Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Pot Roast and Brothers

Nothing says Sunday dinner like a good pot roast. And they are so easy to make. I usually buy a 2 to 3 pound rump roast and a package of McCormick's Savory Pot Roast seasoning for the slow cooker.

I chop up some carrots and potatoes and add it all to my slow cooker. This makes for a nice Sunday dinner that is almost ready when I get home from church.

But of course this is Sunday dinner and you can't stop there. Today we will also be having corn (my niece Elizabeth's favorite), green beans, mashed potatoes (my son Ryan prefers them to the potatoes in the roast), brown and serve rolls, and a chocolate cake (we're still celebrating my Dad's birthday since I was out of town last Sunday). My sister in law will be bringing macaroni and cheese, but I know sometimes by brother makes it.
Dennis, Connie, Randall, and Murph

My Mom wanted to insure that my brothers could cook. She didn't really believe that there should be girls' chores and boys' chores. We learned how to do it all. My brothers can cook, clean, and do laundry quite well, but especially Dennis since he has a wife and kids at home.

Dennis can cook anything, while Randall's culinary skills a little more basic, but the man can cook breakfast. I came home a few weeks ago to find that he had made pancakes and left me some. Sweet, right? Mama would be so proud. She used to beg us to "Please just act like you love each other."

My brother Dennis owns a car wash and he is alway nice and washes my car for my any time I come by. And he's been telling me for weeks I needed to come by. So I have a nice clean car thanks to Dennis.

And then there is my little brother, Murph. With 18 years between us, we haven't been that close. My son is two years to the day younger than Murph so they grew up together. Murph now manages a restaurant in New Orleans. He is training to become a sommelier. And he probably cooks better than any of us, but then he is a professional.

And the house was full today. My beau, my Dad, my brothers, and their families came. My nephew brought his friend. My grandson, Daniel was there even though his Mom was working. My son and his wife,  who just got back from Cancun last night. And Ashley (my pseudo daughter) and her husband too. There wasn't even enough left to make a to go plate. So today we had a grand total of 14.

We also celebrated my Dad's birthday again - chocolate cake and of course his customary present, golf balls. I gave him something else once trying to be different, but he really missed the golf balls. Why mess with something that's working?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Write Now: Learning to Write

When I was a child, I had this foolish idea that novelists simply sat down at their desk and the words just flowed. I knew there was some editing, but I thought it was just minor — grammar and punctuation. And it went this way for me even in high school. I wrote my stories for creative writing and made a few recommended minor changes.

I was totally unprepared for my college class in creative writing. My first urge was to not listen to the teacher, after all it was my story.  But I wanted a good grade and I sat down to write with the revisions she had recommended. What I found was that my story began to come alive. I finally understood what other authors meant about a character taking over. I had also once thought that to be a preposterous idea, but once you unleash your imagination — your characters do speak, they take on their own identity, and they often lead you down paths you never envisioned.

My novel in progress is still the same in the inner most core, but characters have been added. Characters have been killed off or removed. Their personalities have changed from what I originally envisioned. While the story still has the main plot line, it is so much richer than I ever imagined. And still being in the first draft stage, I know there are several more revisions and adaptations.

I write not to sell the story, but to tell the story. I've heard of authors who have first, second, and even third novels tucked away. I heard that Bryce Courtenay was actually using his novel, The Power of One as a doorstop at one time until his son's girlfriend read it and urged him to try to publish it. I'm not even sure if this is true, but it gives me hope.

Maybe the only people who will ever read my novel in progress will be family and friends. I hope not, but I'm also okay with that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Widow's Walk: Endless Love

I am taking a class on professional writing this semester. A couple of weeks ago, I was the subject of class interviews. They could ask anything they wanted. I gave them the lead of I married a dying man.

The assignment afterwards was to write an feature article about the interview. And for me I had to do it in third person, which I found really difficult to do. Here is the piece I wrote for class.

Endless Love
By Connie Thompson Kuhn

            Connie Kuhn married a dying man. Her husband, Mike was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer two months prior to their May 10th wedding in 2008.
            Mike had been a lifelong smoker. He had taken up the habit in his twenties when he met his first wife. Before he left the hospital, he asked Connie to destroy and remove all evidence of his smoking. Any time he came near smokers, he would comment about the stench wondering how his family and friends had put up with his habit. He clung to the possibility that the cancer was not a result of smoking, but possibly because of his exposure to helicopters he repaired that had been in Desert Storm. Smoking was the one big regret of his life.
            A pulmonary embolism put Mike in the hospital that April, just two weeks after his diagnosis. The emergency room doctor told the couple if they had waited for the ambulance, Mike would have died en route. Connie’s decision to drive him to the hospital saved his life. Later that week, the doctors performed surgery inserting a chest and heart tube to alleviate the fluid off of Mike’s lungs and heart. Complications ensued and the doctor gave Mike days to live. When Connie asked the doctor what they could do, he said pray.
            Mike’s parents had just returned to the United States from Africa, where they were working as missionaries. They requested prayers from all of their friends across the world. People were praying from every continent. Mike’s family, friends, and coworkers also joined in the vigil. The oncologist was amazed as Mike walked out of the hospital four days later.
            One night as the couple sat on the deck beneath the stars listening to the crickets’ symphony, Mike told Connie he didn’t know how much time he had left, but he wanted to spend it with her as his wife. They were married a month later in a simple ceremony in their living room. After saying their vows, the couple greeted guests as Mike sat in his favorite, worn Lazy Boy recliner and Connie by his side.
            Mike resumed chemotherapy a few days after the wedding. The treatments took a devastating toll on his body, sickening and weakening him so much that the oncologist ordered a new CT scan to see if the chemo was having any affect on the tumors. As the doctor viewed the scans, his puzzled frown turned to a smile. He showed the couple the screen – there were no evident signs of cancer – Mike was in remission. The oncologist encouraged Mike to make the most of this miracle, but also warned them that the cancer would one day return and would eventually take his life. “But not today,” Mike said shaking the doctors hand.
            Mike dedicated his life to glorifying God. He helped start a prayer ministry at Hope Point Community Church. He mentored a young man living in a group home that supported teenagers who had aged out of the foster care system. He studied his Bible. He took two theology classes at Brookwood University, a part of the Brookwood Church in Simpsonville, SC. And he never missed an opportunity to tell people about the miracle he received.
            Connie asked Mike about his bucket list wanting to know if there was something special he wanted to do or experience. Mike wanted to spend time with his family and friends. They visited his sisters. His son came often from West Virginia. His parents, who once again called Gastonia, North Carolina home stayed with the couple most weekdays so that Connie could continue her job as a graphic artist. Mike reconnected with friends from his past including the astronaut Scott Parazynski, who also spent part of his youth in Dakar, Senegal. In their youth, Mike and Scott shared a love of basketball and at one time had been considered the least likely to succeed due to their shenanigans.
            Mike spent most time with his wife. They did devotions together. Mike was born in Barberton, Ohio. He had lived in Tennessee and Florida, but South Carolina became his home. Often when Connie would return home from work, Mike wanted to get out of the house. Connie would give Mike tours of Spartanburg showing him the area and telling him stories about the city she had always called home.
            They spent time at Cleveland Park where Mike would enjoy a Big Mac and a strawberry shake as they watched the ducks in the small lake from their handicapped parking spot. They would also go to the Spartanburg Downtown Airport and watch the planes landing and taking off. Mike had his pilot’s license and loved to fly. He said that in the air, he had felt closest to God.
They would often ride through downtown and pass by Converse College. Connie told him how some students in the 70s would actually board their horses at the school’s stables. The girls would ride through the nearby woods and even the Beaumont Mill Village, where Connie lived. She had always hoped one day to go to college there.
Mike urged Connie to go back to school. Before taking some time off, Connie had been a business major. She didn’t enjoy the program, but she felt it would be the most beneficial course of study for her career. Mike encouraged her to take classes she was interested in – major in something you love. They researched the local area colleges together and decided on the Converse II program at Converse College. Connie enrolled in August of 2008.        
Mike died on March 8, 2009, just two months before their first anniversary. “Our prayers were always specific. We didn’t just want more time; we wanted quality time. God gave us that. After Mike passed, I was looking through my journal. On April 5, 2008, the day the oncologist gave Mike days to live, I begged God for more time. I even wrote just one more. And I realized he gave us one more Easter, birthday, vacation, fall (Mike’s favorite season), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day,” said Connie.
            Death is the physical end of a life, but Mike’s legacy will continue to live through those he touched and influenced. Connie was with Mike as he lived the final chapter of his life. She likes to think of their time as the beginning of the second part of her life. Mike gave Connie his love, but he also gave her a future. In May of 2013, Connie will receive her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Creative and Professional Writing from Converse College. She is currently working on her first novel. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Friday, September 21, 2012

Write Now: Advice from Bob Olmstead

On Wednesday I had the opportunity to hear Bob Olmstead read from his latest novel, The Coldest Night. If there is an audio book, Bob should definitely read it.

I read Coal Black Horse earlier this year and it is an amazing novel. I look forward to reading Far Bright Star as well.

After Mr. Olmstead read, he spoke about his writing process. He uses a laptop and there are about eighteen different places in his home where he writes. He gets bored and likes to move around.

He also said that in our busy world, people just don't take the time to do nothing. When was the last time you stopped? No television, radio, smartphone, twitter, facebook, etc.? I often find myself turning on the television, not necessarily to watch, but for the background noise. I grew up in a house with two brothers and a sister. And later I had two children of my own. Now that they are grown, the house is often quiet - something I used to wish for. And now what do I do with it? I add noise, which is something that I am going to stop.

He also encouraged us to pay attention. It is the small details that surround you that make some of the best descriptions. And he does borrow from real life. He met an usual character briefly while standing in line for ice cream. They didn't speak, but that persona was placed on a character in one of his novels.

Mr. Olmstead thinks in sentences, which include punctuation. I find this hilarious. I don't always do this, but I have done it especially when I'm trying to find the right descriptions.

As I came in to work this morning, I noticed the lovely sunrise and how the blues, pinks, and purples blended together against the cloud filled sky. He had read about a similar sunrise in The Coldest Night and that scene immediately replayed in my mind.

This weekend I plan on unplugging and taking some time to do nothing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Widow's Walk: Laughing in Church

In my family, when we lose someone, we often spend time reminiscing about funny moments in that person's life.

Once after my uncle Lewis passed, a lady came to visit and pay her respects. She was appalled and told us we needed to have more respect for the dead. My grandmother told her we had plenty of respect for the dead for we were celebrating his life.

Last week was the 20th anniversary of the loss of Charlotte, who was the mother of my best friend, Lisa. At Charlotte's funeral, I sat on the back row - the church was full and Lisa was surrounded by her family. As I listened to the pastor, all I could recall was a little off color joke that Charlotte would tell us when we were kids. She always said my Mom would not approve, so we weren't allowed to talk about this joke.

As Lisa cried and others sniffled, all I could picture  was Charlotte telling that joke while all of us kids laughed hysterically - partly because it was funny, but also because it was taboo.

I was trying so hard not to laugh out loud in church. I buried my face in a Kleenex and a kindly neighborhood lady patted my shoulder telling me everything would be alright.

It would be days later before I shared this story with Lisa and she thought it was funnier than I did. So last week, I remembered my Mom's birthday as she remembered her Mom's passing. And we like to think that up in Heaven those two are having a fabulous time.

I believe that there are wonderful healing qualities in laughter. I believe that while you're sad to lose someone, it is wonderful to remember that person for the wonderful things they did, but also for the funny things that happened as well.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Easy Baked Ziti

This is something that my Grandmother would have never done. Pasta for Sunday dinner? I doubt she would have complained. She might have laughed and I am sure I would have heard some story about pasta. I think her first experience with pasta involved Chef Boy Ar Dee.

I've had quite a bit on me the last few weeks with school just beginning to ramp up and now I have a beau and quite frankly I've just been enjoying spending time with him. So today I decided to take it easy on myself.

Easy Baked Ziti

1 lb. of ground beef'
1 lb. box of ziti
1 jar bottled spaghetti sauce
2 cups mozzarella cheese

Brown ground beef. Drain oil off. Add bottled spaghetti sauce. Simmer.
Cook Ziti noodles according to package directions. Drain.

In casserole dish, put a light coating of sauce on the bottom of pan.
Add ziti noodles. Cover with pasta sauce and 1 cup of cheese. Blend together.
Top with remaining cheese.

Bake in oven at 350° for 35 minutes.

I usually make a large salad and of course lots of garlic bread.

My nephew, Ethan loved this last time I made it, but he is 10. We'll see how he reacts today. Last time he came back for seconds.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Write Now: A Quiet Afternoon with a Friend

There are books that make you think. There are books that scare you. There are books that take you deep into mystery. There are books that are great resources to help you through difficult times. There are books that teach you. And the list goes on.

But my favorite kind of books are the books that come to you like a trusted friend. They entertain you. They make you laugh, and they may even make you cry. They suspend your reality for a brief moment, you're invested in the characters, and their humanity touches you. I think this is truly what Women's Fiction or ChickLit is.

I know that life is not all about happy endings and I know that sometimes novels don't have happy endings, but at least let me leave with some hope.

I once read Nicholas Sparks comment about how often a major character dies in his novels. He replied that he wrote tragedies. And I know that when I pick up one of his books, somebody is going to die. I accept that. His works are not necessarily great literary masterpieces, but they do tell a story and they do speak to your heart.

Some writers I've recently discovered that I love and consider part of Women's Fiction are:

Kimberly Brock The River Witch

Juliette Fay Deep Down True and The Shortest Way Home (out in October 2012)

Beth Webb Hart Sunrise on the Battery

Mia March The Meryl Streep Movie Club

Sarah Pekkanen Skipping a Beat and These Girls

With autumn days fast approaching, these are the perfect companions for a pumpkin spiced latte and quiet afternoon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Remembering Mom

In place of the widow's walk this week, my post will be about my mother.

Tomorrow is my mother's birthday. She would have been 67. It is hard for me to believe that she has been gone 7 years.

Sometimes I still forget that she is gone. I'll pick up the phone to call her on my way home from work and then I remember. It is strange how old behaviors come back and for a moment we've forgotten how life has changed.

Not long ago I saw a little woman sitting on the edge of her seat, clenching the steering wheel of the large blue boat of a car she was driving - it reminded me of Mom.

My Mom loved flowers. Her garden became her sanctuary. And in her last days, she would spend many hours by the window watching the birds and looking at her garden.

A couple of weeks ago, I thought I had seen the last of the gardenias blooming. The bush was back to the normal green, not a bloom to be seen. But this week, the blossoms came back and there are four. Mom had four children so that seems to be the perfect number.

For birthdays, Mom would always hang the birthday banner. She would bake a cake and sometimes she would try to decorate it like a bakery would. Those cakes were extremely pitiful looking, but there was so much love in the process.

Today I will buy some flowers, hopefully with a sunflower or a stargazer lily (Mom's favorites), but instead of taking them to the cemetery, I will take them home where I will place them in a vase by her picture. And I will let the memories come and enjoy the moment.

When you first lose someone, all you feel is the loss, but as time passes, you learn to honor and cherish their memory.

Happy Birthday Mom!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Peach Cobbler

Vincent Family Peach Cobbler
On Sunday I was surprised with help in the kitchen.

We had what is called a cook out or grilling here in the South, but I've since been told that other areas of the country call it a barbecue. My son, Ryan manned the grilling cooking hotdogs and hamburgers to perfection.

My beau, Chuck made peach cobbler using his mother's recipe and of course we had to add some vanilla ice cream.

Vincent Family Peach Cobbler

4 C. pealed and sliced peaches.  
Mix with 1/4 C. sugar and sprinkle cinnamon over the top.
Place in a 9" pie pan and dot with pieces of butter.
1C Bisquick
1/4 C. sugar
1 egg
Mix together and put on top of peaches.  Sprinkle 2 or 3 tablespoons of water over the topping mixture and bake 25 - 30 minutes at 400 degrees.  Top should be nice and brown.

Chuck also left a couple of the peach pits because his Grandma always said that it adds flavor.

So a special thanks to Chuck and Ryan. Those men can cook!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Write Now: Character Sketches

For me as I'm writing, it is usually the character who speaks to me first. And as I put those first few words down on paper, their story begins to come to me. Characters do indeed take on a life of their own and often they take a writer down a path, which was not planned.

I follow several writers on Twitter and Facebook and I love seeing the revelatory process as they share their characters' developments. Often they seek unusual names, snippets, and even suggestions for physical appearances.

I love when an author will say something random like my character is a forty-three year old woman who has just learned her husband is leaving her for a younger woman who is pregnant with a baby he always swore he never wanted. Which actors and actresses would you choose to play these characters? All you have are their ages and a very brief synopsis, but it immediately gets me to thinking.

You wouldn't want John Cusack playing the man. Most women love him, we wouldn't want him to be the bad guy.

What about Kristin Chenowith or Sarah Jessica Parker for our heroine? Those choices would elicit two very different stories for me.

I think one of the most wonderful characterizations is in Ron Rash's Serena. I won't give it away. You'll just have to read it if you want to know what I'm talking about, but there is a movie in production. Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games) plays Serena opposite Bradley Cooper as her older husband. I had heard about the movie before I read the book and instantly cast those two in the roles as the book came alive in my mind. I'm curious to see how Hollywood fares. I am looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation and I'm hopeful that I will not be disappointed.

This month over at She Reads, we've been blogging about Mia March's The Meryl Streep Movie Club and that has got me to thinking about who I would cast as these four women.

Blythe Danner as Lolly, Scarlett Johansson as Isabel, Kristen Bell as June, and Emma Watson as Kat.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

If You Want A Little More Summer

Labor Day has passed. It is time to put away the white sandals, skirts, shorts, capris, and pants. No self respecting Southern Belle would ever be caught dead in white after Labor Day.

But if you would like to hold onto those summer days for just a little longer, pick up The Guest Book by MaryBeth Whalen and let yourself be transported to Sunset Beach and Ocean Isle on the coast of North Carolina.

Some of Macy's favorite childhood memories involve spending time with her family at the beach house, "Time in a Bottle." Macy is a Daddy's girl without a Daddy - she lost her father and also became a single mother.

The father of her child reenters her life and she wonders if this is part of God's plan for her, but she can't stop thinking about the guest book where she and a boy would exchange pictures every year. There is something about this mystery boy and she wonders if maybe she met her soul mate through those exchanges.

Her mother surprises the family with a two week trip to the beach, a place they have only been once since Macy's father passed. That week was horrible and all they could feel was their loss. But now, the ocean is calling. Will Macy find the boy of her dreams?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Widow's Walk: Movie Therapy

I just read and reviewed Mia March's The Meryl Streep Movie Club, the September selection for She Reads. In the novel, there are four women who have experienced devastating losses. Lolly lost her husband, sister, and brother in law and raised her own daughter as well as her two nieces. Now the girls are grown, but Lolly calls them all back to the bed and breakfast to help her as she battles cancer.

Movie night has long been a tradition at The Three Captain's Inn and Lolly declares this time as Meryl Streep movie time. As they watch the movies, their lives often mirror some of the action of the movies. It is therapeutic, but it is also a gateway that opens each of the characters up to conversation while encouraging them to help and encourage one another.

After my husband died, there were movies that I clung to. Nights in Rodanthe, both the novel and the movie. It was the last movie Mike and I saw at the theatre. Spoiler alert if you haven't seen it, but when it got to the end, Mike was really surprised when Paul dies. If you read or watch Nicholas Sparks' work, you know somebody always dies. 

As Adrienne portrayed by Diane Ladd grapples with Paul's death, I would cry too. It was often hard for me to let myself go. I was afraid once I started, I wouldn't be able to stop. Through the movie, I knew that it would keep me on the same timeline as the movie and that once the credits rolled, my tears would begin to cease.

The other movie that was therapy for me was P.S. I Love You, which is about a young widow, who receives letters from her late husband. This man never had a plan during their marriage, but as brain cancer took his life, he wrote letters and left instructions for his wife. He sends her out on her birthday, has her sing in a bar, and visit his beloved, native Ireland, which is where they also met. She grieves, she misses him, and she also finds out who she is again.

Monday, September 3, 2012

September She Reads Selection: The Meryl Streep Movie Club

Throughout my life, movies and books have offered a special escape for me. They have come to me as a friend offering comfort, understanding, compassion, and even laughter when I needed it. So I was drawn to the premise of the The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March, September's selection for She Reads.

Four women come together at The Three Captain's Bed and Breakfast, summoned by the owner Lolly. Kat, her daughter still lives there, but June and Isabel, the nieces she raised after a terrible automobile accident orphaned them and also took the life of Lolly's husband. All three women are there to hear Lolly's announcement, which they all suspect to be that she will be selling the inn.

June had it all as the high school valedictorian. She had a bright future until one night when she listened to her heart. Nine months later, she's a single mother still wondering what happened to John. She moves to nearby Portland to avoid the snarky comments by classmates relishing in June's fall from grace.

Isabel has it all, a wealthy husband, an elaborate home and car, nice clothes, anything that money can buy, but what she really wants is a baby. She and her husband have been together since high school. He was a peer grief counselor, who helped her through the difficult times after the passing of her parents. They made a pact to never have children. They didn't want their children to suffer like they have, but now Isabel wants to break her promise. She wants a baby and Edward doesn't.

Kat has spent her life at the inn, where baking has become her passion. She longs to open her own bakery, but first she wants to study in Europe. Kat fell in love with the boy next door, but she's not sure that she's ready for marriage. Would she be living the life she is if her father had lived?

And then there is Lolly, the distant and yet loving matriarch, who has spent her life raising her girls and taking care of the inn, but Lolly has a secret and it has nothing to do with the inn. But her secrets will change their lives forever.

Mia March does a beautiful job of developing four intricate and unique women. She tells the story through their varied perspectives. The movies also play a role because often it is the discussion that follows each movie night that is a catalyst for action. For each movie influences the women by giving them a different perspective of their problem through Meryl's movies. And each movie theme is timely and poignant to the plot moving the narrative forward while encouraging the characters to explore their dilemmas through a different  lens.

This is women's fiction at its best - drama, tears, love, and laughter. It is the kind of book you want to curl up with on a rainy day and escape into the lives of the women at The Three Captain's Inn.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Stupid Potatoes

Stupid Potatoes (Stewed Potatoes)
One of my brothers actually came up with this name, but I'm not sure which one. Most Sundays, you could always count on mashed potatoes, but sometimes Mama or Grandmother would change the menu a little. Stupid potatoes are actually stewed potatoes.
He ain't heavy, he's my brother. (My brothers from 1976)

You can use either red or white, but I prefer the red. You put several potatoes in a pot and boil them until they are soft in the middle. Drain the water off. The skins will just peel off, but you might want to do this under running water because the potatoes are extremely hot.

If the red potatoes are rather large, I'll cut or quarter them too. Then you put them back in the pot. Add enough mild to cover the potatoes half-way. Add butter, salt, and pepper to taste. Some people also add a little flour for thickening. If you do this, I would do that and stir well before adding the potatoes.

At my house, it is a family favorite. And everyone laughs calling them stupid potatoes — the name just stuck.