Kittie Howard

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Who's Naughty and Nice on Your Holiday List?


A roller-coaster year ends in a lovely home in a beautiful coastal North Carolina neighborhood. I'm grateful for our lifestyle. True, hard work got us here. But not without help. I'm grateful for parents who paid for my university education, bought my first car and otherwise helped a newly-married couple get established.

I'm grateful for Mr. H's university education, the cornerstone of his success. True, he worked hard. But not without help from his family.

 Actually, no one in either family accomplished anything without help. My father had his university degree when World War II ended. But with thousands of returning sailers, soldiers, and Marines entering the job market, his degree meant little. The G. I. Bill saved the day. Once my father obtained his law degree, the sky became the limit. Reasonably so! We didn't live in a mansion. We kids had our chores (for which I'm grateful, as I learned how to manage my time and do useful stuff.)

The G. I. Bill also provided Mr. H's brother the opportunity to obtain his Masters Degree in physics.

Increased education led to increased incomes -- taxed incomes that had to help offset initial financial investments. One has to pay one's way in life. (Except corporations like Gulf Oil. They had so many loophole exemptions the company didn't pay any corporate income tax last year.)

When I began working, only 10% of women had a university degree. I was set. That wouldn't be the case today. When I was a kid in Louisiana, a woman couldn't be a real estate agent because "that would take a job away from a man." That wouldn't be the case today. I'm grateful there are increased opportunities and more people can succeed on their own merits, without prejudice or bias. However, more progress is needed. You know what I mean.

As the fire in the fireplace flickers, I feel warm and secure . . . and wishful. Twenty miles from where I live are poverty grids beyond words. I wish I had a magic wand to put heat in homes, food on tables, and toys under Charlie Brown Christmas trees.

I wish I could bring in a properly run factory so more people would have work, not that a factory would be popularly received in this semi-rural area. Very commonly in the South, what was is how it should be.

With a limited education, there's scant opportunity for work, unless one gets lucky and lands a non-military job on the Air Force base in Goldsboro or the Marine Corps base in Jacksonville or with the county government or if the Federal government builds more roads or if one works for a mom-and-pop business, like shrimp or fishing boat.

I wish I could replete the oceans, rivers and streams. When shrimp here are in season, they're delicious. But they're small. What's called a "large-sized" shrimp in the market is actually an "average-sized" shrimp. Actually, I type this with a tinge of sadness. Not that long ago wild-caught shrimp labeled "large" were huge.

But what about those here who graduate high school and go on to get a college diploma?

Most don't return. They work in Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte and beyond. The sky's the limit. In today's different era, they dream of living in mansions. And many will. Some will buy a condo on the beach to return here on weekends.

Having said all of that, there are numerous pockets of enormous wealth here, where our home would be a guest cottage near a monster home. It's tucked away wealth. Massive homes sprawl along shorelines. On islands. The county built an air strip for homeowners, even abolished the tax on the sale of airplanes delivered here.

When the county imposed a water view tax, the rich didn't care. Nor did they care about the 2% food tax. Rich here means really rich. (Vermont has a food tax; Louisiana has a food tax. New Hampshire has a water view tax.)

I wish I had a magic wand so a woman I know can sell her house in Morehead City. About 1200 square feet, the white-sided house sits on a tree-lined street in a pleasant area, but from another era. If you stood on the roof of her house on a cloudless day and squinted hard, you might be able to see the ocean. The water view tax is killing her.

It's like there's an ocean between the haves and the have-nots.

For all of the incredibly nice people I've met here and elsewhere, I wish you the happiest of holidays.

For all of you in Blogville who've been so forgiving about my erratic posts and have stuck with me, I thank you from the heart and wish you the happiest of holidays.

For those on my naughty list, the ones who don't understand that no one climbs life's ladder without help, I wish you a holiday moment when you see, really see, that the holiday season is not about you.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Hub and I are hitting the road soon, Asheville for Christmas and Virginia for New Years, both with family and friends. Happy New Year, everyone! I hope all of life's blessings are yours in 2015 and beyond!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Welcome to North Carolina: Hello, Gorgeous; Link to Conquering Your Fears

Although we made numerous trips between Northern Virginia and Coastal North Carolina to get possessions in place, our North Carolina home was operational in June. No glitz or glam -- air mattresses, a coffee pot, kitchen and bath basics -- but life was good, made even better by the excitement of it all. There's a lot of truth to the refrain "Nothing could be finer than Carolina in the morning."

One such morning I awoke as dawn broke, slipped on my robe, and went to the back porch. After expanding one of the collapsable beach chairs we'd brought with us, I sat down, stretched my legs as I looked around -- at the sun-streaked sky, the lazy white clouds -- and inhaled a glorious breath of fresh air tipped with pine and the scent of salty ocean breezes that had wafted my way.

I exhaled as I sank deeper into the chair, then froze. The largest orange cat imaginable had crept out of the azalea bushes at the back of the yard.

No, wait, the mind reasoned. That's not a cat. That's a . . . that's a FOX.

I must have stirred, for he faced me.

"Hello, Gorgeous," I whispered, then smiled as he headed for the nearby thicket of trees. The shy, non-aggressive fox was young, probably returning from a night's hunt in our wooded, river-banked area.

I haven't seen him again. But one can always hope . . .

Vulpes vulpes or Red Fox is common in North Carolina and one of three species common in the U. S., the other two being the Kit Fox and the Swift Fox. The Red Fox's tail is about 70% as long as the head and body length. The shy, non-aggressive fox is thought to be monogamous, mates early January onward, and has pups late February-April. Average litter has five pups. The female, called a 'vixen', stays with the pups while the male hunts for food. When pups are around 10 months old, they're usually out on their own. The Red Fox is not endangered.  (Photo source: Wikipedia; for a YouTube video of five Red Fox in a Raleigh, NC, yard, go here.)

* * * * *

I thought I'd link this post to an article about overcoming one's fears. Shy and primarily nocturnal, the fox hunts mice, woodchuck, squirrels, eats insects, birds, and eggs and has been known to dig into uncovered garbage. (Note: Counter-legend, a fox seen during the day probably isn't diseased if there's a variety of habitat available, as there is here.)

The Red Fox has to be wily, but cautious, to survive. A large, aggressive feline can bring a young fox down. So, where is the line between caution and fear? For each of us, it's in a different place. We all have fears. That's the nature of being human.

A 20-year old adult probably wouldn't assess a situation as a 40-year old adult would, both generations either out of experience, fear or a combination of both. Experience tempers judgment; fear paralyzes judgment. A helpful link to overcoming fear is here.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Welcome to North Carolina!

You have no idea how many times I've longed to resume blogging. But these past months have been such a whirlwind of activity there hasn't been time.

When last at the keyboard, around the end of March, the crud that had invaded my gorgeous body turned out to be a formidable foe that required kick-ass antibiotics and serious rest. (Your kind Get Well wishes also helped. Thank you!)

Back on my feet, Mr. H. and I listed what remained to be done prior to listing our Virginia condo for sale and got busy. Chipped fingernails and sore muscles later, the For Sale sign went up. (Gosh, but that sounds easy. It wasn't!)

By the 10th day on the market, we'd received four offers. We decided to go with the first offer because of the proposed lender's solid reputation. In a nutshell, we received our asking price, and the buyer paid all of the closing costs, a considerable savings to us.

Now that we had a closing date for the condo, the trips between Virginia and North Carolina began. Our house had been rented out. Floors needed to be replaced, walls painted, and so on.

These trips started out as fun, marking off Interstate exits, like Emporia and Pikeville, as Virginia's rolling terrain flattened into Eastern North Carolina's coastal landscape, but ended up being more like "Noooooooo, not another trip." If you've moved before, you know exactly what I mean!

Long story short: More chipped fingernails and sore muscles later, Mr. H. and I looked around our house, decided we were IN and relaxed with morning cup of coffee on the back porch. Have you ever heard pine trees "whispering" when a gentle wind blows? It's nice, very nice and, in that moment, when Nature and soul are one, going through all of That to get to This is worth it.

However, I don't know if we'll remain here. For tax purposes, we have to live in this house for two years. It's a lovely house that's turning into a loving home and is not a problem. The problems lie elsewhere. In the years since we last lived in North Carolina, the state and counties have charted paths that often conflict with the whispering pines. We don't want to move again, heavens, no! But I sometimes think North Carolina is a bit too high and tight for us.

Anyway, as life in North Carolina unfolds, I'm going to share my experiences with you, and we'll see where this takes us.

(It's nice, very nice to be back home in Blogville. Missed ya!)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Link to Characteristics of Creative People; Blog on Mini Hiatus

A couple of weeks ago, when I made my news junkie rounds of blogs (from conservative to liberal), I came across a post about the characteristics of creative people on Huffington Post that did more than catch my eye: It made me smile. The link is here. I think you'll smile, too. It's seriously great!

Otherwise, my laptop's been sitting on my desk, lonely and sad without me (I'd like to imagine) as days have ended with me flopping into bed, too tired from preparing for the North Carolina move to give it a goodnight pat, or, like today, too feverish from the crud going around to do much of anything.

The good news is, Mr. H., who is rarely sick, is on the mend. Yes, we both had our flu shots. But this isn't the flu or pneumonia. It's just a nasty crud that lays one low for a bit. In the meantime, my blog's on hiatus . . . there's no sense pretending I can do more when I can't.

Really hope this winter bug hasn't nipped at you! xoxo

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Look at the Pecan Tree Ahead

When I was growing up in South Louisiana and lived with my parents on my grandparents' farm, I loved opportunities to ride with my grandfather in his green Ford truck when he went to the back pastures. Even though the layout of the pastures was as familiar as the sun rising in the morning, trips rippled with excitement. I couldn't wait to see how much calves had grown, if the green casings on pecans had begun to turn or how many cows were at the watering hole.

Actually, the watering hole was a dynamite hole about the size of a respectable pond that did double duty as a fishing hole. Sometimes, after we'd checked to see how the cows were doing on their rather sloped side (perhaps a calf had ventured too far), my grandfather would drive to the opposite far side of the watering hole, where he'd stop, get out of the truck and remove a knife from the tool box in the truck's bed.

When this happened, I could barely sit still. We were going fishing!

Later on, I'd learn to select my own bamboo pole from the thicket not far from where we'd stop and run the line, then add the stopper and hook. On this particular day with no day or month, with just a warm sun and a gentle breeze to anchor the time, I focused on threading a worm on the hook that was high enough to entice a fish but not so low as to feed a turtle.

My grandfather didn't know how catfish and turtles had taken up residence in the watering hole, what had once been flat land. But many years later -- more years than I could imagine at the time -- my grandfather and I sat on the bank with our fishing poles. Since the cows sullied the water, we both knew we wouldn't keep any fish we caught. But that didn't matter. It was the sheer joy of being there.

However, on this particular day with no name, I caught my first "eating-size" catfish that we wouldn't eat, barely able to contain my excitement as I focused on getting the fish to shore. That done, I jumped up and down -- whee! -- and couldn't wait to tell my sister Sarah what had happened, pins and needles Sarah wouldn't be home when we got home -- as if a three-year-old had Wall Street appointments beyond her afternoon nap -- and fidgeted in the green Ford truck that wouldn't go fast enough.

And, so, this was how I learned to work toward a goal. My grandfather told me to look into the distance, where I knew my house was, and then focus only on the pecan tree in front of me. Since the truck was moving, the tree ahead would become another tree ahead, and I would reach my house, my goal, faster than if stared into the distance, wanting it to be.

Fast forward the day-with-no-name to today and the goal is that my husband and I will list our place for sale the first week in May. Now that the first load of stuff is in a North Carolina storage unit, we need to focus on the expected work one does before listing a dwelling.

Dog work that, like the tree ahead, moves steadily forward each day.

We hope to be settled in our NC house by June, even if this one hasn't sold. Many, many thanks for your very helpful paint/decorating suggestions. True confession time: Instead of devoting time to my blog, free moments have been consumed by paint palettes too easily Googled. However, that did lead to one decision being made: beige walls in the great room. Now, which beige remains to be determined. . . that next tree ahead.

My apologies for being so slow in visiting you. Obviously, my old routine of visiting blogs in the evening fell apart -- something about being too tired to think and/or nodding off with my hands at the keyboard while flopped on the sofa -- so I'm switching out evening for morning visits. I think I'll still be as slow as a turtle -- one can only do so much -- but will plod along, from one tree to the next.

Have a great day, everyone!


Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Colorful Question Amid Snow, Snow and More Snow

While California struggles with a parched earth and the worst drought in over 100 years, snow keeps blanketing other states. From my window, the snow looks pretty, a Currier and Ives winter landscape that kisses the snow-filled horizon . . .

 . . . whoa, more snow's coming today and tomorrow . . . a couple of inches here in Northern Virginia . . . a foot and a half projected for Maine.  For us here, temperatures will rise to the mid-50s next week. We've been warned the upcoming melt could lead to flooding. Yeow!

During the hiatus, hub and I have busied ourselves preparing for the upcoming move to Eastern North Carolina. Since the first wave of stuff that made the downsizing cut will go into a storage unit there in mid-April, we boxed many of the books and collectables that have come to be an extension of who we are, a good thing. One's life needs a decorative touch, warm reminders here and there of goals achieved in another time, another place that nudge the spirit to focus forward, to experience what lies behind the next 'mountain.' An African expression comes to mind: A river that doesn't flow stagnates and dries up.

But I've given much more thought to paint. Specifically, which palette will work best in our new home? Here's the frontal layout: traditional foyer with dining room to the left, study to the right; after a wrap-around, two steps lead to the sunken living room, almost a great room if it weren't for the family room off of the kitchen (to the back, left). Since long panes are alongside the house's entry door and large Palladium windows are on either side of the fireplace that anchors the living room's far wall, there's plenty of natural light, perhaps too much at times.

Since we're just a few minutes from the beach, I'm in a quandary about how to create a light, airy entrance without turning the house into a beach cottage. I'd love your suggestions as to which paint neutrals/colors you'd use. . . without using blue as I left my 'blue stage' years ago and don't really want to return. . . and, no yellow as the living room area is currently a light yellow . . . nice, but stale looking to our eyes . . . it's time for a change . . . Please, please, how would you switch out that yellow?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Jekyll Island, Georgia

When my husband was in the Marine Corps, we had three tours at Camp LeJeune, the Corps' sprawling base near Jacksonville in southeastern North Carolina. Since he deployed often, I'd sometimes visit my family in Louisiana. The usual route was south to Atlanta, west to Montgomery, south to Mobile, and west to New Orleans. During one return trip to Camp LeJeune, I opted for a bit of variety and didn't cut north at Mobile.

Since the day was still young when I reached Pensacola, I decided to push onward, to Jacksonville, Florida. I quickly realized I'd traded the long haul between Mobile and Montgomery for an even longer haul -- the 460 miles to Jacksonville, Florida. Instead of doubling back, the sensible solution, I decided to push on as I never been east of Tallahassee, the state capital.

Umm, the answer turned out to be more pine trees, not exactly exciting, and since I didn't want to get caught up in Jacksonville's morning traffic, I cut north, to Brunswick, Georgia. It wasn't long before I saw a sign for a Holiday Inn, a good thing as the bright summer sky had turned into a purple-laced sky.

The exit led to a narrow two-lane road that cut through tall marsh grasses, not exactly a welcome sight, but another Holiday Inn sign encouraged me onward. Since my VW lacked air conditioning, I rolled down the passenger's window for more fresh air that humid summer night. More frogs serenaded me, a dubious touch beneath a pitch black sky and marsh grasses taller than my VW (well, okay, it was a Bug).

What seemed like a million miles later, I pulled into a one-pump gas station. The attendant assured me the Holiday Inn was "down the road a little bit." I translated that into about two miles, and, sure enough, a Holiday Inn appeared.

After the lady at the desk lectured me about not getting a room in Jacksonville, she handed me the key to what turned out to be a suite overlooking the marsh and waters beyond. Surprised at how the lady had upgraded my room, but too tired beyond a shower and crawling into bed, I wouldn't know about the view until morning, when I stretched to the sound of birds chirping.

I was on St. Simons Island. It was magnificent, gorgeous beyond words.

Fast forward to the return trip to Virginia my husband and I made from New Orleans a couple of weeks ago, and we're on Jekyll Island. Since developers had turned St. Simons Island into a hodgepodge of tourist traps through the years, we fled to Jekyll Island and what turned out to be one of our favorite stops during our trip home.

Jekyll Island is one of Georgia's four barrier islands. Its 5,700 acres include 4,000 acres of solid earth and approximately 1,000 acres of mostly tidal marshlands. Along the eastern shoreline are eight miles of wide, flat beaches. My header is a photograph I took on a bitterly cold, windy (50 MPH) day that will forever warm my memories of a pristine island.

Wealthy northern industrialists own Jekyll Island and used it as a secluded winter getaway until 1947, when the State of Georgia bought the island for use as a state park. Since 1971, state law has mandated 65% of the island's beaches, salt marshes and forests remain unspoiled. As a result, the island has 20 miles of hiking trails and some of the most majestic, moss-covered trees imaginable.

There's no McDonald's or shopping center on the small island. Nearby St. Simons Island provides whatever one needs. The 35% of the land that can be developed has been done so with strict regulation by its managers, the Georgia state legislature, that preserves/encourages the island's cash cow eco-tourism business. But more about this later.

Beyond the island's pristine vistas, Jekyll Island also a deep history that deserves further exploration in upcoming posts. In the meantime, some Polar Vortex brrrr! photos:

Water and marsh grasses -- from the car as we drove across the causeway to Jekyll Island from St. Simons Island.
Over-arching trees on Jekyll Island.

Spanish moss on trees.

One of the easier hiking trains.

I took this of pelicans on a restricted part of a beach with a zoom lens. One can't go everywhere as there are nesting areas.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

An Old Bull in Namibia

Late Friday night and 2,992 miles after we left for the holidays, my husband pulled into the driveway and turned off the car's ignition. Home! As fabulous as the trip was, it felt good, being home. We were also tired. . . very tired. Like for so many in the United States, the weather had challenged throughout the trip, but especially the sleeting rain in North Carolina that had followed us almost to our driveway.

But this morning, now rested and with the sun shining and birds chirping, it's a new beginning.

Or a sad ending, depending upon one's viewpoint.

Someone in the Dallas Safari Club had the highest bid, $350K ($350,000), to shoot a black rhino in Namibia. Please note I used the verb shoot because it will be a carefully managed canned hunt, meaning the animal can't run away.

My husband, the Marine who knows about weapons, is appalled (his word). As I've mentioned before, he's a man's man who not only talks the talk but walks the walk. Simply put, there's no whining at the poker table. Show up with your big boy/girl pants on or stay home.

Flying in a private jet to a far off country, wearing expensive hunting clothes, and pulling out a high-powered weapon to shoot (execute?) an old rhino in a defined space because his bee no longer buzzes is sick, the kind of sick that's perverted if one isn't ultra rich. It's the kind of rich that flips off school kids donating saved pennies to organizations that work to save the rhino. It's the kind of rich where Pro Life is morality for the masses but a Second Amendment right for the rich.

Of course, if Namibia had acted responsibly and not offered the permit for auction, much could have been prevented. Namibian officials could have put out an all-call for donations for aging rhinos to live out their years in viewing areas.

Think of the children who could've watched the rhinos on web cams, a real learning experience about what's good in life instead of kids wondering how an adult could impose a Death Panel on an old animal that symbolizes not only Nature's grandeur but the enormous work done by so many to save the rhino from extinction.

I'm disappointed in Namibia.

Not that long ago, when my husband and I lived in Macedonia, we flew to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, picked up our rental car, and drove across parts of the Namib Desert to Swakopmund, where we spent Christmas in a quaint, modest hotel that was so special we'd longed to return.

We'd also like to make that drive again. For some reason, Namibia is at a latitude that attracts meteorites. They're everywhere. Huge. Gigantic. Small. The quiet drive traverses attractive villages surrounded by golden desert dotted with meteorites in every shape imaginable.

Approximately 2.2 million people live in one of the least densely populated countries in the world. 319,000 sq. miles (825,000 sq. km). By all accounts, Namibia is a stable, multi-party parliamentary democracy, a middle income country that Bloomburg says is easier to do business in than South Africa.

In the 1990s, Namibia -- then known as South-West Africa -- split from the Union of South Africa (which had governed it since 1910). DeBeers, the South African diamond behemoth, sold 50% of its 100% ownership of its diamond mines there to the new government, thus forming Namdeb Diamond Corp. partnership.

During the drive my husband and I made, we saw signs that restricted access to certain areas, specifically the Pomona area, because of the enormity of the diamond mines there. Now, I want to be perfectly clear: This isn't a 'Blood Diamonds' set-up. But you're not going to walk along the Atlantic Ocean's beaches and pick up diamonds to take home as souvenirs. That's a fact!

Besides diamonds, Namibia enjoys an ever-expanding tourist trade (that's become too expensive for our wallets), a viable agricultural infrastructure, and mines significant quantities of gold, silver, uranium, and base metals that are sold on world markets.

Although Namibia, like other countries, has pockets of inequity, it is not a poverty-stricken, failed state like Somalia or suffers famine issues found in the Sahel (Kenya, Ethiopia, and elsewhere). There is no reason why a country blessed with Namibia's diamonds and precious metals, along with the enormous economic and business contributions/investments from the United States, Canada, Western Europe, South Africa and China, has to sacrifice a rhino to raise money to stave off poachers. No no no no. Cook the stats as you will, Namibia, but I smell a rat!

And weasels in Dallas. But let's be honest: In this era of the ultra rich, too many spoiled adults can't resist a $350K temptation, not when forgiveness is around every hallelujah corner. Shame on you Dallas Safari Club for showing the world you don't have bees that buzz in your little boy/girl pants, just money to toss around.

Question: Is your very active and influential PAC (Political Action Committee) going to release a video of the shot heard around the world?