Monday, October 9, 2017


I drank from her cup this morning. Tears disappear in coffee, you know. I don't always know when it will rush over me. The smell of her lotion, the sight of her hairbrush, the feel of her lightweight mug--and then I miss her. Mom has been gone more than two years now. Fall is beautiful in her beloved mountains, but she said it was somewhat sad.  The changing of the leaves meant the bareness of winter was close behind.  That was one of the many things we differed on. I find the vibrant colors of fall and the crisper weather invigorating. 

It should be fall-like now as October rolls in, but here near southern salt water, land of hurricanes and humidity, it is still hot. There has been so much change in our lives and a change in weather would be welcome. We left our home of twenty-two years, the only home our grandchildren had ever known us in, the home where we cared for Mom and for the cats that came our way. We moved further south to the Charleston area, but closer to other family and that brings joy. Mom's cat died here, unaccustomed to the new surroundings and a little heart-broken. So change brings ups and downs.

Our granddaughter turned 13 yesterday. A teenager! That's a startling change, but one full of promise and excitement. After December 1, all our grandchildren will be teens. Sigh.

We have more time in this beautiful but unfamiliar place and that offers an opportunity to explore. It's good to learn new things, to keep our brains active. So here's to change. Bring it.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

New England in Autumn

New Englanders are hearty people. Old folks there keep going like the Energizer bunny. I can only guess it's a strength borne of a lifetime of having to get where they're going in the snow, ice, or rain. A strength borne of shoveling snow, carrying in wood and walking the dog on a sheet of ice. And they come from hearty stock: their European ancestors left everything they knew, braving the Atlantic Ocean to land on these shores.
Damariscotta, Maine
Photo by Susan E Hance

A nod to another strength of the
northern climate;  the south has nothing on New England for their summer insects. Mosquitos and black flies bite with a passion in New England. I can only guess that they Frankenstein quickly to beat the rapidly approaching end of summer.

There's a saying that a farmer wonders every winter why he lives there, but every spring he gets his answer. I would suggest it is the fall in New England that makes living there worthwhile. (In addition to the wonderful people, the way they talk and the "lobstah").

In autumn, leaves of every color sparkle in sunlight and reflect in water. White clapboard churches and inviting homes dot the landscape. Birds busy themselves around birdfeeders and flowers take their last glorious breath before resting a while.

When I visited there recently, I thought how easy it would be to live among the bright colors, brisk days and still water until winter came. Even then, a quiet snowfall could calm the spirit.

Now I know where my friend gets some of her strength. Many of us draw power and meaning from our places on this earth.

Bar Harbor, Maine
Photo by Susan E Hance

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Aloha is a greeting in the Hawaiian language that means affection, peace, compassion and mercy. What a jam-packed meaningful greeting! That's like "Hey, y'all" on steroids.

On our recent trip to Hawaii--a first for me--we found that the people embodied all those qualities. Peaceful and kind, they made us feel welcome. And they don't seem stressed like people on the mainland. They seem to live the sentiment of one of my favorite bumper stickers: "Slow down, this is not the mainland."

No wonder we met so many transplants who went there for a visit and never left.

Crystal blue water, giant waves and brilliant sunsets came to life there, just as they look in the photographs, only better. (I'm sharing my photos with you here.) Our friends (and traveling companions) who have visited Hawaii many times treated us to overlooks, gardens, and out-of-the-way places we would never have found on our own.  For us, that's the gem in going somewhere new: spend very little time on the tourist hype and much time on the real place.

Kaneohe  Bay
I enjoy comparing beaches and lifestyles on different shores. We had no problem settling down on Waikiki Beach or drinking tropical drinks with names like "Lava Flow," watching Hawaiian dancers, or climbing to the top of Diamond Head. The life was at once familiar yet different.  The beach was a little wider, the hill a little steeper and there were many more Japanese tourists than we have here. And I loved it all.

The respect shown for those who lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor was chilling and awesome. Just knowing the sailors who went down in the USS Arizona are still there gave me goose bumps.

We happened to visit the USS Missouri on her birthday and came upon bands playing, flags flying and tours going on. It's the ship on which the surrender was signed in Tokyo Bay to end WWII. She is docked in Hawaii now with the documents and other historic markers there for all to see. And she has many stories to tell. For example, a kamikaze pilot who crashed into the ship was even given a proper military sea burial during WWII. The guys spent hours constructing a Japanese flag to cover him with. He was respected for doing his job, even though he was the enemy.
Sunset Beach

At Waimea Bay
But some of the best treats were the private beach at Waimea Bay, the dive-looking food truck court that served scrumptious fresh local shrimp, surfing competition that we happened upon at Sunset Beach in Haleiwa, the technicolor water of Kaneohe Bay, the dancing dragons on Chinese New Year, cacao beans drying at Old Sugar Mill in Waialua and getting kicked off the film set of Hawaii Five-O on Waikiki Beach. Sorry--I didn't realize what I'd wandered into--just wondering why a helicopter was on the beach.
Hawaii Five-O

Chinese New Year

Diamond Head

View from Diamond Head
Fresh shrimp from the food truck
From Diamond Head

So many shores and so little time. I'm glad I got to this one. Hope you do too.

All photos copyright Susan E. Hance

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mom Moved In

I've been under water lately--or it seems--we've been so busy. My 89 year old mother moved in with us (just after I returned from Grandparent Camp last summer) and it has been exhausting. Some of us in the sandwich generation are squarely between parents and children/grandchildren. It's a blessing.

I know that sounds odd to call it a blessing when I just said I was under water from all the activity, but I've seen people who have no one. Little ladies in nursing homes. Men on the streets. I'm blessed to be able to care for my mother and also be involved with my children and grandchildren.

Sure, it's a lot of work sometimes. We had to organize Mom's things, renovate the house to make it viable, sell the things she couldn't use, move her here and merge our ways of doing things. It was very difficult for her too. I've learned so many things about my mother as an adult that were not apparent from a child's perspective. Who knew she didn't like fuzzy blankets? Or floor lamps?

We'll try to manage holidays, attendance at weddings, vacations, illnesses, food, football weekends, heating, air conditioning and television volume. That's a good start and there will be more to come.

It's amazing how a drive to Kure Beach, where we look out at the waves, hear the gulls, watch the tourists and eat hand dipped ice cream is like a spa retreat for my mother--totally relaxing. That's not so difficult and a lot less expensive than a spa.

Our State Magazine asked clergy from around the state to submit a prayer for North Carolina in one issue. The ones they gathered are moving and more than a prayer--they are epistles to the good life here.

It made me think about asking family members to write a prayer for our family. What would yours say?

Not On Salt Water

I'm a coastal resident, but in all seasons I think of the mountains.

In the song, "Reno,"  Nic Cowan asks, "What drives you to create?" The song tells us, "I never had a choice to make. It chose me long before I wrote..." One man returns to create paintings in the place where he was born. I understand that.

The mountains wear a comforter of snow right now, but soon enough buds will peer out from the trees in preparation for spring. I found this photo from last April taken at Wildacres Retreat in Little Switzerland, NC.  It's a place where artists of all persuasions go to hone their crafts.
View from Wildacres Retreat, c. 2013 Susan E. Hance

It was a magical experience, driving higher and higher into the mountains on zigzagging roads ("sigogglin" in mountain talk) that almost let you look at the back of the car coming around.
Then suspending all reality to do nothing but write and commune with nature and other artists was a soul-nourishing experience. I hope I get that chance again.
Of course by summer, the mountain trees and flowers will flourish, just waiting to blaze into autumn.
Meanwhile, I'll enjoy the sound of seagulls, warm sun on my face and sand in my shoes.
The Grounds at Wildacres, April 2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Ireland: From the Mountains to the Sea

Have you ever been to a place for the first time and felt totally at home? That's what happened when I first set foot in Ireland.

Wicklow Mountains, County Wicklow Ireland, c. April 2011, Susan E. Hance,
The hills, the green misty fields, the people with their sense of humor, the laughter, coastal life...and the music...oh, no way I can hear that and keep my toe from tapping. Small pubs with musicians playing fiddles, guitars, bodhran drums, and harps filling the cozy space with tunes of love, loss, and a sense of place.

Glendalough(Glen of Two Lakes), 6th century monastery
c.2011, Susan E. Hance
I loved it all at first sight.

The Appalachian mountains, where my parents were raised and where I was born, have a connection to Ireland and the British Isles. Not only did Scots-Irish and British immigrants make up a large portion of European settlers in the Appalachians, the mountains themselves are connected.  They are the same mountain range!

Sharyn McCrumb's novels are typically set in her native Appalachian mountains and she writes:

Hemlock Inn, Bryson City, North Carolina
c.2009, Susan E. Hance
The proof of this can be found in a vein of a green mineral called serpentine which forms its own subterranean “Appalachian Trail” along America’s eastern mountains, stretching from north Georgia to the hills of Nova Scotia, where it seems to stop. This same vein of serpentine can be found in the mountains of western Ireland, where it again stretches north into Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, and the Orkneys, finally ending in the Arctic Circle. More than two hundred and fifty million years ago the mountains of Appalachia and the mountains of Great Britain fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Continental drift pulled them apart at the same time it formed the Atlantic Ocean.

Clouds in Jones Gap, South Carolina, c. 2009, Susan E. Hance
Blood and Bone Remember: Poems from AppalachiaMaybe the immigrants felt at home in a new land because it seemed so familiar. It begs the question: Does DNA have memory? In her work, Blood and Bone Remember: Poems From Appalachia, Jane Hicks, poet and fiber artist, suggests that it does.
Ireland has beautiful mountains and coastline. Perhaps my heritage informs my comfort zone, making me comfortable in both landscapes. Two of my favorite locations in Ireland are the Wicklow Mountains and Dingle Bay, opposite landscapes on opposite sides of the Isle--which by definition is surrounded by salt water.

The Appalachians are older than the Rockies, worn down over 10 million years of erosion. My beloved mountains that rose from the sea now continually wash into the sea. And so it goes.
Dingle Peninsula Ireland, c 2011, Susan E. Hance
Mountains and water, Ireland, c. 2011 Susan E. Hance

On the Sky Road, Clifden Ireland


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Friendship on Foreign Shores

True friendship knows no nationality, no boundaries, no international law. My friend, Kyoko, who celebrates her birthday this week, is as dear to me as someone who grew up living next door, though her neighborhood is in Tokyo Japan.

We've been good friends since 1977. No, I'm not from Japan and she's not from the US. That's part of what makes our friendship so extraordinary. We met in Iwakuni Japan when another American woman and I were looking for a department store that was having a sale. Shopping: The universal language for women, right?

Millie and I were in Iwakuni to visit our husbands, stationed there courtesy of the USMC. Having ridden bikes into town to shop, we stopped some ladies on the street to ask directions. "Sumimasen," I said, "Excuse me." That and a few other words filled the short list of Japanese at my command. We spoke in English, and showed the women an advertisement. The women smiled and nodded to show understanding, but our communication was hindered by lack of a mutual language.

Millie, Kyoko, Susan 1977
Always helpful, the Japanese women stopped a young woman who was passing by and explained our situation. The young woman possessed a joie de vivre, a curiosity of all things that was immediately evident in intelligent eyes and a quick smile. And she had recently graduated university---majoring in English literature! How lucky for us to meet Kyoko on that day in that place. How fortunate I've been ever since.

Kyoko acted as our guide in her free time, showing us prominent sights and out-of-the-way places for the month I stayed in Japan. It was all new to me. Tatami mats, futons, toilets in the floor (even on trains--try to go with the flow in that situation!), Japanese etiquette and seafood (squid, octopus, and kelp). Before long we could ask her almost anything without offense and vice versa.

Kyoko married the next year, wearing beautiful traditional costumes; then changing into other outfits for the wedding events.

The next year, we received photos of beautiful twin boys, their sweet faces crowned with gobs of gorgeous black hair. We had two sons, as well, while Kyoko had a third son. Over time life got busier and the letters fewer. Without email and Facebook, snail mail and expensive phone calls were the communication methods of the day.

One evening in 1997 my husband answered the phone to a string of questions.  Kyoko had called around the country until she found us again. She remained effervescent. One of her sons was attending school in the US and he was in a difficult situation. He no longer had a host family, so when school closed on the holidays, he had no where to go. Our home became his home for the holidays.

We loved having Kyoko's son with us, partly because he reminded us of her. He has the same gusto; a reach-out-and-grab-life philosophy. The first time he came to visit he opened an email from his mother. The first part was addressed to me in English: Thank you for having my son, etc. The second part was in Japanese. "That's for me," he said. I left him alone to read.

When he came downstairs, he reported that his mother's email instructed him to "be nice, pick up your clothes, say thank you." I laughed out loud. It was an ah-hah moment for me. Mothers are the same the world over. We just want our children to be safe in a place where someone cares for them and to be polite in return.

Kyoko loves to travel as much as I do and has visited many different shores. She visited large cities in the US such as New York and San Francisco, where she could take tours and public transportation. Visiting slower paced areas such as the NC coast is more problematic for foreign visitors. Renting a car to drive the coast or mountain areas of our state can be daunting.

So in October 2010, Kyoko came to our house to visit the southern coast. We took carriage rides in Wilmington, ate shrimp and grits in Charleston, visited the Biltmore estate in Asheville, went to a college football game in Clemson, shopped the outlet malls, and stayed in my relatives homes along the way. As we traveled, we caught up, filling in details of our years apart. Kyoko said to me one day, "We're lucky we get along so well." Even though we had enjoyed communicating all these years, being together for two solid weeks puts the relationship to the test.

 My cousin Judy, Susan, Kyoko 2010, Grove Park Inn, Asheville
And we passed with flying colors. Our friendship is a blessing to me and it shows me how connected we are around the world. She and I mother in the same way; both of us helicopter mothers.  I understand her concerns for her children and she understands mine. When there is an earthquake and tsunami in Japan, it affects me closely. When she cares for an elderly family member, I know her concerns.

 We can look at each other and see ourselves. That's a gift.

 Silver Pavilion