Sunday, March 16, 2014

Flowers, Fried Chicken, and Family

March 15th was my Aunt Billie's birthday. Everyone called her Mildred, but to me, she was Aunt Billie. I'm not sure how that name difference came about, but my mom always called her Billie as well.  I think she would have been 85.

Today on Facebook, someone asked me how Aunt Bille influenced my life. I didn't think Facebook could do it justice, so I'm dusting off the blog for a post. 

This picture is of my mother (far right), her sisters from left to right, Aunt Mildred, Aunt Tena, Aunt Luella, and my youngest Uncle, Sherley. Not pictured are my other Uncles - Bob, Lawrence, and Ed. They are all gone now, except for my mom.  We miss them all. 

Some of my earliest memories of Aunt Billie are of her gardens. She had the most fabulous garden year after year. Lilies and poppies, wildflowers of every kind, hostas and ferns, and tons of hens and chicks. Her home in Fairborn had a detached garage that had a trellis that went over the top of the doors and sides. She planted purple Morning Glories that bloomed until noon. Then sometime around six in the evening big, white Moon Flowers would blossom. Her trees and flowers made that tiny house and yard seem like a magical place. I loved that little yard. 

I'm a gardener too, although my gardens aren't nearly as nice as hers were. Mine start out nice at the beginning of the summer, but once August arrives and I have to think about the upcoming school year, everything goes to seed and gets weedy. I sometimes feel sorry for my neighbors. 

Aunt Billie could cook! She loved to cook, and she would stop whatever she was doing if someone was hungry. All my three-year old little brother had to do was say "sgetti peas," and Aunt Billie had the pasta in the pan. Fried chicken was her company dish. She would make it when we came over to visit, and she made it when we had our large family reunions. Later in her life, I would come to visit her at her home in Kentucky.  She still made me fried chicken. She was quite ill with diabetes by then. She suffered dreadful sores on her feet that wouldn't heal, and she had seven heart attacks. I am also diabetic, and I will not suffer like she did. I will find the will power to take care of myself. The other alternative is insane. 

Aunt Billie loved her people. With abandon. Without question. With open arms, and cupboards, and lemonades and lawn chairs. She was bossy and boisterous and big-hearted, and I loved all of those things about her. Her family was the most important part of her life. She loved her children and grandchildren, her nieces and nephews, her brothers and sisters. I'm sure that wherever she is, if she can, she's celebrating her birthday with flowers, fried chicken and family. Happy Birthday, Aunt Billie. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year! Resolutions and Good Reads...

I don't know how you feel about it, but 2013 went by FAST!  It was cram full of mostly good stuff, so I'm not complaining -just surprised that it's gone already.
Some of the highlights:
  • I let Daughter go to Nicaragua. It's scary sending your 15-year-old to another continent without you. Unnerving to put her on a plane and in the care of others - even when you know the folks she's traveling with are great people. The house was very quiet for those 10 days. I made a point to keep quite busy. She had a wonderful experience, and now has grand plans to travel the world. I'm certain she'll make that happen!
  • We took a family vacation to Hilton Head. It had a bit of a rocky start - major thunderstorm, lots of traffic, a hospital stay... but everything turned out okay. Hilton Head is a lovely place, but crowded. My favorite part was a dolphin tour. It was a small group - only my daughter, her friend, and me. We saw lots of dolphins. This guy came right up to the boat!

And Daughter got to drive!

  • Last December I decided I wanted to learn how to quilt. I jumped right in and joined the Ohio Valley Quilter's Guild. Best decision ever! I learned a great deal from their fabulous speakers, and I've finished 2 1/2 queen-sized quilt tops along with a few smaller projects. 
  • This one is directly related to last year's New Years Resolutions. I had lunch every month with my good friend and critique partner, Kathy Wiechman -who, by the way, just sold her first novel to Boyds Mills Press! 
I'm going to keep the 2014 Resolutions simple this year:
  1. Continue to keep a balance in life - work is work, home is home, family comes first.
  2. Continue to have extended lunches with Kathy at least once a month. 
  3. Learn everything I can about quilting, and begin designing my own quilts.
  4. Dust off my most recent neglected novel, and finish writing the dang thing.
  5. Read at least two novels each month. 

And finally... The Annual Good Reads List from 2013! I didn't quite make my goal of two per month, but 20 is close!
THE MAZE RUNNER, James Dashner
DIVERGENT, Veronica Roth
INSURGENT, Veronica Roth
ALLEGIANT, Veronica Roth
THE ENCHANTER HEIR, Cinda Williams Chima
THE DREAM THIEVES, Maggie Stiefvater
MERLIN, T.A. Barron
AMERICANAH, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
SCARLET, Marissa Meyer
BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
FLIGHT, Alyssa Rose Ivy
CRESCENDO, Becca Fitzpatrick
THE RAVEN BOYS, Maggie Stiefvater

Happy New Year! May 2014 bring you many blessings!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Monday, May 27, 2013


I visited my Papaw Taylor yesterday in a small cemetery in a tiny town called Goddard. Actually, I think the church and cemetery are all that’s left of Goddard. It’s a beautiful property and a bit famous for the Goddard Covered Bridge that stands directly in front of the church. The old wooden bridge spans Sand Lick Creek just off Kentucky 32, and as you enter the structure, it perfectly frames the steepled white church and graveyard. The Pea Ridge Mountains rise in the background. In the fall, the colors are gorgeous.

Papaw has been gone for many years, but I still think of him often. He was a farmer. He raised a few dairy cattle and grew corn and tobacco. He always had a few pigs and chickens. He was wiry and strong and called me “Little Girl.” I used to think it was because he had so many grand children he couldn’t remember my name. When I came to visit, he would take me in his old truck up the long gravel drive to the General Store that was just down the street. He would buy me Hostess Ding Dongs and a Strawberry Crush, and I would sit in the corner on a wooden rocker with a woven seat and feast. I loved to listen to Papaw talk to the other farmers who came to the store. They stood on the creaky plank floor in their denim coveralls and cotton work shirts and talked about their crops, families, local news, and church. I listened, and marveled at the fact that I was allowed to eat my treat in the store before we paid.

It’s usually a smell that kicks up memories of Papaw. The sweet scent of pipe tobacco puts me right back in his barn where the harvested tobacco hung from the rafters, drying before it went to market. The smell of the dairy case at Ameristop and Kroger remind me of the milk house and the times he would let me try to milk the cows. I never liked getting swatted by a cow’s tail, and they were pretty stinky beasts. I did like spending time with Papaw, and he let me follow him when I wanted.  

There are other family members there in the graveyard. My Mamaw is buried next to Papaw. I never knew her. She died when my mother was eleven. Mom says that Mamaw was part Cherokee, but no one would ever talk to her about it. In the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s, south of the Mason Dixon Line, it apparently wasn’t approved conversation. But Mom did say that Mamaw was very knowledgeable about medicinal herbs, and people would come to the farm to buy her herbs and remedies. She churned butter and raised chickens, and she sold the butter and eggs in Flemingsburg on the weekends to buy fabric. She loved flowers, and behind the farmhouse she grew flowers, herbs and vegetables.  Every spring there were lots of white peonies in the yard.

Peonies also remind me of my Aunt Billie, Aunt Mildred to the rest of my cousins. I never knew why we called her Billie and everyone else called her Mildred. Aunt Billie was the ultimate flower gardener. Her entire yard was flowers. She had the greenest thumb of anyone I ever knew. Two of my favorite things she grew were Morning Glories and Moon Flowers. She had a trellis that went up the sides and over the door of the front side of the garage. It was covered with purple Morning Glory blooms until around noon, then as the sun began to set, big, white Moon Flowers would bloom. So pretty…

Yesterday’s visit ended with a trip to what used to be Papaw’s property. The structures are all gone, and the once beautifully kept up farmland is overgrown. The property behind the creek and up into the hills has been divided and sold. Houses pop up through the trees. I hardly recognized the land. If the Goddard Bridge and Church were gone, I don’t think I could find the property again. I’ll never go back to the farm. It’s changed so much, and I want to remember it like it was. But I will continue to visit the cemetery and pay my respects to those I have loved.

I miss those folks. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Advice From a Mentor...

Whenever the school year begins, my writing has to be put aside - at least for awhile. I don't know why, but when January rolls around I seem to be able to squeeze in regular writing time again. Today I dusted off one of my manuscripts - the one this close (holds up finger and thumb to show an inch) to being ready for submission. After so long a time it's hard to wrap my mind around the process again, but it's also nice to have some distance from the writing. I regain a sense of perspective about the work, and it's easier to make cuts, see plot holes, or appreciate that you've done something well. I really like that last one.

I've been fortunate on several occasions to spend significant one-on-one time with a wonderful lady named Patti Gauch. She is not one to hem or haw about what needs to be said. She will often preface a manuscript session with, "Our time is precious, so let's get right to it." And she does. Thorough is her middle name. Her advice is rich and dense with pointed observations and suggestions. It sometimes takes days to mentally sort through and process what she has said. She can be tough, but I feel like I'm a stronger writer because of her.  

Each time I have a significant hiatus from writing, I pull out a list of my favorite Patti-isms and re-read them before I begin. It helps me focus, so I thought I share them with you.
  • Go to the well
  • Tell one hell of a tale
  • Keep voice front and center
  • Don't be stodgy
  • Get it all down first
  • Set it aside
  • Do it again...
  • Ask yourself: Does it go far enough?
  • Is it sassy enough?
  • Be extreme enough when making a point.
  • Don't pussyfoot around!
  • Make the reader worry. It means they care.
So there you have it. Wonderful advice from a mentor. Now back to work, everyone! 

Keep writing,

Because It Made Me Laugh...

Monday, December 31, 2012

Resolutions and Good Reads...

It's that time again when you're supposed to look back and evaluate your progress on last year's New Year resolutions. I didn't make any resolutions last year. I don't remember why I didn't, except that at the time I was a bit overwhelmed with the change in my position at work. Making my to-do list longer wasn't exactly a priority.  Still, there's something to be said for writing down your goals. I didn't accomplish as much creatively last year as I would have liked. Maybe if I had written down my goals I would have been more diligent about the pursuit.

And so...
2013 New Year's Resolutions
  1. Keep a healthy balance in life - work is work, home is home, family comes first. 
  2. Eating right and daily exercise needs to become a bigger priority.
  3. Take time to be creative daily - writing, quilting, singing, drawing.
  4. Read at least two novels each month.
  5. Write at least one blog post per month.
***Addendum... I was just reminded by my friend and critique partner that I forgot a goal:
     6.  Have an extended lunch with my friend and critique partner at least once a month.

As is the tradition of the final blogpost of the year, here is my 2012 Good Reads List:
  • THE GOLDEN COMPASS, Philip Pullman
  • SUPERNATURALLY, Kiersten White
  • FLIGHT, Alyssa Rose Ivy
  • HUSH, HUSH, Becca Fitzpatrick
  • THE CRIMSON CROWN, Cinda Williams Chima
  • BLEAKER, Aimee Walker
  • THIRD GRADE ANGELS, Jerry Spinelli
  • A MOUSE CALLED WOLF, Dick King-Smith
  • DEAD END IN NORVELT, Jack Gantos
  • BITTERBLUE, Kristin Cashore
  • CITY OF LOST SOULS, Cassandra Clare
  • THE CAROUSEL GHOST, Andrea Pellecshi
  • THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE, by Jeff Hirsch
  • EAT, PRAY, LOVE, by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • THE SCORPIO RACES, Maggie Stiefvater
  • THE BOY PROJECT, Kami Kinard
  • THE GOOSE GIRL, Shannon Hale
  • LEGEND, Marie Lu
  • CINDER, Marissa Meyer
  • FIRE, Kristin Cashore

  Happy New Year! May 2013 be a year of blessings and successes!

Sunday, December 16, 2012


1. You can't find your keys. You search and search, but to no avail. You finally decide to stop and have a glass of ice water and mentally retrace your steps. That's when you find your keys - in the freezer next to the ice.

2. The cake you baked is not the rectangular shape it's supposed to be. It tilts to the side and looks more like a triangle than a rectangle. It's not until after the cake cools that you realize the oven rack is crooked. 

3. You make yourself a sunny-side-up egg with toast for breakfast. You skip the salt and pull out the small pepper grinder for flavor. It's not until you take the first bite that you realize it wasn't the pepper grinder, but cinnamon. 

4. You dress in your best black sparkles to accompany a program at church. Your pants are strangely dragging the ground, and you're tripping on them. They've never fit like that before. It's not until you are in the ladies room that you realize you've put them on backwards. 

5. You are accompanying the Christmas program in your best black sparkles. Your mind wanders and begins to make mental lists of all the things that must be accomplished before the day is done. You accidentally turn three pages instead of one, and you become completely, totally, ridiculously, no way to hide it lost in the music. It takes two pages of this nonsense to find your place again. In the middle of a performance. Just you. And the poor soloist. 

6. Your husband takes you out to dinner after the Christmas performance. You're still wearing the black sparkles. The meal is very good, but you find yourself falling asleep after the last bite. You can't keep your eyes open, or follow the conversation, or even pretend to care. 

7. You realize you've posted six signs, now seven, but your title says five.  

This is exhausted Nora. What's your story?