Sunday, December 25, 2011

An Appalachian Christmas

No, we do not shoot a double-barrel shotgun into the sky to celebrate Christmas, but like most families, here in the coal fields of southern Appalachia we have our Christmas traditions. The key word is family. In our small coal mining community, there are areas where you will find clusters of homes where the residents have the same surnames. Many of these families can trace their roots back to the founders of this part of Appalachia. Perhaps it’s the strong Scotch-Irish heritage that many here lay claim to that makes us such clannish people. Whatever the reason, family is important in southern Appalachia, especially at Christmas.

At Christmas, most families have a gathering place. It’s the home where the festivities always take place. Family members travel from near and far to be there. Even though each family has its own traditions that are unique to them, the one thing they have in common is this need to gather together at Christmas. It doesn’t matter if they open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, or if they have a real or artificial tree, what matters is that they are together.

If you had the chance to visit one of these Christmas gatherings, you would find those family members that are indigenous to all. First and foremost is the clan matriarch. Yes, I said matriarch, not patriarch. He’s sitting back in the recliner smiling benevolently at all the grandchildren probably watching football while his wife is in the kitchen. She is the one who has cooked and baked for a week, shopped and wrapped all the gifts to put under the tree she has decorated; well, you get the picture. As my mother

is fond of saying, “Men think Christmas just falls from heaven!”

Now, let’s take a look at the rest of the family. There is the relative who regales the group with his/her physical ailments. This includes an endless recounting of aches and pains; trips to the doctor; medications; and countless other miseries. Across the room is the cousin who shows up with another new boyfriend or if she’s “lucky” husband. She is the one all the females in the room are waiting for, so they can whisper about them behind her back. Before long, the relatives show up that everyone is dreading. They are the ones with the kids who charge in like a pack of wild dogs who haven’t eaten in a week. While they tear through the house, mom and dad disappear to a corner and pretend for an evening they are childless.

By the time dinner is on the table, Uncle ? has made a dozen trips to the car carrying his glass of coke with him. Funny how it’s always full when he returns and his face has a rosy glow (from the cold, of course). At least he’s happy and not like Aunt ?, who finds something wrong with every dish of food on the table, even though she eats more than anyone else in the room. While everyone eats dinner, there is always one family member who runs back and forth to the kitchen, keeping the serving bowls and glasses full while baking pans of rolls throughout the meal so everyone will have hot bread. She’s also the one you never see eat. She never sits at the table with the rest of the family, but stays in the kitchen the whole time.

These wonderful people are your family, and at least once a year, you are reminded that what matters most is that you all are together because as the years swirl past, there are empty chairs where cousins, aunts and uncles used to sit. You are the one who has the job of keeping them alive - the family storyteller and this is your story.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Never Say Never!

Never say,
Don’t bother to enter those contests. No one ever wins.
Because I did and I have the book to prove it!
The contest was sponsored by Writer’s Digest and Abbott Press and was called #Pitch2Win Writing and Publishing Contest. I discovered it on Twitter, and it sounded simple enough - in a single tweet of 140 characters or less, pitch your novel.

I had just completed a novel called Mama’s Shoes, and had waded into the frustrating world of agents and publishers. And now, on the computer in front of me, was a contest that promised the winner a publishing contract with Abbott Press. I read the rules and decided I wanted to enter. There was only one problem, the contest ended at midnight, on Sunday, March 27, 2011 and it was just after 11:00 PM on March 26! I had less than an hour to come up with my pitch and the clock was ticking.

I remember staring at the computer screen in front of me. How could I describe my novel in 140 characters?

For the next half hour, I typed and erased; typed and erased. Just before midnight, I filled the space with a line from my novel, “Mama always said you can tell a real lady by the shoes she wears, but then nobody ever accused Mama of being a lady.” I clicked send.

I knew I had found the perfect tweet to describe Mama’s Shoes. After all, it was that line that was runner-up in another contest, this one in Writer’s Digest Magazine. If you keep every issue of Writer’s Digest like I do, pull out the October 2003 issue. On page 14, you will find the winners of
Your Opening Line #8 Contest.
The object of the contest was simple; based on a tiny black and white picture of flip flops on a beach; write the opening line for a novel. It took me eight years, but that’s exactly what I did. That line,
Mama always said you can tell a real lady by the shoes she wears, but then nobody ever accused Mama of being a lady
became the foundation for Mama’s Shoes. And even though it’s not the opening line, it is in the first chapter. Page nine.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

What I Miss about Ireland


Every morning in Ireland is a foggy morning, but it’s not like the fog here that sits on top of the mountains. Fog in Ireland reaches down and touches you, leaving your skin feeling like it’s just been kissed.

2. Irish tea. There is nothing here that compares.
3. The lilting song of the Irish language.

4. Traditional Irish music played by locals who do it for the sheer joy of it. I especially miss the sound of an Irish flute.
5. The way the Irish use words like “that’s perfect” and “absolutely” like Americans use “cool” and “phat.”
6. The shops in Ireland remind me of those I visited when I was a child. I miss the sight and feeling of handmade sweaters, caps, scarves and incredible jewelry. I never saw a mall or shopping center.

I miss the Irish villages! The houses and storefronts are painted in bright reds, yellows, blues, and browns. They seem to avoid green because paint can’t compare with the green of the landscape.
8. I pine for the crisscrossing stone walls.
9. The surprise of driving by a house with a cow in the backyard and sheep in the front.

10. I miss seeing an Irish Setter patiently waiting outside of a bar or store for its owner.
11. When the “lift” opens, you never know if you’ll find an elderly, slightly “inebriated” gentleman who exclaims, “Hello, Darling! I knew you were there and I stopped to pick you up!”
12. In “certain establishments,” I miss how I was proposed to by smiling “inebriated” gentlemen, who were always impeccably dressed.
13. I yearn for the sound of the ocean crashing against the Cliffs of Moher.
14. I wish a waiter would ask me if I want “chips.”
15. I long for an Irish rainbow!
16. The feel of a 12th century castle wall.

17. More than anything, I miss the feeling that I can step back in time and commune with the spirits of that place.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What I Learned About Ireland

It has now been one week since I returned from a ten day tour of Ireland. I cannot find any adjectives equal to the task of describing my journey, so I will just say it was the trip of a lifetime. In my endeavor to remember every detail of my trip, I have compiled a list.

1. It's true that Ireland is the Emerald Isle. It is a kaleidoscope of green that dazzles the senses while soothing the spirit.

2. There are four seasons in Ireland – every day. The Irish say, “If you don’t like the weather just wait a minute!”

3. People dress fashionably in Ireland. The men wear dress shirts with pullovers and suit jackets, and they favor black “skinny jeans.” Women wore leggings and dark tights with short skirts and shorts or alone with longish tops. Everyone wore boots!

4. The Irish eat tomatoes at every meal – hot, as in grilled, or cold.

5. There is no Pepsi in Ireland; at least, not that I could find. :{

6. The Irish people are incredibly courteous and friendly, but they are stingy with their ice! Their drinks are cool, not cold, even the ones you purchase from a cooler.

7. Vegetable soup is not at all like American vegetable soup. It is puréed and varies in color and taste depending on the vegetables used. I ate vegetable soup four different times and it looked and tasted different each time. It is however, always served with Irish soda bread, not crackers. Irish soda bread is brown in color and chewy in texture and the Irish people seem to favor it.

8. They don’t use washcloths in Ireland. The hotels, even the five-star ones, don’t have washcloths.

9. Contrary to popular belief, in America that is, the Irish do not say ‘Top of the morning to you.’

10. The paper Euro comes in different pastel colors and sizes depending on the value. The coins range in size from smallest – the one cent, to a slightly larger two cent, to a larger five cent, ten cent, 20 cent, twenty-five cent, fifty cent, one Euro and 2 Euro coin.

11. The Irish shamrock is a three-leaf clover! It does not look like the plant Americans call shamrocks.

12. Ireland does not like chewing gum. All the buildings have signs that say: No Smoking and No Chewing Gum.

13. The lifts (elevators) in Ireland are small with incredibly random floor numbers. There seemed to be no consistency in assigning floor numbers. Case in point, a room number of 105 could be found on the second floor. In another hotel it was on the zero floor or the G floor. I also saw a GL and a 1 ½ floor!

14. Irish toilet paper is luxurious, but they are extremely stingy with napkins. Paper napkins are tiny and you get strange looks when you ask for extra napkins.

15. The Irish recycle everything. Their “dust bins” are labeled according to paper, glass, plastic, and rubbish. When they put trash outside for pick-up, they put labels on the bags identifying their content. They are not wasteful and use “just enough” with one exception. There never is “enough” of the drink!

16. The hotel rooms in Ireland are wired so that you have to insert your room card into a slot above the light switches in order to get the electricity to work in the room.

17. The only things more plentiful in Ireland than ancient castles, cathedrals, and ruins are bars.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Visit with Sherwood Anderson

No, I didn't meet the dead author, Sherwood Anderson, personally. I did, however, get to visit his archives in the Symth-Bland Regional Library, and travel to his gravesite in Round Hill Cemetery in Marion, VA. It was an awe-inspiring experience for a writer. No doubt, I felt like an athlete who gets to meet his sport's idol, or an aspiring actor who comes to face-to-face with a movie star. I do know that just to see copies of his handwritten book, Winesburg, Ohio, with all the markouts and edits, left me speechless.

When I saw the typewriter he had with him in Panama when he died, I could hear the clack of those keys as he wrote. I wanted to break into the protective case and push down one of the keys - just one. I wanted to place my fingers lightly against those keys and soak up his talent. I imagined it would look like an electric current coursing into my fingers.
When I saw pictures of him with other writers I admire like Katherine Ann Porter and Eudora Welty, I imagined what the conversation would have been like. I wondered if they talked about their books and publications? Their travels? Families? Did they gossip about fellow writers and friends Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway? Or did Sherwood tell them about his life in the tiny town of Marion, VA. Did he talk about the town newspapers he owned and wrote for?

Before visiting this treasure, I believed what I'd read, that Sherwood Anderson had "retired" to Marion, VA. From what I saw in his archives, that was far from the truth. He continued to write; worked everyday at his newspapers, and joined his wife, Eleanor Copenhaver on her quest to stop the mills in southwest VA, east Tennessee, and North Carolina from hiring children and young women who had to work in deplorable conditions for very little money.
The tour was a fascinating and inspiring experience, followed by a delicious luncheon at Hungry Mother Park, all a treat for those who won or placed in the Sherwood Anderson Short Story Contest. As proud as I am to be the winner of that contest, I am more honored to say I have seen artifacts from his life and works. I am humbled by his talent and legacy and inspired by the epitaph on his tombstone
Life, Not Death, is the Great Adventure.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Snakebites and Skunks

From now on, when I wallow in self-pity because I'm having a bad day, or bad week, or things are just not going my way, I'll remind myself of what happened to Moe, my beautiful white Boxer. In the space of one week, he got sprayed by a skunk - in the face, mind you, and bitten by a snake - either Copperhead or Rattlesnake, the vet wasn't sure which - five times. Yes, I said 5 times. Twice on the face; twice on the chest; and once on his right front paw.

Now this is a dog who had already suffered through three days of baths. We had scrubbed him with every available "skunk neturalizing" remedy we could find. And since he was sprayed in the face, his jowls had been repeatedly rubbed and scrubbed until I swear they hung at least three inches lower than before. The smell had faded enough so we could stand to have him in the room, but the stench was far from being gone. Moe was quite cavalier about the whole experience, even happy to share the smell with our Jack Russell terrier who is his bestest friend. He had wallowed his face over Captain Jack until his back, too, smelled like skunk.

Then we let the dogs out for one last run before bedtime. (There are four dogs total. Add- Murphy, a Cairn terrier; Molly, a Westie to the group.) No more than 3 minutes later, they came to the door without Moe. We called and called, and finally he limped to the door holding up a front leg. His paw was swelling rapidly and the fang marks were still visible. We noticed he was drooling profusely, but at the time it never occurred to us he was also bitten on the face. We just thought the drool was from the shock of the bite. It wasn't until the next morning that a sack of fluid hung from his chest where he had been bitten.

A frantic call to the vet resulted in the advice to give him 50 milligrams of Benedryl; repeat it in two hours; and bring him in in the morning. This we did, but first we sat down to watch over him all night long. The next morning, his paw had swollen to twice its size with the swelling creeping up his leg, and a sack hung from his chest. At the vet, she immediately noticed the remnants of the skunk smell and then pointed out that he had not just been struck on the paw, but repeatedly on the face and chest. She also said a snake bite to a dog is horribly painful and compared it to a gunshot to a human.

Moe, she said, had had a hell of a week!

A I write this, Moe lays at my feet with one of his squeaky toys, rolling on his back with it clasped between his front paws, like nothing happened to the right one. Other than the chore of getting an antibiotic pill down him twice a day, the effects of the snakebite are gone. But not the skunk! Oh, no, he still carries a trail of musk behind him wherever he goes.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Unexpected Gift

It’s the unexpected gifts we remember - not the gifts we receive for holidays or birthdays, but the ones we are given "just because." I received an unexpected gift this week. It came from someone I had never met before, in of all places a restaurant.
It was an idyllic summer day. Clouds danced cheek to cheek across a brilliant blue sky. My son and I, my sister-in-law and her children, decided to check out a new BBQ restaurant that was near the Breaks Park. We met there for lunch before exploring the park. The minute I saw the place I was hooked. It was an old wooden building with the BBQ actually being made right beside of it. The minute we stepped out of the car, the sweet smoke filled my senses making my stomach rumble.
The inside of the place called “Southern Smoke” was delightfully retro. It was decorated like an old southern person’s house – a jumble of things that should have been thrown away years ago but “you just couldn’t part with them.” It succeeded where other fancier restaurants fail. You know the ones that buy antique toys and pictures to hang on the wall in an ultra-modern building.
Southern Smoke was nothing fancy, just tables and booths covered in red plastic table cloths and a counter with stools where you could eat peering through the door to the kitchen. It didn’t have to be fancy, the attention was on the food, like it should be. Their decorations consisted of signs in all sizes and shapes, colors and textures, and every available space was filled with them. Some I’d seen before like the Irish blessing:
Dance as though no one is watching you,
Love as though you have never loved before,
Sing as though no one can hear you,
Live as though heaven is on earth.
Others were pure Southern humor! One that sticks out in my mind said: I’m working so I can enjoy the lifestyle of my wife and daughter. Then I found one in the bathroom, yes, the bathroom walls were also covered in signs, that I absolutely loved! It was an oval sign done in hot pink and zebra stripe. On it was a black high heel shoe trimmed in hot pink. It said: You can never have too many friends or shoes.
As I was paying my bill and getting ready to leave, I remarked that I fell in love with the “shoe” sign.
“Which one?” A lady behind the counter asked.

“The one in the bathroom.” I then went on to explain that I had a novel called “Mama’s Shoes” that was going to be published soon and that sign reminded me of my book.

The woman then stepped from behind the counter and headed for the bathroom. Throwing over her shoulder, “Now which one is it?”

I followed her and pointed to the sign, asking where she got it. She took the sign off the wall and stepped out of the bathroom. She turned it over to look on the back and showed it to me. She said, “It came from Ross’s.”

“Great,” I said. “I’ll head over there and see if they have anymore.”

“No need to do that,” she said, handing me the sign.

For a moment I stood there staring at her. It hadn’t occurred to me she was giving me the sign. Then she pressed it in my hand, and I realized she was giving it to me. I said, “I can’t take your sign!
She said, “Why not, it’s mine and I can give it to anyone I want.”
There was not even a hint of a smile on her face. It was like she was going to me mad if I refused to take it, so I clutched the sign to my chest and said, “Thank you! This is wonderful!” Then she smiled and led me back to the front of the restaurant where she slipped behind the counter. I thanked her again and told her I planned to put it next to my books if I was lucky enough to do book readings.

She smiled and said, “Just bring me one of your books when you get it. I read all the time.”

I laughed and agreed. A fair trade, I thought, looking down at my new sign. But I plan to visit there long before my book is published because the food was fantastic, second only to the southern hospitality.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Terrifying Thrill

Imagine if you will, that you have labored for almost four years on a novel and you discover it's going to be published! How thrilling and terrifying it is in the same heartbeat.

Now imagine you are at a writer's workshop, and one of your all time favorite writers is the keynote speaker - Lee Smith. There are so many things about Lee that inspire you - her amazing books and short stories, her witt and sense of humor, but most of all, you admire her love for the people and culture of Appalachia.

The mountains and coalfields surrounding the little town of Grundy, VA are the inspiration for many of Lee's novels. Here she grew up with the dream of being a writer - just like you. Being a writer is not the only thing you share with Lee, you too are from the little mountain town of Grundy, a place as rich in mountain lore as it is in coal.

Return with me to the writer's symposium. Here you get to tell Lee about your novel. She is thrilled for you and asks to see it. Further, she asks if she may talk about it in her address at the symposium. You nodd and babble something that is more than likely unintelligible, but you return the next day with the manuscript. You present it to her and wander off so she won't see you pinch yourself because you cannot believe you just gave your novel to one of the most prolific writers of our day!

Later that morning, you join the crowd to hear Lee speak about the craft of writing. You are mesmerized by her excitement. She speaks of writing and her voice sparkles. Her hands wave and gesture in the air. She laughs with pure delight at the joy of language. Then she does something that you will never forget. She tells everyone about your novel and reads from the first chapter. For the first time, you hear someone read your words - someone who loves Appalachia and her people as much as you do.

Lee reads and you hear your characters come to life. The room shimmers with them. The audience chuckles, then laughs in all the right places. You soak up that moment and tuck it away, so later you can take it out and hold it in your hands like someday soon, you will hold your book.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I Salute You!

It is the season for graduations - college, high school, and for my family - middle school. As a high school teacher I have attended graduations galore, but I can only remember one other graduation that moved me like this one and that was the year my twins graduated.

This was the third graduation I have attended this year. First, my daughter graduated from college. She choose my path and will be a teacher! When people ask what she is going to do, she jokingly replies, "I have a college degree and am officially unemployed." I believe her reply reflects the fear she shares with this generation of college graduates, who know they are going out to make a life in an uncertain world.

My second graduation was my son's middle school graduation. Ah, the excitement buzzed around the room! These kids flexed their adolescent muscles, ready to charge into high school and take command of the future. I pray that by the time they graduate, the world will be a more stable place.

My last graduation of the year was last night. I have had the pleasure of teaching the majority of the 2011 Class of Grundy High School. I know teachers are not supposed to have favorites, but my heart goes with these kids as they march out into the world. They know what they are facing down the road. They know what the enormous cost of college will do to them and their parents. They know how hard they are going to have to work. But for one night, they could forget that - be proud of their accomplishments and excited about the future. Watching them march out of that gym, full of hope and happy to meet the future head on, made ME feel like they could change things! It gave me hope that they could take this world and spin it around and make it a better place. And that's a feeling I haven't had in a long time...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Blog about why I haven't been Blogging

A week ago today, I was at Kings Dominion in Richmond, VA with a bus load of high school kids who had lost a robotics competition. I was so tired the day passed in a haze, but the kids had a blast. They needed this day at Kings Dominion; they deserved it. Beginning in January, they had spent six weeks building a robot to compete at the FIRST Robotics Competition at VCU’s Seigel Center on March 7, 8, and 9.

FIRST is an acronym meaning For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. FIRST’s mission is “to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”

FIRST was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, an inventor and entrepreneur who holds over 400 patents for his inventions, among them many medical inventions including the wearable insulin pump, the iBOT wheelchair, and the Segway human transporter. His current invention is an advanced prosthetic arm that should advance the quality of life for returning injured soldiers.

FIRST changes lives. This is a statement I do not make lightly. Grundy High School started a team in 1999 and I have been involved since the beginning, becoming its coach in 2006. How an English teacher ended up coaching a robotics team is another story entirely! But it has been the highlight of my 31 year teaching career.

I know how hard this year’s team worked because I was there. I watched them juggle school work, jobs, and sports, while designing, building, and “praying over” their robot they called The Witch’s Revenge. Our team is aptly called Maximum OZ because like Dorothy in The Wizard of OZ, we have learned that with the help of our friends, we can overcome our fears and obstacles to achieve our goals.

Building a 120 pound robot that can compete against 67 other team’s robots is a feat that cannot be accomplished without the help of the entire community. In that sense, Team 388 is blessed. Grundy’s civil engineering firm, Terra Tech Engineering, has mentored the team since its first year. They provide guidance to the team from designing and building to programming. Other area electricians, machinists and computer technicians also donate their time to make this happen. College mentors who are former team members are also an important part of the team. Many of them are pursing degrees in engineering, science, and technology because of their involvement while in high school. Parents pitch in and help with the countless fundraisers it takes to fund the project. Did I mention that the team must raise the money to compete and travel to the competitions?

I know that after that initial six weeks when they had to stop working on the robot – finished or not, the team worked on programming, and its presentation for the Chairman’s Award. The Chairman’s Award is FIRST’s highest honor, going to the team the judges deem all other teams should emulate. The Chairman’s Award process includes an essay, team-made 3min. movie, and a 5minute presentation all prepared by the students on the team. They did not win this award either, but they were deserving.

There are many other parts of this process that I haven’t mentioned here. It takes hours and hours each week to prepare and execute this project. Even though this team didn’t win this year, Team 388 has won the competition in 2003 and 2004. They have also won the Chairman’s Award, the Engineering Inspiration Award, the Judges Award and the National Judge’s Award, and the Team Spirit Award. Not too shabby for this little team from Southwest Virginia.

FIRST Robotics is about so much more than building and competing a robot. It’s about community service and teaching elementary and middle school kids about robotics. It’s about gracious professionalism and leadership. It’s about being committed to building the future. From what I saw in Richmond last week and from Team 388, the future is bright, indeed.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dealing with Celiac's Disease

I get so frustrated sometimes that I could cry. I actually burst into tears in the grocery store once. It was the fourth week and the qluten free shelf still had no bread, and they had precious little anyway. It's what a person dealing with Celiac's disease has to face on a daily basis, and living in a small town with only one grocery store compounds the problem. Talking to the managers about ordering more products, or at least keeping in stock what they carry, has fallen on deaf ears.

I hate having to explain why I eat a gluten free diet, but I do when people think I'm following the latest diet fad. I tell them that eating gluetin free is a choice I didn't make because I wanted to, but because I had to, but what I don't tell them is somewhere in my psyche I am still furious with myself. I feel like my body has not only betrayed me, but is attacking me.

That's why I love to see an article about eating gluetin free that points to its many benefits to the body. I have attached the link for those who are interested in Celiac's disease, eating gluten free, or want to learn more about what they put in their bodies.
Is Gluten Making Us Fat?

Monday, March 14, 2011

How Can You?

How can anyone take a life?
How can a man take a husband from his wife?
How can he take a father away from his children?
How can anyone snuff out a life over a car?

A car.

A pile of metal.
That could at anytime crash into nothingness.
That wears down and rusts leaving nothing but ugliness that no one wants anymore.

Is that worth a life?

How can one man shoot another in the back?
The coward's way.
In the days of the knights, he who stabbed another in the back would have been killed for the shame he brought on his family.

How can a man take the life of one who has his whole life ahead of him?
To laugh.
Hold his newborn baby.
Dance at his daughter's wedding.
How can a man destroy tomorrow?

It is forbidden to take what is not yours.
To take goodness out of the world and replace it with your fury and blackness.
To leave them alone with no one left to love, only to grieve and ask why?
Their angst means nothing to you.
You who died for a car.

A car.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Winter Words

Today I inhaled damp loam; its scent rich with the promise of young grass. The sun spread its lemony yellow wings, and a warm breeze hummed through the trees teasing them out of their winter’s sleep. Thoughts of spring began to germinate inside of me. It was time to put away my winter words.

I admit that part of me is sad to fold away my warm wooly words. I know I won’t speak or write of winter cold for a while – blue cold that makes my nose run and my feet frigid. And I will miss it, like I will miss waking to the first frost of the season, its crunch under my feet a sound all its own. The surprise of the first snowfall will fade along with the struggle to warm an ice covered car.

I will take the cozy down comforter from my bed, and hang my wool coat with the knitted hat and matching scarf in the closet, but not before I put my mittens in the pockets. Under it I will place my fur lined boots. The soft flannels, quilted jackets, and bulky sweaters I love will be pushed to the back to the closet because it will be awhile before I need to bundle, layer,swathe, cover up, drape or otherwise pen winter words.

The family hearth will stay dark because the fire won't need to be kindled, nor will we gather around it sipping hot chocolate and mulled cider wrapped in fleece Snuggies and throws. In the kitchen, beef stew, chili, and soup disappear from the menu replaced by lighter fare.

For a mix of seasons, I put away my winters - redbud, blackberry, and dogwood too. I will write of spring and summer and bask in those halcyon words. But when the apples are heavy on the bough and I inhale the tang of burning leaves, I will dust off my winter words and begin again.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I woke up this morning with a story in my head and an hour or so before the kids wake up, so I throw back the covers and ease downstairs to my computer. I push the start button and run to put a load of clothes into the washer while it boots up. Of course, the dryer is full of yesterday’s towels.

After I fold the towels, I settle down with a cup of coffee. I open a new document and smile at the blank screen. I pose my fingers on the keyboard and glance around the room. My hands fall against the keyboard and the screen fills up with Z's. There's a dark spot on the carpet that wasn't there yesterday. I stand up so I can see it better. “Oh, God, the dog threw up again!”

Back in the laundry room, I rummage through my assortment of cleaning supplies until I finally spy the needed chemical weapons. With the spot finally gone, I return my arsenal to the laundry room, (third trip in ten minutes) add softener to the clothes, and decide to run to the bathroom and put the towels away.

I return to the computer - again. Sit and take a sip of coffee and type, Katie thought she was the luckiest girl in town until - The phone rings. I grab for it before it wakes the kids.

“Oh, hi, Mom.”

I reach for my coffee and look at the cursor blinking on the screen. I am hypnotized by its flashing on and off. The word pneumonia floats into my consciousness. “Mom, wait, who has pneumonia?”

“You remember Uncle Tom’s sister-in-law’s son who ran off to Mexico with that woman he met when he was selling used cars. Are Grandma’s babies up yet?”

With the clock ticking and my mother chattering on like a telemarketer who’s got you cornered, I look longingly at my computer. I glance out the window, and see the mailman with the morning’s mail. Too late, the dog who threw up on the rug, sees him too. She races to the front door her yaps bouncing around the stairwell making their way upstairs where the kids are sleeping.

“Mom, I have to go! The dog is going to wake the kids!”

Too late.

Now,the dog is still barking; my mother is still talking, and my three-year-old is scooting down the stairs on his bottom. I hang up the phone and we go back into the study where the computer sits inviting me to continue.

I sit before the screen with my three-year-old son on my lap. He demands to play a game on Nick, On cue, his five-year-old sister enters the room complaining, “Does Molly have to bark so loud?”

With one last look at, Katie thought she was the luckiest girl in town until- I close the computer window and start Nick, Jr .com. I pick up my legal pad and pen and give up my seat at the computer to my children. I move to the chair next to the computer. I write, Katie thought she was the luckiest girl in town until -

“Mommy, can we have pancakes for breakfast? Mommy, can we? MOMMY!”

“Sure, Mommy would love to make pancakes. In a minute.”

The phone rings. I pick up the phone with one hand and lean over my children so I can type wit the other hand, to be continued.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What's New?

It's been many years since I've had the sheer joy of experiencing something new - made sweeter because I've always wanted to do it - but never had the opportunity. Last week I saw my first live symphony orchestra and my daughter was one of the musicians.

I'm still bursting with pride and awestruck of her talent and the talents of the other musicians. The finest recording played on the grandest equipment cannot compare with a live performance. Having children who are musicians, I have attended many band concerts, ensembles, and marching band performances, and loved each one. But an orchestra! I floated on clouds from the first notes of Johannes Brahms "Academic Festival Overture," was carried along by the sweet strings of Sir Edward Elgar's "Nimrod from Enigma Variations" and didn't come back to earth until the last strains of Tchaikovsky's Symphony #5.

Spellbound. I was spellbound. And even though I could only see glimpses of my daughter because of the sea of violins, when the orchestra stood after each song, there she was! I knew this night was an epiphany for both of us, made sweeter because we shared it.

I suppose that when we reach a certain age (no, I'm not going to tell you what mine is!) we've used up all of the new experiences life has to offer, or at least seriously depleted the supply. Do you have any of those fresh new experiences on your wish list? If not, it's time to get some. Then go out and make them a part of your life. You will feel renewed and invigorated and perhaps learn something new. You will not regret it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Old Dogs and New Tricks

For some reason I can't explain, I found myself musing about that expression, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."

Maybe it was because I was driving home and let my mind wander while I navigated the familiar road, or maybe I was thinking about opening the ninth grade literature book I've never seen before. (Which came with its own class of 20 ninth graders! Imagine!) Whatever prompted my musings, I do wonder is it true we can't learn as quickly as we did when we were younger?

This dilemma was even worthy of the television show Myth Busters! Adam and Jamie busted the myth by teaching a seven-year-old dog new tricks! And if each dog year is equal to seven human years, then they taught a 49 year-old dog new tricks. Now, THAT'S impressive. Unfortunately, they didn't tackle teaching old humans.

Perhaps the "old tricks" expression is a companion to "She's set in her ways." Instead of having problems learning new things, the problem is we don't WANT to learn them? Now, I am certain that attitude can indeed be determinal to learning. When I don't want to clean house or do the laundry, I get a sudden burst of creativity and have to write! Or I see a pile of leaves I'd much rather rake than stay indoors and dance with the vacuum cleaner. The biggest evidence of this comes from teaching for 30 years - you can do your darndest, but they've got to "want" to learn - at least a little bit!

I suppose I must admit, that old dogs can make new tricks easier to learn by admitting a positive attitude will make it easier. After all, if we spent as much time "doing it" as we did "dreading it" any task would be easier.

In the end, it comes down to attitude. Now that's a Myth Buster I'd like to see! Does the wrong attitude make it harder to learn something new? Does a positive attitude make you learn faster, regardless of age? Come on Adam and Jamie! Help me out there.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February 1, 1988

On this day twenty-three years ago, I gave birth to twins. The weird and wonderful flutters, kicks, and punches were suddenly legs and feet, arms and elbows, hands and heads. All the mysteries were solved.

Kathryn Rebecca was born first. Her hair was the color of daddy’s; her face a miniature of mine. She had big feet like grandpa, and an even bigger temper like grandma. From the moment I held her, I knew her light would burn brilliantly but never go out. I knew her life would be filled with passion, and that has become her love of music.

Ryan Andrew was born seven minutes later. When I held him, he fixed his dark blue eyes on my face and looked into my soul. From Ryan I learned contentment was a warm body snuggled against my shoulder. He never demanded and was easily satisfied. I knew he would grow to be strong like a tree that bends in the wind but never breaks.

Blessed. I am truly blessed.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tenets of Time

I wish I could see my mother dance and stretch her arms toward the sun. For now the days are many when she struggles to stand.

I wish I could climb aboard the big black and white bus with my daddy and bounce on the seat while he drove the lumbering beast around the mountain roads.

I wish I could fight with my brother over which of our 5 TV channels to watch on our families’ tiny black and white TV.

I wish I could laugh again at one of Uncle Cecil’s jokes. The jokes have faded from my memory, but the laughter remains.

I wish I could taste my Mamaw’s homemade vegetable soup again, while my Papaw and I sat in her kitchen next to the wood cook stove.

I wish I could see the ocean for the first time and feel again the glorious assault on my senses.

I wish I could kiss my boyfriend in the snow standing on the step above him on the front porch of my teenage years.

I wish I could be a college freshman with a blank schedule waiting to be filled.

I wish I could be a young giddy fiancé picking out her bridal veil.

I wish I could feel baby butterfly wings fluttering in my bulging tummy assuring my expectant mother’s heart the life inside of me was growing and healthy.

I wish I could be a young mother cuddling a sleepy baby on my shoulder.

I wish for just one more day, I could feel the touch of my sister’s hand and hear her call me Sissy. Forever I will miss her touch and the sound of her voice.

I wish for my Daddy, for the love that was taken away by time.

There are no second chances…

Carpe Diem!

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Who are your true friends? When it’s all said and done, who will be left standing with you?

Being a high school teacher, I see more than my fair share of drama. More often than not, it has to do with friend problems – either boy or girl – or both. Over the years, I have accumulated a long list of observations that sadly, never changes unless it is to add another offense. Here is a rundown of that list: I watch friends talk about their friends behind their backs. I watch friends flirt with their best friend’s boy or girl friend. I hear friends say outright lies about their friends, without a blink of the eye or a look of shame at what they’ve done. These same so-called friends can barely contain their glee when their friends get a speeding ticket, fail an important test, get caught smoking in the bathroom, get dumped by their boy or girl friend, and the list goes on and on.

On more than one occasion, I have watched two boys who were best friends for years, fist fight over a girl who wasn’t interested in either of them – she just wanted the attention, and you guessed it – the fight was started by their friends’ gossip. I’ve seen girls reduced to hair pulling and nail clawing, over – a boy when their friends confided he was cheating (whether it was true or not).

After these observations, I understand where the phrase “With friends like that, who needs enemies?” comes from. I think back to my high school and college days and examine friendships. Did such things happen? Probably, but I can recall only a few incidents and those pale by comparison to what I see today. Is it because we were smarter or more mature “back in the day”? I doubt it, but I do think times have changed. In this fast paced high tech world, gossip can be texted instantly. I’ve seen kids text what they “overheard” without giving themselves a minute to consider it. The damage is done instantly. In a world where “reality TV” rules,friends turn against friends on national television.

Friends today are networked via the Internet and social networks like Facebook, so they can keep up a “zillion” friends at once. They can email blog, tweet, message, even post videos on YouTube. Unfortunately, the Internet can be used as a tool to cause even more drama. With what seems to be no thought to the consequences, derogatory comments about friends can be launched into Cyber Space with a click of the mouse. You can send a message without even using words – one incident I saw that devastated a girl happened when a group of her friends deleted her from their friends list on Facebook. I ask you,“What are friends for?”

Oscar Wilde said, “True friends stab you in the front.” The key word here is true. True friends disagree and get angry with one another, but they remain friends. True friends talk to one another, not about one another. True friends are there to laugh with you and cry with you. And true friendship lasts. This morning I spoke with my best friend from junior high school. We’ve been friends for over 30 years! We don’t get to see each other very often, but thanks to today’s technology, we can stay in touch.

I have always told my children, if you want a friend then be a friend. Perhaps I should add true – be a true friend.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Snow. It sparkles in the sun – a blinding light that holds no warmth. I shiver and drop my eyes to escape the brightness. What is that poking through the snow? I brush it away and discover a maple leaf. The autumn transformed it from green to a coffee colored brown, a stark contrast to the silvery white of the snow. I pull it free of the snow’s grasp and hold it up to the sunlight. It is still intact with perfect points and a stem. It feels like paper in my hand. I hold it aloft and twirl it around.

Suddenly, it isn’t winter anymore.

I stand on the mountain. The world under me is a kaleidoscope of colors. Pale green ferns snuggle close to the mountainside. Lime colored moss decorates the rocks. Greedy vines claim the rest of the hillside, their dark green fingers clutching at every tree and rock. Splashes of red, yellow, and orange mingle with the green like candies in a gumball machine. I walk down the mountain. The smell of the earth rises up from my steps - sweet and moist. It whispers secrets of another time when the earth was new. Creatures appear and disappear. A number of them fly, others slither, and some seem to dance for me. I reach the bottom of the mountain and the canopy of green over my head bursts into sky. A spoonful of clouds, too lazy to move, rests against the blue. I shiver in the warmth of the sun.

Winter can’t last forever.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Where do Writers get their Ideas?

I don't know about you, but I've had some of my best ideas in places where I had nothing handy to use to write them down! Case in point, the shower...Then I saw an advertisement that made me realize I wasn't the only one who feels the words flow alongside the hot water. It's called AquaNotes and it's a waterproof notepad for the shower!

Hooray! Their catch phrase is also cool - No more great ideas down the drain! Whoever came up with the waterproof notepad must have been thinking like the inventor of the Snuggie. If you can't find something you need, just make it yourself! It just goes to show you, that super inventions don't have to be complex and expensive extravaganzas!

Just this morning, it occurred to me (in the shower, of course) that so much of human behavior and characteristics are compared to birds:
We can be wise as an owl or act chicken (scared).
We can be bald as an eagle and proud as a peacock.
Eagle-eyed and voice like a nightingale are welcome observations; however, to be called naked as a jaybird is not.
Even though a lame duck is not as bad as a sitting duck, either may be more welcome than your goose is cooked.
One of my favorites - is the night owl, which has its opposite, the early bird.

We even have proverbs about birds:
Birds of a feather, flock together.
The early bird catches the worm.
A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.
What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Kill two birds with one stone.
That's for the birds.
And our sayings and proverbs don't stop with the birds.

Comments on human behavior also contain everything to do with birds:
Don't put all of your eggs in one basket.
Feather your nest.
Flew the coop.
Scarcer than hen's teeth.
A feather in your cap.

Remember you can be as free as a bird, that is, if you aren't a jail bird, and you can eat like a bird, which is deceptive because even though they are small, birds eat a tremondous amount.

At least that's what a little bird told me.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Snow Days

Ah, Snow Days! The joy of school-age children and (come closer, I'm going to whisper a secret - teachers, too). But there are snow days and there are snow days. Today is an example of a perfect snow day: the snow is lazy about falling. No hurry. Just drifting down landing like dust. You can still get outside and drive without fear of slipping and sliding, unlike snow days that trap you inside.

The best thing about snow days is their unpredictability. You can wish for them, even pray for them, but you can't predict them; at least not with any certainity. That's the magic of them - like a gift for no reason. I can remember the thrill of waking up when I was a little girl, and discovering school had been canceled. More than that, I remember the thrill of waking up and looking out my bedroom window to see the world transformed. There is no duplication of the white that is snow. And when the sun shines on it, it is dazzling. Diamonds cannot compare with the brillance of sun shining on fresh fallen snow.

So, what am I going to do with my snow day? Probably nothing. I have a long list of things I need to do, but all I seem to be able to accomplish is looking out of the window and watching it snow. I do plan to go outside and stand on my back patio and listen to the quiet. The world sounds different when it is blanketed by snow. The quiet is so complete, you can almost touch it or wrap it around yourself like a blanket. The word solitude comes to mind, something we don't get much of in today's fast paced world.

Ah snow days - I am going to savor today.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

That's Alright. It's time.

There's something so precious about the early morning quiet. There's no other time of the day like this. Right now the sky is turning from black to gray, and somewhere outside, my dogs are having their morning run. This is the last day of my "Christmas vacation." Tomorrow I go back to the world of "Ms. Elswick's" "Can I (not May I) borrow a pencil?" And the most important question of the day for a teacher, "What's for lunch?" But that's alright. It's time.

My daughter goes back to Morehead State Univ. today to prepare for her first day of student teaching. Tomorrow she embarks on a new world - music teacher. Pride swells inside of me and I am "fit to bust." In some ways, she has trained for this day since the sixth grade when she picked up her flute for the first time. She is going to be an amazing teacher! She has chosen my profession, which for me was the only choice. For 31 years I have called myself teacher, and I am proud to do so. It is who I am as much as I am a wife, mother, and writer. For her it's alright. It's time.

The sky is lighter now. It has become the color of pearls. The trees leaning against the sky look like black matchsticks. I am happy to see the ground again, since the blanket of snow is gone - at least for now. I admit freely, that I love the snow. I love the seasons and expect them to behave, and be cold in winter and hot in summer, and well, you get the idea. But I also love the days of reprive when a taste of spring intrudes on winter, and a hint of fall splashes on summer, but I'm sure the cold and snow will return soon. That's alright. It's time.

Good-bye 2010. It was a year of ups and downs, but that's life. Isn't it? 2011 begins now like the new day I've watched break outside my window. I welcome it with hope. I do not make resolutions. I've lived long enough to know that doesn't work for me. Instead, I look at each day of the new year like Anne Shirley in Lucy Maud Montgomery's beloved book "Anne of Green Gables" - Isn't it wonderful to have a new day without any mistakes in it yet?"

That's alrlight. It's time.