Wednesday, December 8, 2010
See you soon, I hope, for a little subconscious-searching for your very own divine details, the salt, pepper, and sage (or tarragon) with which to season your poetry: abracadabra!
Saturday, November 27, 2010
- for a God who listens whether I whine or sing
- for stunning sunsets
- for life
- for working limbs
- for family
- for grandchildren especially
- for fresh coconut cake with lemon/orange filling, cranberry conserve, pear mincemeat pie, pecan pumpkin pie--the whole of the meal
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Twins of a sort. She was born on March 25, 1925, to Tempie Savannah Taylor Smith and Jewell Smith who were married on April 2, 1924. Every two years or so thereafter,Tempie gave birth until she had a hysterectomy in the early fifties. I was born in 1942 when Mama was forty, the tenth of twelve children.
Although there was no shortage of family names since Grandpa Taylor alone had fathered twenty-seven children by two consecutive wives, few of our twelve were named for family. Annie Bell’s middle name was the name of Jewell’s sister, and my first name was the first name of his mother, Mary Josephine. Ironically, she and I are more like Daddy than any of the rest, including the boys.
We both got his looks, his build, his thin chin, his short hands and fingers (along with their arthritic joints), his sometimes-sharp tongue, and, mercifully, his love of a good laugh and a ready wit. We both are verbal learners, so a radio works just as well or better for us than a television. Toward the end of Daddy’s life, he had three radios: one for the weather, one for the “funerals,” and one for the Christian “stories,” which had taken the place of “The Lone Ranger” and “Sky King.” Those I used to adore listening to as we sat in straight-backed chairs which Mama had caned with White Oak strips.
From Mama Annie Bell and I both possess a love and sensitivity for young children—any young child—so strong that we will not stand by for anything we consider hurtful to one. And for our grandchildren—well, we’d take a bullet for any one of them without question. From Mama we also learned the art of making do in—in the kitchen and elsewhere. If you don’t have this, then you can use that. I’ve heard this over and over again about ingredients for recipes, about scraps for quilting, about fertilizers for a garden. We learned the art of preservation, something Annie Bell has generously fine-tuned for me because the abundance of summer and fall harvest season must not be allowed to go to waste.
Annie Bell and I do have our differences. When I told a friend in the eighties that I, too, had grown up as poor as a church mouse and that we were sharecroppers, she said, “You’d never know it. You’ve managed to squeeze out any signs of the country you had in you.”
What a pity, this standardization and burden brought on by education and college degrees. Annie Bell still has a lot of the country in her. She has a colorful vocabulary and pronunciation of words I’ve nearly forgotten from our family. A snake quoils up (pronounced like a long i); one grabbles taters; grass is as thick as hops; thinning corn with a hoe; turnip greens juicy with their pot likker; brars, not briars; tars, not tires; tote, not carry; lids are leds; one sleeps in a shimmy-tail and wears step-ins, not panties; one weighed a sack of picked cotton with the big or little peas (I finally learned peise).
I picked very little cotton: another dear sister, Lennie Bell, babysat me and Marie in a shady spot at the end of the field. Later I would beg my siblings to give me a ride on their cotton sack.
Annie Bell has mastered an art which I struggle sometimes to emulate with my writing: making something from nothing. After her husband died and her daughter built a new house with a basement apartment for her up in the country near Phillips Chapel and the intersection of Northside Road with Mormon Road, she decided she wanted some water oak trees like the one she had in her front yard in Northport. She planted acorns from that tree in Northport and now she has at least three water oak babies which are about knee-high started at her new home.
At her home in Northport when we walked around her house, she would point out to me what the flowers were and who had given them to her to root. She had taken several limbs from shrubs at my home in Prattville to root and they looked wonderful. She had also rooted hostas from that yard. She had a camellia from Len, a hibiscus and a trumpet from Ree, and day lilies from lots of sources. She never seemed to buy anything, including fertilizers. Horse manure worked best.
When she moved up into the country with more room to plant things, she wanted a few fruit trees planted. So after just a handful of growing seasons, this past summer she picked blueberries and the first Golden Delicious apples. I got some of the blueberries for pies and she dried and froze the apples for future fried apple pies. Her little orchard stands in a straight row at the edge of their property—the blueberry bushes and the apple tree plus two fig bushes (very tricky—must have a male and female in addition to a fig bee to pollinate the bush); a red apple tree, and a pear tree.
Judy, Annie Bell’s only daughter with whom she lives, dropped her off here two days ago so that she and her husband could drive to Destin to check on her brother-in-law who had a medical emergency. It didn’t take Ann long to spot Daddy’s old shoe last sitting on a high shelf in my small laundry room. I have kept a few of the old country things that survived Mama’s early demise. As the baby, I somehow ended up with the family’s cotton scale and the peise, both big and little. They sit there, too, with the shoe last which Daddy repaired shoe soles on, a small rub board Tommy used in college to wash socks on, a dasher from a churn—the churn broke long ago, some quart-sized blue canning jars with glass lids and metal fasteners, and some early Coca-Cola trays.
How quickly she recognized everything that was there, and we reminisced about some other things Mama used and didn’t know where they had “got off to.” Mama’s circular sifter with wooden sides that she used each morning to make several large pans of biscuits for her hungry family; the battling board that she used to beat clothes with or stir them in the black washpot when she was boiling them to get ground-in dirt from the knees of denim overalls; the big rub board; the old trunk that had sat in the sideroom all of my life holding the few remnants of our Taylor and Smith grandparents; the kitchen table with the bench made by Grandpa Taylor—how do concrete things simply dissipate we wondered?
Most of the time now she calls me Sister, and I call her Ann. She remembers more about the old days than she does about what I told her five minutes ago about making chicken salad. We tackled that project to keep ourselves happily busy in the kitchen while she was here. I had planned to make a batch and take some to my daughter, Teresa, because she loves it. We would bake some blueberry muffins and have a fine little lunch to take. When I called Teresa the night before, she had a surprise announcement: she had to make a vat of chicken salad the next day to take to Nicholas’s school. How fortuitous that Ann and I were poised and ready to take on that project.
We shopped for some chicken breasts at Publix. Bone-in, of course and skin on. That way we could drop in an onion, a stalk of celery, and a carrot and have a delicious stock left after we boiled the breasts. We would freeze the stock for soups, standard operating procedure for both of us.
I asked Teresa to choose a recipe. She had planned, without thinking it through, that she would used the recipe we always use with mandarin oranges, grapes, and nuts. We all three laughed when we thought of smearing two slices of bread with oranges. Not possible. The recipe Teresa came up with was from the Barefoot Contessa—a tarragon chicken salad. Tarragon happens to be one of our favorite herbs—I make my own vinegar with fresh tarragon and use it with salad oil for a simple, but delicious dressing. We also like the tarragon chicken at Continental Bakery. Since we liked it, I guessed Ann would as well, and she did.
The recipe called for baked chicken, but we ignored that suggestion and did our usual boiling. The addition of tarragon, celery, a little mayo, salt and pepper was all the cooked chicken needed.
But I can always gild the lily when it comes to kitchen projects. And Ann was right there with me all the way: we made two loaves of light brown bread for Teresa to use for the sandwiches. She assembled them right before taking them to the school early the next day.
Ann remembers the day I was born. She and the other children were sent away from our house at Bryce Logan’s place to Monkey Sanford’s birthday party. He was an old cousin of ours on Mama’s side. Doc Guin would bring his son, J.C., that day and ask Daddy’s permission to deliver me for practice. I was his first baby. Ann remembers coming home from the party and hearing me cry before they reached the house.
Ann has been diagnosed with hardening of the arteries, dementia, or Alzheimer’s this summer. She has a history of a stroke, and more recently a hemorrhagic stroke. She may lose a lot of her memory, but I’m counting on hearing the old stories over and over again.
One of my favorites is a story she told about her oldest brother, William Eura, who was just under her. She and William were walking with Mama to the spring to get some water down under a hill and William got tired of walking.
“Mama, tote me,” William cried.
“I can’t. I’ve got a bone in my leg,” answered Mama.
“Give me a pin, Mama, and I’ll pick it out,” William said.
We both had a good laugh imagining that scene again, remembering those we love now gone. We finished washing and drying the bread pans, cleaned the counters, took dish cloths to the laundry room, and made the kitchen tidy. Twins to the end, we would never leave a single dirty dish in the sink.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Possible, yes, but will it ever be what I've envisioned it to be??The first thing I noted was that I had a pic covered up with words. I've tried to correct that this morning but we shall see. If you have a minute to check it out, I would be grateful. Suggestions anyone?
(How do I rid myself of the GoDaddy muckamuck on the home page??)
Monday, August 30, 2010
If one could only lay hands on a human being in this process after spending hours designing a page, importing photos, shrinking photos, only to lose every smidge of the work with no clue why or how. But if one could get hold of a human, it would not be a pretty sight. So, better to throw things around the empty room or just grind one's teeth.
And then what? Well, I'll just practice here for a bit what I intended to do there: write. Not so much write followed by an object, write a sonnet, a ghazal, a short short, a lyric essay--but write. Simply write. Write. Maybe I'll keep a weather journal as suggested by Ellie Bryant to her students.
The weather has been reading weather today--overcast, occasional sprinkle; yet, I've done a lot of other stuff. Yesterday I had what I thought was a general malaise that really turned out to be chills, fever, and nausea. So, waking up feeling normal this morning after a sick day is the great motivator. I immediately set about to bake four loaves of Healthy Banana Bread. Teresa had provided four very ripe bananas and I had four. Four ripe bananas = two cups=two loaves of banana bread. Easy, peasy. I've done laundry, organized over 150 emails from the past month, read a few stories, cooked some veggies and a skillet of corn bread. Being home all day is motivating as well. On a typical day I go to play with my babies and don't return home until about seven.
I'm reading Olive Kitteridge with a pen in hand, hoping to learn something and to remember what I've learned. Taking notes helps. Strout is the master of timing in these stories. She throws a little teaser of a fact out there about a character, and a few paragraphs later, or a story or two later, you get a fuller idea of why she provided this earlier nibble. I've never read anything quite like this group of stories. Of course, the reason I bought them in the first place is because I'm writing a series of linked stories.
Her setting in Maine is essential and adds such a layer of interest. Picking starfish out of the sea and placing them on rocks to dry. Think of it. Putting dried starfish in fish netting to decorate windows. Think of that. Setting is one thing I plan to work on in revision. Most of my stories are set in Tuscaloosa, but Northport is far more distinctive in a way. I have more emotional ties to Northport, I suppose. Yellow Front Store where Mama bought flour and lard. Faucett's where my first overcoat was bought on credit, I'm sure. The cotton gin. The Warrior River--my old Uncle Bill could remember when it was so clear you could see right to the bottom of it. I know those details aren't in the race with drying starfish, but one has to work with what is there. Right now I'm just trying to get that first draft down.
Elizabeth Strout teaches at the brief residency writing program at Queens College. Would it be possible, I'm wondering, to take a semester of study with her? Funny, I was making application to Queens, Warren Wilson, and Spalding when I met Sena at her first signing for Ahab's Wife. When I told her I was making application to three schools, she said, "You'll do well wherever you go because you're so excited about it." That initial generosity convinced me to go to Spalding; not surprising it pervades her entire program. I've also considered going to Italy with the Spalding folks and studying CNF next summer, but why spring into YET another genre at this point?
In what lifetime will I decide that I simply have to get to the writing itself?? Seat myself here day after day and write. If nothing comes from my writing that anybody on the planet cares to read, so be it. The process is mine: the joys, the fears, the let-downs. Nobody can hold it up to the light and reject it. I own it.
My report on the new web site: I have created two simple pages, the home page, and a showcase page which lists my poetry books for sale. Nothing fancy. Just two pages. I'll report when and if there's futher progress.
Monday, August 2, 2010
This month has been fun-filled with celebrating birthdays, picking blackberries, teaching children at the Sail Away Cinema in VBS--but like the ticking of a grandfather clock in a still bedroom, Grief is always there lurking on the periphery, ready to jolt us with its savage grip.
Two dear friends have died this month. Another is on the verge of dying. A beloved family member is being robbed of her reason by take-your-pick aging ailments. It all makes me stop and take stock. It makes me consider other losses leading up to that greatest one. It makes me wonder which is worse.
IN MEMORIAM: Jewell Smith, August 2, 1904-September 9, 1993
(Coming soon: http://www.kathleenthompsonwrites.com/ where I will be doing more mulling over and more writing.)
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Want to see the finished product from yesterday's blackberries?
as Bonnie is so diligently doing in the dining room.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Deciding which genre to participate in is always a problem for me at any conference, but this weekend was a no-brainer. Recently, I've toyed over the idea of taking a semester of CNF at my alma mater, Spalding U, with Elaine Orr. (Next summer the group will be in Tuscany!! I think I could write some good stuff there.) Anyway, in light of that fact, I stuck mostly with Kathy Rhodes who edits Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal. www. asouthernjournal.com. (See my published short story there--"Woman's Wait," first issue of 2010.) That she has published my work had a little something to do with my interest as well.
My dear friend Susan Luther was also there presenting poetry, and Jo Kittinger was presenting for children's lit. I managed to sit in on one of Jo's very informative sessions where she, by example with Highlights for Children, showed the writers how to target a magazine market. Susan and I swapped poetry books and some good ideas.
We writers need to learn to listen more for good ideas and speak less. We'd learn more. (I'm talking to myself. Many of us are teachers ourselves and are used to presenting, but much is to be learned from other writers.)
Our writer hostess here is Edie Hemingway. (See http://www.ediehemingway.com/ and also google her great new book, ROAD TO TATER HILL. Great trailer on you tube. Catch up with her also at www.onepotatoten.blogspot.com/ ) Edie and Doug, head chef in the household, live in a log cabin at the foot of a small mountain in very picturesque Frederick. We traveled about thirty minutes west to this idyllic organic farm. On the way we passed Harper's Ferry and the scenery is breathtaking. Right now I'm leaving to pick blackberries. More later.
LATER: I applied sun screen and wore my baseball hat and trusty walking shoes for the trek down the path to the gardens. The katydids and other critters were all tuning up for the day on the shady path down. I tried to recognize trees, but they're so different from Alabama trees I can't name them.
I am equally ignorant of most of the plants in the garden. Beth, the propietor had said the "wall" of blackberries was in the first fenced garden. (Deer I do know!!) It has a rickety old gate she said and the only requirement for picking blackberries is that you close that gate behind you. I first examined the sheds on the premises which had large white buckets for picking, I presume, and small quart-sized recylcled food containers strung with hemp of some kind for picking and holding it on your shoulder, I supposed. Buckets of red geraniums livened up the place as did clumps of flowers planted at the ends of rows in the vegetable gardens.
My first try at opening the gate was a bust. Don't ask me to write a mystery. The wire (I call it hay-baling wire) that held the two parts of the gate together were twisted for about four inches and my hands weren't strong enough to untwist the thing. Not easily bested, I walked on out to Beth's home and called her from the garage. She said, "Did you try lifting the wire up off the slats?" Duh. I hadn't even noticed that possibility. She offered me a small quart container to pick some breakfast berries for the group.
Once inside the garden, I was astonished at seeing so many blackberries so easily accessible. Back home, if I pick blackberries, it is definitely a Br'er Rabbit situation and you'd better watch out or you'll get stuck in the briars. Or worse, encounter a rattlesnake who's afraid of you. He will bite. These blackberries have no briars. And I saw no snakes. And since we're all organic here with no pesticides, guess who ate her fill as she picked? Me, yes. The one with the blue, seedy teeth.
The blackberries were staked and stood taller than head-high in long rows. My first inclination was to go to the far end of the rows because I know the novice will always start on the end nearest the gate. A natural thing. But after I had walked about halfway, it struck me that it didn't matter where I picked because I'd have a quart in no time. My problem would be stopping. When there are fruits or vegetables ready to be picked, I find it hard not to pick everything that is ready. That's how you're trained on a farm. Any time I've ever gone to a peach or blueberry pickin' place, I always have to talk myself into stopping? What would I do with bushels of peaches or gallons of blueberries.
So, about midway of the garden I began picking the most plump, lucious blackberries I've ever seen. They were hanging in large clumps with an equal number of red and purplish-black ones. If you don't know the blackberry, you will be stunned for a moment at the first taste--its tartness, its seeds. But like an infant after its first taste of apple juice you will want more. Lots more.
Edie is dropping Donny Seagraves (a presenting writer at the SCBWI conference) at the airport and Patti Zelch and Teresa Crumpton are along for the ride. Gayle, Bonnie, and I are holding down the fort (we're supposed to be working) here. I've sent a list of ingredients for them to bring back so that I can back a blackberry cobbler sometime this week. Or one every day???
Tune in tomorrow for that story. Meantime check out the web sites of the published writers/friends here:
Edith Hemingway at http://www.ediehemingway.com/
Patti Zelch at http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/ for READY, SET, WAIT! Search for Author Patti Zelch on Facebook.
Teresa Crumpton, ya writer, has a web site in progress. She has fine-tuned her ya novel and is looking for a good home for it. Visit her on Facebook
Bonnie Doerr at http://www.bonniedoerrbooks.com/. See her blog and try for a free copy of ISLAND STING at http://www.bonnieblogsgreen.blogspot.com/.
Donny Seagraves at http://www.donnyseagraves.com/ or see the blog at http://www.wintervillewriter.com/.
Gayle Payne, our wonderful airport shuttle and fellow poet from Ft. Lauderdale, is here, too. She writes but needs to enter the 21st century--her quote. She has a great body of fiction on different levels, so look out for her!
Kathleen Thompson, http://www.wordforword.com/.
That's who's here. And there.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Is there a fire extinguisher in the kitchen??? (Note the zinnias. Note Will. "Give me the camera!" This is not a party pic but taken at home in his high chair. Couldn't leave him out.)
Zinnias go well in a silver bowl, too!
Below: a baby shower and I'm serving up Becky Bradley's lucious peach punch to Grandmother Diana Spencer.
Zinnias are best in their glorious growing state!
The circular bed at the corner of our yard is the site of a flowering cherry tree which was killed during the drought two years ago. In the center is a small cedar tree which was transplanted from the north side of Tuscaloosa County in my sister Annie Bell's woods before the zinnia seeds from her garden were planted all around it.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
They said, almost in unison, "You don't change your blog much, do you?" Would you say this is the understatement of the century? lol
I could have given a lot of excuses such as swimming and playing with my grandchildren, organizing a chapbook of poems for a literary competition, writing more stories for the linked collection in progress, organizing and implementing a 50th high school reunion at Northside High School, sweet, sweet, attending a reunion in May at Spalding University, and three spring trips to beaches, but I did not make excuses. We all lead busy lives.
(Orlando Shores: Tommy in distance. Note the real reason I don't blog is that it takes hours. I have several pics selected but how to get them here is a conundrum.)
So now I speak. I hope someone will drop in and read this before the Conclave, July 16-18, and tell others.
Go to the web site of the Alabama Writers Conclave http://www.alabamawritersconclave.org/ and read about the details of our annual conference. Special hotel rates at the Sheraton, Colonade, are still available. Hope to see you there.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
In brief: Alabama Book Festival, April 17, 10 - 4! A lot of great Alabama writers will be featured in Old Montgomery Town. Read about all the details--bio of authors, their mug shots, etc. Hope to see you there.
What better way to celebrate National Poetry Month than to come and listen to a little poetry and buy a book? Here's what I'll have to offer:
Want to order this book now for your Valentine? Go to my web site http://www.wordforwordforword.com/ and click on Payment to order. (Don't ask why it's hidden away there!)
My other new book is equally beautiful with original artwork by Brenda Thornton:
Saturday, January 23, 2010
and on Friday another pair of light brown loaves (1/3 whole wheat/2/3 bread flour) and yet one more oatmeal . . .
Saturday, January 16, 2010
This is a nice little oatmeal loaf with raisins.
[It has occurred to me that I should repeat this from a previous blog: With this story I had an epiphany about the whole series: it has to do with our free will and how we often aren't as free in our choices as we think we are. In this case addiction has limited Clyde's choices. Paul Zahl, a theologian who previously lived in Birmingham, has written about some things that do place limitations on our free will such as addiction, grief, depression, etc. In this story I've returned to what seems to be a recurring theme in my writing which is the rippling effect a single incident can have on changing lives--a letter that never arrives, or arrives too late, an accident, or in Clyde's case, meeting Preacherman. This, of course, is not a new idea in literature. What is, actually?]
Clyde laughed but it came out like a loud howl. “Tell me, brother, are you about to go casting some stones?” Just his luck to get this Bible thumper. “Man, the only time I’ve ever done any casting is from a fishing boat, and I deal strictly in rocks. Smokin’ ‘rocks, not casting ‘em.”
Clyde thought back to last night. Sybil laid out on the couch buck naked like a cow under a shade tree, her cow eyes oblivious to everything. Passing the glass pipe. Her old man hunkered over the stove, cooking. He was the one Clyde would shoot first. Clyde was sure his twelve hundred bucks was right now resting in that big bull’s back pocket. Soon to be on some blackjack table.
-excerpt from my story "Finding the Lord" in Christmas is a Season! 2009 edited by Linda Busby Parker, and available still from Excalibur Press or on amazon.com. (I'm editing again to have it fit back into the series.)
Or, how about a loaf of whole wheat just out of the oven?
White and wheat cooling!
Time to eat lunch, I think!
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Except for an occasional flitting of the Magpie's wings and Pickett's warm dropby's (thanks, Sheila and Dorothy), I rarely have anyone reading this blog, so I think I'll just warm up my fingers a bit from the current fluff in my brain which is bread. Bread! Flour, salt, yeast, shortening or butter, and a little water--what could be easier, right?
Usually January is a cooking month for me. What normally starts in November at Thanksgiving and gathers full steam through Christmas and New Year's Day was thwarted somewhat during these holidays by coughing/sneezing/sniffling and the general malaise of colds/viruses. So my cooking buzz has now hit. My time, too, has also been truncated by a little bundle of smiles with one new tooth named Will, our newest grandson. Nonetheless, on Monday morning I made banana bread (three overripe bananas = one pan of banana bread in this household) and yesterday, a whole wheat loaf.
This morning I read through a few old bread recipes--oatmeal banana bread, whole wheat biscuits, light brown brown, spicy gingerbread, brown bread: don't those sound luscious? Only if you're addicted to carbs, I suppose, as I seem to be.
But thinking of bread making right now is a bit backwards. lol Most normal people are thinking about the omnipresent resolution that has to do with weight. I've figured out how to make this work for me: I keep one-third of the loaf and I deliver the rest to my children.
One of my resolutions (right behind my top one which is to quit worrying--I'm not in charge of the world; consider the lilies they neither toil nor spin; today's troubles are enough for today) is to finish the Mother and Child short story series that was conceived in 2008. Three stories are completed. Two have been published. The third has been submitted to the Crazyhorse competition. About ten have been drafted. That's a lot of writing. No, that's a lot of re-writing which is a whole lot easier than writing drafts.
"Looking for the Lord" which was published in Christmas is a Season! 2009 had some parts edited out--parts that will be essential if the stories are linked--so I'm working on keeping the good editing that was done for that anthology and adding back in the things, such as Lajune, an important character, I want to keep.
With this story I had an epiphany about the whole series: it has to do with our free will and how we often aren't as free in our choices as we think we are. In this case addiction has limited Clyde's choices. Paul Zahl, a theologian who previously lived in Birmingham, has written about some things that do place limitations on our free will such as addiction, grief, depression, etc. In this story I've returned to what seems to be a recurring theme in my writing which is the rippling effect a single incident can have on changing lives--a letter that never arrives, or arrives too late, an accident, or in Clyde's case, meeting Preacherman. This, of course, is not a new idea in literature. What is, actually?
So now I need to decide where to start: Clyde or bread? Bread or Clyde? Let you know later what passion wins out.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Other traditions a bit more interesting are:
- Eat blackeyed peas cooked with hog jowl for good luck. (A ham bone will suffice if you're stumped on finding hog jowl.)
- Make noise at midnight. Firecrackers are good. Firing a gun into the sky is also an option.
- My all-time fave is dying out, but my parents insisted that you try to say "Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit" before the other person did on first waking up that day. They did not know why we must say it or where this tradition originated, but we always said it. I still do.
Does anyone else have the "rabbit, rabbit, rabbit" tradition? Do you know where it originated??