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Hope Toler Dougherty


A Silver Star Thank You

A funny thing happened on the way home after an authors’ panel.

I’d just finished a conversation with best-selling novelist, Diane Chamberlain, enjoying a rush of excitement that comes after chatting with someone you admire. Walking through a parking lot at Cameron Village to meet my daughter, I spied a license plate with Silver Star for Gallantry posted on it. As I kept walking by the car, I thought, “Wow. That’s pretty special.”

The Silver Star Medal is awarded to servicemen for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.

I dug into my pocketbook for a pen and pad and wrote, “Thank you for your service.” I’ve never done that before. I feel a little strange saying five easy words to people who’ve sacrificed home and family, experienced life and death situations, and endured hardships that test emotional, physical, and spiritual strength. Yes, a thank you is nice but in no way compares with their effort.

On Sunday, however, I decided to turn around and leave the note. As I raised the windshield wiper to secure the paper, I heard a woman’s voice ask, “Is that your car?”

I glanced up to see a distinguished looking couple advancing toward me. The gentleman locked eyes with me and nodded.


Embarrassed, I slid the note from under the wiper, and said, “Well, I’ll just hand it to you.” As he read the note and smiled, I stepped back, wanting to get away, wanting disappear. I’d meant the note to be an anonymous act of gratitude. He looked up and thanked me for it, but I didn’t want to be thanked for writing a quick, little note.

More embarrassment.

I explained I’d seen the notation on his license plate and confessed, “I didn’t think I’d be caught red handed.” I stepped forward, shook his hand, and said, “thank you,” again.

Then I decided to share, to try and explain that his service really did mean something to me, that I wasn’t just passing along a trite expression like “Have a nice day.” I told him, “I wasn’t expecting to be a military mom, but I have a son in ROTC at UNC-Chapel Hill and a son at West Point.” He said, “And does that make you apprehensive?”

I hesitated just for a second before admitting, “No, because I pray every day for them.” His companion started clapping. “Yes! That’s right. We have to pray for our people in uniform.” We chuckled. I thanked him again and finally completed my get away.

The veteran seemed genuinely happy with the note. I left him staring at it, smiling.

I’ve written before that words are powerful, that they make a difference. And now I know even trite ones, even easy ones can be special, too. A “thank you” says, “I noticed you. You made a difference in my life. Your effort counts.”

Pass along a “thank you” when you have a chance.

Who needs one today?

Recipe for March

Before March turns into April, I want to share a delicious Irish recipe. Beware, however, the aroma wafting from the kitchen as this dish cooks isn’t very appetizing.

Crock Pot Corned Beef and Cabbage

6-8 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
3 medium carrots, sliced
1 corned beef brisket, about 3 pounds
1 cabbage, about 2 pounds
pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups water

In a 5-6 quart, sprayed crockpot, layer potato and carrot slices. Place corned beef on slices. Cut cabbage into wedges and arrange around brisket. Sprinkle with pepper and add water. Cover and cook on low setting for 7 to 8 hours, till meat and vegetables are tender.

Let brisket rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
Serves 8 or (like at our house) 4 generously.


Veterans’ Tribute

Day is done. Gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well. Safely rest.
God is nigh.

Those are the lyrics to the first verse of Taps. The words are beautiful, and I loved singing them every week at the close of my Girl Scout meeting.

The melody, however, is a different matter entirely. The melody, though beautiful, has a haunting quality, especially when played by a bugler at the end of a military funeral while mourners gaze at the flag-draped coffin.

Last month, I replayed that scene three times in a span of ten days when my hometown received three hard blows in quick succession. We lost three genuine heroes from World War II, Lt. Col. William Joseph (Bill Joe) Sugg, Sr. (Air Force, Ret.), James Arthur Peace (Army), and Col. James Edward (Red) Smith (Air Force, Ret.).

Mr. Bill Joe was a B-17 co-pilot, survived fourteen months in a German POW camp, and participated in the Berlin Air Lift. During his twenty-two years of service, he earned many medals and commendations including a Purple Heart.

Mr. James earned five battle stars for participation in the European theater including landing on Utah Beach with the Normandy invasion on D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge.

Col. Red’s impressive military career included serving in WWII as well as Vietnam and serving five years on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His numerous medals include the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After serving their country during wartime, these men came home and continued to serve in their hometown with involvement in their churches as well as community organizations. Mr. Bill Joe volunteered with the Lions Club as member and as an officer. Mr. James was a Shriner, a Princeton volunteer fireman and a Town Councilman. Col. Red was a member of the Lion’s Club and volunteered for several years with the Babe Ruth baseball league and with the Princeton Veterans Committee.

These men didn’t rest on their laurels and certainly didn’t tout their achievements. They weren’t part of the Me Generation. They were members of the Greatest Generation, and my town was blessed to have them.

Yesterday, I visited in the hospital with my great uncle, Leon Howell who’s battling pneumonia. He was stationed on the USS Vega at Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. Yes, that’s right—a Pearl Harbor survivor. His story is available at (The title is Garner Resident Remembers Pearl Harbor.) I’m considering making a sign—Pearl Harbor Survivor—to hang on his door so that people will know they’re caring for a hero.

Much discussion has centered on WWII veteran, Louis Zamperini lately. I’ve read his fascinating biography, Unbroken, and seen the movie adaptation. In fact, the book should be required reading for every American citizen.

Mr. Zamperini was a great American, no doubt, but we don’t have to read a book or watch a movie to find out about real American heroes. Many members of the Greatest Generation are still living among us. We still have time to visit with these people, listen to their stories, learn about real history—say, “thank you.”

Who’re the heroes living near you?

Find out.

Go visit.

They’ll be so happy you did.

And you will, too.

Sunflower Oatmeal Bread

My husband loves sandwiches made on sunflower bread at a local diner. When we discovered the owner ships the bread all the way from New York to North Carolina (therefore justifying the extra charge for the sunflower sandwiches), I thought, “Couldn’t they just make their own, save shipping and serve fresher slices?” With only a little time online, I found a delicious recipe that might not be exactly like its New York counterpart, but this bread receives rave reviews at our house.

Here’s the recipe:
1 1/4 C warm water
1 package dry yeast
pinch sugar
1 1/4 C warm buttermilk
1/4 Cup honey
2 T molasses
2 T melted butter
1 1/3 C whole-wheat flour
1 C regular rolled oats
3/4 C sunflower seeds
1 egg, beaten (and divided)
2 t salt
5 cups plain flour (approximately)

In a medium, non-metal mixing bowl, combine the water, yeast, and sugar. Let mixture stand for five to ten minutes while you mix together the buttermilk, honey, molasses, and butter. (When I warm the buttermilk in a two-cup measuring cup in the microwave, I add the butter to save a step. Then I add the honey and molasses.)

In another bowl,combine the whole-wheat flour, oats, seeds, and salt. Pour in about half of the egg. You’ll use the rest of the egg later.) Combine the buttermilk, yeast, and flour mixtures. Mix with an electric mixer at medium for three minutes.

Add several cups of the plain flour, and then move dough onto a floured work surface. Knead the remaining flour until the dough is smooth and elastic–about five minutes.

Cover the dough with a lint-free towel, and let it rise for about 1 1/2 hours. Its size should have almost doubled.

Punch down the dough, shape into three equal, round loaves. Place loaves onto greased baking sheets. (I use baking stones.) Cover and let rise again for about thirty minutes. Brush the tops with the remaining egg.

Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for thirty to thirty-five minutes. Cool on cooling racks before serving.

The whole process takes around three hours and uses several kitchen tools, but the bread is wonderful and worth all the bother. It’s not too sweet even with the honey and molasses, so it’s perfect for savory sandwiches. I like it toasted with peanut butter and blueberries for breakfast or with a smear of lemon ginger jam.

If you can’t use all the bread at once, freeze one or two loaves.

Try this bread. You’ll be happy you did!


Doing Hard Things

My husband and I met an acquaintance back in November who asked about our sons, sophomores in college. The man said his son had decided not to accept a scholarship to play baseball at a local college and was working in the family day care business.

Then he made a comment that has rankled me for several months now. He said, “He didn’t want to go, and I ain’t gonna make him.”

At the time, I just nodded. I didn’t know how to respond to such a stupid statement. Later I wondered how he would have responded if I’d said, “We had to make all four of ours go.”

Actually, we made ours go several times. Every time they came home during the first year especially, we’d have to encourage them to return. They didn’t exactly hate college, but college, of course, is hard. College classes are hard. Living with new people who have different ways of doing things, different belief systems, and different tastes is hard.

But isn’t it a parent’s job to help a child to do hard things? If children don’t learn to do difficult things while they’re growing up, how will they do hard things when they’re adults?

That comment has rolled around my brain since November and brought to mind many of the hard things I’ve pushed and pulled and prodded my children to do.

Every stinkin’ summer, I registered my children for two weeks of swimming lessons. Almost every day I’d make them climb into the pool. I’d steel myself against the boys’ yells echoing from the side, “Mommy, get me outta here. I’m fweezing!” Knowing how to swim is an important skill, right? So I gritted my teeth and ignored their pleas.

Although our four-year-old boys wanted to play soccer, when practice time came, reality set in. I’d hear from the back seat from one to the other, “Just foyce yourself not to cry.” They grew to love the sport and played through high school, becoming captains and winning coaches’ awards.

We moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina when our oldest daughter entered eighth grade. At the end of the year, none of her new friends planned to continue with band in high school. She would’ve participated in band in the old community, so I wanted her to give it a try at the new school. Her tears were almost my undoing, but we held firm with our insistence to participate for ninth grade. She discovered she liked it and continued through high school as did her siblings, learning to play more instruments and making friends in all grade levels.

Writing thank you notes, practicing piano, earning Eagle Scout rankings, or reading Jane Eyre wouldn’t have happened if not for a firm, parent’s nudge.

My children aren’t perfect by any means, but tough things don’t rattle them. They’ve learned to push through their fears so that they can enjoy the blessings on the other side.

Doing hard things is tough—but worthy—just like parenting.

Christmas Cookie

For the past six days or so I’ve been trying to catch up with my baking. I’ve baked thirteen different kind of cookies–two are double batches, too. Here’s one of my favorite recipes. It’s one of the most involved recipes I make because it involves grating fresh ginger and chopping crystallized ginger, but the cookies are worth all the work. Enjoy!

Spicy Ginger Cookies
2 2/3 C all-purpose flour
2 t baking soda
2 t ground ginger
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 ground allspice
1 C packed brown sugar
3/4 c softened butter
2 eggs
1 T honey
2 t grated ginger root
2 T finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 C sugar

Stir together flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and allspice in bowl. Set aside.

Cream butter and brown sugar. Add molasses, eggs, honey, and ginger root. Beat until well mixed. Add flour mixture at low speed until well mixed. Stir in crystallized ginger. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in sugar and place onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes or until puffed and centers just begin to set. Don’t over bake.

Makes about 60 cookies.

Merry Christmas!

Gratitude Day by Day

A couple of weeks ago, a friend suggested keeping a gratitude journal. After I wrote entries for several days, I wished I’d started at the beginning of the year. So I decided to go back to January and hit the highlights:
*We had a New Year’s Day lunch with family.
*I saw Once with Anna.
*We had several beautiful snows.

*I attended a BSF retreat in Florida.
*Karen started cleaning the downstairs for me.
*We attended a classical music night at Meredith College.
*Lane passed his methacholene challenge!

*I traveled to Pittsburgh to meet with my literary agent, Jim Hart, and connected with dear, old friends, Nancy, Emily, Jill, and Colleen.
*We attended Parent/Plebe Weekend with Quinn at West Point, and I wore a designer gown created especially for me by Anna!

*Kevin and I traveled to London to visit Hattie! We met her delightful host family and spent a wonderful week in England.

*Lane finished his first year at UNC.
*Hattie came home from London.
*Quinn enjoyed a long weekend at home.
*I began writing my third book.

*We enjoyed seeing friends at Deer Valley.
*We hosted a beautiful wedding at our pond.
*I rode in a helicopter.
*Summer Story Time began to great success.
*We hosted the Thompson family reunion.

*The history committee for Princeton Baptist Church’s 125th celebration began planning.
*I interviewed Sheriff Steve Bizzell and Deputy Charlotte Fournier.
*Quinn came home a day early.
*I signed my first book contract for Mars…With Venus Rising.
*Amy and Jake Paterline visited—just like old times on Woodhill Drive.
*Lane read A Prayer for Owen Meany and laughed out loud from his perch on the couch.

*I signed a book contract for Irish Encounter.
*I enjoyed a birthday breakfast with family, including my parents.
*Kevin and I enjoyed a delicious 26th anniversary supper at The Chef and The Farmer with Anna and Hattie.
*We celebrated Aunt Janice’s 80th birthday with the family.

*I attended the Writers’ Police Academy and learned how sheltered a life I lead.
*Princeton Baptist Church celebrated 125 years of serving God.
*I attended the American Christian Writers’ Conference and met more great people.

Now I’m caught up to October when I began writing the gratitude journal every day. I hit the high spots for the previous nine months which sort of short changed the way God provided daily gifts throughout this year, so I’m glad for the chance to remember all the sweet ways God touches my life many, many times every single day.

Uniform Gratitude

Last weekend, I participated in the Writers’ Police Academy in Jamestown, NC. What a great experience. Some lucky people won lotteries to shoot guns, breach buildings, visit the jail, and participate in ride alongs with police or EMS.

We witnessed a re-enactment of a wreck with multiple injuries and fatalities, observing the different teams doing their jobs—EMS, fire and rescue, deputies. We learned about crime scene evidence collection, the psychology of cops, and even romances behind the badge, too.

Instructors were real live law enforcement officers, some still active, others retired from police, sheriff’s departments, ATF, FBI, and the Secret Service.

We met a deep undercover cop who managed to survive two years and two months inside one of the most violent motorcycle gains in the United States. He survived and helped convict many of the gang members, but his close-knit family relationships did not.

All the instructors had one characteristic in common, the desire to help, serve, and protect. That desire to help extended to the writing field with their enthusiasm to help civilians understand and write about their world.

My most important take away from this weekend is that I’ve lived a very sheltered life. Although I watch some cop programs and movies, I’m really naive about the dark underbelly of life that exists right alongside my church attending, community volunteering, Polly Anna life.

I bebop through my daily to-do list writing on my computer, buying groceries, returning books to the library–enjoying my life, not thinking about the people who put their life on the line every day to protect that naivety.

To all the sheriffs’ deputies, police officers, state troopers, FBI agents, EMT workers, and fire fighters: Thank you for doing what you do.

Thank you for keeping us safe

Fresh Eyes

We always called it the fish pond.

It’s a man-made pond hand dug by my great-grandfather out of a low, wet place on his farm. He thought everybody deserved a place to fish and wanted everybody to have access to a fishing place.

When my family and I moved to the farm ten years ago, we tried fishing in the pond. All we could catch were little sunfishes. Nothing to write home about. Even less to cook for supper.

Our interest in the pond waned as other pursuits like soccer and cross country commanded our attention.

Until last year, that is.

A friend of our family asked to have her wedding at the pond. I was incredulous. Get married at the fish pond? Why in the world?

The bride had reasons and a vision.

She had met her fiancé at the pond.

Her fiancé had proposed at the pond. I heard the ring was attached to a cane pole.

She wanted to complete the story with a wedding at the pond.

Move ahead one year to June, 2014.

The pond looked beautiful—mowed, trimmed, weed wacked, and sprayed to a flora and fauna perfection. (Thank you to a special friend for her expertise in this area.) Sunflower balls hung from the old oak tree shading the wedding tent. Bouquets of sunflowers adorned the fence surrounding the pond.

The wedding was magical.

The bride arrived in a Cinderella carriage and was whisked away to the reception venue on her uncle’s helicopter.

The bride had a vision that I couldn’t see until I looked with fresh eyes. My image of the pond was made new. I had a new appreciation for something that had become common to me.

Fresh eyes are what I’ll need next month when I study the Life of Moses for the third time. I’ll need to read carefully and expect to be surprised by truths that I may not have seen before or maybe haven’t considered in all lights.

I learned a lesson from the wedding at the pond: keep my eyes open to new sights, especially in old places. I’ll be looking for new sights with Moses.