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A Letter To Santa

December 15, 2011

Dear Santa,

How ya been doin’ big fella? I hope you and the Mrs. have had a good year!

I’m sure you can check your data bank to see how long it’s been since you last received a letter from me. The last time I wrote I asked for a 26-inch purple bike with a banana seat and a pair of white go-go boots. Thanks for the bike! I loved it as you can imagine. I couldn’t understand why you didn’t bring the boots, but my Mom said maybe you thought it wasn’t appropriate for young girls to be wearing them. I spent the rest of the year trying to figure out how Mom would know what you thought about anything. Did she have an inside connection? Hmm… it was most mysterious.

Man oh man, a lot of time has passed since then. I’ve lost some, won some, some got rained out, and some I didn’t care enough about to even get worked up over. Life’s too short. Or, would you know? You certainly seem to have lived an incredibly long time. It’s pretty cold at the North Pole. I guess it’s kind of like being in a state of freeze-dried preservation, huh?

I’ll just come right out and say it. It’s been a rough year big guy, not just for me but for millions of people across the country and the rest of the world – all the drama, natural disasters, war, famine, and recession. We don’t see much “feel good” news through the media outlets. They do seem to thrive on the negative aspects of life, which makes it all worse. Some years we eat steak, some years we eat hamburger. This year, we’ve eaten a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I’m not complaining though, don’t get me wrong. It’s still good eats.

A white Christmas tops the list
Photo by Sara Mawyer

I guess if you check your “naughty” and “nice” lists you’ll probably find my name on both of them. I’ve had to bite my tongue more than a few times this year in order to remain “nice.” And, you know me, Santy, that’s a pretty tough trick!

Anyway, I have a job, family, friends, loyal dogs, food to eat, and a roof over my head. I really couldn’t ask for anything more. I’m lucky to love and be loved, and that’s the best gift of all, not just at Christmas but any time.

People are tired of dodging economic potholes in the road though, Pops. Help us to remember what you’re all about. Old alliances are good alliances so I’m including a list with this letter. I sure hope you can deliver! I’m a much older, wiser gal now so I don’t expect everything, just the things you can find in your heart to bring. Although compared to you, I’m young! (Ooooops…Sorry, sorry, sorry. No offense intended. Uh, scratch that last remark. Will that land me on the naughty list again?)

Here’s my list:

•A white Christmas

•Patience and faith in all Christmas stockings, hung with care

•Respect for all people regardless of their race, creed, sex or color

•A warm hand of kindness to all who need it

•Nice, gentle lines of aging on my face (let the laugh lines be the most prominent)

•Strength to those who are weak and hurting

•A spare crystal ball so I’ll have one at home and one at work, cuz I need it

•A willingness of all people to take gentle care of our precious planet

•Help in remembering life isn’t fair but it’s still darn good

•Assistance in kicking the habit of watching the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and other various kinds of junk TV

•Opportunities to listen more and talk less

•An all-expense paid trip to Whoville

•Opportunities to spend more time with children under age 6 and adults over age 70

•A jet pack

•A great big hug to all the world (God knows it needs it!)

•If you can get your team of reindeer up to warp speed and climb so high you get near heaven, toss my old dog, Astro, a bone. I lost him this year, but I’m certain he’s up there keeping good company. It’s just not the same without him to chase around the house while trying to wrangle him into wearing reindeer antler headgear for his annual Christmas portrait.

•A 1969 VW Microbus

•Put the bug in everyone’s ear the spirit of Christmas is very much alive not just on December 25th, but every day in every way walking down Main Street U.S.A.

•Uh.... and um, some of those go-go boots would still be nice, for days when my go-go ain’t gone-gone!

Well, that’s about it I reckon. Remember though, when you’re headed up U.S. 321 North watch out for the NC Highway Patrol. They don’t take too kindly to drivers flying up and down the highway.

Tell everybody at the workshop hello.

Here’s to jolly days to come!

Love you muchly,

I’ll leave a peanut butter and jelly sandwich out for you. I hope you like the “crunchy” kind!

If you need a hot toddy to warm the old bones, I reckon if you can find my rooftop chimney in the hamlet where I live you can certainly locate the liquor cabinet once you’re here. ‘Drink’s on me big man.


Thanksgiving Thoughts

November 17, 2011

Thanksgiving is a holiday that, these days, so many folks rush through so they can move on to Christmas. Recently, on the second weekend in November, as I was traveling through Caldwell and Alexander Counties I discovered the locals were already decking the halls, putting up outdoor Christmas decorations and such.

Thanksgiving gets short shrift it seems. It’s a shame that a holiday that honors two of the most important words in the English vocabulary, “thank you,” is eclipsed by the commercialism of Christmas so much the glory of day goes by barely noticed. By September and October the stores are stocking their shelves for Halloween and Christmas. Thanksgiving? Ahh...not so much.

Thanksgiving is a day to meditate, give thanks for what we have and the folks we love and care about. It’s a time to say, “Maybe things aren’t great right now, but they could always be worse. So, thank you. I am blessed. This too shall pass and things will get better – with faith.” Or, maybe things are great. Then, give thanks and share the wealth with those less fortunate. It brings to mind a phrase from song written decades ago now, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

I could probably skip Christmas and all the hype, stress, and undue pressure it brings and just say a prayer over the turkey: “Thank you for the lessons I’ve learned the hard way. And, also for the many people and critters, young and old, who have come into my life when I needed them to be there. Watch over all of us. Grant us mercy, forgiveness, and peace.” It’s as simple as that.

First Baptist Church, Morganton against the blue
backdrop of Hawk’s Bill.

Rest assured I’ll be doing the Christmas thing also. I skipped out on the holiday one year in my life’s history and I think it may have broken my mother’s heart at the time. It’s something I’ve always regretted. Skipping out is not as great as it sounds – especially if it may hurt someone you love. Christmas will be observed at my house, but not one moment before the very last crumb of the Thanksgiving meal has been fully consumed and appreciated.

Today, as you are reading this, I give thanks for the beauty and majesty of this great land and I say “THANK YOU!” to the men and women who protect it and to their families for the sacrifices they make.

I’m so thankful to have a place I can go to during the day to stop, relax, inhale and drink in the beauty of divine creation. I’ve been around the country, but sometimes the most beautiful things you’ll see are right in your own back yard...if you only stop to look.

If I could write a caption for my photo here at the end of this column, silly as that sounds, it would be from the first lyric of My Country, ‘Tis of Thee

My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing; land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims’ pride, from every mountainside let freedom ring!

And that (Charlie Brown) is what Thanksgiving is all about.

When I look to the west, as I do daily, and see the beautiful blue hues of Table Rock, Hawk’s Bill and Grandfather Mountain I always say a silent “Thank you, Lord for putting me in this glorious place.”

Happy Thanksgiving readers! I’m blessed by you and I offer my most humble thanks. Take care of each other. Hey, and no fighting over the drumstick!


Hoodooed By Boogers

And A Fat Lady

November 10, 2011

November is finally here. I enjoy the autumn season and all that comes with it: crisp air, bonfires, colorful leaves and Halloween. It’s a known fact in my household that All Hallows Eve is probably my most favorite holiday because it’s fun . . . and there’s candy involved!

I love to see the little goblins and ghosts parading up the driveway by the warm, amber light of the tiny jack-o’-lantern lights dotting the courtyard fence. I start festooning the mailbox and yard the very first week in October. I’ve been slicing and dicing “punkins’” to grace the doorstep for years. All has gone well with these projects until about five years ago when a nasty gremlin seemingly put a Halloween hex on me.

My house sits atop a small, wooded foothill. Naturally there is a lot of wildlife around the place (not counting the inhabitants of my home of course). The Martha Stewart started coming out in me when we moved there 16 years ago and, to paraphrase the media maven herself, ‘that’s a good thing.’ I enjoy nature and like to decorate with natural items as much as possible. But, while I’ve been honing my arts and crafts techniques the squirrel population on our little foothill has exploded. No creature large or small it seems goes unfed or unsheltered in our woodland paradise and these boogers are the size of gophers!

As I said, my stumbling blocks to Halloween started about five years ago when I decided to hang three ears of Indian corn gathered together by a seasonal bow on my mailbox post. It looked simply “mah-vah-lous” I tell you! I was tickled with my little decoration until I pulled up to the mailbox the next day after work to see three stone-cold naked corn cobs were all that was left of my lovely arrangement. Doh! I could not believe I was so daft as to believe squirrels would not eat Indian corn.

My magic crystal ball Photo by Sara Mawyer

At least I still had my jack-o’-lantern pumpkin for carving, that’s one thing those little rat basta.. uh, rat finks couldn’t take from me. WRONG! For the past few years I pick out my perfectly round pumpkin and set it either on the porch or under the colorful boughs of my dogwood tree and every dang time Chip and Dale lay into the delicate orange rind before I’ve even had a chance to sharpen my carving knife.

This year was no exception. It’s gotten so bad my husband has started taking a black Sharpie marker and circling the targeted spots on the pumpkin with it. I was pretty disgusted with the situation but, nevertheless, I felt I had to ask: “What’s up with you circling those spots where the squirrels have laid into my pumpkin?” (Yeeessss, I am a little touchy about it. Those pesky characters are getting the best of me.) “Oh...I’m just highlighting the circumference of the areas of damage,” he replied, looking at me like, “Don’t you get it? The squirrels win!”

Yep, the woodland creatures trounced me again! But this year it was a toss-up between the squirrels and our young Labrador, Levi, as to who was going to decimate the Indian corn hanging on the fence gate post first. The squirrels started the job one day, having nibbled off a large portion of the colorful kernels. The next day Levi finished off what was left, taking out both the Indian corn and one of the pumpkin lanterns hanging from the string along the fence.

As I sat in my comfy arm chair watching the news after a long day I overheard the stern tone of a one-sided conversation my husband was having with Levi out on the porch. “Come in here. I want your mother to see this,” he said. Next thing I know I had my hubby standing before me dangling the mangled orange orb while our “son” was made to sit and endure my long, heavy sigh. Unlike the squirrels, at least he did look truly remorseful. And, even if he does weigh 85 lbs., he’s still a 10-month-old pup so . . . What can I say? I’m a sucker for that big, handsome brown-eyed dog.

The one “trickster” that gripes me the most is a repeat offender. She’s a hefty middle-aged woman who made her debut at my home last year with her son in tow. They each had their own buckets for candy. After her son received his little treat bag his mom thrust her bucket at me and said, “Trick-or-treat. The baby’s in the car.” I’ve never encountered a parent using this excuse to scam Halloween candy! I threw a piece of candy in her bucket and she stood there looking at me as if she expected more. As she walked away she complained that the wooded area near the sidewalk was too dark and she was afraid something would jump out and get her. She didn’t seem too afraid to walk up the hill from street to my porch in the dark, though. I said, “You’re not from around here are you?” She mumbled, “Nah, I live over yonder,” and walked off into the night. I just shook my head figuring I’d not see the likes of her again.

I was wrong. This year as trick-or-treating slowed down to a trickle the mom and her son showed up again. This time she was prepared for the darkness too! She shined a big Mag flashlight right in my face as she stepped up for her candy. “Trick-or-treat. The baby’s in the car,” she said. What the !?! I was so dumbstruck I should have said, “Sorry. Baby must be present to participate.” But, I tossed a sack of candy into her already full bucket instead.

Next year when this broad comes to my door her son will get candy and she will get my special “Charlie Brown” treat. That would be a little treat bag with a rock in it! (For her son’s sake I hope I can hold my tongue.)

Now I have to ask myself if outdoor Christmas lights and decorations are out of the question. I have consulted my magic crystal ball but the answer remains unclear. Meanwhile, I’ll be digging through the ancient books to undo the spell that conjured up the pests of Halloween. Woodland varmints and hefty lady candy scammers beware. Next year the trick will be on you!


Robo Serve Your Self!

October 6, 2011

Sometimes (more often than not) I feel like a female version of Andy Rooney. Most of you know the one - the old curmudgeon who spewed forth with his custom-fitted editorial at the end of “60 Minutes” every Sunday evening for so many years. Personally, I like the guy. He’s made some very valid points over the years.

Not too long ago I had a young fella ask me what kind of editorial writing was my bag . . . “exactly.” And I used Rooney as an example of the kind of writer I have evolved into over the years. That being said, a debate ensued over why no one ever told Rooney he needed to trim his eye brows before presenting himself in front of the viewing millions. Ah, so go the conversations of my days. One minute they are filled with pertinent and interesting discussion and the next minute they dissolve into banal, ridiculous queries!

This is the way my mind meanders through the days of my life and frankly, I’m not fighting it. Once you reach a certain age you (hopefully) become comfortable enough with yourself to put your viewpoints out there. It is true, viewpoints a.k.a. opinions are like um, fannies – we all have one after all.

And now I’m bordering on becoming an old codger myself, my topic for this editorial is “robo service.”

It goes like this: “Thank you for calling Katmandu Eye Center, located in Anytown U.S.A. Please select from the following options: for appointments press 1; doctors press 2; for questions about Lasix, Botox or cosmetic surgery press 3; for billing or insurance questions press 4; for the optical or contact lens department press 5; to refill a prescription or request medical records press 6; for the surgery center press 7; for all other questions hang on the line. If you know your party’s extension you may press it at any time.”

Wishing for a life where humans answer the phone...

This message could apply to any one of millions of physician’s offices, law offices, hospitals, pharmacies, mental health centers, catalog ordering centers, etc. And it is, without a doubt, exasperating! What this message says is, “We are more than happy to take your money for any services rendered but we are too cheap and can’t be bothered with hiring a full-time switchboard receptionist to add the personal touch of having a LIVE person answer the phone when you call.”

Maybe I’m the one who’s out of touch here but personally I think one of the most important customer services a business can offer is that of an actual human being who answers the phone when patrons call. I’ve done this job myself many times throughout the years. And, it takes a lot of patience to be the one who takes incoming calls and directs them where they need to go. It also takes a pretty tough hide because not everyone who calls a business is going to be in a cheery mood. Some are not going to be happy at all and because they aren’t happy they are going to make sure you aren’t going to be having a swell day either.

Therefore, I not only believe it’s important to have a live voice answering the business phone, I think that person should be paid handsomely for it as well. This person would be working on the front line, making the first impression for the business in many instances.

And here’s the rub with the automated answering system: let’s say you’re calling the Katmandu Eye Center and you accidentally push button # 3 when you meant to push button # 4. Then you actually get someone in the Botox Department who doesn’t have the faintest idea how to connect you to the person in the Billing Department (which you would have gotten had you not been flustered by all the options and pushed the correct button, # 4). Gadzooks!

To be fair, the “serve yourself” mentality doesn’t just apply to telephone answering systems. Now you can check yourself out at the grocery store and major hardware chains. Why would I want to do that? That would take all the joy out of having to hear the ongoing conversation between young Mindy, my cashier and Mork, my bag boy discussing what time their break is and who’s dating whom. Despite the insipid conversation, I’m not having to bag up my own groceries and, if I’m not feeling up to toting my bags out to the car myself I can get Mork to do it for me.

I can remember when gas stations used to give you an option, full service or self-serve. If you pulled into the full service pump the gas was a few cents more expensive but you had a guy come to the car, pump the gas, clean your wind shield, take your money and make change without you ever having to leave the car. And, gas was cheap no matter which pump you pulled into! These days you pay through the nose and you pump yourself no matter what the weather. Imagine what gas would cost if someone actually provided the service of pumping the gas for you now?

When you take the “person” out of personal service . . . well, you get the message. Now if you’ll excuse me I think I’ll just go off somewhere and trim my eyebrows.


Heavy Fog, Lots of Dust

September 1, 2011

I love to write, take photos, doodle in my sketch book, and keep a journal. I always figured these were passtimes I could do without getting on anyone’s nerves. They are quiet hobbies, after all. Not like I’m up until the wee hours pounding away on a drum kit or twanging a steel guitar.

Once in blue moon (okay, maybe more often) a heavy fog rolls into my head like the great dust storms of the American West known as “Black Blizzards” and I can’t see or feel a thing with my imagination.

A friend was chiding me a while back about not having an editorial in FOCUS. I replied, “You know…the words don’t always flow off my fingers like water running from a tap.” I have also been nudged, prodded, encouraged, questioned and mentally shoved (in a gentle manner) during recent weeks by other folks, all wanting to know when my next column in FOCUS was going to be, or the ever present question: “How often do you write for FOCUS?”

At any rate, for those of you who have razzed me for not having written a column in a few weeks (and, you know who you are) it miraculously turned out to be the light bulb that came on above my head! My brother has a rip-off line from one of his favorite movies he likes to use on me sometimes when he happens to notice a light bulb over my head: “Where did you park your car, Dick Tracy?” It’s not so much the phrase, but the little smirk I get to go along with it that really nails me.

It’s so hard so to say where a column comes from. Sometimes I’ll get just a brief idea, write it down on a small piece of paper and cram it into my purse. By the time I draw it from the abyss a couple of months later it’s been pummeled so much by my girlie artillery the ink has all but faded.

Other times I’m awestruck by something I’ve seen or taken a photo of that inspires my pen through a very, very rough draft, before it’s tweaked enough to come out on the newspaper stand.

Just yesterday, I was coming into the town of Morganton proper off of NC Hwy. 18 from Lenoir, when I spotted the perfect, cozy Bungalow-style house with the perfect front porch surrounded by the perfect front yard, outlined by the perfect white picket fence which was punctuated by the perfect little sidewalk gate with the most perfect little decorative sign attached that said, “Welcome.”

“Gosh,” I thought, “How perfect! It was straight out of a Southern Living magazine photo shoot. Certainly it’s this kind of Southernism that would inspire a few written words by someone. But, for me, it’s the imperfections, the uniqueness, and flaws that create a thing of beauty. And so, I resisted taking a photo of the very pretty perfect place. Ironically though I did write about it anyway because you just read it!

So, many times, oh so many times, I’ve actually written a piece that floats around the people in my life whom I love and hold a very strong regard for. This includes many excellent, wonderful, and charismatic friends big and little, young and old and many of the dogs I’ve loved in my life as well. I will spend days working on a piece about these precious people and animals and then, at the last minute, decide to stop mid-sentence never to continue further. I think, “Nope, these slices of life, these precious moments of time that fall and melt like snowflakes are too rich, and from the deepest part of my heart. I will remember them forever and hold them close. But, it’s not always wise to share the beating of your heart with the general public.”

People just being stupid and selfish often steam me enough to WANT to write about it. I usually shy away from “stupid” and “selfish” because one or the other or a combination of both just makes me mad. Ahem . . . let me rephrase, not just mad, but very angry. (Not a place I like to be and certainly not a place I want anyone else to see!) I will share this one item with you readers and – please forgive me, I am not perfect and no one I know and love is. I am not a smoker. I do not nor have I ever enjoyed smoking tobacco. I have close relatives who were smokers. I have many friends, some of whom I have lost because of it, who were/are smokers. And, I certainly don’t want to impinge on their choice of vices. But when I see a pregnant woman smoking or the mother or father of a child smoking in an enclosed space such as a car with their child strapped into a car seat in the back inhaling plumes of second-hand smoke I am so disgusted I want to throw up . . . on their shoes if preferable! See? Obviously it would not be wise for me to write any more about this outrage. I would most certainly get arrested and I don’t know a soul these days who could afford to bail me out of jail!

I find that even when I’m not consciously writing I still write. As I’ve mentioned I’ve kept a journal of some sort for years. When the “Black Blizzard” comes, I sometimes find a bit of inspiration from something I may have written years ago. I discover tiny poetic treasures in my little books of the ages. Following are some examples:

July 8. 1990: “The earth, the trees, the clouds, the sky whisper a secret lullaby.”

March 17, 1991: “Silence speaks loudest ‘tis true. I call your name, I’m speaking to you. In the dark tick-tock of the night, I speak to you of this old plight. In the quiet hush of the morning dew you’ll see me there speaking to you. When silence rings the bell of home you’ll find me there where ‘ere you roam.” (This was written on St. Patrick’s Day night 20 years ago. Reading it today, I wonder . . . was I Irish in another life?)

January 9, 2001: “My silver star is shining bright but shoots a blaze and falls from sight.”
And this one which is not poetic but certainly memorable:

Aug. 23, 2011: The time was 1:51 p.m. when I heard the low growl emanating from the bowels of the earth. I turned in my chair at full alert to discover the picture hanging on the wall of my work cubicle swaying like a hoochie mama at a cheap peep show. My work associate in the next cubicle spun around in his chair and looked at me fairly wide-eyed. “What was that?” he asked. Feeling the cement slab floor vibrate beneath my feet I took a short breath and replied, “That was an earthquake tremor.”

There are many beautiful, sad, and enigmatic moments that transpire every day in life. I’m so lucky to catch but a mere glimpse of the wonder of a handful of them. But, there just isn’t enough material there to write about because these glimpses are simple split seconds of inspiration. Then they are gone like the fireflies of summer when autumn closes in.

Hack! Haaack! Haaaaaaaaaaaaack! Excuse me; I’m coughing up a little dust here. Them thar Black Blizzards don’t ya know! The words may not always come at a consistent rate, but they come nonetheless. It’s hard to explain to anyone who asks how I came to be a writer. I can only say I didn’t come to writing, writing came to me. Many times when I sit at this well-worn keyboard words appear on the computer screen as if from nowhere. I read a piece of work back to myself later and wonder it came from?

The words I have and the words I give are a gift from a power much higher and more divine than me. Just as those who urge me to sit my fanny back down in my desk chair and get back to writing because I’ve been a slacker are a gift . . . perhaps the greatest gift indeed. And, gentle readers, last but certainly not least, that is what brings me to be blessed by you!


Hot Enough?

Taking Sirius Seriously

July 28, 2011

Summertime and the livin’ is … uh, well, sluggish. Land o’ Goshen, it is just dang hot!

What we have here in our lovely Western North Carolina countryside is what is known as “Dog Days.” Now, I’ve heard that term thrown around a lot by movie makers, journalists and the old guys who sit on the bench out in front of the feed store.

What the heck is a “Dog Day” exactly? I’ve always wondered how this term came to pass.

Growing up in the South, it wasn’t hard to realize that “Dog Days” usually start with a furious blast of heat in July that can last well into September.

Here’s what I do know about “Dog Days.” Those are the days when it’s so hot the big dog doesn’t sleep on the porch anymore, he actually goes underneath it, digs himself a nice trench in the cool dirt and stays there until he hears the sound of food pouring into the dog dish above him!

Actually, I don’t really have a porch my big dog, a 7-month-old black Labrador, Levi, can crawl under. He’s generally content to lie on the cool bricks of the covered porch and, since he has such a weird penchant for cold celery and cucumbers, munch the cold green vegetables that have reached their prime and are no longer acceptable in the vegetable bin of the fridge. Go figure??? He might have been a vegetarian in another life!

Upon investigation I found the term “Dog Days” was derived from the brightest star in the constellation Alpha Canis Majoris (which means Big Dog). According to those who study such, Sirius is about twice as massive as the sun.

Levi chilling out with a cold stalk of celery

The “Dog Days” are the days when Sirius rises just before or at the same time as sunrise. The ancient Romans (and excuse me if you are of Roman or even Italian descent) sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the “Dog Days” to appease the rage of Sirius, believing the star was the cause of hot, sultry weather. Pardon me? What’s with these ancient folks? Not to diminish history, but is seems there was always something being sacrificed. I personally own a little brown dog named Gus. He only weighs 13 lbs. Shoot, my mama has baked Christmas hams that weighed more than that. But I would never ever, never, never (as in no way!) skewer his cute little self and put him on the camp fire just because it’s hotter than hell outside. Come on! Cut my right arm off and call it barbecue alright! Dang heathens. What? Were they short on virgins to sacrifice during the dry, hot season? Or could they just not find one with a dog face? (No disrespect intended.)

According to observational history, the ancient Greeks noted the appearance of Sirius heralded the hot, dry summer and feared it caused plants to wilt, men to weaken, and women to become aroused. Whoa Nelly! As a combination of events, that is one real humdinger. To the Greeks the bright twinkling star signified certain emanations that caused a bad influence. People suffering from its effects were said to be “star-struck.” How ‘bout that? So that’s where that particular well-used term comes from.

At any rate, one must find ways to refresh one’s self during these blistering, long days. I have a few suggestions:

Pack it in. If you’re prone to eat lunch at your desk as I am, a nice homemade chicken salad and a cold crisp apple is good. A sandwich made of lettuce, home-grown tomato and cheese with a side of Jell-O hits the spot as well. A light lunch keeps me from feeling even more bogged down when the heat is on.

If you drink canned soda or bottled water, put the cold container on your pulse points (at the wrists and either side of the neck) before opening. Holding a cold object to your neck helps cool the blood that’s traveling to your brain.

Kool Aid isn’t just for kiddies. Pick a sugar-free flavor of your liking, pour it over a tall, insulated tumbler of ice and, if you’re feeling festive, drink it through a brightly colored straw.

Edie’s Fruit Bars (found in the ice cream section of the grocery store) are the bomb! They are frozen bars of juice/fruit that can’t be beat. Pineapple is my favorite uh, and strawberry, lime, grape, creamy coconut, pomegranate. At about only 80 calories each, I’ve been known to eat them two at a time!

Avoid high protein foods which require a stepped up metabolism to burn. Eat smaller meals more frequently.

Don’t run the dishwasher, washing machine or clothes dryer during the day. It will just make the house feel hotter.

Draw the blinds closed in the early to mid-morning to keep the house cooler as the day goes on. Use ceiling fans to augment air conditioning.

If you do a lot of walking, don’t wear 100 percent cotton socks. You’re feet will sweat more and you risk getting a blister.

Run cold water on your wrists or splash water on your face or temples.

Mist your sheets with ice water from a spray bottle before bedtime.

Take a cold shower.

Wear lose fitting light colored clothing made from natural fabrics such as cotton, silk and linen.

A lot of the body’s heat escapes through the feet, palms, and scalp so keep these areas cool. Take your hat and shoes off when you’re inside.

Use a mint scented lotion or shower gel. It gives you a nice cooling sensation.

Avoid the direct sunlight and try to avoid going outdoors at mid-day. To quote Noel Coward: “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun.”

Powder the “privates.” Gold Bond Medicated Powder is good for any particularly sweaty areas you might have hiding underneath your clothes.

If all else fails . . . run naked through the sprinkler at midnight!

And, since the topic is the Dog Star, don’t forget to keep your dogs cool, too. Truly, our pets suffer when subjected to extreme heat. Make sure they have shade and plenty of fresh, cool water. Keep the water dish in a shady location and change the water frequently.

Some dogs, such as Levi, like to have a kiddie pool to jump in periodically. If you have a basement, take your dogs in from the heat and allow them to cool down on the cement floor.

If your dog is a long-haired variety with a dense coat, have the animal sheared at least twice, if not more, during the summer.

Check your pets to be sure they are not showing signs of over heating this summer. Wipe their faces with a cool wash cloth if they’ll stand for it or put an oscillating fan in their general area when inside.

Dog Days make all creatures great and small a little crabby if no measures are taken to slow down and just cool it!


This column is dedicated to the memory of Astro, my sweet “Huckleberry Hound,” who passed away at age 13 in the arms of those he loved and who loved him,
July 15, 2011.



July 7, 2011

Last week, in the June 30th issue, I misquoted a line from our National Anthem. You know, I did manage to learn all the words to the Pledge of Allegiance in the first grade, but the lyrics to the National Anthem still elude me. Almost at the very end of the column I said, “It’s good to have been born in the land of the brave and the home of the free.” Duh, I realize now that was “bass ackwards.” What I meant to say was: “It’s good to have been born in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

This is ironic, too, because when I see someone sing the national anthem on television and they have trouble reaching those high notes or flub the words, I always have some smarty pants remark at the ready like, “Boy, what a butcher job.”

Usually this occurs at the beginning of a NASCAR race, as there seems to be nothing else on the “tellie” at my house on the weekends. Um, well with the exception of fishing shows but, to the best of my knowledge, they don’t sing the National Anthem at the beginning of a fishing tournament. I think it’d be great if John Kay, Michael Monarch, Rushton Moreve, Gold McJohn, and Jerry Edmonton would reunite as Steppenwolf to sing the national anthem at the start of all sports shows. It sure would add a little extra heavy-metal “ummph” to them, especially golf tournaments!

At any rate, obviously I had my own well-used butcher knife out when I wrote that column. So, I’m raising my hand to admit I made a mistake … sorry.

Upon self-observation, I never learned all the words to the National Anthem coming up through life but I did memorize and can sing (loudly) some of the lyrics to my favorite Steppenwolf song:

“Like a true nature child, we were born, born to be wild. We have climbed so high, never want to die. Born to be wild, born to be Wwwwiiillldddd!” What does that tell ya? Let’s just say I stopped and smelled a lot of incense and flowers along the way.

Of course, it’s good to know I can let my freak flag fly and belt out “Born to be Wild” in public if I have a mind to. Hey, it’s a free country. Um, you also have the right to tell me to pipe down as well. However, if I had to sing the National Anthem, I’d have to do it pretty much the same way I do a lot of songs in the church hymnal – hum it.

Hmm. Hmmm. Hmmmm.


I Pledge Allegiance

June 30, 2011

The first thing I experienced as a first grader at Johnson Elementary School in Charlottesville, Virginia, was that I and my classmates were going to learn the Pledge of Allegiance.

One hundred years ago, when I was a 6-year-old puppy, school systems didn’t have pre-kindergarten or kindergarten. Our start to “real school” was a lot like jumping off the high dive for the first time. We were doing well if we could spell our names and recite our addresses, let alone knowing the alphabet! Nonetheless, my first grade teacher, Mrs. Foster, gently yet firmly taught us the most important part of our day was acknowledging the United States Flag.

Every morning after the school bell rang, we stood up beside our desks, faced the flag, placed our right hand over our heart and began to recite: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Man, oh man. We labored over those big words like “allegiance” and “indivisible.” Yet every single day we tripped our way through it until, by around Christmas, we finally had it nailed. We were all so very proud of ourselves and Mrs. Foster was as proud of us as a mother hen fawning over her chicks.

Most of us were aware Thomas Jefferson who, in 1776 drafted the Declaration of Independence, made his home at Monticello, less than 10 miles from our school. Without the Declaration of Independence there would be no flag to pledge allegiance to. The original pledge to the flag was written by Francis Bellamy 116 years later in 1892.

We were taught to respect the flag, display it correctly and always treat it with great care. Seventh grade students at Johnson Elementary were allowed to raise and lower the flag each day and it was considered a prized honor to do so.

Treating the United States Flag with the utmost respect is something that has stuck with me all through the years. I’m always dismayed to see a tattered flag flying from any flag pole. To me it seems like a real slap in the face to the republic for which it stands.

Our nation is full of many proud patriots but it’s not always evident all these folks are aware of proper flag etiquette. So, in the interest the flag which stands for our freedom I’d like to share the rules of etiquette that should be addressed when our flag is flown, displayed or handled in any manner.

It is the universal custom to display the national flag from sunrise to sunset on buildings and stationary flag staffs in the open on all days, weather permitting, but especially on national and state holidays and other days that may be proclaimed by the President of the United States.

The U.S. flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if it is properly illuminated during hours of darkness.

Always hoist the U.S. flag briskly and lower it ceremoniously.

When carried in a procession with another or other flags, the U.S. flag should be either on the marching right (the flag’s own right) or, if there is a line of other flags, in the front of the center of that line. Never display a U.S. flag from a parade float except from a staff, or suspended so that its folds fall free as though staffed.

Saluting the flag: When a national flag is raised or lowered as part of a ceremony, or when it passes by in a parade or review, all persons, except those in uniform, should face the flag and stand at attention with the right hand over the heart. Those in uniform should give the military salute. When not in uniform, a man should remove his hat with his right hand and hold it over his left shoulder, the hand being over the heart.

When displayed in a church or public auditorium, the flag should be in the position of honor at the clergyman’s, or speaker’s right as he or she faces the audience.

If the flag is displayed flat against a wall on a speaker’s platform, the U.S. flag should be placed above and behind the speaker. When displayed either horizontally or vertically the union of the flag (the stars) should be in the upper left hand corner as the audience faces the flag.

The flag should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.

When displayed outdoors with other flags, the position of honor for the U.S. flag is the U.S. flag’s own right which is normally the extreme left position as the flags are most frequently viewed.

When the flag is displayed on a pole projecting from a building, the union of the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff unless the flag is flown at half staff. When suspended from a rope extending from the building on a pole, the flag should be hoisted out union first from the building.

When the flag is flown at half staff, the U.S. flag should first be hoisted to the peak for a moment and then lowered to half staff position. The flag should again be raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.

When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be placed so that the union is at the head over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.

Important Things

Not to Do with the U.S. Flag

It is not desirable to fly the flag outdoors during bad weather because severe winds and rain may damage the flag.

The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing

The flag should never be displayed with the union down except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

The flag should never touch anything beneath it – ground, floor, water or merchandise.

The flag should never be used as a covering or drape for a ceiling.

When the flag is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning, privately.

I don’t get into 4th of July celebrations all that much. It’s always so hot I wilt, but I do acknowledge the importance of our flag and make sure there is one displayed at the mailbox by my driveway during July. What I do to acknowledge our freedom I do throughout the year; to me, it’s very important to do so. Whenever I see a person in public wearing a military uniform of any branch of service I walk up to that person, offer to shake their hand or lightly touch their shoulder and say, “Thank you for serving our country.” That is to say, “One nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

It’s good to have been born in the “land of the brave and the home of the free!”

God bless America! Have a safe and happy holiday.


Taking The Cake

June 16, 2011

I am inept in many areas of domesticity but one thing I can do with a certain degree of accuracy is cook.

Most everything I know about the art of cooking for a family I learned from my Mom. Without a doubt, she’s the best cook I know. I’m not as good at it as she is, but pert near.

Recently, I was reading one of my favorite blogs entitled, “The Feminist Housewife” that featured an entry about a beautiful Rainbow cake. The picture was spectacular and I was struck by it. “Wow!” I thought “What an absolutely whimsical eye-catching goodie!” The author of the blog (a young, June Cleaver type) said she baked it for several family members who had birthdays around the same time of year. The photo was great but there was no recipe included.

My energy wanes to an extreme degree by the end of my workday thanks to Fibromyalgia, so I’m not a highly active cook anymore. But, I had to find some reason to find the recipe and bake this cake. And, I had to do it soon. Otherwise, my resolve would quickly fade.

As luck would have it my niece, Emily, was soon going to celebrate her 11th birthday. And this would be the perfect surprise – a cake above all cakes! So, I looked up the recipe on the internet.
In order for this cake thing to work the planets would have to be in perfect alignment. Nay, the baking juju would have to be at its

Rainbow cake alight

significant best! I could envision the cake in my mind. Believe me, when I gave it a thought originally, I didn’t realize the thing would take on a life and mind of its own! The recipe called for two boxes of white cake mix and four cans of butter cream frosting. Actually the Rainbow cake is more of a technique than a recipe.

Once I baked it – all six layers of it – the cake had to be refrigerated before frosting it. This allows the frosting to go on better. The layers must be stacked in sequential order of the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. So I placed them in the fridge and returned to retrieve them the next day. YIKES! What was I thinking? Those cake layers, before frosting, made for a pretty tall stack.

I carefully placed each layer on the cake plate and as I was frosting each one the taller the cake got. It actually began to lean like the Tower of Pisa. So, I lovingly realigned each layer as I went. Thanks to the powers of creativity I managed to get the cake frosted without any kind of disaster. I then took multi-colored sprinkles and peppered the entire top of the cake. I had purchased some really neat, thin, twisted tapered birthday candles to put on the cake once we got it to my Mom’s where the family would be celebrating the birthday girl.

Piece de resistance
Photos by Sara Mawyer

Now, the real trick was getting the cake (it was about 7 ½ inches tall) from my house to my Mom’s, which is a 15-mile journey. I found some wooden skewers in the kitchen drawer and placed five into the cake around the circumference and one in the middle. These secured the cake in place. Once the skewers were placed in the cake they rose out of it about an inch so I was able to take some long pieces of plastic wrap and place them over the cake without them touching the frosting. Then, I had to ride with the cake in my lap until it reached its destination. And it was heavy!

I placed the cake on Mom’s kitchen counter, put the candles in it and said to everyone, “Okaaaaay. I made the cake. I transported the cake. But I am not going to be the one to cut the cake.” I was afraid after all that work if I had to cut it disaster would ensue. So my youngest brother, Anthony, (Emily’s dad) volunteered to do it.

When my gal Emily saw that birthday cake she was beside herself trying to guess what kind it was! “Is it chocolate?” she asked. “Nope. It’s a surprise,” I said. “Is it vanilla, strawberry, carrot, pineapple?” she quizzed. “Nope” I said. “You’ll just have to wait and see!”

After yet one of many wonderful meals prepared by my Mom, the time had come to light those 11 funky little candles. Once the candles were lit my creation kind of reminded me of a cake you’d see in the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. It was…splendiferous!

I could hear a collective “Ahhhh” from my family as Emily prepared to blow out the candles. My brother managed to take the first slice out of the cake with perfect precision. When he placed it on the table I caught myself actually jumping up and down and clapping my hands along with the birthday girl. It was a sight to behold indeed.

Emily asked her mom if they could take a picture of the cake and send it to the newspaper. The idea was gently squelched. After all, what local newspaper runs photos of birthday cakes, right?
Well … Aunt Sara is full of surprises. You just never know what she’s up to! I wouldn’t dream of having a photo of this piece of work in any paper but the one I love and have been part of for so many years – FOCUS.

From me to you, have a happy year dear Emily.

This column is affectionately dedicated to the Mawyer family. May the circle be unbroken.

What’s Your SPF?

May 26, 2011

Well, stick a fork in me and call me done. It’s swimsuit season again! That can only mean one thing here in the south. It’s hot and sticky. Uh, the weather that is. Nonetheless, whether you look good in a swimsuit or not you’ll soon be showing more skin, that’s for certain.

While I wouldn’t do such a thing now, because I haven’t the time nor the body of my youth, I used to spend many long, languid summer days at the neighborhood recreation center pool working on my tan while ogling a certain good looking blond life guard. After weeks of perfecting a nice dark tan, the end of summer was always happily punctuated by a trip to the beach before the grind of autumn began.

Yep, that was when I could wear a two-piece swimsuit with aplomb. Now, I’m just very happy they make swimsuits with those cute little skirts attached. Imagine back in the day - way back. Nah, further back ... Keep going you’re almost there. Now STOP. Um, it was so far back love beads were popular for the first time, if you know what I mean.

That was when what used to be referred to as a “savage tan” was achieved by applying a thick oil that smelled so sweet of coconuts I had to think twice about the possibility of adding rum, topping it off with a little umbrella, and drinking it with a straw. Some of my sunbathing chums would use baby oil mixed with iodine to induce a good tan. I never could figure out what was up with that. At best, if you had any kind of cut or scrape, it made for a good disinfectant.

We didn’t realize at the time that a huge hole in the earth’s ozone layer was being created so there was no such thing as Sun Protection Factor (SPF). Back then SPF amounted to your mama calling you to come in from sun before you had a heat stroke. And, if you had a very strong SPF, that just meant your mama shouted l-o-u-d-l-y at you to get in out of the sun “right this minute!”

Ah, those were the days. Nothing showed off a good tan as well as a halter top and a pair of cut-offs. Alas, I quit playing in the sun for endless hours on a daily basis years ago. Been there, done that, and got a Polaroid photo of a fairly large ocean wave smacking my two-piece halfway off my body to prove it.

However, I won’t be caught wearing my summer gear this year without a nice bronze glow. Oh no. I’ve got a card up my sleeve for looking my tanned best at such occasions as outdoor barbecues and other fun summer gatherings. Hey, this former sun worshipper can’t be expected to go out in public without the kiss of summer. No way!

Listen up. Here’s my secret. Uh…wait a second while I adjust my reading glasses. Just one more sec… I’ve got to wrangle that special “card” out of my sleeve. Ta-da!!! It’s called Sublime Self-Tanning Lotion (streak free). And the SPF on it is … Uh-oh! Gotta go I think I hear my mama calling!

Here’s looking at you sunshine.

Quirks: Is There Anyone Without Them?

April 28, 2011

I caught myself referring to someone as being “quirky” the other day. That’s when my “intelligent self” (if there is such a thing) jerked me up by the collar and said: “Hey, back it on up there gal. Quirks are what lend a certain je nais sais quoi to one’s personality.” Heh, heh, those three little foreign words are French for “I don’t know what.” (I threw those in for a good friend and long time reader who says I often use fancy words that require a dictionary to understand their meaning. Let’s just say it’s a quirk of mine.)

Honestly do you really know any one who doesn’t have quirks? All the people who come into your sphere from the time you are born until the time you die certainly can’t be hiding behind vanilla personalities.

One recent Sunday morning I was watching my favorite television show, “Sunday Morning,” which featured a segment by Jim Axelrod entitled “Making Pets a Part of the Family.” At the end of the piece were the results of a survey question which asked: “Do you think pets share some part of their owner’s personality traits?” The conclusion was that 75 percent of the participants of the survey answered yes, while 25 percent answered no. My husband snorted at this and exclaimed, “That’s why Gus is so quirky!” I replied, “What?! What are you saying that I have quirks?”

I have often said that Gus, a 10-pound Fiest Rat Terrier, is one of the funniest critters I’ve ever known. Of our three loving dogs, he would be considered my closest companion. And, he’s very smart, quick, funny, passive-aggressive, picky, and umm…perhaps even aloof.

That being said, I’m just going to come out and say YES, I have quirks. Ya’ll knew that already, right? First, let’s nail down the definition of a “quirk.” A quirk is defined in the dictionary as a “peculiar trait or idiosyncrasy.” (Okay… now, raise your hand if you have any traits that might be considered odd, funny, strange, and outlandish. Come on you know who you are!)

So maybe I do like to sleep with my socks on, even in the summer. It doesn’t even matter if they match. But, let me walk out of the house and go to work wearing mismatched socks, whether anyone can see them underneath my pants or not, and it will drive me crazy all day. On the other hand, it doesn’t bother me at all if I discover I’ve put my underwear on wrong side out and worn them all day.

Gus exhibits his “dog-on-a-bone” pose

I don’t mind if people either younger or older than I am call me “honey.” This endearment used to drive my mom up the wall when it happened to her, but I can certainly think of worse things to be called. However, if someone my own age calls me “honey” it might bother me, depending on the person.

And even though it’s not really good for you, I love my green beans cooked with plenty of peppered fat back. I dunno, does that really count as quirk if you live in the south? Okay – let’s not call that one a quirk, it’s more of a local reality.

I can neither load an entire dishwasher full of dishes at one time nor empty an entire dishwasher load at one time. ‘Just can’t seem to get it done. The same goes for the clothes dryer. And, I don’t mind buying the groceries, lugging them to the car, then lugging them into the house, but I can’t seem to get them all put up at the same time either. Of course the perishables get put away immediately, but the other stuff might sit on the kitchen counter for a while before I get around to putting it up. So, this means I’m actually a “quirky procrastinator.” (Hey, I ain’t afraid to let my freak flag fly here.)

I often read more than one book at a time, but almost never finish reading an entire chapter at a time.

If I see an uneven fingernail it will drive me to distraction and I immediately begin to hunt wildly for a fingernail file or pair of nail clippers. If all else fails then I’ll just rip that sucker right down to the quick.

I’m a dill pickle fanatic. I eat them any time of the day or night. I sometimes think I could exist off dill pickles alone. I used to feel that way about Vienna sausages . . . until I read the ingredients on the label.

I cannot and will not wear a cotton shirt in public without first ironing it no matter how “wrinkle free” it appears to be when it leaves the dryer. Of course the minute I get in the car and buckle my seat belt that shirt is going to be as wrinkled, if not more wrinkled, as it was before I ironed it.

And another thing, I leave my dashboard clock set on Daylight Savings Time all year long. It doesn’t bother me but it drives my passengers nuts. I do that so that when I’m driving home on the shortest days of the year, when it gets dark by 5:30 p.m., I can look at my clock and remember what it will be like when spring comes ‘round again.

Ooooh yeah, another thing that drives my car passengers batty is the fact I’ll leave one of my favorite CDs in the player for very long periods of time without switching it out. Right now, it’s Bonnie Raitt’s “Luck of the Draw.”

And, yeeesss I do love to pop a piece of bubble gum in my mouth, chew it just until the sweetness leaves it then spit it out and pop another piece in until I run completely out of bubble gum. This habit is a throw back from my youth that I just can’t seem to shake. I just hope I have enough teeth left when I’m 80 to still enjoy my bubble gum habit!

There’s a possibility as well that you might see me wearing my sunglasses at night. That’s because my new prescription glasses came with an expensive clip-on and rather than take it off, and run the risk of loosing it, I just let it stay put.

Okay, now look at the picture of my precious Gus. Does this dog look quirky to you? (Hey! Don’t answer that question!) You’ll never, never, never catch me in that position. Doh! I may have assumed that “dog-on-a-bone pose” a time or two while consuming a sinfully delicious piece of Godiva chocolate. Man, my back ached for days! And, yes, I’d do it again. However, I’m always careful not to let anyone catch me engaging in this particular quirk. (It’s really not a flattering pose for an old two-legged critter if you know what I mean.)

So, in summary … HEY! Who turned out the dang lights??? Where’s my keyboard? Who took my keyboard? Oooh. Ooops. I Forgot I still have my sunglasses on.

Anyway, for all those who know me well and still love me anyway, call me “quirky,” just call me!


Photos by Sara Mawyer


Taken By a Trip

March 17, 2011

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” - John Steinbeck

Two days were all I needed as winter was spinning out and the promise of spring was bright on the horizon. Having not had a vacation to speak of since hurricane Isabel cut a week-long vacation to Ocracoke Island terribly short in 2003, I was mentally exhausted. I’m beginning to realize the best days of my life are the days I have right now, not yesterday or tomorrow, but today.

I opted to escape on my own for a very short while. Asheville looked like a good option, so, I hit the dirt running and headed for the hills. The drive is short enough not to be tiring and the city is teeming with diverse options for entertainment.

There was nothing I craved more than a room with a view, a king-size bed with mountains of fluffy pillows and prompt, efficient room service. I booked myself at the Indigo Hotel where I was happily ensconced for rest and relaxation. Watching the sunset from my ninth-floor window was a special treat in the evening and the days were comfortably warm enough to walk about town in a light vest.

To keep stress to a minimum I choose to vacate for two week days instead of the weekend when the city is buzzing with folks looking for fun, food, and entertainment. And, it’s refreshing to be vacating while watching everyone else hustling down the sidewalks to be at work by 8 a.m. for a change. I’ve got to say … “Ahhhhh… I like it like that!”

Photo: Creek in the middle of the forest

The city and its quintessential architecture offered plenty of photo opportunities, most of which were within walking distance of the hotel. I decided to go see a movie at the Fine Arts Theatre on Biltmore Avenue. “The King’s Speech” was playing and it was a perfect time to catch a matinee. So perfect, in fact, I practically had the theatre to myself with the exception of two other women.

I was offered preferential treatment at the local natural foods co-op; visited Malaprops book store where I spent a good two hours leisurely perusing books and gift items; and purchased two exquisite chocolate truffles at a store called The Chocolate Fetish. I delighted in my visit to the Grove Arcade where I spent most of my time the first day in a store called Enter the Earth, which features a large selection of jewelry, rare gems, minerals and fossils from around the world. It was at this store that I found “me lucky charms;” a perfect little quartz crystal ball (used for expanding the mind, protection, and changing bad vibes … not to mention seeing into the future), and a lovely light blue Celestite geode (used for reducing mental fatigue, inducing harmony, calmness, and happiness). Hey, I need all the help I can get, what are a couple of talismans going to hurt?

When my two days were up I ordered breakfast from room service and made the decision to go home via the Blue Ridge Parkway. And that is where the real adventure began! I got on the Parkway on one side of Asheville and got detoured off it on the other side as I headed north.

Photo: Wilson’s Grocery, Pensacola, NC

Doh! I should have known at certain times of the year the parkway is closed due to the weather! But, always the cockeyed optimist, I tried to take the long way home in hopes of getting some good photos and enjoying the scenery. I can’t tell you how in the world I ended up on state road 197 headed North. I thought it would take me toward the Parkway when it was actually leading me further north than I would have preferred.

The road was good . . . at least until the pavement turned to dirt. Then, after awhile, I began to notice it seemed like I might be, oh … I don’t know… smack dab in the middle of the FOREST!!! The road turned to muck after awhile from a recent thawing of snow and, as I went along I came to the realization the powers that be had a different plan in mind for me that day. I was going to have a scenic ride, it just wasn’t doing to be on the Parkway.

I went along for quite a stretch through switchback after switchback without coming across another living soul. Heck, I didn’t even see any wildlife to speak of. I had to tell myself, “Okaaay…let’s not panic. It’s all good, it’s all good. Hey, it’s a nice day, you’re in an all-wheel drive SUV, and you’ve got a dull pocket knife in your purse, some water, a couple of granola bars in case you get stuck.”

Finally, I came across a young man walking down the road with his infant child in a papoose-style back sling with three dogs in tow. Based on a free map I had taken from the front desk at the hotel the road came out very close to Burnsville. So I rolled down my window and said to the young man, “Hello, there. Does this road by any chance come out anywhere remotely near Burnsville?” He replied, “Yeah, it does. It’s about a 50-minute drive. You’ll go through some countryside, Pensacola, and then it comes out in Burnsville.”

EEEYE...Cheee-wah-wah! I didn’t have any other choice but to journey on as there were no side roads to turn off and I had gone too far to turn around and go back. So, I chalked it up as a lovely ride. I found a beautiful little stream cascading from a hillcrest so I stopped in the middle of the road to photograph it. (Heck, it’s not like there was any oncoming traffic.) The road eventually switched back to pavement and I saw what the young man referred to as the small community of Pensacola. (It was beginning to feel like I’d driven to the one in Florida instead!) The small community amounted to a few lovely farms and a very quaint, well-kept but closed country store. I had to photograph it, as it looked like something from a Norman Rockwell Painting.

Photo: Basilica of St. Lawrence, Asheville

At any rate I got to Burnsville, stopped at the first greasy spoon I found, ordered a cheeseburger and asked for directions back to the Parkway. The waitress couldn’t tell me so she asked one of the regular customers. I told him of the road I had traveled and he exclaimed, “Lord, darlin’ you traveled over that mountain?” Yup, I traveled in and out, up and down, and round about. After a day’s travel, I finally decided the decision to get on the Parkway was futile and just wanted to get on back home. I ended up taking Hwy. 80 from Burnsville to Marion. I just had to shake my head and laugh when I realized I was still only about 45 minutes from Asheville at that point.

I put my little SUV into “warp drive” and pulled into my driveway just as dusk was beginning to fall. I cut off the ignition, pulled up the emergency break and just sat still for a couple of minutes. I knew once I opened the door and got out my “great escape” would have come to its conclusion. Images of the two days spent away from life’s mundane chores and madness spun through my mind and I broke into a wonderfully satisfied smile because I knew – for sure – I hadn’t taken a trip, a trip had taken me, and that’ a very, very good thing!

Peace to one and all and may the luck o’ the Irish be upon ya!

Photos by Sara Mawyer

Jimmie Jams, Long Janes:

The Crossover to Warmth

February 3, 2011

I did it… I finally caved on my Christmas wish list this year and succumbed to the hubby’s suggestions. For years I’ve suffered through the damp, cold winters here in the foothills and Catawba Valley.

It was always more important to me to look good than look warm. Inevitably I’d tramp out of the house with my legs exposed, wearing improper shoes and a lightweight jacket all in the name of vanity. Never once did I give a thought to the fact I might get stranded in my car on the snow- and ice-covered highway and side roads on my lengthy commute to work.

There comes a time, at least for me, when those little jeweled trinkets and perfumes are no longer the stuff that provides me joie de vivre (that’s fancy French talk for “joy of life”.) Sure, I don’t push them away if they are offered. But now that I’m a woman of uh…um, let’s see how do I put this uh, a certain age, I prize creature comfort over glitter and spangles.

I have muscles I didn’t know I had that ache at the slightest hint of cold rain and snow. My feet cramp, my legs buckle and my fingers go numb. My brain settles into a fog with a frosty vapor circling my head so thick it looks like I’m sucking on dry ice.

Quite a while back I got a good pair of leather hiking boots with thick soles that supported my ankles and, with some waterproofing, have served me well during the winters that have followed. We’ve covered a lot of happy miles together.

Every year since, ‘round about the first of October, when the sports and hunting catalogs start pouring in, my husband grabs them up and retreats to his recliner where he pores over each one as if it were a magic wish book. After he’s finished I spot the Bass Pro, Cabela’s and L.L. Bean catalogs, with various pages dog eared, mounting up on the coffee table.

When decrepitude started seriously creeping up on me five years ago (that’s about the time my get up and go got up and left), the dear man has asked each year, “How would you like a set of this Under Armour for Christmas?” In case you don’t know, that’s a high tech form of Long Johns designed to keep you air tight, dry and warm. “Say what?” I’d say. “You want to give me long underwear for Christmas? Ummmm…nope, thanks.” Then he’d say “Well how ‘bout a pair of these high-dollar fleece pajamas?”

Okay, when I found out the nice fleece pajamas came in some color other than camouflage I agreed to a pair about 3 years ago. And I looooovvvved those “Jimmie Jams” (my special nickname for my beloved night wear) so much, I practically lived in the things! Really.

There’s a huge old oak tree by the deck of the house and this year the acorns fell like rain through the day and night, loads of them. More than one person has told me that according to folk lore this means the oncoming winter will be cold and long. Such was the case last year and it seems to be so this year, including this past December. My timbers have been a shiverin’. So, when I was offered a nice pair of Long Johns (‘cept I call them Long Janes), I jumped at the chance.

I also got a new pair of wine-colored Jimmie Jams, too. (At least that way if I dribble some of my favorite Merlot accidentally while I’m relaxing in the evening, no one will know!) I’m still prone to wearing my J.Js. almost all the time, so if you see me out somewhere wearing what looks like a flannel shirt, look closer because it’s not!

With January’s first snow fall I broke out my new Long Janes and guess what? They were so soft and warm it felt like I was wearing my Jimmie Jams under my clothes! Hmm… That would make them, uh, “Jimmie Janes!” Hey, call me crazy – but I’m not sucking on dry ice any more!

My sensible garments were augmented with new scarves and gloves and heavy socks to wear with my golden oldie hiking boots. By the time I get all suited up to head out I look like a big tick! At any rate when I leave the house I’m warm as hot buttered toast, humming a tune: “A kiss on the hand may be quite continental but diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” No, wait a minute. Jimmie Janes are girl’s best friend – yeah that’s right, at least in this neck of the western North Carolina foothills.

The other day the thick-bound Bass Pro catalog arrived in the mail. My husband peeked over the top of it as he was perusing its pages and said with a wry smile, “You’re birthday is coming up is there anything you’d like?”

You know, I’ve been thinking . . . some hip waders would be nice ‘cause sometimes it gets pretty deep around here!

Aaaaahhhh …Jimmie Janes. Life is so much softer and warmer now.

Peace to all. Be well. Be kind.

For more “Mawyertude” check out my blog, Wind Castles, at


January 6, 2011

Here we go again. The powers that be are on the pitcher’s mound, reading signals from a schizophrenic umpire as to how to let 2011 fly! The month of January traditionally begets well-intentioned resolutions of every kind: practical, emotional, philosophical, ideological, etc. The act of resolving to “do” or “be” something is sometimes very stress-inducing.

I’ve made a lot of resolutions over the years – oh, so many. One year I resolved to let my fingernails grow out naturally and keep them painted a lovely shade of copper. That lasted until, half-way through the year, I accidentally tipped a bottle of fingernail polish onto the kitchen floor of my apartment. (It’s amazing how many little boo-boos can be covered up by a throw rug.) Now, I pretty much stick to my natural typist’s length nails and skip the extra pampering.

Then there was that year in the early ‘80s I resolved to tone up me bum (as the say across the pond – i.e., my derrière) by roller skating for regular exercise. Now, years later I’ve got a very tricky knee to show for it.

I resolved once to learn how to drive a stick shift. But, to this day I haven’t come across any man, woman, or teenagers brave enough to teach me. Hence, you won’t find me behind the wheel of some zippy little convertible sports car. Nope, that would be me on the passenger side wearing my “Jackie O.” dark sunglasses and silk scarf tied in a tidy knot under my chin …You know, looking all cool and everything.

When I was working at a place where we saw some of the local Hispanic population on a regular basis I resolved to take a conversational Spanish class and learn it as a second language. Here’s about all I came away with from that: “Dos tacos por favor.”

One of the most important things I’ve learned about making resolutions is not to make any declarations either verbally or in writing in public or private to anyone except three people: me, myself and I. That is unless you are at least 97.9 percent sure you can keep your resolutions with some degree of accuracy.

If you feel a resolution isn’t worth its salt unless it’s flung far and wide, then at the very least be vague. You could say: “I resolve to be kinder.” Just don’t specify to whom or in what regard. If you resolve to be “stronger,” don’t elaborate on it or you’ll uh, um, oh, seem weak.

And, you can chew the fat about one of the most popular resolutions, which is losing weight, but don’t say how much weight or how long you expect it will take to get rid of it.

This year, I resolve to find a cure for foot-in-mouth disease, bad hair days, and road rage. Hmm, that’s way too ambitious even for me! So, I guess if I was to fall prey to lunacy (more than usual) and make some resolutions for 2011 they would be as follows: (Hey, but you didn’t hear it from me. Psst…don’t tell anybody. After all it’s just me and my computer here all alone in this tiny room. I’m alone right - just me, myself and I? You got that? ‘Just saying.)

I resolve to believe that every day spent above ground is a good day.

I resolve that every day I have food to eat, clothes to wear and a roof over my head is a good day.

I resolve that every night I spend in a warm bed in the company of a good book and my loved ones (this includes pooches) is a good night.

I resolve to keep it simple, no matter what “it’ might be.

I resolve not to sweat the small stuff and to remember life does not have to be so complicated and worrisome there is no time to enjoy it.

I resolve to continue to wish only the very best for each and every FOCUS reader young and old, far and wide.

Last but absolutely not least, I resolve to always wish you, my gentle readers, peace. (Oh, and …. HAPPY NEW YEAR!)


Two of my FOCUS comrades lost loved ones during the holidays. The holidays can be a difficult time at best for many folks but it is especially difficult to lose those we love close to Christmas. I wish to extend my sympathies to Logan a.k.a. “Chainsaw” Minton on the death of his father, Fred Minton. Also, to my dear friend and publisher of FOCUS, Tammy Panther, and her extended Tucker family on the death of her step-daughter and friend, Gina Streib. Remember my friends, love prevails far beyond death. Be well. Be strong.




Sara Mawyer 2012

Sara Mawyer 2011

Sara Mawyer 2010

Sara Mawyer 2005-2009




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