Monday, June 30, 2008

SLAMMERSMACK by Kat Magendie

The summer we installed screen doors on the front and back doors of our log home, I said, "Let me check them out." What I wanted to check was the slammability. For what is the use of a screen door if it does not slam properly?

That scrang sound of the spring comes first as I open the screen door. I step out and then away from the door, and let it fly shut. SLAMMERSMACK. Perfect.

And, as the slammersmack echoes over the mountain, I am immediately a kid again, running outside in my pedal pushers and barefeet, my flip flops left in my room so I can feel the grass beneath my feet. Watermelon eaten in the grass and then spitting the seeds at my brothers, and they spit theirs back. Lightening bugs wink and fly, zip and glow. Summer and no school. Hot wind and the ice cream truck that my brothers and I and all the neighborhood kids hear coming from miles and miles away. We rush in to grab our nickels and dimes and hold them in our sweaty palms. Then he's here, stops for us kids. And we crowd around his truck, and he opens the freezer and we feel the cold air whoosh out at us. I'd already decided I wanted my Flintstone’s Push Up, and he hands it to me, and I let loose of my sweat and dirt-soaked coins. Trade. Even Steven. Off I go, push up dripping down my arm, and nothing else is better.

We played well into dark after supper was over, our armpits full of sweat, and our neck creases filled with dirt. My skin turned brown and I had little birdtrack freckles across my nose and I had secrets, secrets that I forgot about as I played. Secrets that don’t matter anymore. I walked, my toes like corn nibblets, and under Grinning Moon, I blew a kiss to the night.

All this memory from the slamming of a screen door. So, can I simply be grateful for a screen door echoing SLAMMERSMACK? Sure I can. I am.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Those Lazy Days of Summer by Nannette Croce

In the 60s the late Nat "King" Cole sang about Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer. What is it about this season that feels so good? Even when I worked full-time, 50 weeks a year, and summer brought the extra weekend chores of lawn mowing and weeding, something about it was still preferable to working indoors. Followed by a cool shower and a summer meal of grilled hot dogs or hamburgers, fresh corn-on-the-cob, and juicy garden tomatoes, it hardly seemed like work.

I rarely eat indoors in the summer. Only the hottest, most humid or stormy days find me at my kitchen table. I'm usually taking my repasts in my screened-in porch or out on the patio. That includes breakfast, my favorite time to sip coffee and watch the hummingbirds that buzz around our flowers and frequent our feeder.

In summer I can take my daily walk earlier and so often start my day a little earlier too. That leaves extra time in the afternoon for reading–outdoors again, of course. And with the longer days I can catch the news and still have time to sit outside again in the evening, reading or talking, watching the dog chasing birds and squirrels or sometimes just a stray leaf, until the sun goes down.

And now, that miracle of miracles, wireless, so I can sit outside on a summer day catching up with e-mails and doing my writing.

Nat, you got it right.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Yanks are Coming by Barbara Quinn

Since I was a kid I’ve been watching the NY Yankees. I was born in the Bronx, and my family lived there for many years, so it was natural we were all Yankees fans. My mother is 87 and still follows the team. We chat about their ups and downs, their lack of pitching, their latest injuries. They win. They lose. Each season has the same rhythm. We go to the games in spring and freeze. Then we swelter in the summer.

Baking in the bleachers, the Bleacher Creatures hold roll-call at the beginning of the game. They shout each player’s name until he lifts a glove in response. When they’re done, they salute the box seats with cries of, “Box seats suck.” Frying Pan Freddie makes the rounds allowing fans to smack his lucky pan with a spoon. Out in the monuments section the plaques of the greats gleam in the sun.

I know the Yanks are probably hated more than loved, hated more than any other team in the history of baseball. They’ve squashed the hopes of so many fans and teams. But no one can deny their incredible success: 26 World Championships, thirty-nine American League Pennants. No wonder baseball fans in many cities flock to the games. Not only to see them lose, but to see the future hall-of-famers. Watching Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in batting practice is as much fun as the game. The high arc of a well-hit ball, as it makes its way up into the sky, and then back down again, is artistic. Seeing a new pitcher like Joba Chamberlain is also exciting.

2008 is the final year in the old Yankee Stadium. The new stadium is rising across the way. It’s a bittersweet time for diehard Yankees fans like me. But I’m not complaining. As the guy from Saturday Night Live used to say: “Baseball’s been berry, berry good to me!” And so have the Yankees!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Lovin' from the Oven by Angie Ledbetter

Yeah, I ripped off the Doughboy's saying, but it fits perfectly, so let's just say I'm borrowing it for today. We southern cooks (men and women) really enjoy showing our love by making wonderful meals, preparing delicious baked goodies, and especially by using our tried and true family recipes. I don't know a single person who enjoys cooking who doesn't have dog eared old yellowed recipe cards full of mouth-watering concoctions. The best ones are spattered, splattered, torn and maybe even scribbled on.

My most precious of this type of recipe is in my grandmother's own handwriting, and although I wish she was still around to help me finally learn to make her famous biscuits, my continued failure doesn't keep me from trying it every now and then.


Use a medium large bowl that will become your biscuit bowl forever. Fill it ¾ full with sifted Gold Medal Self-Rising Flour.

“Doodle out a ‘waller hole’ in the middle of your bowl,” as Bigmama used to say. Make this well by gently swishing your fist in the flour. It will hold the other ingredients.

Pour in ½ tablespoon of cooking oil. In a standard drinking glass, stir together ½ cup buttermilk and ½ cup water. Add to your well.

Work the mixture gently with your fingers, pulling in as little extra flour as possible. Try not to handle or knead the dough very much.

Prepare your heavy iron skillet by pouring in a thin layer of oil. Roll the skillet around to spread the oil evenly. Pinch off biscuits and place into skillet. (Dusting your hands lightly with flour helps.)

When the pan is full and biscuits rest gently against one another, sprinkle on a small amount of oil to the raw biscuit tops. Put skillet into a cold oven, and set at 400 degrees. Put your pan in the middle of the rack so biscuits cook evenly. When they are light golden brown, move skillet to top rack until darker brown. If your oven is true to temperature, the whole process, including preparation time, will take about 25 minutes. The first few times, watch the biscuits' progress in the oven closely to be sure.

Butter immediately...or cover with gravy...or drown in maple or cane syrup. Any way you like your biscuit, you'll love these!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cornbread Baking by Kat Magendie

You would think growing up with a mother born on a farm in Arkansas, a biological mother born a hillbilly, a daddy from Tennessee, and from living in Southern States most of my life where the school lunch program more times than not had cornbread (the really sweet kind) on our ugly plastic trays—hey, this was in the day when children didn’t get to pick what they ate, either in school or at home, you ate what was on your plate or you went hungry—that I could prepare a good pan of cornbread.

You think wrong. My cornbread was bad. Not just bad, but inedible. There was the cornbread where I read, “put grease in pan, put pan in oven to heat grease, put cornbread in hot pan.” What I didn’t understand was, the extra grease was to be poured into the batter and stirred in, then that batter was to be poured over the hot greased pan to bake. I poured the batter over all of that liquid, and the result was a cornbread swimming in oil. Ugh. My brothers laughed their arses off over that. The next time I attempted to bake cornbread, I was more careful. I thought. But, when that cornbread came out of the oven, I took my knife to cut into it, and…and…the knife didn’t slice through. What? Huhn? I turned the cornbread out onto the counter—and by now I had an audience of four brothers guffawing—Tommy, or David, or Johnny, or Mike, picked up the “cornbread” and rapped it against the counter. It didn’t break. It didn’t bend. This set my brothers to heights of hilarity only seen on shows like Gilligan’s Island or The Carol Burnett Show. I burst out crying, since that is what girls my age did. My brothers, bless their stinky hearts, felt sorry for me and assured me the cornbread was fine, even as they took it outside and tried to kill snakes with it in the canal out back.

But, what about gratitude, you may be asking? Well, many years later, I stubbornly measured and stirred cornmeal, flour, oil, buttermilk, egg, baking powder, salt, and a bit of sugar, then poured the mix into a hot-greased iron skillet and then into the oven it went. Ding. Deep Breath. I cut it. I tasted. Perfect. Somehow, someway I made the perfect pan of cornbread. The ghost of a Southern Relative took me by the hand and said, “Okay, honey, this here’s how you do it…It ain't hard, child...” Gratitude for good cornbread baking. Why not?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New Age by Nannette Croce

I spent last week at The Kenyon Review Writer's Workshop. What a wonderful opportunity to share my work with others and learn from successful writers in the literary genre.

Just a few decades ago a woman my age––mid-fifties––would have felt awkward and out of place at such a program. Older people, and women especially, believed and were believed by others, to have outlived their productive years by that point. Women raised their families. Men had careers or simply jobs from which they would soon retire to play with the grandkids, maybe "Keep busy" with some undemanding hobby, like gardening or flower arranging, or golf.

Men and women my age and older comprised at least a third, possibly close to half, the attendees at the Kenyon Workshop. A few had achieved some success as writers, others attended the workshops for new writers of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. We mixed easily with college students, and young men and women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. We gave and received feedback and no one moderated their comments in deference to age.

I am grateful to live at a time when aging does not mean giving up.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Omnivore Opus by Barbara Quinn

I’m grateful I’m an omnivore who was raised on a Mediterranean diet, and grateful that more and more studies are touting this diet as good for your heart, your brain, and your waistline. Because of this trend, now when I go out to eat it’s much easier to find healthy and tasty food. Places are used to people like me asking for olive oil instead of butter, or veggies instead of French fries. At home, I’m as happy eating a plate of grilled vegetables as a dish of veal marsala. Peppers stuffed with bulgur are as pleasing as fish or chicken on the barbecue. It’s a relief that dining out there are lots of healthy alternatives whether the place is Thai, Spanish, Italian, or American.

Back in my youth, in summer we grew vegetables such as lettuce and zucchini, had peach trees, and an herb garden. I still go to the back yard and pick the herbs, lettuce, and zucchini, but the squirrels eat my peaches so I’ve given up on those! I buy tomatoes at the local farm stand. Summer’s bounty included pasta with clams, or crabs. In winter there was meat sauce, pasta with lentils, or pasta with peas. Year round there was fish and fresh baked bread. A pound of pasta, or a pound of veal cutlet fed four people, and there was always pasta leftover. Yes, there were roasts such as lamb and beef, but you ate only a couple of slices. Stringbeans in tomato sauce, with a couple of potatoes added, or pasta with spinach were standards. Cheese was sprinkled lightly on pasta, and never on fish sauce. No rubbery mozzarella covered anything we ate. But, fresh mozzarella in water, now, that was a special treat!

I hope that the next trend will be to smaller portions. That’s probably un-American. But, hey, between us, it’s one of the secrets to a long and healthy life. Add a glass of red wine and we’ll all really be on the healthy highway!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Nothing and Everything by Angie Ledbetter

Coming up with gratitude items a couple of times a week isn't always easy...not that I don't have plenty for which to be thankful, but trying to think up a different thing each time takes a bit of work. There are the trite things I don't want to write about; those that everyone is grateful for, such as the freedom we enjoy in this country, our rights, the many material things we take for granted, healthy relationships, friends, etc. Then there are the life events that are hard to find a "silver lining" in.
So just for today, I'm going to breath in and enjoy every normal and everyday thing that comes my way. I'm going to take note of them, name them, and say a quick prayer of thanks because these items (good and plentiful food, family, a nice day, a working vehicle, my cell phone, shoes that feel good on my big feet, a reliable Internet connection, my 16-year-old Boston Terrier, my home) are "nothing" on the big scale of things, but everything in life.

Take stock of your everyday list of blessings, things that make you grateful, luxuries, rights, etc. and you will see a large expanse of goodness filling your life. Then when the inevitable poop hits the fan, it won't matter as much or seem like such a big deal. Yes, today is good and most days are good. I gather my daily small and large gifts around me like a warm angora blanket on the coldest of days. I hope you find such pleasure and happiness in the things that fill your life. In the end, they are everything!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Movies by Kat Magendie

When I lived in the Big City, I went to the movies when there was some anticipated blockbuster, or summer sleeper, I was anxious to see on the Big Screen. For, after all, there are some movies that simply must be seen and heard in a movie theater experience. The bigger than life size, the speakers set on ear-drum shatter, the smell of popcorn, the rustling of bootlegged treats taken from purses or pockets, the excited chatter that is stilled once the previews begin. I was spoiled by the city movie theaters, with their plush stadium seating. But here in my little town, I pass the tiny theater and feel a little uninspired. I promise myself to actually go in one day, maybe I’ll be surprised.

There was a time I worried the theaters would price people right on out, especially as quickly as movies are sent to DVD and available for viewing in one’s own home, and the over-inflated egos of Hollywood “stars” demanding outrageous salaries that are obscene. I know it puts me off, going to a movie and paying far too much, just so some actor can add to their already bulging wallets, and egos (which is why I love the sleepers with little known actors). But, there is the child part of me who still feels the magic…with some movies, some of the time, and with some actors who still charm, touch, make me laugh, or take me somewhere I didn't know I wanted to go.

While recently visiting my sister in law in Houston, she and I went to the opening weekend of the new Indiana Jones movie—one of the aforementioned Blockbusters one must watch on the big screen. I stared with a country come to town grin. The theater was Huge, with sparklings and people and noise and color and light and sound, and as if that wasn’t enough, there was a Starbucks, and small eateries, and was that a gift shop? And I’m sure I missed seeing everything, as we were hurrying to get to our seats. Oh, and those seats! Plush and comfy as my own living room. We settled in, and the magic began. I won’t tell you what I thought about the movie itself, I’ll leave that to your own opinion, but I will say that Indiana Jones is just as handsome as he ever was, damn him for being a man and being allowed to age! Karen Allen was beautiful, but completely wasted in her role, dang it all. That’s all I have to say about that. Ah, here’s to the movies. Escape.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Oh the Humanity by Nannette Croce

The other day a raging summer storm left us without power for about 24 hours. While I was grateful it wasn't a hurricane or tornado, it didn't leave me grateful for modern conveniences. Instead, I discovered how these so-called conveniences have made life more difficult.

Lately, we experience several power outages a year. For confined ones you call in and after punching a series of numbers prompted by that bubbly computer-generated female voice––I'm sorry, 1000 is not an option, would you please try again––a recording tells whether a crew has been dispatched and the estimated repair time.

For extensive outages you follow the same annoying menu and receive a recording telling how hard they are working and the outside time of repair which is often 72 hours or more. Call me crazy, but I'd like something more personal and specific.

This isn't all selfish. Last time we scored one of the last bags of ice in the county only to have our power back within the hour. Hundreds of people watched their food rot over the next two days as we watched the ice melt in our yard.

So this time I took advantage of the "old lady rule."Hanging on the line until some real person finally answers. He confirmed, first, that they knew we were out (since we were surrounded by homes with power), and that we would be back online within the day. We were, and a perfectly good bag of ice remained available for a more needy family.

If more companies and politicians, for that matter (who now leave their own recorded messages), only knew the true value of a real human on the line who listens and explains.

I'm grateful I found at least one.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ode to a Deck by Barbara Quinn

This time of year I appreciate my deck. When we were figuring out how to site this house, one of the first things my husband did was find out the exposure. He studied the plans, and told the builder to place the deck on the east side of the house. We worked from there. We’d had decks that faced west and he wanted to avoid that setting sun hitting us. So now the front of the house gets the afternoon sun while the back, where our deck is, receives the shade. It’s wonderful to be able to sit out there and read, and at this time of year I look forward to having dinner on the deck. We barbecue. I pick some fresh herbs from my garden. And I light some candles to keep the biting bugs away. Then we relax, talk, drink wine with our meal, and let the evening settle over us. Because we are surrounded by tall pines and other trees we’re completely private. The quiet is a great escape from the hubbub of life. Off to the north there are lovely mountains. They’re not a dramatic soaring range of mountains. Rather they are gentle hills, worn by time. But they do have their charms. And to the rear, behind the deck, are woods that are a refuge for many critters.

We receive visits from many animals while we sit out on the deck. There are cotton-tailed bunnies, chipmunks, and woodchucks. The deer tend to stay away till we go inside, then they are back munching on whatever they can find. I’ve learned to forget about planting things like tulips which are fodder for the deer buffet. Occasionally a gorgeous red fox comes and sits on the hill. Wild turkeys parade through. I’ve seen a couple of possum at night. And overhead hawks soar while hummingbirds hover in the garden.

No matter how long or hard the day, I know at night I can go out on the deck and enjoy a mini-vacation.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Healthy Kids by Angie Ledbetter

I'm thankful every day my three children are healthy and strong. They are independent for the most part, and old enough not to get those naggy childhood illnesses. Unless there's a sports injury, an unexpected appendicitis attack or a set of wisdom teeth that need extracting, the majority of what they deal with can be cured with vitamins, an occasional antihistamine or OTC allergy medication. Having loved ones who must endure bodily crises or chronic troubles brings the blessing of take-it-for-granted good health home to me more and more.

My kids are 16, 17 and 18 and are all in good physical and mental shape. Besides sometimes balking at doing the dishes or mowing the grass, the two oldest are gainfully employed at jobs that suit them and that they enjoy. The youngest just turned 16 yesterday and is looking for a job right now. I'm sure he'll find something to suit his tastes and activity schedule soon. I'm grateful they want (or know they must have) a job and all three have decent work ethics. They understand Mom and Dad work hard to keep the family finances balanced, and that it takes a lot just to operate and maintain five vehicles for the household.

Besides the physical concerns all moms have about their children, there's also the mental, emotional and spiritual ones. Things aren't perfect by any means, but for the most part, we make it over these other speed bumps and detours pretty well. It makes me feel good that my "babies" have good hearts and love helping others, don't mind giving time to someone else or the community, have decent self-esteem, are S-M-A-R-T, and after the normal teen resistance stage, begin to care about their faith lives.

There's not much worse than feeling helpless to make your child feel better either physically or emotionally, so when things are going great, it's something to celebrate with a moment of vast gratitude. Today, I'm that thankful Mom.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Butterfly by Kathryn Magendie

Every year the butterflies come. The first time I saw them, I thought something was wrong, that somehow the butterflies were disoriented and ended up at the bottom of our gravel driveway. But then, the next year they were back, and the next, and next. From what I can tell, these could be Pipevine Swallowtails, a butterfly that frequents these mountains. Whatever kind they are is not important to me, the butterflies themselves are. Every late spring or early summer they rest at the bottom of my driveway. At times there are twenty or more of them, landing and then lying there, fluttering their wings. When I walk our dogs, they flit away, hovering near, and wait until we leave before they land once again in their designated spots. Some are already dead, wings spread. Whenever I have to drive out, I go slowly, giving them time to disperse, and they do, in a slow lazy dance, as if they really do not, most certainly do not, have time for this human’s antics.

I wonder why they are here. Is it a mating place? A meeting place? A dying place? I can’t help but imagine the butterflies has been coming to this one spot for hundreds, thousands?, of years, and the development has not stopped them. I am glad we have kept our spot as wild as possible. We haven’t landscaped, preferring not to have a "yard." Our property has plants and flowers that are unique, rare even, and we are careful to honor the ancient quality of this place. The first late spring here, when the butterflies came, I picked up a dead specimen. He was perfect, his body still, but the colors, the beauty of him made him still seem alive, as if I only had to touch him and he would lift his wings, flutter them, and then fly away from me. I carefully placed him in the palm of my hand, studied the color and craft of him. Then, I took him inside and placed him among my rocks, feathers, bark, bones, shells, and other mountain things I find. He stayed for a while, then as time passed, he could no longer sustain such beauty and began to fall apart. I took him then, because I understood I’d done something I should not, and I returned him to his place on the mountain. The wind picked him up and carried him away away away. I watched. I wondered. I said, “Thank you for allowing me to have you, just for a little while.” The butterflies come, every year, and I wait for them, gratitude for their beauty and constancy filling me. My Mountain is not really mine, yet it is.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In the Heat of the Night by Nannette Croce

There's nothing like a summer night.

This time of year the sun is rising earlier each day and setting later. Some find it surprising that what we call the first day of Summer really marks the point when the days, which have been growing longer since the spring equinox, start to grow shorter. Knowing that, at this time of year, I make an extra effort to sit outside after dinner and stay out until dark.

Even in the midst of a heat wave as we were last week on the east coast, apparently stretching from North Carolina through where I live outside Philly and up to New York, the evenings, outdoors at least, usually cool to a bearable temperature. I take a book or magazine outside and read for as long as I can make out the words, but I also cast an ear to the sounds around me.

I imagine the birds, every bit as noisy as early morning, calling their babes home to bed. I know better, of course. Once the babes leave the nest, they return no more. Maybe they're just saying good night, like The Waltons used to do. "Good night, Sparrow. Good night, Chicadee. Good night, John Boy"––oops.

This last week of summer I'm caught up with a writer's workshop. Though we have outdoor activities scheduled for most evenings, with the socializing and networking, I keep forgetting to check out the sunset or listen for the birds turning in for the night.

On the 19th, the last day of spring, I will make a point of walking slowly back to my room and savor it, weather permitting. I hope you will too.

Monday, June 16, 2008

On Gratitude by Karen Neches

Gratitude is a part of my everyday life. Every night before I go to sleep I inventory all of the positive things that happened to me during that day. Invariably it’s a long list and I usually conk out before I can think of all the great things that blew into my life that day.

It sounds like a corny practice but it really helps me to keep a cheery perspective. I used to be a woe-is-me kind of gal, complaining at every turn, poised to pounce at the smallest of slights.

It’s amazing how a simple thing like the practice of gratitude can change your whole attitude. The life of a writer isn’t for sissies. One day you get a rave review from Publishers Weekly, the next day you learn your last paperback sold about ten copies. If you don’t learn to count your blessings, your mind fills up with all the failures, until you start questioning your abilities, and wondering if you should change careers and sell shoes or wash cars.

Now, when something crummy happens to me, instead of immediately kvetching and hand-wringing, I just take the punch and move on. The everyday practice of gratitude has taught me that those irksome failures are just part of the process, just little potholes on the journey and I never, ever should take them seriously or let them distract me from where I’m going.

Karen Neches was single for over twenty years. She used to tell people she was in the “hospice stage” of being single as she never expected to recover. Then at the age of forty-three she finally met her soul mate. Her novel Earthly Pleasures is dedicated to him. She maintains a web site at

Neches also writes under the name Karin Gillespie and is the nationally bestselling author of The Sweet Potato Queen’s First Big-Ass Novel with Jill Conner Browne and three novels in the critically acclaimed Bottom Dollar Girl series. She’s founder of the forty author virtual tour The Girlfriend Circuit as well as the grog for Southern authors A Good Blog is Hard to Find. She is a former lifestyle columnist for the Augusta Chronicle.

Wine is More Than Fine by Barbara Quinn

Forget the water and bring on the wine. I’ve mentioned before that I was raised in an Italian-American household where wine was introduced without fuss during childhood. Fortunately, there were no alcoholics in my family and thus no fear that drinking could lead to alcoholism. Instead, we were able to enjoy our meals with every type of wine.

Back then there was a jug of Hearty Burgundy under the kitchen sink (oh no!)for our daily drinking. I didn’t care for it and was relieved when in summer we could slice the peaches from our yard into a pitcher of the wine to sweeten away the harshness. There was Cold Duck on special occasions and Vermouth before dinner. There were Chiantis, the ones with straw around the bottle. Most of the wines we drank were red, though I do remember my grandmother bringing bottles of Lacryma Christi(tears of Christ)a legendary southern Italian wine whose vines are said to have sprung from Christ's tears. My grandfather wielded a silver canister of seltzer to make us all the first version of wine spritzers. And he made terrible dandelion wine!

In college I drank the sweet stuff: Yago Sangria or Mateus Rose. As time passed I discovered the world of dry wine. French Chablis, Graves, Fumes, and Meursault, California Chardonnay, Italian Pinot Grigio. French Rhones, California Cabernets, Oregon Pinot Noirs, Spanish Tempranillos, Argentinian Malbecs.

It’s been a wonderful journey around the world via wine. My current favorites are reds: Pinot Noirs, Barolos, Barberas, Nero D’avolas, and Bordeaux (2005 was an excellent year so if you see any bargains from then snap them up!) When I do drink the occasional glass of white it’s likely to be a Viognier.

And the best thing about wine? More and more studies show that it’s good for your heart and may prevent ageing. So drink up. It's good for your health! And I am grateful for the grape.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fantabulous Fathers by Angie Ledbetter

"My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it." - C. B. Kelland

"Fatherhood is pretending the present you love most is soap-on-a-rope." - Bill Cosby

It's Father's Day today, and in honor of all the men I know who are good daddies, great "fill-ins," wonderful role models and awesome menfolk, this post is for you.

If all the men in the world were like Oren, what good children there would be. Dad Oren has spent much of his adult life giving of himself to his own two kids and many others he's not even related to. He has coached baseball, led Boy Scouts from cubs to Eagle Scouts and beyond, and taken part in their faith journeys. Dedication, hard work, and self-sacrifice are characteristics that come easily to this dad.

If fathers bonded with their baby boys and girl, sharing in the not-so-pleasant diapering, feeding, bathing, and hands-on duties the way Ken does, kids would grow up knowing they are loved. There'd also be a lot more moms who feel cherished and appreciated.

If all stepfathers loved, were involved with and cared about their stepchildren as well as Gene and Bob do, what better families we would have.

I am grateful for your presence, your "right priorities," and your modeling of what's important in children's lives. I'm blessed and thankful my own Daddy embodies all these traits and more. Thanks, guys, and HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Home Coming Surprise by Kat Magendie

So, I get home from the Pen to Press Writer’s Retreat and my dogs are waiting, every last inch of their bodies wriggling. I pet them, my bones weary from the trip from South Louisiana to North Carolina. A friend has driven back with me, and she is anticipating a week in the mountains. I am anticipating the rest of my life here, and when I am gone, I want to be sprinkled on these mountains (and under a willow tree and under an oak tree – aw, friends, just sprinkle me in all my favorite places). When I step into the log-house, my husband stands grinning. I grin back. I say, “Hey.” He says, “Hey.” But, what we said isn’t as important as what I see. There is no way I can miss it. It is almost the size of a door. It is hanging over the double windows to my right. I stare at it, my mouth open as if to catch some flies and gnats and no-see-ums. I say, “Oh!” My friend says, “Wow!” My husband says, “You like it?”

And as I turn to say, “I can’t believe you did that!” I also see he has left fresh flowers about. And he has painted the ceiling in the bedroom the warm color we thought would look better than white, and pulled the same color into the hall, and as well the tall wall in the living room that isn’t log, just as we talked about doing. I am speechless. I turn back to what is hanged over the windows and stare again. It is a painting, one I learn he has almost completed in a weekend (we joke that he can draw and paint like I write, quickly and with a free hand). The painting is of me and of my dogs and of our view. In it, I am rocking in the rocking chair, my face half-turned to that awe-some view with a look of whimsy and pleasure and mischief, a bright red blouse for that shot of color to match our red couch; the dogs lie in their poses on the porch; there are the mists I love, blanketing; there are late-spring-rain clouds in the sky; there are trees, and ridges, and our porch things, and, some of my favorite birds on the feeders.

Now, how do you thank someone for that? Maybe a thousand ways. But for me, the one who loves to tease and hates mushy gooey globby romance stuff, all I needed to do was give him a hug and say, “That’s the most beautiful painting I’ve seen you do. What a gift you have. It’s so lovely. Thank you,” and to mean it; which I do. I really do.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Hot Times by Nannette Croce

It’s 95 degrees here in southeastern Pennsylvania, but looking out from my air conditioned house it could be 85 or 75 or even 65. The rustling leaves could be from a chill breeze or a hot wind. I wear reasonably cool clothes for my trip to the mall in an air conditioned car, but nothing like the loose sleeveless tops I wore just a few years ago when we still lived in our “starter house” after eighteen years, unable to give up some of the last treed and secluded acreage in our once rural county.

Dinners were carefully planned back then for outdoor grilling or a cold platter, eaten on the patio under a tree. In bed I wore a scant nightie and slept on top of the covers, the white noise of a fan and deep heat lulling me to sleep. Heat waves in the high 90s and 100s, when the extra heat of a light bulb became unbearable, could be tough, but even then we soldiered through, slowing down, eating less, and drinking more, as folks had done for thousands of years before us.

My friends who kept the air on all season and sweated temps in the 80s couldn’t believe I found anything below mid-90s quite livable or that when we moved to our new home I hated waking chilly in the morning with all the windows closed tight, and avoided it as much as possible.

My current home doesn’t have the thick walls or high ceilings that used to keep homes cool. More asphalt and cars add to the heat. Computers break from high temperatures. Even we use our air conditioner more.

But I’m glad my daughter was raised in a home without it, because sometime soon we may all have to live that way.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Good Book by Barbara Quinn

A good book is one of life’s pleasures. Since I was a kid and the bookmobile made its rounds to my neighborhood in the Bronx, I’ve had a book habit. I loved climbing aboard and rummaging around the shelves, presenting my card and having the book stamped. Seeing that van approach each week was almost as good as seeing the ice-cream truck!

Back then I was hooked on animal stories like My Friend Flicka, and Old Yeller. I read every Nancy Drew book and waited for the next one to come out. There were the Bobbsey Twins, and Anne of Green Gables. At one point I decided to start reading all books, beginning from the letter A, but that turned out to be extremely boring.

My parents read to me when I was a child. I still have my copy of The Light Princess, which was one of my favorite tales. It tells the story of a princess so light she had to be tethered to the ground.

I’ve never lost the reading habit. I suffered through some books in school and then immediately turned to ones that appealed to me. For every Kon-Tiki, and Red Badge of Courage(forgive me for not being seduced by you Thor Heyerdahl and Stephen Crane) there was a Gone With the Wind, Animal Farm, or Stranger in a Strange Land waiting.

I passed the habit on to my son.

Recently I read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. What a fun way to find out about circus history. You’re taken back to the big tops and freak shows of old and you learn about the inner workings of the circus all while following a lovely romance between the circus vet and one of its stars. If you were ever charmed by the circus when you were a kid you’ll enjoy this one.

Sure books have to compete with lots of new media. I love a good movie, and TV and the internet have their charms. But a well-told tale is spell-binding. I’m looking forward to passing the reading habit on to my grandkids!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Blessings from the Pit by Angie Ledbetter

I've come to love our BBQ pit. Like several ovens in one, it can cook different meals simultaneously. And since we moved up a few years ago from the old charcoal model to propane, cooking outdoors is even easier and more efficient. I like the convenience of having different foods than my sometimes-boring repertoire, and my husband doesn't mind long as fire, hot coals, dutch ovens, seafood boiling/frying rigs or danger of some sort is involved. He's gotten better and better with his grill mastery and actually enjoys it. His outdoor cooking also gives his family gift ideas for birthday and other holidays.

On days when the family's running in five separate directions, leftovers from the grill are a boon. Who doesn't love reheated burgers, fresh vegetables or chicken the next day? Our pit really comes in handy when we lose electricity during storms. When it's too hot or dark to stay indoors, we can sit under the patio and cook what's slowly defrosting in the freezer. During hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we had the camp coffee pot perking on the pit. Talk about an emergency essential!

The BBQ is wonderful for those in the household on different eating plans too...big honking slabs of beef for the Atkins dieter, lightly seasoned grilled shrimp and veggie kabobs for the low cal dieters, and a variety of "regular" foods for the others.

I'm thankful for our trusty BBQ, and that there's someone else to man it besides me. I'm grateful for the bounty of good meals it quickly provides, and for the time it saves me being cooped up in the kitchen. And the best part? There's no clean-up involved if things drip or spill over. All that gunk just eventually burns off, sorta like a self-cleaning oven without the harsh chemicals.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Almost Summer by Kat Magendie

Though you can barely see them, there are intricate spider webs linking, looping, and lacing from the trees. They hang down, as if they are nets, which I suppose they are, nets to catch food for the spider. The webs start out as a few long threads that reach from the branches, and down, some connecting to the ground. On this almost-summer morning, the spiders have worked to further their web, and when the sun shines through the strands, it is lovely. The dew drops form on them like diamonds shining. Nature's jewlery is always more beautiful to me than anything I'd ever purchase in a mall.

There is that otherwordly mist, and the sun beams through and from it. Raccoon visited our feeder the evening before, eating the sunflower seeds with an unabandoned greed that makes me laugh, so I add more for the squirrels. The red squirrels tolerate me and sometimes take peanuts from my hands—although I never want to domesticate or personify our wild nature, I allow myself the red squirrel to eat a peanut. The chipmunks fill their cheeks and scurry away when I approach. Our birds aren't as frequent to the feeders—when it is warm, they find bugs, seeds, and berries to eat. Come cooler weather, they will be flocking here. The spiders must know the perfect time to cast their spell from branch to branch for those bugs, just as the birds know it’s high feeding here on the mountain.

And know this, when you curve around and find the sudden mountain view that was just a second ago unseen, when you see mountain after mountain, when you see them rising up and up and casting shadows, see them protecting all who they surround, when you round that curve and there they are, you will never forget it, it will never leave you, you will never want to leave.

Afternoon comes and I sit on my porch with a glass of good wine and wait for the dark to settle on me, heavy and full. The grinning old moon shines over and out and beyond. There are ancient spirits here; I feel them. Wonders of the world are on my mountain, some of the oldest in the world, ground down by time's weather. I have many dreams. My writing is in gratitude—the words of awe mean gratitude.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Sharing the Wealth by Nannette Croce

When I first decided on the stay-at-home mom thing, I assumed I’d go back to full-time employment eventually. At first we scrimped a bit having become accustomed to two incomes, but by the time this mom was no longer needed at home, my husband’s new business provided us with a large home and enough left over for my daughter’s education, a nice trip once a year, and dinners out. Oh, there have been some nail-biter years as with any business, but generally, it’s more than we need to live.

So I faced a choice. Take a good job I didn’t need from someone who did need it and spend the income they might use to feed their kids on extra vacations and more dinners out or give my time in volunteer or what I call, semi-volunteer work (low-paying non-profit jobs where I returned most of my pay through donations or out-of-pocket purchases).

I chose the latter.

Like any “great leap forward,” the women’s movement came with a downside––a huge drop in the number of available volunteers. At the same time funding cuts to non-profits put organizations from libraries to the YMCA to museums in desperate need of people to work for little or nothing.

Sadly, too many people judge the value of a person’s time by what they earn for it. People, especially women, who work for nothing now often feel the need to apologize. Paid work is a career; non-paid work is “keeping busy.”

Well this gal is grateful for her good fortune. Anymore would simply be greedy. My professional background makes me an asset to organizations that could never pay top dollar for my skills, and I enjoy “keeping busy” for a good cause.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Over The Counter We Go by Barbara Quinn

Thank heavens for over-the-counter and home remedies. While nothing can compare to the assistance of a good doc when you are in bad health, it’s good to be able to treat yourself for minor inconveniences. As we age chances are that we learn what illnesses we are prone to. That’s where ole CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid come to the rescue.

One of my major problems is sinus headaches. I’m highly allergic and when the pollen count skyrockets or the weather gets really damp, I often get a headache. Sometimes it’s histamine and other times it’s a sinus headache. That’s when I hit the Sudafed (the old version that you now have to sign for at the counter to prove you’re not making bombs out of it) and add in some Ibuprofen (generic works fine for me, but if you like brand names like Advil try that). In a couple of hours I'm pain free and in a day or two all is well again.

Before I take the drugs, I try giving myself an acupressure massage which is nothing more than pressing on various parts of the face. It works almost immediately most of the time. It’s good to learn about these pressure points. I went to a lecture on acupuncture and acupressure techniques for sinuses a while back and have incorporated the massage into my shower routine.

What other over-the-counter things help me? I love Dr. Scholl’s corn removers. Benadryl helps me out when the allergies get bad, but only at night and then I wind up sleeping soundly. For my cholesterol there’s Green Tea Extract and Policosanol. For bee and wasp stings, there’s meat tenderizer (generic works fine). My son’s pediatrician told me about this. You make a paste with water and apply it to the sting where it promptly digests the venom. Amazing! And you thought Adolph's was for burgers.

What’s in your cabinet that helps you?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Dark Pleasures by Angie Ledbetter

"Loafing needs no explanation and is its own excuse." ~ Christopher Morley

I went to see a movie yesterday with my daughter. It was nice to spend time together since we haven't done much of that lately and I always enjoy her company. She makes me laugh and we have a lot in common. It was especially nice being in a dark theater in the middle of the day and getting tickets at matinee rates. The theater is nearby and wasn't very crowded because most people were still at work, so it felt almost like we were playing hooky.

There's really nothing like sinking into a plush comfortable chair in the cool darkness and sinking away into anonymity. The movie we chose was decently funny and captivating; enough so that I was able to forget the lists of things I could/should be doing and totally relax for a few hours.

Escape is important. It eases stress and relieves tension. I had a great afternoon doing something I don't get to do often, and with a person whose company I enjoy. I'm thankful for that time...and the buttered popcorn I had for "lunch."

Friday, June 6, 2008

Three Photographs by Kat Magendie

See. The back of the neck shot. My ear like a seashell. The age on my face barely shown on a half cheek. My hair grown out a bit. The shadows where the sun hits and bounces off. I am white, even with my Indian ancestor. I am looking down, and away. Maybe I am thinking how the person attached to that foot, making that shadow, is coming too close. For the back of my neck is vulnerable. The earring about to puncture the soft underneath my ear. Sunglasses hide my thoughts. The back of my neck. At Chimney Rock

Black and White. I remember this day, just a little. To the photographer we went to record my youth. I remember my shoes were too tight, and I kept pulling at the strap as I sat in the backseat of the rambler. I had not long been with my new mother, who hadn't adopted me yet; and my father who was driving, one arm always more tanned than the other from leaving it draped out of the window; who had airconditioned cars then, the rich? I remember how proud I was that my new mother let me wear her single-pearl necklace. It lay heavy against my chest, that grown up symbol (somewhere an unrest occurred, but why would someone so young know these things?). My hair long and tied back into a ponytail, and it shone with the strokes of the brush my new mother gave it. I can still feel her hand as it smoothed the flyaways, following the brush against my scalp. I see my young self from the height of my grown self. The little me fits perfectly inside the grown up me. Smile! Snap! Flash! Then, my father drove us home and I took off the dress, and the too tight shoes, and the grown symbol around my neck and I became just a dirty barefooted kid again, running in the grass with my brothers, never knowing I'd one day look at this picture and sigh. What does the sigh tell me? I can't figure it out.

You are grinning out of your car window, that old heap of junk you fixed up. Your eyes are almost crinkled shut, and your teeth are strong and white. A shock of hair falls on your forehead, a comma, separating your expressive eyebrows. The nose you share with me—brother-sister similarities of eye, nose, ear, chin, smile—breathes the Texas air. You are a million miles away from me. Yet, there you are.

Gratitude for the life in still form, that look back, that moment captured, the moment that has no awareness of its future, but I, from this distance know all, like I am a god but only with hindsight.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Non-Cancelable Flights by Nannette Croce

You know the feeling. You’re staring at your itinerary on Expedia or Travelocity, index finger hovering over the mouse, heart pounding. Once you click “Submit” it’s a done deal. No going back. Okay, you can purchase the cancelation insurance, but that only applies in drastic cases––things you don’t want to even think about lest you call up those evil spirits you’re forever knocking from any nearby wood.

Sometimes, though, that non-cancelation policy can be a good thing. Like when you are experiencing ambivalence about the writer’s workshop you will be attending in just two––gulp––weeks now. Yes, I’m still on that one. Bet you’ll all be glad when it’s over.

Me too.

Well, not really. I think that now, but I know that last night I will be wishing it could go on longer. You see, I’ve been in this situation before. I’ve even felt that way about fun trips I’ve taken from time to time, like the time I left on Father’s Day for the first trip I took on my own in years or, once, when my daughter suffered her first major break-up the day before I was set to leave for my 50th birthday Pottery Tour of the Southwest.

And every time I’ve lost that feeling the minute I arrived at the hotel.

I sometimes wonder, if I could easily cancel my flight, get all the money back, even lose just $50 or so, how many trips would I have skipped the last minute? How many great times would I have missed? How many learning experiences would I have passed on?

I can’t get my money back now. Not for the flight or the workshop.

Eventually, I’ll be grateful for that.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Suddenly Summer by Barbara Quinn

It went to suddenly summer in the last couple of days here in the Northeast. One day I was wearing long pants, shoes, and socks, the next, my flip-flops and capris. Since summer is my favorite season, I’ve been quite happy to see it finally arrive. My herb garden is finally starting to grow and my flowers are thriving in the heat.

I spent Sunday on the beach where there was way too much wind to hoist the umbrella. But the breeze was warm, so I slathered on the sunblock and later a long-sleeved shirt. In spite of the breeze I managed to read most of the Sunday Times. There’s nothing better than sitting on the beach reading, with the sound of the surf and gulls surrounding me. And when I get tired of reading, the people watching is just as pleasurable.

Couples old and young stroll hand in hand along the shore. Babies toddle toward the surf with concerned parents following behind. Children dig holes and build sand castles. Gulls and sandpipers look for dinner in the waves. Women collect shells, men use metal detectors to find treasures. It’s the same every year. And best of all, people are smiling. The ocean is not for the grumpy. The sea and salt air work their magic on those who draw comfort from dipping their toes in the sand and soaking up the atmosphere. Not all of us are beach people, but for those of us who are, the beach is a joyful place, second to none.

Hooray for the summer season!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Good Tired by Angie Ledbetter

Sometimes our plans and gotta-do stuff clumps together in a wad of busy days and we run as fast as we can to keep up and check off the things filling our lists. I've had a week of that -- a 6-day writers conference and my parents' 50th wedding anniversary party the day after I returned.

The conference required a lot of mental work and writing, with lots of walking around the huge hotel all day, and a 3-hour ghost walking tour around New Orleans. Okay, I'm 48, heavy and not in marathon shape, so it was more exercise (physical & mental) than I'm used to, but I'm not complaining. Actually, I enjoyed it and took the stairs sometimes when an elevator was just as close. The point is, my body spent almost a week in unfamiliar circumstances and in a strange bed. But out of that conference, I got some golden nuggets in the form of an improved manuscript and some successful agent pitches. I was exhausted, but so glad I went.

Yesterday my parents celebrated five decades of a wonderful marriage full of love, laughter, grandchildren, and great-grands. The guest list had to be limited because of the venue, but their friends could've filled the New Orleans Superdome. And what a tribute and statement to their goodness that is. It was fun helping put together the party, and again, I felt that "good tired" you experience after an unfamiliar event or circumstance involving some effort pays you back with dividends you weren't expecting.

I slept like the proverbial log the last two nights and the jetlag I felt (even though I was nowhere near an airport) has lifted. I'm ready for whatever comes my way and looking for more "good tired" nights. I am grateful for last week and that my body, mind and spirit kept up with the demands needing to be met. And, again, I'm grateful for my good soft bed.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Fairly Fair Fairy Story by Kat Magendie

Once upon a time, in a land up high, there lived a Queen. This Queen’s King was on a trip to a mysteriously eerie swamp-land called South Louisiana. Whilst the King was away, the Queen danced and sang and had no fingerprints, dribbles, and the entire bedchamber was hers and hers alone. Then, came the morning when the Queen looked upon her larder in the Frigidaire, and noticed there were no more greens, there was no more grapefruit juice, and on the royal counter, there were no more apples, and in the most high royal pantry, there were no more Cheerios and Cocoa Pebbles. The Queen, in a panic, summoned her minions, but realized she had no minions, just two fat lazy dogs who, by the way, were almost out of their royal pain dog food!

The Queen fretted and moaned and gnashed her teeth. Where did these wondrous and nutritional items come from if not from minions? Surely they did not just appear out of the misty mountain air? The Queen sat her quite shapely for her age rump upon her stately throne and thought and thought, and the thoughts became more thoughts, and those thoughts went off into tangents of thoughts until her brain squeezed and she had to blink and give her head a shake and pronounce, “Where were art I?” Then, she recollected her mind, and sighed, “Yes, my larder is bare. I have none of the precious foodstuffs that I daily enjoy.” Then with a start, a horrified, “Augh!” The Queen also realized there was soon to be no more Charmin to be had in the Land of Mountains.

“Oh, Oh, whatever will I do?” The Queen sobbed. She paced the little log royal castle, wringing her royal hands. Then, it came to her, how these things suddenly appeared to the royal homestead. The King! Yes! The King went to the village and pillaged the Ingles Supermarket and brought forth his bounty for the Queen’s enjoyment so the Queen never had to leave her mountaintop. The Queen pondered and pontificated and gasped and ballyhooed. And when the King returned from his quest from the wet mooshy land of yore, she ran to him and rained upon his face kisses, and said, “My King! My King! Get thee to Ingles quickly, for my cupboard is bare!” And the King set off without complaint, off to the village to pummel and plunder for his Queen. And his Queen was ever so ever grateful, even if she sometimes doesn’t show the King thusly so. The End.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

My Back Porch by Nannette Croce

Funny how it is sometimes the little things that enrich our lives. Take my back porch.

Just about all the suburban houses in my part of the country, built in the last couple decades, come with wooden decks. A great feature people use about three times a year when it’s not too hot or too cold and the bugs aren’t biting. I’d completely forgotten about screen-in porches like we had in my childhood home, until, ten years ago when we were looking for a new house, that back porch was what clinched the deal.

I know other things in my house hold far more value real estate wise––the kitchen we updated, the size of the family room, the full basement, but I’d take a house half the size so long as it had that screened-in porch. When we first moved in, a hectic year for me following an untimely death in the family, a new business venture for my husband, and, of course, the stresses of buying and selling homes simultaneously, I made a point of taking some reading time on that porch every afternoon. It always catches the breezes, the angle of the sun in spring turns the yard a deep green, and the surrounding plants and bushes attract an array of birds, including hummingbirds.

Even in the rain, I love sitting in the protection watching the storm rage around me, now and then a spray of rain being carried in by the wind––refreshing on a muggy day. And in winter it’s a nice place to watch the snow fall and stack the wood for the fireplace.

Forget the square footage and the number of baths, when I look for the home I will retire in, I want a screened-in back porch.

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