Wednesday, December 16, 2009

'Tis the Season


My first Christmas wish every year is for peace on earth. It would be nice to see it in my lifetime. Until then, let's all enjoy our blessings: family, good friends, Christmas trees, cats, dogs, and other animals, good food, steady employment, a roof over our heads, parties, and anything else we might want to celebrate.

Good wishes to everybody, no matter what your December/winter solstice beliefs may be.

Marie

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Writers and Knitters, Part 2

Writers and knitters have something else in common: Sometimes they're the same people!

Harriette, my writing teacher in Athens, just turned 90 (!) and her students threw her a birthday party. Richard and I went to the party this past weekend. Harriette's wish was for a party along the lines of the class party that is held at the end of each quarter, i.e. a potluck. Since Richard and I couldn't think of anything we could keep well on a 200-mile trip, we stopped at a Publix in Athens and bought cheese, crackers, bagel chips, and hummus. Our class parties were always true potlucks, no organizing involved. Harriette said even if everybody brought dessert, that was all right. Harriette is a vegetarian and there were a number of meatless dishes at the party, including one very tasty lasagna.

We all filled our plates and found places to sit. Richard and I sat in a couple of very comfortable chairs near the fireplace and our friend Diane (who was on Jeopardy! twice) sat with us. I had seen on her Facebook page that one of Diane's interests is knitting. She directed the Harriette Austin Writers Conference several years ago and it was so stressful (but she did a wonderful job) she decided she needed something relaxing to do, so she took up knitting. She brought her current project with her, a pair of worsted-weight socks which she was knitting on the tiniest circular needle I have ever seen. It was a 9-inch circular. She got the needles from Hiya Hiya. Diane let me knit a little on her sock and it was a little awkward at first but I could get the hang of it.

On the way into Athens, we stopped at Main Street Yarns and Fibers in Watkinsville, where I dropped $54+ on five hanks of wool. Three of the hanks are 100% merino and the other two are wool and silk. The nice people at Main Street Yarns also wind your hanks into balls for you. (Richard was very accomodating, but he had an ulterior motive: he wanted to go to a beer store he had discovered in Five Points in Athens. So he wandered around the yarn store and fondled yarn, and then at the beer store I wandered around and looked for Kahlua and Plymouth gin and Laphroaig scotch. I found some Kahlua Mocha. Yum.)

At the party I discovered that Judy also knits. Judy and her husband Takis are published authors, their latest is Bitter Tide, writen under the joint pseudonym of Ann Stamos. You can find them on Amazon. While we were eating and Diane and I were talking knitting, Dana joined the conversation and darned if she isn't a knitter as well. Priscilla was sitting next to Dana, wearing a very pretty sweater, and I asked if she had knitted it. She said no, that she didn't know how to knit, so I told her about Main Street Yarns and how she could probably find someone to teach her through them. I may have convinced another writer to join the knitting community.

Harriette found herself a comfy chair and sat for the whole party (hey, she's 90!). Everybody wanted to talk to her, especially her current students. I finally got my opportunity to sit down with her and chat. We were talking about Diane's knitting and I found out that Harriette knits! She told me about making a pair of socks for her boyfriend in college. He was very specific about what he wanted in socks, so she made them the way he wanted. Afterwards she had occasion to look in his closet for something and she saw her hard work wadded up and tossed onto the floor. She never knit him another pair of socks (although she did marry him).

It was delightful finding out that so many of my fellow Harriette students are also knitters. That just gives us even more to talk about on those rare occasions when we get together.

My sock yarn scarf is growing steadily. When I finish and block it, it will be very nice.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Writers and Knitters

Writers and knitters have something in common: they are very generous in spirit.

When we lived in Athens, I was sort of a permanent member of a mystery-writing class. We lived there for six years and I attended every quarter. I loved it. One of the best things I learned was that experienced writers very much want newbies to succeed. One of the customs of the class was that each person could read his or her own work aloud in class and get critiques and suggestions from the other members. This terrified me at first and it took about four weeks to work up the nerve to read my stuff, but when I did everyone in class was very effusive with their positive comments. I was elated, and encouraged to read more often. Pretty soon it got to where you couldn't shut me up.

The Harriette Austin Writers Conference is held in Athens every year. Professional writers, agents, and editors come and meet and greet the attendees. Attendees have an opportunity to have a sample of their work read and evaluated by a professional, and quite a few conference-goers have now been published (I'm not among them, unless you count this blog; but that's another story altogether). The professionals are very generous with their time and listen with real interest to the wannabes.

Knitters are like that as well. This past Saturday I went to Cordele, GA, with my friend Theresa and two other women to a meeting of the Purlin' Peaches, a group organized on Ravelry. We met at a truck stop with an attached Arby's restaurant. We commandeered a couple of tables in Arby's and commenced to knitting. People stared at us, but we kept on knitting.

We had a show & tell. Nicole was there with her three-month-old son, Simon. What a cutie! She was making a pumpkin hat for Simon. Kathy was making a yoga wrap, one of the most sophisticated and feminine garments I've ever seen. It is off-white with a leaf border. Very pretty. Kathy brought along a baby blanket she'd made for Simon. Adanya, a very charming Mexican woman, was crocheting hats -- without a pattern. She just started in the middle and zipped right along. She showed us several she had made for her young daughter, and they were adorable. Theresa, bless her heart, usually spends most of the time talking, but she did show us some socks she'd made and a ball of hand-dyed wool which she gave to Nicole, as it was dyed in her school colors. Violet was working on a crocheted pink snake. It was for her daughter. She was crocheting it as a tube and stuffing it as she went along. Hazel, a prison nurse, was knitting away on the sleeves (two at a time) of a silky cotton sweater. Suzi showed off a beautiful green triangular scarf that had silver threads in it. Li didn't knit because she couldn't stay, but she was wearing a sweater vest that she had made. She's very slim and the vest looked great on her. I was knitting on a sock-yarn scarf. Nicole asked me what pattern I was using and I had to confess that I was making it up. I started out doing two by two ribbing; I did that for about an inch and then I switched to garter stitch. When I get to the end, I will put another inch of ribbing. (See picture below.)


I'm knitting on my Harmony laminated wood needles (from KnitPicks) in size 4. My wonderful husband bought me a whole set of the Harmony straight needles for Christmas last year. I may never knit with metal needles again. I got my sock yarn at Main Street Yarns and Fibers in Watkinsville, GA. Wonderful store.

The women of Purlin' Peaches treat me as if I am as accomplished at knitting as they are, which I am not. They are all that generous, and I'm sure if I have a question of any kind, they will be just as generous at helping me.

An Aside

After knitting for a while and drinking a diet Coke, I needed to go to the restroom. So, I inconvenienced Hazel (our table was against one wall) to get out (she was very accomodating) and went looking for the facilities. When I got to the convenience-store side of the establishment, I saw a sign in the familiar blue & white so I went that way. I was led down a hallway with numerous doors, all numbered, all locked, and all with "vacant" signs beside the doors. I tried a few door handles to no avail. I was confused. Did I need to go ask the cashier for a key to go to the bathroom? That's not very convenient. I stepped outside the hallway to double-check the blue & white sign, and saw that it really said "showers!!" I was trying to get into the truckers' showers! I looked around and spotted the real restroom sign and finally accomplished what I'd set out to do. If I had been younger, I would have been mortified at my mistake, but at my age? Who cares? It was a good story when I got back to the table. Theresa said she was putting it on Facebook (but she didn't).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Yet Another Five Things List

Today's five things are the the last things I did, divided up into categories. I can't tell from the FB prompt if I should list five things in each category or if the five categories are the five things. Oh, what the heck, I'll just do it my way.

1. The last five things I've EATEN: (1) A hot ham & cheese sandwich (ham, provolone, lettuce, tomato, mayo, & Italian dressing); (2) A bag of Miss Vickie's Simply Sea Salt potato chips; (3) Frosted Mini-Wheats, Cinnamon Streusel flavor, with skim milk; (4) A blueberry muffin, made by Richard; and (5) A char-grilled chicken sandwich from Chick-Fil-A (chicken, whole-wheat bun, lettuce, tomato, pickles, & mayo). (Did anybody see any real veggies in that list???)

2. The last five things I've DRUNK: (1) Unsweetened iced tea; (2) Diet Coke; (3) Milk; (4) Water; and (5) Caffeine-free Diet Coke. (Sorry, no mojitos, gin & tonics, or fuzzy navels; I'm a boring drinker)

3. The last five things I've LISTENED TO: [These are all from the same CD: Greatest Hits by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band] (1) "Roll Me Away" (at top volume, of course); (2) "You'll Accomp'ny Me"; (3) "Hollywood Nights"; (4) "Old Time Rock & Roll" (also at top volume); and (5) "We've Got Tonight." (I do love Bob Seger. I went to one of his concerts when I was living in Charleston, and it was the absolute best concert I've ever been to.)

4. The last five things I've WATCHED: (1) The road on the way to work (it didn't do anything special; I just wanted you to know I try to be a conscientious driver); (2) A video of a cat climbing a policeman, on I Can Has Cheezburger?; (3) The Weather Channel; (4) Ask Food Network; and (5) My computer crash (I clicked on something I shouldn't have and infected my computer with a virus. It got fixed without losing anything, and I got warned, "Don't do that any more!")

5. The last five things I've BOUGHT: (1) Well, lunch today; (2) Groceries last night (OK, Richard actually pays for the groceries, but I do contribute toward the household expenses); (3) A sweater vest from L.L. Bean; (4) A book, The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White (for those of you not familiar with Charleston, "Legare" is pronounced "Legree"); and (5) Two Christmas gifts. (And a partridge in a pear treeeeee.....)

Stay tuned. I have more "5 things..." Later, friends.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Roarin' Bill

Carlton H. Griffin

On January 24, 1944, my father was on a B-17, named Roarin' Bill, which was brought down near Glabais, Belgium, while on a mission to Eschweiler. Of the ten crew members, six were taken as prisoners of war by the Germans, my father among them. Three others of the crew managed to escape and worked for a while with the Belgian underground. The pilot was killed and went down with the plane.

My father's parachute took him to a Belgian farmer's field where he hit the only boulder around. This was unfortunate in more ways than one. It left him with injuries that would plague him for the rest of his life. It also meant that the farmer and his family did not have the resources to take care of him and nurse him back to health, so they were forced to turn him over to the Germans. The Germans took him to a POW hospital (I don't know where) where he was cared for with compassion. Daddy drew a distinction between Germans and Nazis. He said the Germans at the hospital were very nice to him. (He was fortunate; some of the other five POWs wound up in concentration camps.) He felt that if he had been turned over to the Nazis, his POW ex
perience would not have been so pleasant -- if you can call being a POW pleasant.

Patricia Ann (Patti) Moore

Before Daddy went off to England, he met my mother in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He was this cocky Air Corps radio man, barely out of his teens, and Mama worked at a war plant. I don't know where they met, but he showed up for their first date drunk and unshaven. If I'd been my mother, I would have told him to take a hike and slammed the door in his face, but she was apparently more tolerant.

During the late summer of 1944, the American Red Cross managed to get Daddy released from the POW hospital and sent home. He went into a Veterans' Administration hospital in Atlanta. Mama took a bus from South Dakota to Georgia when Daddy got home. She, naturally, stayed with Daddy's family on the farm.
My mother, who was used to crawling out of bed in the morning and choking down a cup of black coffee and a piece of dry toast, was treated to a Southern farm breakfast of epic proportions on her first day in the South. It consisted of, among other things, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and there were probably some eggs, ham, and/or bacon thrown in there for good measure. When asked if she wanted some milk, she readily accepted. When she took a big swallow, she discovered it was buttermilk, which she had never tasted. Nobody told her that on the farm there is milk and then there is sweet milk. This was my mother's introduction to the South. She survived and became as Southern as the rest of the family.

In October of that year Daddy got a weekend furlough from the hospital so that he and Mama could get married. Mama and Daddy got married and had my older sister and me. They were married until April 1993, when my mother died just about 18 months shy of their 50th wedding anniversary.


They lived in South Carolina (how and why the family moved from Georgia is unknown to me, but most of the clan moved) all the rest of their lives. When I graduated from library school at the University of Washington in Seattle, my parents and my sister came out to Washington, met some of my friends, attended graduation, and then we all drove back across the country.


Within a year after that, my father got an envelope postmarked "Seattle" but with no name or return address, nothing to identify the sender. Inside, it had a little clipping from a newsletter for former WWII POWs. The clipping was an ad, looking for members of the crew of the
Roarin' Bill for a reunion. Daddy contacted the person who placed the ad, one of his old crew members. They met in Wilmore, Pennsylvania, at the home of one of the former POWs who had been in a concentration camp. Mama and Daddy both went and had a very good and meaningful time. His crew buddies were able to fill in some of the gaps for Daddy because he did not remember anything that happened until he woke up in the POW hospital.

When Daddy died in 2000, he was buried with military honors, folded flag, "Taps" and all.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Silence of the Grave

Silence of the Grave is the latest book I've read. It's the second in Arnaldur Indridason's Icelandic mysteries (following Jar City). Silence of the Grave is even better than Jar City, and I didn't think that was possible.

There are two storylines in this novel, and of course they eventually converge, but getting there is what keeps you turning pages. The first story takes place in the late 1930s/early 1940s, and the other is set in the present day. A skeleton is found buried near a new residential development in Reykjavik. Because it's buried in the dirt, with no coffin, an archaeologist is called in to help Inspector Erlendur and his co-workers uncover the body. While the archaeologist is painstakingly unearthing the skeleton, Erlendur goes about his investigation. The story shifts back and forth from the '40s to the present day.

The earlier story involves an abusive husband and father. It was so well written (and translated) that it was hard to read in places, but I toughed it out and I'm glad I did. At one point, I had to put the book down and go to another room. It happened to be the kitchen, where Richard was cooking dinner. I told him about the story, and I also told him he'd better be nice to me as I was ready to stab him in his sleep. That's how the story affected me. (I'm a great audience when it comes to reading.)

In the present-day story, Erlendur gets a cryptic phone call from his difficult, angry, drug-addicted, and pregnant daughter, Eva Lind. She says, "Dad. Help me," and then the call is cut off. He searches through the seamier parts of Reykjavik for her and finally finds her on the ground, unconscious and bleeding. He gets her to a hospital where she loses the baby and slips into a coma. The doctors tell him that he should talk to her, and while he finds little to say at first, he finally begins to tell her about the investigation and about his early life. He also talks about why he left her mother when Eva Lind was so young. It's Arnaldur's creative way to tell us lots about Erlendur.

The storylines finally come together and Erlendur finds out whose skeleton is buried in the dirt. During the investigation, the clues seem to lead in two completely different directions, and you don't know until the end whodunit.

Silence of the Grave is one of those novels that make me glad I learned to read. The story is compelling and the ending is satisfying. I no longer want to stab Richard in his sleep.

The next novel in the series is Voices. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Another Five Things...

Today's 5 things are "Greatest Cereals of All Time." I can think of at least six. We'll see how this goes.

1. Rice Krispies. When I was five years old I was in the hospital (at Christmas (!) for heaven's sake!). I kept asking when I could go home (I was afraid Santa Claus would not be able to find me) and the damned doctor kept saying, "Well, maybe you can go home tomorrow." I swear he said that for the whole week. Anyway... one day the doctor asked me if I wanted anything, and I said, "Rice Krispies." Later that day I got a whole box of cereal. I was one happy child. I had my favorite cereal and Santa Claus did find me. Another reason Rice Krispies are so great: Rice Krispies Treats. Yummy.

2. Cream of Wheat. My mother used to fix this on cold mornings. It's a childhood favorite that I still eat to this day. I put butter and just the right amount of sugar and it tastes like warm, buttery shortbread.

3. Oatmeal. I use only the old-fashioned oats, none of this instant gruel. This is another cold-weather treat. Our normally unsociable cat, Bennis, likes to lick my bowl when I'm through with my oatmeal. I usually leave her a few little bites.

4. Frosted Mini Wheats, Maple and Brown Sugar. I eat this cereal every weekday morning. I like it; I don't have to think about it in my near-somnambulistic early-morning state; it has a good amount of fiber; and it usually keeps me full until lunchtime.

5. Granola. I love this mixed with vanilla yogurt. It's crunchy and sweet and tart, all at the same time.

6. Grits. Grits is served as a side dish, although technically it is a cereal. ("Grits" is singular.) In 1980, I went to visit my Aunt Dorothy in Spokane, WA. That's the year that Mt. St. Helens blew her top. Anyway, Aunt Dorothy knew I liked grits, so she went shopping for some. She looked all over Spokane, and finally found it in an international food store. (I guess the folks in Spokane think the South is another country.) She served it in a bowl, expecting me to put sugar and milk on it, so I had to explain to her about grits being a side dish. (Oh, yes, GRITS is also an initialism for Girls Raised In The South. That's me!)

I love carbs.

Monday, October 19, 2009

38 Degrees This Morning

Now 38 degrees may not seem very cold to some people, but down here in south Georgia, it is. It has been cooling off gradually for a couple of weeks, but it wasn't so long ago that it was in the 90s.

We had rain for a few days at the end of this past week; in fact, it was pouring when I got to work Friday morning. But Saturday was a beautiful day, with cool temperatures and that distinctive bright blue sky you see in October.

I got out my favorite sweatshirt and layered it over a tank top and a long sleeved t-shirt. Our cat, Lila, loves that sweatshirt. She gets in my lap and kneads her paws in the inside of my left elbow, and purrs like a fool, then she puts her head down and takes a cat nap. Lila also loves me more in cool weather. She spent every possible moment in my lap this weekend, seeking my body warmth.

I love cool/cold weather. I must have inherited some of that thick northern blood from my mother. I like bundling up in my pajamas, bathrobe, and fuzzy slippers and sitting in the recliner with a cat in my lap. I also like evenings when we can light a fire in the fireplace. The cats desert my lap for the space near the hearth. I console myself with a cup of rich hot chocolate.

As much as I like cold weather, I don't want to move out of the South to anyplace where it snows like crazy every winter. When we lived in north Georgia, we got snow a couple of times a year, and an occasional ice storm; that was enough for me. Although it occasionally gets down into the 20s or teens in the winter, it doesn't last very long. I have warm clothes and outerwear, so I can take it. And as long as there is air conditioning, I can deal with summertime temperatures in the 90s with heat indexes in the 100s.

I hear El Nino is affecting our weather, giving us these unseasonably cool temperatures this week. It's going to warm up to the high 70s near the end of the week. Oh, well.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Books Set In Charleston

I've recently read two books set in Charleston, SC, one of the loveliest cities in the country. I went to college in Charleston (GO Cougars!) and wound up staying there for fifteen years. I made some good friends and had a good time.

The first book is The House on Tradd Street, by Karen White. It's a ghost story/mystery/love story. Our heroine, Melanie Middleton, a type-A real estate agent, inherits the house on Tradd Street from a colleague of her grandfather. The old man has no relatives of his own. Melanie doesn't like getting attached to anything. She lives in a condo with white walls and sparse furnishings. The old man stipulated in his will that she had to live in his house for a year before she could sell it, because that's exactly what she had intended to do when she heard she was the benificiary of his will. In order to sell the house Melanie had to first renovate it. Of course she grows to love it, but that's not the crux of the story. Enter Jack Trenholm, a well-known writer of true-crime mysteries. There was a story that the old man's mother had run off with a known gangster and seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. Jack wants to help her renovate the house and research the story of the missing couple. Melanie doesn't fully trust him because she really doesn't trust anybody. She's also a bit of a misanthrope. Oh, yes, the ghosts: Melanie can see ghosts and the house seems to have two of them, one benevolent and the other decidedly evil. She has to fight the evil ghost and wonder about the nice one. She knows there is a reason why she was chosen as beneficiary of the will, and of course she spends most of the story trying to figure out why. I'm not telling this as eloquently as I'd like, but it was a good story, a little different from what I usually read, and it had a very satisfying ending. I really enjoyed it.

The other book with a Charleston setting is South of Broad, by Pat Conroy. It's the story of Leo King and his group of friends. They all met in high school and remained friends decades later. The characters in this book include Leo and his parents, a loving father and a difficult to love mother; a set of extremely talented, artistic twins and their drunken mother; three orphans; a black football player (who later becomes chief of police); several Charleston blue-bloods and their extremely snobbish parents; and one very scary sociopathic pedophile. There are other characters, but I don't want to give anything away. You must read this book. You don't even have to know anything about Charleston to enjoy it. Conroy uses many real names of people (he probably knows these people personally) and places and changes others. From his beautiful writing you get a sense of the loveliness of Charleston. Leo tells the story and right away you find out that he, at nine years old, was the one to find his older brother in the bathtub with his wrists and throat slit. Leo has spent time in a mental institution, and when the story opens he is doing community service for having been caught at a party with a large amount of cocaine in his pocket. Someone else put it there, but Leo never told the police who it was. Leo is rebuilding his life. He's seventeen and has a strong character, so he's doing well with his rehabilitation. He also inherits a house on Tradd Street, but Leo is thrilled about it, unlike Melanie in The House on Tradd Street. (I don't think there was any plagiarism going on with either of these two books, just coincidence.) The story covers the years from 1969, when Leo and his friends were in high school, to the early 1990s, after Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston. There is a very harrowing description of the night Hugo hit and of the aftermath of the storm. (For anyone who is wondering, Charleston recovered at least physically if not emotionally from the hurricane's mess.) At one point in the story, the friends all go to San Francisco to find and rescue one of the twins, who is suffering from AIDS. My friend Theresa, who hasn't finished the book yet, thought it seemed a bit far-fetched in places, but it's FICTION people! Suspend your disbelief and just enjoy it. My description, and the one on the flap of the book jacket, do not do justice to this stunning book. I would recommend it to anyone.

Karen White has a sequel to The House on Tradd Street, which I have already placed on my wish list. I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel to South of Broad, but I'm not sure Pat Conroy writes anything but stand-alone novels.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Five Things... and Grandpa

Today's 5 things are "Five people you DO NOT want to see standing at the foot of your bed."

1. The crew from 60 Minutes.

2. A policeman.

3. An undertaker.

4. A strange figure in a black hooded robe with no face.

5. A doctor with a mournful look on his/her face.


A couple of people I wouldn't mind seeing at the foot of my bed are my mother and my maternal grandfather.

My mother died in 1993, and in 1995, when I was making my wedding dress I had the absolutely certain feeling that she was telling me she approved of my fabric and pattern choice. She was right: it was a lovely pattern and beautiful fabric. So, if she wants to show up and tell me I'm doing a good job (on whatever), I'll take it.

I was 12 years old the last time I saw my grandfather (pictured below). I was sick with the flu and my grandparents, who had been living next door to us, decided they wanted to go back to South Dakota. (I'm sure those two events were not related.)

This is my grandfather in 1903, when he was 24. Is he not a handsome fellow?

After Grandpa died in 1965, my mother told me that he'd wished he could be around to see me grown up because he thought I was going to turn out to be a neat person ("neat" was my mother's word; I don't know exactly what Grandpa said). It's one of the greatest compliments I ever got. If Grandpa wants to stand at the foot of my bed and tell me whether or not I fulfilled his expectations it's all right with me.

Grandpa built houses and other buildings. He also designed them. During one of my grandparents' moves to South Carolina, he built the house that I grew up in. He was in his 70s and had no power tools. He built that house mostly by himself and it was well-constructed and true. He was a little annoyed when he discovered that one wall was off by an eighth of an inch. My sister now lives in the house.

During the Depression, Grandpa was an itinerant carpenter and moved the family from one place to another throughout the midwest and northwest. They finally settled in South Dakota and that's where he died. The main thing that bothers me about my grandparents' deaths is that Grandpa is buried in South Dakota and Grandma is buried in South Carolina. Couples who have loved each other for as long as they did should get to lie at their eternal rest together, side by side.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday Book Review

I should strive to keep an open mind. I judged a book by its cover. Literally.

My friend Theresa gave me a copy of Barbara Bretton's Casting Spells. I picked it up last week and on the cover is a basket of knitting and a black cat.

"This is going to be fluff," I thought.

I read the first two pages.

"OK, so it has some humor. I'll give it another page or two."

Well, I kept on turning pages and reading. And it turned out that I really enjoyed it. It takes place in a tiny Vermont town and our heroine is the daughter of a sorceress and a human. In fact, the place is populated by fairies, trolls, werewolves, vampires, etc. Our heroine, Chloe Hobbs, is the only person in town with no magical powers. Three hundred years earlier, Chloe's ancestor, Aerynn, cast a spell over the town to protect it from meddling outsiders. The spell does not keep out anyone, especially tourists, but humans (except for Chloe) think all the residents are normal, everyday people, although they're all quite good-looking. The spell is weakening and as Aerynn's only descendant, Chloe is the one who needs to strengthen it. But this cannot happen until she comes into her powers, and that won't happen until she falls in love, so all the townspeople keep trying to fix her up with their friends and relatives. A murder happens and a possible love interest comes to town. Everybody becomes rather desperate for Chloe to realize her powers because an evil fairy is threatening to take over, which will destroy the town. There are several knock-down-drag-out fights between supernatural beings, mostly in Chloe's house and knitting shop. The action gets very intense and the solution to all the problems, while not exactly predictable, is expected. It was good reading. I've put the sequel, Laced with Magic, on my wish list.

My other latest book, though not involving the supernatural, was nonetheless exciting. It was Even Money, by Dick Francis and his son Felix Francis. The main character, Ned Talbot, is a self-employed bookie with a bipolar wife and a computer-whiz assistant. The self-employed bookies have to compete with the big betting conglomerates, who keep trying to take over the small guys' businesses. Ned's father, who Ned thought died 37 years earlier, shows up one day and introduces himself, then less than hour later he's stabbed by a very efficient killer. Ned has to solve his father's murder, deal with his wife and assistant, and try to outwit the big betting houses. I learned a little about the bookmaking business, although I'm hopeless when it comes to understanding just how betting and odds work (even though I bought The Complete Idiots's Pocket Guide to Betting on the Horses). The climax of the book was classic Francis, and included an elaborate plan for finding the killer and getting the big boys off his back. It was, as usual, exhilirating. I love Dick Francis.

I'm currently reading Fire Sale by Sara Paretsky. She really can write a gritty, hard-boiled mystery. I'll let you know about that one when I finish it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Possible New Addition To The Household

We may be getting a new cat.

This is Bagheera, a beautiful seal-point Siamese, who's just as sweet as pie.

She currently lives with my niece, Katie, who needs to find another home for her. Since I have met this lovely cat, I immediately volunteered. Richard was a little shocked at this spur-of-the-moment action on my part, but, being the big-hearted person he is when it comes to animals, he's pretty much on board with it now. We discussed it before the final acceptance was sent to Katie, and he left the decision up to me, knowing that I would say yes.

Bagheera was saved from being euthanized in an Alabama animal shelter by the Atlanta Siamese and Persian Rescue, and then Katie got her. She was less than 6 months old when she was snatched from the jaws of man-made death and Katie has had her about 5 years now, so she's not quite 6 years old.

Keep good thoughts for us and for Bagheera that things work out and she is able to come live with us.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

50th Post

This is my 50th blog post. I didn't know I had that much to say. Some people reading my blog may still be unconvinced. But I don't care; I'm having fun.

On Facebook, I ran across some prompts for five things to list. I copied down some of them (the rest didn't interest me), and I will do an occasional list. Today's list is "5 things I don't eat":

1. Chitlins, or more correctly, chitterlings. Who in their right mind would eat fried pig intestines? My favorite cuisine is fried food, but I have to draw the line somewhere. In Salley, SC, they hold the annual Chitlin Strut, where they celebrate (!) chitlins. My parents went one year. My mother nearly gagged on the smell, but Daddy stood in a very long line to sample the disgusting things. I think Daddy, being a Child of the South, just had to say that he had tried them. I shudder at the thought.

2. Collard greens. I have never taken to large, leafy greens. I don't know why, as they usually include grease and salt in the cooking. My mother used to try to get me to eat spinach and turnip greens (not at the same time) , but they usually came from a can and were downright disgusting. I don't remember ever having collard greens at any family gathering when I was growing up, but my in-laws love them. They serve them frequently.

3. Prairie oysters. Buffalo testicles. Need I say more?

4. Licorice. I don't like licorice or anything resembling that flavor, like root beer, fennel, anise, tarragon. I don't even like to be near anybody who is eating licorice. The smell on their breath offends me.

5. Goat eyeballs. I read somewhere that goat eyeballs were a delicacy in some Middle Eastern countries, and if you were offered them, you ran the risk of insulting your host if you declined. I think that's a bunch of horse manure. If a foreigner came to my house I would not insist he eat anything he found objectionable, and I would not be insulted.

6. Boiled peanuts. (OK, so I have six things.) Most Southerners love these things, but I find them slimy and flavorless, even though they are cooked with a lot of salt. Even some non-Southerners have acquired a taste for boiled peanuts.

I'd rather have Cheetos.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thursday Book Review

I finished reading T is for Trespass, by Sue Grafton. As usual for Sue Grafton, it was a fantastic story. Our villain was a woman who took home-nursing jobs with elderly people and while caring for them, she sold off their valuables, got control of their bank accounts, and drained them dry. She kept them drugged so they couldn't get help from outside, and the elderly patients eventually died, earlier than God had intended. She made the mistake of taking a job with Kinsey Millhone's neighbor, Gus. Kinsey, a private investigator, was hired to do a cursory background check, but one of the villain's habits was assuming other people's identities. She did a very thorough job of it so that on paper, she was clean. She also knew how to use the legal system to her own advantage, and she thwarted Kinsey at almost every turn, including taking out a restraining order on her. This villain was one scary individual, not to mention downright evil. Grafton did a good job of throwing in plot twists so you had to keep turning pages. I really liked this novel.

Steve Hockensmith's On the Wrong Track is the second in his series of "Holmes on the Range" mysteries. Gustav and Otto Amlingmeyer are at it again, this time on a train from Ogden, UT, to San Francisco. They've been hired by the Southern Pacific Railway to do some detectivin' into why the Give 'em Hell gang are so successful at robbing the train so often. There is quite a cast of characters. Gustav ("Old Red," the illiterate brother) gets motion sickness on trains, so he has that to deal with in addition to his deducifyin'. Otto ("Big Red," the one who can read) is the narrator of the story. The dialogue is funny, and the scene in the men's room with the snake is priceless. I damn near had a laughing fit. I think this book is even funnier than the first one, Holmes on the Range. I already have the next one in the series, The Black Dove, on my Amazon wish list.

I thought this was going to be one of those random posts, but it turned out to be a book review.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Blossom Was A Good Old Dog


Blossom was not her real name, but by the time we found out her real name, we were so used to calling her Blossom we couldn't switch.

She showed up in our driveway on the first day we were house-shopping. Blossom was a friendly dog. She came wagging her tail and practically smiling, so naturally Richard petted her and gave her a good back-scratching. He made a friend for life. She was there on the day we moved in, and nearly every day after that for years.


On days when Richard was working in his woodshop, she would hang out on the steps of the shop. If Richard was cooking a couple of pork butts on the smoker, Blossom would be there. She helped him garden, and she helped him build our small fish pond. On occasion, Blossom would take a dip in the pond. It freaked out the fish, but Blossom was happy.


Blossom toured the neighborhood a lot. Many people fed her, including us, and she started gaining weight. At one time we didn't see her for about a week and then a flyer showed up in all the neighborhood mailboxes telling us that she was diabetic and please don't feed her any more treats. She went on a strict diet and got insulin shots, but then she started developing the cataracts that most diabetic dogs get. She usually found her way to our house (we live just two doors away) and we'd find her snoozing in the garage or on the front porch. She stopped wandering around the neighborhood so much. Since she was going blind, we would always speak to her first so that she would recognize our voices and not be afraid of us. Once we spoke, her tail would start wagging. We could tell she was getting old and tired.


Blossom passed away last week. She was a good old dog.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Reading Frenzy Continues...

Well, after I finished NOT reading The First Patient, I picked up Irish Tiger by Andrew M. Greeley. I had never read one of Father Greeley's books before, so I thought I'd give it a shot. It turned out to be quite good. Parts of it are a little far-fetched, but if you just go along with it, you'll like it. Irish Tiger is one of Greeley's Nuala Anne McGrail novels. Nuala Anne is known for being able to solve problems and the couple with the problem comes to her. The couple's biggest problem seems to be his grown daughters, who have taken a serious dislike to her, even before they met her. In a mystery, you know that can't be the extent of it. Before the story ends, we have the mob, terrorists, relatives, and various "colleagues" of both members of the couple involved. Parts of the novel are funny, parts are serious, and overall it was a good read.

My next reading adventure was Death's Half Acre by Margaret Maron. Maron is one of my all-time favorite mystery authors. The main character is Judge Deborah Knott. This story has an arrogant preacher, Deborah's former-bootlegger-father Kezzie, a woman from a disadvantaged background who made good but is still insecure, and various others. The woman from the disadvantaged background is chair of the county Board of Commissioners and tends to blackmail people to get them to vote her way on county business. This woman is also our murder victim. The solution to the murder hinges on one very-hard-to-find flash drive. The story is very exciting, the murderer was a surprise (to me) but it was logical, and Deborah's father Kezzie also solved a county problem. I enjoyed it tremendously.

I can't say enough good things about Last Light Over Carolina by Mary Alice Monroe. It's a mainstream novel and it is an excellent story, beautifully told. Wow! Wow! WOW!! Bud Morrison, a shrimper, and his wife Carolina, a schoolteacher, have been married for over 30 years. As expected, things have cooled a bit for them. Both of them need to be forgiven for things they did. The story takes place on September 21, 2008, the 19th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo. Bud goes out as usual on his shrimp boat, except his crew, Pee Dee, oversleeps, so Bud goes out alone. Throughout the novel, Bud and Carolina's story is told via flashbacks. Early in the book Bud gets his hand caught in the winch and can't call for help. A storm comes up and Carolina and the people of McClellanville, SC, start to get concerned, so an all-out search for Bud is begun. The story is beautiful; the end is exciting, but also touching. I found myself tearing up more than once. Please read this book. It's wonderful.

I am currently engrossed in T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton. I've always enjoyed the Kinsey Millhone books and this one is shaping up to be just as good as previous ones in the series.

I hope this reading frenzy continues for a while. I'm enjoying it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reading Frenzy

I've been on a short reading frenzy. The book I picked up after finishing Always Looking Up was Robert B. Parker's Night and Day. It's one of his Jesse Stone novels. As usual, I really enjoyed it. Also, as usual, I zipped right through it. Parker does not write cumbersome novels. They're quick reads but he never leaves anything out. You get a well-told, engrossing story. This one involved a frustrated school administrator, swingers, a peeping tom, an abusive husband and father, and several children. The novel was not a murder mystery, but there was plenty of mystery for Jesse to unravel.

Compared to Night and Day, Damage Control, by J.A. Jance, had bodies dropping like flies. Jance's books are page turners, though denser than Parker's. I started reading Damage Control on Saturday and finished it up early Monday morning. This was one of Jance's Joanna Brady series. Brady is the sheriff of Cochise County in Arizona. Throughout the whole series, we get to know Joanna and her friends and family. A few threads were tied up in this novel, but several others started. I'm hoping subsequent books will tie up some of them and continue with others. Chapter 1 of Damage Control opens with an elderly couple having a picnic and then driving off a cliff to their deaths. They leave a suicide note, but Joanna later hears something that makes her think murder. Unraveling that one takes most of the book and our bad guy turns out to be more of a stinker than your usual run-of-the-mill killer.

In an unusual turn of events, for me anyway, I picked up a book that I quickly decided not to read. It is The First Patient by Michael Palmer. The book was given a glowing review by Bill Clinton and one of Palmer's previous books was on the NY Times bestseller list. I was expecting great things, especially after I read the first page and found it to be a real grabber. But then I turned the page and the writing took a precipitous nose dive into thinly-disguised exposition. I'm surprised his editor didn't make him do a re-write. It was amateurish writing and I quickly lost interest. I'm sure some people might have slogged through that, but there are too many good, well-written books out there for me to waste my time on something that may or may not get better.

Now I can get back to working on my still-growing TBR pile.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tears in the Night

The title of Always Looking Up (Michael J. Fox) is, as Fox explained, a short joke (he's not quite 5'5"). The book is not a laugh a minute, but there are flashes of his humor throughout. He's divided it into four sections: work, politics, faith, and family. We learn about his trials with Parkinson's disease, which was very enlightening for me. The sub-title of the book is The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist and it is well-named. Always Looking Up covers the past ten years of his life and I enjoyed reading it so much I may go back and read his first book, Lucky Man.

At about 2:00 in the morning last Saturday, I woke up -- and lay there awake for another hour. At 3:00 I decided to get up and do something. I knew I wasn't getting back to sleep any time soon. I put on my bathrobe, slippers, and glasses, fixed myself a glass of ice water, and sat down in the recliner. I put the footrest up, thinking maybe I could get some more sleep, but that was not to be. I picked up Always Looking Up and finished the section on politics, then went into the section on faith. Near the end of that section, he told about his sister's death and how he and his family said goodbye. I found myself reaching for more than one tissue. They had the doctor turn off Karen's respirator and as she passed away, the family sang her favorite song. It was gently humorous but also very touching, and there I was crying like it was a member of my own family. But I'm like that: I could go to a stranger's funeral and I'd be the one weeping and sniffling the loudest.

Because it was my birthday weekend, I will tell you about it, as I don't want to end this post on a sad note. On Friday night, Richard and I went to the Tarragon Grill in Moultrie, GA. The place was packed (it only has about fifteen tables, if that many) but we were smart: we made reservations. I had the fettuccine Alfredo with grilled shrimp; Richard had the huge serving of lasagna. For dessert, we shared a fat chocolate-chip brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. To say we were stuffed would be an understatement. I had iced tea with my meal and it was so weak it was, as Monty Python said, like making love in a canoe. I'd explain that, but it would involve the use of a four-letter word with -ing at the end.

On Saturday, we went to Richard's sister's house in Senoia, GA, to celebrate. It's always nice to gather with family. We had food; I got gifts. I thought I was going to get away without them singing "Happy Birthday" to me, but somebody remembered. It's a good thing they didn't put candles on the cake. It would have been like a bonfire.

Beverly (SIL) and Paul (BIL) have a new kitten, Albus. When we got there, the little darling was running around, bouncing off the walls, playing with cat toys, scratching the carpeted post. To say he was active would be putting it mildly. Then right before lunch, Albus ran out of steam and curled up on the sofa for the rest of the afternoon. He's so cute (what kitten isn't?) it was impossible not to pet him.

This was a milestone birthday for me. Paul asked how old I was and I told him I was old enough that I don't have to answer that question any more. So there.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Life's Gentle Music, etc.

Angel Oak, Johns Island, South Carolina

This
Tuesday’s Ten on Tuesday list is of ten favorite sounds.

1. Tree frogs. After it rains at our house, every tree frog in the county gathers at our little pond, all singing their little hearts out, sometimes all night long.

2. Ocean waves crashing on the beach at midnight.

3. Birds singing in the trees on a weekend morning.

4. The crack of the bat when a member of the Braves hits a home run, or better yet, a grand slam.

5. Bacon sizzling in a hot cast iron skillet.

6. The sound of a big motorcycle engine revving as it speeds off down the road.

7. Train whistles in the distance at night.

8. A friend calling my name.

9. A cat purring.

10. The wind soughing through the trees.

OK, so they're not all "gentle" sounds, but they're sounds I like.


Bitter Tide

I finished reading Bitter Tide by Ann Stamos (a.k.a Judy and Takis Iakovou). This novel takes place in New York City in 1901. In the first chapter, our suspect gets off a boat from Ireland at Ellis Island and promptly shoots her fiance, right in front of witnesses! There are some very nice, clever twists in this story which kept me turning pages all the way to the end. In the middle of the book, the sleuths, Joseph Hannegan and Rachel Bonner, become attracted to each other and then have what seems to be an insurmountable disagreement. I told Judy not to tell me how it ends, but that I was hoping Joseph and Rachel would reconnect, and Judy said, "Well, it is the first book in a series," which, of course, told me nothing. Bitter Tide is one of those books that I got so involved in that I was sorry when it ended. I must ask Judy when the next one will be coming out. Read this book. It is thoroughly researched and beautifully written.

I'm currently reading Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox. This book, too, is beautifully written. I don't know if Fox is that articulate or if he used a ghost writer, but it's very readable. Reading this book is a learning experience, about optimism, and politics, and Parkinson's disease, and friendship, and family. I'll let you know about this one when I finish it.

I don't think my to-be-read pile is ever going to get any smaller. I was at a writer's conference the weekend of July 17th and I bought three books. One of them was a copy of Bitter Tide, which I gave to my sister, but still, I have two new books added to the pile. And my birthday is coming up, and my family usually looks to my Amazon wish list for gift suggestions. Richard got a box from Amazon several days ago, so that's more to add to the TBR pile. Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I love getting books as gifts, and I love shopping in bookstores. It's probably a good thing there is no bookstore in Tifton, otherwise I'd be crushed under the pile of books. To get to a bookstore, I either have to go 50 miles south to Valdosta or 45 miles west to Albany. My situation is saving me from myself.

Y'all take care, and get back to reading your favorite books and listening to your favorite sounds.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ten Favorite Places To Eat

These are in no particular order. The pickings in Tifton are slim, unless you like chain restaurants, so I went back in my memory for some outstanding eateries.

1.
The Downtown Deli, Moultrie, GA. This is where I eat lunch every Tuesday and Thursday when Small Public Institution classes are in session. They know my name and they know what I want to eat. When I get to the counter they shout back into the kitchen, "Barbara, Ms. Marie's here!" Then Barbara gets to working on my hot ham & cheese sandwich. I also have a single-serving bag of Miss Vickie's Simply Sea Salt potato chips and unsweetened iced tea. (So, I'm a creature of habit. What of it?) I eat alone, which is probably a good thing as the sandwich is sometimes messy. I take a refill of iced tea with me back to the library and it gets me through the rest of the day.

2. DePalma's, Athens, GA. Richard and I became a fan of this place when we lived in Athens. One of our favorite meals there was the cheese and onion breadsticks (they give you enough for an entire entree), with a salad and then dessert. Another dish I liked was the spinach manicotti. Richard frequently got their lasagna.

3. Burger King, Anywhere, USA. Believe it or not (and why would you not?), every once in a while I like to have a Whopper and fries.

4. Waffle House, Anywhere, USA. Sometimes their quarter-pound hamburger and double hashbrowns just really hit the spot. Following that with a double slice of chocolate cream pie makes it an even more enjoyable dining experience.

5. Tarragon Grill, Moultrie, GA. Because it's about 27 miles from home, we sometimes go there for special occasions (like my birthday coming up soon). The restaurant is in an old farmhouse. The appetizers are good (like fried green tomatoes), and one of the entrees I like is a pasta Alfredo with shrimp. Their lasagna is good, but they give you so much it seems like it would be hard to walk to your car after eating it (I've only had a taste of it). The cheesecake with caramel sauce is yummy.

6. Santa Fe Cafe, Seattle, WA. I spent an evening there with my serials management class and professor (if you don't know what that is, then you must not be a librarian). They serve foods from New Mexico, which is slightly different from your basic Tex-Mex or south-of-the-border restaurants. Very tasty food.

7. Sir Scott's Oasis, Manhattan, MT. I spent Christmas with my Aunt Dorothy (Mama's oldest sister) one year, and her son and his wife took us there for dinner. They have seafood flown in from the west coast every day, and if I recall, I had fresh halibut. Their steaks are two inches thick and cooked just perfectly. Sir Scott's is a small restaurant carved out of part of a pool hall, so some rather unsavory-looking types came in, but nobody started any bar fights.

8. The Marketplace Restaurant, Charleston, SC. This place is no more, but it was one of the most elegant places in Charleston for dinner. My parents took me there once when I was in college, and we all enjoyed it very much. One of my classmates was a waiter there (complete with tux and black bow tie), and he arranged to get our table.

9. The Charleston Ice House, Charleston, SC. I don't think this restaurant is around any more either. (It's been over 20 years since I left Charleston). My favorite meal was a spinach salad followed by a bowl of she-crab soup laced with sherry.

10. Peking, Athens, GA. This place has the best lunch buffet I've ever had. The food is always fresh, not like some buffets where the food looks tired. Of course, Peking was always a hopping place. It's where I was first introduced to Crab Rangoon, one of my favorite Asian appetizers.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Food Memories

We were invited to an Earth Day potluck dinner last year by a friend of ours, Ms. Earth-Mother, herself. We were requested to bring something organic. Richard said there would probably be lots of nuts and twigs. The Earth Day dinner was nice, no nuts and twigs. Well, there were nuts, but no twigs. At dinner we had some cards on the table with questions about our food memories. Julie led our discussion, and it was kind of fun.


A question during dinner was to name some recipe that has been passed down through the family. I mentioned Mama’s macaroni and tomato soup. This is probably my favorite soup. I make it frequently during cold weather because it is a very warming and filling dish. Richard and I both love it. I make it with stewed tomatoes, evaporated milk, basil, salt & pepper (plenty of pepper), and a smidgen of sugar. Oh, yes, and macaroni.


Macaroni and tomato soup reminds me of other things that Mama and Grandma used to make, like cornbread, gingerbread, chili soup, oatmeal cookies, boiled dinner, baking-powder biscuits, pies, and other stuff that I can’t think of right now. Grandma (from South Dakota) lived with us for about ten years before she died, so I got to eat a lot of her cooking.


Grandma made some tasty gingerbread. I haven’t had any in a long time. Recently I asked my sister Carla if she could lay her hands on Grandma’s old brown recipe notebook. I remember something about a lemon sauce, but Carla didn’t include that when she sent me the two gingerbread recipes she found in Grandma’s recipe book. I may have to seek custody of that recipe book for a while. I think it’s my turn. No telling what I could find in there that I have forgotten about.


I used to love boiled dinner. It was meaty ham hocks, cabbage, onions, carrots, and potatoes all boiled together (hence the name). The salty ham hocks were just the right seasoning. I would mash up my potatoes and carrots with my fork and then spoon some of the liquid (pot liquor) over them. I refused to eat the cabbage (hey, I was a kid!) and onions, but I learned to love such things later in life. Boiled dinner was a very economical meal.


I think my family went through a monetary dry spell for a while because I remember eating things that I now know cost very little. One meal that I hated (!) was corned beef hash and eggs. Mama would put the hash in a cast iron skillet and make four indentations in it. In each little well, she would break an egg, and then she would bake it until the eggs were done. It wasn’t the egg I objected to, but the canned corned beef. Another miserly meal she fixed was great northern beans and bacon. Mama would put the beans into a Pyrex pie plate and then place four strips of bacon on top. She would broil that in the oven until the bacon was cooked and the beans were hot. I actually liked that meal (What’s not to like? It had bacon in it). I don’t remember what we had to accompany those meals, but I don’t think it was much. There was always sweet tea, of course, but that was cheap.


Grandma and Mama always made savory cornbread, but after I tasted sweet cornbread when I was away at graduate school, I came back home and played around with Grandma’s cornbread recipe until I got the proportions right for the sweet stuff. Sweet cornbread goes well with Southwestern and Mexican food. I sometimes make Grandma’s chili soup. It is made with tomato juice as the base, and flavored with browned ground beef, kidney beans, and chili powder. It’s very good on a cold Saturday night with either some garlic bread or some sweet cornbread. I know there are those who think sweet cornbread is an abomination and a sin against Southern food, but I prefer to think of myself as open-minded and able to enjoy both kinds of cornbread. Don’t give me and my sweet tooth a hard time.


Grandma’s oatmeal cookies were soft and sort of cake-like with plenty of raisins. I remember sitting at Grandma’s kitchen table eating warm cookies right out of the oven. They really went down well with a glass of cold milk. Every time I make them, they come out crispy (yet not over baked), but I haven’t given up trying. One of these days I will get it right.


Another favorite treat is Mama’s mincemeat-filled cookies. They are wonderful. I’ve made them many times. They’re made with a soft sugar-cookie dough and mincemeat from a jar mixed with pecans. Mama almost always had them around from Thanksgiving through Christmas. We didn’t have these during all my formative years which leads me to believe she discovered the recipe when I was a little older, probably a teenager. When I would come home at holidays, there would be one or two big Tupperware containers full of the cookies. I loved those things and they were addictive. The only way I could stop eating them was to leave town.


My Aunt Nellie (Daddy’s older sister) could make some biscuits. She had one of those old-fashioned oval wooden bread bowls. Without measuring, she would put some flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl. Then she would work in some shortening and after that would come the milk. She always put in more flour than she actually needed, and she would pull however much she needed into the mixture in the middle of the bowl. Then she would form each biscuit separately. This was all done by hand. She didn’t roll them out and cut them with a biscuit cutter. The unbaked biscuits would be lined up neatly in a large flat pan, baked, and served hot at the meal. They were always soft and tender and perfect.


I also make baking-powder biscuits, but I have to measure. Aunt Nellie’s biscuits had a cake-like texture, but mine are flakier (not that that’s any better, just different). When I make biscuits, it’s usually for breakfast on Sundays. I also mix up some softened butter and clover or Tupelo honey to spread on them. A favorite brunch meal (and I got this from Mama) is biscuits with butter and honey, accompanied by sliced cantaloupe. Sometimes when Richard and I have biscuits on Sunday we will also have bacon (how can you go wrong with bacon?).


I learned to make pie crust from Mama. She went through a phase where no matter what she did the crust came out tough. Through trial and error she finally figured out her technique, and that’s what I learned. In my early pie-making days I made a few tough crusts, but I think I have my technique down now, too. I use a recipe for the proportions but I never read the directions. Richard can attest to my pie-baking prowess. (Oh, am I bragging? Sorry.)


It seems all that food heritage was not lost on me. I paid attention and copied recipes. My mother and grandmother never hovered over me when I was in the kitchen, unless I asked for help, but I remember standing in the kitchen when Mama was cooking and watching her do things. I learned more from my family than I ever did in home economics class in high school. I think that’s how we all learn.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ten on Tuesday

This week's Ten on Tuesday is 10 Things That Turn You Off About People. Let's see how many I can come up with.

1. Bad breath. I know some people can't help it, but there are antacids and breath mints. Toothpaste is always good, too.

2. In the same vein: Body odor. Pleeeze, take a bath; use some deodorant; but, for God's sake don't try to cover it up with perfume.

3. Lying. Don't lie to my face and then later deny it. Besides, if you tell the truth, then you don't have to remember which lie was told to whom.

4. Arrogance. Just because you have a PhD in rocket science doesn't mean you are a better person than I am.

5. Regional snobbery. Don't come to my home state and tell me how backwards I am and how everybody is so much smarter where you come from. Do unto others... (I once had a guy from Indiana "pay me a compliment" by saying he was surprised to find a Southern girl with brains. I should have kicked him in the nuts.)

6. Don't talk down to me. If I don't understand what you're saying, believe me, I'll ask.

7. Poor fashion sense. I'm not the most fashion savvy person in the world, but if you're middle-aged or older and even a little saggy and wrinkled, don't wear halter tops and short-shorts. And I especially don't want to see your bare midriff. (Oh, yeah, if you need a bikini wax, don't wear a bikini.) If you're a man, for heaven's sake, don't wear Speedos.

8. People who won't let you get a word in. Hey! I have something to say, too!

9. RSVP. People who do not, when specifically asked to, are annoying.

10. Disrespecting your elders. People who have been on the earth a long time deserve our respect, if for no other reason than that they have experience you don't. (I'm using the term "been on earth a long time" loosely.)

Well, there. I did it. This is kind of a negative subject, but I tried to rant humorously.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Old Sewing Machine

It was an old sewing machine, not an antique, not passed down from one generation to another. It was just an old sewing machine.


So why was I crying as my husband and I drove to deliver it to the woman who had agreed to buy it?


I had bought a brand new Husqvarna-Viking machine as a birthday present to myself. I had been wanting a new one for several years. The old one was kind of clunky, it made uneven buttonholes, and it didn’t sew delicate fabrics very well. A new sewing machine was a good thing.


The old machine, a Signature from Montgomery Ward, was a workhorse that had never needed repair. My parents bought it for me when I was sixteen.


My grandmother criticized the first thing, an apron, I had made on my new machine. It upset me because I was only sixteen and I was so pleased with myself. To me, it was a momentous occasion, the completion of that first project, and to have my grandmother focus immediately -- and only -- on its faults was a blow. My mother soothed my bruised feelings, telling me that Grandma believed that the inside of a garment should look as good as the outside. My apron did have some raw edges on the back side of the waistband, but Grandma, didn’t you see the pretty decorative stitching I put on it? I learned from the criticism, though, and began to do better.


My floor-length senior prom dress was pink dotted Swiss, with an empire waist, a pink grosgrain ribbon sash, and puffed sleeves. I had flowers in my hair and my handsome fiancĂ© at my side. Senior prom was the night we all got to stay out as late as we wanted. After a breakfast at Howard Johnson’s, I got home around six a.m. My mother was up and getting ready to go to work. I managed to see the frown of worry slip off her face as we arrived looking tired but safe.


Not long after that I made my wedding dress – the first one, that is. It was white crepe, knee-length, and it had long sleeves. I think I made it from the same pattern as the prom dress, but I added a ruffle of lace to the scooped neckline. I was the very picture of purity. The marriage didn’t last long. I was only eighteen and far too young to be married. I gave the dress to one of my close friends, who shortened it to a scandalous length and wore it dancing.


Oh, well, not every story ends with happily ever after.


In college, I made a golden-brown wool skirt, calf-length with a center slit to the knee. I wore it with stylish brown leather shoes, dark-tinted stockings, and a tailored, high-necked blouse, the kind that would later be used to make women’s power suits more girly. The outfit was pronounced “smart” by one of my fellow dorm-dwellers. It was certainly more dignified than the blue, bonded-knit hot pants (how’s that for a double-barreled blast from the past) which I wore with black-tinted stockings, black patent-leather high-heeled boots, and a tight black turtleneck sweater. Hair to my waist and half again as much jewelry as I really needed completed the look. I got whistled at. Back then, that outfit did not make me look like a streetwalker as it would today.


Having survived my college years and entered the workforce, my sewing slowed down somewhat. I had a job where I could wear jeans and t-shirts, and I seldom wore anything else. I had heard talk of the walls caving in if I was to show up in a dress, but I did now and then and the walls are still intact.


At some point, and I don’t remember what triggered it, perhaps the offerings in the fabric stores, I began to make tropical print shirts for my father. He always liked the Hawaiian aloha shirts, but he never went to Hawaii and didn’t know anyone who did. I found a perfect camp-shirt style pattern, and discovered I could turn out a shirt in two evenings, completely finished inside and out, according to my Grandmother’s custom. One of my friends at work learned that I made the shirts for my father and asked if I would make one for him. One might think that with all that interest in my sewing I might go into business, but I don’t especially like sewing for other people. I sewed for my father because he was family and I made the shirt for my friend because he could make me laugh.


In the 1970s, I made the obligatory hippie skirt out of a pair of jeans. I opened the inseams and inserted gores of a faded burgundy denim that I had. I embroidered important things on the skirt and added an eyelet ruffle at the hem. If I could still fit into that skirt, I would wear it. I’ve kept it for sentimental reasons.


Another item I kept for sentimental reasons is a quilted jacket I made for my mother. It was mostly black and cream with multi-colored panels of fans down the front. The look of pleasure when I gave it to my mother was the most rewarding moment in my sewing-for-family efforts.


I got married again, and this time it took. I have made a few shirts for Richard. One that he has practically worn out is made of dark blue cotton with little Golden Retrievers printed on it. That is significant because our dog, Brandy, a Golden, was a big part of our life. Brandy is in doggie heaven now, but Richard still has that shirt. I also made him a shirt with tools printed all over it. Richard is a woodworker, so the tool theme fit perfectly.


Can you see why I was weeping when we were transporting the old sewing machine to its new owner? I made memories on that sewing machine.