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Posted July 9, 2017
TEL DAN IS TELLING
And by telling, I mean this archaeological site at Tel Dan has revealed so much information that proves the Bible is accurate.
But first, how did I get to Israel earlier in the year? The desire to be an archaeologist or an anthropologist never left me after I came to the conclusion that being a mother and rearing children was more important than galavanting around the world digging in dirt.
But of all places, the Middle East?
I know. Who wants to go there? Aren't you fearful? Attacks and suicide bombings and people who hate each other and tons of folk who despise Americans? A cruise to Santorini sounded like a whole lot more fun. And a lot safer. But Petra, Jordan. Ahhhh. A place a writer with an archaeologist/anthropoligist bent had to visit at least once. But friend's and family's mouths fell open when I told them of my desire to go. They thought I'd lost my ever loving mind. "Don't you have grandchildren? Don't you have a new one on the way?"
I had all of that and more. And as for fearful--I was more fearful of being under the mysterious spell of Jerusalem Syndrome. Standing naked on a Jerusalem hotel balcony wrapped in a ripped off bedsheet shouting to the hordes below that I was the Mother Mary or John the Baptist was my biggest horror. And the next question I posed to myself was, Didn't I always leave the room in my youth when Daddy turned on the evening news to watch chaos going on in the land of rocks and deserts?
Yep. That would be me. I destested everything about the Middle East and the bickering and warring and the rocket's red flare.
All of that changed, however, when later in life I began studying the Bible with an intensity that wouldn't let up. To understand the Bible better, I instinctively knew I had to understand the people and their culture. What made them tick? What made the Arabs willing to blow themselves up to drive the Jewish people into the sea? What made the people who speak Hebrew--an ancient language that has against all odds survived--long for a land that was not all that productive before 1948 according to famous author Mark Twain, and had no oil or natural gas until recently?
Plus, another writer once made the comment, "Vicki, you're a person who could take a busload of people into the Middle East and bring everybody out alive."
Humored--and flattered--by her comment, I laughed, but then later wondered what she meant. Maybe it had something to do with me being adventurous. After all, few females she knew had jumped out of an airplane, had her own dirt bike parked in the kitchen so no one would "borrow" it and not return it, was familiar with many types of weapons, had twice rafted the Chatooga River in the wilds of South Carolina where the movie Deliverance was filmed and managed to survive a harrowing experience, and had traveled to several countries alone. I didn't have any friends who wanted to jet off to Scotland to jump horses when I could break away. It was either go it alone or stay home and have a dream die.
So when the opportunity to go to Israel presented itself, I thought of that writer's comment. Did I dare fly to Israel when things were heated up with ISIS so close to her borders? Thinking it was now or never, I decided to get this one trip checked off the top of my bucket list of things to do before I died.
Then I heard about the deaths of U.S. soldiers on a base in Jordan. ISIS was operating that deep inside Jordan? Cancel the Petra, Jordan leg of the journey. For now.
But to Israel, I was determined to go. And I began to appreciate the old timers who wrote out signs that read, "California or Bust." Israel was one place I had to see--be it safe or not--and it was on the top of my bucket list. It's like one terrorist of old I'd once interviewed--who'd changed his ways when he found Christ--told me, "Vicki, do you want to go quickly with one bullet or die on a guerney with tubes hanging out of every orifice?" So "Israel or Bust" become my mantra. And there seemed to be a driving force behind me.
Plus, I knew if it was my time to go I knew where I was going and if it wasn't my time, the dear Lord would protect me as he had done in the past and not only that--I still wondered if I could get a busload of people out of the Middle East alive.
Though I hoped I wouldn't be put to the test.
And that's how I ended up in New York City to catch a plane for one of the longest nonstop flights of my life. A piece of advice: Never borrow someone else's compression socks that don't fit properly or the night will be a "dark night of the soul" and a long one at that. And when flying to Israel, don't worry about sucide bombers and crazies. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have already investigated travelers to their country months ahead of time and know everything there is to know about you. Probably down to the shade of pink lipstick you prefer. Has to be one of the safest flights in the world. And once I arrived at the airport, the most rigorous "entrance exam" I'd ever experienced, if I don't count the time I flew into Jamaica after the U.S. had clipped the wings off one of their birds for flying in drugs.
And that's how I ended up at Tel Dan. And yes, I was surprised to see a Paradise sign on the hike in. I just kept chuckling and telling myself, Whatever. I'd hoped to wait awhile for Paradise but who knew what was in store for me on up the path. I'd fought wild critters before without a slingshot and won. There was a rock everywhere I looked and I intended to roll with the flow.
After a pleasant hike up a trail next to the Dan River which is a source of the Jordan River, there in front of me and not far from the foot of Mount Hermon were the remains of an ancient Canaanite city. (The fertility of this area was mentioned in the Bible: For we have seen the Land, and behold, it is very good. Judges 18:9). Replete with an altar to make sacrifices to pagan gods. During the Caananite period, the city was called Laish or sometimes Leshem. During the 18th century BCE, this ancient city was fortified with humongous earthen embankments which created ramparts that encircled the entire city and protected its people. Also during this period in history, the patriarch Abraham visited, after defeating the kings of The North who took his nephew Lot prisoner. Gnarled olive trees that looked like decrepid people--at least several hundred years old--stood silently guarding the secrets of a people who believed a deity name Baal--a storm and fertility god--could bring them rain for their crops. Some of the trees had holes in them where ripening olives found a resting place. Some of the trees had resigned themselves to the prospect of secrets being uncovered and revealed.
After the Israelite tribe of Dan conquered Laish, 600 members of the tribe migrated north and called the name of the city Dan after the name of Dan their father.
But here's the important part of the dig at Dan. Fragments from a large inscribed basalt stele were found in the square located in front of the Israelite city gate complex. More than likely, Jehoash, the king of Israel who battled the Arameans three times and defeated them in II Kings 13:25 symbolically smashed the stele erected there by by Hazael, king of Aram--Damascus. Of the original inscription, thirteen lines of ancient Aramaic--a language Jesus spoke--have been partially preserved. Several Israelite kings are mentioned: Jehoram, king of Israel and Ahaziah, king of Judah,
referred to as a king of the House of David. This stele is one of the most important finds in Israel because it's the first non-biblical text that mentions by name "The House of David." Before the stele was unearthed, there was a huge dispute about the Bible as a reliable source. Since the stele has been discovered, the City of David has been discovered just south of the Temple complex in Old Jerusalem and is now being excavated by archaeologists.
To stand in Israel and have the Bible come alive before you is one of the most amazing things, especially for writers.
As for traveling into danger, my thoughts before going were: I could fly to Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, or New York City and get hit with a random bullet. Or any small town for that matter. My hometown of Chattanooga, TN had already had one attack and no one could predict the future. And yes, unfortunately there were a couple of incidents that happened in Israel while I was there. During my visit to Bethlehem en route to Jerusalem and nearby, there was an attack on a bus filled with young soldiers, male and female, traveling to Old Jerusalem for a tour. Four of them lost their lives when a large truck rammed their bus as they were disembarking.
Most unfortunate and such a waste of life. Was I frightened because I was heading into a hell terrorists feel obligated to inflict upon random people who don't think like them or worship as they do? Concerned and heartbroken are better words to describe how I felt as I recalled another writer's words and wondered just what might lie ahead--Oh God! Were that woman's words prophetic? Would I really be expected to get a busload of people out of the Middle East alive? I must admit her words gave me food for thought.
Though there were a couple of disconcerting happenings during my travels, I honestly felt safer in Israel than in a large city in America. Israel knows better than most how to protect her own. (Almost impossible to protect anyone from death by vehicular homicide though.) There are less homicides there than in the United States. So my advice is to those
who would like to travel to the Holy Land to see where Jesus and the ancients walked--don't hesitate to go. The journey will be the most exciting trip you'll ever make if you're a student of the Bible. If you're not a student of the Bible and don't believe God's Word, go anyway for the beauty and adventure. There's more to behold there than rocks. The food is fabulous and healthy. And by the way, rocks don't lie. The trip might rearrange your thinking. But only if you have no fear of believing--for some--the unbelievable. Because there could be a chance after you see the rock solid evidence that the stories in the Bible are true, you might just become a believer and believe the claims of Jesus: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6 And, "Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Acts 4:12
When you believe Him and accept Him into your heart, that's when excitement and the radical adventures begin. Trust me, it only gets better--sometimes scarier heh-heh--but always better.
I hope to work on a book about my Middle East travels if time permits. As most who have ventured to Israel and Jordan will tell you, it takes a while to process your thoughts after returning. I arrived back home months ago and I'm still processing. So much to think about. So many discoveries to research...so little time to write truths down. And that trip to Jordan...made it there too. That's another adventurous story. Check back!
If you would like to comment or have questions about this article, email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Vicki, another good friend from Tennessee visited Israel every couple of years and I never understood why. Much like you as a youth, my eyes glaze over at the mention of the Middle East. But, as always, you drew me in with your inimitable style and made it fascinating and appealing. Thank you for helping me appreciate why this trip can be a life changer. As for Scotland, say the word! -- Gary Fearon, http://www.musingandlyrics.com.
Thanks for stopping by Gary. Let me know when you can break away for Scotland. I know my way around a couple of graveyards in Edinburgh for a great photo op!
You're a beautiful writer. I've been to Israel, and Dan twice and I agree with everything you said. ~ Lucille Zimmerman, author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World.
Thanks so much Lucille. Dan is an incredible place! I would love to go back.
Vicki, Love this adventure post. Thank you for always educating us in such an interesting and entertaining way. ~ Suzie
So glad you liked the post Suzie! Appreciate your comments.
Posted July 8, 2017
Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love one another. Hard to do at times. But there it is, He said it. And from those words the title to another book was born.
The long awaited for book titled Loving Moments--edited and compiled by Yvonne Lehman--debuts this month. The ninth book to be published in the Moments series, check out my story, "If Only by Toe-Touch." There will be 59 inspirational stories of the Many Faces of Love written by some of the best Christian writers out there.
This little jewel of a book will be available soon through Grace Publishing, Amazon, B&N, Billy Graham's The Cove bookstore.
If you would like to comment or have questions about this article, email me email@example.com
Posted May 9, 2017
Behind. Yes. I'm behind. On everything including blogging. I did manage to get novel edits back to a writer today and finally managed to grab a bite to eat since the cupboards are empty of what I call real food. Even the oatmeal box was empty. A staple. You're out of luck if you come to my house Miss Gold-i-locks. This mama bear's cupboards are bare. Let me warn you though Goldy, it's an even more cruel world when Wendy's runs out of spoons after you've already ordered a chocolate Frosty. A straw simply won't cut it until the moon is highest in the midnight hour.
But much more than fast-food blips in the fast lane has been happening in the soon-to-be-super-sultry South. In March, I had the privilege of teaching a writing workshop at the Write2Ignite Conference held at South Carolina's North Greenville University. As always, a fun place to teach, meet and greet, and catch up with what I like to call "gold" rather than "old" friends--one of whom was actor/writer/comedian Torry Martin.
More on Torry's escapades later in July.
On the way back from the conference, I visited Biltmore House for the umpteenth time--can't get enough of that place and every time I visit, I experience something new. Of course I had lunch in a horse stall as I always do when there. I promise, Girls Scouts honor, they serve delicious food other than hay, nor do the servers neigh.
The dresses on display in the manse were stunning. And tiny. (Don't actresses eat brownies and cobbler?) And the gowns are still entrancing enough to give a writer some fabulous ideas. But seriously, someone needs to throw those actresses a sandwich. Another yard of fabric to make a costume will surely not break the producers in Hollywood. Then back home from a whirlwind weekend to experience rain. Flooding even. A flush of spring blossoms from my garden. More rain. And lots of healthy, lush-looking grass threatening to outdo Tennessee kudzu if that's even possible.
Best news of all, another of my inspirational stories will be out in an upcoming Moments Series book when things get really sultry. July hot sultry. As in torrid. Coming your way next is a story in Loving Moments. "If Only By Toe-Touch" and maybe a second story that has already won a writing award, "Chasing God." I'll keep you posted.
And don't forget to purchase a copy of the latest May/June issue of Southern Writers Magazine. My interview with Marlo Schalesky was informative--her new book is Waiting with Wonder--and of course I enjoyed hearing about her Wonder Wood Ranch, a 501©3 a charitable organization that serves underprivileged and homeless kids.
In the meantime, stock up on ice, tea, riveting books, and smooth up the rockers on your best rocking chair because summer is fast upon us Southerners. When not mowing grass, stories will be told and embellished on porches that offer shade to cool-as-a-cucumber-characters and a few shady ones too. Depends on who you allow up your driveway and through the hallway of your mind to pull up a chair to sit a spell and spin a yarn.
Until next time, make sure you put up a few jars of strawberry freezer jam for me when the strawberries ripen. Or are we there yet?
P.S. If you know of a person named Linda Argosotti, tell her I dreamed about her the other night. I had a photo of her and she's a brunette with dark piercing eyes. Can't recall what the dream was about though. Nor can I find her on Facebook or on any other social media. Perhaps she's a new character in a future tale? And yes. Not only do writers get behind, writers are meant to be strange.
If you would like to comment or have questions about this article, email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted March 3, 2017
WHY? TITANIC MOMENTS
Announcing my latest story "Laying My Watery Ghosts to Rest" to be published in March 2017--probably close to the end of the month before the book is released. If you're like I am, you can't get enough about the Titanic. The people. Who survived. Who didn't. Why weren't there enough life boats? Why was the ship in an area full of dangerous icebergs? And the questions go on and on.
I was so traumatized from hearing the story when I was a child, it took many decades later before I could read about it. And now, I've finally been able to write about the tragedy and Yvonne Lehman included my story in her collection of stories compiled for the book's release.
I hope you enjoy!
If you would like to comment or have questions about this article, email me email@example.com
Posted October 12, 2016
ADDITIONAL CHRISTMAS MOMENTS
67 Stories Celebrating the True Spirit of Christmas
What makes Christmas special? Decorations, carols, food, gifts, and time spent with those we love can certainly create a memorable legacy. But for Christians, Christmas is about more than personal tradition.
It’s the day set aside to recognize the event that changed everything. It’s the celebration of the birth of Christ.
When the Magi recognized a star — a sign hidden in plain sight — as evidence of the birth of the Messiah, they went in search of him. In this third installment of Christmas Moments 55 authors hope their stories will encourage you to recognize the evidence of Christ — often hidden in plain sight — in your own life and to seek him not only at Christmas, but throughout the entire year.
Contributors: Cathy Ancewicz, Carolyn Roth Barnum, Robin Bayne, Debby Bellingham, Charlotte Burkholder, Janet Bryant Campbell, LeAnn Campbell, Rebecca Carpenter, Autumn J. Conley, Maresa DePuy, Sharon Blackstock Dobbs, Susan Dollyhigh, Kristin Dossett, Terri Elders, Susan Engebrecht, Bonnie Mae Evans, Dorothy Floyd, Gayle Fraser, Janice S. Garey, Tommy Scott Gilmore, III, Jean Matthew Hall, Kristen Harmon, Kay Harper, Lydia E. Harris, Lori Hatcher, Karen R. Hessen, Helen L. Hoover, Terri Kelly, Nancy Julien Kopp, Luke Lehman, David A. Lehman, Yvonne Lehman, Diana Leagh Matthews, Beverly Hill McKinney, Mary E. McQueen, Norma C. Mezoe, Julie Miller, Lynn Mosher, Vicki H. Moss, Marilyn Nutter, Dianna Owens, Colleen L. Reece, Alisha Ritchie, Robert B. Robeson, David Russell, Toni Armstrong Sample, Beverly Sce, June Schmidt, Annmarie B. Tait, Donn Taylor, Denise Valuk, Jen Waldron, Barbara Wells, Kathy Whirity, Debra DuPree Williams
Posted October 4, 2016
MEMOIR: SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO REVISIT THE PAST
Pat Conroy's books had been on my bucket list of books to read for several years. So in January, I planned to make it happen, my first choice The Great Santini, a book that had been made into a movie starring Robert Duvall as Marine Lt. Col. "Bull" Meecham ("Meechum" in the 1979 movie).
When I finished reading The Great Santini, I was convinced Conroy had suffered immensely as a child because of his father's erratic and volatile behavior. The words about Conroy's life at the hands of an abusive father poured out on the pages not only as a cathartic exercise of "writing what we know"--but also as an obvious way for him to process through the dregs of his life so he could heal.
After more research on Pat Conroy, my assessment was correct: the book was thinly disguised as his terrorized life. The book was a novel, however, the novel was based on Conroy's life lived under the heavy hand of a driven father, Donald Conroy, a very violent man and verbally abusive both towards Pat and his siblings with physical abuse unleashed upon his boys. Then I read that Pat Conroy was ill. I was saddened when he passed on a few weeks later. But long before that, his mother's family--horrified at the revealing of family secrets--tried to get people to boycott his book signings by picketing his book events to urge people to stay away. His mother reportedly said, "Nice going, Pat, you stabbed your own family right through the heart." But Conroy kept writing about what he knew. What writers do.
Conroy would later say that The Great Santini had barely scraped the iceberg on the abuse in the family which was so bad (Pat recalled his mother brandishing a knife during a parental battle and his father knocking her to the floor and laughing), his mother divorced his father, and at least three of the seven children had suicidal episodes--one succeeding in leaving the world by his own hand with a sister being institutionalized. (Pat attempted suicide in 1975 after most of his life was spent battling depression and anxiety attacks.)
Even though Pat wrote, "I remember hating him even when I was in diapers," Pat asked for his father's help while writing the book--with Donald supplying technical details about military fighter planes--and this was a step in towards reconciliation. But after his father read the book, he was furious. Then he wept. Once The Great Santini was a success and made into a movie, there was a change in Conroy's father--he saw truthful tribute in his son's character portrayal and mellowed into a better man, mending relationships with his children and becoming a model grandfather. Too late for his marriage, he at least was able to reconcile with Pat and even attended book signings, signing, "I hope you enjoy my son's work of fiction,' and he'd underline 'fiction' five or six times," wrote Pat. "Then sign it, 'Ol' lovable, likable Donald Conroy.' Dear old dad also graced his car with license plates that read, 'GREAT SANTINI,' only after returning from a few days of disappearing after he'd read the novel--the family thinking he'd gone off to commit suicide."
Later, Pat wrote another book, a memoir, The Death of Santini. In it he recalls every harsh word and every beating from his father though his father is later shown as a better man in his golden years. "Love came in wounded and frantic ways to my dismaying family, but love it was." Rest in peace Donald and Pat.
Another noteworthy memoirist who has aired his dirty family laundry is Victor Marx who started All Things Possible Ministries. A sincere honest person who loves the broken people, Victor told his story in a book and in the documentary movie, The Victor Marx Story. Born in a family whose father was part of the Cajun mafia in Louisiana, a pimp, a drug dealer, and a father who denied Victor was his, Victor suffered every time his mother remarried--and she was married to six different men.
To sicken the drama, a man from a neighboring farm molested Victor at the age of five years old and locked him in a commercial cooler afterwards so he would freeze to death. Victor's life then became even more of a living hell. In later years, the PTSD and flashbacks almost drove his wife and children away until he received professional help through counseling. But today, Victor, a former marine who has taught martial arts to many--including other soldiers and SEAL Team Six members, travels wherever he can to help in the United States and the Middle East to aid and encourage those children who have suffered from trauma (and those children incarcerated because of causing trauma to others) to give them hope. To share with them that their lives matter and if he can overcome adversity, so can they. Through his pain and life experiences, incarcerated children and battle weary children learn that there is a better way and that there is hope and a better life through Jesus Christ--the One who ultimately healed Victor so he could become victorious.
I can only imagine how the hearts of tormented readers who read these books and watch these movies feel when they finish the last lines of the books or stare at the fading movie credits. Perhaps they think, "And I thought I was the only one. But there are others out there who have suffered as I have. Perhaps there's healing and maybe I'm redeemable as well."
Sharing testimonies through nonfiction and memoir or autobiography is important. Memoir is so important or God wouldn't have had his prophets and Holy Ones writing down the good, the bad, and the shameful ugly of Old Testament and New Testament nonfiction characters and sinners who eventually overcame, some to walk with and teach about their Messiah. (Think Joseph: His brothers resented him and wanted to murder him. Think Moses: His brother and sister resented his authority. Think Jacob: He stole the birthright from his brother. Think Jesus: His brothers didn't at first believe he was the Messiah--the Anointed One. The list goes on and on.)
As Victor Marx has said, "Sometimes you have to revisit the past." And writers revisit the past until that story gets written. And if one person's story, good or bad, helps one person in this world, it's a success. Writing memoir sometimes heals more than just a writer's broken heart, it heals the broken hearts of others who read about a writer's pain, see themselves in the characters, whether it is written as nonfiction or disguised as fiction, and take hope in a satisfactory ending. Sometimes there isn't a satisfactory ending, but at least a reader can say, "I'm not the only one, there are others who know my pain, and the way I've been treated isn't normal. Perhaps I can stop the generational abuse from continuing."
Which is a good thing.
So don't let anyone stop you from writing your story, which is your testimony--because your story, is yours and yours alone to write.
Happy writing trails!
Posted September 28, 2016
I am delighted to announce that in a couple of weeks, mid-October, a couple of my most stupid moments are to be included in a compilation of Stupid Moments, edited by Yvonne Lehman. I think I am delighted. But then again, people will know some of my most stupid moments. If someone learns from my mistakes, however, all is good. This book will be available for purchase through Grace Publishing, The Cove Bookstore near Asheville, NC, and from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other bookstores.
You might ask, Why would writers unveil their most stupid moments? So others can learn from previous mistakes--we all make them--and that God can turn mistakes and blunders into good. Romans 8:28.
This latest book of the Moments series includes "62 Revealing Stories About Those Sensitive Times and What We Learn from Them."
The instant Adam and Eve bit into forbidden fruit, stupid moments became a fact of life. The experiences can range from laughable to lamentable, humbling to humiliating. Whether they result from brilliant ideas...that weren’t, careless actions, or unanticipated circumstances, the uncomfortable aftermath often remains fresh in our minds throughout our lives.
Here, 48 authors share 62 stories illustrating that no matter what brings these moments into our lives, it’s what we learn from them that matters. Sometimes we learn something important about ourselves. Other times we learn not to take things too seriously. Ultimately, these moments serve to remind us we’re only human, and we always need the grace and redemptive power of Christ in our lives.
Contributors: Gloria Anderson, Joye Atkinson, Karen Nolan Bell, Mason K. Brown, Roger E. Bruner , Elsie H. Brunk, Janet Campbell, Rebecca Carpenter , Joann M. Claypoole, Sharon Blackstock Dobbs, Susan Shelton Dollyhigh, Dorothy Floyd, Theresa Jenner Garrido, Tommy Scott Gilmore, III, Diana Beamis Good, Nick Harrison, Sandra Merville Hart, Helen L. Hoover, Lillian Humphries, Terri Kelly, Alice Klies, Barbara Latta, David A. Lehman, Yvonne Lehman, Lynn Lilja, Diana Leagh Matthews, Andrea Merrell, Maggie Micoff, Marybeth Mitcham, Vicki H. Moss, Shelley Pierce, Deborah M. Presnell, Colleen L. Reece, Toni Armstrong Sample, Gloria Spears, Cindy Sproles, Nate Stevens, Fran Lee Strickland, Barb Suiter, Ann Tatlock, Leigh Ann Thomas, Donna Collins Tinsley, Audrey Tyler, Jan Westmark, Kathy Whirity, Dr. Rhett H. Wilson, Sr., Debra DuPree Williams, Jean Wilund
35 Word Summary:
Forty-eight authors share 62 stories illustrating that no matter what causes them, stupid moments serve to remind us we're only human, and we always need the grace and redemptive power of Christ in our lives.
Posted September 21, 2016
JUST THE FACTS MA'AM, AND NOTHING BUT THE FACTS
This week's writing tidbit is about word choices--choosing the correct word for the occasion.
Sometimes people have a tendency to "over write" or embellish or simply choose the wrong word for the occasion or sentence. Here's a scenario: Just because one has an opinion about something or is stating truth about someone doesn't make them a racist, bigot, or phobic anything, much less a gossip. Slapping these labels on others is considered negligent, childish, immature, and using words improperly. Writers must stay factual, or risk embellishing to the point of disbelief.
If a writer is writing fiction and wants to portray their character as over-the-top sarcastic or as someone who helps move the story forward by being a bully and downright antagonistic, then that's another story altogether. But when writing truth and the occasion doesn't merit a strong over-the-top word, to stay credible, it's best not to use it. When a writer breaks this rule in journalism or a nonfiction piece, it's used either as a defense mechanism because feelings have been hurt or it's a way to attack other people. A back-atcha-buddy. Never a good idea. And this is especially the case during election years. And no, this post isn't about politics, it's a post on writing, so keep reading if you're into this subject and especially if you're a newbie at writing and haven't yet had the opportunity to attend a writing conference and learn from seasoned writers.
There are many ways to stack words against each other to form a sentence. Using a good thesaurus is always helpful unless you prefer using the internet to search for word definitions, antonyms, and synonyms. I use both.
For an example of the day, take the word, animosity. The definition means bitter hostility or active hatred. Suppose Person A has pointed out a truth about another person (Person B) to a third party (Person C). This fact doesn't mean Person A is expressing bitter hostility or active hatred for Person B. It simply means Person A (1) might be bringing facts to light to discuss more in depth in a later one on one conversation with Person C or (2) is trying to help person C learn truth to get a better picture of what's going on in certain areas of life. So, instead of Person C retaliating against Person A--perhaps in an interoffice note, email, or text, blog article, memoir, or autobiography--by saying Person A holds bitter hostility or animosity towards Person C's present day rock star, politician, or guru idol they might presently be infatuated with and supporting financially, a better word to use might be "concern," or "interest." Unless, Person C is striving for civil unrest, elevated drama, or downright vindictiveness, it's best to stick with facts and truth so that rumors, lies, and myths don't get started.
To muddy the water is simply that; muddying the water. Writers should be concise and honest at all times while writing nonfiction unless writing creative or narrative nonfiction, where the lines are a tad more blurred. (A different blog post all together.) Blunt and abrasive shouldn't come into play here. But "direct" and "to the point" and "succinct" should come into play when speaking truth. And, to quote a famous T.V. character who relied on the truth and nothing but the truth, "just the facts ma'am, and nothing but the facts."
I hope this helps many new writers venturing forth into the writing world. My advice to all is to get to a good writing conference first chance to do so. There are some wonderful writing instructors out there. Their time is valuable so if they've offered to help, be kind, considerate, respectful. And learn how to accept a constructive critique without being offended--so hard to do for new writers who haven't yet developed a thick skin. All writers starting out go through the urge to protect their written babies. "But that's how I write. I don't want to change that. Makes sense to me--what's wrong with a lotta bad grammar and a few curse words in the Christian market?" Listen with a willingness to learn. Then go back home and write. And if a busy writer or author is willing to take the time to mentor you, take full advantage without taking advantage. The help from someone who's been around the writing block a few times is priceless so consider yourself one of the lucky few because most writers are writing on deadline and too swamped to help beginners.
Learning how to write is a long process. For most, the craft doesn't come overnight. I've never heard of God instantly downloading writing skills. Perhaps He has. But to my knowledge, learning a craft takes a lot of elbow grease and time with fanny in chair. God expects us to do diligent leg work. It takes practice, practice, practice. And more practice.
Enjoy the writing journey!
Posted July 14, 2016
When writing nonfiction--especially memoir, be brave. Dig deep to write the best story you can. Then polish, revise, polish, revise, until you can get your story to the place where it's the best it can be.
Stick with the truth which will also serve you better. Too much embellishment can find you in a law suit or losing credibility. If you haven't fought in battle, don't try to coyly give the impression you did when you only sat behind a desk pushing pencils while the fighting was happening elsewhere. If you didn't fly into a foreign country under heavy sniper fire, best leave that out so it doesn't come back to bite you on the behind. Be a writer readers can trust.
That said, the big publishing companies are only going to pick up celebrities and authors with a huge following these days. But don't let manuscript rejection deter your efforts. Get those memories and stories written down for future generations. Once you've been called home, you are obviously no longer available to be questioned about the time you climbed Mt. Everest or ran with the bulls in Spain or fought with the coyote in the backyard to keep him from killing your cat.
There are so many people with computers out there writing today that it's difficult to get your work noticed, however, jot those stories down for your grandkids and descendants to come.
And most important of all, when writing, be brave. In your stories, include your fears. Heartaches. Include defeats along with victories. People want to read about others who have been at the bottom and have pulled themselves from the muck. They long to know another human being's struggles. Loves. Dreams. Because of your mistakes, fumbles, then victories, they might see something of themselves in your story and decide that they, too, can overcome the poverty, the oppression, depression, and everyday troubles of this world.
Show your readers not only the failures, lurches, drubbings, lickings, losses, routs, shellackings, whippings, washouts, slumps, setbacks, fizzles, and flops, but show them your triumphs, wins, romps, landslides, walkaways, blowouts and the joy from turning a sow's ear into a silk purse.
Then, when the bones of the story are down, go back and be bold. Be brave. No one wants to read about a humdrum life. And if you've lived to make it past fifty, you've been through some kind of trial or tribulation. Be brave enough to write them down. Then let the manuscript sit for awhile to simmer before going back to read what you wrote to again polish.
There's always the delete button if you decide you can't bare your soul! But more than likely, you'll decide that someone could benefit from your walk through life's park--perhaps someone might also be able to discover there is light that can be found to pull a wretched soul out of the pit of darkness.
Be brave friends. And keep writing!
Posted July 1, 2016
UNITED AND STANDING STRONG
All photography by Vicki H. Moss
Another July 4th celebration coming up and if some people could get their way, there would never be another in the good ol' US of A. Our nation seems to be on the brink of disaster. Let me reword that sentence. Not seems--is on the brink of disaster. Like our ancestors from a couple of hundred years back, we are standing on a cliff trying to figure out how to get to safety without backing up or jumping off.
But back up we must while jumping into the saving arms of Jesus and His grace. We must go back to our roots. Back to the only God who can save us--the Jehoveh God who created heaven and earth, and everything on the earth. Evil will constantly try to change laws in republics and democratic societies to suit devious purposes, however, as Christians, we know the story's ending. Remember Psalm 33:4-12 states that the Lord loves righteousness. "For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. Let the earth fear (yare=revere, worship) him. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God (Elohiym) is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance." (NIV)
Elohiym, Yahweh, Jehoveh, I AM--the God who is named after his many attributes, is the God who can save through the sacrificial act of His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ the Messiah. He is the only God who can turn our messes, mistakes, and sow's ears into silk purses and victories. Yahweh is the God who redeems. The God who created mankind and longs to fellowship with us. He is the God who answers. Therefore, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism: one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:3-6)
This July 4th celebration, let's not forget those who fought to keep this country free. They made gi-normous sacrifices. Many sacrificed their lives. And remember that our main battle is not against flesh and blood. "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." (Ephesians 6:10-13 NIV)
Have a wonderful and blessed July 4th and if you haven't been doing so, pray for the enemies who would love to see this great nation and others torn apart and dismantled. Pray those living in darkness will quickly see the light. God is still in control.
Let's stand our ground by standing united, therefore, strong!
Posted April 30, 2016
JESUS SAID IT BEFORE MAMA
All photography by Vicki H. Moss
Mama said there would be days like this and before her, Jesus said it in John 16:32-33 when he was warning his disciples that they would be scattered at first during his arrest and death. "Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."
So when trouble strikes, why the surprise face and pouty selfie lips? And as writers, we face a lot of rejection anyway. Writing is subjective. There are days when we might feel like shot putting a manuscript into the recycle bin when an agent or editor turns us down because they either don't like our manuscripts or they can't sell them in today's market.
The hard part for me is to feel peace during hard times. Writing rejection is a given. But hard times in this journey called life must come--"say it ain't so" someone has said before me. Sure, Jesus is God's One and Only Son who came to earth in the form of man to show us how it's done. "But I'm not Jesus!" I've been known to say.
After saying those words, I always recall the words of the Savior who prepared us with his message. Then I'm like, "Oh yeah," and then my coffee cup reminds me, "Mama said there would be days like this," too. If we're going through difficult times, we must hangeth the in there beloved friends. There's Light at the end of the tunnel. We can know him in our hearts here on earth but we'll meet the Light face to face eventually if we trust in Him and repent from our sins. Simple as that. Fall down…let us get back up with our double edged sword which is the sword of the spirit--God's Word--to fight another day and keep going. Backslide…love that wicked word ha-ha…but don't love backsliding…leap forward after admitting sins and mistakes and mean it--the key in a nutshell, mean it--God forgives.
The Light is rooting for us, interceding with our Heavenly Father for us to make the final slide for an eternal homerun win. But for Christians today it's doubly hard to write inspirational stories one might say. Think about this: The siblings of Jesus made a huge mistake in thinking their brother was not in his right mind when he was claiming to be the Son of God. But with all of the evidence, the earthquake, and the renting of the veil in God's house during the crucifixion, among other things like many miracles that thousands witnessed over a period of approximately three years, James, too, became a believer that his brother was the Messiah. Hard for him to accept at first I'm sure. We all would have loved to have been there when Mary told James about the angel Gabriel visiting her to tell her she would birth the Savior of the world.
Ignore what the naysayers say because here are the words that James, brother of Jesus and one who finally saw the light after living with the Light, left for us: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does." (James 1:2-8)
There's nothing strange for a Christian when it comes to suffering because even Timothy said in 2 Timothy 3:12, "…do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (1 Peter 4:12-14) We are actually blessed from God when we are persecuted. Whoa. Profound statement. Who would say, "Bring it on God. May the trials and testings begin!" But if we don't have trials and testings, we have bland testimonies. Big sigh. Writers need big stories. So prepare to rejoice when the big stories arrive and stay on the path.
"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt 5:1-12) That includes when people tell lies about us, speak evil about us, and insult us, and curse us. Tell them to stand in line. The trials and testings reveal whether or not we will remain faithful--and also reveal who is and who is not really saved. And Romans 12:12 tells us, "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer."
Consider Paul, a man who was called the greatest Christian who ever lived by some. He said, "I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again." Suffering seemed to move him forward to even greater service. "For Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10)
When I think of Paul's prison time--who wants that--I think of Chuck Colson who worked for President Nixon and after his seeing the light and repenting of his sins and accepting Jesus as his Savior, his prison time became a platform for him to launch an incredible ministry.
Also consider that Jesus gives a last warning with parting words: "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours." (John 15:18-20)
Don't foget that God has a purpose. He's working behind the scenes. And his purpose is always good for those that love Him. So whether it's a writing trial we're going through or a life trial we're experiencing, we must hangeth the in there. Think about the blind man born blind from birth. When the disciples of Jesus asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus didn't hesitate to reply back. "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
Night is coming. And the death of Jesus put us in the last days. "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken." Just as it was in the days of Noah, it will be too late once the door on the ark is closed, metaphorically speaking for the last of the last days. When there is no more light, only darkness, it will be too late.
But who would want to worship a God who needs adoration and allows the evil one to test his children, you might ask if you're not a believer. The answer to that question is a God who wants His children to be a shining light to the rest of the world to show others how we were created to live; children made in the image of God who through trials and testing keep the faith and strive to be holy and righteous to be able to walk with God who is called Yahweh--Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God seeks holy and righteous children because there is an invisible war going on between the powers of light and darkness. God's creation plays a huge part in that war. Do we fail at times doing what is good and right? Sure. But we strive to be better while trying not to fail. No human being is perfect but we can't let that stop us from trying to be more like Jesus. And when on this right path in helping Yahweh battle against evil, the children of God will long to love the Father who created them and loves them back even more than they could ever love a kind and benevolent earthly father. So write what the Lord puts on a burdened heart to write, now while there's still light and the devil can only stand before God accusing us of our sins while gloating with his evil minions that a child of God has failed at something. Like Jesus, we are not alone. When the disciples scattered, Yahweh was still there with His Son, just as He is always there with his children. And there will come a day when darkness no longer laughs. As I write this the thunder roars!
Therefore, be strong and courageous when penning words to paper. Stand like a stone wall when writing for the Lord. If the birds of the air are provided for, so will all Christians be. Just like the blind man's purpose to be used of God so Jesus could perform a miracle many years after this man's birth for another sign to unbelievers of the times of Roman rule, we, my friends, might have been born to write for just such a time as this. And never forget Jesus said it before Mama--There will be days like this! Have peace about trials and tribulations. God's working behind the scenes. Claim the victory Yahweh's already promised. As my little grandie says after her big sis prays, "Amen sistah!"
Posted April 25, 2016
THE WRITING LIFE
For writers, there are so many distractions. The sunshine is beckoning. Springtime is urging even the laziest couch potatoes to venture outdoors. So how to keep the fanny in the chair to keep writing?
It may be when warmer weather rolls around you might have to cut down writing hours to make time for some Vitamin D and exercise. If you're an early riser, spank those keys or push that pen until noon before giving yourself a short vacation to stroll the lawn.
If you're a late night writer, just remember to get plenty of sleep and drink lots of water. Don't want to gain those extra pounds most writers do and then have to work it off along with a healthy diet. However you decide to pace yourself, don't give up writing totally. It's best to revisit your story at least once a day, six days a week. Take at least one day off. You'll be amazed how refreshed you are when you go back to work.
See you on the writing path!
Posted December 23, 2015
LORD OF LORDS AND KING OF KINGS
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. The day and night before the birth of Jesus Christ the Jewish Messiah and Lord of Lords and the King of Kings not only to the Jews, but to the Christian gentiles who have been grafted in because of their belief Jesus died on the cross for their sins so that they can have eternal life.
In the Old Testament, the ancient prophet of Zechariah wrote that when Jesus returns, His people will mourn when they recognize that their Messiah is the One that was crucified and speared in the side outside the ancient wall of Jerusalem in 30 A.D. Zechariah wrote: "And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. ...And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends." (Zechariah 12:10; 13:6)
How sad Jesus was wounded "in the house of his friends." But these things had to happen as part of God's plan to send His Son into the world--to die--to save it.
And woe to the people today who reject the Lamb of God -- which is the same thing as rejecting the gift of salvation--eternal life.
This Christmas season, let us ponder as Mary did upon these things, but especially let us ponder on the free gift of eternal life, a free gift for all who will bow the knee to Jesus.
And may you all have a blessed birthday celebration while looking forward to new beginnings in 2016. See you then, Lord willing and "the creek don't rise." (Okay, had to add that about the creek since tornadoes are expected all day today and thunderstorms through next Monday. *grin*)
Posted December 22, 2015
MORE CHRISTMAS MOMENTS
Last year's Christmas Moments stories were such a hit that Yvonne Lehman has compiled more stories for Christmas 2015.
"For many people the holiday season is steeped in traditions such as decorating, family gatherings, food, Christmas programs, parties, giving and receiving gifts, cards, carols, Christmas eve services.
"The authors who contributed to this book share their personal stories of the Christmas season. Some of their stories are about happy childhood memories, the joy of the season, the beauty and excitement of the holiday. Others depict change...the difficulty of facing Christmas, the sadness of loss and grief, the hurt of some memories.
"Yet all of their stories are encouraging and inspiring because they show how, no matter what their circumstances, the authors came to understand that in order to have a meaningful Christmas, we must open our hearts to the wonder of Christ's presence."
Once again, I'm honored to be a contributor to Yvonne Lehman's latest compilation of stories written by a dedicated group of Christian writers. Many of my friends and acquaintances are using these "Moments" books for morning devotionals followed by prayer before starting a busy and sometimes hectic day. This book will hopefully touch your heart and at times make you smile.
May God bless you and your loved ones as you hear God speak to you through the power of His spoken and written Word.
Posted October 27, 2015
PRECIOUS PRECOCIOUS MOMENTS
The book 44 other authors and I have been waiting for after collaborating to write children's stories for Yvonne Lehman's latest compilation.
This addition to the series includes 62 Inspiring Stories About Children, Childhood, and Faith and the following is a blurb about it's contents:
"Life with children is filled with precious, precocious moments. In this book stories from 45 authors run the gamut of emotions including laughter, love, loss, acceptance, forgiveness, grief, longing, despair, joy, thankfulness, and courage.
"Their stories tell of adults teaching children, children teaching adults and, best of all, the awareness that God does indeed know and care, and if we seek him we find him because he is waiting for us with open arms, ready to show us the beauty in life…often, through a child."
Once again, I'm honored to be a contributor to Yvonne Lehman's compilation of stories written by a dedicated group of Christian writers. Many of my friends and acquaintances are using these "Moments" books for morning devotionals followed by prayer before starting a busy and sometimes hectic day. This book will hopefully touch your heart and at times make you smile.
May God bless you and your loved ones as you hear God speak to you through the power of His spoken and written Word.
Posted October 17, 2015
A TRUE TENNESSEE TREASURE
I happened to be shopping with my child in Bagbey House, an antebellum home once turned into a recording studio where Amy Grant, Kris Kristofferson, Vince Gill, and Jimmy Buffett used to record, now a shopping destination in the heart of Franklin, Tennessee, when my now grown daughter disappeared. Exactly what she used to do while I shopped when she was a toddler. Searching downstairs, no daughter. Did I dare venture upstairs where a ghost from the Civil War could sometimes be heard?
Once upstairs, my child's voice drifted down the hallway with a sweet Southern lilt. She was chatting away with a gentleman I soon learned was the talented and renowned artist and poet, Robert Coleman. Invited into the conversation, I discovered Mr. Coleman--Bob, as he insisted we call him--was gifting my daughter with some calligraphy work she planned on framing. When asked if she could pay him, he refused payment, saying the Lord had told him to bless others. Intrigued about his Christian walk, I asked for more of his story.
Bob's life hadn't been picture perfect. There had been a few bumps along his road like the bumps most of us encounter before surviving a few pot holes. Some of his trials and tribulations were incredible, others heart breaking. Some victorious. Above, he's painting Aunt Ronnelle who was a character in the movie "Miss Fire Cracker" starring Holly Hunter. He'd managed, however, through life's difficulties, to live joyously with the help of his beloved Savior and he wasn't ashamed of saying so.
With the stroke of his pen, even the letters Mr. Coleman inked out, jet black onto white paper, spoke pure poetry. Poetry in fluid motion. There was love with flair in every name he penned. I had to know more about this gentle giant and bought one of his poetry books. Now friends with Bob, my daughter and I parted ways with the artist after having spent most of the afternoon soaking in his stories. Later, when I finally sat down to write this post, I took a moment to first read some of Bob's poetry in Rays of Light: Poems by Robert Coleman. Here's one of my favorites:
God Gives to Each a Part
Only God can take the flower seeds
And make them bloom in spring.
And blend them with unsightly weeds
And still make sad hearts sing.
To capture such a picture here
Where color masses spread,
The weed tinted land brings cheer
When roses' blooms are red.
A rose bouquet and that alone
Can give you change of heart.
But like the rocks around a stone.
They all share equal part.
But to see a star shining bright
Against the dismal dark,
I quickly see how weeds cast light
On roses in the park.
God gave us weeds and flowers too
And hearts to understand.
He waters all with morning dew
Throughout our lovely land.
We cannot cut the weeds away
From every clod of sod.
But we can learn more everyday
Why they were made by God.
This world would be a dreadful place
If God made all the same.
If every man had the same face
We'd all have the same name.
There are no favorites with God.
Though He has smiled upon
The rose. He has blessed all the sod.
Even where the weeds were sown.
I think that Heaven could be compared
To nature, here on earth,
For through His love, God has prepared
Each one must prove its worth.
There are people, like weeds I see,
'Most everywhere in life.
Some wished they were a flower or tree
And fill their hearts with strife.
There are a few. Like roses too.
So fair, at times self praised.
But God placed them among those, who
Are low, and must be raised.
Those ugly weeds just make me stare
At flowers, there instead,
And I thank God for roses where
There's life among the dead.
And now this scene brings greater cheer
With gratitude in heart,
I see why God holds the rose so dear,
And gives the weeds a part.
Those faithful saints in past have said,
God's love was proved when He
Raised Jesus from the hopeless dead.
He'll do the same for me.
After reading this poem, I was stunned. I recalled the day my daughter and I had met Bob, we had returned to her home where I proceeded to tackle some weeds growing along a fence line. Upon closer inspection, however, they were more like wild flowers--the most delicate shade of lavender blooms I'd ever seen. I was familiar with Goldenrod, Purple Thistle, and Queen Anne's Lace, but this was one wild flower I'd never encountered.
Since the bouquet of store bought flowers sitting in a Waterford vase in the foyer were going the other way, I decided I'd put together a fresh bouquet with what I could find in the flower beds around the house. There were those gorgeous red roses in front of my car. Hmmm. A bouquet of all red roses? Brilliant and velvety. But no. Those lavender "weeds" intrigued me and had to come into play somehow. I tackled the fencerow. Hearing laughter from the garage, I heard, "Mom, are you foraging?"
"Yes," I replied, laughing along with her because she'd caught me in the act. "From your yard and your weeds!"
Yes, I was clipping the "weeds," when my child wasn't looking, I clipped some of her coleus, okay, a bunch of her coleus and prayed for later mercy.
Then a magnolia bud surrounded by waxy green leaves looked tempting. Surely she wouldn't miss just one. Then I decided a couple of red roses
might also bring something elegant to the foraged party.
When I arranged the flowers and "weeds" in the Mason jar--Waterford certainly wouldn't do this party justice--I stepped back to take a look.
Though the arrangement was simple in design, I thought it one of the most beautiful arrangements I'd ever put together. And so did my daughter.
In fact, she said, "I even think it would be beautiful without the roses." A big score. The weeds were casting their light on the fancy roses.
It wasn't until I later read Bob's poem that I realized my hands had recreated what his poetry conveyed. And all unknowingly and before delving into his book.
God surprises make my toes curl.
And the way He has such a delightful way of bringing his children closer together and in doing so, gifts us with such wonderful treats, keeps me amazed. But most of all, I'm so thankful that, "Those ugly weeds just make me stare at flowers there instead, and I thank God for roses where there's life among the dead. And now this scene brings greater cheer with gratitude in heart, I see why God holds the rose so dear and gives the weeds a part."
So nice meeting you Bob. And may our paths cross again one day soon. You're a real Tennessee treasure--by way of Mississippi--and I'm so thrilled you now call me friend and pray for me. I can't
wait to frame my calligraphy gift with the special blessing written below your artwork.
To listen to Bob recite "The Stone" visit here Bob Coleman reciting "The Stone"
To learn more about Bob's artwork visit Bob Coleman You may have to type in Bob Coleman in the name
search box, however, the article about him is well worth the extra key strokes.
Posted September 5, 2015
CAST IRON COUNTESSES
All photography by Vicki H. Moss
Every now and then, a moment arrives when it's time to once again season the cast iron. Not often. Just a touchup to keep rust at bay. And a duty you don't mind if you love cooking in cast iron. Putting on Dirk Powell's "Hand Me Down" CD helps soothe the soul while working--especially when cleaning up the 15" monster I used to man-handle while cooking over an open campfire flame.
Mother's cast iron skillets metamorphosed into mine, probably along with some of Grandmother's if truth be known. Because, before a loved one passes to return home, it's only the hardy of the species, who, instead of asking for fine china or the "best" of a mother's prized possessions says, "Let someone else have your diamonds. I'll take your cast iron." Though Mother loved her pearls and diamonds, she also loved her cast iron along with that of her mother's and her grandmother's--a lady who cooked on a cast iron wood stove back in the day. (Mother would later cook on that wood stove herself, when she wanted to re-create days gone by for her children and granchildren. She was one of the first of the modern-day foragers and authors of Sunday Suppers and gatherings before the word "supper" and "gatherings" came back in style.)
My ancestors weren't only cake or pie people, they were a cake, pie, and cobbler people. When their cast iron wasn't used for cooking, a skillet did double-duty as a weapon, I'm sure of it. Not quite as lengthy as an axe or as far-ranging as a black powder rifle, but perfect in close-quarter battle when a scalawag was inching his way inside a window. Not only were the women of my family steel magnolias, they were also multi-taskers, doubling down as the countesses of cast iron.
"Let them eat cake," famous words by Marie Antoinette, her declaration would have suited the cast iron countesses of my line just fine if she'd only added, "Let them eat pie and cobbler too." Sugar love. That, along with foraging for Poke Salat and rabbit, could have held them until the crops were laid by if they had nothing else.
Back during World War I, followed by the Great Depression and World War II, when blackberries could be found growing wild along with a rattlesnake or copperhead hidden among the briars, cobbler could be had for dessert if sugar could be found in the cupboards. No berries? Then vinegar cobbler would satisfy a sweet tooth just as well--without having to worry about seeds getting stuck between teeth. Those women of old looked for the silver lining in every cloud and no seeds in cobbler was cloud-shimmery.
And if you've never treated yourself to a cobbler, you're missing out on a real dish. The royal dish of all cobblers for my family at one time--cherry. The cherry cobbler was the most coveted because not only were fresh cherries hard to come by--people grew apple and peach trees but cherry trees--not so much, one had to battle the birds to get to the cherries first. Life is hard. One must hand-pick battles.
The cherry tree in my family was watched day after day--eager eyes under a cheerful delusion, gauging the day of ripening red fruit. The local birds, however, would have their day of ripening and day of reckoning as well. They "ate their cake" and cobbler too, when the cherries came into their own. For, somehow, the birds always beat the humans to the ripened treasure. Perhaps it had something to do with that verse in the Bible from Matthew 6:26, "Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?" If I am better than the birds, I always reasoned, why do they get the cherries and I have to settle for something else?
"The cherries should be ready by tomorrow," Daddy would say to Mother over a cup of morning coffee. "They're almost perfect for picking." The next day, however, bright and early as dawn cracked over the mountain's top, Daddy always returned with an empty bucket.
Like Alfred Hitchcock's aviary friends in his movie "The Birds," based on Daphne du Maurier's 1952 story about unexplained bird attacks, our birds were just as maniacal when it came to cherries. Like the story line of "The Birds," I believe our birds would have blinded us with their beaks if we'd stolen their prized cherries from them.
Those birds must have had something akin to bat honing radar when it came to that cherry tree's fruit bearing season. The fine feathered ringleaders probably sent out hawkshaw waves from their flock when the "ripe" time grew closer. I can only imagine the swarms and frenetic mobbing frenzies as the birds gorged their little four-chambered hearts out on the tart red globes in murmurations that rivaled the scene on D-Day's Normandy beach landings when allied hordes clotted the sand.
When no cherry cobbler was imminent, it was as if I wore hearsecloth for days, mourning my fruit loss while the birds of the air trilled about their victory to distant borders as the crow caws--crows being the hellkites of the air--mocked our hebetude until they hectored me indoors to bristle and make bread pudding, normally another favorite of mine, or something even less satisfying--Pineapple Upside Downcake made by Mother--when I could almost taste cherry cobbler on the tongue. My cherry picking life had just been turned upside down, no need to rub it in with cake and eating it too. Besides, I was never one for cooked pineapple, however hot it may have been. Of course I'm speaking in the temperature sense, since pineapple could never hold a moonbeam to a cherry--no matter how hot, in the seductive sense, her sweet fruit might be.
From the day of the first stripping of the cherry tree debacle in my family's habitat, if I was to have cherry cobbler for dessert, the tart cherries would have to come from a grocery store can shelved on the baking goods aisle.
Big sigh just in the remembering.
I share the cherry tree battles along with my family's love of cast iron to share another story of a more modern day tale. This Labor Day weekend, I started my family out on a cherry cobbler adventure cooking in a cast iron skillet--same as in the olden days for don't we become our mothers--rather than in a regular baking dish.
Since I couldn't find the cherry cobbler recipe and Mother had long gone to heaven and wasn't around to ask, I improvised. (Later, I searched everywhere for the recipe. I found, tucked away in one of Mother's cook books, a postcard my daughter and I had sent her and Daddy while we were touring in Liechtenstein--the postcard a treasure in itself and almost as good as cobbler.)
With a recipe in hand, time to choose the proper skillet. The particular 10-inch cast iron skillet I used had never seen the making of a cherry cobbler, much less swimming butter--it had only known bacon grease for cornbread and sawmill gravy, and vegetable oil for okra, and squash--so the experience was a delightful culinary first for all. I tossed out healthy. And left off the skim milk for another day, instead using Vitamin D fortified Whole Milk--stealing from the toddler's supply. I know. Shame on me. And did I say real butter? An entire stick that had already been salted. Oh. So. Sultry. Salty. Sinful.
When you try this recipe, if that much butter isn't enough of a heart-attack-waiting-to-happen hindrance for you, toss on a healthy scoop of vanilla ice cream--we made ours in my new electric ice cream mixer given to me for my birthday--and think about hips later.
I know. If you're trying to count calories--listen to some "Songs From the Mountain" with Dirk Powell, Tim O'Brien, and John Herrmann to overcome the guilt--the countess cobbler and cream concoction placed before you will be like doing face-time with a hit squad. (More music.)
If you've never experienced cherry cobbler and think you'll substitute apples instead, please rethink your inevitable mistake. Apple cobbler may be as American as apple pie, but cherry cobbler is the head lettuce of cobbler haute cuisine. In my humble opinion, of course. Never--even under unexplained aviary attack--settle for second best.
And a last word. For those who think all of this cherry coveting is nothing more than hooey from a homuncule because hot fruit of any kind is a turnoff to haute couture taste buds, make a cherry cobbler (recipe following). Then refrigerate for breakfast later with a cup of hot coffee to help enhance the flavors that will have had time to meld, mesh, and merge overnight. (The thought of almond extract lurking and mulling around anywhere excites me to no end and curls my toes.) I promise, your day will be like no other. I don't promise hurdy-gurdy skills to be forthcoming out of this adventure, nor will you be able to crank out mind blowing novels in a day or write nonfiction that will cause the nations to align towards world peace. But I do assure a tad of euphoria, smack-dab right here on earth. Short-lived, perhaps, until the last of the cobbler disappears and the spoon clanks against the bowl followed by ear deafening lip smacking, but euphoria all the same. Home really is where the heart is.
And this is the last of the last words, I reassure you, cross my heart. If you don't have a cast iron skillet because, by the grace of God you weren't born in the South and had a few handed down to you from cast iron countesses, check out the production of iron skillets at the Lodge Cast Iron company in South Pittsburg, TN. The town is located right beneath Chattanooga on the hand towel map, close to the TN-AL State line. This will be one foraging field trip you won't regret, for you, too, can become a cast iron countess.
Happy trails and happy cooking!
10 inch cast iron skillet
Heat oven to 350 degrees
Put stick of butter in skillet to melt, get skillet really hot don't leave in too long so as not to burn butter.
2 cans tart red cherries with juice (baking section of grocery)
2 tsp cornstarch
¾ C of sugar
¾ healthy C helping of all-purpose flour
¾ healthy C helping of sugar
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¾ healthy C helping of milk
¼ teaspoon almond extract
(When I say healthy helping - I'm not always exact but a pinch more is better than a pinch less when working fast to beat the birds or anyone else trying to steal your cherries or berries.)
In a saucepan combine filling ingredients and cook, stirring until hot and slightly thickened. Two minutes there about will do. Whisk dry ingredients, then add milk and almond extract flour. Stir. Pour mixture into heated skillet. Pour filling in on top of flour mixture. Do not stir. Slide into oven for 40 minutes or until brown on top.
If you would like to comment or have questions about this article, email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted August 25, 2015
HUSH PUPPY GOOD
All photography by Vicki H. Moss
Even though my Mother went to heaven to be with her Lord, friends, and family almost 15 years ago, it's taken me that long to bring myself
to the point where I could go through her belongings, deciding what to keep and what to re-gift one day. For instance, her driver's license and
social security card. Who would want those other than people looking to steal an identity? I couldn't toss those. Try as I might, I couldn't. Mother's
signature was on them. I coveted her signature. Seeing that signature took me back. Way back.
Then there was the one and only basket she'd made with mistakes in the weaving of the reeds. The basket wasn't a masterpiece, wasn't that attractive,
but there were memories within those reeds and weaving that meant more than just a beginner's work of art. A friend had taught Mother and my Dad's
army buddy wives to weave baskets the Cherokee-Choctaw way while the men soaked up the sun and enjoyed Tennessee River fishing.
During that event, I was pregnant with my first child. I recalled the laughter that rose to the top of the rafters in Mother's great room. That basket weaving
workshop was a mile marker of old friends and new coming together to celebrate their having lived through hard WWII war times and better lives later,
while in the present looking forward to my child's future birth. A new daughter of the King was heralded into the world within a few months after our basket
weaving party. How could I release Mother's basket to anyone who would not appreciate the joy that went into its making? Every time Mother touched the
work of her hands she smiled and laughed. That basket was filled with love.
There was an old hat she'd giggled about. "Vicki, why do you want that hat? It's so outdated. What are you going to do with it?"
Giggling along with her and loving my new, old gift, I said, "I don't know what I'm going to do with it but I want it because of its feathers.
It's unusual. And I know it's ancient and outdated, but it's the coolest hat ever. Vintage. It will not be going to Goodwill or for someone
to throw away. It's mine. All mine." I coveted that hat not only for its feathers, but because Mother had worn it during a time when women
wore hats and gloves to church. When times had been more genteel and twerking unheard of. She'd also worn the hat when she was
young and healthy, in the prime of her life. I coveted the chapeau star because it carried me back to better days and finer times when a
man's word meant something and a man's better half--even if her name wasn't Ruby--was considered "…more precious than rubies: and
all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her."
Those long ago days held sweeter memories. Times when Mother and I both had our youth, and death seemed so far in the distance we
could shrug our shoulders at its inevitable dust gathering stormy coming and live life with no fear of fading away in life's rear view mirror.
Not only that, I simply couldn't bear to give her belongings away. She was my Mother. I loved her to the end of her days with every ounce I could
muster. To think of her leaving me shook me to the core of my being. After Jesus Christ, she was my main rock and one of the most vivacious
and energetic women I'd ever known. She always had my back, no matter what the circumstances. We had a mutual trust. She was fun. She loved
Blue Grass music along with Country and Big Band, Dean Martin, Perry Como, Nat King Cole, and Elvis. And I felt I had to be
a protector of her's and the other elders' stuff. Stuff had a way of appearing in flea markets or at Unclaimed Freight or even over the bluff.
But even though Mother and her treasures were special to me, most people wouldn't want several of the things I treasured. They certainly weren't
considered valuables in the eyes of some. Even I couldn't understand why I held onto items that no one would want taking up space.
But to some, one woman's trash is another person's treasure. I spent weeks shredding bank statements that had been kept since the beginning
of time, other useless documents, and old checks. And with every check that disappeared, I watched Mother's handwriting disappear, one of the last
things I had left of her. Her name on paper in cursive writing. Gone the way of last year's Easter egg. Lost. Somehow her name on paper was as
precious to me as moonlight in May.
So one day, I began to put together some of Mother's belongings for a photography shoot using my Great Aunt Willie's table that Mother had sheltered
and cherished after Aunt Willie left to join Uncle Alec and others in heaven. A table Uncle Alec--a man who was a teamster in the Spanish-American
War of 1898--had himself handmade. It was a table that Aunt Willie had served many a preacher Sunday noon dinners on, no matter what his religious
affiliation. Aunt Willie never held anybody's beliefs against them, it seemed. She simply wanted to do a kindness, be a blessing, and fill their bellies
and while they had their feet beneath her table, talk a spell. And she certainly could do that. She was the type of woman who could organ out a hymn
that would make a sinner's eyes rain and talk a water spout into being then tell it to "peace be still" so someone in the congregation could find their
way to the Amen bench and Jesus.
Her treasured table later became Mother's coveted treasure--the same table Mother would serve many a biscuit on along with ham, bacon, eggs
the way you liked them, and sawmill gravy that sometimes lapped over a cathead biscuit's edge to love up on some homemade strawberry
freezer jam lurking next to the cast iron skillet fried potatoes. That table was the focal point before the family room floor-to-ceiling window that looked out
over a bluff that had the kind of wind blasts that sucked the mountain stone chimney's smoke to the cove in downdrafts while the boulders and
brambles and mountainside vegetation harbored all kinds of wildlife that made stories from days gone by riveting. Stories that included some
of the ancient Native Americans who walked and hunted for game over the trails of the foothills of the magnificent Appalachian Mountains.
Aunt Willie's table was the centerpiece for that annual breakfast ritual that became known as the Cousins' Breakfast. For the rest of the year,
when an overflow table wasn't needed for holidays, Aunt Willie's table held family photos and other treasures.
So with a photography project in mind, when I began the hunt for Mother's things, I also found an old blue three-ring binder. It was there she'd
kept recipes from magazines like Southern Living and Southern Country Living--recipes she would one day either cook or experiment with until
she had developed a concoction she could live with that was worthy of her culinary standards, cooking time, and Southern taste buds. One of those pages
with white hole reinforcements would go on the table.
After placing Mother's handcrafted basket on the table, the basket with several mistakes, along with Mother's absolute best hush puppy recipe
find--her puppies floated to the top and weren't the least bit soggy when it came time for the fish to come out of the fryer--one of her many rulers,
buttons from her button jar, her cooking measurement chart with its yellowed and cracked Scotch tape that had been twice reapplied, I decided flowers
would be the coup de grace.
Taking my pruning shears outside, I snipped delicate Vinca blooms to bring in. After taking the buttons out of the jar,
I realized the buttons
were really old. They had to have been Grandmother's buttons, not Mother's buttons which had always been kept in a different jar.
Then it dawned on me that in front of me were items belonging to three generations. Great Aunt Willie's table, some of Grandmother's buttons, Mother's basket,
recipe and ruler, and my flowers and pruning shears. Aunt Willie was in the same generation as Grandmother so she didn't count as an extra generation.
The project was gaining momentum that somehow seemed to be reaching Alpine snowball rolling speed when it came to the flooding in of memories.
The search for Mother's hat of feathers commenced. That fine feathered friend must finally dust its feathers and be of service and was a must for this photo
shoot since there were red buttons along with white and cream. While searching for the hat, I found a tucked-away note that was typed on an old family
typewriter when my family had first moved to my present home. Wrinkled now and yellowing, my six-and-a-half-year-old child (she recorded her age on
the note-"age6anahalf") typed, "I am moving to anoo house in my room it is big I must be neter thin a pig…wer gowing to by som horsis. Harayueharayue."
The wrinkled note had to go in--why had I kept that? More to keep up with. Okay, it was more darling than a cutie-patootie. I wish my mother had kept some
things I'd written when I was sixanahalf. And there was some empty yellow space on the paper. Never know when I might need the extra white space for scrap paper.
Now I was beginning to think like my Mother and Grandmother who hardly ever threw anything away, holding onto any loose string because they'd lived through the
Great Depression and never knew when they might need a loose string again. But presently, I realized I had four generations represented on Aunt Willie's table.
Could I make it five and keep the context within my initial theme
of Mother's things that had now turned into "Generational Things?"
I knew the only item I had that would be appropriate to represent my Grandies that would fit with the theme were photos. Ahhh. There at my desk was a representation
of the fifth generation. And she was wearing her sister's hand-me-down dress and a bonnet. Perfect. Through the hand-me-down dress, both Grandies would be represented.
I could have made the project go six generations but the only thing I had that belonged to my great-grandmother was a wood stove and alas, it wouldn't fit on the table.
Five generations would have to do. Only one thing was lacking.
Flipping through one of my Bibles, I searched for a keepsake from the daughter of my Grandies. There was a paper dove she'd made when a child that represented the
Holy Spirit. I gasped when I found this and the realization hit me that finding this dove was no coincidence. My entire project now felt scripted by a higher power. No brainer putting in the dove
as the Holy Spirit's representation. The five women and children represented on the table had all been born into Christian families--all believers. Even one of the Grandies who was
already praying and singing about Jesus living in her heart. The other beloved one would be singing about Jesus eventually, as soon as she could put her words together.
That white dove--on which I'd made notes about my children's little Sunday School songs, "Take your little hand and pat, pat, pat" and "I'm the little Holy Bible"--was a must for the photo.
Time was of the essence and I had to hurry and position last minute buttons before the Vinca blooms "went the other way" as Grandmother Mary Kate used to say, looking limp and lifeless.
Once I had everything in place, I…click, click… noticed…click, click, click…one last thing when looking through my camera's viewfinder. Whatever else was typed on the dove
would have to wait. The Vinca was no longer vivacious. Click, click, click.
When I finished, the blooms were already looking like two-day-old banana pudding slow-sliding down the sides of a bowl for home base. At least I'd gotten my photos. Bending
over the table, I picked up the dove. There was a typed Bible verse on its body from Isaiah 40:8. I missed it by reading my words and what I'd penciled onto the dove instead
of God's words. "The grass dies and the flowers fall, but the word of our God will live forever."
I couldn't help but laugh! We writers and photographers and all else who are busy with our work sometimes get caught up in the "busyness" of our own words and "our moments"
and sometimes get too busy for early morning devotionals with God and His Word. Now, He reminded me that not only had His Spirit lived through at least six generations, and no doubt more of the women
and men in my family, he was also reminding me that I needed to catch even more of the small things in the details of the big picture and those details are: no matter what I'm
hanging on to, no matter what I can't part with, material things rust, rot, and decay. Memories are sure to fade. I can cherish what few things I have that belong to my ancestors for
comforting reminders, however, I can't take anything with me. Those treasures are only for worldly and joyful remembrances at times, and for comfort during stressful times at best.
In closing, I'll leave this one thought with you: There was a man in Dr. Maurice Rawlings'--a Chattanooga, TN oncologist and internist and doctor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower--book
and video "Beyond Death's Door" who died in surgery and claimed to go to hell first before being shocked back to life. In the interim, before dying again, he begged Dr. Rawlings for
help while yelling, "I'm in hell. Don't let me die again!" Dr. Rawlings, who at the time was an atheist, knew enough to walk the deathly ill man through a sort of sinner's prayer, before the man
died again. The last time he died, he claimed to have gone to heaven instead of hell. Dr. Rawlings--at one time Mother's heart doctor--and this man came to mind as I finished up my
He'd said (and I'm paraphrasing), The first thing I noticed about the people in heaven was their garments. I looked for pockets because I'd always been told you can't take anything
with you. No one's garments had pockets in heaven.
With that story told, there are a few treasures I will hold onto for awhile--I'm after all, only human--but I would like to share Mother's Hush Puppy recipe with everyone who reads
my blog. And I can hear Mother in heaven laughing now and telling all our kin and friends up there with her--can you believe Vicki's still got that handwritten Hush Puppy recipe--wait
'til she takes a bite out of the Hush Puppies concocted for us in our heavenly mansions!
I can only imagine that whatever is waiting for us in heaven, when it's our time to leave this earth, will be something we never could have imagined; Hush Puppy
good but shut-your-mouth-so-much-better.
Even though my Mother went to heaven to be with her Lord, friends, and family almost 15 years ago, it's taken me that long to bring myself to the point where I could go through her belongings, deciding what to keep and what to re-gift one day. For instance, her driver's license and social security card. Who would want those other than people looking to steal an identity? I couldn't toss those. Try as I might, I couldn't. Mother's signature was on them. I coveted her signature. Seeing that signature took me back. Way back.
Then there was the one and only basket she'd made with mistakes in the weaving of the reeds. The basket wasn't a masterpiece, wasn't that attractive, but there were memories within those reeds and weaving that meant more than just a beginner's work of art. A friend had taught Mother and my Dad's army buddy wives to weave baskets the Cherokee-Choctaw way while the men soaked up the sun and enjoyed Tennessee River fishing.
During that event, I was pregnant with my first child. I recalled the laughter that rose to the top of the rafters in Mother's great room. That basket weaving workshop was a mile marker of old friends and new coming together to celebrate their having lived through hard WWII war times and better lives later, while in the present looking forward to my child's future birth. A new daughter of the King was heralded into the world within a few months after our basket weaving party. How could I release Mother's basket to anyone who would not appreciate the joy that went into its making? Every time Mother touched the work of her hands she smiled and laughed. That basket was filled with love.
There was an old hat she'd giggled about. "Vicki, why do you want that hat? It's so outdated. What are you going to do with it?" Giggling along with her and loving my new, old gift, I said, "I don't know what I'm going to do with it but I want it because of its feathers. It's unusual. And I know it's ancient and outdated, but it's the coolest hat ever. Vintage. It will not be going to Goodwill or for someone to throw away. It's mine. All mine." I coveted that hat not only for its feathers, but because Mother had worn it during a time when women wore hats and gloves to church. When times had been more genteel and twerking unheard of. She'd also worn the hat when she was young and healthy, in the prime of her life. I coveted the chapeau star because it carried me back to better days and finer times when a man's word meant something and a man's better half--even if her name wasn't Ruby--was considered "…more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her." Those long ago days held sweeter memories. Times when Mother and I both had our youth, and death seemed so far in the distance we could shrug our shoulders at its inevitable dust gathering stormy coming and live life with no fear of fading away in life's rear view mirror.
Not only that, I simply couldn't bear to give her belongings away. She was my Mother. I loved her to the end of her days with every ounce I could muster. To think of her leaving me shook me to the core of my being. After Jesus Christ, she was my main rock and one of the most vivacious and energetic women I'd ever known. She always had my back, no matter what the circumstances. We had a mutual trust. She was fun. She loved Blue Grass music along with Country and Big Band, Dean Martin, Perry Como, Nat King Cole, and Elvis. And I felt I had to be a protector of her's and the other elders' stuff. Stuff had a way of appearing in flea markets or at Unclaimed Freight or even over the bluff.
But even though Mother and her treasures were special to me, most people wouldn't want several of the things I treasured. They certainly weren't considered valuables in the eyes of some. Even I couldn't understand why I held onto items that no one would want taking up space. But to some, one woman's trash is another person's treasure. I spent weeks shredding bank statements that had been kept since the beginning of time, other useless documents, and old checks. And with every check that disappeared, I watched Mother's handwriting disappear, one of the last things I had left of her. Her name on paper in cursive writing. Gone the way of last year's Easter egg. Lost. Somehow her name on paper was as precious to me as moonlight in May.
So one day, I began to put together some of Mother's belongings for a photography shoot using my Great Aunt Willie's table that Mother had sheltered and cherished after Aunt Willie left to join Uncle Alec and others in heaven. A table Uncle Alec--a man who was a teamster in the Spanish-American War of 1898--had himself handmade. It was a table that Aunt Willie had served many a preacher Sunday noon dinners on, no matter what his religious affiliation. Aunt Willie never held anybody's beliefs against them, it seemed. She simply wanted to do a kindness, be a blessing, and fill their bellies and while they had their feet beneath her table, talk a spell. And she certainly could do that. She was the type of woman who could organ out a hymn that would make a sinner's eyes rain and talk a water spout into being then tell it to "peace be still" so someone in the congregation could find their way to the Amen bench and Jesus.
Her treasured table later became Mother's coveted treasure--the same table Mother would serve many a biscuit on along with ham, bacon, eggs the way you liked them, and sawmill gravy that sometimes lapped over a cathead biscuit's edge to love up on some homemade strawberry freezer jam lurking next to the cast iron skillet fried potatoes. That table was the focal point before the family room floor-to-ceiling window that looked out over a bluff that had the kind of wind blasts that sucked the mountain stone chimney's smoke to the cove in downdrafts while the boulders and brambles and mountainside vegetation harbored all kinds of wildlife that made stories from days gone by riveting. Stories that included some of the ancient Native Americans who walked and hunted for game over the trails of the foothills of the magnificent Appalachian Mountains.
Aunt Willie's table was the centerpiece for that annual breakfast ritual that became known as the Cousins' Breakfast. For the rest of the year, when an overflow table wasn't needed for holidays, Aunt Willie's table held family photos and other treasures. So with a photography project in mind, when I began the hunt for Mother's things, I also found an old blue three-ring binder. It was there she'd kept recipes from magazines like Southern Living and Southern Country Living--recipes she would one day either cook or experiment with until she had developed a concoction she could live with that was worthy of her culinary standards, cooking time, and Southern taste buds. One of those pages with white hole reinforcements would go on the table.
After placing Mother's handcrafted basket on the table, the basket with several mistakes, along with Mother's absolute best hush puppy recipe find--her puppies floated to the top and weren't the least bit soggy when it came time for the fish to come out of the fryer--one of her many rulers, buttons from her button jar, her cooking measurement chart with its yellowed and cracked Scotch tape that had been twice reapplied, I decided flowers would be the coup de grace. Taking my pruning shears outside, I snipped delicate Vinca blooms to bring in. After taking the buttons out of the jar, I realized the buttons were really old. They had to have been Grandmother's buttons, not Mother's buttons which had always been kept in a different jar.
Then it dawned on me that in front of me were items belonging to three generations. Great Aunt Willie's table, some of Grandmother's buttons, Mother's basket, recipe and ruler, and my flowers and pruning shears. Aunt Willie was in the same generation as Grandmother so she didn't count as an extra generation. The project was gaining momentum that somehow seemed to be reaching Alpine snowball rolling speed when it came to the flooding in of memories.
The search for Mother's hat of feathers commenced. That fine feathered friend must finally dust its feathers and be of service and was a must for this photo shoot since there were red buttons along with white and cream. While searching for the hat, I found a tucked-away note that was typed on an old family typewriter when my family had first moved to my present home. Wrinkled now and yellowing, my six-and-a-half-year-old child (she recorded her age on the note-"age6anahalf") typed, "I am moving to anoo house in my room it is big I must be neter thin a pig…wer gowing to by som horsis. Harayueharayue."
The wrinkled note had to go in--why had I kept that? More to keep up with. Okay, it was more darling than a cutie-patootie. I wish my mother had kept some things I'd written when I was sixanahalf. And there was some empty yellow space on the paper. Never know when I might need the extra white space for scrap paper. Now I was beginning to think like my Mother and Grandmother who hardly ever threw anything away, holding onto any loose string because they'd lived through the Great Depression and never knew when they might need a loose string again. But presently, I realized I had four generations represented on Aunt Willie's table. Could I make it five and keep the context within my initial theme of Mother's things that had now turned into "Generational Things?"
I knew the only item I had that would be appropriate to represent my Grandies that would fit with the theme were photos. Ahhh. There at my desk was a representation of the fifth generation. And she was wearing her sister's hand-me-down dress and a bonnet. Perfect. Through the hand-me-down dress, both Grandies would be represented. I could have made the project go six generations but the only thing I had that belonged to my great-grandmother was a wood stove and alas, it wouldn't fit on the table. Five generations would have to do. Only one thing was lacking.
Flipping through one of my Bibles, I searched for a keepsake from the daughter of my Grandies. There was a paper dove she'd made when a child that represented the Holy Spirit. I gasped when I found this and the realization hit me that finding this dove was no coincidence. My entire project now felt scripted by a higher power. No brainer putting in the dove as the Holy Spirit's representation. The five women and children represented on the table had all been born into Christian families--all believers. Even one of the Grandies who was already praying and singing about Jesus living in her heart. The other beloved one would be singing about Jesus eventually, as soon as she could put her words together. That white dove--on which I'd made notes about my children's little Sunday School songs, "Take your little hand and pat, pat, pat" and "I'm the little Holy Bible"--was a must for the photo.
Time was of the essence and I had to hurry and position last minute buttons before the Vinca blooms "went the other way" as Grandmother Mary Kate used to say, looking limp and lifeless. Once I had everything in place, I…click, click… noticed…click, click, click…one last thing when looking through my camera's viewfinder. Whatever else was typed on the dove would have to wait. The Vinca was no longer vivacious. Click, click, click.
When I finished, the blooms were already looking like two-day-old banana pudding slow-sliding down the sides of a bowl for home base. At least I'd gotten my photos. Bending over the table, I picked up the dove. There was a typed Bible verse on its body from Isaiah 40:8. I missed it by reading my words and what I'd penciled onto the dove instead of God's words. "The grass dies and the flowers fall, but the word of our God will live forever."
I couldn't help but laugh! We writers and photographers and all else who are busy with our work sometimes get caught up in the "busyness" of our own words and "our moments" and sometimes get too busy for early morning devotionals with God and His Word. Now, He reminded me that not only had His Spirit lived through at least six generations, and no doubt more of the women and men in my family, he was also reminding me that I needed to catch even more of the small things in the details of the big picture and those details are: no matter what I'm hanging on to, no matter what I can't part with, material things rust, rot, and decay. Memories are sure to fade. I can cherish what few things I have that belong to my ancestors for comforting reminders, however, I can't take anything with me. Those treasures are only for worldly and joyful remembrances at times, and for comfort during stressful times at best.
In closing, I'll leave this one thought with you: There was a man in Dr. Maurice Rawlings'--a Chattanooga, TN oncologist and internist and doctor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower--book and video "Beyond Death's Door" who died in surgery and claimed to go to hell first before being shocked back to life. In the interim, before dying again, he begged Dr. Rawlings for help while yelling, "I'm in hell. Don't let me die again!" Dr. Rawlings, who at the time was an atheist, knew enough to walk the deathly ill man through a sort of sinner's prayer, before the man died again. The last time he died, he claimed to have gone to heaven instead of hell. Dr. Rawlings--at one time Mother's heart doctor--and this man came to mind as I finished up my photography work.
He'd said (and I'm paraphrasing), The first thing I noticed about the people in heaven was their garments. I looked for pockets because I'd always been told you can't take anything with you. No one's garments had pockets in heaven.
With that story told, there are a few treasures I will hold onto for awhile--I'm after all, only human--but I would like to share Mother's Hush Puppy recipe with everyone who reads my blog. And I can hear Mother in heaven laughing now and telling all our kin and friends up there with her--can you believe Vicki's still got that handwritten Hush Puppy recipe--wait 'til she takes a bite out of the Hush Puppies concocted for us in our heavenly mansions!
I can only imagine that whatever is waiting for us in heaven, when it's our time to leave this earth, will be something we never could have imagined; Hush Puppy good but shut-your-mouth-so-much-better.
Mother's Hush Puppies
(she borrowed the recipe from Riverside Restaurant and probably changed it up a tad at times)
1 C Flour S.R. (self-rising)
1 C Corn Meal S.R.
1 t. salt
½ C onion
Enough sweet milk to [become] drop consistency.
Cook in hot fish oil.
Then shut yo' mouth and eat while hot!
Link to "Beyond Death's Door" video "Beyond Death's Door"
If you would like to comment or have questions about this article,
email me email@example.com
"I loved it. Once again, you catch the heart of the people. You are a fantastic writer. Keep it up. We need you in our generation. Cheering you on." ~ Jan Priddy
Thanks for your kind remarks Jan!
Very good. Enjoyed very much! ~ Kathy
Thanks for stopping by Kathy. Glad you enjoyed!
"I loved it. Once again, you catch the heart of the people. You are a fantastic writer. Keep it up. We need you in our generation. Cheering you on." ~ Jan Priddy
Thanks for your kind remarks Jan!
Very good. Enjoyed very much! ~ Kathy
Thanks for stopping by Kathy. Glad you enjoyed!
Posted July 30, 2015
GRANDMOTHER WAS A PEACH
All photography by Vicki H. Moss
Summers in the South are notorious for being brutally hot and skin-wet muggy. Especially with no air conditioning. Back in the day when many folks had window fans or stand alone fans that oscillated to move the air around, trying to sleep on an especially hot summer night was like living in a perpetual sauna with an occasional oven blast. The dogs lay out on the front porch with their hind legs stretched behind them probably wondering when they'd drift off so they could ferret out a rabbit if only in the recesses of their minds. Babies were drenched with sweat, tossing and turning trying to dolly-up a dream. Adults slept on their side of the bed trying to find a cool spot for their hands beneath a pillow case not yet heated by warm hands.
Then finally, almost magically, the air cooled--nothing like meat-hanging-cool temps but cool enough to pull up the top sheet that had previously been kicked into a damp wad to the footboard. When that breeze began to gently blow, sandman babies turned their heads and nestled down, at last content. Adults sighed with relief and drifted off into a deep sleep, readying themselves for what crops awaited their immediate attention in the morning or for a heifer needing help dropping a calf into the world in the middle of the night. If there was hay to bale or cattle to feed for the men, there was also jams and jellies to gel or butter to churn or flowers that needed pinching, babies that needed patting, and gardens that needed weeding--all work for the women until their husbands drove in from the fields to bounce their offspring to the tune of "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain When She Comes."
Grandmother stirred every morning at the crack of dawn to beat rattlers and copperheads to her garden plot of Eden. In her lush jungle of runners and green topped onions she gathered fuzzy okra, waxy-skin tomatoes, frog-bumpy cucumbers, crooked-neck squash, and red-hot peppers while Kentucky Wonder pole beans took their own sweet time fattening up their pods for another day's picking.
While Grandmother rustled around in the kitchen sliding out cast iron skillets for bacon and gravy and later fried chicken along with fried okra and squash, the deep pots waited for her reach so she could boil pounds of pintos and corn for dinner--a term used in the city for the evening meal. On late July month mornings I lazed in bed watching the curtain sheers sway and every now and then blow inward as a breeze cooled the grass, the flowers, and a final die-down kiss seemingly just for my room. I could have stayed in that mellow, sleepy state all morning.
But no. Summer break with Grandmother was no walk in Gramercy Park. In the country, there is no rest for the weary nor those thinking they're going to have a "cool" summer. I could ride horses and fish in the pond and play in the hay barn in the fall and winter when the crops were laid by. Southern summertime was a time when chores seemed to never end until the weekend or a blessed mighty rain. After dinner, the march was on. If a neighbor's green beans needed breaking, we paid a visit and everybody either held a week-old newspaper over the lap or balanced a dishpan on dresses covering modest thighs because most women of the time didn't own a pair of slacks, much less a pair of shorts. I was the exception that day being the only youngster. I balanced a pan on top of the brown-as-a-biscuit skin that showed above my knees and a few inches below where my wheat jeans rolled to a stop.
Then the chatter commenced. The grandmother women-talk sometimes sounded like a slow river running when the conversation angled around something sad and ominous or it took off like a babbling creek rising when the news was about good cheer, quilting bee plans, and whether or not someone got saved after last Sunday's sermon. Chatting and catching up on the local news and health issues--ailments or healings--in the cove was sort of like working in a stockinette stitch on a circular pair of knitting needles.
When one little old lady finished verbally knitting a row, the other took her turn purling a row of her own prime time news. I mainly sat and listened and nodded when spoken to--waiting for my chance to sneak a few of whatever we were breaking or peeling into my mouth before heading back home to lap-swing a puppy on a wide porch that faced a long dirt-hard road if the clouds had recently been stingy.
But one day, the work waiting around the bend seemed insurmountable. Up the road…at the end of the road…back behind the furthermost back forty and just before what I envisioned as no man's land, lived a neighbor who had announced, "My peaches have ripened and I'm going to need a bushel of help. Ya'll come." For Grandmother, it was nothing more than a good excuse to work in a visit. After breakfast, then dinner, we trudged through the sweltering heat and finally arrived at our destination. What I saw was scandalous. Surely no one in this lifetime deserved that much to do.
I'd never seen so many bushels of peaches that needed a good skinning in all my young life. There were hills of peaches. Mountains of peaches. That woman had gathered the entire Andes Mountain range of peaches. Her peach trees must have produced a bumper crop before giving up the ghost to croak and die from fruit-birthing pangs. Grandmother wasted no time in handing me a sharpened paring knife, to my surprise, since I was a deadly nuisance with a half-way sharpened hoe. I peeled. And I peeled. I got so efficient at peeling--maybe that's a tad of embellishment--without stabbing myself that even the grannies were surprised.
I peeled my thumb right into a disgustingly huge weepy blister. Never fazed the verbal knitters and purlers. They kept Band Aids for wimpy city-grandkids like me. My hands peeled with the paring knife as long as I had encouragement from the little old lady peelers. Encouragement was something they had a bushel-plenty of. The memory is faded, from so long ago, and I can't recall how much of a dent we made on those peach bushels though I think we knocked off the biggest part of the job before it came time for Grandmother and me to trudge home for supper--the last meal Southerners eat after a hard day's work. I vowed and declared to never eat a peach again. Much less touch the fuzz off one. Grandmother "land-sakes-alive" 'd at that revelation. That vow lasted until supper and a steaming hot peach cobbler top-heavy with vanilla ice cream; ice cream so cold I wanted to hold the spoon against my cheeks until the sun went down.
The blistered thumb has long since healed and faded from memory as well, but the memory of the monumental task of peeling those beautiful fuzzy peaches with their juicy sweet smell still lingers. Making me ache with a longing to listen to those verbal knitters and purlers once more. If only through the foggy mist of time. "Well, I will de-clare," I can still hear Grandmother say when surprised at something shocking or downright unnatural or mildly-to-middlin' aggravating. If there was any way to capture those soft Southern drawls and can them in fat Mason jars, like so many of those peaches that were canned after the peeling fest, I'd do so in an Alabama minute.
Even bunion talk and thumb blisters would go down easy if I could only listen to those precious souls one last time before heading back to the present-day part of my Tennessee. I'd even make do with no fan at all if I could recreate some of those old-time hot July-muggy days. Funny, the kind of muggy we might bear to be able to chat with the old folks once again. I might even be talked into holding a paring knife and peeling a peach. Or two. Or three.
Because Grandmother--well, she was a true peach.
Posted April 26, 2015
"Christians are a people who value words because they realize words do more than just convey information. Some words mean everything: God spoke the world into being by the power of his words. He speaks through words he gave to the authors of the Bible. Jesus is The Word made flesh. This is a book about the power of words. Here you will find stories from 42 authors who share moments when words -- from the Bible, the Holy Spirit, family, friends, acquaintances, business associates, and even strangers -- impacted their lives. The stories are a testimony that words can hurt yet they can heal. You will laugh, cry, nod your head in agreement, and shake your head in wonder at their examples of how God uses aptly spoken words to shape our lives and remind us of the saving grace of Jesus."
Once again, I'm honored to be a contributor to Yvonne Lehman's compilation of stories written by a dedicated group of Christian writers. Many of my friends and acquaintances are using these "Moments" books for morning devotionals followed by prayer before starting a busy and sometimes hectic day.
I hope you find a special story within the pages of Spoken Moments that speaks to you and your present day situation as you tackle the upcoming days ahead. It helps to know that others have experienced similar trials and tribulations and having endured, have grown stronger in their faith.
May God bless you and your loved ones as you hear God speak to you through the power of His spoken and written Word.
Posted December 19, 2014
THAT CHRISTMAS TIME OF THE YEAR AGAIN
I recently discovered that twelve of the top twenty-five Christmas songs were written by Jewish composers. Hollywood and Broadway needed music to help celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. Those songs weren't Christian songs since the Jewish people don't celebrate the birth of Christ--but songs of observation. Some of the lyrics written are about the silver bells jingle-jangled by workers trying to raise money for the Salvation Army so they in turn can help others during the holiday season. Some lyrics are about Jack Frost nipping at noses and people roasting chestnuts before open fires while yuletide carols are being sung. And I can't forget about "Santa Baby" and his coming to town. Santa, one of the biggest draws in history, also helps money-makers. Those are all pleasant distractions, but at the same time distractions taking us away from the true meaning of Christmas.
And those songs just mentioned weren't the songs sung during church services of old. Choirs and fellow worshipers historically rang out, "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Away in a Manger," "We Three Kings," and many more celebrating the birth of the Savior of the World.
With all that in mind, when I began taking photographs after Christmas decorations were up, I had placed a plate of cookies next to a Nutcracker Mouse King and the Three Wise Men of the nativity scene. And I began looking at those cookies and cupcakes while my mouth watered. I was already distracted from the job at hand. And I couldn't help but wonder about the Magi, or Wise Men who followed a brilliant star to try and find the Christ child. They had either purchased their gifts or found them in their homes, mounted their camels, and weren't distracted on their way to find the baby.
Had belly dancers of the night tried to lure them into staying at the oasis longer? Had they been plied with delicacies and comfortable beds in tents luxuriant enough for kings? Had they been offered cupcakes of their day if they would only visit a few days more? According to the Bible, the Wise Men progressed on their journey to King Herod and began asking him where the newborn might be. When their questions couldn't be answered and they smelled a rat thinking Herod might use them to later destroy the child, the star began moving once more, leading them to the stable where the babe lay wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Swaddling clothes were something a shepherd wrapped newborn lambs in to keep them warm on chilly nights. The Messiah was adorned with clothing meant for animals. I recall choosing the perfect outfit for my babies when I took them home from the hospital. I can't imagine not having something beautiful, yet simple, to dress my newborns in for their trip home.
But even without a fancy baby layette, all went according to plan for the child called Emmanuel. God is with us. He didn't need something blue or something with lace and frills. Then the shepherds left the hills to find the Christ child his parents would name Jesus and discovered him about the same time the Wise Men did, all hearing the hark of the Herald Angels while they sang.
Why smelly shepherds? They were drawn in because they roamed the hillsides looking to pasture their sheep and would spread the word far and wide about what they had witnessed. And Wise Men brought the gifts needed to help the young family escape to Egypt to prevent Jesus' being killed according to Herod's black-hearted plans. Gold for the trip--traveling is costly. Myrrh to mix with water or wine for pain--I wouldn't think Mary had time enough to recover completely before easing onto a donkey to flee a vengeful leader who wanted to hold onto his position. Also, Frankincense was brought and was used in anointing oil. We now know the essential oil helps improve digestion, helps wounds heal faster, is effective as an antiseptic and helps reduce stress, lowers blood pressure, and is good for uterine health. And somewhere in the Middle East, on fragile papyrus, there's probably a record written by the Wise Men about their trip and their findings in the little town of Bethlehem.
Again, the appropriate gifts were brought so all would go according to plan.
And of course, when all was said and done, "God in his wisdom chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong..." 1 Corinthians 1:27
The job of a shepherd--not the most favorable. Sheep still smell bad last time I checked. And no one at the time would dare think their King and Messiah would be born in a stable with lowing cattle and baaa-baaaaing sheep. Kings wore purple robes--costly to dye--and could afford extravagance. Why would God keep this information hidden from his own people--the Jews?
Why would he make it so hard to discover the truth? Why the mystery? I believe God wants us to stay on our toes until as many people who will believe--will come to him for salvation. He's said as much in his word. "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in." Blindness in part--some of the Jewish faith have discovered the truth already. Then again, many have no desire to dig deeper for understanding.
No matter, however, because the "fullness of the Gentiles" is the completion of the purpose of God in this age. When all of the Gentiles who are going to believe are in the fold, then the scales will be lifted off the eyes of God's chosen people--chosen because they were to be perfect examples to the other nations of the way God wanted his children to live. He wants all to be saved, why he gave his only begotten Son. The answers are there for those who choose to seek them out.
"Therefore keep watch. Do not be blinded. Because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." Matthew 24:42
The Wise Men were watching for that star they knew was supposed to appear. The shepherds kept watch over their sheep and could easily see the star in the inky jet sky as they were vigilant during the night.
I'm going to try my best to stay vigilant and not become distracted by the cookies and cupcakes along my path as I continue my life's journey. And I pray my readers will do the same.
Merry Christmas to all! And to all a good night!
I'll see everyone in 2015 and may the new year be a blessed one.
Posted November 17, 2014
Needing to buy an inspiring and inexpensive gift for that special someone for Christmas?
I'm delighted to announce that I have two stories published in Yvonne Lehman's latest compilation of 50 Inspirational Stories of the True Meaning of Christmas Life. This book is "...made up of moments strung together like a garland draped around a Christmas tree. Certain of those moments are so meaningful they become memories that last a lifetime. For some, those memories center on Christmas. In this book you'll find Christmas stories from 34 authors. They range from serious to funny, sad to joyful, entertaining to insightful. All are encouraging and inspiring. Each points to the same thing: The reason for the Christmas season is celebration of Jesus' birth! The most important part of Christmas is Christ. So while Christmas day comes but once a year, and years give us Christmas memories that last a lifetime, the Spirit of Christmas is eternal. And the way we keep Christmas sends a message to the world about what we believe."
Books may be ordered through Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Grace Publishing, and will be available at Billy Graham's The Cove bookstore.
Posted October 5, 2014
A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN
Years ago I read Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. An interesting read, Woolf stated that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." There were plenty of men in her day who were published authors but few women. In closing her essay she exhorts her audience of women (the idea to publish the essay came when she was lecturing a group of women) to take up the tradition that has been so hardly bequeathed to them, and to increase the endowment for their own daughters.
In a time when it takes two incomes to make ends meet for most families, women still struggle to find a room of their own with enough money to tide them over until they get a novel or body of work out. If a writer truly wants to write, however, a writer will find a way. I used to write while in the carpool line or in the bleachers while a volleyball game or tennis match was going on making sure to look up when the ball was in play. I never said it would be easy.
When an idea popped into my head, I made sure to have a handy pocket recorder available, and once when moving a daughter back home from college, I sent myself messages via my cell phone between singing verses of "She Works Hard for the Money" while driving a U-haul truck towing an automobomb. And yes, it is nice to have a room of one's own and money to tide you over until a book is completed--in a perfect world. But if you aspire to be a writer, you're going to have to write. Don't give up. Tenacity is key. No sanguine attitudes allowed.
With that said and out of the way, allow me to flail you with another wet noodle. Try to find a way to write a few sentences or send yourself a few paragraphs instead of spending time on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram--oh yeah. I see all of your little foxy faces on there posting selfies twice a day holding your Iphones up to the mirror and posing pretend pouts. Social Media addiction is fun and necessary, however, many hours can be frittered away when valuable time could be spent pounding away the keyboard conquering sinister mages.
Also, if a friend invites you over, take advantage of whatever quiet areas they have available for you to pen a few phrases late at night or early before the sun rises and there's only the cat eyeballing you to make sure you're not falling back to sleep. You never know what books or reading material in someone else's library might inspire a literary piece about women with wilted faces married to trousered apes (of course I once read that somewhere and it stuck with me and I was finally able to use it--I couldn't have manufactured that description on my own) or what antique toys you might describe in a piece of historical fiction. For instance, I never knew Roy Rogers had his own piggy bank.
Whatever you do, don't forget to write with all senses on alert. Food plays a huge part in culinary scenes. If your hosts are agreeable, take photos of china, crystal, pottery, baskets, and hand hewn pestles and mortars found in equator countries like Panama. Never know where your characters might lead you gripping a machete and you want to be able to accurately paint a mental picture of ancient wood cupping ground spices and tumbled jungle vines tamed into baskets awaiting yam bread surrounded by big fat juicy Better Boy tomatoes. Then again, describing a perfectly sleek pear from Harry and David's is easy but describing a pear grown on a tree not saturated with pesticides has a more gnarly look--with an earthy gritty-green feel--so practice, practice, practice stringing words together.
And if you're of the trousered ape species *still grinning* wanting to write with a room of your own as well, try building a log cabin with American Logs to bring back old memories to write that memoir you've been stewing. Nothing like the real thing to help you scratch words on papyrus.
To close this missive, if any of you come into a huge inheritance in the near future, don't forget to share the wealth with other starving writers. Pay it forward. There are so many writers writing these days, it's difficult to make a living and the "vampire thing" has been overdone so being creative is a challenge in today's publishing world.
A last sentence. If you really want to write, carry that little notebook at all times and no nebulous excuses. Perseverance is sine qua non. And as Roy would say, "Happy Trails to you!" and let me know when you hit BINGO--but in the meantime, no Tiddledy Winkin' around.
P.S. Try your best to write something worthy.
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things
Posted June 28, 2014
LANDMARK BOOKSELLERS--FRIEND TO AUTHORS
Recently I visited Landmark Booksellers. If I ever get locked in a bookstore overnight, I hope this is the store. I can't visit Franklin, Tennessee without making a stop here.
Not only do they have 60,000 new books, their 2500 rare tomes and 1500 first signed editions whisper my name every time I stroll through the doors.
They're proudly displaying their flag for the upcoming July 4th holiday and they make you feel right at home. There's also a children's reading room off the back of the first floor. What I really like about Joel and Carol is they're more than willing to help self-published authors sell their work along with traditional authors.
And they were one of the first to display my nonfiction book How to Write for Kids' Magazines on their bookshelves. Known for catering to local authors and newly released works, Landmark also specializes in regional history and literature.
So if you're into visiting independent bookstores and old buildings that reportedly hosted people like President Andrew Jackson and folk hero Davy Crockett, Landmark Booksellers is the hot spot for you.
Of course the building is air conditioned but if you get too warm from perusing the gardening book you just bought that indicates you might have to break a sweat when dividing the monkey grass that's overtaken your lawn, you can sit beneath an umbrella out front and sip sweet tea while people watching. You might possibly spot the next character for that thriller you always wanted to write--Franklin attracts a lot of tourists. And don't forget, support your local independent booksellers. With brick and mortar they have something to offer the internet doesn't: ambience and comraderie.
See you next time in the reading room!
P.S. Landmark Booksellers is located on East Main Street near 1st Avenue, a few blocks from the town square. Open 7 days a week 10 am - 5 pm. Built in 1826, this building is known as The Old Factory Store.
Posted April, 26, 2014
Prolific author of over 3,000,000 books in print and editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas (LPC), Yvonne Lehman has compiled 50 inspirational stories of God's amazing presence in our lives written by thirty-six writers and authors who share thoughts from the heart along with personal divine moments.
Within this book's pages you'll find uplifting stories that will give hope and encouragement during the difficult times the world is now experiencing. If you want a story about heartache that ends with joy, there's one in here. A story about fear and how fear can be valiantly conquered, there's one in here. Stories about experiencing God in one's darkest hour, there's also one to be found along with 47 more.
And I've been honored to have two of my own divine moments stories included in this tome that showcases the love and power of our Living God.
To find out more about Yvonne and her many novels, please check out my interview with her in the May/June 2014 Issue of Southern Writers Magazine that will be on sale May 1.
It's there you'll discover how Yvonne developed her writing career to become an author of over fifty books.
Yvonne Lehman is an award-winning, best-selling author. Hearts That Survive--A Novel of the Titanic is her 50th novel.
Posted February, 14, 2014
FOR VALENTINE'S DAY, GIVE THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
photography by Vicki Moss
Today is Valentine's Day and behind the custom of giving cards, candy, and elaborate gifts is a legend. Supposedly, Saint Valentine was persecuted as a Christian and was also interrogated by Roman Emperor Claudius II who was impressed by Valentine. During the ensuing discussion, Claudius attempted to convert Valentine to Roman paganism so his life would be saved. Instead of converting, Valentine tried to sway Claudius to convert to Christianity instead--causing his execution.
While in jail, he reportedly performed a miracle by healing Julia, the blind daughter of Asterius, his jailer. Along with Julia and Asterius's forty-four member household--including family members and servants--Asterius came to believe in Jesus Christ and all were baptized.
During this period, Claudius II forbade marriage for his troops believing married men had too many attachments and didn't make good soldiers. (However, after the victory over the Goths, Claudius supposedly forbade the ban that was never issued and encouraged multiple wives for his men.) Because of this, another embellishment of the legend is that Saint Valentine performed clandestine Christian weddings for soldiers who were not allowed to marry. In order to remind these soldiers of their vows and God's love, Saint Valentine reportedly "cut hearts from parchment,"giving them to these soldiers and persecuted Christians in the Roman Empire--a possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on Valentine's Day.
When I was a child in grade school, however, I knew nothing about the man who was later declared a saint. I knew only that it was a day to exchange what we now call Valentines. At home, I and others decorated shoe boxes with aluminum foil or colored paper and pasted red and pink hearts on the sides with a slit in the top of the lid large enough for valentine cards to drop through. I was thankful for thoughtful teachers who required the children to give every student in class a Valentine card so no one would be left out--for after all--it was a day that evoked love and it was so nice for everyone to be treated with respect and accepted by receiving a Valentine token from every classmate.
Later in high school, Kay Arthur came to my home economics class to share with students about her own love journey and how she eventually found the greatest unconditional love and acceptance. After a time of soul searching through illicit love affairs and partaking of man's love, she felt lost and empty. No Valentine's Day card or trinket could ease her heart's pain. Only after giving her all to God did she find joy and peace and a love that never ends.
During this visit with Kay, I wrote down the verses she'd shared with my class and tucked them in the Bible that had been given to me by Granny Josie, forgetting the slip of paper was there. Until one day, I found the retired Bible that had been much used and abused.
I recalled how I'd dropped the Bible into a semi-frozen pond after trying to skate across the ice on my way home from grade school. After breaking through the ice--and floundering around in the icy soup to retrieve the Bible--the pages were wrinkled from being water logged and then dried in front of a heater. Later, the back binding of the spine pulled away down one side and I knew it was time to get a replacement. But oh, how I loved that Granny Josie gift more than anything else she every gave me.
Many years later, I unearthed the childhood Bible I'd carefully stored away. Finding it was like finding treasure, because in between the pages was a yellowed sheet of paper with handwritten verses and the name--Kay Arthur--below them. I checked the scripture and found the same verses Kay had used when teaching my home economics class so many years ago.
16 These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
20 My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother:
21 Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck.
22 When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.
23 For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:
24 To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.
25 Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.
26 For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adultress will hunt for the precious life.
27 Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?
When sharing those verses with us, Kay was referring to herself. She had been the adultress hunting for the precious life looking for mink, money, and men. Her words. And what she shared with us was a warning: Don't go down the path I chose. There's a path full of light and life that's so much better.
With the help of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, she was one woman who turned her life around to then reach back to help others find firm footing and the right path.
When pondering on all these things, I was so thankful I had been born into a family with two godly grandmothers who, at my special request, had both presented me with Bibles for Christmas. A larger white leather Bible for Sundays and the smaller one pictured for school.
And I can't help but wonder what the outcome might be in this day and age, (an age when elected officials are not forthcoming with the truth), if instead of candy, cards, and jewelry gifted on Valentine's Day, study Bibles were given instead. Especially to those with a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood. For they, above all, need God's love. And the Bible is the only place where some are going to discover who He is--the author of the one true book of love. Better than any Cupid's dart, the Bible is the perfect Valentine's Day gift to pierce the heart deeper than any arrow.
Inside its pages is the story of a God who so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son to save us. The Book is truly the most amazing love story of all time and the gift that keeps on giving!
Posted February, 13, 2014
STAY HOME PEOPLE-YA'LL DON'T KNOW HOW TO SNOW-DRIVE
photography by Vicki Moss
All is well on the home front today after the catastrophic 7" snow. More like nine inches in some places where the snow had drifted. Not quite like the '93 blizzard when I slept in the basement in sleeping bags and washed my hair in cold water while the heat was out for five days. (And yes, I've been a prepper to some extent all of my life, but no way was I going to wait long enough to heat water on the propane gas eye to wash my hair.) Cooped up in a house with two children was no fun and sleeping with them kicking in their sleep even worse. Trying to get weather reports with a battery operated radio was sketchy and sporadic at best.
And this time, I was even more prepared. I'd trekked to the grocery store and actually bought something that looked like light hot dogs without the nitrates my daughter had been warning me about. I already had a kerosene lamp with fuel. Still had plenty of candles. Flashlights with batteries. Plenty of matches. And thank God for the creative ability of my two deceased grandmothers: Granny Josie who pieced quilt tops and Grandmother Mary Kate who quilted them. But back to the matches for a minute. I noticed that the matches, Fire Chief--Strike Anywhere--Made in the U.S. A. Kitchen Matches, had another warning on the box. Caution: Keep Away From Children. Handle With Care. DO NOT DROP.
I could understand keeping them away from children and handling them with care once lit, but Do Not Drop? Honestly, I had to think about that one for a minute. You mean to tell me dropping a box of matches could ignite the box? I thought only liquid nitroglycerin was that touchy. Now I was paranoid I was going to drop the box on the counter top and flame my hair.
Trying not to dwell on those explosive matches for any length of time, I decided to microwave a healthy hot dog while waiting for the big storm. When it came out of the 'wave, it didn't look right. It hadn't curled on the ends, nor did it appear to have been truly cooked. And not one itty-ounce of grease. I tried it. Though fork-tender, perhaps it was a texture thing, but it tasted odd. I posted about it on FB and one friend asked me if it tasted nasty. I suppose that could be one descriptive word that summed up what my stomach was trying to digest. Then she asked me if it was made of soy. And was it T.V.P.? "She had me on that one so I asked her for the meaning. She came back with Textured-Vegetable-Soy. I ran to the Frig to check. The package said the dogs were "Lightlife Smart Dogs. Veggie protein links. Low-fat vegan." Then it said in small letters at the top--perhaps to make me feel better about their product, "Life is a journey, live long, travel light."
I could agree with life is a journey, live long, and travel light. I'd traveled in Europe on a horse trekking journey once without rollers, very little makeup, one black skirt, and my riding britches and unmentionables rolled up and stuffed in my tall leather riding boots. But Smart Dogs? Strange dogs maybe. And then it hit me, the dogs were supposed to be healthy dogs so you wouldn't be traveling around with so much weight. Now, I had to worry about the extra weight I was toting around while possibly flaming my hair.
Next, I thought I'd better broom off my prized Scotty hemlocks which had perhaps somewhere in the vicinity of two inches of snow on them, just in case the weatherman had the weather forecast right for once and we were going to get more snow. The last time there was snow and ice, the Scotties drooped for a season and half-a-crop of blue moons. As I descended the front steps, I had a flashback from years gone by of another big snow and of me slipping and falling on my back down seven brick steps while my kids and a house guest stood at a distance hooting and hollering during my wild ride to the bottom. At least I'd held my camera up in the air to keep it from breaking. So this time, I held on to the banister with one hand while using the other to hold the broom like a walking stick.
Now I was thinking, I could possibly flame my hair with a dropped box of matches, gag to death on a Smart Dog, and break my back while sledding down the brick steps trying to do a kind deed for my Scotties and boxwoods. Yes, life is definitely a journey. But hey, I live only once.
I finally stomped back inside, mentally berating myself for not wearing gloves while sweeping snow off shrubs in below freezing weather. Then, I moved all of my bedding into the living room on the sofa so I could read a good book with a flashlight so indoor lighting wouldn't ruin my outdoor snow blanketed view. I meant to enjoy my hushed cocoon-like environment. And it did cross my mind: Has anyone ever suffocated while sleeping beneath too many quilts--just in case the heat does fail? And should I go ahead and wash my hair while the water is still hot in case the power goes off and someone ends up in a ditch and knocks on my door to use the phone?
I then read, "May the peace of God Almighty, which surpasses all understanding, rest upon you and those you love this day and always, Amen."
After reading that passage, I clicked off the little flashlight; the new one I'd recently bought with the fantastic beam and occasional flicker. 'Twas then I made an executive decision: No more Smart Dogs for me--let the cat have 'em. If I suffocated beneath a pile of quilts I wouldn't have to worry about hair loss and a few extra pounds. As for cars in ditches--a given in the South during snow and ice because no one puts chains and snow tires on their vehicles anymore--everyone has cell phones these days and can call for help. It had better be an "angel unawares" that comes knocking on my door after the flashlight is off, either that or someone losing copious amounts of blood. And then I thought of Forrest Gump and his mother's observation: Stupid is as stupid does. That sums up a Southerner driving in snow on anything other than sand strewn roads--one of my pet peeves.
With new resolve, I yanked up my grandmother quilts leaving some nostril room and said to the ceiling, "Stay home people. Ya'll don't know how to snow-drive." I then fell into a calm and peaceful sleep totally oblivious to all the crazy drivers sliding into the ditches outside my snow-stormed Southern doors. I wasn't the least bit surprised come morning, when I woke up to a white fairyland world after sniffing the air for any sulphurous odors and checking my hair for singed places. I'd lived through the night's storm to tell about it.
And to all you smart dogs out there who refused to slow down while driving under treacherous road conditions last night--ending up in a ditch--remember, life is indeed a journey. If you're gifted with a second chance, try to stay between the ditches. If you must abandon your vehicle, travel light, hold onto the railing, and if you have a broom--use it. If you've been to the grocery store and have a package of Smart Dogs in your car--you can survive on those but *spoiler alert* if you skipped the first part, they taste kinda nasty. But never ever, under any circumstances if you decide to stay with your vehicle 'til morning, pull your quilts up too high or drop your matches.
I hope everyone made it home in one piece and had all-beef chili dogs with slaw for supper!
P.S. It's going to be cold again tonight--well below freezing and the roads will be icy--so why don't ya'll stay home and curl up with a good book and a flashlight.
If you would like to comment or have questions about this article, email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Vicki, I always enjoy reading your stories about southern life, with humor and beautiful photographs! I laughed out loud as I read your Southern snow day story. I'm still smiling about the smart dogs, stupid drivers and I'll never take striking a match for granted! You make the mundane, every day events, remarkable and amusing. Thank you for keeping it real! Suzanne
Hi Suzanne -- thanks for stopping by. Only you can appreciate my escapades! I have cabin fever. When the snow clears, let's get together. I'll leave the matches and smart dogs at home!
January 17, 2014
THE PERFECT WRITER'S GIFT
Ebooks have finally edged their way into my life and it's nice to be able to download several books for a trip so I don't have to pack bundles of books. Like personal notes sent by way of snailmail, a special tome I can hold in my hands still warms my heart and tickles my toes to eventually find a place on my *keeper* shelf.
One extraordinary gift I received this Christmas was from my dear friend and talented blogger and Tennessee *Maker* Maggie Pate of Inks and Thread. She never fails to run circles around me when it comes to creativity. Just when I think she's outdone herself on a new design for a scarf or a delicious tweak on her perfected thumbprint cookie recipe, she dyes delicate ribbon using gathered herbs from her coffers to use as an exquisite gift wrapping accessory for a present that's "perfect for Vicki." (I won't rib too hard about her recent trip to New Orleans without me--then blogging about it--making me drool over mornings filled with beignets and cafe au lait. Yes. She knows NO is one of my fave cities.)
Though I couldn't wait to open the gift, the simple but artistic wrapping was way too photo worthy to pass up and I'd already given the package a good once over and a shake to determine it had to be a book. I course I had to snap a remembrance to tuck behind the book cover, delighting all the while over the thought the hand dyed ribbon would make the most gorgeous bookmark and keepsake. And I couldn't wait to see what I would be bookmarking.
Once the wrapping flew off, I was thrilled to find The Southerner's Handbook--A Guide to Living The Good Life by the editors of Garden&Gun. The only icon on the bookcover I'd never dealt with up close and personal was an alligator. In my lifetime, I'd become familiar with hunting dogs, banjos, quite a few hunter/jumper horses, and I'd wrangled with one ornery alligator turtle, but thank the good Lord--no gators.
I knew the book would be entertaining when on one of the first pages I discovered a quote from Southern author Clyde Edgerton: "Because I was born in the South, I'm a Southerner. If I had been born in the North, the West, or the Central Plains, I would be just a human being." Not only is he one of the best writing workshop instructors I've had the pleasure of meeting at Chattanooga's Southern Literature Conference, I was thrilled when he graciously said yes to writing "The Last Word" column for Southern Writers Magazine's September/October 2012 Issue.
So I could easily picture Maggie Pate purchasing this book with a huge grin on her face while saying, "Un-huh, this is the perfect gift for Vicki. She's into 'How to Talk to a Game Warden, Sweet Tea, Seersucker, Authentic Dixie Lemonade, Big Bad Buttermilk Biscuits, Bird-Watching, Okra, How to Talk Faulkner, Rope Swings, and The Hard Truth About Boiled Goobers.'"
So thanks Maggie Pate for one of the most thoughtful surprises I've ever had the pleasure of unwrapping. I adore your "Wild At Heart" scarf though I'm longing for a scarf designed for writers. *Hint Hint* I'll be the first waiting in line for that one!
If you think Maggie Pate excels when it comes to gift wrapping with hand dyed ribbon bookmarks, check out her scarves at Inks and Thread and follow her on FB, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Posted October 29, 2013
I recently learned that pumpkin is a fruit. I'd never really thought about it before, however, if I'd been tested on the subject, I would have guessed it as a veggie.
Pumpkins also come in various sizes and shapes. Some are orange,yellow, white, green, or red. While recently at a Pumpkin Patch," I saw some that were orange striped.
Some are grown for competition and the record 2010 pumpkin was 1810 whopping big pounds. Now, that pumpkin would make a lot of pies!
Pumpkins can be baked, roasted, boiled, and steamed, with their seeds roasted separately for snacks full of vitamin A. The pumpkin "meat" can be made into soup but the smaller, sweeter pumpkins are best for cooking and eating. If you have a sweet tooth, pumpkin pie can be whipped up--a dessert that originated in North America and one that is served around the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I don't recall eating pumpkin pie any other time of the year.
In Ireland, faces were first carved into pumpkins, turnips, beets, potatoes, and other root vegetables to celebrate a pagan holiday called Samhain--when the people put the Jack of the Lantern or later "jack-o-lanterns" on their window sills or front porches to scare away "old Jack." This tradition was later brought to America by our ancestors.
Don't feel like carving a scary face? Glue on a button smiley mouth with eyes.
Your pumpkin needs a friend? Try a black crow as they are rarely afraid of a scarecrow once they get to know him.
I hope the houses you visit this Halloween are giving away lots of chocolate!
Posted September 13, 2013
THERE'S A HINT OF FALL IN THE AIR
I'm hoping the ragweed will all be gone soon and allergies will take a break for awhile. And hopefully the raging water will calm down in Colorado, people will stop setting fires out West, and the leaves will be beautiful this fall so that things can get back to normal.
Whatever normal is these days.
I'm afraid the semi-calmer days of The Waltons and Andy Griffith are over. Our world has grown complicated. Surly, even. But with the complications come the stories, and stories are what writers are always seeking.
As with all good stories, there must be conflict. I sometimes wonder what might have happened if Eve hadn't taken a bite of the apple. The news might read something like this: Adam and Eve got up this morning. All the animals were fine. Their food was miraculously awaiting them so they ate and took a nap. Checked on the animals again. All was fine. They enjoyed a good night's sleep and the next morning, all was fine once more in their perfect world. They eventually had many perfect children who never fought, hit, bit, or pinched--and braces weren't necessary because they all had a beautiful set of chompers. That's because their teeth were also perfect--since the kids were perfect--so they could live for one thousand years at least. Full of bliss. While helping their parents check on the animals before taking their naps.
Parents didn't have to worry about politicians sexting their daughters nor did they have to worry about barbarians using dull swords to chop off their sons' heads. Like I said, it was a perfect world. They lived happily ever after while watching their mums grow. The end.
Also, I doubt there would have been a need for a newspaper or anyone with the need to read the fine print. War would not have been a word in their vocabulary. Joy and peace with their Maker would have been their everything.
If I had a time machine and traveled back to be a writer back then, guess I could always write about the size, color, and perfection of the mums.
Beats writing about the repercussions of ragweed.
And yes, there's a hint of fall in the air.
Posted June 29, 2013
SOUTHERN WRITERS MAGAZINE
TWO YEAR ANNIVERSARY
There's an old story that goes like this: "The editor received a manuscript with a letter which said, 'The characters in this story are purely fictional and bear no resemblance to any person, living or dead.'
"When the editor returned it to the writer, he scribbled across the bottom, 'That's what's wrong with it.'"
And while we're talking about writing, Southern Writers Magazine is approaching the two-year anniversary mark and the magazine has accomplished at least two things in those two years: Helped authors promote their books along with having provided excellent how-to articles to help writers improve their writing skills so they can create characters that bear a resemblance to--a ground hog could have guessed it--the living or the dead.
All jokes aside, the contributing writers also provided beneficial tips on how to write great dialogue, how to navigate writing conferences, how to promote through audio on Take Five, Southern Writers Mic Nite, Must Read TV, how to preserve family stories through memoir, along with numerous other writing tips gleaned from not only the magazine, but the Suite T blog articles.
Susan Reichert, Doyne Phillips, and Gary Fearon have teamed up together to burn the midnight oil--yes, I know that's a cliché but I'm allowed at least one--producing an excellent writers' tool to benefit beginning writers as well as the more advanced wielder of the quill. I can't thank them enough for the opportunity to work with them while stretching my writer's wings.
And what a fun two years it's been for me--interviewing incredible authors while participating in the giving away of free magazines at conferences where I've been fortunate to be on faculty.
Haven't subscribed yet? Why the wait? Current subscribers find it's one of the best ways to become educated on the writing process, how to build a platform, and one of the easiest ways to learn how to market, promote and advertise.
Southern Writers Magazine is also one of the best birthday gifts for a high school or college student. Who knows, by gifting with a subscription, the gift-or could be a major player in the shaping of the next Ernest Hemingway, John Grisham, or Lurlene McDaniel.
Or perhaps with a little revising of that mildewy manuscript secreted away in a drawer, the gift-or could be the one who becomes the next big name author.
In closing, I hope to see everyone on the writing circuit soon. And by the way, if a writer should happen to win a year's subscription at the next conference after purchasing a subscription, the freebie's good through the second year.
And yes, I have been known to bribe writers--with a free copy of Short Tales, the Southern Writers Magazine issue of short story winners--into attending my writing classes if chocolate, popcorn, or licorice fail to do the trick. Occasionally, however, specials are offered that include Short Tales when a one-year subscription is purchased. So, watch for those upcoming specials because next year's lineup of stellar authors, agents, poets, and songwriters can't wait to share promoting tips, marketing strategies, and advertising angles.
I promise, whatever the angle--you'll be hooked!