Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tak' a Cup o' Kindness Yet

On this New Year's Eve, I wanted to thank you all for being so good to me over the past year--for reading my novel, Keowee Valley, and falling in love with its characters--especially Quinn and Jack--and the wild Carolina frontier, for taking the time to visit me here and to correspond with me about so many different topics, not the least of which has included the novel, history, politics, parenthood, football, pursuing a MFA in Writing, and how to make the world's best tomato pie.

Your interest and friendship has been kismet and blessing both, and I hope you'll hang in there with me over the next year as I attempt to conquer the world. Kidding. I mean, as I attempt to parent two wee ones, finish my graduate program, and write the next adventure in Quinn's story.

Today, and as an American Scot, I've got to pan the stage light over to the great Scottish bard Robert (or, as the Scots called him, Rabbie) Burns, who's responsible for the timeless and perfect poem "Old Lang Syne." This poem, of course, has become the anthem of New Year's Eve in American and across the world.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

And surely you'll be your pint-stowp
And surely I'll be mine
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne!


We twa hae ran about the braes
And pu'd the gowans fine
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit
Sin' auld lang syne.


We twa hae paidl'd in the burn
Frae morning sun til dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin' auld lang syne.


And there's a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o' thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught
For auld lang syne!

BBC News Scotland
BBC News Scotland

Burns was a hugely popular poet in his day (the late 1700s); he was also a lyricist and an exciseman, which meant he was in charge of checking on and reporting import items to Scottish ports. And wasn't he a good-looking fellow, too? Like so many of his fellow 18th century poets, he died young. He was 37. But Burns is credited with sharing the Scottish dialect and language with the world. "Old Lang Syne" is said to be a Scottish folk song that he adapted.
 BBC News Scotland posted a fantastic article yesterday, about Burns, the song, and how it all came to be.

Burns once wrote:

"My way is: I consider the poetic sentiment, correspondent to my idea of the musical expression, then chuse my theme, begin one stanza, when that is composed—which is generally the most difficult part of the business—I walk out, sit down now and then, look out for objects in nature around me that are in unison or harmony with the cogitations of my fancy and workings of my bosom, humming every now and then the air with the verses I have framed. when I feel my Muse beginning to jade, I retire to the solitary fireside of my study, and there commit my effusions to paper, swinging, at intervals, on the hind-legs of my elbow chair, by way of calling forth my own critical strictures, as my, pen goes."

And a better way of describing a writer's creative process, I've not seen.

I hope that tonight you're all able to give thanks for the "good old days," to meet with dear friends, and to take a cup of kindness for the coming year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Show & Tell Tuesday: Christmas Playlist

So, I had a birthday on Saturday, and it was a darn good one.

I stayed in my pajamas all day long, and well into the next day. (Yes, I skipped church. No judging.) They were my really cute, Victoria Secret Fair Isle pajamas. And currently fit me a heck of a lot differently than when I first bought them, but that’s okay.

I lay on the couch in my pajamas with my dog, drank copious amounts of coffee and looked at the Christmas tree while my husband did the lion’s share of caring for our girls.

See–here I am. My dog really likes it when we twine up together on the couch. Man, I love that dog.

May I get up?
May I get up?

 I didn’t have to cook at all that day. Now, I realize that by writing this, it makes it sound like I cook a lot. But hey–putting ANY sort of food together is cooking, right? And I didn’t feel like doing it on my birthday. So we ordered out for lunch and dinner. And then I got to watch The Family Stone, which has become one of my personal Christmas classics movies. The casting alone in that movie is perfection. And the writing? Sigh. Just wonderful.

Moving on….

It was a pretty awesome birthday. A birthday, in fact, that I would’ve completely forgotten about if my husband hadn’t reminded me the day before.

Come the end of this week, things are going to get a little nuts in my world. We take off for Christmas travels to both sets of parents/grandparents, come home for a day or two, and then I fly to Vermont for my 11-day winter residency at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and my MFA in Writing program.

This is what I think about every time I pack for Vermont in the winter:

So, there may be no regular posts here for a bit, seeing as how the day after I return from Vermont I begin teaching again, and am back to work on my MFA. Plus, you know, the parenting of the children.

Basically, I ain’t makin’ no promises. (Imagine I just said that in the voice of Sam Elliott. Whom I love with all my heart and soul.)

Which comes to my first thing to share:


1.) The movie Prancer

Yes, this is the cheesy movie from 1989. But I swear to you: watch it again, look past the cheese, and your sweet little Christmas heart will swell to its rightful size. I promise. And listening to gorgeous Sam Elliot in his gorgeous gruff voice and that sexy moustache read “A Letter to Santa Claus” won’t hurt.

Here’s a taste (skip to 2:00 to hear him read the letter):


I turned 12 years old in December of 1989, when Prancer came out. We rarely went to movies as a family, but when we did it was usually at Christmas time. I will never forget walking out of that movie theatre and into the dark parking lot, my family laughing and talking about the movie. I looked up into the night sky, and there was a huge silver white moon, clouds streaked across it. It was magic.

2.) New Apple Christmas commercial

Late last night, when I was sitting at my desk, my husband came rushing in with his laptop. “You have got to watch this,” he said, smiling. If this ad from Apple, called “Misunderstood,” doesn’t make you wipe your eyes or even sniffle, I’ll eat my Santa hat. (After we watched it, my husband he told me he wanted more kids.)

3.) My Christmas playlist

I love a good Christmas song. Over the years I’ve collected Christmas albums, including mixed CDs from friends and family. Here’s an eclectic list of my favorites this Christmas season:

1. Darlin’ (Christmas is Coming) ~ Over the Rhine
2. Santa Claus is Back in Town ~ Elvis
3. Ave Maria ~ Harry Connick, Jr.
4. All That I Want ~ The Weepies
5. Beautiful Star of Bethlehem ~ Emmylou Harris
6. Winter Song ~ Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson
7. Maybe Next Year ~ Meiko
8. All Alone on Christmas ~ Steven Van Zandt
9. Donde Esta Santa Claus? ~ Guster
10. Christmas All Over Again ~ Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
11. Joy to the World ~ Aretha Franklin & the Fame Freedom Choir
12. I Saw Three Ships ~ Sting
13. Somewhere in My Memory ~ John Williams
14. Song for a Winter’s Night ~ Sarah McLachlan
15. Auld Lang Syne ~ James Taylor

A very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Today I am very much remembering the Sandy Hook school shooting. Seems impossible that it has been a year since that horrific day, and it reminds me how visceral, painful and sweet the passage of time can be.

My dear Quaker friend says that when she wants to lift someone up, to remember them and keep them close, she holds them "in the Light." Today I am remembering the Sandy Hook angels and their families, and holding them oh so gently in the Light.

The families of the victims have launched a new web site worth visiting. I hope you'll stop by:


Friday, December 13, 2013

Show & Tell Friday: The Preparing for Christmas Edition

Happy Friday to you all!

Some good stuff to share this second-to-last Friday before Christmas! (Crazy, right?!)

1.) Michael McIntyre - "People with no kids don't know"

Lately, trying to successfully parent two children under the age of five (one of them a baby) during this most hectic of seasons, do some work, keep the house Christmas-shiny, get to every single preschool performance-choral concert-friend's party that we need to, and do all the holiday shopping, has been exhausting. I know you're all exhausted, too. In ways good and bad. Because there is hectic-exhausted and happy-exhausted.

But I digress. Last night at a concert a friend shared this link with me to British comedian Michael McIntyre doing a stand-up routuine called "People with no kids don't know." It's absolutely hysterical. And I especially like his take on trying to get out the door.

2.) Christmas Concerts in your town

Speaking of concerts: Last night my husband and I attended the annual Brevard College Christmas Concert at the Porter Center for the Fine Arts in our little mountain hamlet in Western North Carolina. If you don't know much about Brevard College--which is a small liberal arts college with a great big heart, known largely for its Music and Wilderness Leadership programs--trust me when I tell you that whenever these students put on a concert, it's a hum-dinger.

Here's a taste of the Brevard College music students and faculty, and members of TCS, directed by David Gresham and singing an African Noel (please forgive the quality--I'm no videographer):

We make it a point to get a babysitter and go each year with friends. It's a great evening, full of incredible music generously performed for free by the College's music students and faculty, and members of the Transylvania Choral Society. Afterwards, everyone gathers in gorgeous lobby of the Porter Center for punch, cake, and time to meet up with friends old and new. This is the time of year in any town, big or small, that arts events--often free--abound. If there's a choral concert in your town around this time of year, I say get thee to it, and take friends! There's nothing like live Christmas music to put you in the spirit.

3.) Recipe - Aunt Gloria's (Adapted) Killer Dip

Everybody needs a good party recipe this time of year--one that's blessedly free of all the "frees": fat-free, sugar-free, etc. This recipe is full-fat and tasty as all get-out. My Aunt Gloria always made it when I was growing up for our annual Crawford Christmas, which basically involved a whole lot of yummy pogey bait.

Don't know what "pogey bait" means? Look it up. (Hint: it comes from WWII.)

Anyway, I altered the recipe just a bit from the original, and tend to serve it at Christmas parties, football games, and New Year's weekends at the lake. Yes, it makes a lot. Yes, it's full o'fat. Don't try to halve it. Trust me: it WILL get eaten.

Here you go:

Killer Dip

1 lb Original Velveeta
8 oz. cream cheese
1 lb sausage
1 can Rotel
Tabasco or Texas Pete to taste

Brown the sausage and drain; melt the cheeses together and stir in the Rotel; add the sausage and stir together. (I do all this on a big pot on the stove. Set on low and stir frequently to prevent burning.) Serve with tortilla chips.
I dare you to take just one bite!

4.) Christmas quotations

I'm a nut for a good quote.

"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!  What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!”
~ Dr. Seuss, from How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.”
~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Christmas is a time when you get homesick - even when you're home."
~ Carol Nelson

"Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart."
~ Washington Irving

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know,
Where the tree tops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow..."
~ Irving Berlin

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Magical Omens & Great Snowy Owls

Sometimes, magic happens when you least expect it.

It’s easy to miss, in our every day lives, our eyes so used to unnatural light, trained to the tiny things, to the rectangles of our iPhones and our computer screens.

I don’t know about you, but I hunger for the magical. For the mystic. Especially this time of year.

It’s easy to miss. Magic is fleeting, capricious, and will-o-the-wisp. It’s stepping out of your car, child in arms, on a cold, black winter night, and looking up to see stars like pinpricks of lantern light against the pitch. It’s the flash of a genuine smile from a stranger on a busy city street, the warm weight of your dog resting her gray muzzle on your thigh; it’s baby’s breath, sweet with milk, in the crook of your neck.

Magical omens, I believe, take on a bit more drama. An omen in the natural world requires that we open our eyes wider, that we blink back the doubt, rub the cynicism from our sleep-crusted eyelashes. Omens require that we really see, and then seeing, that we believe.

Over the weekend, there was a Great Snowy Owl in my North Carolina mountain town. A man in my Sunday School class told me about it: he’d been driving out in the country, along farm fields and fertile river bottomland, when he came upon several cars parked on the side of the road and a group of people standing outside them, their giant camera lenses pointing out into the field. Far out in the middle of the field sat something, the man said, that looked like a big, overturned white bucket. But it wasn’t. It was an owl–and not just any owl, it was a Great Snowy Owl. Lost on her search for food, perhaps? The birdwatchers were ecstatic: this was a great find.

Apparently, snowy owls have been appearing lately much farther south than their usual range. This article in the Associated Press says that they live in the Artic, but when their food supply–mostly lemmings–runs low, they wander.

Snowy owls have a wingspan of up to five feet. They’re huge, and easy to see. They like wide-open spaces, like that farm field, in which to hunt for mice and other food.

I wish I’d seen that owl. But I don’t need to have been there to recognize the magic of such a sighting. Can you imagine it? A huge, great snowy owl, in the center of a winter-yellow field? Surveying the kingdom with those golden eyes, fluffing its enormous speckled wings in the sun?

I can. And I believe it’s an omen. Sure, there’s a logical explanation. Every four years, scientists tell us, owls have irruptive periods, where they travel far from their normal flight ranges. (The Cherokee, by the way, believe four is a sacred number. And about owls, well, that’s a whole other story.)

But an unusual amount of huge white owls, far from home? The symbolism is endless: the rarity, the color white, the owl itself. A true mystic could take this and run with it.

I think it’s nothing less than an omen–a good, shining, magical one. A blessing for the season we’re in, and for the new year to come.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Adventures in Eating

Baby Feeding 101:

Always keep your vacuum cleaner handy when you feed your 7 month-old. Our vacuum cleaner is patient, stealthy, and 83 lbs.

Keep a steady hand when the dog walks by.

Blame the cereal-face on the dog.

Leave the baby just as happy as you found her.

Monday, December 2, 2013

No Posts This Week ... Well, Except for This One

Hi, all. Happy December!

Hope y'all had a wonderful and relaxing Thanksgiving. Despite our epic trip to see my in-laws, we did. Hallelujah.

Just wanted to let y'all know that I won't be posting any this week; I've got a bunch of very long essays to grade, and they're due very soon. I'll hope to be back next week, to share some good stuff with you, and hopefully post a little about heading back to graduate school in snowy Vermont for my second-to-last residency at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

For now, though, check out this series of film vignettes starring actors like Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett, Oprah Winfrey, Forrest Whitaker, and more. (It's about 9 minutes long. Pretty cool.)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Angels

Yesterday afternoon, we loaded our car with our bags, food, our dog and our girls–4 years old and 6 months old, respectively–and hit the road to visit my in-laws in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. It is a trip that, with stops for feeding the baby and letting the dog out to do her business, and even perhaps a meal, should’ve taken us at most 6 hours.

NINE hours later, we arrived on the island. Why? Well, let’s just say that it started with us having to return to our house only 15 minutes after we’d left to retrieve an item, involved crowded rest areas, insanely loud hand dryers and a freaked out 4 year-old, stopping several different places to try to find hot water for a baby bottle, and resulted in having to have our car jumped by strangers and a long visit to replace a battery at 9 p.m. in a tiny, dark, country town’s Advanced Auto Parts store.

Yet, I firmly believe we were visited by Thanksgiving angels. At the dark, remote, and just-a-little-bit seedy gas station in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, S.C., several kind and generous souls came to our aid.

Here’s what happened: When I returned from a quick and desperate visit to the gas station bathroom (which involved a kicking a screaming 4 year-old who refused to “go potty”) I found my husband staring at the steering wheel and dashboard of our Honda Element in disbelief.

“I can’t believe this,” he said. “I think our alternator’s out.” He turned the key, and sure enough, that ghastly, horrible clicking sound filled the car.

In the back seat, the 6 month-old began wailing, and the 4 year-old started whining. “I want to get out,” she pleaded. It was 37 degrees outside the car, with a wind out of the frozen North. A car which no longer had power. Or heat.

“I’m going to have to call AAA,” my husband said, hand gripping his forehead.

“What garage will be open tomorrow?” I wondered out loud.

“We’ll probably have to get towed to a hotel and spend the night,” my husband muttered. He hopped out of the car, sans coat and hat–which he really needs for his handsome bald head–and began pacing as he talked to the AAA rep. Minutes later he knocked on the window. “I need to find out the address of this place,” he said.

So, I got out and headed into the store, but the door was locked. I pressed my face to the window: all the lights are on, and no one there.

Normally, I’m not so great in situations like these. I deal with them, but I’ll admit: I’m a bit of a drama queen. I blame those acting classes in high school. Anyway, for some reason I felt calm, though the wailing baby and the whiny 4 year-old, plus the idea of trying to find a hotel that’d take us and the dog, was wearing on me. And then I noticed a man in a University of South Carolina sweatshirt approaching my husband.

The man had hopped out of a mini-van, parked under the florescent lights where he’d been filling his car with gas. There were only two other cars in the parking lot of this gas station, and a variety of teenagers–mostly boys–in camouflaged hoodies and baggy jeans had been going in and out of the store there. I said it before, but the gas station was on the side of a country highway with only a Dollar General across the street. Sometimes the boys walked out with brown bags.

It was not looking good.

Finally, the cashier–a cute young woman in a blue t-shirt–unlocked the door and pops her head out. “Hi, sorry about that,” she said. “It’s open.” As I was getting the address from her I watched the man–in his late 30s or early 40s, perhaps, approach my husband. I couldn’t hear what they said to each other, but I could tell he’s wondering if we need help. The next thing I knew, my husband popped the hood of our car and he and the man leaned under the hood. It was going to be a while, and the car was now getting cold, so I bundled the girls and got ready to take them into the store.

A few parking spots away, as I was trying to get my baby out of her car seat in the freezing cold and cover her with a blanket as quickly as I clould, an older lady rolled down the window of her aging Cadillac. “Y’all need help?” She asked, bright-eyed in the pitch dark.

“No, ma’am,” I answered. “We’re going to call AAA, so we should be okay.”

“You sure?” She asked again.

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”

“You welcome.”

Finally, I got the girls bundled and headed inside. “Our car’s broken down, ” I told the cashier. “Do you mind if we hang out inside for a little bit?”

“No, ma’am, not at all,” she said sweetly. “You’ve got the baby, and it’s freezing out there.” So we wandered around the store, and I did a fairly good job of convincing my 4 year-old that she did not need candy corn or that perfectly lovely rhinestone and leopard print wallet. In the mean time, my husband popped his head in and said the stranger was going to jump our car to see if it was the battery, and if it was, we were going to jump in and keep driving, not stopping, until we got to Hilton Head.

While we waited, I chatted up the cashier. I like talking to strangers. Turns out she has to work the next day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas, too. When I offer my condolences, she just smiles. “Oh, I don’t mind it,” she says, “It’s real quiet.”

Finally, my husband waves to me from outside the store. The car started! As we’re clipping the girls into their car seats I can see that there’s a wife in the passenger seat of the man’s mini-van, and two boys, preteen to early teenage, in the back seats. My husband jumps in and looks at me across the car and in the dark. “There’s an Advance Auto Parts about 10 miles away,” he says. “They want to follow us there to make sure we’re okay.”

Turns out, our car battery had corroded. Which is just bad luck all around, because we’d had the car serviced back in N.C. that very morning. As we sat in the parking lot of the auto parts store, I handed snacks back to my 4 year-old, sang songs, and listened to the sounds of my husband laughing with the teenager who worked there as he installed our new battery. The man in the mini-van stayed for a while. I heard Stuart say something to him before heading inside to pay for the battery. Alone in the car with the girls now, I waved to the man as he headed back to his mini-van, backed out, and started to drive out of the parking lot. Suddenly, his car stopped. He hopped out, ran over, and knocked on our window.

“Everything’s okay now,” he said. “It’s just the battery. It’s going to be alright.” Then he smiled and jogged back to his car. As he pulled out, his wife flashed me a big smile and waved, and I waved back until they were gone.

Thanksgiving angels, I’m telling you. First the mini-van stranger, with what looked like his entire family in tow on a frigid night, goes out of his way to make sure we’re okay. Then the sweet older lady in the Cadillac checks on us. The cashier at the somewhat seedy gas station shares the warmth. And the Advance Auto Parts just happens to be open late on the night before Thanksgiving.

But it’s the stranger in the mini-van who takes the cake, mainly because he was a University of South Carolina fan. I mention the Carolina fan thing in particular because we are Clemson fans, and happen to have a big ol’ orange Tiger paw on our license plate, which I’m sure the man saw. And if you know anything about the Clemson-Carolina rivalry, it’s old, long, and ugly. But this guy didn’t care. He obviously saw a family in need and didn’t hesitate to help us out. In fact, his whole family didn’t hesitate. Imagine what he taught his boys that night? They got to see what kind of a man their dad is, and that’s lovely.

I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday–for family, friends, my faith, a warm home, a healthy baby and child, and so, so much more. But I’m particular grateful, this year, for my Thanksgiving angels.

With my 6 month-old, Willa, in the broken down car on Thanksgiving Eve
With Willa, my 6 month-old, in the broken-down car on Thanksgiving Eve

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday (Night) Show & Tell: Grace Kelly on JFK

It’s been a doozy of a week. And while I’d love to write here in detail about the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the man, and his dreams for America (I’d never known he integrated the Peace Corps–how fantastic), I am down-deep-in-my-bones tired.

Instead, I thought I’d share a link to a wonderful interview I learned about via Twitter. It’s with Grace Kelly, and in it she remembers JFK, and shares how she felt about the man and his presidency. Her voice is unmistakable: poised and crystalline clear, oh so graceful, just as she seemed to be in real life. It’s set to animation, and even showcases some of her fashion sense. Truly–it’s really neat, y’all.

Check it out here from “Blank on Blank” and PBS Digital Studios:

And have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Two Things Bringing Me Joy Today

Nope, it's not my two girls. Though they do bring me great joy. That right now I'm willing to share with all people, especially babysitters.

One of my dearest friends, Christy, always shares the coolest things on Facebook. So I thought I'd pass a couple along. Both involve music, and both will make your day.

Without further ado, two quick little videos. The longest is 5 minutes or so, and it's totally worth watching until the end.

Guy Singing In the Car with Strangers (adorable guy, righteous song, just awesome)

Best Coin Ever Spent : Little Girls Tosses a Coin in a Musician's Jar & Gets a Concert (gorgeous and joyous - will make your heart sing)

Happy Thursday, all!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Show & Tell Friday: the Middle School, Nature, and History Edition

Hello to all on this crisp, cold (at least where I am) Friday in November. Hope everyone is having a wonderful Fall so far.

I sort of semi-extended my Internet fast into the week, and haven't spent nearly as much time as usual online. It's been .... wonderful. Really, really nice. In that vein, I don't have much to share! We found out over the weekend that my 6 month-old is allergic to Amoxicillin, a fairly common allergy in infants but still scary to us at first. Took a little while for us to adjust ... and to not want to sleep on a camp pad beside her crib every night to make sure she was still breathing. But all is well.

So just a couple of quick things to share:

1. The Awkward Years Project

There's a little one-page article in the December issue of O Magazine called "The Dork Ages," and it's about a woman named Merilee Allred, who started a site on Tumblr called "The Awkward Years Project." In it, people post photos of themselves, now, holding a photo of themselves at their most awkward. Allred says, "I want people to relive their past and be proud of who they are now" (O Magazine, 36). The article struck me because A) It's a neat concept--and especially good for young people, who are at times paralyzed by how they appear to the world--to consider, and embrace: this is who I was, who I am; B) Allred is curiously close to my age, so her "awkward" portrait looked oh so familiar; and C) I love the title. Those years--especially the middle school ones--truly are the dark ages. As in no light. As in horrifying.

Think I'm exaggerating? Ask a 13 year-old.

Anyway, I may just post a photo of my own. I can see it now: In it, I'm about 12 or 13 years old--definitely in the 7th grade, which was probably the most glorious year of my life. Ha. I'm wearing a color-blocked knit dress (funny how color block is now back in style?) black hose (yes, hose--as in nylons), ginormous patent leather black dress shoes (long feet are a blessing from my mother, whose father once told her she could waterski in her church shoes), and I've got one of those early '90s haircuts. You remember them: the almost-grown-out perm. The puff bangs: one section curled down and one curled up? I think this was the last time I used an actual curling iron. My features are too big for my face: giant, lipsticked lips on my great big smile, a huge nose, big eyes and bright, shiny metal braces.

This was the year in which several 8th grade girls bullied me--back then I'd have called it "ganged up on," but now I know better--daily, consistently, for the entire year; my up to that point solid little group of girlfriends dropped me like a hot rock, and I basically had one girlfriend who stood by me, and lots of guy friends who didn't know the difference. God bless them!

It was an ugly, ugly year. But I got through it, and that, I think, is Allred's point. And I must say, I'm proud I still grinned big, even with the brace face. (P.S. I don't really blame those girls. It was a long time ago. And 7th grade is like a long, hard, hormonal war from which no one escapes unscathed.)

I'd post the photo here, but it's currently molding in the basement of my parents' house in South Carolina. I swear.

Check out the Awkward Years Project here. Think about posting a picture of yourself!

2.) Currently on my bedside table, to read:


Super Natural Home: Improve Your Health, Home, and Planet--One Room at a Time by Beth Greer

Sent to me by a dear friend, this book is by the same woman from the brand SuperNaturalMom. She's a journalist, holistic health advocate, and runs the SuperNaturalHome web site, which is "devoted to providing healthy, natural strategies and advice." Deepak Chopra says that it's "... an invaluable book, filled with practical solutions on how to eat healthier, breathe cleaner air, and transform your home into a safe haven, free from toxic chemicals."

oconeecountyImages of America: Oconee County by Piper Peters Aheron

I meet Piper Peters Aheron at the 2013 Birchwood Book and Author Fair at Table Rock State Park in South Carolina, where we quickly realized we shared a deep interest in and abiding love of the South Carolina Upcountry--and that we'd perused several of the same research sources when writing our books about the area. Since then, we've become Twitter buddies, which is a blast--one of the very neat perks of having writer-friends.
darkandbloodygroundDark and Bloody Ground: The American Revolution Along the Southern Frontier by Richard D. Blackmon

Yep. I'm a history dork. I studied the American Revolution in the South, and along the Southern frontier (i.e. in the foothills and mountains of the South) for two years when researching Keowee Valley. Now that I'm diving into its sequel--a dreadfully slow process--I'm looking for great new books. This one popped up on a Google search, where one reviewer called it "... a solid overview of the entire frontier war for the South in one volume, placed deftly in the context of the larger war as a whole" (Past in the Present). Exactly what I was looking for.
and the September-October issue of South Carolina Wildlife magazine (I'm a little
sc wildlifebehind)

I love this magazine, from the SC Department of Natural Resources; subscribed to it as a kid all the way up until a few years after we moved to North Carolina. Either my Crawford grandparents, aunt, or one of my uncles had originally given it to me as a Christmas present, long ago. Recently, it arrived in the mail: my uncle had decided to gift it once again--a lovely surprise. I can't wait to dig in. A must for any South Carolinian interested in learning more about the natural treasures of home.

FYI: They're running a special right now: you can give the magazine as a gift for only $12 per year.

Happy weekend to all! Stay warm!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Show & Tell Friday: Recipes, Movies, TV, Blogs, Beowulf and More

Breaking my fast from the Internet to deliver today’s edition of Show & Tell Friday. (Okay, so I wrote it before the fast and pre-programed it to post today. I cannot tell a lie.)

Moving on.

A bunch of great things to share: books, recipes, TV shows, movies, blogs, etc. I hope you enjoy. And if you do, I hope you’ll share!

Parenthoodmovie1.) Parenthood (the 1989 movie) and Parenthood (the current TV show)

I was in elementary school when the movie Parenthood first came out, but I watched it a few years after and thought it was pretty funny … though I spent the entire movie trying to decide whether then-Lake Phoenix (now Joaquin)was a boy or a girl. What can I say? I was in middle school. Anyway, Parenthood was on a free movie channel the other night, and though I came into it late I decided to watch for a while, figuring I’d roam around the house, wash clothes and clean a bit while I watched. Oh, no. I sat in Paw Paw’s Chair (that’s what we call our ancient, hand-me-down Lazy Boy knock-off), unable to walk away, and laughed until I cried. Becoming a parent made me appreciate this absolutely hysterical film so much more.

Steve Martin is … well, Steve Martin. Jason Robards is pitch perfect as the blustering patriarch. And the scenes between Dianne Wiest, Martha Plimpton and Keanu Reeves are that combination of poignant, funny and bittersweet that so many movies never reach.

Seriously: Ignore the late ’80s haircuts and clothes, and focus on the characters. Or don’t, because those high-waisted, fold-over acid washed jean shorts are pretty awesome.

Trust me, you’ll love it.

Ron Howard, of course, directed the movie. But he’s also the brains behind the current TV show based off the movie, starring Craig T. Nelson (you know: Coach), Lauren Graham, Peter  Kraus and others. The writing on this show is superb. That, combined with the performances by these (mostly) veteran actors and the true-down-deep-in-the-soul storylines make the show a must-watch. Or, if you’re like I am, must-DVR.


2.) We Are Water by Wally Lamb and The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

I’m really looking forward to reading both of these books. We Are Water, because it’s by Wally Lamb, a wonderful author who actually graduated from the MFA in Writing program I’m currently attending at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I figure that I loved She’s Come Undone, so I’ll love this one, too. Jennifer Smeth over at the blog Book-alicious Mama did a wonderful job reviewing the novel. Check it out here.

The Book of Life is the third and final novel in Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, slated to be released July 15, 2014. I fell in love with her Diana and Matthew (a hereditary witch and historian, and vampire-scientist, respectively) when reading A Discovery of Witches—the first book in the series—for the second time. Now I’m utterly and completely captivated. I can’t wait to see—as both a hopeful series-writer and fan--how she brings the series full circle.

3.) “The Boasting”
from The British Library
from The British Library
Remember Beowulf from high school English class? The darned frustrating Olde English? Remember the “heroic boast,” where a character basically brags on himself, Olde English-style? Me neither. In the boast, the speaker tells us A) who he or she is, B) where he or she is from, and C) why he or she is ready to take on challenges to come. Latayne C. Scott, a writer and teacher who blogs over at Novel Matters, decided to challenge her students to write their own “heroic boasts.”

Interestingly enough, these sound so much to me like the Native American “death songs,” where the speaker—or someone honoring/memorializing him or her, sings of all the great deeds that person has accomplished (including children, travels, and more) in his or her life. The Highland Scots used to do this, too.

This is really cool, and a great tool for teachers struggling to teach Beowulf, who really doesn’t make it easy for us. For more info and to read some of these wonderful takes on the “heroic boast,” go to Novel Matters.

4.) Two fabulous fall recipes
Our version
Our version

Spinach and ricotta-stuffed shells (from Real Simple magazine)

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of the Real Simple recipes, for various reasons. But this one was easy and delicious!

20 jumbo pasta shells (half of a 12 oz box)
1  24 oz jar marinara sauce
2  15 oz containers ricotta
2 cups baby spinach, chopped
½ cup grated Parmesan (2 oz)
Kosher salt and black pepper (we used sea salt)
1 cup grated mozzarella (4 oz)
Green salad (optional)

Set an oven rack to the highest position and heat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cook pasta according to package; drain and run under cold water until cool.
Spread marinara sauce in bottom of large baking dish. (RS says to use a boilerproof baking dish, but I used my ceramic lasagna dish and it worked just fine.)
In a bowl, combine ricotta, spinach, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Spoon mixture into shells and place them atop the sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella and bake until shells are heated through, 10 to 20 minutes. (It took us the full 20 minutes to get everything looking like we wanted.)
Increase heat to broil. Broil shells until the cheese begins to brown, 2 to 5 minutes (took us 5). Serve with salad, if desired. (We did not desire. We had dealt with a needy baby all day and felt the spinach was enough.)

Our version. Note the fine linens.
Our version. Note the fine linens.

Pan-fried porkchops and homemade applesauce (from MyRecipes.com)

Oh, my word. This meal is to-die-for, and spot on perfect for a cold November night. Now, my husband made the entire thing, so I can’t take credit for how ours turned out. He wants me to tell you that if you use thick pork chops, you may want to turn the heat down on the pan so they don’t burn. He says that if you want to go a bit healthier, do what he did: fry the chops just enough so that they’re golden brown, then wrap them in tin foil and put them in the oven at 350 degrees F for the rest of the time. They’ll stay juicy and perfect.

1 Tbsp butter
3 apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped (about 4 cups chopped) (we used Gala apples)
½ cup water
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp salt

½ cup all-purpose flour
4 (5 oz) bone-in center cut pork chops (we got ours boneless from Sam’s Club, and they were delicious)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper (we used the kind in the red and white canister)
2 tbsp canola oil


Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat.
Add apples to pan; cook 4 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add ½ cup water, sugar, juice, and 1/8 tsp salt to pan; cook 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Cover and cook 25 minutes or until apples are tender.
Mash gently with back of spoon.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
Place flour in shallow dish.
Sprinkle pork evenly with ½ tsp salt and pepper; dredge pork in flour.
Add oil to pan; swirl to coat.
Add pork to pan; cook 5 minutes or until golden.
Turn pork over; cook 3 minutes or until desired degree of doneness.
Serve with applesauce

* My handy husband also made us mashed potatoes. He boiled one large potato until soft, added 1 tbsp butter, 2 to 3 tbsp Duke's mayonnaise, salt and pepper to taste, a splash or two of milk, and 1/8 cup parmesan cheese, then mashed it all up. Yum, yum.

Hope y’all have a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fasting from the Internet

Hello, all.

Just wanted to let y'all know that I'm taking a brief Internet fast until Tuesday, November 12th. This means that I won't be posting here, at my blog, over on my author Facebook page, from my Twitter account or even checking my email for the next seven days.

If I get a wild hair, I may post my Show & Tell Friday edition at some point, perhaps not even Friday. I've got some good stuff that I'm itching to share. But maybe not. We'll see how it goes. Can you tell I'm incredibly dedicated to this fast?

Why the Internet fast? I've got 20 new fiction pages due for my upcoming residency in my MFA in Writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Though I'd been on a Leave of Absence this past semester, what with the new baby and all, this winter residency I'll begin my fourth and final semester in the program. I was lucky enough to be placed into a special novel writing workshop during the upcoming residency, and so I need to buckle down.

The teething baby, wily and BUSY 4 year-old, and a bout of family-wide cough-and-colds (the preschool disease) have brought my writing to a grinding halt for the past several months. So now I've got to buckle down. Put the pedal to the metal. Pull myself up by my boot straps. Just get on the bus, Gus.

Catch you on the flip side!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Show & Tell Friday: the Southern Edition (with November Quotes)

I hope everyone had a fun, safe and festive Halloween last night!

Some good stuff to share to welcome November:

divided and united1.) Divided and United: the Songs of the Civil War

On Nov. 5th, ATO records is releasing Divided and United: the Songs of the Civil War, an album of 32 Civil War-era songs (both Confederate and Union) sung by contemporary bluegrass and country artists. I stumbled upon this album over at Garden & Gun magazine. The artists included reads like a list of greats, and up-and-comers: Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, Loretta Lynn, Ralph Stanley, Vince Gill, Steve Earle, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Lee Ann Womack, T Bone Burnett, Taj Mahal, and more.

Hearing these songs, sung by these artists in particular, makes the music seem fresh--and the longing, joy and sorrow, bravado and bravery that moves through each tune is instantly recognizable. Karen Elson and The Secret Sisters, particularly, sing a haunting version of "Dixie" in a way I've never heard before. I plan to purchase the CD, and listen to it while I type away at one of my works-in-progress. (Notice I said "type away." I'm an optimist.)

It doesn't matter if you're a Civil War buff. If you are, you'll adore this album. But if you aren't, there's no way to hear these ballads, sung by these particular people, without being moved. It's a reminder of how close we came to destroying the dreams of our forefathers and foremothers, to ending in a bonfire of tragedy the great "American experiment." After all, the Civil War (or the War Between the States, as it's called where I'm from) was only 153 years ago. And that's nothing in the grand scheme of time.

To listen to Divided and United in its entirety, click here.

southerners handbook2.) The Southerner's Handbook: A Guide to Living the Good Life

I swear, Garden & Gun magazine isn't paying me for the advertising. They're welcome to, though. Curated by the editors of the magazine, the book's a compilation of stories, essays, and instructions on how to get the most out of all aspects of Southern life: sport, drink, food, literature, home and garden, music, art and more. I've not read it, but I've become a fan of G&G despite the fact that from their ad pages I can tell some of their readers exist in a financial stratosphere I'll never see. Mainly, I read it because of the stellar writing, and so I'm adding the book it to my Christmas wish list.
3.) "10 Hilarious Southern Expressions"

This article over at HuffPost Books reveals 10 of the funniest Southern expressions I've ever heard, and growing up in South Carolina and now living in the mountains of North Carolina, I've heard a lot. Most I've actually used. It's a quick, enjoyable read. I dare you-- especially those of you from above the Mason Dixon line, to use one in conversation today. Just for the heck of it. And I want to hear about what happens!

4.) Quotes to welcome November

No, this has nothing to do with the South, but I love me some quotations. And since it's the 1st day of November, for your reading pleasure:

"The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts.  No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving."
~ H.U. Westermayer

Some hae meat and canna eat, -
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
~ Robert Burns

"Gratitude is the sign of noble souls."  ~ Aesop

“October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.”
~ J.K. Rowling, from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix    

“But there is always a November space after the leaves have fallen when she felt it was almost indecent to intrude on the woods … for their glory terrestrial had departed and their glory celestial of spirit and purity and whiteness had not yet come upon them.”
~ L.M. Montgomery, from Anne of Windy Poplars 

Over the river and through the wood
to grandfather's house we go;
the horse knows the way
to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow
~ Lydia Maria Child, Thanksgiving Day, 1845

"If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' that would suffice."
~ Meister Eckhart