Saturday, August 30, 2014

Losing It Again

By now you can imagine that things just happen to me.
Well, "it" happened again.

I had been working at my computer for several minutes, when the phone rang. I got up to answer the phone and felt something warm in my front pocket. Strange.

I reached in it and found 2 melted foiled tabs of butter. 

I guess I forgot that I had put them in my pocket when carrying my cutlery, napkin and butter from the dinner buffet. 

Apparently, my short term memory is declining. Now I need to see if I can get the grease out of each layer of clothing.

Think about an old southern saying. If the butter had been in my back pocket, you could have called me "a biscuit."


I hope you have a grease-less day. Write to me at aitken.helen@gmail.com


Monday, August 25, 2014

Jaws Boat Gets New Sharkskin...

One of my favorite things about being a writer and writing for a boating magazine is the opportunity to meet and interact with boat builders, boat makers and people who love boating, or do extraordinary things associated with boating.

Over the past 4 months I've become intrigued with wooden boat named the Cricket II. She's has a great history with charter fishing, deep sea fishing and shark hunting. Her first owner and captain was Frank Mundus, a larger than life character with marketing skills for getting new clients, equivalent to the best firms in the nation. He was a living legend; his shenanigans, fishing knowledge and his boat, is what inspired the book and movie Jaws.  

Right now, I'm working on a mini book for the Cricket II and her latest adventure, becoming a fishing boat for wounded warriors and disabled American vets.  In fact, I consider it an honor that Captain Joe DiBella wanted me to write the story. When it's available, I'll let you know. 

Until then, take a sneak peek from an article I wrote in the August/September issue of Carolina Salt magazine, pages 29-30. I'd love to know what you think and so would the editor.

https://www.facebook.com/crystal.outdoors/posts/333898686777215

Check out the Cricket II's website and make a donation if possible:  http://www.cricket2project.com.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Commander’s Picnic Finds the “BOOM”

I'm a member of the Fort Macon Sail and Power Squadron. Some might call it a yacht club. However,there are no yachts or club house, so you could probably say that we are a group of nuts, nuts about boating. There are so many personalities and great people to just hang out with that, sometimes rather than go boating, we just hang out.

Case in point.

Despite the constant rain on July 21st, a large group of FMSPS “ducks” couldn’t be swayed from gathering for the Commander’s Picnic. We lounged under a huge gazebo to share the masterfully grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, tequila lime chicken, fabulous side dishes and high-in-calories deserts.
Scott is in the red shirt

The conversation was friendly and like most gatherings, the guys and gals tended to part ways and congregate together. The wind picked up a bit, and cool air brought a chill to anyone still wet; I grabbed my damp raincoat and so did a few others, but the conversations continued.

I couldn't help but think it was a perfect time for a nap, if only there had been one of those zero-gravity lounge chairs.

“Boom.”

“What the heck was that?” I asked.

Someone answered, “That was a potato cannon firing.”

“A what?” still unsure what to make of it.

Another replied, “J.B.’s shooting potatoes.”

My curiosity got the better of me, and I had to lean over the gazebo railing. “What kind of potatoes are you using, red potatoes or russets?”

J.B. replied, “Red potatoes.”  

Bob Howd supervised J.B. so that he put the best potatoes in the tubes. Of course, they had to do some field-testing before allowing others to join in. Moments later, the first person on the scene ready to do some potato firing was none other than the soft-spoken, Pat Hardee.

This is Pat Hardee and J.B. Bagby.
Pat is one of the “quiet ones.” You know the kind of person that surprises you by pulling a prank, leaving you amazed and smiling. Case in point, she was one of the first down the gazebo steps to wait her turn.
Not afraid, she held on to the tube as J.B. directed, and it fired with a loud “Boom.” Her first attempt went about 80 feet.
“Holy Crap, look at the arc on that,” came out of my mouth. Everyone laughed; I was seriously amazed.

“Hey J.B., did you learn to do this in Chemistry Class?” I asked.

He replied, “Yes, I did.”

“That’s our UNC university dollars at work,” I retorted.

I could only imagine what the neighbors would say. “Do you need some sort of permit to shoot one?” I asked. Nina said, “Please, don’t give the government any more reasons to tax us.”

Scott was next in line. He rested the potato cannon rested on his left side, since he is left-handed. As a retired USMC Colonel and an expert in handguns and rifles, he was confident to shoot a mere potato. He stood erect, aimed and “Pop.” The dud landed about 25 feet from the standing point. Dejected and hanging his head, he feigned humiliation.




J.B. ramming down the potato.









Before I could retain some sense of dignity, I too lined up to shoot a potato. J.B. tutored Roy Thompson and me on the mechanics. PVC tubing, shaved at the top end, left a razor-sharp edge that cut the right potato diameter so that it could be rammed down into the barrel. It was surprisingly simple and yet amazingly efficient.



“How do you hold this thing?” I asked, grabbing it under one arm to rest it against my body and the other arm to steady the trajectory.

“You want to hold it about 45 degrees, not 20 degrees like Scott held it, but 45 degrees,” said J.B.

As I gazed out over the firing range, to my right, there were at least 25 boats in their slips and to my left, two other boats, tied off along the walkway. There was little room for error. What would I do if I hit one of the boats?  How could I justify insurance payoffs for potato shrapnel?

Okay, let me get my aim right. Asking Bob Howd, “Does this thing have a kick?” He just smiled without answering. I didn’t know what to expect.

J.B. spayed White Rain hairspray, the highest volume of alcohol/lacquer mixture in the cheapest form, into the end of the barrel and closed it. He turned the Coleman camp igniter, again and once more, “Boom!”
My potato went the farthest, about 100 feet away.

“I almost hit the trees, “I said. Thank God, I didn’t hit a boat.

I was too proud to shoot it the second time- there was no way to break the best distance and there was still the matter of the boats. However, Scott was willing to pay cold hard cash so that Pat Hardee could fire one again. I still held the distance.

 “That was the most redneck fun I’ve had in years,” I said laughing.

Walking to our car Scott said, “JB has to be adding extra hairspray to the ladies’ tubes. I’m sure I was given just one little, whiff. You had more stuff in your tube.”   

Maybe so.

I foresee potato-firing competitions in our squadron future. 


May all your potatoes land where they should. Email me, I'd love to hear from you.
Have a great weekend.

Friday, June 27, 2014

I'm Such a Big Chicken

I hate changing my winter clothes for summer ones.  The entire process is exhausting: washing, folding, packing and moving them back to the attic. My winter items have been stacked on top of a bench at the foot of my bed, in some baskets on the floor beneath it, as well as in a large laundry basket and on two side chairs.

It’s the end of June, and it’s overdue for my lightweight shorts, shirts and capris.

When I change my clothes out, I mentally prepare for 8 or more hours of tedium.  An old movie I’ve seen a dozen times is the perfect backdrop to accomplish the task.  The dialogue will keep me company and memorable scenes break up the monotony.

First, the cats go out.  Otherwise, they rediscover the joys of empty baskets, and drawers left open.  They watch for soft sweaters to lie in and dangling strings on pants that will be pulled across the floor in a familiar game.

The baskets show imprints of fat cat bodies and lots of left-behind hair; it’s everywhere and nothing is spared.  Collect the hair and a new sweater would be produced.    

Sorting through a basket, I find an old, soft, yellow cotton nightgown that I can’t seem to throw out.  I picked it up and a huge dark roach appears underneath, attached.  I threw the gown on the floor and screamed like no other scream could be screamed, one that is immediately recognized by Scott as “my roach scream”. He makes a fast dash to the bedroom to encounter the monster.

I must stop here to explain that there are varying levels of happiness, excitement and terror that trigger physiological reactions; hysterical laughter, peeing in one’s pants and blood-curdling screams are just a few.   I suppose I have and still do exhibit all the fore mentioned reactions; if I held these in, I would explode, just as badly as if holding in a violent sneeze.
The roach scream generally comes when I’m in the kitchen preparing dinner or cleaning up, or anywhere near dog or cat food.  Since the cats eat in my en suite, my bedroom or bathroom is another surprise location. 

Since I was both a cheerleader and a singer in earlier years, I can project my voice to decibels equivalent to mach 1.  When I scream, I become paralyzed.  Sadly, the roach isn't adversely affected.  Scott is prompted to find the vacuum cleaner or a sturdy shoe to annihilate the beast, a job well suited for a retired Marine Colonel.

You may ask why a roach would instill such fear into a science educator whose passion in college was entomology.  I would have to say that it stems back to my childhood with a non-air-conditioned home, where the southern heat and humidity would allow the world’s largest vermin to enter.  They would make their way to the tops of the curtain rods and then fly across the room.  In actuality, they became kamikaze, dive-bombers, ultimately hitting their target, my head or face or other bodily parts with such precision that I knew the entire species made me a target.  

That deep psychological defect has tortured me for a lifetime.
All roaches, underneath that waxy calcareous exoskeleton, have a pair of wings, perfect for dive bombing.  Give me snakes, wild animals, or even an alligator to face before the villainous roach.  Not only do they fly, but are also nasty creatures, according to the Raid advertisements, carrying up to 32 diseases, so I have reason to hate these vile creatures.

Getting back to the dilemma at hand, Scott ran into the room and all I could do was point to the object.  He carefully picked up the nightgown by a corner and eased his way out the door and into the hallway, where he saw the massive object and immediately dropped the gown.  Then he began to dance on top of it, Flamenco style.  Convinced that the culprit was flattened, he opened the gown and began to laugh.  Peeking out the door, I saw him hold up the hideous thing, and I understood. 
It was a feather off one of the cat’s toys.    


That feather blew me away.


May all your days be filled with feathers. Email me at aitken.helen@gmail.com

Ta ta.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer memories


I can't help it, I love the summer and even though it may be 200 degrees in the shade, I love the thought of going barefoot, wearing shorts that are too short for my chubby legs and feeling the sunshine on my heavily sunscreen face.

I also have fond memories of the summer when I was much, much younger... If you indulge me, I'll tell you about it.


·         We lived about 20 minutes from the nearest beach.  We took trips to Topsail Beach every weekend and if we were very good, during the week.  
      There was only one pool we went to and it was always over crowded, but the ocean was always big enough for everyone.  

·        It didn’t matter if our bathing suit was full of sand, we wore them home like that and then put the water hose down our suit to flush out the sand and any sea creatures we brought home.


·         Flip-flops were the best shoes, you could buy them for about fifty cents, so we had several colors.  
      They could get wet, you could run in them or ride a bicycle with them, and they were the only shoes we could wear when we got sunburn on the tops of our feet.

·        Who needed a beach chair when a beach towel would do on the sand?  
      Who needed to sit on a beach towel when making sand castles and digging up fiddler crabs (mole crabs) took up our time? 
      Buckets, shovels, a float for the ocean and a cooler of food and drinks, were all we needed. 


·         Mom always wore the “loudest” DeWisse or Rose Marie Reed black bathing suit with bold red roses or poppies on the fabric.  She wore the biggest brimmed hat to match, red lipstick, painted nails and toes to match and we listened to WJNC am station on the transistor radio.


·        There were no SPF sunscreens, only the characteristic smell of Coppertone Lotion.  
      I found out that I was allergic to coco butter in some suntanning lotions- I broke out in dots all over.
      We also mads a concoction of baby oil and iodine...


·        Saltwater taffy was actually made at the beach and it was fascinating to see the large paddles pulling and stretching the the different colors and flavors.   
      You had to take home a box for later.  
      Now, the boxes of saltwater taffy come from New Jersey.


W  We didn’t have air conditioning in the car, so we would cool off only driving down the road.  

     
     A&W Root beer came in a paper megaphone and if we were lucky, we got a root beer float.  
     I consumed so much before being a teenager, that I can’t stand the smell of it today.

·        
·         Kool-Aid was our favorite drink and watermelon was our favorite dessert.  I still love these. 
  

     Today, when I get a notion to get some sand between my toes, I only have a 15 minute ride to be there.  
     Boy, am I lucky.   


     I'd love to hear about your summer adventures.

     Email me me at aitken.helen@gmail.com or on Facebook.   


     Have a cool summer day.




Friday, June 13, 2014

Summer Flip-flops

“Where are my brown flip flops?”

“Haven’t seen them” said the chorus of men in the house.

“Are you sure you haven’t taken my flip flops by mistake?”

“Mom, none of us can wear your shoes,” said Will.

At least that’s a true statement. My size 10 shoes are small compared to the rest of them.

“Would anyone help me find them?”

“Sorry Mom, we’re busy.”

My flip-flops are dark brown with a logo. I can’t remember the brand name, but I’ve never spent twenty dollars on a pair of flip-flops before, so I’d like to have them back.

I remember when we only paid a few quarters for a good pair. Generally, we outgrew them before they wore out, but when the strap broke or the dog chewed them, it didn’t matter. We went to the dime store and bought a few more; I always got red ones, my sister got blue and my brother got black.

“Flip flop, flip flop” is a great sound that fits a perfect name.

It’s hard to imagine that basic flip-flop design has been around about 6000 years, seen on ancient Egyptian murals in temples and tombs. I can’t imagine my $20 flip flops lasting more than 2 seasons of wear.

I wonder if Egyptian mothers had problems finding their sandals.

In ancient times, the Greeks placed the toe strap after the big toe, the Romans after the 2nd toe and the Mesopotamians, the 3rd toe. I’m a Greek toe person. Any other place would feel bizarre.

Flip Flops emerged in the 1950’s as a casual shoe, then designs took other forms with wedges, stacked heels, wood, leather, bamboo and rubber. Straps have flowers, glitter, pearls, sequins, rhinestones, Swarovski crystals, ribbons and bows, all with expensive price tags.

Imagine wearing flip-flops on the red carpet, or seeing a bride wearing a tulle veil on her feet.

My $20 shoes keep sounding better and better. If only I could find them.


May all your days be worthy of wearing flip flops. Write to me at aitken.helen@gmail.com

Have a great summer.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Chimney Rock Adventure

It was as expected.  The room had two lumpy double beds with the best squished pillows. The beds were covered in white quilted bedspreads which were machine embroidered in rose buds and leaves on meandering vines and the pillow covers matched.  I expected lace but only found it over the bathroom windows. The walls were a mauve color with deep burgundy drapes, and everything matched the outside color of the Carter Lodge in Chimney Rock Valley.

I was surprised, Scott said nothing about the decor.

The lodge is serenely located by the river, which I can’t remember the name, that flowed underneath Chimney Rock State Park.  Our room has a balcony with two chairs. I should have left the door open to hear the rush of water to lull Scott and me to sleep.


Maybe the water sounds could have drowned out that lone bird looking for a mate at 5 am each day.  He must have been the alarm clock because the other males began singing at 6 am.  Who could sleep after that?

The Carter Lodge grounds has a grill for public use, corn-hole toss boards, and lots of chairs on the lawn.  No doubt, a Fourth of July celebration would be spectacular.

It’s hard to say how old the lodge is, but if I had to guess from the ceiling tiles and the bathroom light, it must have been built in the 1950s. 

There was no door on the closet, sans the rod for the hangers; however, there is a platform for a small refrigerator.  There wasn’t a coffee maker or microwave and yet the owner asked if we brought a cooler.  Who would have suspected that the town would not be awake in April?  No coffee stands, no gas stations for miles and no drug store.  We were in a time warp.

We did eat at a “casual gourmet” bistro named Medina’s, which was wonderful.  Their brochure stated they were featured in Southern Living magazine, Charlotte Magazine, and National Geographic Traveler Magazine. This is a gem among the granite.  I tried to suck down as much coffee during breakfast as possible, knowing I’d never see another drop until I reached a civilized drive-thru, an hour away.

The whole purpose of visiting Chimney Rock State Park was to take a photography class.  Mission accomplished.  I learned a lot by trial and error and Scott acted as my bag handler and tripod whiz.  He told me, “I read the brochure.” 

He also told me, when he saw Chimney Rock from Medina’s restaurant, “You know I’m afraid of heights. I’m not going up there!”  As fate would have it, the 26-story elevator to the top was in repair and neither of us desired to climb an additional 200 stairs to reach the flagpole, so photos were taken elsewhere.


This was Scott’s first time there and I hadn’t been there since I was a preteen, so it was an adventure that perhaps we will repeat when all the buildings open for tourist season.  I will bring a cooler filled with Cokes, meat for the grill, and my own coffee maker. 

Until then, maybe we will solve the mystery of why the monolith is called Chimney Rock, and not an anatomical feature.  


May all your days be reminders of the past. Email me at aitken.helen@gmail.com
Have a great day.