Friday, November 30, 2007

Divine Intervention

It was strangely quiet and dark when I woke up this morning. There was no hum from the heat and the digital clock sat there dark and purposeless, in stony silence, its annoying red numbers vanished. The cats were curled around my legs and we were all more than cold. Soon we reasoned the electricity must have gone off about five a.m. hmmm...Maybe there would be no hot water, no stove, no computer. How lovely! It would be a good excuse to settle back under the covers. After all, I had been waiting for my day of rest to arrive. And a lovely morning of rest it was, that is until I started craving my usual cup of something hot to drink. It was an indecent hour to get up by the time I finally did. I stretched and put on enough makeup so as not to scare anyone, and looking for electric lights shining through neighboring windows, I drove to the nearest Starbucks. "One tall hot green tea, please." The cheery girlish voice offered me three kinds and I chose the green ginger. It was tasty and stayed piping hot through the bank drive thru and to Costco for gas ($2.77). When I got back home - confound it ! - I saw that Duke Energy had responsibly been on the job. But I do appreciate the restful morning.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Nursing Art

I like to tell my students the best thing to give to your patients is yourself. It is not about giving time - time can be in short supply during a shift - but more about how we use the time we do have. It is in the way we use our eyes and the tone of our voice, the intensity with which we listen, nods of our heads, and words of reassurance; basically letting them know we care. Yesterday we talked about "unconditional positive regard," a term Carl Rogers gets credit for. I believe it lays a foundation for the nurse-patient relationship by eliminating judgment and offers an unstated confidence in our patients, helping them to recover from whatever is ailing them, mental or physical. It is always good to have someone to believe in you! Sure there are people we see over and over again because they have learned how to manipulate the health care system, who do not take care of themselves, and we are tempted to criticize. Why can't they be perfect like us, we ask. But much of our work is the personal philosophies and attitudes that people read in us and not simply tasks. When we work to develop unconditional positive regard and are able give it to our patients, we sometimes give it to ourselves, too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mixed Nuts

Those who read and watch the news - please don't forget the entertainment section - are aware of people who are suspected of committing crimes or have extreme opinions or who seem to be going bonkers. They are fodder for attention grabbing headlines and conversation even among strangers. What were they thinking, our inquisitive minds want to know! My nursing students, who today were finishing their psych nursing rotation, and I had a discussion about these newsmakers and tried to identify the various psychiatric disorders they possibly have. We talked about antisocial personality (at one time called psychopath), exhibitionism (a paraphilia), bipolar type 1, depression, borderline personality disorder, pedophilia, narcissism, suicidal gestures, gender identity disturbances and anorexia nervosa. Even though the label of the mental illness or problem isn't mentioned, the symptoms make the news especially when well known people exhibit them. And no doubt to the delight of the competing networks. I have noticed that there is not a big a focus when a celebrity has a medical illness - say a urinary tract infection - but let one of them act out psychiatrically and the world knows about it. Common folk and celebrities alike suffer from problems with their feelings, thoughts and behaviors, but the average person is more likely to get help. People who care notice something is wrong and may try to intervene. And charming average Joe turns out to be a wife killer and will eventually get his due. But pity the poor rich celebrities. They have too many people who rely on the income they generate, and they are less likely to be honestly confronted and as a result, treated. Psychiatry. It is all around us.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sweet pleasures

It starts every year before Halloween. Bags of chocolates all decked out in seasonal dress woo me at store entrances. I resist for a while - I have trained myself to wait until October 30 - but then I succumb. Deliciously. be one of those people who calmly says, "I don't care for sweets," or "I like chocolate but it doesn't like me." That must be both wonderful and horrible. But the Christmas shopping season has officially begun and the relentless, gaudy advertising flyers are out. Responding to a beguiling ad for Hershey Kisses in Sunday's paper that claimed "assorted varieties, buy one get one free," I whipped into CVS on my way home from work yesterday. How nice it would be to have some in my candy jar or to creatively add them to an edible gift, I reasoned. So I bought bags of kisses that were called candy cane, peanut butter, cherry cordials, and mint truffle. I could hardly wait until I got home to see which would be my favorite. I cut a bag open and the aroma of mint excited my senses. I shook one into my hand, peeled off the shiny green foil and stripped the kiss of its last shred of decency. Exposed at last, I popped the luscious little candy in my mouth. Life is short. Eat chocolate.

Monday, November 26, 2007


The intriguing word psychiatry is more and more often being with replaced with the insipid term behavioral health. Why I ask! Does it have a more warm and fuzzy ring to it and conjure up fewer pictures of crazed maniacs being chained to walls? I am guessing it is not a way of presenting a kinder, gentler image to the public, but has something to do with money. It is, after all, part of the medical business. It is only a guess. I am not a decision maker and wasn't consulted on the matter. I just know I don't like it. Behavior is only a piece, a result of thoughts, experiences, feelings. I have loved psychiatry. Psychiatry was the first big word I learned to spell. As I got a little older, I used to look it up and read and reread about it in the old Collier's Encyclopedias we had at home. The brain was also a fascination. It was mysterious, not like the heart that you could see at work, but a convoluted mass of gray grooves that just sat there underneath the skull, directing all of man's thoughts and movements. Psychology was much less compelling, I thought. From my parents I learned to find all people interesting. Thanks to a series of misadventures in my life, and perhaps destiny, I ended up working in psychiatry - as a nurse. It is enough for me. I aspire to no greater employment except perhaps to share my experiences on what I have learned about life. Although there have been more frustrations than hairs on my head - and not with the patients - I have persevered. There have been enough personally incredible moments to keep me in psychiatry.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Day of Rest

A day of rest. What a lovely promise the words hold. How needed. A day to refresh the body, soul and mind. But I ask - when will it ever come? Or even a day to catch up on housework at my leisure? I appreciate the way my dog keeps the kitchen floor licked clean, but really, it must be mopped. Towels must be washed, leftovers in the fridge must be disposed of, leaves tracked inside must be vacuumed, and my addled brain must normalize. It won't be today. I am a nurse and it is a workday. It won't be tomorrow. I will be with my students in the clinical area. And so it goes. My only option will be to have some hours within each day for down time or home duty time, and maybe by the next weekend, I will be rejuvenated. That is not God's plan for his children, though. Out of his love for us and because he knows how we function best, he directed us to have a day of quietude and spiritual reflection each week. A day of rest and renewal. But that's another thing we have messed up. I find that like everything else, God is right. It is about every seven days that I really need a time out, and twenty-four hours is more effective than a few snatched here and there. But I am a flawed human and rationalize my errant ways, to my loss. Such is life.

Chez Grandmommy

Now that I have lived for a while and have transitioned through to the grandmother stage, I want to play my role well. Part of that is letting my home be a comfortable, welcoming, accepting, even adventurous place for the grandchildren when they are here. For my little Thanksgiving visitors, I prepared by having some kid areas where I put some interesting things for them to discover, but really children are just curious about anything in what the older generation has accumulated. I thought my grandmothers' homes were the coolest places. When I was a child, my daddy's parents lived a thousand miles away, but we did make the trip through the mountains, over the rivers and through the woods to get there every year or two. I loved exploring their big, airy house with the cool dark cellar and the transom windows, and I now realize Gram probably had as much joy in this southern granddaughter's explorations as I did. Because of the distance, I didn't get to spend much time with her as we children grow up much too soon, but the older I get, it seems the more glimpses my mind shows me of her - the way she made gravy, the twinkle in her blue eyes. I hope my grandchildren will carry some happy memories of my home into the future with them. The memories and the family continuity can be something of a comfort.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Passing Love Along

The house is quieter now with most of the family gone, but the echoes of chatter and laughter will linger for a while, at least as long as there is a toy Volkswagen inhabiting a forgotten corner. Still here are three grandchildren from one family who are sleeping over so their mom and dad can have a night out to celebrate their wedding anniversary. John - yesterday in a pile of leaves - was peaceful as I lay with him, and he warbled along with my lullabies. Finally he turned on his side and his sleep breaths started. One...two...three good ones. He is not yet three and is the only one to shorten my name to the more grown up sounding Grandmom. Jacob was charged with getting his five year old sister - the pretty tree hugger - settled and to sleep. He read to her as she snuggled with her Daddy's forty year old teddy bear and sailed into the Land of Nod. Then we two headed to the kitchen for cocoa and biscotti and some funny family stories. Jacob and I crack each other up! Next week, we will all return to our stage of life roles, but for now we are together, these precious children who carry a little piece of me, and their grandmommy who loves them. What are grandchildren and families for if not to share life with and to love. Love is what makes life worthwhile.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The prep is key

It is still dark out. I set the alarm for 6:30 to get the big ol' turkey in the oven, but I was up way before that. That is just the way it is when my children gather and I have lots to do. It is the excitement of it all that stirs my brain to rise and go. The work shouldn't be too bad today because I did so much to get ready yesterday. The good china has been cleaned and inspected, the vegetables have been washed, the centerpiece in on the table, and so on. Now it is just assembling, letting the oven do its thing, and serving. (Oh yes...and then that darned cleaning up.) Preparation. It is the the most essential thing we do, and it affects every aspect of our lives. Today it is only Thanksgiving dinner but tomorrow, who knows what it may be, and how I deal with it depends on how I have prepared myself. Like the commercial says, life comes at you fast, and we need to be prepared! Education may be the most obvious preparation. It leads to a career that funds our living. But everyday we, through our thoughts and experiences, are preparing for the future, for what the next day brings, whether we are aware of it or not. If do not take care of our bodies, we will not have the stamina when we need it. If we plan to tend our relationships and then fail to do so, they will dissolve. If we don't put into our minds the tools for making wise decisions, we fall. Preparation, usually unwitting, is behind every automatic response. It is what structures our lives. This Thanksgiving dinner has been prepared for long before this week. Into it went reading cookbooks and following recipes, learning from others, trial and error, and making messes. It doesn't just happen!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Prep Day

It is the morning of Thanksgiving Eve and it will be a busy - no, frantic - day. But tomorrow will be extremely special because we will all be together. All of my children - biological, those aquired through marriage, and the next generation - will be here cramming together in the roasted turkey and ginger scented kitchen, then sharing the bird and traditional side dishes around the tables. Not one to do things too early, I will get in my cooking groove soon. When we are all safely gathered in, I must take time out from my scullery maid duties to gaze upon, admire, and appreciate each child while they are here - and as they are in the moment. I will fuss at myself if I don't, if I get too involved with the tasks of the day. Yes, there is much to be done between now and when Thanksgiving is over tomorrow night, but thinking thankful thoughts will keep me in the right frame of mind. Besides knowing that God loves and cares for me, I am thankful and blessed to have a family that enjoys being together, and am also blessed that I can still put on a Thanksgiving spread.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Next to a crossword puzzle you can sink your teeth into, the best flight companion is a good book, and I took one along. It was not a romance novel though the subject was somewhat of a romanticist, nor a juicy tell-all autobiography, but an excellent biography titled Einstein. Author Walter Isaacson has so finely crafted the story that even I not only got the feel of who the man was and how he reasoned but also the gist of the science that held Albert Einstein's fascination and commitment from childhood. Isaacson explained that contrary to myth, Einstein was a fine student, and though he talked a little later than most children, even his early words reflected curiosity, imagination, and acute observations. Here are a few of Einstein's quotations that I liked.
  • Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.
  • It is important to foster individuality, for only individuality can produce new ideas.
  • How an intelligent man can subscribe to a (political) party, I find a complete mystery.
  • One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Au revoir

Naturellement, Westins are known for their heavenly beds. They have perfectly determined the right mattress, pillows, linens and covers to make their clients sleep well, and that after all is generally why one stays at a hotel. And I love their "hydrating cream" (i.e. hand lotion) that has a wonderfully relaxing - possibly - lavender scent. But I think they took their elegant, somewhat Asian look too far. Too many medium neutrals can look depressing, someone needs to tell them. On the other hand, it is not stimulating, like dusk, and may prepare weary souls for the pleasurable beds. We left our packed bags at the concierge desk and walked into the Galleria mall in search of food. During the summer when I was there, the line at la Madeleine was so long that I went elsewhere. Today we waited and it was worth it. For my petit dejeuner, I chose egg crepe champignon because I liked the name. He got the French country breakfast. We shared a to die for cinnamon apple pastry that was drizzled with caramel icing. Great with my French coffee. We did not know when our next meal would be and ate heartily. Gee...I wish we had a la Madeleine around here. After walking once again past upscale shops with names such as Montblanc, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Burberry and spending a few unnecessary bucks ourselves, we picked up the bags and got a taxi to the airport. It was almost uneventful from there on. I suggest if you have a first class seat, try not to make it 1C, the one that is closest to the bathroom on a 747, or else have a book to hold in front of your face as if you are reading intensely. Some unpleasant odors may waft your way. Here is a picture of clouds and sky from high above the earth.

The Opening Party

The Westin Galleria and the new Del Frisco's are both a part of the Galleria, a huge mall in downtown Houston, so we just had to walk through the mall to get to the party. Nice since it was raining. It was in high gear when we got there about nine o'clock with the six piece band playing rock and roll upstairs and attractive couples dancing and holding their glasses high. Food and drink were the main attractions. Oh...and breasts. They're not just for Hollywood anymore. Servers were walking about the crowd with trays of various luscious hors d'oeuvres. I was first offered and took steak tartare on a bread crisp. Normally I would feel like a barbarian if I ate raw mammal, but I hadn't had a thing since the pecan pie that I had at work at noon. Hunger can change your values. In the wine room downstairs was a great assortment of cheeses and fruits, and in the main dining room were piles of very jumbo shrimp for the taking. Upstairs were ice sculptures, desserts in and out of chocolate shells, bars, and a dinner buffet whose meats bragged beef tenderloin and lobster tails. The chateau mashed potatoes with cayenne was my favorite. I figure "chateau," kind of homey, like mama makes but spiced up a bit. I'm a potato kind of girl. There were young women in black cocktail dresses posing as guests who offered to take your dirty dishes to the kitchen. I don't know...but when I am at work, I have to wear a name tag so I won't be mistaken for a patient. Chef Thomas said there were thirty cooks preparing the food and over one hundred servers. Now that's a serious restaurant opening! This Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House is almost identical to the one in NYC. Not only does it have marvelous food and a wine room, but interesting art, and not just one but two majestic iron handrails that go to (and from) the mezzanine. Before we left, my husband proudly toured me through the still busy, stainless steel maze of a kitchen. By that time, there weren't many guests left and the workers were packed in there, piling up their plates with leftovers. What a scene! Check it out!

Houston - Getting there

It had been a calm day at work when about 1:15 in the afternoon my husband telephoned. "Dru called. He said pack your wife and come to Houston." Saturday night was the opening party of the new Del Frisco's that they had both worked very hard on. To go meant we had to catch a plane from Atlanta that would leave at 5:30. My co-workers let me leave. I hate to miss a party. It is in my genes. So I made arrangements for my dog, dashed home, had a shot of BarleyMax, threw my best party outfit in the bag along with minimal other necessities, and we headed down I85. My husband used the skills he taught at the police academy in the high speed chase class and I held my breath and prayed. Even with all we had to do once we got there, we figured we made it in time! Atlanta's Hartsfield is enormous and of course, a pain. We got the tickets, didn't check bags because of the time crunch, got through the checkpoints, took the speeding bullet to the concourse, and breathlessly arrived at the gate. "You can't board. All the seats are taken. It is a sold out flight." We were two minutes late so they sold our seats! Even I - I was pumped - argued with this AirTran employee whose name tag was lost in the folds of her body, but neither she nor her supervisor who never made eye contact, let us on. I figure it is like trying to second guess a losing basketball game. Every play or every second contributes to the final outcome. We decided to see if there was another flight. Yes...on Continental. We retraced out steps and started back at square one. A compassionate woman at the ticket counter quickly assisted us to get tickets and we went through the process again with one addition. When we got to the place where we had to place our stuff in the dishpan and send it through x-ray on the right and walk through the poles where they look for box cutters and underwire in bras on the left, we were told, "You have been selected..." For a split second my natural optimism thought it was a good thing, but then I realized...prepare to be groped. Just another thing to slow us down. Whew...We got to the gate in time. The uniformed guy taking the tickets, said, "I'm sorry but this flight is full." Then the jokester laughed. I had been giddy for awhile by that time. The flight turned out to be ahead of schedule and after a $60 taxi ride from Bush to The Westin Galleria and fixing up, we were only fashionably late. As if anyone noticed. Moral of the story: Keep your sense of humor. You never know when you will need it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What I Learned About Love One Day

When you are a home health nurse, you don't know what you may find on the first visit. But this experience was one I wanted to remember and I jotted the essence of it when I came home. It was, in fact, what inspired me to start writing some of my nursing stories. The home was in an older part of town, a red brick two story, and one that looked as if the occupants had lived there for a long time, that little children had once played in the yard before growing to adulthood and leaving home. The husband greeted me at the door. Soon I felt the love. When I walked in, she was lying in a hospital bed in the living room, old and bedridden, rigid and staring, with Parkinson's disease. But he saw his wife differently. When he talked with her and looked at her, his eyes were filled with a connection that can be defined only as true love. He talked to me of their years together, and how he, still fit and healthy, must now tend to her physical needs. He spoke to and about her as if she were still the girl he fell in love with. Then I saw it. The young girl was still somewhere inside that almost unresponsive body, and I realized that we are indelibly and forever imprinted when love strikes us. That is how our minds see that person from then on. The imprint forms the basis of our relationship. And that is what I learned about love that day.


Last night I fell asleep to sweet welcome sound of falling rain. We in the upstate of South Carolina have been in a drought but certainly nothing like Georgia's. On the news this morning I heard of the prayer service that Georgia's Governor Perdue led specifically to plea for rain. This is certainly not an original idea. The Bible has several stories of praying for rain and praying for no rain, and what about those American Indians and their rain dances that we learned about in elementary school. So why not collectively pray for rain! Maybe the Georgia capital prayer story would not have made the news in a positive way if no rain had followed within 48 hours, but, seems the prayers were answered. And a nice rain it was, too. I appreciate even the small amount of news coverage it received. Too often news stories are from a small and fragmented edge and whose intentions seem to be to antagonize and stir up gossip and dissent. I prefer not to label those folks as being on a particular political or social wing, but I see them as not grounded in the truth. That in turn causes them to be confused and lost, which then makes them vulnerable to believe anything, at least for a season. But this is a story from the grounded side. The Bible tells us that "the fervent prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective." Now that is good news!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Honoring the Seasons

Many of us have nine to five type jobs, rising, working and bedding ritualistically. It is what we expect to do as good employees and what the companies expect of us. Since we depend on our paychecks, we follow like good soldiers of the American workforce. No matter the season, we do the same things over and over, and in the summer, get treated to a vacation, a break from the routine. No matter the time, daylight saving or standard, the pesky alarm interrupts our dreams, and soon we leave for work whether on a sunny morning or in the dark, in snow, rain, heat or gloom of night. We follow regimentedly, robotically. I have long felt that one of the many reasons there is so much "depression" - the dissatisfaction sort - in our culture is that we don't honor the seasons. We don't adapt our lifestyles for the seasons. We fail to take time to look beyond at the backdrop of everchanging nature in our focused and duty filled lives and recognize how seasons influence our lives. But we are all affected by climate change, air pressure, hours of sunlight, ions in the atmosphere, rough winds, the feel of rain, the fresh greens of spring, and the grays of winter. Sometimes our obligations to work, to home, and to what we consider to be our basic needs become all we believe we can do, and changes that the seasons bring may become nuisances when they interfere with our routines. I have no way to control how business does business. If for example I recommended that on a lovely day our bosses tell us, "Go enjoy!" they probably wouldn't do it, even if it would make the employees happier. Most of us can't choose to picnic on a summer day rather than show up for work, but I suggest we use some of our thinking time to honor the seasons themselves and breathe out a few aahhs as we do.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Feelings Make the Difference

We have probably all received emails that end something like " . . .but you always remember how they made you feel." It's true. We remember the feelings related to the event even more than the event itself. We might think for example...I felt lonely, proud, left out, happy or scared about a childhood experience. Some homes are - as we say - healthier, and they are places where children feel loved and valued for who they are, and they are free to talk about not only what is going on but also their feelings, without fear of judgment. As a result, they are taught to deal with their problems and related feelings as they present themselves, and tend to become more mentally and emotionally stable adults. Others grow up in chaotic, restrictive, or abusive environments, and are not allowed to have their own feelings. However the feelings are still there but the child learns to repress them. This causes emotional and physical difficulties, anxiety, depression, irritability and stomach problems to name a few. Early on in my work, I learned the importance of feelings, first identifying them, and then letting them have a voice, a huge part of healing the psyche. I am a fan of Candace Pert who brought to us the science behind emotions. We are learning more and more about the brain! In a class today I learned that if our mind decides something is no longer needed - generally some little thing - the brain will "dump" it after about five days. What is the deciding factor in whether it gets dumped? "The emotional value attached to the memory is what makes the difference in dumped or stored memories." (Quoted from Joseph Carver, PhD.) So when the doctor asks, "How did this make you feel?" there is a reason for it. Don't smirk. Think about it. It may lead to better health.

Monday, November 12, 2007

My Veterans

A day to remember veterans. I am the daughter of a WWll veteran. Daddy was in Army intelligence and spent most of his time on a ship that traveled between America and the North Africa - Mediterranean area, at least I think so. In later years, he worked on his "book," a collection of his remembrances from "The War." The VA served him well as he aged, and he liked to sit and chat with other "old soldiers." I am the wife of a "Vietnam era" Army veteran, a real life GI Joe. The memories fight not to erupt and he is never free of them, but I think the Army remains his main love. I am the mother of an Army soldier. Trip was gung-ho at eighteen when he started Army Reserves but relieved to get out when he finished his six years af active duty. Finishing Ranger training was a big deal. We were proudly sitting in the stands that cold sunny day, and as the line of graduates, as an arc on the horizon, moved toward us, I suspected that it was Trip on the far end, the tallest of the men who were fit enough to finish the course. As he came closer, heart aflutter, I could tell for sure. Gaunt and hyperalert he was, as I pinned on his Ranger pin. I am the mother of a sailor who was in Desert Storm. This first war in the mideast was alarming to us Americans, but for Peter, it was an adventure. "If I die, I die," he wrote me. Thankfully they all made it home alive, but for some mothers, wives, and daughters, their men didn't. Today I thank you, my men and others, for serving the American military and the American people. The picture is of a Veterans Cemetery in St. Augustine.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

St. Augustine Snapshot

St. Augustine, Florida is a charming city and everyone should plan a long visit there at least once. This wasn't one of those trips however, but a work duty for my husband with me for company, and we had only quick stopover before heading back. But there were lots of other tourists even on this second weekend of November, and why not, the weather was great. We had done the sightseeing thing there several times before and didn't feel obliged to repeat it. After is America's oldest city and it hasn't changed that much. The Old Jail and the Fountain of Youth still stand. We stayed in the Comfort Suites Downtown. I don't know what it may have been if it had a previous life, but it was well kept and comfy and believe it or not, right near Ripley's. We enjoyed drinks from Smoothie King late Saturday afternoon that were so filling that we later considered them supper. Mine was a delicious pomegranate smoothie. This morning after breakfasting in the lobby, we rode around a bit. St. Augustine is a sunny place, probably even in bad weather. Many of the Spanish inspired buildings and homes are painted some shade of yellow from light creams to butterscotch to various ochres and even a lemony color. I love yellow. There was a Veteran's Day ceremony going on at the Castillo de San Marco and across the street, boats in the harbor. After admiring the old city, we got on A1A - by the ocean - to Jacksonville before taking the interstate home. Here's a shot from today - clouds in a blue sky and boats on the water.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Salvia elegans

Conditions must have been right for the pineapple sage to bloom so nicely this fall. It is close to four feet tall, almost as wide and is full of slender rich red flowers. An internet source claims that it is the top flower for attracting hummingbirds though I haven't seen them. A sweet pineapple aroma is emitted when the mature leaves are crushed. Even before I had heard of aromatherapy, I liked it so much that I once planted one in a small hospital garden for the patients to enjoy. Here is my lovely late bloomer.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Part of "depersonalizing" my home for the real estate market was sending my cookbooks off to storage. Yesterday I unpacked them and saw them with a different eye. There is a reason these few have survived the many purges. They are distinguished by the memories they hold. I have my mother's old Rumford Cookbook, the one she used when she started life as a bride, that has recipes written in her pretty youthful script on the inside covers. The long, floppy Fleischman's I ordered from the company in the mid seventies and became the foundation of my love of bread baking and the Redbook Cookbook of the same era that had all the cooking knowledge I could handle at the time were keepers. So is the batter stained Our Best Recipes by Southern Living that I used every time I made a batch of congo squares. I am still proud of the chunky little cookbook by Charlotte United Way workers that my mother illustrated and the two recipe collections for fund raisers that I worked on so diligently. Regretfully I gave away my first Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, a must know text that I studied during my first year of motherhood as if I were preparing for a quiz. My most recent purchase does not yet have a place in my heart. It is still just a slick book with pretty pictures, but I thought I should update my shrinking collection. I find that I don't need cookbooks much anymore since I have had the basics down for many years. I am competent enough to experiment and come up with something pretty darned good, often the blending the old and the new, appreciating the healthy changes our increasingly small planet has made on our diets. But these treasured cookbooks are a part of my history and looking over them brings happy memories.

Gift from Nature

This sugar maple is in its glory now. It is not mine. I have graceful maples but they do not become resplendent like this beauty. Even better, it is in my neighbor's front yard so I get a full view of it each fall right out of my front window. If I were handed a beautifully wrapped present and inside was something I really wanted, I could not enjoy it any more than this gift that nature blesses me with each year through these kind people. I used to have roses bushes planted close to the street in the hopes that passersby and playing children would stop to sniff and break off a few for their own pleasure. I didn't leave a sign that said "Free Roses," but I hoped the proximity to the road was a sign that they were welcome to pick and to enjoy. Sometimes gifts are given with flair and drama but other times they are subtle and seemingly unintentional. I suspect my neighbors know how much their tree dresses up our little cul-de-sac, but in case they don't, I think I will call and thank them for the gift.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Happy Birthday, Tomato Farmer

This is the first birthday remembrance since I started this daily blog. My second sensational son and as close as I could get to a namesake, Stuart made his entrance on Planet Earth forty-one years ago this afternoon. I gave up my diary when I married at nineteen and regret not recording the cute things my babies did, the milestones, and the feelings that went with being a mother, but memories are there anyway and here is one for Stuart. We moved to Spartanburg when he was four and lived in a neighborhood with a back yard full of gangly pines and no good summer garden spot, so I hoed and prepared a place at the side of the house. My drive to have a garden was no doubt something I learned from my daddy who loved the fruit trees and various veggies that he planted and nurtured, including of course tomatoes. In this side yard garden the different varieties of tomatoes thrived. An early rising, retired neighbor across the street observed that Stuart - at four and five - was "like an old farmer" because each morning he saw him checking the tomatoes, and I add, he did so with love. Some smaller varieties were used as ammunition in cherry tomato fights with his brothers, but we had plenty of big ones left for all to enjoy. Now Stuart has been a tomato "farmer" for many summers, even ordering heirloom seeds and growing them from scratch. The seasons have been disappointing or rewarding, just like the rest of life, but still Stuart carries on a long family tradition as well as commendably carrying my favorite name.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


There it was again. The misuse of an English word. A word that once was reserved for a male who displayed certain admirable characteristics. Someone was being interviewed on a television news show and used the word "gentleman" in reference to a criminal. Oh? Did a well bred, well mannered man adopt a criminal lifestyle? And if he did, wouldn't he have lost his gentleman status? At work I get reports on new admissions, homeless drug addicts, that begin, "This gentleman..." When did the meaning of gentleman change to include any form of the male species? What is wrong with calling a man a man? Or a fellow? Or a guy? Is this entropy of our mother tongue or is this falsely polite term due to that American euphemistic blunder, political correctness? It was in the sixties that the lyrics "How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?" were musically and culturally in vogue. Being called a man was a good thing. Language and politics, culture and times change, and sometimes I am dragged along, kicking and screaming.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Veggie zuppa du jour

The season changes bring different at home cuisines. One food to enjoy in the fall and winter is vegetable soup. My life as a cook has produced many steaming savory pots, no two alike. Yesterday's version was uncomplicated and yummy. My mother made delicious vegetable soup, and I find that it is hard to produce a pot of vegetable soup that is not incredibly tasty to the soul as well as the body. This is the way it went.

I sauteed til soft a thinly sliced white onion, diced celery, and minced fresh garlic in some good organic olive oil. Before the garlic browned, I added about two cups of water and a large Knorr beef boullion cube. (The vegetable boullion could be used to make it vegetarian.) I peeled and sliced carrots and put them in next. While that was coming to a boil, I peeled and cubed two potatoes and put them in the pot, then added some frozen green beans. I washed and prepped some fresh parsley and spinach, and in went the green. Last I added about a cup or so of tomato juice. It simmered about 10 minutes longer and was ready to enjoy. More seasoning wasn't really necessary for my taste. It was just about the quickest vegetable soup du jour ever!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Thankful Thinking

One of the most eye opening experiences of being a nurse is seeing how people live and have lived their lives. We care for newborn babies and witness how their mothers respond to them. We wonder what their lives will be. We see people struggling with mental and physical problems throughout the life span and then, people close to entering the next dimension through what we call death. There is no way to predict what a life will turn out to be. We humans have no control over who our parents were or the genes we have been dealt. However we do have control over a few attitudes that make a huge difference in the quality of our lives even if the opposite has been modeled for us. Gratitude is one attitude of choice. Romans 12 addresses being changed by the renewal of our minds. Making an effort to renew and change our thinking for the good, to abandon attitudes that put us in an unhappy state, is one way to help our own life span be a better one.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A full moon of fish

I think this is an interesting picture. Last month I saw a few people fishing on the south end of Wrightsville Beach and stopped to watch them and admire their catches as I walked along. I took the liberty of snapping this picture right into one of their buckets. Can you see the bait fish and the freshly caught flounder - golden tail extended - that almost jumped out right after the click of the camera?

Friday, November 2, 2007

The new old house

After the house had been on the market for almost six months and had been visited by about sixty sightseers, there were still no offers. Was it that undesirable? I didn't think so. In fact I always found it to be a house of character and quite livable. But I took the hint and re-evaluated the situation. We decided that it would work just fine to stay here after all. When the house is on the market, it doesn't feel like your own. Now we are happily settling back into our new old house and doing some of the things we had planned to do when we moved into the new house in Winston-Salem that never was. I am restarting magazine subscriptions, buying new spices, and the promise of a big new television will soon be realized. I am cluttering instead of decluttering and actually living in instead of visiting this place that has sheltered me for ten years. It is good to be home.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Eight legged pets

I am not too crazy about Halloween anymore, but I have always been captivated by the spider, a creature that becomes more prominent in late October and whose threatening caricatures decorate many a Halloween activity. But the real spider is an amazing little animal, spinning beautiful webs and then scurrying around them. My favorite is the writing spider and her progeny that grace my perennial lantana near the mailbox like an old friend who comes to visit each summer. And this morning when I let my dog out, there was a huge classic web, beautifully strung in the corner near my back door with some sort of brown spider near the center who seemed to be startled by my unexpected appearance. Boo backatcha! I will respectfully leave it alone however as spiders are obviously intelligent enough to respond to my curiosity. I say let Mother Nature handle it. Soon the web will get stringy, the spider will abandon it, and it will go away on its own. Later today however, when dark has just settled in, I may pull out my new Canon SD 1000 and snap a picture for my spider photo collection. Reader beware!