Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Picnic on the Beach

Sunday morning will begin with church by the pier at Sunset Beach, NC. There is just something about the sunrise on Sunset Beach.

We won't have our typical Sunday spread. I plan on making sandwiches and taking them to the beach with us. I still love a good old peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The peanut butter must be Jif. The jelly must be grape. Just like Mom used to make just about everyday for me during my years in elementary school. We'll also carry some fresh fruit. I hope we can find a good watermelon, maybe some cantaloupe, and definitely apples. There is just something about eating a crisp apple cool from the ice in the cooler.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Write Now: Defending Jacob and Range of Motion

Andy Barber is a district attorney in Massachusetts. It is his job to prosecute people who have broken the law. He has a wife and son and appears to be living a charmed life. But Andy Barber harbors a dark secret. He's never told his wife. And this secret can unravel and destroy their lives.

The novel was a nice blend presenting the legal world as well as Andy's family life. I'm warning you, once you pick it up, it will be very difficult to put down.

In Elizabeth Berg's Range of Motion, we meet Lainey as she struggles her way through life. Her husband is in a coma due to a freakish accident. Her saving grace is Alice, her next door neighbor. They are best friends and as Alice's marriage falls apart, the women help each other through the difficult trials. Lainey believes her husband, Jay will wake up. But she's the only one. Her daughters are having a difficult time and Lainey is not sure what to do. And then she meets Evie, the ghost of the woman who once lived in the duplex where Lainey lives.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Widow's Walk: Dating

Each year since losing Mike, I have attempted to date. After the first year, that first date was disastrous. It all felt wrong. The guy was pushy immediately wanting a relationship that I wasn't ready for. After all, I had just met him.

The next year I tried again. I met a nice man online. Everything seemed fine until we met. He had fudged his age a little. It was like going on a date with my father and then I found out he had a daughter only a few years younger than me. We had a nice dinner though. He was very respectful, but at the end of the date we both knew it just wasn't going to happen. And I knew I really wasn't ready.

Well I've tried it again. I met a nice guy. We had a nice dinner. He asked me out again, but I couldn't go that day. I gave him other days I was available and I haven't heard from him since. My first reaction was what is wrong with me? And I immediately went into that mode of making excuses and even wondered should I email him?

My brother once told me that if a man is interested, truly interested, he will get in touch with you. He will move heaven and earth trying to contact you. If a man doesn't call, forget about him. It doesn't mean you did anything wrong. You just have to let it go. I know it is easier said than done. I'll be honest, I did check my emails a little more frequently and I did double check my spam folder. We just weren't right for each other.

My son once told me that he feels sorry for anyone who follows after Mike because those are some big shoes to fill. And he's right. I had something wonderful with Mike and if I'm meant to love again, I'm not settling. I don't need a man to complete me, but it sure would be nice to have one to enrich my life.

For widows considering dating, give yourself time. Don't hurry. If it doesn't feel right, then it isn't. Don't put your heart into a new relationship too quickly. And if he doesn't call, let him go.

Work on yourself. Do the things you enjoy. Get to know yourself again. Revisit old dreams or make new ones. Make the most of the next chapter of your life.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Picky Eaters

What's for dinner? We're having banana pudding for dessert this weekend at the request of my son in law. You would think that would be easy, but with my family it isn't. It all began with my Mom many years ago. My little brother does not like bananas so Mom would make him a small bowl sans bananas.

Well it caught on and now several other family members have professed to not liking bananas. After all the grumbling last time because I only made two individual servings without bananas, I will be making two this time, one the time honored favored (by me) traditional and the other with just Nilla wafers and pudding.

My brother, Randall likes to tease that our family should have our own version of food fear factor, but with us you could put silly things like broccoli, carrots, spinach, and many normal foods. He tried to offer my niece twenty dollars to eat a green bean one time. She turned him down and she was ten.

When my cousin had her baby, she vowed that he would not be picky like my kids. Her son is now 20 and last I heard his idea of a vegetable is still french fries.

My grandson just finished carrots and applesauce. I'm hoping he is not the picky eater that the rest of the family is.

But here are a few oddities also favored by my picky eating family:

Peanut butter and cheese sandwich (the sliced, American cheese) - all I can say is yuck, yuck, yuck when I see her eat this

Oyster stew without the oysters

I have one child that will not eat spaghetti, but will eat spaghetti O's

My niece will only eat Velveeta shells and cheese, not any other kind of macaroni, even the good, homemade kind

A favorite of my brother and nephew: garlic bread with grape jelly - they love it at the beach for breakfast

Friday, June 22, 2012

Write Now: Mentor

There are gifted teachers, who are truly passionate about their subjects and students. They instruct, encourage, and mentor.

At Converse there are many wonderful professors, but for me there is one teacher, who is exceptional. She is my mentor, Susan Tekulve. And I am ecstatic that she has won the SC First Novel prize to be published by Hub City next May.

I am so looking forward to reading The Stranger Room. This is a project she has worked on for quite a while. She is such a lovely writer. Her detailed scenes transport you to the places she has written about.

In my first class with her, I resisted changes she wanted me to make to a short story. After cutting the scene she didn't feel was working. I read the piece aloud, but as I got to the spot where I cut the scene, I realized the pace picked up, the tension was building, and the story was better. What I cut was a good scene, but it wasn't right for that story.

I'm also a big summarizer. My story endings were always lacking because of the summary at the end. Once she marked through the last couple of paragraphs of a story and after reading it again, I realized she was right. Her primary goal is to make her students better writers. I am so thankful to have her for a professor and mentor.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Widow's Walk: Experience Every Moment

My brother and I were talking the other night and he reminded me of how Mike used to like to tease me by tickling me. Mike thought it was funny and I would respond with a giggle.

But my brother knows me. "How did you put up with that? It drove me crazy and I wasn't the one he was tickling." The whole tickling thing is really a major source of annoyance to my brothers and me. As kids, it wasn't fun, it was torture.

And there were times during those months with Mike that I wanted to tell him to just knock it off, but I couldn't. For some reason, it was special to him. It was his way of showing affection. And I realized he did it to his mother and sisters as well. It was his way of loving us.

Our time together was precious. We didn't have room for fights, arguments, or days without speaking. If there was a problem, we dealt with it. But Mike was a man of integrity. He was conscientious and aware of my feelings (except for tickling and I did keep that to myself).

But when you know the end could be relatively soon, you look at things differently. I've heard that song by Tim McGraw Live Like You Were Dying. Maybe more people ought to enter into relationships like that.

Forgiveness comes easy, you don't have time to hold a grudge. The special moments are intensified. Vacations and trips are meaningful. Holidays are joyous and sentimental. You don't put things off until next time. You jump right in and experience the moment.

Sometimes I think we lived a lifetime in those eleven months after Mike's diagnosis. We lived and loved deeply, appreciating every moment.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Fried Okra on Father's Day

I am my father's oldest child. I was born when he was just eighteen years old. There were many years when I just didn't understand him, but I don't think you really begin to identify with your parents until you have children of your own. How scary it must have been to be the father of four children by the age of twenty-five. I really cannot fathom it.

My Dad was never one to raise his voice. He was always so patient. He took me to my first concert at twelve. I don't remember who the singer was, only that it was just the two of us. With three other siblings, my father's undivided attention was a rarity.

I also remember riding with him in his Ford Falcon that he purchased brand new in 1965 with money he earned from his paper route and his job as a bus driver. The car broke down and it was terribly hot. I remember sitting on the side of the road, but I knew everything would be fine because I was with my Daddy.

He used to sing "Anything you can do, I can do better" and many other songs. My brothers think I'm crazy when I tell them about the father I knew. They don't remember, but I do.

There are many things my father taught us, but he always said, "Winners never quit and quitters never win."

I haven't always understood how lucky I was to call him my Daddy, but I do now. I'm so thankful to have him as my father. I've been through a lot of tough times in the last few years and he's always there, offering support and encouragement. I am a lucky girl to have such a wonderful father.

My brothers love to tease that Father's Day is the next best holiday to Christmas. I was talking to my Dad the other day and said something about my brothers' theory. He laughed and said I should remind them to remember their father. So Randall, Dennis, and Murph — get our Dad a great present from each of you. Of course in my brother, Dennis' defense he usually does have Dad a gift thanks to his wife, Danielle.

And what is my gift to my father? I'll give you a hint. You can hit it with a golf club.  I bought Dad something different one year that I thought was special. While he appreciated it, I could tell he was just a little disappointed that it wasn't golf balls.

Fried okra and chocolate cake are two of my Dad's favorites so guess what we're having for dinner?

About a pound of fresh okra
Fried okra is really easy to make although it can be a bit slimy. If you don't understand this, you will.

I usually start with about a pound of okra.
Okra in quarter inch rounds.

You cut the tops and bottoms off and slice the rest into a quarter inch rounds. Wash the sliced okra off, but be prepared it will be slimy. Blot it with a paper towel. Lightly dust it with a little flour. Add cornmeal with salt and pepper.

I like to put mine in a bowl, cover it, and then shake it furiously until every piece is coated with cornmeal. Heat some cooking oil and cover the bottom of the skillet with okra. Cook until golden brown. I usually cover a plate with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
Lightly browned and ready for devouring.

You might want to hide it while you finish the rest of the dinner, or most of your fried okra will be gone if your family is like mine, swiping a piece or two here and there until most of it is gone.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Write Now: Porch Lights and Sea Change

 This was a great week for book lovers of women's fiction. Hub City Bookshop hosted two wonderful authors, Dorothea Benton Frank and Karen White.

Dorothea Benton Frank is just as witty and charming as the characters in her books. Ms. Frank weaves historical threads in with her current day story line with the lowcountry of South Carolina as the setting.  Edgar Allan Poe, a former resident of Charleston is part of the story line of her latest novel, Porch Lights. She introduced the book by asking us if this was familiar — a mother with a grown daughter, who is dynamically opposite of her mother in every way. Everyone laughed as several hands, including mine shot up.

Last year when she visited, we were having a heat wave with temperatures of 100°+ rivaling the lowcounty. This year, our weather was a much more comfortable temperature for her visit. One of Ms. Frank's essays will appear in this December's publication, Literary Dogs & Their South Carolina Writers, by Hub City Press.

The event with Karen White was a luncheon at II Samuels. The food was wonderful and the dessert, strawberry shortbread was heavenly.

Karen White says she loves to write about women and their relationships with sisters, mother, and grandmothers. Since she grew up with only brothers, she loves to watch her mother and aunts interact with one another. But it is thanks to her brothers that she is a writer. She spent most of her youth reading a book while trying to hide from their tyranny.

She said that while her characters endure difficult circumstances, by the end, they have grown, they have learned, and they have survived. She doesn't like books with endings where you feel like you need to put your head in the oven and turn it on so she writes books with happy endings. For when you invest that much time involved in a story, you really want to walk away with hope.

I'm trying to save these books for my vacation. I can't think of a better place to enjoy them than on the Carolina coastline.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Widow's Walk: Earthly Angels

When Mike was first diagnosed with cancer, the nurses, doctor, and nurse practitioner became some of my best friends. The receptionist could recognize my voice immediately. They said call with any questions and I did. Everyone on staff at that office was wonderful to us as we faced our tragedy.

When Mike was hospitalized with blood clots, Diane, a feisty motherly red headed nurse jumped right in. She was compassionate and yet firm when he needed it to. She talked him through several minutes of intense pain, soothing and calming him until the medication could take effect.

One night at a Mexican restaurant, I recognized a woman's voice, she was Holly from the ICU. She had cared for Mike after his surgery. She was wonderful with him. She was thrilled to see him, alive. She confessed that she had not expected it.

When Mike took chemo, there was a nurse who administered it. Her name was Kim. She began every session with a hug. She flirted shamelessly with him and teased me that I would just have to deal with it. Mike loved having two women fawn over him. She was a cancer survivor and she gave him encouragement and advice better than anyone else.

At the hospice house that Sunday morning, she was there working a shift to make some extra money. She was surprised to find us there. I told her how his breathing had changed as I desperately hoped that he would come back to me for at least a few minutes. He had not spoken in days. Our eyes had only briefly locked the day before, with his gaze he seemed to recognize me - even offering a slight smile before returning to sleep.

As I hoped, she explained the reality to me. He didn't have long. We talked for awhile and then she left saying she would be back soon. When she came back, I was holding his hand, searching, hoping that it was one of his practical jokes and he would pop up laughing at me. She waited as the shock gave way to tears, holding me through my pain until family arrived.

As  we said good-bye to Mike, I was amazed at the number of people who had cared for him during his illness came. They didn't just care for the patient, but the family as well.

Doctors, nurses, and medical staff see people at their worst. And yet they all marveled at Mike's disposition even through the worst of it. Mike always told me that he thought his cancer was also his opportunity to glorify God. I believe Mike brought out the best in people.

I once asked Mike what was on his bucket list and he told me that it was the average ordinary days that were extraordinary. He chose to spend his time with family and friends, helping our church set up a prayer ministry, and studying the word of God.

So many people were there for us during that time and so many continue to be there for me even now. I am forever thankful for all our earthly angels.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Hamburger Steak with Mushroom Gravy

Every week without fail there were certain things at Grandmother's house you could always count on: mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese (or macaroni pie as she called it), corn, green beans, cornbread and biscuits. After all with such a big family to feed, bread was filling. The meat and dessert varied and other side dishes were added depending on the season or Grandmother's preference. She made salmon patties once that had my very pregnant sister in law tossing her cookies before lunch was even served. After that she saved salmon patties for a lunch meal during the week.

So how to I decide each week what I am cooking? Part of it is my own preference and the other part is what is on sale at the grocery store. Roasts are easy because I can put it in the crockpot before church and it is ready by noon. Ground beef is on sale this weekend so it will be my Mom's hamburger steak with mushroom gravy.

You will need ground beef, butter, worcestershire sauce, and 1 to 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup.
Make the hamburger patties. We usually make them medium size. Add butter and worcestershire sauce to a frying pan, cook on medium high until done. If you cover the meat while cooking, it makes it more tender. Remove the patties from the frying pan and add the cream of mushroom soup to the drippings. Stir until warm, you can add some milk to thin it. I didn't mention seasoning, but Mom always used garlic salt and pepper sprinkled over each patty while cooking. This is definitely a favorite with my family and it is pretty easy to make.

I may look tomorrow to see if I can find some fresh okra, which is another family favorite. I'll save that recipe for later, maybe next week.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Write Now: What Books Are In My Beach Bag

The beach is not a vacation without taking several books to read. When we go on our family vacation, my brother, Randall loves to give everyone titles similar to the superlatives you find in school annuals, but instead of most popular or most likely to succeed, his titles are things like most time at the beach, whines the most, drinks the most, finds the most seashells, shops the most, and mine is always reads the most books. They laugh at how many books I bring, but you just don't know what is going to interest you. Books with a beach as the setting are always wonderful with a cool drink beneath the large umbrella and the soft lapping of ocean waves against the shore.

Next week Karen White ("Sea Change") and Dorothea Benton Frank ("Porch Lights") will be coming to Spartanburg thanks to the HubCity Bookshop. I am looking forward to their readings. 

I've loved Claire Cook since first reading "Must Love Dogs.". And I know "Wallflower in Bloom" will be another great book. I just love how the women in her novels reinvent themselves. 

Sunset Beach, NC is very special to MaryBeth Whalen and I can't wait to read her latest novel, "The Guestbook."

Beach books have some of the most inviting covers. The most difficult part will be waiting to read these books since they will all be out before I go on vacation.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Widow's Walk: Volleyball MVP

When Mike and I married, it was in between chemo sessions so we did not have a traditional honeymoon. A couple of months later, we went on our first vacation as husband and wife, and there was poor Mike on vacation with my whole family.

Sunset Beach, NC has been a favorite vacation spot for my family for several years now. This island called to me after the death of my mother. I walked the beach to the Kindred Spirit mailbox, which is tucked away in the sand dunes about a mile or so past the last public beach access. Inside the mailbox are pens and journals. It is a place where people come to share their joys and bare their souls. In 2006, I told the Kindred Spirit about losing my Mom. I also told the Kindred Spirit about this wonderful man named Mike, who I had met a few months earlier.

In 2008, Mike had just finished his chemo treatments and the doctor had declared him in remission. And while the doctor rejoiced with us, he also reminded us that this type of cancer would surely come back, but when he could not say. He encouraged Mike to go live.

Chemo drains the body of energy. My brothers were especially helpful, they understood the difficult time Mike had been through and they knew he tired easily. We were all surprised one day when Mike announced that he was going to play volleyball with them. He made me play too. I am not coordinated and my sweet brothers knew they did not want me on their team. They just knew they were going to whip us. Mike returned the serve easily and then he was running in the sand, diving for the ball, and keeping up with them. Others soon joined us and everyone wanted to be on Mike's team, which one the two consecutive games he played.

My brothers voted him the MVP and then laughed about carrying his beach chair down to the beach earlier that day. They didn't see the pain medication he took afterwards, but he had a smile on his face the rest of the week as everyone recounted his great volleyball skills. That was one of those great, unexpected moments and my brothers still laugh about how the old man with cancer whipped them at volleyball.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Summer Sweetness

Sunday dinner at Grandmother's always included a freshly cut cantaloupe. Grandmother would take the first bite and either pronounce it as good and sweet or merely acceptable. Often she would forego dessert if when it was sweet.

Yesterday in preparing for today's dinner, I took my time selecting a cantaloupe. I picked each one up searching for the strong sweet scent until I felt I had the right one. I also got a watermelon and strawberries.

Elizabeth on her 1st Birthday
It is my niece's birthday and strawberries are one of her favorites. Like so many in our family, she's a picky eater so I will make sure that she has plenty of strawberries. She's twelve today.

For birthdays, my Mom would always make sure there was a cake and of course there was the customary picture with the cake. Growing up we didn't always have much money, but Mama always made sure we had a birthday cake. Sometimes she managed to buy one from the bakery, but I think the best ones were  the ones she made.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Remembering My High School Graduation

Yesterday, I began the day a little depressed. You see 28 years ago I graduated from high school and I was thinking about that girl and how different my life is than I imagined. That girl was wearing an engagement ring on her finger and she was so sure of how wonderful her marriage was going to be. She was hoping for a house in a little subdivision, vacations at the beach, and two children - a boy and a girl. She would never divorce her husband. She would do everything to make him happy.

The biggest lesson I learned from marriage number one is that you cannot make someone else happy. You cannot be responsibly for their happiness. And when one person gives their 100%, it is still only 50%.

I thought I learned my lesson and jumped into marriage number two. I didn't see it. Similar scenario with similar results.

Some parts have definitely been sweeter, but quite frankly I never expected to be married three times, divorced twice, have had the money struggles I've had, the problems with my daughter, etc. It just hasn't been the picture perfect scenario I expected. 

And then I turned my calendar made by my wonderful friend, Sandy and saw the Harvest Happiness. I thought of the wonderful friendships, my beautiful grandson, and all the other blessings of my life. Maybe I didn't meet those teenage aspirations, but my life is much richer in so many other ways instead of success or money. And while at first I was a little sad, I'm not any longer. I'm grateful.

And I think of Mike, my blessing from God; we only had a brief time together. And I am so thankful to have had a love with a partner, who was as interested in me as I was in him. We did not get along every minute of every week, but we talked. We did special things for one another. 

One of my favorite memories of Mike is I'm standing at the sink, just cleaning up. Mike is sitting at the table, reading glasses perched on his nose, the Saturday morning paper before him, the red coffee cup with the helicopter on it is in his hands and he lifts it to his lips and takes a slip. He smiles and lets out a pleasurable sigh as he returns to the article he was reading. It was just an average Saturday morning, but I can still smell the coffee, see him sitting there, appreciate the smile - a moment captured in my mind.

I told Sandy about my thoughts, my regrets, my sadness, and my gratitude and asked if I could include her calendar page in my blog. 

And she gave me some wonderful advice: Sandy said, "We all have regrets and blessings. It's how we think on those things that make all the difference...never look back, unless it is to learn or to be reminded of a happy day."

Friday, June 1, 2012

Write Now: Gold Stars and The Happiness Project

As I was looking through the shelves of Barnes and Noble this weekend searching for a gift for mother in law, I found a journal that was a five year journal with just a few lines for each for five years. I remembered reading about this a while back and it was part of another book called, The Happiness Project

With summer looming before me and the availability of some free time, I decided to download the free sample on my iPad. I was hooked. I have many areas of my life that I want to improve and this seems to be just the formula for me.

That night, I made my own spread sheet with the things I plan to do everyday for the next month and I included a few extra days since the month was about to change. My checklist includes keeping a food diary, walking, exercising, reading my Bible, praying, writing, connecting with family, and going to bed earlier.

I was so excited to make so many checks last night. I did give myself a pass on the exercise since I walked longer than I normally do. 7 out of 8 isn't too bad. I love checking things off. As a kid, I loved those stars we used to get in elementary school.

This morning it was so wonderful to wake up refreshed with an extra half hour of sleep. And thanks to my DVR, I will still be able to watch my favorite shows that come on later in the evening.

The Happiness Project is not a cure all for serious problems, but it is a way of looking at your life, assessing what is working and what isn't, and making practical adjustments. Right now I'm reading the section about clutter control. I am a packrat. I tend to keep a lot of things that I should just let go of. I will be getting rid of things that serve no purpose except to take up space.

I love my five year journal. Some days I struggle with what to write. What will I care to remember years from now? What will my children and grandchildren want to know? My four month old grandson has just begun to reach out to people. It is so sweet to see those little fingers reaching out for me to pick him up. My brother stopped by one night and we watched a silly comedy show, it is nice to be friends with my brother as adults. I know my mother never expected that to happen. I've just been recording little snippets of my day or my thoughts.