We Gather Together

It’s almost Thanksgiving and in honor of the holiday, I’ve created two fall floral arrangements. Not one, mind you, but two.

This summer, I had a bumper crop of okra. When I boasted about this on Facebook, a friend informed me that if I got tired of eating the stuff, I could dry some pods for decorating. Hmm, I thought at the time and then forgot about doing so. However, I also forgot to pick the last of the crop, and Mother Nature did most of the drying.

Here’s what I salvaged from my garden. I like what I’ve done with these few stalks of dried okra, even though my husband’s comment was a lukewarm, “Well, that’s different.”

Photo by Sammy Bowles (grandson)

Arrangement number two was started at a meeting of the Rocky Mount Garden Club. One of our members, Kathy Hutcheson, demonstrated how to arrange fall flowers and foliage, using a carved-out pumpkin as a base. (She had a vase inside the pumpkin filled with water-soaked florist sponge.) The rest of us tried to copy what she was doing.

I began with a big sprig of nandina out of my yard combined with $8.00 worth of Harris Teeter fall flowers. Later at home I added the pumpkin base, nandina berries, and snips of cypress. I’m really quite proud of how it turned out, although it’s SO BIG I won’t be able to use it as a centerpiece when we eat. No one could see over it to talk to anyone on the other side of the table.

pumpkin arrangement

I haven’t just been flower arranging to get ready for Thanksgiving. I’ve already made two big grocery runs. My frozen 17-pound turkey has been thawing in the refrigerator now for three days and has a couple more to go. I’ve learned from past experience it’s smart to give a big turkey plenty of time to thaw before game time. One year, I was running cold water over a still frozen bird on Thanksgiving morning.


My mother was an excellent cook. In addition to her biscuits and chicken pastry, I’ve never been able to duplicate her oyster dressing. In fact, I’ve given up, and just stir in a can of oysters in my finished Stove Top dressing.

stovetop with oysters

Photo by Sammy Bowles

But I’ve got Mama beat in one area: cranberry. Mama’s idea of cranberry at Thanksgiving was to open a can of the jellied kind (no whole berries), slice it along the lines left by the can, and serve it on a cut-glass plate.

I like to bite into the occasional whole cranberry, so over the years I’ve played with recipes using whole canned cranberries. Here’s one I’ve tweaked:

Cranberry Gelatin Salad (Yield: 8 servings)

  • 1 6-oz. package of cherry gelatin
  • 1 20-oz. can of crushed pineapple (undrained)
  • 2 cans (14 oz.) of whole-berry cranberry sauce
  • 1½ cups of seedless grapes, sliced
  • ¼ cup of chopped pecans

Dissolve the gelatin in 1½ cups of boiling water. Stir in pineapple and cranberry sauce. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Stir in grapes and pecans. Pour into 2-quart serving bowl. Refrigerate until firm.

cranberry salad

To read what I’m thankful for this year (last Sunday’s Telegram column), click here: http://www.rockymounttelegram.com/Patsy-Pridgen/2018/11/18/Thanksgiving-Calls-for-Counting-Blessings.html

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.


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A Tale of a New Old House

My daughter was so excited about her new old house in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte. I put “old” in that description because the house was built in the 1920s. Renovating these historic bungalows in the heart of Charlotte is all the rage with young folks who work Uptown and don’t want the traffic-clogged commute from the burbs.

She and her husband had put their current home on the market, confident it would sell quickly in Charlotte’s hot real estate market (I know, so unlike here in Rocky Mount). They’d moved essential furniture to the new old house and spent their first night there.

And then Hurricane Michael swept through Charlotte. A huge tree fell smack dab on the front of the new old house. Fortunately, no one was home at the time. As you can see, the house took quite a hit.


destroyed house 2


Here’s the tree (what’s left of it) that did the major damage.

destroyed house

In case there was any doubt about it, authorities posted this sign in a window.

unsafe sign

But there’s a silver lining to this cloud. My daughter and her husband had planned major renovations anyway. They need a couple more bedrooms and at least another bathroom in this two-bedroom, one-bath house. The idea is to build a second story with these features for their two boys.

The original plan was to live in the house a couple of years, slowly deciding exactly how to go about renovating. That plan has been accelerated. They’ve already met with their architect and builder. The architect gave them a sign to post to let the neighbors know they’re working on their eyesore.

new sign

In a couple of weeks, they’ll move to a rental home—oh yeah, their old house sold in less than a month. I’m hoping they’ll be in the new old house in a year, but it could be longer. Renovating in the historic district takes time. Projects have to be approved. And with the housing boom in Charlotte, they don’t have the full attention of their builder.

It will all come together—someday. I had just one visit with my grandsons in their new old house before the hurricane eviction.

the boys and me

But I will find these two little cuties wherever they’re living.

For more details, click on the Telegram column http://www.rockymounttelegram.com/Patsy-Pridgen/2018/10/28/A-hurricane-hits-home.html


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Easy Halloween Decorating

Remember when all we used to do to decorate for Halloween was carve a pumpkin the day of, stick it on the porch, and then wait for the trick or treaters? That’s considered pretty lame in today’s contest to have the most elaborate, spookiest decorations in the neighborhood.

People go all out now. Huge inflatable witches, ghosts, and goblins bounce around on the lawn. Ghouls hang from trees. Fake cemeteries spring up in yards. Stuff that no doubt requires money and time to assemble.

My witch’s hat is off to these folks. Go for it. I love to see people have fun with Halloween. But I’ve never been one to go overboard for the holiday. (I save my mania for Christmas.)

I keep Halloween simple and cheap. Here’s how.

A few years ago, I found a small tree limb in the yard, brought it in the house, and added one strand of tiny orange lights from Lowe’s, creating a Halloween tree. The next year, I added some orange spider webby stuff. This year, I’ve also hung some white plastic skeletons and a couple of art projects the grandsons made one afternoon (the mummy and the pumpkin).

Halloween tree

When Halloween is over, I simply carry the entire tree in its trashcan stand back to the attic, leaving the lights and the webby stuff on it.

My mantle is part fall, part Halloween. The black cat and the black mesh will come down November 1, and I’ll add more silk fall leaves and maybe some real gourds that will stay through Thanksgiving.


halloween mantle

I have a spider theme going on in the foyer. A drape with a trail of spiders filing down the handrail, and spider eyeballs hanging from the door jam. Easy peasy to assemble from year to year. Oh, and notice how I’m getting some use out of a spider Beanie Baby left over from the 90’s collector crazestaircase.                 spiders A couple of years ago, I bought a large skeleton when it was super marked down after Halloween. All year, he hangs out in the back of a downstairs closet until All Hallows’ Eve when his hanging out is transferred to my front door.


mummyThere you have it. Simple, cheap, and spooky (maybe).




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Shopping, Food, and Thomas Wolfe

Because my husband has an annual fall conference in Asheville, my guaranteed October trip to the North Carolina mountains is this lovely destination. Asheville is a lively blend of old mountain culture—think apple butter and rustic crafts—and a hip, new-age vibe.

Some years we’ve stayed at the Grove Park Inn, known for its fancy spa, ginormous lobby with two huge walk-in fireplaces, and panoramic views.


This year we were at the Renaissance Hotel, not quite as luxurious but with a great downtown location. I was within walking distance of restaurants and all those cute little knick-knack stores that Asheville is full of. In fact, I bought a couple of wind chimes at a place called LOFT (Lost Objects Found Treasures).


Even better, the hotel was right across the street from the Thomas Wolfe house. Hog’s heaven for a former English teacher. Tuesday morning while the husband was in meetings, I had my own personal tour—just me and the docent—for only five dollars.

wolfe house

In case you’re wondering, the Thomas Wolfe Memorial is where this famous author grew up, alongside all the boarders that his thrifty, businesswoman mother could cram in her boarding house. In his novel Look Homeward, Angel, Wolfe wrote none too fondly of his life there, dissing Asheville as well, which caused him to be something of an outcast for quite a few years after the book was published. It’s telling that his last novel is titled You Can’t Go Home Again.

summer flowers

My trip was timed a little early for the brilliant fall foliage. I saw more summer flowers still in bloom than the vibrant reds, oranges, and golds of fall. Evidently summer held on a little longer in the mountains this year as it did at home.

The last day of this fall conference, my husband and I always visit the Western North Carolina (WNC) Farmer’s Market on the outskirts of Asheville to pick up an assortment of apples. We fill a cardboard box with Golden Delicious, Fuji, Gala, Red Delicious—anything marked sweet. No tart Granny Smiths for me.

The best thing about visiting the WNC Farmer’s Market, though, is the Moose Café. Country cooking at its finest—and huge portions. You know you’re in a place that takes eating seriously when the waitress brings a big fluffy biscuit with apple butter for your appetizer, and chicken pastry is listed as a side dish. Just look at these plates.

paula's mealmy meal

We all got a to-go box and had our leftovers for supper.



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Summer Has Refused to Give Up

What a long, strange summer it’s been. The calendar says it’s October 10, but temperatures are still in the upper 80s here in eastern North Carolina. So I’m still in shorts and flip flops. As of today, we’ve had only a handful of mornings with just the slightest touch of chilly fall air.

That’s the long part of this summer. The strange part? Despite the summer-like temps, my maple tree is already shedding leaves. Leaves that haven’t really changed color other than to turn a little brown or slightly yellow. No brilliant reds or oranges this year. Does a really wet summer mean poor fall foliage? Is Hurricane Florence responsible?

flip flops

It’s officially been fall since September 22 (First Day of Autumn), so I’ve bought a few mums to make my outside décor more seasonally appropriate. I should put my begonias in the mulch pile, but they’re still blooming and it’s hard for me to pitch a pretty plant. For now, fall and summer are co-existing around my house.


Same story with my hardy ferns. They might look a little strange next to my fall door wreath and the pots of orange mums I’ve arranged on the steps, but I’m not going to put them in the garage for their winter hibernation until the first frost. Whenever that will be. November? December?

front door

As I write, Hurricane Michael has hit Florida. The forecast here is for lots of rain tomorrow and Friday. We don’t need more heavy rain, but the good news is that we’re promised lower temperatures once this weather system passes. Day temps in the low 70s. Night temps dropping down to the upper 40s.

Can I believe this forecast? Could fall weather finally be arriving?

Even though it’s felt like summer for all of September and almost half of October, fall activities have begun. To read about my autumn schedule, click on this link to last Sunday’s column in the Rocky Mount Telegram: http://www.rockymounttelegram.com/Patsy-Pridgen/2018/10/07/Summer-lingered-but-fall-activities-arrived.html




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Tuscany Has More Than the Top Ten Attractions

This past weekend, I was asked for travel advice by a husband and father of two pre-school daughters. “My wife and I want to take our girls to Italy, but there’s no way we can do the museums and cathedrals with them in tow. I’m thinking Rome or Florence, a city where we can just walk and soak up the atmosphere. Somewhere we can let the kids run around the streets and eat somewhere casual.”

His idea of travel got me thinking about what I did—and saw—while I was on my recent trip to Florence and the small towns of Tuscany. I realized that there’s always that recommended list of Top Ten Attractions. In Florence, the Uffizi Gallery is a world-famous art museum that is definitely on such a list. It was on my list too.

Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus found in the Uffizi Gallery

I loved the guided tour I took of the Uffizi, but free-to-see Renaissance art and architecture are all around in Florence. Anyone can just walk the streets and happen upon famous statues right there in a piazza. Perfect for those on a budget or with small children.


In addition to Florence, I recommended all of Tuscany to this young dad. Many of the small towns prohibit traffic—you have to park outside the city walls and walk in—so being a pedestrian is safe. And the sights along the streets are entertaining and pure Italian.

For example, wild boar is a big deal in the area. They’re hunted much like we do deer. The stores sell all kinds of wild boar souvenirs such as stuffed animals and hats. Leather goods–purses, belts, shoes–are everywhere. I loved this display of colorful Italian men’s shoes.


In the hilly Tuscany towns, the views are lovely and again, this type of sightseeing is a free, easy experience. A lot of places have towers or even hillsides where tourists can climb to get a bird’s eye view. Memorable, free, and very photogenic experiences.



And there’s always just hanging with the locals.









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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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