My Rocky Mount Life

I live in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, a city that is losing population. People who’ve left cite a variety of reasons: incompetent local government, high utilities, a lack of good-paying jobs, nothing to do.

I admit my hometown has problems. I can be the first to rant, for example, about city council members who vote to hold their annual retreat at an exclusive, out-of-town resort during the hard times of a pandemic. At taxpayers’ expense, of course. But I’m not here for a roll call of all that’s wrong. Not today.

Instead, I want to talk about what’s right. Why, with all that’s frustrating about this city, I still choose to live within its limits. Here, in no particular order, are five reasons I like my Rocky Mount life.

#1. My neighborhood. See that street below. It’s part of a two to three mile walk I often take within the residential area where I live. Notice the speed limit. Residents generate most of the traffic, and most of them obey the law. The wide streets, low speed limit, and little traffic make it an ideal place for walking, just one of the features I love about my neighborhood here in the city limits of Rocky Mount.

#2. Stoney Creek. Whenever I go to Lowe’s Home Improvement, I pass over the short bridge between it and Sam’s Club. I think of this tucked-away shortcut running adjacent to Highway 301 as a secret passageway. I’ll glance in my rearview mirror, and if no one is behind me, I stop and look at Stoney Creek for a minute.

#3. Mama’s Pizza. A sign hanging in the front window of this Italian restaurant on Benvenue Road proclaims: “There’s a big difference between the big chains and the Independent Pizzerias.” I agree.

I love Mama’s lasagna and pizza. A friend of mine swears the restaurant has the best shrimp marinara she’s ever eaten. Service is good; prices are reasonable, and Mama’s is a ten-minute drive from my house, right here in Rocky Mount.

#4. The Rocky Mount Garden Club. Since retirement, I’ve been a member of this group of ladies who love their yards as well as their community. Pre-Covid, we met monthly for a program, refreshments, and catching up with one another. Just this past week, a few of us got together in a member’s garage for a “plant exchange.” I took iris bulbs and came home with an aucuba plant.

The club has been in existence since 1934 and is open to anyone interested in learning about horticulture and serving the community.

#5. Hobby Lobby. Now I know other cities have a Hobby Lobby, but the one in Rocky Mount is sooo conveniently located. (I’m thinking about the time I drove over a half-hour from one side of Charlotte to the other to find a Hobby Lobby). It’s also well-stocked, clean, and attractive. This weekend, I popped in twice to buy these cute little Easter bunnies and eggs (40% off!).

This is my first installment of why I enjoy living in Rocky Mount. Stay tuned for more. Maybe I should rename this blog myrockymountlife.

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Marching into March

I got home from a four-day trip to the beach and was greeted by a burst of spring in my Rocky Mount backyard. While I was away, the calendar flipped to March, the weather was mild, and these daffodils decided to show their sunny faces. I’ll have to check to see if the forsythia is blooming in the side yard. It can’t be far behind.

Covid Anniversary

It’s been just about a year now since the coronavirus epidemic began. Only a year? Ask anyone whose children have spent the last months learning primarily through Zoom. They’ll likely tell you it’s seemed like forever. In fact, it’s been a long haul for everyone.

On a positive personal note, in two days I’ll get my second Moderna vaccine. I’m in the 65 and older group, which, as you probably know, puts me in a high priority category. Sometimes it pays to be an old lady!

I can’t wait to get the final “stamp” on my vaccination card. It’s crazy how excited I am about a shot, something I usually dread. Oh, I’ll still mask up and keep my distance, but I’m looking forward to that feeling of protection provided by the vaccine.

My Wedding Anniversary

My four-day trip to the beach (mentioned above) was to celebrate my 44th wedding anniversary. On February 27, 1977, at the ripe old age of 23, I said “I do” to a guy I’d been dating since high school (with a couple of minor breakups here and there). Marrying this fellow was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. Although we are polar opposites in many ways, we share fundamental beliefs about major stuff, like childrearing and right and wrong. 

Fun Facts: Jimmy Carter was president when we got married. Elvis died in August of that year. Gas was around 60 cents a gallon. My new husband’s annual  salary as a collector at a finance company was less than $10,000. My part-time graduate school salary was slightly better than minimum wage, $2.30 per hour. 

Don’t be too harsh when you judge our “then” and “now” pictures. Over the last 44 years, we’ve lived in  eight different houses in three different towns, raised three daughters, built a business (him), taught English (me), and buried three of our four parents.

We’ve seen a lot of life. We’ve been blessed in many ways, and I don’t take that for granted.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I wish you all the luck of the Irish. Brighter days, weather-wise and otherwise–are sure to be just around the corner.

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Life Is Looking Up

Nothing has made me happier lately than getting my first shot of the COVID vaccine. After days of dead-end leads, I finally scored an appointment at the Wilson Medical Center here in eastern North Carolina.

If you still subscribe to the Rocky Mount Telegram (and fewer and fewer people do, unfortunately), maybe you read my most recent Sunday column about the difficulty in finding a spot to take my shot. It was a project. But I’m going to be optimistic in predicting that it’s going to get easier as manufacturers learn how to produce the vaccine faster and administrators learn how to put shots in arms more efficiently.

Barbecue!

After getting our Moderna vaccines, my husband and I treated ourselves to lunch at the world-famous—should be if it isn’t—Parker’s Barbecue in Wilson, North Carolina. Our state has barbecue wars, mainly East (vinegar-based sauce) versus West (tomato-based sauce). Living in the eastern part of the state, I vote for vinegar-based and don’t order barbecue west of Raleigh, unless it’s at the Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q chain, which I know has vinegar-based.

The barbecue isn’t the only good thing on this plate, though. Check out the Brunswick stew, fried chicken, boiled potatoes, slaw, and of course, corn sticks and hushpuppies (yes, we want both, we told our waiter). Fine dining in eastern North Carolina.

Spring Is Coming!

If you want to trust a rodent and his shadow, we’re in for several more weeks of winter. I prefer to check my daffodils. They’re peeking through the pine straw, signaling spring isn’t that far away.

Life and Death in Narrow Creek!

I’m happy to announce that book #2, tentatively named Life and Death in Narrow Creek, has been edited several times by both me and the professionals. I’m now looking for a publisher.

If you read my debut novel, Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder (and if you haven’t, why not?), you may remember the small town of Narrow Creek as the setting. Book #2 is now the second in the Narrow Creek series.

What’s it about? Here’s the two-sentence synopsis: Dee Ann Bulluck’s landlord Floyd Powell dies unexpectedly, and his wife Miss Josie is accused of his murder. Amateur sleuth Dee Ann steps in to help Miss Josie prove her innocence. To find out more, click on the link above titled Life and Death in Narrow Creek.

Someone Loves Winter!

“When I’m feeling blue, all I have to do Is take a look at you….” Remember this old song A Groovy Kind of Love by Phil Collins? These opening lyrics describe how I feel looking at this picture of my four-year-old grandson all bundled up, mask included, on Beech Mountain, North Carolina. He loves the snow: sledding in it, rolling in it, throwing it at his brother…there are many possibilities for fun. Spring is coming, but in the meantime, winter isn’t all bad either, at least according to my grandson.

Photo Credit: Aunt Paula

 

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Traveling to Find Snow

“Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though;   He will not see me stopping here, To watch his woods fill up with snow.”

The woods Robert Frost wrote about were no doubt in his native New England, not Beech Mountain, North Carolina. Still, I think his poem describes the experience of stopping to look at snowy woods everywhere, don’t you?

Although there’s been scarcely a flake yet this winter in the eastern part of the state where I live, the weather is a different story in Beech Mountain. I was lucky enough to be there briefly and capture these early January photos.

Here in the coastal plains, there are sometimes mild winters with no snow. While that helps avoid high heating bills, makes it easier to get to the grocery store and, pre-Covid, kept the kids in school, I always feel a winter without snow is somehow lacking.

It’s good to know that there’s at least one mountain location in the western part of the state that can guarantee snow multiple times throughout winter. True, Beech Mountain is a five hour drive for me (that’s factoring in a Chick Filet stop), but for a dose “of easy wind and downy flake,” it’s sometimes worth it.

“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.” Yes, Robert Frost, they are indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

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Those Ratty Old Ornaments

Do you have any ratty old ornaments on your Christmas tree? Something glued, sewn, crocheted, or otherwise crafted in the past by someone you love?

I jokingly call these keepsakes “ratty old ornaments” because of a funny story a friend told me years ago. Teaching a kindergarten Sunday School class, she described some of the handmade ornaments she hung on her tree every year, noting how long she’d had them and what they looked like.

When she finished what she thought was her heart-warming tale, a little girl in the class commented in that unfiltered way of kids, “Well, my mother certainly wouldn’t have any ratty old ornaments on her tree.”

Ha, ha. That kid couldn’t say that about me.  I’m a fan of ratty old ornaments. I have quite a few on my trees (yes, trees) each year. As I hang them, I think about the person who made the ornament.

For example, there’s not much left of this Popsicle reindeer crafted by my youngest daughter, who misspelled her name, leaving the final “a” off Paula in Paula Jo. The candy cane part melted years ago, but I can’t throw away that pre-school signature.

I love the beginner’s cross-stitch in this ornament once made in Girl Scouts by my oldest daughter. On the back is written: Brownies, 1985. Wow, 35 years ago.

The Popsicle sticks in the sled ornament may have been glued together by my middle daughter as a pre-schooler, but the writing and drawing are obviously her teacher’s. Still, it marks a moment in time, and I treasure the memory of the sweet three-year-old who proudly brought this keepsake home in 1984.

Grandmothers and mothers also made ornaments for my husband and me. Grandma Pridgen was the queen of crochet.

Years ago, my Grandmother Hinton stitched up this trio of gingerbread men. I hang them close together each year to keep each other company. (Just in case Toy Story is true, you know.)

I have lots of these beautiful, super-starched, crocheted snowflakes made by my husband’s mother.

Remember the decoupage craze of the 70s? My mother, ever frugal, cut out scenes from used Christmas gift wrap and decoupaged (is that a verb?) these onto oyster shells. Here’s one of my favorites.

I’ve encouraged a new generation of keepsake ornament makers. I have miniature drawings from  grandchildren that I’ve put in small frames to hang on the tree. They’ve written their names and ages on the back.

If you have any “ratty old ornaments,” go back to my Facebook page and post a picture. I’d love to see your keepsakes.

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Decorating Early This Year

My daughters think I’ve lost my mind. It’s December 1, and my house is already glitzed up for Christmas. Have you decorated early this year, too?

I’ve always been old school about decking the halls. I usually put up my trees (yes, I have two) around the second weekend in December and don’t take them down until the first of January. This year, I turned the decorating calendar back a couple of weeks. Maybe it’s a COVID thing. After all these gloomy months, we’re all craving some fun, right?  And what’s more delightful than a house full of Christmas cheer?

Decorating isn’t that hard when I leave notes in the bags and boxes of decorations to remind myself of what goes where. For example, the downstairs banister greenery is labeled as such, so I’ll know it doesn’t go on the upstairs banister.

These stockings have always hung from a mantle wherever I’ve lived (four different houses in three different towns). It doesn’t matter that the little girls grew into big girls, then teenagers, and now adults. Come Christmas, they’re always my wide-eyed toddlers. At least in my memories.

Is it over-decorating when you hang a wreath inside the house? Maybe, but I like looking at this reminder of Christmas every time I go in my office.

Christmas balls aren’t only for the trees at my house. Using them in glass trophies is a fast way to add some seasonal color to the bookcase. And these ornaments can be one of the cheapest ways to decorate.

Decorating the front of the house is mostly for neighbors and those driving by. My back yard decorations are just for me, though. I can see this gazebo from the window above my kitchen sink, where I spend a fair amount of time, so why not hang a wreath and put out a couple of those $5.00 Walmart all-weather pillows I bought last season?

The only decorating I have left to do is string the outside lights on the two big shrubs that flank my front doorsteps and arrange the flood lights that illuminate the wreath on the front entrance.

Oh, and unpack and arrange the Department 56 New England Village, which, I admit, is a chore. I’ll get to that one day next week–maybe. Right now, I’m too busy congratulating myself on my early Christmas decorating.

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Scrapbooking Marks the Occasion

Have you ever created a scrapbook? Nothing virtual, mind you, but an album you can hold, one filled with printed pictures attached to pretty paper slipped into sheet protectors. It’s fun and something to do with coronavirus downtime.

First, you need a subject. The marriage of Daughter #3 gave me a reason to visit Hobby Lobby’s scrapbook aisles where I found the perfect album. Perfect because the wedding took place at the Overlook Barn, and the cover looks like weathered barn boards.

You can use a trip, somebody’s sports “career,” a child’s first year(s), or any special occasion as a scrapbook subject. Simply pick something you want to document with pictures and mementos.

My daughter received a professional album from her wedding photographer, but mine will be a second record, one I’ll keep at my house.

After choosing an album, I selected background paper for my photos and mementos. There was a lot of pink at my daughter’s wedding–bridesmaids’ dresses, flowers, and grooms’ bow ties–so I picked up a pack of paper with various shades of pink.

Using all pink would be boring, though, especially when Hobby Lobby has so many beautiful patterns to jazz up an album.

 

It was hard to choose just a few, but I tried to keep my subject in mind–my daughter’s mountain wedding at a barn. If you’re creating a scrapbook to commemorate a Little League career, baseball-theme paper is available. A trip to Europe? There are sheets with tiny airplanes along the border.

After buying the album and my paper, I needed only a few more supplies: wedding-theme stickers, two-sided tape to attach photos to the background paper, a glue stick to use for paper on paper , and a pair of scissors. You can buy stickers for all occasions in Hobby Lobby, as well as double stick tape. (Yep, I love Hobby Lobby.)

Creating an album can be messy. Since this project will likely take several days,  it helps to find a space you don’t have to clean up until you’re through. I put down an old tablecloth on my seldom-used dining room table where I could spread out pictures and paper.

One of the perks of scrapbooking over simply putting together a picture album is the ability to showcase keepsakes. For example, I inserted two copies of my daughter’s wedding program, showing both the front and back.

My album follows a chronological order, starting with the Save the Date card and then covering a bridal shower, a bridesmaids’ weekend, a rehearsal dinner, a pre-wedding reception (it was a COVID thing), the wedding itself, a post-wedding reception,  and honeymoon photos supplied by the groom of the couple in St. John. I wound up with 50 pages (25 front and back.)

Here are some sample pages, featuring two of my favorite background papers.  

Guess who was the ring-bearer at my daughter’s wedding? See the sticker? Look closely for the pouch hanging from the dog’s neck.

Creating a scrapbook doesn’t have to be expensive. I used the Hobby Lobby 40% off coupon (found online) to purchase my album. The pretty patterned paper is only 25 cents a sheet, and the packet of solid pink was half price. I printed my pictures when Walgreens was running a 12 cents per 4 X 6 photo sale.

Let me know if you’ve ever created a scrapbook–or if I’ve inspired you to pull out some photos and think of the possibility.

 

 

 

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Happy Autumn, Everybody!

An autumn wreath, a few pumpkins, and a multicolored mum announce the season at the entrance to my house. Let’s celebrate fall, y’all!

If you think my front steps are covered in leaves, just look at my yard. And while you’re at it, check out my season-appropriate orange suede shoes. I’ll put them back in the closet in another month. I don’t wear white after Labor Day or orange after Thanksgiving. It’s my Southern girl thing.

It’s almost Halloween, and I have a visitor lounging on my bench under the backyard gazebo. Whooo! Spooky! I bought the outdoor “Boo” pillow for only five dollars at Walmart the other day. The other pillow peeping out was also a Walmart deal. I love these seasonal pillows and now have several with summer and winter designs too. All for only five dollars each! At Walmart! (I know I’m repeating myself, but I get excited about a bargain!)

Do you still have tons of Beanie Babies you bought back in the late 90s when these plush toys were all the rage? Remember how we were supposed to get rich by investing in all things Beanie Baby? Ha! At least I’ve found a way to use a couple as accents in my fall decor.

Fall is all about food too. Digging through the freezer this week, I discovered a Ziploc bag of apple butter I made last year. Forget the jellies and jams on toast: I’m enjoying this apple butter right now.

Apple butter is easy to make in a slow cooker. There are plenty of simple recipes online, and if you like it chunky, as I do, then you can skip the step that calls for pureeing once it’s cooked.

Soon I’ll be cooking a new batch of apple butter with some of the apples my husband and I bought in the North Carolina mountains a couple of weeks ago. We fetch home a box full of different varieties each year. It’s one of our fall traditions.

Along with the discovery of apple butter in my freezer, I also noticed how pretty my sedum looked in a bed beside my house. I clipped some to bring indoors. Combined with the last of my miniature zinnias, I have fall flowers in the house.

Finally, to complete this celebration of all that is fall, here’s a photo taken by my new son-in-law, who captured an early October morning at the ski lift on Beech Mountain. I could title this “For Purple Mountains, Majesty.” Or even better, “What Hath God Wrought.”

Photo Credit: Franklin Keathley

 

 

 

 

 

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Done with the Landline

Do you still have a landline in your home? With the number of telemarketing  and political calls I’m getting on mine, I’m seriously thinking of pulling the plug and throwing all five extensions in the trash.

I’d have junked my house phones a long time ago if I were paying to use them. Somehow, my landline service is a free part of my $200 plus cable bill each month, or so I’ve been told by Suddenlink. Thus, I’ve kept these Panasonic beauties. My central station is this counter in the kitchen,  complete with an answering machine.

Every legitimate call I get lately, one from a person I actually know, is outweighed by at least a dozen that are spam. Telemarketers wanting to extend my car’s warranty, sell me supplemental health insurance, or talk me into voting for a candidate. I get robo calls that actually show up on my phone labeled as such.

I don’t answer most of these calls (occasionally I’m fooled by the use of a local number I think I recognize), but still the ringing of the phone interrupts my day. If I’m cooking, I have to dry my hands or turn back the heat on the stove to go look at the phone and see who’s calling. Or if I’m just getting out of the shower, I have to grab a robe and run with dripping hair to see if I need to pick up.

I really should unplug this phone in my bedroom, which has been known to interrupt my afternoon naps!

Yes, I have a cell phone, and I’m getting much better about keeping it close by rather than forgotten in a pocketbook stashed in an upstairs closet. Most young people stay in touch nicely with only a cell phone, so it can be done.

But my landline and I go way back, maybe another reason I’ve been reluctant to let go. I still have my harvest gold rotary dial model stored in the attic. I remember the two houses where it hung in the kitchen. Gosh, it even has an O for operator. When was the last time I dialed anyone for assistance? Do telephone operators still exist?

I know my phone number is on display in the above picture, written on a round sticky label by me years ago when lots of phones displayed their number.

Please don’t give it to someone trying to sell me anything or persuade me to vote a certain way. Of course, the way I’m feeling right now, it may be only a matter of days before anyone calling will hear, “I’m sorry; the number you have dialed is no longer in service.”

 

 

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It’s the King James Version for Me

As an adult, I go to church with either the Methodists or the Presbyterians, but a picture my sister sent me this week reminded me of my strong Baptist roots. Was anybody else once a member of Girls’ Auxiliary, or GA’s as we called it back in the 1960’s?

I’m the tall blonde on the far right, holding my scepter with my white shoes peeking out underneath my long white dress. My younger (and therefore lower in GA rank) sister is seated below me. She’s the cute brunette with the long bangs.

Photo Credit: Mrs. Betty Lewis

The above picture captured our annual coronation at West Edgecombe Baptist Church, where we GA girls were recognized for having completed a rank in the organization’s hierarchy. I can’t recall all the titles, but being a Queen Regent in Service was the ultimate goal (one I reached in case you’re wondering), requiring several years of GA membership and completion of courses of study.

Those courses of study were not for the lazy. They required writing essays (“Why I Do Not Smoke”), learning which foreign countries had Baptist missionaries (a lot), and memorizing scripture (in the King James version).

Yes, boys and girls, once upon a time, young people, Baptists anyway, learned passages of the Bible by heart. And in the 1960s country church I attended, we memorized from the King James version, no less. This is the title page from my childhood Bible, given to me in 1962 by my parents. I used it until a few years ago when its spine completely disintegrated.

I then switched to using the Bible I received upon graduating from high school in 1972, another King James version. I wonder when this practice of giving Bibles to high school graduates ended.

Oh, I know, in today’s world, doing so would be culturally insensitive if not against the law, but at West Edgecombe High School in 1972, we were all Protestants, mostly Baptists, with maybe the rare Catholic mixed in. I’m not sure everyone appreciated a Bible, but they didn’t make a fuss about getting one, even if they took it home and never opened it.

Back to my GA days, memorizing the King James version of scripture helped me in more than one way. I wasn’t lost when I read Shakespeare in both high school and college. The King James Bible was completed in 1611. Shakespeare’s First Folio was published in 1623. I wasn’t a stranger to thee and thou, art and doth.

But even more important, I learned Bible verses in what is, to me,  a beautiful, musical  version of the English language. Verses I can recall when life is hard or I’m feeling unkind or I need direction. Here’s one of my favorites:

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy, Chapter 1, Verse 7)

You don’t even have to be fluent in King James English or be Baptist, Methodist, or whatever to understand these words.

 

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