Friday, December 29, 2017


Not a thing lies hidden
behind the bare branch –
          the days before emergent buds.

Sycamores silver and white
          golden autumn cast to the ground.

White limbs reaching to the sky, seeking,
          silver fingers thrusting out, pleading,
          bare tips looking to heaven, expecting.

like manna,
catching in the bends,
brushing branches,
          clinging to loosened bark and hardened knots.

          lacing cedar trees.

Tabled outcroppings spreading for feasting.

God steps back and says “It is good. It is pure.”


Saturday, December 16, 2017


Sarah and Ezekiel caught my eye this Christmas season.  They were in two very different places.  But the gift these little children gave me this season has stayed with me.

I met Ezekiel at the grocery store.  On a day when grocery store lines were running about ten carts deep and every available bagger and checker were in position and working hard.  Everyone had milk and bread and eggs and frozen pizza and chips and Ravioli and tunafish and Vienna sausage and marshmallows and peanut butter.  Rations for an ice storm.  Or power outage or both.

Ezekiel did not bounce off the walls or swing on the basket or run back and forth begging for another item.  He stood politely and talked to his grandmother about the frozen pizza in their basket and how much fun they were going to have making it for supper.  I started chatting with her because I always chat. I do not live in a solemn world. 

Then I began talking to Ezekiel.  He was also a willing chatter.  He was five.  He told me about school and the pizza.  I asked him if he had been a good boy.  Have you ever met a child who wasn't?  Yes, he had been good.  I asked him what he wanted for Christmas.  He said he wanted Santa to bring him paints.  And some kind of toy I have no knowledge of - maybe a game.  He said he was an artist.  And he was pleased that I was pleased that he was one.  He had done six pictures of his family and he liked to just sit and draw.  Smiling, I asked him if he would go home with me.  He smiled without hesitation and asked if he could bring his games with him.  His grandmother laughed and said she could loan him out.  I leaned down and told him that would be fun.  Then looking out from under his hood somberly, his bright eyes looked up at me and he whispered in the reverence only reserved for the most special things in a child's life.  "I love candy."  A smile broke across his face.  "But not too much."  Chocolate.  We agreed that was the best.  I told him since he was an artist he could draw pictures of candy.  His eyes shot sideways in the new thought.  I told him that people have jobs drawing candy packages and cookie and pizza packages.  The wheels were spinning.  I left there with a little soft spot in my heart for a delightful young man named Ezekiel.

Sarah caught my eye at church.  She was standing at the Advent Table with her family as they lit the first candle of the season.  She and her brother were a little more than eye level with the velvet covered table holding five candles.  Her mother lit one candle.  Our pastor began to lead us in prayer.  Sarah bowed her head and then looked up.  She wasn't looking at the crowd or at her parents or her brother.  She was looking straight into the candle as the spark burned on the candle's wick.  Her face glowed, reflected in the light of the candle so close to her.  The childlike amazement was in her eyes.  She barely smiled.  I went away from church that morning with a fresh view of the amazement of Christmas.

I have probably never talked to Sarah.  I do know her parents.  She has certainly not spent time telling me what she wants for Christmas.  I don't know if she likes frozen pizza or the color pink or chocolate candy.  I do know Sarah walks.  But in the fall, with school just starting, she suffered a very rare stroke and her precious young life was almost lost.  But now, both sides of her body work like a little girl's body should and she can almost run again.

I think of Mary, barely a young woman.  Making a journey to a new land of great difficulty.  On a donkey.  Better than walking, maybe.  Young, with only a new, inexperienced husband for support.  No mother or sisters to ease her path.  I see her eyes with tears, in excitement, fear and pain.  But her husband is steady and confident and protective.

Ezekiel and his talent.  His bright eyes smiling.  A whisper in his ears - you have the miracle.

Sarah smiling, running.  A whisper in her ears - you are a miracle.

Mary, riding into a new life.  A whisper in her ears - you carry The Miracle.

May you hear the whisper.

**Originally published 12-24-13

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


We couldn’t get on the road until well after dark. Years ago, I would pack a Thermos of coffee and a few snacks.  Little towns had yet to see yellow arches. Gas stations offered pots of coffee which had usually been sitting for a couple of hours. On a bitter November night, a few swigs of black bean hit the spot.

Just off the interstate, the rest area was fairly new and sat at the top of a little mountain which gave down into miles of harvested land. Other mountains were nearby but the scraggy fields and far spaced small towns reflected nothing but space. I got out of the car and gazed up into the night sky.  

A few cars were parked at the curb next to the brick building. Park benches and picnic tables stood away from the building. Another car was parked more closely than the others. It was old and battle worn. A man leaned under the hood, messing with something.  A non-descript item like a pillow or blanket and paper trash were smashed up into the rear window and blocked a passenger window.
Burt and I walked into the rest area without mentioning the old car.

I walked into the Ladies and immediately got the picture. I said hello. The room was stuffy from the two hand dryers hanging near the faucet. Harsh lighting and yellow tiles reflected into a wavy polished metal mirror scratched by more than just an uneven lipstick. I walked past and into a stall.

Instant dilemma. What should I do? I had never seen anything like this before. A mother was standing by a hand dryer. The sound never seemed to end as she regularly pushed the button to keep the warm air near her daughters. I had never seen anyone like her before. She was a large woman draped in ill-fitting clothes that appeared to have been worn a long time without washing. Her face and hair were not clean.

At her feet, two little girls huddled together on a blanket, children sitting on the floor of a rest area in a blanket to be used for sleeping. They were wearing thin clothing. There was no hint of the rosy blush of a sweet childhood. They needed good food, warm clothes, hot water and a soft bed.

Frankly, my twenty-two years were in shock over this situation. What could I do to help them?
I had a twenty in my pocket. A twenty would buy a week’s worth of groceries.  My parents always gave me money for my pocket when Burt and I were leaving. I could give the woman the twenty. I felt compelled that this was the right thing for me to do.

I listened to some of her story. I could only help this much but I hoped it would get them down the road. She was very appreciative and blessed me profusely. I almost had to turn my eyes away from the girls. I had never seen two little girls in such a dire situation. They didn’t offer any smiles, huddled together on the blanket, on the floor of the restroom, warming under the hand dryers like baby chicks under a light.

I had had an almost religious experience giving the woman the twenty dollars. In my immature twenties, I didn’t know if she was there to bless me and my generosity or if I was there to offer her hope and a minimum of salvation. My heart seemed to overflow, no matter which reason. I even thought maybe she was an angel. 

But in not too many more minutes, Burt pointed out it was probably a scam. I should have tried to get the little girls help on that bitter November night. I failed even though I thought I had offered Christian charity. After the Thanksgiving holiday, I waved goodbye to my parents. I left without anyone giving me even one dollar bill.

Last week, a young man walked up to a group of my friends as we stood outside saying goodbye. When he first walked up, I assumed he was a high school boy going into the restaurant. He was wearing khakis and a yellow hoodie. His hair was neat. 

He stopped and asked if we could help him. Those words. “Can you help me?” He had run out of gas and the filling station (next door) wanted 14.95 to loan a gas can. Here was a picture of his car. Here was the phone screen where he had tried to call his father. He was 17 and lived in “Pricey Neighborhood.” Just a few miles down the road. He was politely pleading, to this group of ladies – grandmothers, retired ladies, working women - a very compassionate group to come across in your time of need – good Christian women.

Three of us walked to our cars, the only cars on the other side of the building. First one friend pulled out of her place and then the friend next to me. I backed out and put my car in drive. I am startled to see the boy running across the grass, straight for my car. I brake to stop. My window was barely rolled down. He has pulled up his hood and is standing with his hands in his pocket. So close to my window I can see the cratered skin of severe drug abuse.

“Mam, please, anything. Change. Just quarters.” For a minute I remember I have a handful of quarters in my purse. But something in me remains resolute. I had a twenty in my pocket. But I was afraid. He was so close to my car. My antenna went up. I drove off.  The paper has been full of purse snatchings and robberies. 

Was I supposed to put my car into park, open my purse and look for quarters or pull the twenty from my pocket? My instinct urged me to drive away.  

I doubt he was seventeen or lived in the nearby fancy neighborhood. But he belongs to someone. Is a Mama sitting in a chair, unable to sleep, thinking about her son? What if he were my son? I could only hope someone would help him.

I’ll never know if he was a scam or a thief waiting for me to roll down the window. His face is still clear in my mind. I don’t know how much favor I can afford him.

People are literally running to us for help. Blocking our pathways. Interupting our conversations. Startling our senses. So many people need help that we are overwhelmed, frightened and exhausted. What can we do? How do we know?

A little voice inside of me. Lord, give me heart and courage. And a pocketful of twenties.

Sunday, November 19, 2017


This is a recipe which begins with making chicken broth. A person can use canned broth in a pinch but for the best flavor nothing but homemade. Sweet Oreo loved to help me cook chicken. He would Velcro himself to the stove, sitting patiently, waiting for the funny chicken bits to fall from my fingers. Never turn your back on a dog "helping" with this procedure!


4-5 large chicken breasts -
      WITH skin and bones still intact
3-4 stalks of celery and celery leafs
2-3 carrots
1 onion, quartered
salt and pepper to taste

Place chicken breasts in pot and pour enough water to cover completely. Add vegetables and salt and pepper. Stew on stovetop for about an hour but depends on amount of meat. I use a thermometer to test doneness. Keep on a low boil until cooked thoroughly. Cool thoroughly. Any broth left over from a recipe can be frozen in ice cube trays. Pop out frozen broth cubes into a Ziploc bag. Keep in the freezer for instant homemade broth for making rice, adding to soup or cooking veggies.

The pot pictured on the right came from The Elk Hotel kitchen, my grandparents' hotel, once located on the corner of the square in the county seat, when the county square was the center of all commerce and communication.


2 skillets of perfect cornbread
1 stick of butter
2 cups each of celery and onion, sliced and diced
4 cups of homemade broth*
4 eggs
5 tsp rubbed sage (adjust for personal preference)
salt and pepper to taste

Add celery, onion and butter to skillet.  Cook on low until veggies are softened but not mushy.  Turn off heat. Cool veggies.

I mix the dressing up in my 8 qt. pot. I have used non-latex gloves, but in truth, I usually use the best tools: very, very clean hands.

 In large pot, add cornbread and crumble up, smooshing it well with your fingers. Think of this as playing with your food. This will take a few minutes if done properly. Next, add butter and cooked veggies to the cornbread mash and mix well.
Dry cornbread and sauteed veggies ready to mix

Add cooled broth (not straight from the pot, too hot) and mix. Add four beaten eggs and mix.  Add sage and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste. This should have a consistency between cake dough and cookie dough but not stiff.

Everything well crumbled but not enough broth.

Don't even think of throwing a few crumbs of light bread into the mix. However, I have known of cooks who have added dry cornmeal to reduce the mix if too much broth is added. The nice thing about dressing is that you can make it the day before and take your time to get it right. Good luck.

More broth added, perfect consistency - a good hand

Spray 9 X 13 pan with Pam. Pour wet dressing mixture into pan but don't fill to the very top.  This will more than fill up a 9 X 13 stainless baking pan. I will sometimes use an additional, smaller pan. Dividing up the mixture into two separate pans will help them cook faster. I have learned the hard way, waiting and waiting). Cook at 350 for one hour.  Insert a knife blade into the middle to test for doneness.  Let it set for a few minutes before serving.

Cooked shredded chicken maybe added to raw dressing and ready to bake.

Hot from the oven, baked to perfection

Plated for your eating enjoyment
Ocean Spray canned cranberry used for convenience

VARIATION:  To make Chicken and Dressing, use cooked meat from Chicken Broth.  Skin and bone breasts well.  Shred meat and mix into the uncooked dressing. You can also spread the cooked meat on top and press it down into the uncooked dressing before cooking.


We love fresh cranberries in my house but do keep canned on the shelf for convenience.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


Butter melting on a slice of Perfect Cornbread

Before even thinking about making the delicacy of Southern Dressing for the holidays, the matter of cornbread must be addressed. 

Any good Southern cook worth her weight in Crisco can stir up a fitting pan of cornbread, worthy of all the purple hull peas, fried okra, butter beans, sliced tomatoes, fried eggplant, cooked squash and new potatoes that might have the honor of residing on the same plate with this crispy delicacy.  But there are new cooks rattling the pots and pans every day.  This recipe is for the new cook of any region seeking an authentic quick bread to serve with soup, beans or meat and three.  Or maybe the experienced cook who can't get the cornbread to pop out of the skillet without sticking.  If it starts out in a packet or a little blue box, it is only an imitator hoping to achieve greatness.

I have mentioned Perfect Cornbread previously, Pea Salad for a True Southern Repast 9-1-13.  The original recipe came from a cookbook that looks like a checkerboard tablecloth which was a wedding present of my Mother's.  This is the only recipe I ever use.  I don't mess with perfection.  I learned the secret to good cornbread at my Mamaw's knee.  It's all about the sizzle, two sizzles to be exact.

1 cup of flour                                                 
1/4 cup of sugar                                    
1 tsp salt                                               
4 tsp baking powder
1 cup yellow cornmeal                         
2 eggs
1 cup of milk
1/4 cup of shortening

Yes, this recipe does have sugar in it.  Now I am a die-hard Southern cook, except in this case, but a little bit of sugar only sweetens the pie and will get you lots of compliments.  Infact, I have never made it without.

Add flour, sugar, salt and baking powder to a mixing bowl and mix up.  Put your cast iron skillet on the stove over a good heat, a bit more than medium.  Add the shortening to the skillet so it can get hot and melt. Add cornmeal to the dry flour mixture and mix.  Add two eggs and 1 cup of milk to the dry mixture, mixing everything together very well with a fork.

Watch your grease. (Do not ever walk away from a stove when heating shortening.)  When it is hot (just learn by doing) pour the hot grease from the skillet into the wet mixture.  You should hear a sizzle (1).  The picture to the right is just after pouring the hot grease into the mix.

Put the skillet back on the hot stove and add a good dollop of shortening.  This will melt while you are stirring the hot shortening into the wet cornbread mixture. When the second round of shortening is hot, pour the cornbread mix into the skillet, still on the stove.  You should hear a sizzle (2).

Using a mitt, put the skillet of cornbread into the oven at 425 for 20 minutes.  It will be done but you might want to check it and turn down oven (5-10 degrees) if too brown on top.  Using a mitt, remove from the oven and flip the skillet of cornbread onto a cutting board or heavy plate.  And then using another plate, flip it back to the desired side.  You can play with that.  If you have done all of this correctly or even mostly correct, it will jump out of the skillet for you!  Enjoy!

Now that you can make Perfect Cornbread you can move to Lesson 2, Perfect Cornbread Dressing.

Perfect Cornbread hot from the oven!

The backside of Perfect Cornbread



Friday, November 17, 2017


The season is upon us. Those of us who are cooking the holiday dinners. And probably the ones growing weary standing in long lines at Kroger. One night I spent three grocery store hunts for sour cream. If you can, shop early. I feel for the people who have to wait until the last minute.

What do racing and cornmeal have to do with each other? (2016) reports over 10 million miles have been raced on Sunoco Green E15. The very last race of the season, the end of NASCAR ethanol consumption, is days before the holiday season begins. Connection?

We need to be concerned. "People" know about it but nobody is talking. There is the possibility that the cornmeal shelves will be empty days before Thanksgiving. I tell you it is all being burned away in engines every day but most notably in the auto racing industry. There is no sense whatsoever in thirty-two cars going around a track or a track that twists and turns on a course. That is a lot of gasoline for five hundred miles and all of those cars are burning, burning, burning.  And there is only one women they let race. But to look at her, I don't think she eats much so it is of little concern to her that the very essence of Thanksgiving and Christmas meals is going up in the air as all those little cars race their tires off.

This is serious. This is not fake news. Without cornmeal, there can be no cornbread. And you have to have cornbread to make Dressing for Thanksgiving. Cornbread is to the South like a popover to Menomonie, Wisconsin, a flour tortilla to San Antonio, Texas and a lobster roll to Boothbay, Maine. A shortage of cornmeal could disrupt the usual beautiful holiday tradition of steaming sage dressing full of onions and celery and the plated little jellied roll of cranberry sauce.

Thank goodness this nonsense will soon be shed.  #48 is stuck with seven titles to end 2017. Will he retire? Daryl Earnhardt and Richard Petty did win seven times but will Jimmie go for #8 in 2018?

He was raised in California. I don't know if they give a fig about dressing over there, sitting on that fault line.  This is true because I wouldn't make it up.  Dressing, as we Southerners know it, may be at stake.  Corn continues to be a bumper crop.  That should be a good thing but they are growing it to make fuel.

But with all of that corn going for fuel, especially the racing kind, the eating kind is getting scarce.  No one will say anything because corn has always been so very important to the American diet, right from the first step out of the boat.  They don't want a corn panic like the spinach panic of 1843.

I am having trouble sleeping at night because I am worried about having enough cornmeal to make my dressing for Thanksgiving.  It is the perfect dressing.  Course, a perfect dressing is only doable with a perfect cornbread.  You have to have a Mamaw to teach you to make perfect cornbread and I'm not giving that secret away for nothing.  But it is a real secret, I promise.  And there are good Southern cooks who can't make a mean dressing.  Bless their heart.  Cornbread is the backbone.     

 Fixing dressing in my family requires nerves of cast iron.  Iron chef is nothing.  We have so many good cooks we can't fit all the food on the table.

Stuffing is not dressing.  Little pieces of “light bread” do not make up a southern dressing.  Let’s face it.  What success can you hope for by saving bread scraps for two weeks?  They get dry.  Did you ever hear of someone taking Chicken and Stuffing to a grieving family?  They’d mourn all over again. 

I have stuffed those little chickens but I will never stuff a turkey.  I know folks can't help where they are raised but the thought of stuffing makes me lose my appetite for a couple of weeks.  Millions are raised on white bread stuffing.  White bread is good for toast and a peanut butter sandwich and a fried baloney sandwich. 

I've got to put my mighty pen down and find out more about this conspiracy.  Maybe they are just trying to put us on a diet by taking away corn.  I'll be glad when all of this racing is over.  It is not healthy to sit out there in all of that dust, noise and smells.  Course, I can't be too harsh because a lot of good Southern folks are rooting on their favorites.  And they don't know about this NASCAR Cornmeal Conspiracy.  It hasn't even been on Fox news, yet.    

# Sizzle Perfect Cornbread - No-Stick Guarantee 

Revision of original 11-11-13

Sunday, November 5, 2017


Car love. Color. Outside. Inside. Tires. Leather seats. Lift gate. Heated seats. Expansive windshield. Horses. Sunroof.  

Nine years later, I still love driving it as much as the first day. Reliability. Pedal to the metal. Could there be any new experience left to discover behind the wheel?

Driving down the road to visit my mother. Tom Petty’s Freefallin’ on the radio, a mesmerizing song which always changes my volume. She’s a good girl.

Freefall. You cannot say the word without the up and down it represents. Seconds of suspension hanging in time, unaffected by earth’s movement. Falling into what was.

First memorized poem – eight years old. Robert Louis Stevenson.  “Up in the air I go flying again, up in the air and down.” The magic.
I spend the night. We make the requisite WalMart excursion. Then to Oceans for Fried Catfish and shrimp and cry about ‘em fries. A good visit. Sally on Best Behavior Cat.

Heading home the next day. Eighty degrees. Running naked weather. Perfect. Big, blue ribbon sky. Bedraggled trees I will not kid you about the leaves.

I only open the sunroof on city streets – a decent breeze. But this day, I open the sunroof for the highway. And just for something new, the front windows too, all the way down. The sun on my head and arms. Even my short hair whipping around my face.

What a rush! Flying eighty down the interstate. Little traffic. Wind all around, rushing through the windows and up through the sunroof. The sun. The swirl. Wind lifts. It’s almost like flying, driving in the full sun and blasting wind. I yell like I’m riding the Himalaya at the Fair.

Driving down the highway. Radio cranked. Hoping for the notes and lyrics sung for thousands of miles. Notes which lift and exhilarate. Freebird and Frankenstein. Stairway to Heaven.  American Pie. Stayin’ Alive. Hotel California. Sweet Home Alabama. Jet Airliner. September. Bennie and the Jets. Bohemian Rhapsody. Let It Be.

Blue. Breeze. Heat on my skin. Fleetwood Mac. John Denver. We Are Family.

Free. Being there. Staying there. Summer 80. “How can they be that close? Just let me say for the record we’re giving love in a family dose.”*  Three dancing. Daddy twirls the Dancing Queen. Shuffle. I can see his smile. Anything to make his girls happy. Parquet dance floor. Disco Ball. Backgammon. Sunday. Employees. We are family.  

The freefall of memory. Hanging in the air, aloft. A minute of everyday halted, triggered by the notes of a song or a fragrance. Suspension. Earnest focus. Memory of touch. Obsession. The bright flash will not bring back the place or person. The world has kept on moving. Falling, stretching out the dance until landing back on earth into time already passed.

*Sister Sledge We Are Family  1979

Saturday, October 21, 2017


My husband thought he heard a gunshot last night while watching t.v. He jumped up thinking it was coming from the deck. Then he realized it must be the roof artillery ricocheting off of the grill. 

As a writer, one of the nicest compliments one can receive is a reader talking about a particular story. Just to know someone has enjoyed the story. Drop Day is a story people mention.* The Bride Who Wore Red Tennis Shoes (Parts 1-4/ Beginning with 9-12-13) is a favorite but nothing to do with acorns. Just an adventure in Eureka Springs one fine spring. For your reading pleasure.

I woke up this morning and realized today was the day, the primary day of acorn flinging, Drop Day. Elephants running across our roof.

We do not have tickets to the World Series.  At this late date, all the baseball uniforms of every team are at the cleaners.  So who is running bases on my roof?

It is that time of year again, the Squirrel World Series.  Day barely breaks before they are playing with acorns as big as crabapples.  And they can’t catch!  If I sneak out on the deck, I can hear the fans singing “Take Me Out to the Taylor Tree,” smell the popacorn and hear little bitty cans of Nut Beer popping open, all before 7 a.m.!

Drop Day is a big deal at my house.  We have oak and hickory trees circling the house.  But this year we are experiencing Drop Week.  The acorns are so big everyone knows someone who has either been hit in the head or broken a bone falling over an acrimonious nut.  The dog has had his legs crossed for days. 

What is the purpose of the squirrel?  Maybe their purpose is to drive the meek mad. Friend or foe, ask a person not what they hate or love, but what drives them crazy.  A whole industry has developed to thwart the endeavors of these birdseed thieves.  My father had a little chair for the squirrel to sit on and eat corn, thinking it would distract the cute rodent.  They just got fatter. 

They keep their teeth sharp by chiseling deck rails.  We have especially talented squirrels that leaned out over the roof edge, devouring a shoebox size piece of soffit.  We covered the opening with mesh wire stuffed with steel wool pads, about the only thing they can’t get their teeth into!

 The antics of the squirrel are so amusing we forget they are just rodents in the tree of life.  Recently, we watched a squirrel climb into the BBQ grill.  He thought he had found a secret paradise, his twitchy tail still hung out the back.  Later, we looked in the grill and found a half-eaten acorn.  I left two fat ones as a gift.

 Do you know why you never see a squirrel kid?  They can’t run with nuts in their mouth and aren’t long or fast enough to keep up with Mama.  What makes a squirrel change direction in the middle of the street?  Count the times you’ve zigged for his zag.  Come to think of it, have you ever seen a squirrel lying dead from an inaccurate leap?  No.  A Secret Squirrel Society gathers up the errant Wallenda to perpetuate the myth of the flying squirrel. 

 Despite the negative, there are good things about Mr. and Mrs. Squirrel.  They are thorough and tireless when building a nest high in the treetops.  Think of the courage required to jump out a distance five times your length or the confidence required to zip along branches and electrical wires.  Despite my frustration with them, I am drawn to their secret treetop world, only imagining the thrill of flying through the air and maneuvering their hickory mazes and oak bowers. 

*Revision  Originally published October 17, 2013

Friday, October 6, 2017


I love fall!

My newest habit is a result of cooler weather.  But a warm front came along, throwing the digits back into the miserable eighties.  Really?  At the end of October.  But that is just October.  My favorite month.  Apple pie.  Football.  State Fair.  Reading a book sitting by an open window.  The sun changing.  Baseball.  Caramel.

A cool evening draws me out outside. Faithful pup runs up the stairs, stomping in the leaves just beginning to fall.  Happy for company, he grabs a twig to catch my attention.  But I am busy lighting a candle, setting down a mug of marshmallow overflowing hot chocolate to strike the match.  A perfect fall evening of solitude.  No air conditioners, just a low current of night time noise. I pick up my phone and begin my latest obsession - Spider. Peace, quiet and relaxation.  A tonic for a goodnight's sleep.

Then the artillery begins.  The thawacking sound of an acorn letting loose, dropping through levels of leaves, ricocheting off the roof.  I raise my hand to my head as minimal protection.     

What goes up must come down.  A girl, a bow, an arrow.  Standing in the middle of a quiet street, she leans back, shooting the arrow up into the blue.  Gravity sends the arrow back down.  Her little brother picks up the fallen arrow and the process begins again.  Up it goes and down it comes.  At some point, he questions the operation and is running around with a dishpan on his head.  "Where is it?  Where is it?"  He stands next to her, sticking to her like glue.  He can't see the arrows whooshing down through the leaves.  She is not afraid, then, now or ever.  Until one of the arrows hits the roof of a car parked at the curb.  They retreat quickly into the house. A dishpan is not quite the perfect accessory when the sky is falling.     
This was just a little thing.  But I am into little things.  Last week, I was in traffic on a four lane thoroughfare, a major east west connector and also a primary exit off the interstate.  This road runs through red lights, past strip shopping centers, churches, schools, drug stores, banks, the gym I sometimes think about, local and chain eateries, the vet's office, the grocery store, my favorite antique mall, apartments, entrances to lovely subdivisions.  

There are trees everywhere.  And poles connecting this to that with wires crossing the street.  A wire was silhouetted in the sky.  A little squirrel was running across with a mouthful of acorns or nesting material sticking out of his mouth.  Zippity Do Da.  Zinging across the certain canyon of death as thick traffic traveled below.  One slip of a little foot.

But he was on a mission.  Building a nest and gathering supplies.  He may have the advantage of not sensing the perilous situation.  He just did what he had to do.  No quibbling.  From watching squirrels in my backyard, I doubt he gave a second thought to jumping out on that wire.  He didn't test the tension with his foot or grab an umbrella for balance.   He didn't stop to consider the traffic below.  He was moving along even though the very scary was right below.  A squirrel has to do what a squirrel has to do.  I think that is amazing.  The something inside of him that says nuts to gather and nests to build.  This is that time of year.

His sky is falling.  Acorns.  Manna.  Provision.

Revision. Previously published 10/20/14.

Friday, September 29, 2017


I am the person who can drink hot coffee in the summer and iced coffee in the winter. But last night I drank two cups of coffee about 7:30 p.m. Maybe that's why I tossed and turned. Still, I can hardly resist a perfect cup of caffeinated. Not decaf. Once upon a time, many an evening was passed under the great orange roof of IHop, drinking pots of hot coffee, black. Until 2:00 a.m. Now that roof is painted beige and is a sandwich shop. Oh the conversations caught up in the eaves, all those years ago. Somehow, I doubt any problems of the world have ever been almost solved over a roasted turkey sandwich with cranberry mustard. People in emotional distress seldom reach for a chicken salad sandwich.

When I was very little, my great grandmother introduced me to coffee. Grannie had a little Dutch boy and girl who hung on a little wooden shelf. Finally, one day, she took a little cup down and placed it in front of me. She poured a dollop of hot coffee into the cup followed by a good pour of cream. And a few spoons of sugar. Of course, I loved it. But it remained a rare and special occasion when I was allowed to drink coffee.

Forward to seventh grade. I woke up at 6:00 a.m. to fetch the paper and make a cup of coffee. The granular type. Do people still admit to drinking that noxious brew? I think it was a gift from outer space. Freeze dried. Also those little chewy sticks. But I did enjoy my new found love of spreading out the pages on the table and finding out what was going on in the world. My Daddy would come in and make his coffee. Black.

Year after year. Over and over. Day or night. Black coffee. In Styrofoam or in a mug. Any way I could get it. And then suddenly, coffee was not my thing. Well, actually for nine months. Coffee was not my thing. Or bacon. Thankfully, my love of coffee returned at the much needed time. No Starbucks to perk me up but I would have buckled that baby into her car seat toot sweet for the elixir of life at a drive-in window just up the street.

I went through a few years of grinding my own beans. And trying out flavors from hazelnut to Amaretto to Pumpkin Spice. When company was coming, only the best flavored coffee would do. And then the gamut of flavored creamers. At about this time, the black only coffee drinker left the room and returned as a skim milk only girl. No powdered creamer. At a nice restaurant only real cream.

In the last few years, I have become a card carrying fan of Starbucks. I blame Cate and a substantial  Mother's Day gift. But not everyday and nothing fancy. I will get one Pumpkin Spice coffee all season long. My usual is a tall latte with one sugar.

Right now, in my fridge, I have frozen Seattle's Best beans and my usual Community Club Breakfast Blend. About 6:30 a.m., nothing says I love you more than waking up to the aroma of a fresh pot of coffee perking in the kitchen, made by my personal barista. And he doesn't even like coffee. That's love.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017



               I love chicken fried steak. Does anyone NOT love chicken fried steak? You can eat it on a biscuit for breakfast. For lunch, put some mayonnaise and ketchup on a couple of slices of white bread and and add a piece of steak. Or just wallow in mashed potatoes and gravy, pinching off bites of chicken fried steak like a cluster of grapes just off the vine. Without grape scissors.

   I am not ashamed of my love affair with mashed potatoes. I was taught by the best, my Daddy. He was famous for his Mashed Potato Dance which produced the lightest, fluffiest, butteriest mashed potatoes, every and anywhere in the world. With the drained pot full of cooked potato nuggets, he would position the potato masher in the bottom of the pan and commence to dancing. Usually with a whistle and always a little jig. He would add a little milk, salt and pepper. Dance, dance, dance. Potatoes would spin into a frenzy like sugar at the cotton candy machine at The Texas State Fair. The masher would disappear into the glorious cloud of potatoes finding their best purpose in life.

At the perfect minute, the cloud would be rolled out into a bowl, steps away from the waiting dining table. Potatoes like to say "the party can't start without us." So true. But one more step. With a heavy hand, solid dollops of butter would be pushed into the piping hot potatoes. Quite a few dollops. A dusting of salt and pepper. Then the bowl would be rushed to the table as yellow pools of glistening butter began to melt, overflowing a proper china edge, threatening to flood the linen cloth. Fortunately, potatoes were quickly spooned onto the plates, averting a dairy disaster. And still, fork ready, a few seconds of "Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies." Finally, the very first bites of everyone seated at the table, mashed and buttered potatoes. All a body could ever hope for.

These were the potatoes of perfection I made on Sunday night. But I made the mashed potatoes to go with the Chicken Fried Steak.

This is not about accurate measurements but more of an illustrated inspiration to get out those cast iron skillets and a can of shortening. I wouldn't spill the beans to your cardiologist. However, I am about all things in moderation, mostly. My main temptation is how much I enjoy the preparation and the endeavor of making something so delicious. I am not bashful about my good cooking. And I am walking proof of my enjoyment in putting a good meal on the table for family and friends.

These are rudimentary instructions. To feed a crowd, buy two good size packages of cubed steak/minute steaks. They don't look as big until you get them home. I always half each steak. Try to handle this meat as little as possible because they are tender.

The trick to the chicken fried part is the dry-wet-dry mixture. In a shallow pan, add two cups of flour and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. You will need to add more flour as the dipping progresses.  To another shallow dish, add 4-5 eggs and beat well. I added a little half and half this time because I only had four eggs.

Arrange your counter top - wet mixture, dry mixture and wax paper. Pick up a piece of uncooked steak and dredge both sides in the flour, gently. Next, lay the steak in the wet mixture, front and back, quickly but so both sides are covered. Return the steak to the dry mixture but this time, lay the steak down and pat each side well with flour. Put the breaded steak onto the wax paper. Continue the process with each piece of meat. I used to put my breaded steaks immediately in the hot grease. But now I let them rest for 5-10 minutes before cooking.

For the record, I do have a very sensitive smoke detector. It usually, almost goes off when I cook this meal. Never walk away from hot grease cooking on the stove, for any reason. Grease can be very finicky even when you think things are going well. Always have a lid in close range.

The only time I came close to burning my kitchen down involved flowers from my favorite store. I was standing at the sink unwrapping layers of the old timey waxed paper. A nearby candle ignited the paper and whoosh, burning waxed paper was flying around my kitchen towards my fringe ball country curtains. About stopped my heart. Thankfully, the fires burned themselves up just in time.

This is the picture of the dueling skillets. Note the slabs of shortening. Steaks shouldn't be swimming in the oil. Maybe about 1/2" in the skillet. Do not cook the steaks on high. If that instruction has to be shared, maybe this is not the best recipe to get your frying badge. I do a medium temp.

Using a tong, gently place the uncooked, breaded steak into the pan of hot grease. Add two more, each one at a time. If you are doing the large batch, apply the same to the other skillet. With the tong, you can peek underneath the side cooking in the oil. But resist the temptation to flip flop flip. The steak will be ready to flip when the meat juices rise across the top of the steak. Flip.

These are called minute steaks because they cook very fast. When the piece has browned nicely, remove with a tong and place on paper towels to drain. Salt lightly. When the paper towel is full of cooked steaks, place a new paper towel over the first layer. Continue to layer in this manner.  

This could be a discourse on cooking with grease. Find a good Grannie and a swift mother in law to give you pointers.

Turn the burner off and remove the skillet to a cool, unused burner to help cool down the grease. Melted shortening is just like sloshing water but burning HOT. When it has cooled for about five minutes, drain small portions of grease through a small tea strainer to pick out the crunchies.

Gravy is a personal sauce. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. And sometimes you give up. But it just takes practice. I would say it is seldom for the novice. You will need fresh flour to make the gravy. Ratio of equal parts of warm grease to flour, in the skillet, over a high medium, stirring until it isn't liquid. Salt and pepper. While using a whisk, slowly add milk, add milk, thickening as it goes.Turn the heat down if it is bubbling too much. I used my leftover half and half but I usually use skim milk. Add the crunchies. Gravy is all about constant stirring and scrapping the sides and corners while adding more milk for consistency. Patience. Turn the heat down low. Add salt and pepper. If the gravy tastes good, it can still have a lump or two.

The result of all of your hard work is the product shown above, Chicken Fried Steak, mashed potatoes and homemade gravy. No green vegetables were harmed in this production. But if you have energy left, just open a good can of green beans for "something green." Everybody needs a couple of tablespoons of greenery a day.  ENJOY!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Office in Progress
National Day of Reading. Nothing specific. Just do it, as my mother used to say to me. Now, I say to her, I get it! I am giving myself a big kick in my size 19 denim jeans. I have read twenty four books since March 15. That's an ambitious number considering this gal has been a very delinquent English Major. Please don't call my local library. Cate gave me a pair of Jane Austen's for Christmas. I began with Pride and Prejudice. I also got an Amazon Fire tablet for Christmas and it lit a spark. This girl is on fire.

For some reason, words have been popping off the page. I have made notes while I am reading - unheard of for me but essential for growth. I have started a list of books the authors have noted or what I find in research about the author. I have read a couple of those already. Copy quotes, look up words. Where has my brain been? I have done this in the past but not with this intensity. 

Read, write, read, write, read, write. They really do go hand in hand. Now I'm hitting my forehead, why didn't I think of this earlier? There are so many stories and time is getting to be a factor if I am going to read everything in the world.

And except for one or two, I feel the reading has added to my experience in life. I have thought of these stories for weeks afterwards. Very interesting. I highly suggest you get to a library or tablet as soon as possible.

A couple of weeks ago, I thought up a new post called Page 99. Today I am using that concept to look through some of my favorite books on Page 99, first and last sentence. Presenting: Page 99.

ü  2.  the German dialect of Austria.  au-to-clave, a container for sterilizing, cooking, etc. by super heated steam under pressure.
Webster’s' New World Dictionary of the American Language,
College Edition, 1966, USA*
Borrowed from my parents' house for my bright college future.

ü  'Take what rest you need, and remember that, though unable to serve me here in Paris, you may be of the greatest service to me at Marseilles.' 'And how dressed?' asked Villefort quickly.
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas,1846
One of my all time favorites.

ü  Elvis was theirs. I could see the faces of some of those boy friends sitting there while their girl friends went crazy about Elvis, and man, they were as black as thunder.                              
ELVIS WHAT HAPPENED, Red West, Sonny West, Dave Hebler 
First edition: August 1977     
 I purchased this in the original Scribner Bookstore on Fifth Avenue, just released. Elvis died two days later. Scribner 1846-1988. Death by "precious real estate." Home to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe.....

ü  Beware! Very Challenging  99 Sat 11/23/15 Speedy!
Daring Sudoku, Will Shortz, July 2011
Still can't pronounce but love to play. Also full of many notes from Doctors' Offices and Atlanta layovers. No one suspects anything when you have a pencil in your hand and a puzzle book!  

ü  Tire specialist: the tire specialist isn’t tough to spot – he’s the guy who spends the entire day hanging around the team’s tires, changing the air pressure, checking the heat buildup, or measuring the wear of a tire after it has taken a few laps on the track. To find out more about pit crews and pit stops, turn to Chapter 10.
NASCAR for Dummies, Mark Martin, 2000, USA
Good old Arkansas boy. This book taught me everything I needed to know. Loved NASCAR for years (Newman, Martin, Jr.). Tired of rule changes and Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy.

ü  “Conroy, I grew up in the country among country people. But what makes them really effective is the addition of a shot glass of bourbon.”
My Reading Life, Pat Conroy, 2010, USA
(Ordered this from LOCAL BOOKSTORE.)
Read this in April – The Great Santini in May. No Sunday School picnic. Raw, beautiful, intricate relationships. I’m lucky enough to have his cookbook, The Pat Conroy Cookbook, Recipes and Stories of My Life, 2004, autographed.

ü  “No, Ricky is staying with us for a while, and we’re so happy to have him.” This is a courtesy to the custodial parent, who may have to rearrange schedules and transport his or her child to your event.
Emily Post’s Etiquette, 17th Edition, Peggy Post, The Definitive Guide to Manners, Completely Revised and Updated, 2004

Bought this for our wedding shindig. I love this book. It is fun just to read. Good manners are about the comfort of other people. Manners for Anyone.

ü   On Fridays, after namaz at the mosque, everyone would get together at our house for lunch and we’d eat in the garden, under cherry trees, drink fresh water from the well. I traced my fingers along the gold-colored stitching on the borders.
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini, 2003,USA
Traveling to Afghanistan, a trip I never expected. A world unseen.

ü  Heavily closed, with a jarring sound, the valves of the barn-doors,
Rattled the wooden bars, and all for a season was silent.
Many already have fled to the forest, and lurk on its outskirts,
Waiting with anxious hearts the dubious fate of to-morrow.
The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,1900, USA
I picked up this ancient book at “The Curious Book Shoppe on Block” Very good shape, considering. Serendipity for me. I have read Song of Hiawatha and Evangeline plus others. I love writing and reading poetry.

ü Because we had to stand near the phone because it was cold in the house and the heating duct by the telephone was the warmest and also because we were looking for a button that Caro said she lost right around in the area. And it was all because back in the early twenties when Miss Mitchell was a debutante, she went to a charity ball and just went wild and performed this wild and risqué Apache dance, and shocked all the Atlanta Junior League ladies so horribly that there was nothing they could do but punish her by never inviting her to be a member of the Junior League.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells, 1996,USA
I haven’t read this in a long time but I keep it around because I remember being enchanted by the story. I was a Ya-Ya Stitcherhood for many years, cross-stitch buddies. But life is always changing. This book is better than the movie. Every book is better than the movie.  

I hope this encourages reading on tremendous new levels. I have been working on my official new office for over a year. It wasn't this straight until today. Notice, only the shelves are showing. You can never have too many books. For a later day. Book in purse.

Monday, September 4, 2017


Not much to look at but still, a Prince is a Prince. When news of a new girlfriend began to develop and the serious nature, I knew my chances at being Queen were up. Diana was a year younger than me. While I was working on an English Degree, reading 300 pages a day, from Shakespeare to Lord Byron, she was learning the fine etiquette required for eating bouillabaisse with four utensils while in polite conversation with a Head of State. My Prince was just around the corner studying architecture and her Prince was the world's most eligible bachelor.

I quickly became the expert on all things Lady Diana. Two months after her engagement, I had my own Lady Diana haircut. Fashions quickly began to reflect her style - ruffles, bow ties, sweet prints, sheer white hosiery, white collared dresses and blouses - romantic flounces in soft colors. She was a young, natural beauty. And now she was marrying the future King of England.

Young. Not even twenty years old when she was engaged to the thirty-two year old Prince. They had been formally introduced in 1977 by Diana's sister, Lady Sarah. Lady Diana was a sixteen year old girl and Prince Charles was a twenty-nine year old man but their families had known each other forever.

At the time, I never batted an eyelash over the age difference. It was cool to think of marrying an older man who was also the maybe, King of England, someday. Adults who knew me tried to discourage me over the whole affair.  You would have thought I was the one marrying the older man. But they saw how swept away I was in this romantic endeavour and humored me. I knew Diana and Charles loved each other. That's why people get married. I can understand how a diamond tiara and the Royal Yacht could turn a head.

But did any adult involved really think a marriage with a twelve year age difference would work out, much less be any fun after the heir and the spare reached preschool?  Not a single adult acted in the best interest of Lady Diana. Not a parent, priest or Prince.

Yes. She said yes. That's what you do when you are madly in love with life and a Prince and a gorgeous, huge sapphire and diamond ring. Yes is the easy part. Twenty is still so new to be learning life. But it is the best time to try without reservation. Bold and brave. Swept away.

Diana's tilting head and endearing blush were innocently given up for the photographers as she and her Prince stood on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, posing for the official engagement pictures. Moments later they returned inside for a news interview. While holding Diana's hand, Prince Charles laughed slightly and said in response to a question, the game changer, "Whatever 'In Love' means." The cameras were rolling and so were the thoughts of most rational people watching.  But in another spot, say fetching some fish and chips, a smaller ring would have been bouncing off the cobblestones.

But this is not a regular deal. Royals don't throw rings and marriages are perfectly planned. A twenty year old woman can be crushed but more determined to go for the fairytale, the expected route for a Queen-to-be.

And she still said yes. 750 million television onlookers are anticipating a beautiful wedding as her carriage pulls up. Wrapped in clouds of glorious silk taffeta and tulle - a vision of bridal joy. Flat, delicate silk, mother of pearl slippers with suede soles, so she doesn't slip, measure her steps toward a future of choice. We didn't know what we didn't know, thankfully.

And we can be carried along on this fairytale ride in an open carriage full of flowers and balloons because we want love to work. We want a Prince and Princess to really live happily everafter. And maybe for awhile, they loved and were happy. This romantic likes to think so.

Along the lane of my Wales' obsession, I have collected sixteen lovely books detailing everything from the Princess' fashion, including maternity fashion and nursery handbook, to the book by her butler and the book written by Andrew Morton with Diana's secret tapes, revealing anything but a fairytale existence.

My favorite book is the very first book, Charles and Diana, The Prince and Princess of Wales by Trevor Hall. It begins right before their engagement and goes through the announcement of her pregnancy. Their first official walkabouts as the British people fall "in love" with Lady Diana, discovering her gift of ease and warmth and interest in the people and world around her.

Three weeks after the Royal Wedding, Charles and Diana met seventy photographers at Balmoral on the Brig O Dee. These are my favorite pictures. They look happy and relaxed. Finally, it appears that Charles has figured out whatever in love means. Soon they will have a young family, reinforcing the fairytale.

Princess Diana is beautiful, the most photographed woman in the world, ever. In time, she will not need anyone's permission to be her own person. She has poured herself into her two sons and they will continue her legacy of outreach.

I would rather celebrate the person instead of an anniversary. However, with time, I have questioned the world, including myself, which bought the books and magazines. Sadly, I don't think we ever realized the vicious power of pursuit until the ending of the frenetic desperation in a Paris tunnel.

The Althorp family presented a touring exhibition of Princess Diana's personal things: her wedding dress and other clothing, along with memorabilia from her childhood. Diana: a celebration. A very simple and elegant exhibit.

Behind the quietly lit glass, the yards of silk taffeta and tulle were breathtaking. Her dress was a fluffy concoction of bows and lace and poufs - a wedding dress fit for a young Princess. She was tall, tall enough to carry the twenty-five foot train behind her. Her preserved wedding attire looked as if she could slip the dress over her head and replay the events of that day.

 I remember as a young girl, my mother, grandmother and I going through a trunk of my mother's things. When she reached in to pick up her veil, the tulle netting disintegrated like a dandelion in a whisper.

I looked at Diana's wedding slippers. They were silk and embroidered with mother of pearl sequins with suede soles. My wedding shoes are in the top of my closet.  They are white leather sandals with a cut out trellis pattern. They are tucked away to stay, forever. No one will wear them again. But I know they are there.

I am sentimental romantic. Sometimes on my anniversary, I will get a step ladder and get the box down, open the red Bandolino box and pick one of them up. I look at the tiny shoe from another day. I turn it over and look at the scuffs on the sole. I didn't have a carriage to carry me. It's as if holding that shoe in my hand can bring back the magic of August 1982 at three o'clock in the afternoon. And some years, I have needed the magic of the memory.

Nothing but the most exquisite for the wedding of the century. From the top of a sparkling diamond tiara to the bottom of a suede sole. So as not to slip on the royal red rug at St. Paul's Cathedral or the step out onto the festooned balcony of Buckingham Palace. Never let her sole touch the ground. Angel flying too close to the ground.*

*Angel Flying to Close to the Ground, Willie Nelson, 1981