Hurricane Florence: The Aftermath

On Wednesday, September 19, 2018, five days after Hurricane Florence hit the coast of North Carolina, Al and I finally made it to Lands End in Emerald Isle—well, sort of—to assess the damage to our beach house. Here’s what we saw.

Getting There

We’d waited until Wednesday, three days after the bridge from the mainland was open, because we’d read Coast Guard Road was flooded near the entrance to our neighborhood. We thought the water had subsided enough that we could drive through with Al’s heavy Yukon.  Not knowing it had rained AGAIN on Tuesday night, we found more water than we could handle.

coast guard road

So we parked two neighborhoods away. Thank you, Dolphin Ridge, for letting us use the parking lot at your clubhouse. We gathered our overnight bags and struck out for the beach, walking a half mile or so to get to our house.

beach bum


The Beach

Here’s what we saw walking down the beach.

white deck



I especially hated to see the dead ocean life. I counted more than a half dozen sea gulls in less than a half mile.

dead seagull


The Neighborhood

Water, water, everywhere…. It looks worse than it was. Yes, the street in front of my house was (and probably still is) flooded.  Even if we’d gotten into the neighborhood, we couldn’t have driven to the house.  I’ve seen my street temporarily flood during summer thunderstorms, but nothing like this.

canal street

my street

My house sits up high (thank the Lord), so the water is well away from it.

my house

My neighbor is not so fortunate. His driveway, several feet lower than our lot, was flooded.  Fortunately, all he has on his first floor is a garage.

chap's house

Signs of Recovery

Overall, the area of Emerald Isle I saw is in pretty good shape, considering the damage to the south of us and inland. Before I left on Thursday, I could already see signs of recovery.


highway 55


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Hurricane Hysteria

I was going to post some funny stories about traveling around Italy in a nine-passenger van dubbed “The Black Plague,” but this hurricane business is all I can think about right now.

Although the current forecast (Wednesday, 9/12) shows Florence turning south at the moment, who knows what’s really gonna happen?

The governor has freaked me out, the weather people too, with their dire predictions that Florence will be like nothing we’ve ever seen. “A monster of a storm.”  “A killer.”



Image result for picture of governor cooper at hurricane press conference

photo credit:

So before leaving my beach house on Monday, I took down pictures near windows that might blow out. My husband tied the picnic table to railings and put deck furniture inside the house.  Then he walked around taking pictures I hope we don’t need: the before shots to give to an insurance company.

beach house

The back of the beach house, facing the ocean

Home in Rocky Mount, I joined the chaos in the grocery stores. I had to spring for the more expensive Dasani bottled water over my usual Harris Teeter brand, which had been wiped out.

groceries1 I brought home a collection of canned goods and snack food.  My husband said it looked like I planned to go camping.


If the power goes out, that’s what we’ll be doing: camping in our house. We don’t have a generator, and I don’t plan to join the line at Lowe’s to get one today.

It was bad enough trying to find gas yesterday. All the pumps at Sheetz were out, so I drove down Highway 43 to the next station.  As I was waiting in line, a store employee stuck her head out the door and yelled, “We’re out of gas!”

gas pump

I went home and handed the gassing-up job to my husband, who fortunately found a station near our house where the pumps were still working.

You may be old enough to remember that once upon a time before the days of the women’s lib movement, hurricanes always had female names. One reason given: like women, hurricanes were fickle and couldn’t make up their minds.  So not true about women…but hurricanes, we’ve seen, can change course on a whim.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that all this hurricane hysteria will be much ado about nothing, that  Hurricane Florence will turn out to sea.  I can still eat my camping food and eventually drink all that bottled water I bought.



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Mamma Mia! The Food!

I’m home from Italy, where I ate and ate and ate. My wonderful Italian food experience ranks right up there with seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa and climbing to the top of the Duomo in Florence.

My husband and I consumed some excellent lasagna and a dish made with wild boar while staying in Florence, but the real Italian fine dining began once we joined our friends in a villa near the tiny town of San Donato, 45 minutes or so outside of Florence.

Here we were lucky enough to rent from Alfonsina (known as Fonsi), a woman who once owned a restaurant in Florence and, for a reasonable rate, would cook breakfast and dinner for us each day.


Fonsi with her husband Enzo

After our first delicious four-course dinner of lasagna with pesto, Florentine steak and potatoes, salad with homegrown tomatoes, and homemade gelato, we said sign us up for the week!

Each morning for breakfast, we had a healthy fresh-fruit platter. Then we forgot calories while eating an array of cheeses, breads, and cake. Our protein was a big plate of ham and some of the fluffiest scrambled eggs I’ve ever eaten.


Yes, I ate cake for breakfast

One night’s entrée was osso buco, a dish I’ve never had. Osso buco is Italian for “bone with a hole.” Within that hole was a sauce that we could use on the surrounding meat. Delicious!

osso bucco

Just one of four courses

Wine was included with our dinners. The bottles on our table had no label but were filled with our hostess’ house wine, a local Chianti. One night we were served pre-dinner cocktails. The orange Aperol Spritz is a local favorite—we’d seen people drinking it in sidewalk cafes. It’s made with prosecco and a liquor called aperol. Our appetizer was a chicken liver pâté with capers on crostini.


Almost too pretty to eat and drink

The last afternoon of our visit, we ladies signed up for a cooking class with Fonsi. She showed us how to make homemade pasta, eggplant parmigiana, zucchini flowerets stuffed with ricotta, and potato gnocchi with pesto.

To be honest, I was a cooking school dropout, leaving after the first hour and a half before the pesto was made. I was tired and needed to pack for our middle-of-the night-trip to the airport.

Still, I enjoyed our last dinner, eating what was prepared that afternoon, relishing the gnocchi enhanced by the homemade pesto Fonsi and the other ladies created.


First course of the last supper




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For Whom the Bell Tolls

School bells are about to ring—but not for me. I retired from teaching almost five years ago. Still, I couldn’t resist buying one of these only-a-quarter composition books at Walmart.


I miss buying school supplies, but I can’t say I miss teaching. I just sent in a column (to appear in the Telegram’s Sunday August 26 edition) where I talk about why.  I was exhausted by years of grading essays. Even more than the paperwork, though, was the classroom experience.

When I first started at the community college back in the dark ages of the early 1980s, nobody had a cell phone. When I retired in 2013, everybody did. First I went through semesters of phones ringing in class. Then the problem became texting, which was even worse. Some students seemed positively addicted to their phones.

I felt I had to be more and more entertaining to capture the students’ attention. I needed to use technology myself, not one of my strong points. I was born in the days of typewriters and landlines.

I taught a lot of wonderful students over the years, people who finished their degrees and went on to become productive citizens. Nurses and police officers, early childhood workers and bank employees. I sometimes bump into former students around town. They smile and call me by name although, to tell the truth, I’ve usually forgotten theirs. So many students, so many years.

news staff

Me on the far right with my technical writing class who wrote a newsletter as a project

But I had some lazy students too. Students who would stroll into class late or not come at all. Students who wouldn’t turn in assignments on time and then ask me to accept late work at the end of the semester so they could pass.

Usually these were younger students, kids who’d just graduated high school and were at the community college because they didn’t know what else to do with their lives. Older students were more serious about their education. They’d already been in the job market and seen the need for a degree to advance or enter a more lucrative line of work.

Teaching English is hard work if you do it right. I was glad when I turned 60 and could collect my retirement—and my clock.





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Quiz Time

This post is intended for critical thinkers. Warning: there are no pictures.

Recently, I attended a three-day writing workshop on the campus of NC State. (Click here to read the column I wrote about my Friday morning parking woes:

Each participant was asked to submit a writing sample for others to critique. I sent in the beginning of Chapter One from my novel in progress, Life and Death in Narrow Creek.

In the section provided below, part of what I submitted, one astute reader found a content error (not grammar, spelling, or any other mechanics, but something in the story itself). See if you can find what’s wrong.

Post your answer if you don’t mind. I guess it goes without saying that if you want to find the error yourself, you shouldn’t read the responses (if any) before reading the excerpt. I’m curious to see how many people pick up on the mistake.

Chapter 1

My hand-me-down Electrolux was certainly keeping a fuss, as my grandma used to say. Three-year-old Heather, her blonde curls bent over a coloring book, dropped a fat red crayon and clapped her hands over her ears.

“Too much noise!” she shouted. I had to laugh hearing the exact words I often said to her when she ran around the apartment squealing, delighted to be chased by her silly daddy. Her silly daddy and my husband, Joe Bulluck, who on this crisp Saturday morning in October was not at home with us but rather forty miles away in the woods hunting deer.

I cut off the ancient vacuum cleaner I’d bought at the Salvation Army thrift store. It wasn’t working all that well anyway, but I couldn’t splurge on a new one. Joe and I were still in the early years of our marriage and although I’d finally gone to work full-time so that we were now a two-income family, neither of us made a lot of money. …


Did you find it?

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Ciao! (Goodbye Home, Hello Italy)

In just a few weeks, I’ll be in Italy. The Tuscany area, to be exact. Florence, the capital of this beautiful district in central Italy, is where my husband and I will spend the first three nights of our trip.

We’ve been to Florence before, for a one-day excursion on our first trip abroad in 2006. I remember it being magical—and overwhelming.  So much to see in so little time.

blog david

David reproduction in Piazza Del Signoria



Michelangelo’s David is my most distinct memory. This is a statue that is so famous there are reproductions of it worth photographing, which is a good thing since we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the original in the Accademia Gallery.




In Florence, we’ve booked a hotel room in a historical building that was once a former noble residence. Or so the hotel’s website says. We’re supposed to be in a lovely, quiet area just a few steps from the River Arno. Maybe this will be the view from our hotel window.


In 2006, our guided tour stopped at the Ristorante Il Bargello for lunch. I wrote down what I ate and drank that day: lasagna (not the main course), flattened beef with gravy, spinach, potatoes, sparkling water, champagne, and Rosellino Toscano (wine). Lots of food and lots of wine. That’s what I remember about dining in Italy.


One of the days my husband and I are based in Florence will be spent on an excursion to Pisa. On our last trip, we didn’t see what is probably one of the most famous sights in the country: the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Gotta get that wacky tourist photo of me holding up the tower!


After Florence, we’ll join our friends for a week at a villa in the Tuscan countryside. I’ve been reading Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun and picture something rustic yet romantic. Something medieval yet picturesque. I’ll have to let you know how reality measures up to my imagination.


Our group plans to take day trips to various Tuscan towns—maybe Siena, Bologna, Lucca, San Gimignano. We’ll drive (the guys, anyway, who’ve applied for international driving permits) through the beautiful countryside of Tuscany. I expect cypress trees, vineyards, hills, and valleys. Here’s a field of sunflowers I saw in June of 2006.

blog sunflowers

I’m excited! Ciao!




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The Dog Days of Summer

The dog days of summer are here. Uncomfortable heat and humidity. It’s a given that temperatures will be in the 90s unless a rare “cold” spell brings the mercury down to the upper 80s.

Parts of my yard are thriving. Parts aren’t. Between my big holly tree and my equally big maple tree, the once-green grass is dead. I guess those trees suck up too much water when the hot days of summer set in. Never mind that I have a sprinkler system.

blog dead grass

The cucumber crop is about shot too, but I think it’s time. As least that’s what I remember from my youngster days when I was a professional cucumber picker. The cucumber season ended in early July, and then I began helping with the tobacco crop.

(See recent Telegram column:

I’d rip out these half-dead, yellow vines, but they’re still blooming and I continue to get the occasional cucumber.

blog dead cukes

Other parts of my little backyard garden are thriving. This year’s sleeper hit has to be my okra plants, bought on a whim to replace some pepper plants that had died.

I’ve learned okra are like cucumbers. I need to check my plants every day, or the produce gets too big to be tasty. I’ve harvested quite a bit of okra and have to fry it to get my husband to eat it. I don’t do a lot of frying anymore. It’s time to give some okra to the neighbors.

I’m also proud of my squash, and they’re easier to cook. I simply put a little olive oil in a sauté pan, slice up the squash, and fry/simmer until the vegetable is kinda mushy. Just like my mama used to cook it, except she probably used a few spoonfuls of bacon grease to get things started instead of olive oil.

blog cooked squash

I haven’t spent all of July monitoring my yard, however. This past weekend, I attended an intensive writing workshop.  Intensive as in sit in a classroom from nine to five. Along with some tips for writing fiction and helpful critiquing on a piece I submitted, I also learned there are a lot of smart, gifted people who are serious about the craft.

Blog Writing Workshop

Can you find me in the picture?

As the dog days of summer continue, maybe I’ll just stay in my air-conditioned house and get as serious as this crowd is about writing that great American novel.


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