coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Friday, September 15, 2017

A Woodturner's Dream

It is a woodturner’s dream down here in Florida. Piles of downed tree trunks and limbs have been hauled to the front of most yards since the hurricane. I have just such a friend in NYS who should really be down here with a truck driving from house to house, picking up the best pieces for future live oak bowls or platters. She would have raw material to last for years.

T is fixing our privacy fence, a key component for staying sane in these close Florida developments. Many fences came down in the high winds, so stacked fence panels also sit at the curb, waiting. I am happy our fence still stands. Sneaking a peak at our neighbors’ backyards this week seems almost indecent. I do NOT want them to see ours! We are on waiting lists for various repairs to roof and pool areas. We slowly wait for civilization to return our teeny part of the world to what passes as normal...for us.

We were lucky. Our neighborhood was only without power for one and a half days. Our daughter’s subdivision was without for nearly 5 days. There are still places in the county (and definitely the state) where households will be without electricity for weeks. T and I still don’t have internet or cable. First world problems…

Our daughter’s family chose to stay in their house during the dark days. They managed in a semi-camp mode with gas grill, candles, flashlights, and bottled water. They charged their phones sitting quietly in their cars, in the driveway. Our grandson, N, received a few Lego kits that kept him busy.

When we got electricity back our 13 year-old granddaughter opted to stay with us for a couple days. It was fun. We made jewelry and ate ice cream. Best of all, we had her all to ourselves for a while. As long as we live, none of us will forget this hurricane or our time together.

The worst hit us between 2 and 4 a.m., early Sunday morning. What a cruel time for a storm to hit! All you can do is lie in the dark, unable to see the direction of the wind or the damage wrought, but hearing it nonetheless. The wind was ferocious, absolutely petrifying in the fullness of terrible, destructive power. Sometimes it sounded like a train was coming straight towards us. We were ready for anything. Now I am tired. 

I think of refugees; how hard their lives must be. They are left with so little. How do their children pass the time? How is their food cooked? When will civilization bring hope and normalcy back to their lives? What IS normal, after you have suffered so much?

Palm trees surrendered some skin and fruit - made for a nice photo, I thought

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

We are fine!

We are fine!  We now have power, but no internet.  Consequently, I have not had the opportunity to update you all.  I have a short term hotspot access right now.  Will write a longer post when I can.  Cheers! 

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Great Bitch, Irma

We are trying to get ready for this monster hurricane. Irma will find her way to Central Florida on Sunday. We are trying to prepare both physically and mentally. We will likely lose power, for how long is anyone's guess. If you don't hear from me next week I am likely without electricity. Don't worry, I'm almost sure everything will be messy, but fine.

How do you prepare for a hurricane? Well, preparing is endless. Getting enough water stockpiled is hard when stores sold out a week ago. When a delivery arrives, people are waiting in line to get it and they buy it all up without a thought for others. Community spirit seems to kick in after a catastrophe hits. Before, everyone is desperately trying to protect their own.

I think we have enough bottled water to see us through a week without power, but I have taken to freezing tap water in gallon sized freezer bags just in case. If power goes out it should take them a while to melt, keeping the fridge cool a day or two longer. We have plenty of canned foods, cereal, and nuts in the pantry. Our extra batteries should arrive today via We have propane for the gas grill. T will drain the pool to accommodate torrential rain.

Gasoline is another scarce commodity. All gas tankers are going to South Florida so evacuees can have gas to travel north. Tom filled his car before the rush. My car is a little less than half full. We wasted gas driving around yesterday but could not find a gas station with any gasoline left.

The sand bag distribution center has a multiple hour wait, with cars lined up to the moon and back. Wasting precious gasoline to get sand bags! It's a conundrum.
Consequently, our sandbox for little N has been raided; the sand turned into sandbags to keep all that water out of the house.

Highways are filled with people from South Florida trying to escape Irma at her worst. I worry they will run out of gas and be forced to endure Irma on the side of the highway in cars with kids, animals, and important papers. It happens. Can you imagine? We have not been told to evacuate, but schools are closed. I imagine if evacuation becomes mandatory, the gas tankers will begin stopping in Central Florida again? However, I hope once she makes landfall that bitch will settle down a little. I would be grateful for a Cat 2 storm. I really don't want to hit the road.

Our important papers and pills are in plastic freezer bags, too. I've moved many things off the ground in case of flooding. We have lots of toilet paper! Wine, too... Any potential outside projectiles (potted plants, deck furniture, pool cleaning implements, toys) will be moved to the shed or the garage. No basements in Florida! I'll move my computer away from my office window. Bathtubs will be filled with tap water for cleaning up and flushing toilets. Unfortunately, we do not have plywood to cover windows. That is also long gone in the stores. We will buy some afterwards for next time. For now, we take our chances. 

There is the added worry that our daughter and her family aren't preparing well enough. They are, they will, but still my mother/grandmother's heart is sore and stretched for miles. If I worry enough, will it ward off water and wind?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Grandma Told Stories

The last Grandma story (for now):

Grandma was a fundamentalist Protestant and a Pentecostal charismatic who talked in tongues when the spirit moved her. This was quite different than the European Catholicism of my mother's people, which was the way I was raised. However, loving someone with a different religion was my first clue that mysticism and goodness belong to all religions, and all (or none) are valid paths. She also retained many old Appalachian mores, superstitions, and beliefs.

She often told me ghost stories about events that happened in the family over the years.  One of my favorite stories was the one about "The Three White Horses.”

The Three White Horses
Grandma’s paternal grandmother, Luella,
lived on a farm in Pickett County, Tennessee with her husband, Ewell. She was sitting on her front porch on 1 Jun 1919, when unbeknownst to her, their son Thomas (my great grandfather) died. Luella told Ewell that she saw three white horses running in the fields by their house that day. He just laughed at her and told her she was seeing things. Three months to the day, she went into the cornfield to fill her apron with ripe corn for dinner. There she had a stroke and died on 1 September 1919.   

Grandma also told me she once heard a strong, decisive knock on the front door to her house.  When she opened the door no one was there.  Later she discovered that a relative had died at the exact moment she heard the knock. These stories scared me half to death, and I had trouble sleeping for many nights after hearing that one.  Still, I was fascinated and could not stop asking for more.

My father died in 1995, and Grandma was bereft at losing her son. I came into town for the funeral, and I was dropped off at Grandma's house a couple hours before with the understanding I was to keep Grandma company until my mother came to pick us both up. It never occurred to me that Grandma hadn't been told I would be coming. She answered the door red eyed and with tears streaming down her face. It killed me to see her that way. She said she didn't want company right then, something I had never heard her say before. I felt so bad for intruding. I apologized and hugged her and said I'd walk to my Mom's house (probably only about a 15 minutes walk - no big deal). When Grandma realized I didn't have a car she refused to let me leave. 

Then I had to make it right somehow, you know what I mean? It was super awkward and one of those moments you will always remember. I realized it couldn't be Grandma who made it right, she was a 90 year old woman beside herself with grief. I had to do or say something that would change the tone, but still honor the feelings of that day. The best I could come up with was (in a small voice) "Grandma, could you tell me the story of the three white horses?"

She look at me out of the corner of her eyes for one long moment (as if to say, "Are ya kiddin' me, Colette?). Then her eyes crinkled up and she laughed out loud, a most welcome sound. She patted my knee, and proceeded to tell me the story. She was the grandmother, I was the grandchild, and we both knew how that worked. 

This brooch belonged to Grandma.  Not three WHITE horses, but still...

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Grandma's letter

--This treasure is a letter from my Tennessee grandmother (1905-2000) to my daughter, written in February 1981, for the occasion of my daughter's 9th birthday. My grandmother was a Pentecostal Christian, so there is a good bit of "Jesus" talk in this.  It is simply the way she talked.

Dear (M),

As I never see you to talk to you long enough, I just wanted you to know how we lived when I was a little girl.  I thought it would be nice to send you this for your birthday in February 1981.

I had the sweetest childhood a little girl could have. We were very poor. We didn’t have toys like children have today. We would always get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, because you see, we lived on a farm. I was about five years old when I can really remember. My mother would wake all of us up and we would eat our breakfast. Then there were cows to milk and horses to feed. There were seven of us children. My one little brother (Johnny) died when I was just about three months old or less (note from Colette – he died September 2, 1905, my Grandma was born at the end of May 1905). I can’t remember seeing him, but my mother said he called them to the bed and asked to see me before he died. He was about two years old when he went to be with Jesus. Well now, to get back to our farm and all the work we had to do. I just had the best daddy in the world, I thought, and he was so kind to us.  I never remember him saying an unkind word to us, yet he had a way about him that to look at him you just didn’t want to do anything, only what he told us to do. We would thin the corn out to two stalks in a hill after it was big enough and that I could do.  As I grew older I got a harder job like hoeing corn. In those days we had hand plows and mules or horses to pull the plow. I can remember my grandfather plowing with oxen with a wooden yoke on their necks. Then we had sheep. The little lambs were so sweet. When I think of them now, I think of Jesus with the lambs in his arms and around him. But I think he created all animals and the lamb was a symbol of his love – how he died that we might have eternal life.

We would cut the wool off of the sheep (I helped do that).  One day I was, as we called it, shearing them. I cut his hide till it bled. It went “ba,ba”. I felt so bad about that. Then my mother would send the wool away and get our blankets for the bed that way. Oh yes, she would keep some and she had an old spinning wheel. She’d make the thread to knit our stockings for winter. They were real warm. She taught me to knit. I was making a pair and I told her this was like going around the world and to the North Pole. Ha!

Now I’ll tell you how we played.  We had rocks that green pretty moss grew on and we would play like we were making beds.  And we did, too –real pretty.  We never worked on Sunday and we had friends come to visit us.  I think back about it now, it was really fun.  We had one little china doll – about 5 inches long.  It was handed down from the oldest to the youngest. We never broke it. I wish I had it now to show it to you. We would play ball and sit around a fireplace in the wintertime popping popcorn.  I remember one time my brother Wint and I got to go to town with my father and we got to go to a movie. We didn’t have radios or TV’s then, but my childhood is all sweet memories.  We were just one big happy family. We had a cave close to our house and at the entrance there were shelves my Dad made.  We would keep our milk and butter there –so cold.  We had one cave us kids used to have to crawl in. After we got in it was the most beautiful place, but scary.  We could see skeletons, maybe of animals, I don’t know.  It was so dangerous as I think of it now. Then we had a place we called the “rolly hole.”  You could throw a rock and you could hear it roll down, down, down.  Somehow the rocks would come to top rolled so smooth. It isn’t there anymore, they tell me.  

We walked 2 miles to go to school. There were no sidewalks, and there were rocks, etc.  We walked barefoot in the summer and when fall came we got new shoes. Like boys wear. We were so proud of them. I’ll tell you about our chickens later.

One day my mother and two oldest sisters went to pick blackberries and blueberries.   They would take a couple of big pails and go up into the mountains and would be gone all day sometimes, as they grew wild in the mountains.  They were delicious, better than what we get now from the grocery store.

Once, I asked my mom what we would eat for dinner. I was only about eleven years old and my brother and two little sisters were there for me to feed. There was no lunch meat like we have now. She said, “Well, you can have chicken if you will kill one and dress it.”  Well, that sounded so good to me.  I told my little brother if he would hold its head and my sister (then about seven) would hold its feet, I’d chop its head off.  We laid it on a block of wood and that poor chicken, I thought, I just can’t do this. But then I thought about dinner so I took an ax and cut its head off. Then we built a fire out of wood and heated a big kettle of water and dipped it in hot water, took all the feathers off, cut it up and washed it good. We fried it on an old-fashioned wood-burning kitchen stove. We did have a good dinner!

We used to have a ball to play with that mother made us out of rags; she rolled over the rags many times with heavy thread. We would play throwing it over the house to each other. We also used to tell riddles we would hear. Maybe your mom can explain that to you. My sister Bertha and I used to saw big trees down. I helped cut corn when in the fall the corn was ready to shuck. We’d cut it and put it in bunches and tie the top. Big bunches of the stalks it grew on and corn, too. Then we’d feed the horses and cows in wintertime. One day my father came to the field where we were working and said, “Ma is sick, you will have to go to Grandma’s house.” So we all went to Grandma Sharp’s house and in the middle of the afternoon Grandma came home. She said, “You have a little baby sister.” Grandma Sharp was the midwife who delivered the baby. You should have seen us run for home! The baby’s name was Neva, my baby sister. She will be 65 years old the 23rd of May. So you see that has been many years ago.

We had a spring near our house and carried our water by pails full to drink and to wash clothes. It was fun. The water was as clear as crystals. It was pure water that God made; no chemicals of any kind were in it. I went to a little one-room schoolhouse. My Dad took me the 1st day and I cried to go home with him. I was six years old. The teacher had a watch on a chain around her neck and she took me to one side and showed me the birds on the watch to get me to stop crying.

I just wanted to tell you how different it was when I was a girl your age. Of course that has been over 70 years since I was 5 years old. I wish I could take you and your Mom and Dad to where we used to live. Our house is torn down now, they tell me.

The saddest part I left till last. My father died when he was only 39 years old. He was sick quite a few years and it left my mother with 5 of us to raise. But that didn’t help her as far as missing him. We all worked together and we never went hungry. But that didn’t ease the aches in our hearts for a father. He died in Louisville, Kentucky in hospital in 1919. He never got to see his 1st grandchild. She was born May 18, 1919.   He died June 1st, 1919. But you know, someday we will all be together. Jesus went away to prepare a home for us. And then if we live a good life he will see that we all be together someday. I know you are a good girl. You have a good mother, so always listen to what she tells you to do. You also have a good father. I wanted a little girl so much, but God gave me two sons instead. Now I have two daughters (in-law) and oodles of grand daughters and a great grand daughter to love. And I love each of you. And my great grandsons, too. I hope you enjoy just a part of this letter – how we used to live.

Love you,

Great Grandma

Here are some early photos of my grandmother and some of her siblings:

Grandma and her brother, about 1914?

My grandmother is the one in back with the big bow in her hair. Taken about 1918?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

My Sweet Grandma

My paternal grandmother was born in 1905 on a farm in Pickett County, Tennessee. She came from a family with roots in Colonial Virginia. They were part of the great migration of settlers who came through the Cumberland Gap into Tennessee and Kentucky in the late 1700's and early 1800's, when that part of the country was first opened to white settlers. When she died, I lost a direct link to a way of life that no longer exists. Grandma was one of the last of her kind: a sweet, simple woman born into a southern mountain culture with roots extending deep into our pioneer past. 

Her later years spent living in a northern industrial city did little to change her essential character, shaped growing up in the hills of Northeastern Tennessee. She had a big heart filled to the brim with love of God and family. She was the archetypal old-fashioned grandmother: kindly, innocent, loving, and accepting.

Grandpa noticed Grandma at a church dance both attended in nearby Wayne County, Kentucky, where my Grandpa lived. One day after that fateful encounter he decided to ride his horse across the state line to where Grandma’s family lived in Northeastern Tennessee. Grandma did not really know my grandfather at the time, and she certainly was not expecting him to visit. When he arrived she was not at home, so her brother rode off to find her. Grandma said she was mortified that he had come to her house, but pleased nonetheless. Not long after that visit, Grandpa talked her into eloping. They escaped on horseback and were married in the middle of the road by the preacher in December 1923. Grandma was a naive and sheltered 18 year old. Grandma’s wedding kiss was her first. She said she had no idea about sex. She got wide eyed and then laughed in her modest, grandma way when she told me that.

Her mother was angry and cried when she found out that Grandma had run off to get married. I would have cried, too.

Next time I will share a letter Grandma wrote to my daughter (her great-granddaughter) in 1981, telling her about what life was like when she (Grandma) was a young girl. 

Here is a photo of my grandparents taken in 1924 when my grandmother was pregnant with my father.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Still hanging on

I will eventually write about Charlottesville.  I will eventually allude to the hatred that is no longer festering in the hearts of so many American citizens, but has burst, sporelike, into the light of day. Hideous, disfiguring hatred is making zombies of the living. Hatred is born of fear and ignorance. And, of course, there is really no way to get around the fact that it is a sin.

Today, however, I am still trying to hang on to the goodness and beauty that is all around me. So I am going to continue with another post about the wildflowers found in the nearby nature preserve. 

Here is an interesting flowering vine. The identifying sign on the walkway referred to it as balsam pear. It is also known as bitter melon.  According to Wikipedia: "When ripe, the fruits burst apart, revealing numerous seeds covered with a brilliant scarlet, extremely sticky coating." It is not a native plant. However, it is still beautiful. Here it is in various states of being, and splitting open to spill its seed:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Scarlet Hibiscus

We went for a walk at a nature preserve yesterday. This preserve has a raised, wood plank path to walk on, which I appreciate considering the place is filled with alligators, snakes, monster spiders and strange lizards. There are also Florida wildflowers blooming at various times of the year. Yesterday we came upon a Scarlet Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus). It is also called scarlet rosemallow, marsh hibiscus, or swamp mallow. We've only seen it in the wild at this one preserve, only at this time of the summer, and in this one spot along the walk. There were a number of buds, but only one flower in bloom yesterday.


Thursday, August 3, 2017


I am NOT religious. However, I am curious about religions, and religiosity. I've been intrigued by the concept of "grace" since I stumbled upon it in a Catholic Encyclopedia entry one lunch hour when I had nothing better to do than to sit in the library, looking through reference books. I came upon "grace" and it kind of blew my mind. Here's one definition:

"In Western Christian theology, grace has been defined, not as a created substance of any kind, but as "the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it"

I guess you can imagine why it appealed to me.  Getting something for doing nothing, not asking for it, not expecting it, and not deserving it in any way. Wow. Sign me up.

The agnostic who lives inside my brain is screaming "it is totally random, dumb luck, girlfriend!" 

But still, sometimes wonderful random things happen and they seem like a gift. Sometimes they change your life and things are never the same again. Of course random bad things happen, too.  But I am trying not to go there. Not today.

“Citrus Worker” by William Ludwig, Leu Gardens, Orlando, Florida

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Health caring, at least

I'm reasonably good about taking care of myself.  I exercise, eat well, and go to all the required doctors (and dentist) for all the annual exams. I do this in spite of the fact that, like many others, I absolutely hate going to the doctor.

I have this "not very well thought out" belief that if I go to a doctor, they WILL find something wrong that needs to be fixed. It's their job, for crying out loud. I know this is ridiculous. But since it is a belief (i.e., emotion based) I don't feel inclined to defend it as an idea (i.e., logic based).

Consequently, I was not surprised when my dermatologist found a basal cell carcinoma on my face. It has been there for a few years. My previous dermatologist pooh pooh'd it. I tried someone new this time. She biopsied and sent it off to the lab. A week later, she cut it out. Then I had the indignity of spending another week with 4 stitches between my nose and my lip on the right side. The swelling pushed my nose up on one side, and my top lip hung down over the bottom in the opposite direction. She also froze off 4 actinic keratosis on other areas of my face. I looked lovely.

Now I'm in the market for a big floppy hat. Perhaps one like Sally Rayburn wore on Bloodlines? That might be big enough to hide me from my enemy, the relentless *^$@! sun.

The only problem is that, unlike Sissy, I am not a skinny little person. I am a chubby little person. Consequently, a hat like this will likely make me look like my totem animal, the turtle. As one gets older, life seems to become a series of indignities. I'm getting used to it.

Sissy Spacek as Sally Rayburn in Bloodlines on Netflix