Sunday, December 28, 2014

Powerful Praying

Cousin Paul knew the power of prayer and he had the gift of oratory that allowed him to pray over most anything at the drop of a hat. A retired Southern Baptist preacher, Cousin Paul was not only our neighbor, he was my dad's mother's second cousin; thus, we children out of respect were taught to call him "Cousin Paul." If any of the three of us witnessed his arrival coming down the walk, we'd pass the word to "quick, get out of the house, here comes "Cousin Paul"! If we were unlucky enough to get caught in the house, there'd be nothing to do but sit quietly through his long visit and an endless prayer. This particular Sunday afternoon Cousin Paul came to check on Dad who'd had an ingrown toenail removed and was in quite a bit of pain and unable to make it to church earlier that day.
     There had been none of the above forewarning, and the entire family was called in to say a prayer with Cousin Paul. After he had settled himself on the sofa, he bowed his head and began his petition to the Lord to heal Dad's toe. Well, praying for Dad's toe was more than one of my sisters could take, and she jumped up and ran from the room, hands over her mouth and tears of laughter streaming down her face. Mother went after her and we heard doors slamming and muffled laughter. Fortunately, Cousin Paul was so transfixed (and hard of hearing) that he continued his prayer without lifting his head until he reached his "amen". My dad rose from his chair with a great big grin on his face and said, "Thank you, Cousin Paul, that was some powerful praying, my toe feels better already."

As a Southern Baptist myself, I grew up with that kind of prayer, passionate, oratorical prayers--not only by the preachers, but members of the congregation just like me--prayers that went on and on, praising and thanking God for our blessings, asking for strength and healing, conversing with Him in an endless diatribe of familiar phrases. In later years, at various church or civic functions I feared being asked to "lead us in prayer" because I knew I would be expected to deliver in that same rhetorical tone a prayer I might feel in my heart but could not find words for in my head. You likely will consider that strange for a wordsmith like me, but it's true. It is one of the reasons that I embraced the Catholic faith without ever abandoning completely my Southern Baptist roots.

I'm not sure if it is the same today, but one of the first Instructions in the Catholic Church is to learn the "Our Father" which I already knew as the "Lord's Prayer". There was a slight change in the ending, but I could deal with that. It was poetry, as were the remaining required prayers--the "Hail Mary", the "Glory Be", the "I Believe", the "Confiteor". They are the prayers that I turn to today in times of joy, in times of stress. Yes, I memorized them, and the words come to me like poems. I don't have to think about it, I know I am pleasing God. That's powerful praying.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


I have loved picnics since I was a child. Living in the city--escaping the heat and dusty streets--we would pack a basket of pimento cheese sandwiches and drive out into the "country" where the air smelled damp and green. There were few cars and fewer houses where we'd park along a grassy knoll and, following a cow path, traipse across a field to a cool stream where we'd spread a blanket beneath the sentry arms of an ancient oak. In later years, married to a partner who shared my enthusiasm for picnics, the places would change, the food become more sophisticated. We'd travel greater distances, shun the cities and head for the open countryside in England, the south of France, Germany and Austria--searching always for the perfect picnic spot. Even today, when our travels require a stop for lunch, the well-worn picnic basket finds its place among our luggage and we plot our course with a pleasant portable outdoor repast in mind.

Although the earliest references to picnicking come from German and Swedish writings, it was the English who raised the art of picnicking to a fashionable social entertainment. Several years ago, while touring the English countryside, we stayed at Chewton Glenn, a resort just Southwest of London. Our request for a "packed lunch" for a day trip produced two baskets of portable viands so heavy that it took both of us to carry each basket from the car. When we had spread the provided starched linen cloth on the grassy bank of a river near a stately 19th century English country house, we unloaded the baskets to find smoked salmon and cold roast chicken deftly arranged on fine bone china plates. There were pates and chutneys and assorted cheeses, a salad of mixed greens, little pots of chocolate mousse alongside a bottle of Chardonnay and one of sparkling water. To complete the repast, a silver thermos of rich dark coffee stood upright beside a nest of cups.

Such elegance in food and presentation, although appreciated to the fullest by bon vivants like us, is more panache than picnic. Although simplicity and portability are two of the most important concepts of picnicking, the weather sets the stage for a picnic. Some will say that you can have a picnic indoors. Not so, in our book. Our definition calls for an excursion or an outing in which the participants carry food with them and share a meal in the open air. Yes, alfresco! Otherwise, it is an aborted picnic--one that could only be carried out in the stale confines of an indoor shelter. Note that our definition does not specify the brightness of the weather. We have picnicked in a cold mist hovering over the ancient ruins of a Scottish castle on Loch Ness. But, if I could choose the weather, I'd ask the gods for a day in October, one of those dependably warm fair days of fall when the sky is bluer, the colors in the landscape more vibrant, and the insects have settled down for a long winters nap.Those are the days Nature intended for picnickers.

Simplicity and portability? Yes, we keep it simple--quickly assembled, and just as quickly disassembled--no cumbersome grills to be heated up and cooled down. Any concocting has gone on the evening before, or early in the day, whether in your own home or that of your hotel. Preferably, everything is designed to be eaten with the fingers, or no more than a fork. The container for carrying the food may be a simple wide deep market basket, or as elaborate as the suitcase style with strapped in plates and utensils that our English ancestors promote as essential picnic gear. In perfect weather, there is no need for an ice chest if we carry foods that will not spoil easily, and those that are best eaten at ambient temperatures. On our travels abroad, we found that an insulated bag with a shoulder strap and insulated sacks for wine and water, collapse easily and can be carried in our suitcases. A colorful cloth, a corkscrew and salt and pepper shakers complete the gear. Enjoy!

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Tribute to Mary Nell

In my writing career, I've met some beautiful people between the rivers, but none more beautiful, inside and out, than Mary Nell Russ English. She loved my books and told me so! She even named her Red Hat chapter after my first book, Between the Rivers. She didn't just suggest to the members that they call it the "Between the Rivers Chapter", she called to ask my permission as if I had some prior claim to that place she belonged to more than me! One of the most fun things I've done in my life was to ride with her and the "Red Hats" on their float in the Kelly Spring Parade. What a blast! What an honor!

I'm not a very active participant on Facebook, but when Mary Nell "friended" me last year, I was devastated to learn that my beautiful friend had a rare cancer. I followed her on Facebook as she went for various treatements, admiring her positive attitude, her FORTITUDE, and her faith. Recently, when I sent out an announcement that Between the Rivers was now an e-book, she e-mailed me to say that she had a Kindle and was going to download and read it again. This was only a few weeks ago, so I know she must have been very sick at the time; yet, she here she was supporting my efforts to keep my book alive when she was fighting every day to live! Thank you, Mary Nell, for bringing your special love into my life.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What's a little ice cream?

Last weekend, I dreaded opening the door to our little log cabin at Lake Gaston. What was I expecting? Surely not total destruction, but with no electricity for four days, there would be signs of SOMETHING amiss. The news had been dire up and down the east coast. Hurricane Irene had sashayed through our state and the entire northeast and what the wind didn't destroy, flood waters had wiped out. Driving in, I found the gravel driveway off our culdesaque covered in leaves and downed limbs, as was the wooden deck that surrounds the cabin. Pushing all of that aside, I unlocked the door and made my way into the house, turning on the light switch, expecting to see the refrigerator door standing open--forced open, that is by huge globs of rapidly growing black mold that had fed itself on the cheese, bacon and jars of condiments I'd left in the refrigerator the last time we were there. Yes, I'd fully expected to find the beautiful heart pine floors drenched in brackish water from the ice maker, and the black mold climbing up the walls. Instead, all I found was a sticky puddle of melted ice cream that somehow had found it's way out along the refrigerator door hinge. Standing aside, I opened the refrigerator door and felt the cold air that now filled the space once again, and not nary a sign of mold. What a relief! The sticky mess that once had been homemade banana ice cream left over from our July 4th picnic was a welcome sight. I'm sure that another week without electricity might have produced the mold that I dreaded, but we were lucky. What's a little sticky ice cream on the floor compared to the horrendous loss of entire homes? Once again, I count my blessings and pray for those who were victims of nature's cruel storm. Another lesson learned: don't store ice cream in your vacation cabin refrigerator!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Hand of God

When it comes down to religious fervor, I'm not not exactly a zealot, but I do recognize the hand of God in my own life and often in the lives of those around me. Take something that happened this past weekend. We were at the wedding of our neighbor's son who was being married in the Basilica of St. Lawrence in Asheville, NC. Our grandson, who is a goldsmith, had refurbished a ring for the groom out of the wedding ring of his deceased grandfather. The ring had been given to the groom by his own mother who tenderly wanted her father to be present in some way at his grandson's wedding. The priest, a family friend of the groom's family, who performed the ceremony, incorrectly called the groom "Jim", not once but twice. At a brief interlude in the ceremony, the groom stepped over to the priest and whispered in his ear his correct name. The family, watching all of this from the church pews, were somewhat stunned that this priest who new the groom very well had made such a mistake. The embarrassed priest, apologized and begged forgiveness for his responsibility in causing "one of the little things that can go wrong at a wedding." Even he did not recognize the hand of God until later at the reception when the story circulated that the groom's deceased grandfather, whose ring the groom now wore on his left hand, was named "Jim."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Between the Rivers is now an e-book!

Wow! It feels good to be published again! No, I don't have a new book out, but I do have Between the Rivers, my first book, digitized and waiting for you to download onto your Kindle, Nook, or whatever apparatus you have available to read an electronic book! It is ever so easy to publish an e-book if you've had it in mind from the beginning, but when your book was published the old way, and that publisher is no longer in business, it is NOT so easy. First, you have to have the book scanned, digitized and converted to e-pub, or some other acceptable software. McNaughton and Gunn, my first printer was extremely helpful. I approached them when I ran out of books and wanted a short run of Between the Rivers. After they satisfied my POD (print on demand) order, they agreed to convert the file to e-pub software, a requirement to meet the e-publisher needs. takes it a step further, but generally speaking, you just need to have someone do a conversion. Over the years, many of you have asked for a large print copy, and more recently, some of you have wanted to know when my books will be available as e-books. So there you have it!

Click to order a Kindle eBook version Just $7.99

Click to order a NOOK eBook version Just $7.99

Order a copy and have it downloaded immediately to enjoy all the joys of electronic publishing. Thank you!

More later!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Burned Out

Since I'm a writer, you may think this is going to be about writer's block, or a long unproductive spell. Not so. In my first novel, Between the Rivers, I wrote about being "burned out." As the author, I stood beside my protagonist and imagined the horror she and her family felt as they stood huddled in the shelter of the trees, their eyes wide and unbelieving as they watched the house sputter and cough up great clouds of black smoke...ashes raining down on the canopy of ancient trees, covering their moss-bearded limbs with a peppery dust. Last week, when I heard the news that our good friends in Hendersonville had lost their home in the middle of the afternoon when lightning struck their garage, once again, I could only imagine the horror. Fire had raced through the attic and soon destroyed the whole house. In the early part of the last century, especially in rural areas, it was not that unusual to be "burned out," but today we are so careful--for one thing, we don't use kerosene to start our fires. Many of us don't even use real wood logs. But what can stop that act or freak of nature that directs a bolt of lightening into a mountain home, or sends a tornado skipping across south Raleigh today anymore than it could a hundred years ago. It is hard to accept a freak act of nature, we want to put the blame on something or someone, but only a writer can do that with surety. But such sad news should give us pause. It has me. I look around at my carelessness, things I value scattered about with abandon. If I suddenly lost it all, would I wake up in the night and remember the little things--that little doll from my childhood that always sat on the shelf above my computer? Or my dad's Brownie camera, or my pictures. How would I ever replace all of those pictures! We take so much for granted--that our things will always be here. That we will always be here to care for and about them.