Friday, August 31, 2012

Write Now: I Don't Have Time

I don't have enough time.

I despise hearing people say this.
You have time to watch television. You have time to Facebook. You have time to tweet. You have time to play video games. You have time to play with your smartphone... You see where I am going with this.

I got my syllabus for school for one of my English classes. And I am a little overwhelmed. We are supposed to read a newspaper daily. I hope after meeting with the professor, that I am not expected to read it cover to cover.

But I know from past classes, time management is key. If I don't manage my time wisely and keep up with my assignments, then I am overwhelmed and slogging through trying to catch up. I hate that feeling. The night before an assignment is due, I prefer to be double checking myself rather than desperately trying to complete it.

It is true that I only attend college part time, but I work full time; I have a novel in progress; I have a large family that I cook for on Sundays; I have a three day a week blogging schedule; I have two Bible studies and you would think maybe I could drop one, but they are both important for different reasons, and I've met a man. Whew. What have I gotten myself into?

But the reality is that this what I love. It forces me to focus, to be deliberate about my actions and how I spend my time. I came across this quote the other day. And while I'm not Michaelangelo, Jefferson, or Einstein - my time needs to be managed.

Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.
- H. Jackson Brown

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Widow's Walk: Letters

One thing I am sorry to see go is handwritten letters. Texts and emails are nice, but I love looking at letters written by people.

By my mother, I have a recipe that she'd scrawled across the back of an old note. It gives me comfort seeing her words.

By my grandmother, her writing was a little smaller, more precise, not as curly as my mother's. Hers is more like mine. She said her teachers used to fuss at her about her penmanship and I can't understand why. I love looking through her Bible - seeing the passages she's underlined and the notes she's made out to the side.

I have random notes of Mike's. And occasionally while going through boxes and papers, I'll come across something. They aren't important because of what they say, but because of who wrote them.

A few months ago, I found a five year journal. Trying to keep up a daily journal is a bit daunting and you tend to write the same things over and over again. I like the five year journal. There are five lines for each year on each page and a place to indicate the year. I hope one day that journal will mean something to my grandchildren - an unofficial record of our lives.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Meatloaf

Meatloaf has long been a family favorite. We often had it on Sundays at my maternal grandmother's (called Grandmother) house, but for many years we had it every Monday evening at my paternal grandmother's (called Grandma) house.

Grandma's neighbor Mrs. Cook would make a pot of pinto beans every Monday for her. Grandma worked in the mill and didn't have the hours devoted to cooking beans on the stove. Instead of the customary mashed potatoes, she would often make fried potatoes because that is what her four grandchildren coming to dinner loved. Grandma would also slice an onion and there might be another vegetable or two. Grandma always made the best cornbread.

Here is how you make a meatloaf in the Beaumont Mill Village style (both grandmothers made it this way).

1 to 2 lbs. ground beef
1 small onion, chopped and diced (Grandma always diced it in larger pieces so that her picky grandkids would be able to pick it out easier).
2 eggs
2 slices of day old bread (grated or crumbled)
salt and pepper to taste

You mix all this together with your fingers. It is cold and a really gross feeling.
Once mixed, you put it in a loaf pan.
Bake at 350° for about 45 minutes. (You may have to drain the grease off a couple of times, depends on the fat content of the ground beef.)

Once it is cooked thoroughly, remove and add a thin layer of ketchup.
Return to the oven for about 5 minutes.

And then you will have a meatloaf Beaumont style.

As Julia Child would say, Bon Appétit. It was her birthday on August 15th. She would have been 100 years old. If you haven't checked out the movie, Julie and Julia, you really should. It is a wonderful movie inspired by Julie Powell's blog.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Write Now: Where Do Ideas Come From?

Any writer you ask this will instantly reply with everywhere.

Articles and stories in newspapers, magazines, and on television often start a spark with me. I have gleaned information from obituaries, memoirs, and listening to people in restaurants.

In the movie, Young Adult starring Charlize Theron, she is a young adult novelist. And she is often seen taking bits and pieces of dialogue she overhears.

My professor, Susan Tekulve warned me that when talking with other writers you better quickly lay claim to anything you plan on using in a story - they might get it before you do.

In my current novel in progress, one of the ladies is a member of a 55 year old plus dance troupe that tours around the area performing at ball games, nursing homes, and for anyone who will have them. The idea came from a long ago news piece I heard one morning as I was getting ready. Dancing kept these ladies young. I filed it away in my brain for later use.

I also have my boxes, which are just photo boxes labelled with the working title. I have several ideas for novels that have popped up over the years and I tuck anything pertinent to that story - maps, articles, postcards, restaurant menus, dialogue, and bits of stories. I also have a file for each on my laptop.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Widow's Walk: Is it possible to love again?

Is it possible to love again?

I wondered about this, but I wanted what I had. My track record in love hasn't exactly been stellar and we'll leave it at that, but with Mike I finally had it right - a wonderful, mature, caring relationship. And I thought maybe that was all I could hope for.

After the first year, I went on a date. It was a disaster and it was painfully obvious that I was not ready, I had more healing to do. I repeated it again after the second year with similar results. And so I tried again after the third year mark. I posted an online profile and at first there was a lot of action. Of course most of the emails sounded like they had been sent through google translator.

I sent out a prayer asking for wisdom and protection. I went for weeks without emails. I'm old fashioned and I believe the guy should make the first move.

One Sunday morning, there was an email waiting for me from a man named Chuck. He was a Christian, non-smoker, social drinker, with a stable work history and from his picture I thought he had a really nice smile. We started talking. And then he asked me out on a date. We've had several since then. I look forward to his phone calls, texts, emails, and dates. He's really sweet, respectful, conscientious, and patient.

I emailed my in laws wondering what their response would be. They encouraged me to be happy and assured me that Mike would want the same.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Elizabeth's Chocolate Chip Pound Cake

Elizabeth is carrying on the family tradition. At twelve, she's just beginning to learn to cook and like most little girls she loves to make sweet treats.

Elizabeth is wearing an Ike's shirt that my Mom bought her when she was only a year old. At twelve, it finally fits her. For those of you who may or may not know, Ike's Korner Grill is the family restaurant my grandparents began years ago when their children were still small. My cousin still runs it today. If you're in Spartanburg, SC and looking for a great hamburger, it is still the place to go. They also serve hot dogs with Grandmother Rodger's legendary chili, and of course there is always the fried bologna sandwich. Ike's was recently featured in Southern Homes and Gardens magazine. My grandmother would have been so tickled.

The first thing my mother taught me to bake was a cake. It was so much fun learning the correct way to crack an egg, measure the ingredients, and then put them all together blending them with an electric hand mixer. Mom guided me step by step allowing me to do it all by myself. Cooking for family is a way of expressing love.

Chocolate Chip Pound Cake
• 1 box yellow cake mix (non butter recipe)
• 1 large package of chocolate pudding
• 1/2 cup white sugar
• 3/4 cup water
• 3/4 cup vegetable oil
• 4 eggs beaten
• 1 cup sour cream (8oz)
• 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Mix together. Bake at 325° for 50 to 60 minutes.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Write Now: Favorite Characters

This past week has had several revelations in my novel in progress. I killed one of my main characters. She was taking over and the story wasn't hers to tell. The only way to silence her was through death, but of course she is still there - it is her death that now catapults the main character into the action. And now loose ends that were just dangling have purpose.

But as I was writing the death scene, I remember reading the Harry Potter series particularly the scene where Dumbledore is killed. I did get misty eyed and yes I know this was just a fictional character, but often fictional characters do become larger than life. I got to thinking about some of my favorite characters from novels I've read:

Hermione from Harry Potter
Frances Mae from Dorothea Benton Frank's novels
Damascus from Kimberly Brock's The River Witch
Sunny from Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer
Ellen Foster by Kay Gibbons
Serena by Ron Rash (That is one bad girl)
Lady Brett Ashley from Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises

This list is just a snippet because I could go on and on and on. Characterization is one of my favorite parts of a novel. I would love to know who some of your favorite characters are.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Widow's Walk: The Wave

The Wave

Sometimes the wave is angry,
Overwhelming and consuming,
A wretched reminder of what was lost.
Other times the wave is gentle,
Gratifying and gracious,
A blessed reminder of the past.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Grandmother's Applesauce Cake

Grandmother's Applesauce Cake
Grandmother's Applesauce Cake has long been a family favorite. Even though it is not your typical birthday cake, it is often one of the most requested by the birthday boy or girl. It is a very simple cake to make and for my Grandmother who often lamented about her ability to make ugly cakes, this one was always consistently the same, which was a good thing since the cake does not have frosting, which was often her speckling for attempting to make an ugly cake look pretty.
Grandmother Rodgers, Elizabeth, Mom

Next week, my niece, Elizabeth is making dessert. She is twelve and she'll be making a chocolate chip poundcake. I thought it would be nice to feature a picture of Elizabeth with Grandmother and Mom.

When you make this cake, be sure not to follow the directions on the box. Just follow the recipe below. I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine does.

Grandmother Rodgers’ Applesauce Cake
Ingredients for cake:
                Yellow Cake Mix
                2 eggs
                1 can applesauce (approx. 15 oz)
                ½ tsp cinnamon
                ¼ tsp nutmeg
                ¼ tsp cloves
                ¼ tsp ginger

Ingredients glaze:
                1 cup powdered confectioners’ sugar
                ¼ cup orange juice
                ¼ cup butter

Mix all ingredients (do not prepare cake mix according to box instructions).
Bake for 30 to 35 min in 350° oven.

Drizzle glaze over warm cake.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Write Now: Writer's Block

I am suffering this week. I have my butt in the chair or rather on my couch where I usually sit with my laptop perched. I have a tall glass of tea and Pandora playing in the background and yet the muse still evades me.

I read a book this past week that is different. It was actually unique. I don't think I've ever really read anything like it, and maybe that is part of my temporary confusion. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. Maybe I'm intimidated by the novelty of it.

They say everything has been said before, but you have to find a different way of saying the same things. But the voice in this novel was fresh. The protagonist was unique, I've never read a book where the woman has been bald since birth. And that really bothered me, a bald woman. I know lots of women have this problem, but here is a woman who has never known anything else. She didn't start wearing wigs until she decided to be a mother because Moms should have hair.

The more I was drawn into Sunny's story, the more I was temporarily taken out of mine. My character's problems just didn't seem that unique, and for a moment I wondered why anyone would ever want to read about her. Self doubt often nags at me and I usually push her away, but this week she would not be quieted.

I have given myself a break from my novel in progress tonight. I've tried some writing prompts. I've read some articles about writing. And my next read will be from the genre that I write for. And if that doesn't work, there are a few books I will take out and read a few chapters from. Good writing usually inspires me.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Widow's Walk: The Blindside

When you have lost someone, there are days that you mentally begin to prepare yourself. For example when a birthday, holiday, or anniversary is imminent. For me, I would spend so much time anticipating how awful I would feel, that when the eventful day finally arrived, it wasn't as bad as I had predetermined it to be.

I learned in a psychology class that it is called defensive pessimism. Once I have entertained all the possible bad outcomes, I am ready to accept what occurs. So I view the worse cast scenario and then I'm able to cope. This works well for me, except for the blindside, those little moments when something unexpected happens that you can not prepare for.

Here are some of my past blindside moments:

A song on the radio that reminds me of him.

Finding another pair of his reading glasses tucked away. I believe he had hundreds and yes, I am still finding them.

Having to buy dryer sheets. Why dryer sheets? He once laughed in Costco as we bought a ridiculously large box of dryer sheets that they would last a laugh time. And when I took the last one from the box, meltdown.

Raspberry Toaster Streudels in the freezer case at Walmart. These were Mike's favorite and he always requested two boxes. He never quite understood there were six servings in a box. He would have a whole box for breakfast.

Passing by McDonald's. After chemo, Mike went on the McDonald's diet. He craved a Big Mac and a chocolate shake. For variety he would sometimes have a strawberry shake instead. After three weeks on said diet, he stepped on the scale in the doctor's office only to scream out "Holy Crap!" He had gained nearly twenty pounds back in just those few weeks.

Pink Bougainvilleas: Mike's favorite flower that reminded him of his beloved Senegal.

After you've lost someone, there will always be those blindside moments. I lost my sister twenty-four years ago, but yesterday I had one. I was riding home after work. The sky was a bright blue with huge billowy clouds that made a lopsided heart. I thought my sister, we loved to sky gaze where we would search for shapes in the clouds. And for a moment I was sad, overcome with emotion and I was ready to just have my own little pity party right then.

But then I thought of Dawn. The way she gritted her teeth when she was angry. How she was shy until she got to know someone. She loved babies. She would carry my son around as if he were hers. She was always practical. She loved the color pink. In high school, she wore Ozzy Osborne t-shirts and an old Army jacket, it drove our mother crazy. She was my best friend when she died, a fact that I never thought could have been possible back when we were teenagers.

It doesn't matter how long it has been since you've lost someone. Grief can make an appearance at any moment. But with time, that grief does not always overwhelm you, but leaves you with the warmth and feeling of the memories and love you once shared.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

Last week I was in a difficult position. I got a nasty IM from someone about not following through on something I had been asked to do, but I had. They had neglected to give me some much needed pertinent information that I was waiting for to complete the task.

My first thought was to respond with an equally nasty IM. But what happens when you do something like that? You're just stirring up a fire that will consume you both.

I thought about this post that I read on MaryBeth Whalen's website and in that moment I was reminded about the Law of the Garbage Truck.

Law of the Garbage Truck

One day I hopped in a taxi and we took off for the airport

We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us.

My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches! The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us.

My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean, he was really friendly.

So I asked, 'Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!'

This is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call,'The Law of the Garbage Truck.'

He explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run aroundfull of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment.

As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and sometimes they'll dump it on you. Don't take it personally.

Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don't take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets.

The bottom line is that successful people do not let garbage trucks take over their day.

I am ashamed to say that I don't always react this way, but I am trying. In today's society, most of us carry around so much stress. We are often overwhelmed and overburdened.

But on that day, I responded by asking her politely for the missing information and assuring her that I would take care of it immediately. Sure enough later in the afternoon, we had a moment to chat. She apologized for harshness earlier and then told me of an issue she was struggling with. And I was thankful that I had allowed her to "dump" some of her garbage on me.

I'll still be the first to admit that I often come unglued. If you struggle with this like I do, Lysa Terkeurst has written a wonderful book that debuts today.

Monday, August 6, 2012

WALLFLOWER IN BLOOM She Reads August Book Selection

Wallflower in Bloom is the featured August selection at She Reads. If you are looking for a good book, these ladies have some awesome suggestions for your next read.

I fell in love with Claire Cook's novels back when I first read Must Love Dogs. Hollywood changed a few things, but lets face it, how could you see the characters as anyone except Diane Lane and John Cusack after that.

So each year I wait for her new novel with good intentions of saving it for my beach trip. After all, what better place to read Claire Cook? And each year by the time vacation rolls around, I have already scarfed it down like a chocolate sundae I've been craving.

In Cook's latest, Wallflower in Bloom, Deidre Griffin has a wonderful life, she is the personal assistant to her famous guru brother, Tag. Deidre always puts everyone else first. The first man to see her naked in months surprises her in her ratty underwear. She is forever in everyone else's shadow, which is the position she has allowed herself to be in until she stands up to her brother only to run away.

After a night of interesting cocktails (you'll have to read the book and see the various ingredients she uses), she highjacks her brother's social media account urging all of his followers to nominate his little sister to Dancing with the Stars. After a few days of hiding out from her family, Deidre discovers that she has a chance of being the last minutes possible replacement on Dancing with the Stars. Deidre danced some as a child, and she wonders how hard could it be?

It's a lot harder than she thinks as she finds herself thrust in the limelight, where she finally has to put herself first. It is time to dance or stumble.

If you're looking for a book that will make you laugh at loud, this is definitely the book you should read. But be warned, every page is not a comic fest, there are some truly soulful moments as Deidre begins to find herself and emerge from the shadows of her famous brother and exuberant family.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Dinner: The Damascus Feast Pumpkin Spice Pound Cake

Pumpkin Spice Pound Cake
I just read The River Witch by Kimberly Brock. It is a wonderful story about Roslyn Byrne, who has ran away to a remote island to try to heal her wounded body, mind, and heart. She meets Damascus, a wise and precocious motherless child, whose father provides the necessities but little else. Damascus is on a mission. She has planted some pumpkin seeds her late mother has left along with instructions for how to plant and care for them, but it is also a method of giving guidance to this child about life.

Damascus decides that the best way to bring her family together is through a meal together. Roslyn dubs it the Damascus feast. They have mounds of pumpkin that they have made into pies, cakes, and anything you can put pumpkin in. Word has even spread over to the mainland about the giant pumpkin Damascus has grown on the haunted farm.

Roslyn calls her mother, who tells her how to make a roast. Roslyn is surprised that it could be so easy, but she has spent her adult life on the ballet stage not in the kitchen. Just as the dinner is almost done, Damascus remembers that they did not buy any bread. She screams, pleads, and demands that Roslyn go to the little island store and buy as many packages of Brown and Serve rolls as she can. The men in the family sure do like those rolls.
Our Damascus Feast
So in honor of Damascus and The River Witch, here is our Damascus feast. I also made the Pumpkin Spice Pound Cake featured on Kimberly Brock's web site. I hope you'll give it a try. It is really easy to make and delicious. As usual some family members snubbed it (they don't like anything with any kind of fruit in it). But for those of us who tried it, we loved it and I was told to definitely make it again.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Write Now: Where I'm From

I saw this featured on a blog I follow called the Southern Belle View and I immediately wanted to write my own. 

At the end of this post, you'll find a link to the template you can start with if you would like to write your own.

Where I’m From
By Connie Thompson Kuhn
Me, Dennis, Neal, Monty, and Dawn
I am from a Partridge family lunchbox with David Cassidy’s smiling face, from thick, white slices of Bunny bread slathered in Welch’s grape jelly and Jif peanut butter, because that is what choosy Moms chose.
Dawn, Dennis, Randall, and Me
I am from the salt box house that needs painting in the heart of the Beaumont Mill Village, where fence lines weep with with boughs of honeysuckle vines, wild Morning Glories, and a vegetable garden planted in the foundation where the coal house once stood.

I am from when a red caboose was always at the end of the train, thickets covered with wild blackberries picked for our mother to bake the dark juicy berries into a cobbler — Mama's favorite.

I am from a long line of strong women. From Laura, my grandmother, who loved to read and showed me a world beyond my own on the library's shelves. From Mary Anne, my mother, who taught me to cook and my life’s greatest lesson — practice will make you better, not perfect. 
Dad, Me, Dennis
I am my father’s mantra: Winners never quit and quitters never win. In blue ball point pen my Grandmother wrote I believe above In the beginning… and I search through those pages looking for guidance from God through the passages she's highlighted.

From you must wait an hour after eating to swim because Randy Ruppe didn’t, my father and the others searched for him, but the divers pulled his body from the murky waters of lake. My brother, Randall, his namesake so that he is honored and remembered.

I am from stained glass windows, the third pew on the right from the front, my Grandmother was no back pew Baptist, she sung in shrill Soprano and I always wanted to cover my ears, and as the pastor shook his hands pounded the pulpit, his face went red as he delivered the message meant to save our souls, Grandmother would hand me a peppermint, pat my leg and smile and I would do my best to unwrap the crinkly paper without making a sound.

I am from the red clay dirt of upstate South Carolina, where summer brings Duke's mayonnaise jars with lightning bugs, games of Red Rover and Hide N Seek, and freshly sliced tomatoes, fried okra, and creamed corn on the table every Sunday after church — every week a Thanksgiving.

From the Grandmother, who sneaked off to get married, returning that same night to her childhood bed to sleep between her sisters, her secret safe until Cousin Billy let it slip.

I am from assorted picture frames of gold, silver, black, and wood, none matching but each holding the images at various ages of the six children my Grandmother bore, the ten grandchildren that came through them, and the great grandchildren – the legacy continued, she never took a picture down, she always added another frame and when she could no longer live alone, all the photos were placed in a book.

And on Grandmother's last day when she told me she was going Home, I thought of the yellow kitchen with mismatched dishes, the wooden fork and spoon she got with green stamps from Community Cash, the gas stove, cast iron skillets, and the percolator she used to make her morning coffee.

But her home was now with God, and in that last moment of her life, she smiled at me, her eyes the same clear brown as when we sat on her front porch, the metal glider painted white each year to hide the rust, we snapped beans as she told the stories of when she was a girl like me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Widow's Walk: Finish Strong

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.
Acts 20:24 (NIV)

When my husband was diagnosed with cancer, we were each overwhelmed for a few days. I was actually mad at God. Why would he put this wonderful man in my life only to take him away so quickly? I didn't understand and God and I had quite a few words about the subject. But each time, I would come away with a little peace and knowing that I was right where I needed to be.
On Sunset Beach July 2008
From the moment Mike became a cancer patient, his one goal was to glorify God. That man did some witnessing to others - not on a large scale, but one on one and in small groups. He helped form a prayer ministry at the church. He was a mentor for a young man living in a special group home who had come through the foster care system. And he made me stronger. He showed me faith in a way I had never seen before.

Each time we went to the doctor, Mike would surprise the doctor. The day he looked at Mike's scans after the chemo, the doctor kept looking at the screen and checking the name and all the information. He couldn't believe what he was seeing - there was no indication of cancer on the screen. Elation is a mild word to use to describe our excitement.

But even in that wonderful moment, the doctor cautioned us. Yes, Mike was in remission, which could last days, months, or years. At some point, the cancer would return. Mike smiled and said, "But it isn't here today."

As we left the doctor's office that day, it was a very happy place. These people see so much suffering. Word spread through the office about his remission. On the way home, I think Mike called everyone he knew. That night we even watched the movie the Bucket List, which had arrived on Netflix DVD. I had put it on the list before Mike's diagnosis. It was funny. It also showed two dying men, who were making the most out of the time they had left.

We went to our small group that weekend, Mike professed his desire to start witnessing to everyone about his remission. One of the men said that was great, but what would people think when the cancer came back? Where was the miracle then?

Mike was quiet for a moment and then he said, The miracle is today. I am here today. I should have died back in March and then again in April, but I am here today and there is only one reason why I am here. I haven't finished my work. Every single ordinary day is a miracle to me - that's what they need to hear. That is how people should be living their lives. They should be glorifying God. Nobody knows how much time they have - the difference is that I know I probably have less time than everyone in this room.

He was right and he continues to be right. He still influences my life because of the legacy he left with me. And while I would have loved to have had more time with him, I am so very thankful for the time we had.

If you're reading this today because you're going through a difficult time, pray for God to bring people in your life to help you. I have so many new friends and people that I can turn to because of what I learned through Mike. He taught me about faith and how to be a better Christian. He taught me how to live and serve. He showed me how to surrender, but I still struggle with that often. Surround yourself with the kind of people you want to be like. Open your heart and listen to what God is saying. God Bless!