Better

This week for the first time, I met my new children’s lit critique group. I submitted two pieces for review: a nursery rhyme about a little girl trying to find a matching pair of shoes and a short story about two cats learning to live with one another. My group loved the nursery rhyme but schooled me on stress syllables. They ripped apart the story of the cats but they liked the theme of the story. I came away with hyperlinks to stress syllables, two book suggestions and a reminder of how far I have to go before I craft my stories into the best stories that they can be. My response? I’ve purchased one of the books on Amazon, I’m reading up on the subjects of stress and meter and I’m planning revisions to my stories. In the end, both the stories and I will be better for it.  

So much of our lives, in every area, are spent growing whether we want to grow or not. At work, computer systems are constantly being upgraded and new people always need to be mentored. Once you reach a level where you can mentor someone else, watch out, because that means you qualify for more responsibility. With additional responsibility comes additional correction which is stressful (not to use that word again), but without the correction we cannot get better. I’m learning to think of getting better as growth instead of a sign that I’m not good enough, and I’m learning that no matter how much I grow, there will always be hard work to do.

This morning, I was lazily sitting on the couch drinking my coffee when I heard a vehicle pull into my drive. I looked out the window and it was my father. I wasn’t surprised. On springtime mornings, he frequently arrives unannounced with his pickup truck, trimmers and weedeater in the back, to offer assistance in my yard. I pulled on a robe and walked outside, cup in hand, and smiled.

“I guess this means I have to get dressed,” I said.

We spent a couple of hours working in the yard. I rode my  lawn mower, and he did the weeding and trimming. At lunch, I got us a chicken salad from Zaxby’s, and we sat on the back porch and ate together. The time he spends working in my yard is for both our benefits. I need the help in the yard and he knows it, but it’s also something that we do together. And there is reward in the end. The yard cleans up nice and visually rewards us for our efforts. As for us, well, we are better for it, too.

 

 

 

 

 

Meandering along the Basin Trail

In case you haven’t noticed, I quite enjoy walks and hikes. My latest excursion, last weekend, was The Basin Trail at Fort Fisher. The Basin Trail (difficulty: easy) is 1.10 miles one way-so a little over 2 miles there and back.  It begins at the Fort Fisher Visitor Center and winds along the sound side of Fort Fisher across straw, wooded walkways and sand. It travels down a path surrounded by trees, shrubbery, the marsh, a World War II bunker and it ends at an observation deck overlooking the Basin.

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Along the way, you can expect to see Spartina salt marsh, hermit crabs and an assortment of seabirds, including but not limited to, plovers and oystercatchers. There is also an abundance of fish, shrimp, clams and oysters. Depending on the time of year, you may also see loggerhead turtles, hawks, ducks and many more species.

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You will pass a WWII bunker that was originally built by the Army Service Forces in 1942 when Fort Fisher was part of a training and support facility for Camp Davis, located in Holly Ridge. Fort Fisher closed as a training facility in 1944 and the bunker was abandoned; but from 1956-1972, Robert Harrill, a hermit who lived on the salt marsh, found and occupied the bunker. Mr. Harrill fascinates me and I intend to talk about him further in a separate post. 

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Once you reach the observation deck, you will see Zeke’s Island across the water. You may also see Brown pelicans fishing, kayakers or even an occasional wind skier.  

After you walk the trail, you can do like I did and enjoy the beach. The parking at the visitor center is free and provides access to the beach. The visitor center also provides restrooms, tables and an area to rinse off when you exit the beach.

Not a bad afternoon for free fun.

Wanderlust

I just wish the world was twice as big and half of it was still unexplored.
-David Attenborough

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When I was a kid, there were two ways that I could explore: in my head or by going outside. A little patch of land like this one, nestled between homes in a busy housing development, could have represented a number of things to me. It could have been a forest in medieval Europe or a haunted patch of land in my hometown. It could have been the home of faeries, ghosts or a haven for talking animals whose voices came alive at night after humans went to sleep. In my mind, I could have used this spot to travel anywhere. I just needed it to set the atmosphere.

In reality, this patch of land is located in a lovely middle-class neighborhood, not a new cookie-cutter community, but one of the older ones where people have bigger yards, the trees are established, and each home is unique. This neighborhood is in a prime location that is currently under heavy development. In a way that is understandable, but it is also rather sad. I worry for the character of the neighborhood. I worry about the animals that live in these little patches of land. And I worry about our collective imaginations as we lose so much green space.

I came across this spot this afternoon when I was walking with a friend and her dog. When I saw it, my imagination was immediately piqued. I knew that I had to take a picture and I felt the same twinge of excitement that I did when I encountered such scenes as a kid. That heartens me. It shows me that I haven’t completely lost the curiosity and sense of adventure that I had as a kid, even if it has been tamed by the demands of “adulting”. I hope I never do.

This world is but a canvas for our imagination.

-Henry David Thoreau

Brookgreen Gardens

A few days ago, I wrote my Haiku of the Spectacular Pig whom I met recently when I visited Brookgreen Gardens. I actually saw several beautiful sculptures that day and thought I would share a few more with you.

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Brookgreen Gardens was founded in Myrtle Beach, SC in 1931 by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. Their intent was to display American sculpture, develop gardens using plants from the South Carolina Low Country, and educate others about art, conservation and the history of the region.

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Archer Huntington wrote that Brookgreen was “a quiet joining of hand between science and art”.  Today, among other things, it contains several plant and sculpture gardens, a zoo that houses animals which are native to the region and an old rice plantation. Brookgreen offers exhibits, classes, pontoon rides, nature excursions and much more.

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I spent several hours at Brookgreen and only saw a small portion of what it has to offer. My first trip focused mostly on the sculpture gardens. I have yet to see the zoo or experience the excursions. 

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But Brookgreen is not a place that you want to rush. I enjoyed savoring the trip. I will go back later to see more. 

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On a practical note, Brookgreen contains two restaurants which are affordably priced so you can stay all day. And if that isn’t long enough, tickets, which are $16 for adults, are good for seven days so you can go back later if you are still in the area!

 

 

Greensboro Writer’s Conference

This weekend, I did something very writery and attended the NC Writer’s Spring Conference. Located at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the conference offered exhibits and book sales, a choice of one morning and one afternoon workshop, faculty readings, open Mike readings and more.

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It was actually a busy weekend in Greensboro as an annual Furniture Market was also taking place. After driving over three hours to Greensboro on Friday afternoon, I was glad to have secured a room early at the local Hyatt as rooms were scarce and overpriced in response to the crowds.  While I sat at the hotel bar sipping a rum and coke and dining on chili and spinach salad, I overheard a few people at the front desk trying to get a room, only to be told that there were no rooms available. I felt very fortunate for mine.

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I slept well on Friday and arrived at the conference on Saturday morning early enough to peruse the exhibit tables. Small publishers and independent bookstores filled their tables with books from NC authors that they had published or were affiliated. A few of them offered information on writing contests. I met a woman who offered to put my name on an email list for an online critique group for people who write children’s books.

 

Next, I attended my first workshop at the conference. The topic was building poems that editors will publish. In the workshop, we discussed lyricism in poetry and finding one’s unique voice as a poet. The author and editor leading the workshop gave us some insight on what she looks for when she screens poems for her press.

 

Afterwards, we broke for lunch. I had never been to the UNCG campus so I googled restaurants close by. There were two within walking distance. As I stood inside the Old Town Draught House, a fellow workshopper from Charlotte, Reita, offered me a look at her menu. A gentleman behind us told us that in order to be served we simply needed to sit down at the bar. We decided to sit together and order. I dined on the Turkey melt with veggies and sweet tea and conversed with Reita over lunch. By the time we finished eating, we had exchanged contact information. We walked back to the workshop and parted ways. I went on to listen to a few faculty readings.

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My afternoon workshop, geared towards children’s authors, was titled “Exercising the Imagination”.  We discussed ways to tap into our personal passions and take our stories in new directions. The author leading the workshop gave us some ideas for exercises that we could use to access our imaginations. He was also a good source of information regarding future conferences.

 

Before I left for the day, I decided to pick up a book from both of my workshop presenters. They were on sale at the exhibit tables and were reasonably priced. Running Music  by Crystal Simone Smith is a book of poems and The Nine Pound Hammer  by John Claude Bemis is a YA fantasy book that explores American mythology. I look forward to reading them both.

 

Before I hit the road, I googled the closest Starbuck’s and picked up a Starbuck’s Mocha and a cookie. Probably not so wise as I’m trying to lose a little weight, but I’ll start over tomorrow. I had a long ride ahead of me and kind of wanted something special to take the edge off the commute.

I’m really glad I went to the conference this weekend. It was a great source of instruction and information, and I met a lot of pleasant people. Plus it was empowering. I don’t often travel alone overnight and it was kind of nice to go on my own. It was also nice to take another step towards fulfilling my desire to be a writer.   

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Opaque

When I first started thinking about the word “opaque”, snakes kept popping into my head. I guess I was thinking about their eyes. You probably know that snakes shed their skin in one big piece. This process is called ecdysis. Did you know that as a snake gets close to ecdysis, its skin becomes dull and its spectacle, which is a clear scale that covers its eyes, becomes milky? For that reason, when a snake is about to go into ecdysis, it is said to be opaque or pre-ecdysis.  You can learn this by googling the words “snake opaque”. You can also learn that Amazon has snake print footless tights for sale for $11.99. I’m not a big fan of snakes, but I just happen to have a few pictures from a previous visit to the Cape Fear Serpentarium. I’ve already used them to gross out my friends on Facebook so why not share the love and delight you with them, as well? 🙂

Below is a picture of a snake skin I found one day when I was out walking. I would have been running if he were still in it.

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And here are the tights in case you are interested. Very nice.

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Also, as an added bonus, I wrote a six-word story to describe this post:

It’s not tights. It’s a snake! 

 

Brunswick Nature Park

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I encountered Brunswick Nature Park a while back when I passed it leaving Brunswick Town. I had heard about the park in the past, but I had never explored it. As I hadn’t intended upon exploring it when I did, I wasn’t wearing the best walking shoes; but they were good enough for a quick look around so I decided to check it out.

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Brunswick Nature Park is located in Winnabow NC, along Town Creek, on 911 acres of land. It includes three hiking trails (my biggest interest): The Long Leaf Trail (beginner level), the Live Oak Trail (beginner) and the Dogwood Trail (intermediate) and four bike trails, including an advanced obstacle course. Hikers are allowed on the bike trails, but I am sure you would want to be mindful of bikers and exercise both caution and courtesy when walking on those trails. In addition, the park offers picnic shelters, kayak launches and scenic overlooks.

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I parked my car near one of the overlooks and decided to venture just a little ways onto the Live Oak hiking trail which is 1.44 miles long. The scenic dirt trail, marked by red dots on the trees, is not too difficult but you do want to watch your step. The terrain is a little more hilly than we locals generally encounter in our flat beach communities-which I love- and is strewn with branches, roots and all kinds of vegetation. I’m sure there are plenty of critters out there, as well. In fact, I’m pretty sure I saw a gator sign on the way into the park (although he probably hangs out near the creek) and if I was a snake I would certainly choose to live there. Despite that, as I walked along the trail I found myself wanting to go deeper and deeper into the woods, there was so much to see and explore. Had I been wearing the proper shoes, and maybe had a buddy with me, I could have turned it into a very good hike. I’m certain that it is also a great place to watch for birds and other animals. I was fortunate enough to have my camera with me so I took advantage of that and snapped some pictures. At some point, because of my shoes, I cut the hike short and turned around. I walked back to the overlook, where a family sat by the water, and looked at the creek for a while.

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My trip to the park was brief, but it was long enough for me to soak up some of the magic of the outdoors. I left feeling more relaxed than when I came and with a greater sense of well-being (that tends to happen to me outside) and it was also long enough for me to establish that I will go back to visit again when I’m better prepared, perhaps take a pair of binoculars and a picnic lunch. You might want to check it out, too, if you are in the area!

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Food and Such

So as I wrap up the topics I decided to explore during Lent, I come to food. This year, I decided to go Pescatarian for Lent. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I live on the coast and have access to a lot of fresh seafood so I guess I have an advantage there. Also, even though I like pork and beef, it was not difficult for me to give them up. I’m sure this varies from person to person but for me, it was not very difficult. As it turns out, that is a good thing. A few weeks ago, we had biometric testing at my job through our insurance company. My cholesterol was 225, the highest it has ever been, so even though I will no longer be as strict with my diet after today, I still plan to go light on beef and pork and even shrimp, and incorporate more fish in my diet. This is a blessing for some of the pigs and cows, and truthfully, I’m happy for them.

Following, are some pictures of the dishes and information on places I’ve eaten over the last several weeks in case you are interested:

Crab Cakes and Shrimp Parmesan: I visited Gulfstream Restaurant at Carolina Beach, NC with a friend of mine for a birthday dinner. I had the crab cakes and my friend had the shrimp. Gulfstream, which is family operated, has been open for 35 years and was a location site for the TV series “Six”.

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Mahi Tacos: Kickback Jack’s . I know it’s ironic to push a dish from a sports bar when you are trying to eat healthy, but I can’t stay home all the time, can I? These babies were so good I had to pull the picture off of the website as I forgot to take it not once but twice because I started eating before I remembered.

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This is a healthier dish. You quickly learn to supplement your diet with eggs for protein when you give up other kinds of meat. I’ve transitioned to egg whites part of the time, in the interest of keeping cholesterol down. They will be good for omelets and such, but good egg salad requires yolk. My mother made me this meal for lunch one day when I went to visit and it was perfect.

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I put this little concoction together one night with some lettuce, a can of Bumble Bee chipotle-flavored tuna and some fat-free shredded cheese. It’s easy:

Drain can of tuna, add a dash of mayo (if you want to-I did to cool off the chipotle a bit), top with cheddar cheese, microwave for 20 seconds and place on a bed of lettuce. Delicious and easy.

Have a great weekend, all!