Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Breakfast

Where some folks have pancakes or waffles for breakfast, my favorite, as consumed this morning, is biscuits drowning in syrup. Ahh, that sweetness, that additive of iron to my system!

Biscuits are sometimes home made with a biscuit mix. Who wants to take time to make from scratch? However,the frozen kind allows you to take out as many as you wish and pop them in the oven.

The syrup, however, isn't any kind. Not maple, not fake stuff like Log Cabin, just ordinary sugar cane syrup. The kind that started with a stalk of sugar cane, fed into a crusher by mules walking in a circle and the liquid heated just so. There are so few Mississippi syrup makers left, due to old age, that finding the right taste on the grocery shelves can be tricky. The term is "Ribbon Cane Syrup." Not Molasses, although they are related. Molasses is thicker and has a stronger taste. Ribbon Cane is light in taste. There's a golden sheen to a jar of syrup; whereas molasses is dark brown, almost black.

Handed down from my mother's family, I've enjoyed syrup with a spoonful of one added ingredient. Anyone with a Southern rural background has probably had this combination: adding sour cream to the dish of syrup, mix well to where it is a milky brown, drop in a biscuit, dip, or pour the mixture over an open biscuit and you have a delicious way to enjoy your breakfast. The sour cream gives a smooth taste and cuts down on the sweetness. Add bacon or ham and nothing tops that.

Monday, December 10, 2012

MIning Your Memories

I began a free class in writing family stories back in September at the local library. The last meeting is Thursday, December 13. Like the teacher I once was, I've given class exercises and homework to 14 adults.

As examples of experiences, I used my own writings, far from being the kind that sells at Barnes & Noble, but my own exploration into my  family life. This was done so the participants could see that getting the words onto paper were most important first of all. No editing at this time. We talked about the time from  birth through elementary school. By handing out dozens of questions to prick their memories, I've led them through a process of exploration. And I've been surprised how much the participants remember about their early school life. Perhaps it's because they are much younger and still have their memories available.

Once I was told to think of our brains as arranged with "shelves" stacked on top of each other as in a post office. As we experience life the "notes" of memory fit into the shelves. As one ages, the shelves get stuffed and the earlier notes get pushed so far back a person has trouble finding that one experience. Of course, that's not true, but I use that in my thinking about how we shove some memories aside and it takes constant weeding to find some small incident we want to write about.

The reactions from participants has been pleasing. From drawing the floor plan of an early home to mapping or to writing an obituary, the challenges have been enjoyable. A wonderful group meeting for one and a half hours has created the incentive to write now.

Imagine in the 30th century a kid  fumbling though a box in the attic picks up a notebook titled "Family Stories". He thumbs through the pages yellowing with age and begins to read. He carries the notebook downstairs and settles  into a comfortable chair and flips the pages. Mother walks in and says, "What's that you're reading, Son?" and he replies, "Stories written by somebody named Vivian Newkirk. Who's she?" and his mother says, "Oh, you found those wonderful stories written by your fourth great-grandmother! She lived back in the 21st century. There's a lot to learn about the past, Son, in those pages."

Cooking Frenzy

At this time of the year I feel more compelled to prepare something holiday-ish. The drawback is I show off my poor cooking skills. I've never been one to openly brag about the lack thereof. The older I've become, the less embarassed I am to admit that fault. However, I've found more ladies who can whip up anything delectable at a moment's notice.A skill Mother did with ease.

One afternoon as an adult standing in Mother's kitchen I asked her why her cooking skills didn't wiggle into my DNA? I didn't ask why she never took the time to teach Sis and me, as I knew she worked very hard at her job as manager of Merrill, Lynch, Pierce in Jackson, MS. But I thought the question, hoping she'd admit the reason.

Surely enough, she blamed herself and expounded, "I had to begin helping in the kitchen at age five, taking out buckets of lunch to my older brothers in the field and my reward was teasing. I hated that job. I can still remember having to stand on a stool to stir the pots at the wood stove, setting the table, then having to wash all those dishes. You know, we fed the farm hands as well as our family. I vowed sometime in those early years that I'd never put a daughter of mine through the experience." No one ever told this rural kid cooking would be one talent all young women should possess.

My family ran by clockwork. Mother was up in the mornings before us, preparing our breakfast;  Daddy bathed and dressed; Sis and I  dressed and made up our beds; we ate. Then Sis and I cleaned off the table and Daddy washed the dishes while Sis and I took turns drying while Mother dressed. Where was there time to teach us?

I wish I had the technique to make sweet muffins at the drop of a hat. I recall that when one of us heard a car pushing up our hilly driveway, Dad would say, "Mother, get the oven going, looks like some hungry folks are coming and they'll want your muffins." And quickly Mother would have sturreded up the batter, filled the muffin cups and shoved them in the over just as the doorbell rang. I can't make muffins.

I"ve collected muffin recipes and tried to replicate Mother's plain muffins to no avail. I can make candy. Pralines are my specialty. Only during the December holidays do I ever make pralines. I have a never-fail recipe I found lodged in Mother's cookbook, its tattered yellow sheet smudged with butter, its words written in pencil about to fade. She made divinity, fudge, fruitcake, and pies galore.  I make pralines, period. My pralines are chunks of pecans coated with cooked sugar. If you want to make Pralines yourself, try my recipe. Takes less than 30 minutes on the stove.

            MIX          1 1/2 c white sugar, or a bit less
                             3/4 c brown sugar packed
                             1/2 c condensed milk
Cook over heat until boiling and test for a hard core after a drop falls into a clear dish of water.
          Drop in         3/4 st butter
                               Real vanilla to your taste, maybe 1 tsp (Ok, if you have vanilla extract, that'll do)
          Add              1 1/2 c broken pecans

Stir swiftly to allow air to cool the mixture, when a sheen appears, begin dropping spoons full on oiled wax paper. Cool for 10 minutes and enjoy.     

The fudge I leave to R who cooks less than I do. He relishes making cocoa fudge by his recipe he developed when we lived in the little house everyone called "The Doll House." Five rooms with a galley kitchen, hot as Hades in summer, cold in spots during the winter. We probably made more fudge during that time than any other time in our lives.

Now we eat less sugar. How can you make pralines and fudge without sugar? You know the temptation, "Just one small piece and I won't eat another one until next year." It doesn't work that way. For several years R didn't make fudge unless someone complimented him and ask for a platter for themselves. I got to lick the pan only, which was more enjoyable anyway.

What do I  cook during the holidays? Besides pralines, there's ambrosia, and chocolate pudding (which is supposed to be chocolate pie but something always happens so we eat it with a spoon). No matter what main dish I make, something fails to taste or look right. The rice needs more water, the dressing is too liquidy, the roast has no flavor.

I can't win for losing. Every time. 


Friday, November 02, 2012

Meeting Mr. Smith, Part 3

Mr. Smith sits in my class as I guide him and  another 16 participants down memory lane. The course is "Mining Your Memories -- Writing Family Stories." Although I am still checking his earlier writings, Mr. Smith is anxious to record his life experiences. He is one of three men in the class, all  having written something pertaining to their life's experiences.

In class, consisting of four one and one-half hours the second Thursday at a library, I give keys to finding the path to remembering what is on the bottom shelf of their minds. I was told once to imagine the mind being like a group of stacked shelves, with the bottom ones filled with early experiences and as we live, each line of shelves filling with remembrances of our sadness and gladness. The class is working with material from the bottom shelves.

So far I've read Mr. Smith's greeting cards and some poetry. He knows how to express Godly love, compassion, and thoughtfulness in his words. All are typed on a manual machine; I recognize the imprint. I can imagine him punching the keys as many early writers have done on their non-electric Royals and Smith-Coronas.. He carefully places each line on the page as though he is planting a small flower. He capitalizes where I wouldn't expect, but my remarking that he shouldn't is again taking away his creativity. I have to be careful to understand what is emphasized.

Here is a partial quote from one of his writings, entitled "Live Inside of Creation".

"Look at the Whole of what's going on
And learn to receive the life of its
Being. Move into the inside of what's seen,
And understand what's there to help us.

Be open to Who we are."

This is from a book entitled The Breath of God.  Beautiful, isn't it? As I wrote earlier, he is 71 years old and is an ordained minister. Whether or not one believes in a Holy Being, his words  resonate with truth.

I'm anxious to read his biography. Like many from the South, he moved to Chicago to live and eventually returned to the state and married. He is pleased with what he has done to help others in his life's work with alcoholics, and especially proud of his family. Knowing him enriches my being.

His work is an every-day enjoyment. He splashes the oils onto his plywood canvases  as though he has no care in the world. In the woods near his home he's found twisted vines growing around tree limbs. He hacks them into walking sticks and sculptured pieces and paints them glowing colors.

Even if he doesn't see people and flowers as you do, his paintings are as one of my friends says, "  . . . are quite different from each other and seen together in a group, they compliment each other without being the same painting over and over." That's Mr. Smith's gift to the world.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Big 8-O

I thought my birthday would pass like a gentle breeze on a spring day. Not so. The date reached the headlines along with the day before and continued through the day after. My day roared through like a storm, a storm named Issac. My birthday was August 30 and Issac paid thousands a visit a day earlier and continued spinning in place as it roared like the lion from MGM movie reels.    

No matter how many times we prepare for tornadoes and hurricanes we are rarely ready to meet the torment head on. Neither do I expect to meet my birthday head on. This year I wanted to wake up, read the cards and answer the phone calls from my favorite friends and family, have a quiet breakfast and examine myself  closely in the mirror to assess myself. That lasted less than an hour since waking up.

At 7 a.m. son J called to say we had to celebrate my birthday in a festive way, "How about lunch?" I didn't want to get dressed, go rushing into a possible rainstorm and celebrate when so many thousands of folks were struggling elswhere to make sense of loss. Seemed like an anachronism. But R and I met J and his family and mother-in-law for a delightful lunch.

There remained the rest of the afternoon to ponder over my age and what I would accomplish in the coming year. Sometime ago I'd set a goal of living to be 140 years old, not because I would accomplish that, but to force myself to be optimistic  to accomplish small, selfish goals I've set for myself and enjoy the days and nights left in my small world.

Instead, I ended up remembering seven years ago when R and I were cloistered in an elementary school in Pennsylvania because a flooding Delaware River.We couldn't cross any one of the four bridges to reach Barryville, NY where we were living for the summer. This was August 30, the day after Katrina had destroyed the Gulf Coast, news we hadn't heard about until we stopped at the school. Our car was loaded to its roof with cat and her house plus our clothes from visiting our daughter for 10 days in Maine, andfour bags of groceries. We asked the cafeteria workers if we could store our cold items in the school's fridges, to which they kindly consented.

We sat for six hours with nothing more to do than talk with each other and those around us waiting for a signal that bridges were clear, while a driving rain pounded outside. We napped on old Army cots that must have broken the backs of many a WWII soldier from use and covered ourselves with rough wool blankets smelling like the mustiness of a closed up basement. We were experiencing what thousands were at the same time, under different conditions. We were amid 100 people who were fed snacks and juices from the school's storehouse by the friendliest cafeteria workers who came out of the comfort of their homes to help us. By 3:00 a.m. we were told we could leave. Our time there had been decent, nothing like we read about later in other places. I passed my birthday  exhausted from the long hours of nothing to do, not by being soaking wet and hungry. How fortunate we were.

 I consider this August 30 as my 8-0 birthday. That sounds younger, don't you think?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Crazy Ideas Not So Crazy

During our travels R expressed the idea of having a mannequin couple sitting in our home, dressed, and appearing to read or watch television to give the impression we were at home when we would be in Maine or Michigan or north Mississippi. I thought his idea "crazy". However, when we visited a New Orleans eatery on Magazine Street, what should we see but a mannequin couple sitting in a show window eating! So there are many crazy ideas floating around concerning mannequins!

A recent example was printed in Sunday, August 19th issue of our local Clarion-Ledger. In the Family section is a story of a family who bought a mannequin. As the woman related, "Four years ago Larry wanted to know what I wanted for my birthday. I told him I wanted a mannequin for the dining room window." Sure enough, they found one on eBay. She stands in her latest fashions gleaned from second hand shops, and on holidays she is dressed appropriately. She has her own closet and a changing wardrobe of hair colors. She's  been dressed as a pilgrim, a Saints cheerleader and has celebrated the key holidays in costume. What fun they must have!

Would R have dressed his couple more than once? I doubt it. But we have often found a use for a male mannequin: to sit in the back seat with a hat on to accompany daughter J on her trip west, to go with my sister and me to distant states, or just to be a "pal" to me when I'm driving around town. I can envision myself discussing ideas for essays, talking over problems, mulling suggestions for dinner (when I used to cook), or just "being there." And like a pet, there'd be no back talk. No back-seat driver. Ahh . . .

Since we didn't have a mannequin for J when she headed for Utah over 10 years ago, crossing the expanse of New Mexico, Dad did decide that she take a sweet potato, the kind that sort of looks like a gun, and put it in a holster. When she got out of the car for meals, she'd remove the potato to give the impression of anyone checking through the car's window, that she was totin'. Worked like a charm. She also put a hat above the back seat to make drivers behind her "think" she had a guy sleeping in the seat.

There's no way anyone can use sweet potatoes to mimic a couple playing Scrabble in the living room. I'd advise anyone needing "life" to appear in the home, buy a mannequin, dress it in comfortable clothes with a drink nearby and go!

Meeting Mr. Smith Part 2

He and I meet the following Saturday. The crowd has thinned a bit; perhaps due to waning days of summer. Mr. Charles Smith is his cheery self, waving to me  across the long expanse of the building. I hesitate to stop and buy a dozen eggs beforehand. I know our business is more important. Today I’ll see the drafts of Mr. Smith’s book he’s aptly named Gems of Love.
We greet each other with a hug this time. We are already friends. First I inquire if he has any new paintings on display and he points to a group to the left of him. Sure enough, examples totally different from the figures and objects I’d seen the week before. This group gives examples not unlike those of Jackson Pollock. The kind everyone thinks s/he can accomplish by throwing paint from a brush and watching it land somewhere on the canvas. A mishmash of colors. Yes, I definitely can identify with the blues and greens I see. Surprisingly, Mr. S shows me the difference between these and the ones a short distance from where we stand. Double paintings. Turn either side and voila! another painting. The one I select as my favorite shows beautiful blues and greens; the other side reds. Again these were in his self-crafted frames.
Sitting down again, he tells me about the latest having been shown at an exhibit a month before at the Architecture School located on Capitol Street in Jackson. He pushes a brochure into my hands. He then begins to explain about other public displays he’s had.
Finally, he settles down to show me his drafts. He pulls out one from a boxy bag sitting beside his chair. He opens a well-worn manila envelope and pulls a thick sheaf of papers. Good, not too much to edit. As I look over the pages, well typed and paginated, another envelope is handed over. And another. And another, until I’m managing six envelopes in my lap. As I open each one I realize two hold examples of poetry written as greeting cards, all folded in shapes he desires. The outside of each has some colorful drawing. I call them greeting cards, and surely the greetings are different, rather passionate, as though one person expresses his fondness for another, a deep longing for the other.   I’m struck by the thoughts, so intimate and meaningful.
I’m overwhelmed at what I’ve been given. “Mr. Smith, I can’t tell you when I can finish these. There is so much here.” I begin to feel I’ll let him down with my braggadocious air of the week before. “You know I’ll be teaching a class once a week for the fall . . .” The feeling of failure begins to overwhelm me.
“I know that. Take it all. I trust you. When you can, look at it and tell me what I need to do.”
With a smile, a load of manila envelopes clutched to my chest, I leave hoping against hope that I can accomplish what I said I would and make Mr. Charles Smith happy.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Meeting Mr. Smith Part 1

He sits leisurely at one end of the building, his art work on tall stands surrounding him like a cloak. No one is taking more than a first glance at his work. I walk over, ever the one to dispense encouragement to those who display their crafts. Fishing for a compliment on his splotches of oils, I manage to say something like “What interesting work you have; I must admit I’m not in the market to buy, but I’m happy to see you surrounded by beautiful scenes.” I manage oftentimes to blubber words to cover my intention to look but not buy. I stroll from one piece to the other, thinking how much this man needs art guidance. My second thought crowds out the first: art lessons may ruin his creativity.

 His expense is in tubes of oil paints, as the thickness on the “canvas” is heavy. He uses bare plywood cut in shapes. Still I recognize this man is using what he can find to convey his sincere artistic self into these wild, colorful shapes. I turn to him, standing now in front of his folding chair, grinning widely. He’s tall, almost six feet on a thin frame clothed in a white shirt, a contrast to his dark skin. I introduce myself and he tells me his name. One I’ll never forget: Charles E. Smith. I once knew another Charles Smith, a journalism teacher in one of the schools where I had taught. Of all the vendors in the Farmers’ Market downtown, this gentleman has no competitors. 

Mr. Smith tells me about his art shows and how he’s sold “many, many paintings.” I once heard that an artist should never indicate anything but optimism about the number of paintings or craft works that he’s “sold.” I take him at his word. I glance again at the figures on the boards. Perhaps because I 'm  not an art critic; I can't tell if these depictions from his mind were one day going to be owners’ prized possessions. Art is in the eyes of the beholder.

This smiling man is quite willing to reveal himself, as we Southerners often do. I listen. “I’m 71 years old, and I expect to live a long time. For years I’ve had these ideas inside me needin' to get out.”  He mentions  having been ill some years ago and writing down his thoughts had been therapeutic, so “I kept on, writing a book, each chapter originally as nine separate little books based on the happiness I found,” and explaining his beliefs.

I nod and say, “I share writing with you. I write short pieces about what I observe around me,” feeling less creative in the presence of this enthusiasm.

He then explains about his book. “It’s not complete, ‘cause I need someone to edit what I have.”

 “Mr. Smith, you have a better chance of getting your work published than I. There are many minority writers on the book market You  may have something to offer the public.”  He nods.
An idea strikes and  I add, “I’ve done some editing in the past of a few manuscripts. Let me take a look at yours.” I run through a litany of what I’ll be looking for in his work: vivid words, sentence clarity, punctuation, and deletion of unneeded wording. He smiles and agrees, bends down to a bag next to his chair and pulls out a business card. “Here’s my card. Next week I’ll bring my work to you.” I look down at the card and read
The Birth Place of Living – Ideas
Mr. Charles E. Smith
Artist, Poet, Writer, Publisher

His outlook on life is on this card. I feel a kinship with Mr. Smith and say aloud, “Mr. Smith, I’m so glad to have met you, and I hope I can help you. I feel . . .” and he finishes my sentence, “the good Lord led us to each other.”

Thursday, August 02, 2012

My Taste Change in Food

The other day in exercise class the new instructor asked around what favorite food each participant liked. Those aren't questions I care to answer. Why? Because my answer doesn't sound like that of a normal person. You see, down here in Mississippi hog jowl cooked in fresh summer veggies, cornbread, slice tomatoes, topped with some slice of fresh ham makes an ideal meal for some; others prefer steak and French Fries. If you are different you may be looked upon as strange.

When my turn came I took a deep breath and let it out: "I don't like to eat anymore.Nor do I like to cook." I didn't have to look around at the dozen pairs of eyes boring holes in my head. I went on to say food no longer held an appeal for me. I then explained my food source was usually a Smoothie. A fruit one or a combination of fruit and vegetables.

And, of course, I had to explain. How can I go without food? It's not the normal amount that others eat.  I eat throughout the day tasting small snacks: peanut butter and banana; cheese and crackers; halves of pimento cheese sandwiches; small cans of tuna fish and soup; sushi are a few samples.  Not chips, candy and pre-made peanut butter crackers. I still enjoy sweets, but I eat them rarely.

 I attribute my lack of appetite to desiring to eat less bread and sweets, cutting down on salt, sodas, and those items on the food chain we all insist have to be a part of our daily diet. This change in my eating is supposed to help me live a long time. The point was to lose some weight--although no one has ever accused me of being overweight. But my dress size history zoomed from a Size 6 to a 12. Ok, so that occurred over the span of 50 years.

Then the case of the lazy cook came into view. I've always been an open-a-package-or-can-and-heat person, never learning the basics.How can a person cook if there's no desire? My husband somehow exempts me from my behavior--after all, he's saving a bit of money.He enjoys eating out --he eats and I watch, sipping ice water until he is satiated. Works fine for us and a half dozen neighbors who feel the same about cooking.

I'm waiting for an application to a  contest to arrive in my mailbox urging me to write an essay on why I deserve a For-Life Prize of Healthy Snacks delivered to my door by a local restaurant of my choice. If you know of one, clue me in.

Aging and Meds

Of all the pills I swallow each morning, I feel no better, stronger, braver, or  more energetic. If I sleep 10 hours at night, I wake up, do a bit of housework and return to bed for a nap, be it 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. Those darn pills don't seem to be helping. Dr. Weill, whom I enjoy reading online, tells you need this for that and I add this but that seems to elude  my face, my neck, my back or whatever.

I've given up sodas because a nurse said it weakens the bones; I've given up steak because chicken and fish are better; I've given up milk because its full of lactose; I've given up just about everything that  "they" say is not good for you. I'm starving on crackers and almond milk, the chocolate kind.

Now, I'm seeing teeny lines dot my face. I'd hoped to have none for a few more years. So far I've not seen any wrinkles on the neck, but the arms - - my gosh, the arms look like corrugated cardboard! It's not fair for us to grow older and lose the few good parts of our body we've had so long. A doc told me this is the result of losing hormones. I would have honored and adored hormones in my lifetime if someone had told me  they'd disappear, that I'd see and feel the results. If I only knew then, what I know now - - what a change in my lifestyle there would have been.

A number of years ago a program interviewed a man whose pills numbered over 100, the bottles line up on several shelves built for their display. He vowed these were all he needed to live a long, healthy life. I never remembered his name; don't know if he's still shakin' a leg.

Take good care of yourself. Don't get into the habit of taking OTC supplements and swallowing Rx meds any more than you have to.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Movie Mania

I've spent a lot of time watching movies on Netflix. My favorites center around the British Isles and other European countries. I've been introduced to landscapes, customs, and characters so unlike those in our own movies. Perhaps the "characters" are more so, imperfect in appearance, but perfectly fitting to their role.

Many of you relished every episode of "Downtown Abbey" as the actors followed a script somewhat like the real English customs but a bit different. There are other movies that may not be as thrilling to watch, but just as easy to entertain as DA

 Right now I'm watching Foyle's War, which covers the early years of WWII. Despite the created script, the story does hint at some of the problems the English faced when the war was raging around them, one neighbor after the other falling to the Nazis. One segment revealed the selfless acts of small boats who crossed the Channel to rescue the wounded soldiers, bringing  home 15 to 20 at a time. There's always something about history revealed in each segment. 

I've seen many investigators like Vera, DSI, of the series by the same name, whose cranky attitude disgruntles her office workers, much like some of our own bosses, but. despite her lack of personal skills, she solves crimes.Another female appears in The Commander and in Inspector Lynle, a handsome man who appears in many of the British series is this time solving crimes.

Again during WWII are good dramas Land Girls and Wish Me Luck. The former a story of British women who help their country by working on farms for a period of time and the latter about other British women who serve as spies in France. All played well by the actors. Again, you get a glimpse of landscape and hints of history of that time.

I've been on a WWII kick for months as you read this. I was 10 years old in 1942 and experienced the caution the U.S. took during that time. I like to be reminded of the efforts our citizens made to cooperate with the government during that war and how proud we were to help in our rationing, purchasing of war bonds, giving up precious foods so our boys could eat good meals. So many memories we citizens of that period still remember. Perhaps that is the real draw of these period movies the British continue to make.

The price I pay for watching these movies that are clean-cut and devoid of profanity is so little that I dislike going to the local movie theatre and paying a month's rent to Netflix for one movie that is recent. Perhaps that's the age in me, to enjoy a good story that doesn't embarrass me with scenes I'd prefer not seeing. I'm not being paid to tell you about these movies, I'm saying they are worth the $8 per month I willingly give for a good story.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Another Water Kettle

Or is the term still "tea kettle"? Nontheless, I have just burned up my fifth kettle. Of all the accomplishments in my married life, I can boast how well I burn kettles. It's not so much that I want to, but when I buy one, I make sure there is a whistle attached.  Now the pretty green kettle is a brown with the top eroded like the early eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. At least the handle reminds me of the lovely green.

The above one had a whistle. No matter, it didn't work for me. I think the whistle burned at 90 degrees, for by the time I followed the odor trail I saw why. By then the kettle was sitting emanating 400 degrees, at least. Where was I? Trying to churn out an essay on the computer for a contest on Southern Sin . I was so caught up in my thinking that only when I began to breathe that stinking odor did I look around, take deep breaths around the printer and the computer, expecting one of them  to blow up. Not until all was shut down did the odor continue. Now the house is drenched. The outside air is quiet from all the rain that has poured for two days so nothing will absorb or take away this foul smell. I can't hide the fact that another kettle is gone.

 My weakness around the stove is turning a knob to HIGH, then walking off. Oh, I've burned foodstuffs that I was "warming".My explanation always to my husband is "My mind is so busy that I forgot". I zonk out when I'm writing, and leaving the stove unattended  sounds like dementia. But I'm not suffering from old age, yet. I am not mindful of my responsibilities as a cook because I AM NOT A COOK. I'm NOT A WARMER, either. Maybe I should give up on water kettles and use the boiler. They are cheaper to replace.

Is my Southern Sin  the failure to be honed as a cook?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Writing the Lyric Essay

I found it time to enroll in a writing class at the local college. I've dabbled in fiction, trying to describe, plot, structure paragraphs, detail characters, all those points known authors push at writing conferences. However, I actually like to write about the history as it progressed from my 1930's birthday to the present. Little points, like the clothes I wore, music I enjoyed, fun I had in high school (there wasn't much but movies and listening to radios, in the home or with friends). All those memories will appear ancient to my grandson when he is a teen. For this reason I'm taking a non-fiction class to better spiff up my writing.

I've rarely explored the different kinds of non-fiction beyond the memoir, but Monday night I'm delving into my first attempt at writing a lyric essay. It's sort of poetic, much imagery (which is difficult for me), and seemingly disjointed paragraphs with the same theme.

As much as I dislike seeing snakes, I wrote my first lyric essay on that subject. I have a number of snake "snapshots", little bits of remembrances that I want to put into words. For example"

Mother once told me at age eight her older brothers had thrown a snake at her feet after they killed the creature. That, despite it being dead, coiled around her ankles. From then on she never wanted to see a photograph or drawing of snakes. Later with a family, she depended on us to hide the reptiles with a sheet of paper the photos.

 My sister and I spent most of our teen life at home perusing magazines and newspapers to find snakes and either cover them up or write on the cover: "Skip Page 12". No explanation was needed. Mother either didn't read that periodical or she skipped page 12.  We thought it funny (ha ha funny) for Mother to have such a phobia, despite her telling us the above story. Perhaps we thought by making light of the subject Mother would understand she'd never if rarely ever see another snake. She worked in the city and Dad worked the yard on weekends. Unless one hooked itself to the underside of the family car or slithered inside the house unannounced, Mother had nothing to worry about. 

She didn't mind my purchasing a pair of snakeskin shoes  with my first salary. The pair didn't remind her of snakes. It was the reptiles in sight that scared her. A  trip to the zoo didn't include a pass by the reptile exhibit. Somehow I caught that phobia and had difficult looking at a snake in my maturing life.

When our local newspaper printed the photos of the most common poisonous snakes in our state, I made myself look at them. We have a wooded area behind our house and I've always been leery of traipsing into the brush, or getting close to the edge of the yard. I need to know what to expect.

I want to remember the herpetologist's advice upon seeing a poisonous snake: "Ignore the snake, walk slowly back from it."  I imagine I'll stand in place with my eyes closed trying to remember what he said.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


I boast daily that I wish to live until I'm 140 years. Those within hearing distance smile, cluck their tongues, or peer sideways as though someone else may be listening. My reasoning is to accomplish all the ideas I have to rushing through my mind. I worked without enjoying life for 30 years. Now with retirement long past, I work to enjoy my life. One of those ideas I work on is recording my memories on paper.

Being a kid who was born in the early 1930s and learned about the world around me in the 1940s, and got educated and dated boys in the 1950s, I have many experiences about my family and those who came before me, the summers I spent in the rural areas of Mississippi, and the funny happenings within my own family.

Now with  grandson Henry in the picture, the urge to write almost overcomes my waking moments. What will he have to remember "Veve" with but reams of paper snapped up in a series of notebooks that reveal all these wonderful years of my life?

Time. It seems to stand still when the day begins, then  leaks slowly out of my life and darkness arrives too quickly. I hold that brief snapshot that jumped into the mind's eye until the next morning. When I drive any distance, memories flood  the car's interior and I'm living in the past for an instant while trying to keep my distance from the car that stops suddenly in front of me.

When the above photo was snapped in the back yard of an early home, I had no idea at age seven what I'd be thinking or doing fifty years later. Fortunately, I'm active, exercise, and have fun with friends. Why not want to live 140 years?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Check This Link

 I'm not one to brag, except on certain occasions. Our family is quite proud that one son's creativity (Scott Newkirk) is now published in a book called Handmade Houses: A Century of Earth Friendly Home Design. The link below is the article that ran in the Wall Street Journal, March 17 issue concerning the book. Son's property, now sold, is the featured hand made house. Hats off to Scott and to his loyal builder, Craig Petracek of NY, whose creative juices aligned with Scott's and flowed throughout the process.

The book is filled with gorgeous homes both architect-insprired and owner-creator inspired. A good read for tempting one to build with recycled materials.


A quick trip to Bath, Maine, a few weeks ago reminded me how dry the air was (my hair would not behave!) and how cold it was. I thought I prepared for the change in weather. Back home in Mississippi I was already into lighter clothing. My body shook from the quick change an airplane ride can affect you. I could only remember the prettiest site in our yard before I left:

The Mississippi landscape was just stretching from its short winter nap and the natives were treated to an array of blooms from daffodils, crocus, Bradford pear trees, and the Japanese magnolias. When I returned to the familiar scene the trees had bloomed into that lime green that denotes new growth, the limbs of the greybeard trees were prancing in the breeze and the azaleas were at their height of blossoming. What a lovely sight.

We arrived in a thunderstorm. The next morning the heavy remains of pelting rain lay on the trees, soaked into the soil, giving off a glow that is incomparable. That scene reminded my daughter J how much she missed this time of year. Maine's springs and summers are ever so short. Everyone sees in his own surroundings the reminders of the wonders of nature and how appreciative animals and humans are that spring has arrived.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Those Crazy Techs

How often have you had to call a tech to help you with your computer, your phone, or some other electronic device? You remember how frustrating it was attempting to (1 )understand his English or (2) making him understand your problem. Needless to say, you spend numerous hours with him/her getting  nowhere with your broken device. Recall the commercial about a person calling for help and getting someone in Siberia? Sometimes it seems we've called the wrong number. The foreign voice answering to Sally, Frank, or Betty doesn't fool us for a moment. I'd rather they use their regular names, even if unpronounceable.

I heard the funniest the other day during exercise class. Yes, we sometimes chat, as the class is composed of older ladies doing what seems to appear "easy" exercises. The true story goes like this:

The exerciser remarked that her husband while working in the yard accidentally cut in two the cable to their television. She immediately called the cable company's tech:

"Hello, this is Buddy, how can I help you?"
"Uh, Buddy, my husband cut the cable and our TV won't work."
"Oh, I see, just a moment, please." A second or two passes and he returns to the phone.
"Let me review your problem; you have no TV working?"
"Yes, that's correct."
"Let me walk you through the process of restoring your TV."
"But, uh, Buddy, the cable is cut, I don't think . . ."
"Yes, I understand, but I will walk you through the process."
"Buddy, listen. The. Cable. Is. Cut. Someone needs to repair the cable."
I understand, but if you will just let me walk you through the process . . ."

There seems to be no way we can avoid talking to techs who don't understand our problems. Yes, I admit some are successful in helping you.  My biggest obstacle is my southern accent. One tech hung up on me because I couldn't understand his speech nor he mine. I can't speak into the phone giving any information like telephone number, address, or similar facts, since the automated system will constantly say, "I don't understand the answer." Even speaking slowly seems to muddle the airwaves.

Automation, foreign speakers, directions written in English by non-English speakers are just a few difficulties we  face in our daily lives since American companies hired overseas personnel. Do you wonder the laughs and the stories those techs in Pakistan, the Phillippines, India, and other countries tell to their friends  about their encounters with Americans?  

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Reminiscing about Drama

I was caught in a crowd of automobiles yesterday entering Madison, but the slow-down allowed me to pause in front of the old elementary school building. It now houses the arts center. I paused a moment to read the lighted sign in the front yard announcing a drama group’s audition for the play “Ramona”. That prompted me to recollect my own entrance into dramatics.

During a session in North Carolina at two-month summer camp dramatics was offered as a fun course. At age 14  I decided my timid ways needed to be injected with some energy that would bring me out of my shell. I auditioned for several summer plays. I loved it and showed a flair for improvising. I recall only one play in which I played the lead: “The Ghost in the Green Gown.”

If you remember the plays in your high school, those silly ones that required the entire senior class on stage at one time or another, “Ghost” was just as silly, but required only 6 participants. I was the ghost with more lines to speak than anyone. During that play when the other players forgot their lines, I incorporated the missing lines in my speech to cover their forgetfulness. 

Armed with summer success, I began participating in high school and junior college. By then we dropped the name dramatics to drama. I continued participating in senior college. When I became a teacher I took on the responsibility of being drama sponsor in small schools.

When I married we joined the local Little Theatre (now called New Stage) and helped backstage with what I had learned in college – makeup. I had become pretty adept in the basics of stage makeup.  But the love of the stage beckoned me. I auditioned for “The Man Who Came to Dinner” and got a good spot as the maid.  I worked one summer under a visiting director and learned more than I ever expected. By then I had a heavy load teaching and unable to audition for any more plays. With new family responsibilities drama dropped low on my priority list. I’m still haunted by the fact that I no longer have the stamina to learn lines, practice nightly long hours, and deliver them satisfactorily.

However, news of auditions for plays, like the one on the signboard I saw yesterday, tugs at my heart. It gives me a chance to reminisce of fun times being someone else.