tears then write your law makers and tell them how you feel and beg them to support the legislation that will help us protect our wild horses.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hope Springs Eternal



Springtime seems more and more a symbol of hope each year that I survive another winter. It’s not like I am living in the pioneer days where surviving winter really was a life or death experience, literally keeping the wolves at bay or having to find food in the middle of a blizzard. I read those stories when I was a child and loved how those strong and determined people of our early American history overcame all the obstacles nature put in their way.

No, I live like a princess compared to those stories. But, as I grow older the winters seem colder and dreary wet days make me depressed. So, I am a big fan of spring! The first warm days of March I make a beeline for the home supply stores, Lowes is my favorite, to buy plants. Yes, I know its too early and I’ll probably have to cover them up when another cold spell tried to keep a hold on winter. But, there is where the hope comes in because I know spring is right around the corner.

In April I start thinking of what annuals will look pretty where. I compliment my pansies for keeping such a brave front all through winter, smiling their happy little faces on the warm days and looking only a little bit sad through the cold snap. I know they will leave when it gets hot. Then I will have to replace them with begonias or impatiens.

When I go plant shopping I always buy a new bush, one that won’t really flower until the next spring or summer. Again, my hope is shinning through. I plant it with a little prayer that I’ll still be around to see it bloom. I add a few perennials with the same prayer. Hope springs eternal in the springtime.