Who Would Do That?

The greatest play call ever

By Jim Moriarty

It’s September and the air is thick with footballs. While there remains no doubt we are living in a deeply divided nation, I feel certain there is one thing upon which we can all agree. When the Seattle Seahawks had the ball on the New England Patriotsʼ 1-yard line, trailing 28-24 in Super Bowl XLIX, and Russell Wilson threw it instead of turning around and handing it off to Marshawn (Beast Mode) Lynch, it was the worst single play call since prehistoric man tried to bring down a woolly mammoth with a thigh bone and a piece of quartz.

I mention this not to give my offshore gambling friends, and you know who you are, hair-raising and ghastly flashbacks, but simply by way of comparison since I, in fact, witnessed the best single play call ever made in a game of football. The puntrooskie.

It was Sept. 17, 1988. I was photographing the Florida State-Clemson game and, though I don’t recall it raining during the second half that Saturday afternoon, the field was sloppy from early in the day. The visiting Seminoles were ranked No. 10 in the nation and the Tigers No. 3. With the game tied 21-21, Clemson had succeeded in bottling the Seminoles up in their own end of the field. There was just 1:30 left in the fourth quarter, and Florida State was going to have to punt the ball away on 4th and 4 from their own 21 yard line. But Bobby Bowden, the Seminoles coach, had other ideas.

I was kneeling in the back of the end zone, focusing on the punter, Tim Corlew, in the event Clemson would come after him hard trying to block the kick. The Seminoles lined up in punt formation and when the center snapped the ball, Corlew leapt high in the air as if it had sailed over his head, then turned and ran after what would turn out to be a nonexistent loose ball. I frantically searched for it through my lens. Nothing. By the time I put my camera down on the ground in front of me, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

This is what happened. The center had direct snapped the ball at a slight angle to an up back, fullback Dayne Williams, who was in normal punt formation ready to block opposing players rushing the punter. Williams, in turn, passed the ball between his legs to LeRoy Butler (who, incidentally, had a 12-year career in the NFL, played in two Super Bowls and was just inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame). Butler bent over with the ball tucked in his stomach, hiding it the best he could, and just kind of stood there. Williams and the rest of the Seminoles all broke to their right, essentially faking the fake punt, and the Clemson pursuit went with them, some even bumping into the guy who actually had the ball.

Afterward, Butler explained it this way: “When I looked up, nobody was there.” He took off running and was finally forced out of bounds on the Clemson 1. Florida State would kick a field goal to win 24-21.

In the interview room after the game, Bowden was, of course, asked about the play’s design. “Would you like me to show you?” he replied. Bowden got the writers to get up out of their seats, then he started rearranging their folding chairs to show them who was where and how the whole thing worked. But the truth is, it worked because no one — no one — would ever make that call in that situation. With a minute and a half left in the game? On your own 21? On a wet field? All Butler had to do was slip and they lose. Utterly ridiculous.

Beano Cook, who had been the sports information director at the University of Pittsburgh for a decade and went on to become a colorful commentator for ESPN, called it “the greatest play since My Fair Lady.”  PS

Jim Moriarty is the Editor of PineStraw and can be reached at


Ticket to Ride

Transported by a book

By Patricia M. Walker

I like to troll thrift stores for books. It’s always an adventure, and at 50 cents apiece, you can hardly go wrong. If you do, you can simply re-donate. No harm. No foul.

Occasionally you reach for a book that looks interesting and find the joke’s on you, because when you open it, you discover it’s one you donated months ago. Standing there looking at your own name and the little stamp you mark your books with, you feel strangely proprietary and a little ashamed all at the same time. Worse, it’s just possible that the book is looking back at you with an accusatory stare, as if to say, “How could you give me away? Don’t you love me anymore?”

More interesting, however, are the times you find other people’s names and marks. Or an inscription that says: “To Glenn, May this first Christmas as part of our family bring you joy, George and Grace, Christmas, 1993”; or “M. A. Crichton from Mrs. Pyle, Christmas, 1938.”

Then, too, there are the stamps along the deckled edges or on the title pages that say Estes Valley Library — Withdrawn; Vermillion Public Library, Vermillion, South Dakota; Dowse Memorial Library, Sherborn, Massachusetts; Rivoli Township Library, New Windsor, Illinois; Fort Loramie Jr./Sr. High School Media Center; West Slope Community Library, Portland, Oregon; or most exotic of all, U.S. ARMY RVN SPEC SVC LIBRARIES APO 96243. That’s when you know the book has a life of its own, a story to tell. You hold it in your hands, leaf through the pages, trying to imagine exactly how it got here. What circuitous path did it follow to wind up on this shelf, perhaps thousands of miles from where it started?

Sometimes, there are even clues, relics of another reader’s life, hidden among the pages — a receipt from a bookstore in the Denver airport, a flier for “Buddhism and Meditation” from the Rameshori Buddhist Center in Atlanta, or a small ivory card printed in pale blue with a drawing of a young Chinese student at his desk and the words “If found please return to,” but with nothing filled in.

Best of all are the bookmarks — Decitre Librairie Papeterie in Lyon, France; Arcadia Books in Spring Green, Wisconsin; Golden Braid Books in Salt Lake City; Frenchmen Art and Books in New Orleans; Lunenburg Bound Books and Paper in Nova Scotia; Eighth Day Books in Wichita; the iconic City Lights Books in San Francisco; and much closer to home, Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville, North Carolina.

Of course, the stores they represent are indies and not thrift stores, but you love them all the same. You can just visualize the people who work there, how the books are arranged, the comfy sofas and chairs, the jingle of the bell as the regulars come in the door. You wonder if they’re still in business, and if so, whether some day you could — would — pack your bag and go there.

How you would walk in and say hello to the woman or man behind the counter; tell them you’ve come all these miles because of the bookmark you hold in your hand, a bookmark you found in Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos or The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain, or The Buffalo Hunters by Mari Sandoz or Blondes, Brunettes and Bullets by Nils T. Granlund; or a thousand possible others.

And you are absolutely certain they will smile and be thrilled that you have come so far to visit their store. Then they will offer you a scone, show you around, pull volumes off shelves for you to admire. And you will buy something, new or used, not only because it’s the polite thing to do, but because you really do want that Penelope Lively or Kent Haruf or Philippe Claudel that’s sitting right there on the shelf. Besides, there’s always room in your luggage.  PS

Patricia M. Walker is a retired teacher/purchasing manager/financial services administrator who was born and raised in Chattanooga,
Tennessee. She wrote her first novel when she was 9.


Baking Betty

Research, research, research

By Ruth Moose

Betty Crocker and I go back a while, though I don’t go back as far as she goes. Betty Crocker, icon for General Mills, is 100 years old this year. One of the most recognized advertising symbols in the world, Betty has only gotten younger. Many up-to-date hairdos and wardrobe changes. She has kept up with the times. My relationship with her ended amiably enough, and I have my little red spoon of confidence lapel pin to prove it.

Many years ago when I lived in Charlotte in a split-level house, carpooled in a wood-paneled station wagon, and did all kinds of PTA and Boy Scout stuff, my family was a member of a very exclusive club. We were one of 500 General Mills test families across the country. I tested recipes that ended up on the backs of cereal boxes, flour packages and General Mills products, excuse the expression, in general. I wasn’t paid but was reimbursed for the cost of recipe ingredients. I figured since I baked and cooked anyway, why not make it interesting? And I like to try new recipes.

Helen Moore, my good friend as well as neighbor, was at that time food editor for the Charlotte Observer. She invited me and several other women of various ages and stations to a lunch with two home economists from General Mills. It was a lovely lunch in a nice restaurant, a real treat in the middle of the week. Good food, fun conversation, and afterward I was asked to be part of 500 families scattered across the country. The home economists explained that, though they tested recipes in their laboratory kitchens in Minneapolis, they wanted reactions from real people in real home kitchens. Where the pasta meets the road, so to speak.

During the years I tested a variety of recipes, everything from vegetable dishes (carrots cooked in frozen apple juice with fresh ginger was a good one) to cookies made with various cereals, to a whole series of recipes using wine. I saw many of these later in cookbooks. For the most part, my family was good-natured about the whole thing. They were used to seeing different things on the table when they sat down to dinner.

After I tested a recipe, I filled out forms that included what I had paid for certain ingredients, whether I had them on hand, how difficult they were to find, and so on. Other forms asked if the instructions on the recipe were clear. Was it hard to follow? How much time did it take to make it? And there was always the question of my family’s reaction. They were the ultimate arbiters. Actual people eating real food in a home kitchen. Nothing complicated. Except the time I was sent a recipe for gumbo.

No, I did not have filé powder on hand.

No, I did not keep canned okra on my pantry shelf.

I didn’t know you could even CAN okra. And it surely didn’t sound appetizing. Breaded and fried okra is food of the gods! But okra in a can? In the South yet? Sacrilege.

So, I went in search of canned okra. In those days Amazon wasn’t even a twinkle in Jeff Bezos’ eye. Managers of the A&P, Kroger’s and Harris (before there was Teeter) laughed at me. Was I some kind of nut? Canned okra? I finally found a lonely can on the bottom shelf of a tiny exotic foods market. Exotic for North Carolina, certainly.

Then I made my first and only gumbo.

My family’s reaction, after a couple of mouthfuls, was to ask if we couldn’t go to McDonalds.

We did, leaving plenty for the garbage disposal and a none-too-glowing report for Betty Crocker.

After that, whenever my sons sat down to something unfamiliar, their immediate reaction was, “Are we eating Betty Crocker?”

I probably tested recipes for Betty for six or eight years. The gumbo was the only unqualified disaster. A lot of the recipes I still make — a Wheaties cookie; many of the wine dishes, including a pot roast cooked with Burgundy.

The program was discontinued but, as a token of their appreciation, I was given a tiny version of Betty’s trademark, a small, enameled red spoon lapel pin — the Phi Beta Kappa of gumbo, I suppose — and a real conversation piece at dinner parties. PS

Ruth Moose taught creative writing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for 15 years and tacked on 10 more at Central Carolina Community College.


The Evening Merriment

Getting a kick out of summertime

By Eileen Phelps

The deserted street was silent, punctuated only by the hum of mosquitoes searching for a tasty arm to nibble. Not a soul was visible, not even a hungry squirrel hunting for buried nuts. Dinnertime. All the children had been summoned to their family meals. Their absence created a vacuum of silence. Temporary. Fleeting. The calm before the storm.

In an instant, a cacophony of voices ignited the street. As if at once children burst from their homes, anxious to get on with the evening’s passion — the nightly neighborhood kickball game. Oh, I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it was the highlight of our summer evenings. From late spring when the days grew longer until early fall when school signified the return to schedules and early bedtimes, the kids loved their daily dose of excitement.

The bases weren’t fancy. The mailbox post was transformed into home plate. Rocks, frisbees, and an occasional log served as stepping stones to scoring runs. There wasn’t time for arguments or rock, paper, scissors; everyone wanted to play every minute they could squeeze in before dark. Disputes were settled with a nod in order to keep the game going. Cooperation was the unwritten rule as the competition, no matter how frenzied, required no adult intervention. No one was left out of the festivities. If you didn’t kick well, maybe you were a speedy runner or a superb pitcher. Everyone was good at something. Age wasn’t an issue. Holding hands with older players, little tykes were escorted to shortened bases where they enthusiastically cheered for themselves, as the older kids laughed at their silliness and applauded their successes. The commotion of joyful voices, mixed with shouted directions to teammates and scurrying children, led to sheer exhaustion by dusk.

As quickly as it began, it stopped. Adult voices beckoned the players home to the comfort of their beds as darkness blanketed the concrete field. The shadows disappeared into the night. The street returned to its hushed self, awaiting the next day’s contest. Only the drone of mosquito wings pierced the silence. PS

Eileen Phelps is a retired Pinehurst Elementary teacher who loves reading, writing and spending time with her 10 grandchildren.


The Thrill of Victory

By Jim Moriarty

In I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. This is not to say the affliction has improved greatly in the intervening 41 years but, back then, as a cordially lubricated Miller Barber once told his Jamaican hosts during a banquet I attended honoring Mr. X and Nancy Lopez, “When it comes to golf, y’all couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a bass fiddle.” Neither could I.

Nonetheless, as the lowliest member of Golf World magazine’s three-person editorial staff (the magazine was housed then in what is now a Southern Pines municipal building on U.S. 1), I was dispatched to both write about and photograph the 1981 U.S. Women’s Open at La Grange Country Club outside Chicago. I was from northern Indiana, so it was almost like a home game. That’s about all I had going for me. That and the fact that then — and I suspect still — covering professional women golfers was the easiest assignment a writer could get. They actually wanted to talk to you. There was no waving of a golf glove over the shoulder as someone stalked off, their metal spikes sparking on the concrete cart path, saying, “Not now. Not now.”

In the time I spent covering the women’s game my experience was, if a player couldn’t give you five minutes then, she’d give you half an hour later. But, back to La Grange.

The great Kathy Whitworth, then 41, was tied for the lead after 18 and 36 holes and led by a single shot over Bonnie Lauer going into the final round. It would prove to be Whitworth’s best chance to win the national championship that, like Sam Snead, would elude the 88-time winner and Hall of Famer. The world of women’s professional golf has designated its “majors” over the years, but there is no doubt that the crown jewel was, and is, the U.S. Open. All the others are playing for second.

That year it rained biblically on Saturday night, softening the course. The next day Pat Bradley and Beth Daniel made the best of the relatively benign (for an Open) scoring conditions while Whitworth and Lauer, playing in the twosome right behind them, faded. Through 14 holes Daniel, a lanky 24-year-old from Charleston, was tied for the lead with Bradley, who had already won one of those other majors. Daniel hit a marvelous bunker shot to about a foot to save a certain par on the 15th before Bradley rolled in a putt from the front of the green that was about as long as the commute from La Grange to Chicago’s downtown Loop. It was 70 feet if it was an inch, and Bradley, her face hidden most of the day beneath a low-slung visor, threw her arms up in the air in exaltation. I remember this well because I blew the photo, something of a cottage industry for me in those days.

The 18th was a par-5, and the long-hitting Daniel, a shot behind since Bradley’s bomb, went for the green in two, missing left. Bradley hit a wonderful sand wedge shot for her third that was inside three feet. Daniel pitched it to eight inches. Bradley had to make to win, and she did, reprising her celebration from the 15th. Photographically speaking, I was grateful for the do-over. Daniel shot 68 and lost by one. Bradley’s 66 that day remained the lowest final round in a U.S. Women’s Open for 23 years.

Reporters and photographers are supposed to know where they’re going, but when I exited the green, I got all twisted around and, somehow or other, wound up inside the clubhouse in what seemed like a basement room. Anyway, I remember a cold, cement floor. While I’m standing there trying to figure out where the hell I was, in walks Pat Bradley — all by herself. After all, Whitworth and Lauer still had to finish.

I didn’t know Pat then, though I like to think of her as a friend all these years later. In those days she played with her left thumb taped. As she was unwinding the tape, she bent over at the waist and hyperventilated like she’d just set an Olympic record in the 400 meters. I doubt she even knew I was there. When she finished unraveling the athletic tape and crushing it into a little ball, she straightened up and, with a wild, satisfied look in her eyes, threw her arms around my neck and gave me an ecstatic, and memorable, kiss. I believe, in that moment, if Sasquatch had been standing there, she would have kissed him, too.

So, I guess there’s this, Pat — we’ll always have La Grange.  PS

Jim Moriarty is the Editor of PineStraw and can be reached at


Buried Treasure

Discovering the Rockefeller “nest egg”

By Pamela Phillips

“Sold for $7 to the young lady in the back.”

There was one other bidder. Maybe two. But less than a minute after hitting the auction block the box was mine. That’s how the eggs came into my possession all those years ago.

Tucked away down a narrow dirt road north of Fort Bragg sit the remnants of an estate that once hosted some of America’s most powerful and wealthy families. Stately cottages, an opulent clubhouse and a Donald Ross-designed golf course welcomed guests who arrived in private railcars. Quiet and secluded, it was a paradise that many locals didn’t know existed.

Set among longleaf pine forests and winding streams, the idyllic tract known as Overhills was acquired by Percy A. Rockefeller, a nephew of Standard Oil founder John D., in the 1920s and remained in the family for nearly 80 years — first as an exclusive hunt club and later as a working farm and family retreat.

Percy’s great-grandchildren later decided to part with the beloved property, and it was sold to the U.S. Army. The sprawling acreage would provide additional training areas for Fort Bragg, but not before the barns and cottages were properly cleaned out. Which brings me to that sunny March morning in 1997.

Scores of vehicles lined the road a quarter of a mile into the grounds. Overhills was an enigma, and people were curious. I parked and headed toward the sale. Walking amid shadows of the once grand estate, I felt as if I were in another time.

Under rusting canopies, I joined the crowd inspecting odd farm implements, worn furniture and bags of golf clubs. Boxes overflowed with chipped pottery, dented pots and faded tablecloths. Not exactly priceless antiques.

A yellow and orange plaid pillow caught my eye. Beneath it was a box containing an Easter basket, several bags of plastic grass and, at the bottom, a cardboard egg carton. I pulled out the carton expecting to find mismatched halves of plastic eggs. Instead, I discovered beautifully painted eggs with intricate flowers, birds and geometric patterns detailed in rich, vibrant colors. A box of masterpieces!

I quickly closed the carton and put it back underneath the Easter grass and ugly pillow. I looked around. Does anyone else know what’s in the box? When I emerged as the winning bidder, I collected the box and made a beeline to my car.

At home I inspected my find. These were real, hollowed-out chicken eggs, certainly not Fabergé-class, but unique, and no two were alike. It wasn’t until years later that I researched and found that my “Rockefeller” eggs might very well be Pysanky.

Pysanky are hand-decorated eggs traditionally made during the Easter season throughout Eastern Europe, most notably in Poland and the Ukraine. Symbolic of the rebirth of nature after winter, they are believed to bring good luck or have special powers, such as protection from evil spirits. The eggs are not painted but inscribed with wax using a special stylus known as a kistka and dyed using natural colorants.

In the years since that day at Overhills, I often wondered about the eggs. Were they commissioned as gifts for the Rockefeller children? Picked up on a trip abroad? Created by a talented employee? I guess I’ll never know. 

Recently I came across Pysanky “eggspert” Joan Brander, a Canadian artist who learned the art form from her Ukrainian grandmother and teaches it to others. She graciously interpreted some of the motifs and techniques used in their creation, pointing out the degrees of difficulty. She even included a recorded snippet of the correct pronunciation of Pysanky. It’s PEH-sen-keh. Of course, I’d been pronouncing it wrong.

Today Overhills lies hidden behind chain-link fencing, part of Fort Bragg’s Northern Training Area, the once-manicured golf course buried in overgrowth and the remaining structures crumbling from neglect. But one small piece of that fabled Overhills world lives on. Every spring, as Easter approaches, I pull out the cardboard carton and arrange the delicate treasures on a fancy platter. For a few weeks, as they have for the last quarter-century in my home, the Rockefeller eggs take center stage.  PS

A native of Ohio, Pamela Phillips has called the Sandhills home since 1987. She is working on her first novel. 


Dannazione! Scusa!

And other international incidents

By Beth MacDonald

When I was in high school I took French classes, envisioning a day when I would travel to Paris to chicly order Champagne and shop like a native. Unfortunately, I never think to lower my daydream expectations to allow for my real-life blunders.

I moved to Italy in my late 20s, and I needed to quickly learn the language in order to communicate for my job. I became fluent enough to manage around my Italian counterparts, order food and, of course, shop. I also managed to bungle the accents on enough words to offend the man at the gas station when asking for a pen to sign my NATO ration coupons. After four years I found out it was not a writing implement that I had been requesting. Oops. A friend of mine, far more conversant than I, began laughing to the point of tears when I repeated the phrase I had been using for so long. After a few minutes she calmed down enough to tell me what I had asked for was much more personal to a man than a pen, but very close in spelling. I started going to a different gas station.

When I finally made it to France as a tourist, I could only recognize two words: cigarette and pastry. I didn’t smoke, so the fact that “cigarette” is the same in just about any language did me no good. I tried to order water at a patisserie, asking for water, aqua, agua, eau (leaving butchered accents and articles strewn at the side of the road) and even tried a very determined — and exasperated — index finger pointing at the bottle of water I wanted. The lady at the counter refused to do anything but stare at me with a flat look on her face. The French built the Eiffel Tower is less time than it was taking me to get a sip of water. I could have shriveled up and died if it weren’t for a stranger stepping in to order for me.

A few years ago, I went to Greece for a few weeks. I made it a goal to gain some rudimentary knowledge regarding the lay of the land as well as learn a few greetings and courtesies. I bought books, I went online, and ultimately came to the conclusion that Greek is not easy and Google Translate hates me.

My husband is fluent in odd languages no one ever thinks about, like Tongan. He is much better at fitting in abroad. If he’s not good at something new, he’s confident, and that certainly goes a long way. He’ll say a word that doesn’t mean what he thinks it means, and people respond anyway. I can accurately give voice to an accent, but I have trouble remembering the words.

While in Greece, he was trying to help me (bless his heart) by giving me mnemonics to help me remember what I was supposed to say. Maybe it is our years of marriage that render anything he says immediately unheard, or perhaps it was because I’m a mom and everything in my brain gets scrambled and re-filed under, “Where are your shoes? Yes, you have to wear shoes.”

Either way, I forgot everything he told me right when I needed it most. I walked around trying to thank people by saying, with my very good accent, “Ikilledyourcat-a,” all the time smiling and bowing like a blonde Norwegian Sumo wrestler. I followed this by incorporating an odd hand gesture that made me look like the Pope conferring blessings upon all.

The people of Greece are lovely people, even if we’ve all grown weary of learning their alphabet. They are kind, and smiles are universal. After some time in Athens, I took to interpretive dance as my primary way of communicating — I might be a YouTube star in Europe to this day. Omicron aside, Greek is an amazing, beautiful language. If you mess up a word, not to worry, you haven’t said anything meaningful at all, just random gibberish. It’s not like other languages where you screw up and accidentally offend someone.

To be honest, I would still give my experience speaking Greek a five-star Yelp review just for the exercise I got ordering gyros by flailing my arms.  PS

Beth MacDonald is a Southern Pines suburban misadventurer with an earthy vocabulary who relies heavily on spellcheck. She loves to travel with her family, read everything she can, and shop locally for her socks.


Driving for Dumplings

When you’re running on empty

By Jenna Biter

We hit the foodie jackpot one afternoon almost two years ago. It was a bitter, wet day. Icy rain pelted the already frozen streets of Chapel Hill. We shuffled down unsalted sidewalks, trying not to slip while hastily searching for shelter. “Dim sum! Let’s go there,” I said, pointing to a red neon sign with a bloodless, frostbitten index finger.

My husband, Drew, and I ducked into the dive, sloughed off our coats and plunked down at a four-top beneath a black and white wallpaper of what I assumed was historical Shanghai. After a flip through a laminated menu, Drew ordered the orange chicken, I opted for the sesame, and we picked dumplings to share — a No. 1, the pork soup dumplings.

I dove in. One of the dumplings burst in my mouth. “Oh, hot, hot!” My internal temperature wheeled from frigid to blistering. I immediately poked for another. The flavor was so full and delicious the scalding liquid couldn’t stop me. “How do they get the soup in there?”

Drew wasn’t listening. “I’d request these for my last meal,” he said.

“Pork soup dumplings — so good, it’s impossible not to moan while eating them,” a Yelp review said.

Recently Drew attended a going-away party at some watering hole next to a Food Lion in a strip mall. We moped inside, sacrificing our introverted couple’s night for The Electric Slide blaring above a dance floor sardined with people wearing glow-in-the-dark free-drink wristbands — an atmosphere fit for a reboot of The Twilight Zone. There was a stale smorgasbord of plastic baskets with tater tots, limp French fries and soaking-wet wings.

We glanced at each other, down at our watches, back at each other.

How long do we have to stay? said his eyes.

Without being rude? my eyes replied.

“An hour,” I said.

Drew did the mental calculations. “An hour and a half to Chapel Hill gets us there at 8:30.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Dumplings?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “It’ll be late, but . . . ”

A colleague slipped out the door, breaking the invisible seal. We were in his wake, thanked him for the cover, and dashed to our truck. By 8:40, we plunked down at our four-top, waved away the menu and ordered our usual: pork soup dumplings and a few dishes in a supporting role.

“Oh, hot, hot!” I yelped, the dumpling bursting in my mouth as I poked around for another. “How do they get the soup in there?” I asked.

“I’d request these for my last meal,” Drew said between slurps.

The restaurant was empty except for a family of three socially distanced and catty-corner from us. “We’ll take an order of the pork soup dumplings,” the man said.

“Sorry,” the waiter replied. “We’re out.”

My dumpling slid sadly down my throat. What does he mean, ‘Out?’ How could that be? The magical little pouches are no different than any other dish. I believed down in my gut that pork soup dumplings materialized by wizardry or a magical snap of the fingers.

The man’s shoulders sagged.

“Do you normally run out this time of night?” His wife asked.

The waiter nodded. “Usually after 8.”

I stared at Drew. “We drove an hour-and-a-half to get the last order,” I whispered. He raised his eyebrows and snatched another dumpling between his chopsticks.

“Lucky us.”

And always worth the gamble.  PS

Jenna Biter is a writer, entrepreneur and military wife in the Sandhills. She can be reached at

Illustration by Meridith Martens



Freezing? Get used to it.

By Kate Smith

“Did you lose a bet?”

It was a little old lady out walking her dog. I’m in my bikini, wringing water out of my hair on the edge of a Whispering Pines lake. High on endorphins, I just laugh. “It’s good for me,” I say.

I’m not naturally hot-blooded. I don’t have the selkie genes — named for the seal folk of Norse mythology — we hear about in people who survive hours in glacial water. And I don’t have a high concentration of that metabolic unicorn, brown adipose tissue. In fact, I have a 97-degree average body temperature, am borderline anemic, and I hate the cold. But I’m trying to change that.

It started back in September. On gut instinct, I bought a used 9-foot longboard and taught myself how to surf. It was meditative medicine and nothing has kept me out of the water since. I don’t mind the rashes, skinned legs from wipeouts in broken seashells, sinuses raw with salt water, or bruises on my ribs. I’m not afraid of sharks, even after seeing one a few feet away on my second day in the water, and I’m not fazed by jellyfish stings or colliding with fishing lines. But as soon as winter hit, the cold has given me a run for my money.

I have Raynaud’s, an autoimmune condition that constricts the tiny blood vessels to my fingers and toes, making them go white and numb from cold exposure as insignificant as the produce aisle in the grocery store. Despite a full wetsuit with hood, gloves and boots, they still go numb, and it doesn’t take long before my dexterity nosedives, and then so do I. A lot.

Add to that the darkness of winter, and despite my best intentions, I’ve found myself huddled in my house for entire weekends, fatigued by the gloom and too cold to surf, the thing that helps the most. I hate the cold. But, really, I’m trying to change that.

I heard about this guy named Wim Hof. He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts and ran a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot. I figured if this normal dude can train his body to thrive in the Arctic, I can certainly figure it out here in the South for the sake of getting back on my surfboard.

According to Wim, the process of cold adaptation is pretty simple. Do it, safely, until it doesn’t suck so much. The first time I waded into a cold lake, the water felt like razor blades. I dipped under, and came up with my heart pounding, muscles aching, and a little dizzy and disorientated. But when I got back to shore, the blood surged through my body, warming me completely, and brought with it a drug-like euphoria. So, I did it again. And every day since, it’s gotten easier. It’s still cold, but it’s not as painful, and it doesn’t take my breath away. In fact, it makes me feel almost invincible.

Turns out, that’s a normal reaction for cold-water swimmers. It’s evidence of something called cross adaptation. When your body adapts to the physical stressor of cold (or heat, or big changes in oxygen or pressure), you become more capable, physically and psychologically, to handle stressors outside your control. What doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger, and it might even bliss you out. Along with strengthening your immune system, cardiovascular system and metabolism, cold water adaptation floods your body with stress-relieving hormones. When you emerge from ice-cold water, your brain thinks you almost died, and it’s rewarding you for staying alive by making you feel positively giddy.

Swimming in cold lake water did indeed help my body rise to the physical challenge of winter surfing. Soon, I was back at it, albeit sporting one of the warmest wetsuits on the market. But cold water helped me rise to the challenge of my internal winter, too. Every time I surface from beneath and I see spring a little closer ahead, I get a shot of courage and hope.

If Mother Nature can’t stop me, nothing can.  PS

Kate Smith is the clinical herbalist and holistic health coach of Made Whole Herbs.


O Christmas Tree

Poor, rusted Christmas tree

By Ruth Moose

When water is up to your waist, the last thing you think about is Christmas. And certainly not Christmas trees. You rescue what you can at hand. You bless sump pumps and those who make them. Same goes for wet vacuums. You are amazed that sofas can swim, but armchairs cannot. And you cry over books. Thousands of pages, sodden wads of pages, glued together, their backs forever warped and bucked in humps and waves. How heavy they are as you cart them to the curb. How wasted their lives.

Hurricane Florence got all the publicity, but the hurricane after got us. In Albemarle, our usually sunny (and the site of my artist husband’s studio) daylight basement ended up with nearly 3 feet of water. At least it was clear, cold and clean water, but still a frightening sight. Here were my husband’s sketches and paintings, art books, art supplies and frames. His working easels and drawing board, paints and brushes. It’s a sickening feeling to pull open a drawer of paint tubes and water pours out. Not to mention a lifetime collection of art books with glorious color reproductions of paintings he’d used for study and inspiration. In other sections of the basement he also had a woodworking shop furnished with years of accumulated equipment and tools.

Then there was the household part of the basement with the water heater, furnace and 35-year-old food freezer, all standing in water. Plus various assorted items we’d stored over the years. Never had water, four sump pumps going simultaneously, receded so slowly. You can only haul furniture out to dry, watch the skies and wait. Pray. And when the water is gone, you wet vac and wet vac and wet vac. You hear the roar of the motor in your sleep.

Then you begin to dry out sketches and wipe off oil paintings and cry over lost watercolors who went to meet their medium. You open cabinet doors, and drawers and water pours out.

Somewhere in the flood I heard my librarian aunt’s voice when she said, more than once, she never trusted basements. Neither did she like attics. “Basements are too wet,” she said, “and attics are too dry.” At least I thought what we had stored in the attic was dry and better dry any day than wet, wet and wetter.

But, miracle of miracles, after the water went, the air conditioner came back on, the water heater began to purr and the ancient food freezer hummed its heart out. So I emptied and cleaned it and began all over again. Thirty-five years old, hauled through four complete household moves, the freezer kept going and going and going. Gave one heart and hope.

In all that water and wetness, nobody thought about the Christmas tree until months later. We were too busy mopping and drying out and saving what could be saved. When it came time to do the tree, we remember what had been in some of those sodden boxes in the basement. That artificial tree I’d argued and fought against and finally been persuaded (for ecological reasons) to tolerate. Not accept. All our married life my husband and I had fought the real vs. artificial Christmas tree fight. And for years I’d won. Real was a cedar tree that permeated the whole house with the smell of Christmas. No artificial tree had ever come close to that. For years we’d had the advantage of family land to tromp as a family, choose and cut a tree. We never found the perfect tree. Just ones that could be trimmed or branches spliced to suffice. It didn’t matter, as long as they were real. All Christmas trees when trimmed and lighted are beautiful.

When family lands were no longer available, I had no choice but an artificial tree. Somehow the picture of my husband assembling those branches that still look and feel — to me — like giant green bottle brushes, never matched the one in my memory of tramping through the woods on a winter Sunday, kids and dog ahead, ax and saw in hand, to bring home bundled and tied atop the station wagon, this year’s Christmas tree.

Thankfully, the tree ornaments and decorations were in the attic. The tree itself had been stored in boxes too big to go through the crawl space and had to go to the basement. The basement flooded. So we had dry ornaments and a rusty tree. We dried out the branches, shook the rust out, stuck them back into a shape that still looked like a pyramid of green bottle brushes and said, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a working sump pump.”  PS

Ruth Moose taught creative writing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for 15 years and tacked on 10 more at Chatham County Community College.