Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Trip to the Bootheel

When I started blogging, it was to be a therapeutic exercise, something like a gratitude journal. I promised myself no whining or discussing bad things, that I would find only a positive something to write about no matter what. It was a challenging time in my life and another challenging time has arisen again, making it hard to find time to write or blog about anything. However, while I have been on the road, some of those miles were heading for good things and places. If conditions are right, I often write in my head going down a strap of highway. However, if I am not driving, I also fall asleep! I was a colicky, and the only relief my parents had was taking me in the car where I stopped crying and instantly fell to sleep. The habit continues!

There was no sleep last week though as we left home in a pouring rain heading for the Bootheel where we would meet our Kentucky kids. We knew the day was to be rainy, but often the rain will let up, turn to showers or maybe sprinkle for a while. But this day the wiper blades beat a pounding rhythm the whole way to St. Louis. Driving was hard especially since we shared the road with many drivers not willing to slow their speed in the rough driving conditions. We had considered a couple of stops along the way, but we gave them up instead of getting out for a soaking. Also the drive was slower going, taking more time in poor road conditions.

We did manage a quick run through St. Charles, one of my very favorite places. Something about the rumble of those brick streets next to the wide river that satisfies me. We made the last hour of lunch at Miss Aimee B’s Tea Room, our first visit since our timing always has been poor when traveling that direction. I would have loved to spend more time there, lingering over my quiche, but the chilly day and time ticking made for a quick lunch. My spinach mushroom quiche was delicious; DH had breakfast which is served all day there, an oddity for a tea room.

After eating, we drove down around the riverfront and passed by store fronts, taking time to run into Main Street Books. It was the first time we had visited them in their new location. I saw at least fifteen books at the front door I wanted! But I settled for a tiny book of old sayings and moved on to visit our friends in Sunset Hills. We met Jim and Elaine as newlyweds when we all lived in Village Square Apartments in Hazelwood. Although we moved far apart, the friendship is coming up on our 40th year, an amazing feat in today’s world. By mail, tapes, phones, and emails we have managed to stay in touch through births, deaths, job loss, children’s marriages, grandbabies, and even their living in Finland. Every couple of years or so we try to do a spring fishing trip. This May it looks like Roaring River might be the place of our rendezvous.

The next morning we coasted down Highway 55 sampling small Missouri towns on the way. Some were new sights; some were old to us. Perryville was a new stop, and we took a peak at inside the church at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It was beautiful and touching inside. I intend to learn more about the area, about the settling of that region. We pushed on to Bollinger Mill outside Jackson where we were meeting our kids. We have seen this beautiful mill before and intended on having a picnic there even though the day was a wee bit cool. We managed a quick sandwich, but half the grounds were under high water. Not an inviting view! Nearby an old general store was open as an antique store where I found a couple of odd Blue Willow dishes; ones that will be a reminder of this trip each time we have a hot bread or cookie on the dessert plates.

Then the highlight of the trip, seeing our 15 month old grandson. What fun the little guy is, and of course, he is smart, don’t ya know! Gone was the baby of last autumn, as he now was a toddler, a real boy full of boy energy. The local farm store, Buchheit’s I think, had baby chicks, crowing roosters, ducklings, and baby rabbits which he loved. We fed ducks at a lake in Cape Girardeau, played in a playground, ran the mall, and doing a hundred things it seemed. Child and grandparents were tired by nightfall! But we crammed it all in because they had to head back to Kentucky and we to Southwestern Missouri on Sunday. I had taken books and notebooks for writing, but somehow nothing got done this trip. But memories were made and maybe a line or two of writing will germinate from them in the future.

Mason thinks, "What did you say the price of this mower is!"

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Are You Sure This Is Spring?

Yesterday, the last day of winter, was about as gorgeous a day as you can get. Skies blue, sun bright, breeze trifling, and the temperature a perfect 70 degrees. The robins were singing like opera stars at Carnegie Hall. The maple buds were swelled to the bursting point; you could feel the leaves ache to be free. But Mother Nature wasn’t done dashing us with hostile iciness and making us weather-bound for the weekend. So on this first day of spring and DH’s birthday, the temps dropped 40 degrees and rain started turning to the fastest falling flakes I have ever seen. Not only were they rapid, but they were like tiny snowballs, exploding with a plop when they hit the ground. Now snow is beginning to accumulate with a promise of maybe seven inches at least. I have to admit that even though I am weather weary, it is a beautiful snow.

But what do you do in a March snowstorm? After months of winter, I have read and reread books until my eyes are blurry, written until my brain feels as empty as a hip flask at an Irish wake. I have cooked and eaten until nothing sounds good; the smell of onions and the sizzle of oil inspire nothing like the thoughts of a fresh tomato or strawberry eaten out of doors, juice running down the chin and splatting on a white tee shirt! The only music I long for is birdsong. I have watched movies including a yearly rewatching of Out of Africa, and hubby is ensconced in front of the Big Twelve basketball anyway. I have finished fringing the last prayer shawl, started a ponshawl, and I am weary of clacking needles. So I brew another pot of tea, find a Debbie MacComber chick lit book, and try to enjoy lounging in my robe for yet anther weekend waiting for real spring to begin.

The mail brought prizes today at least. (Wish I could count on the mailman’s visiting tomorrow on Sunday!) My Ballymaloe Cookbook arrived. At first glance it was disappointing because it lacks vibrant color which I enjoy in my cookbooks. The recipes are not something I am drawn to rush to the kitchen to do, and the personal tales that were promised don’t seem too interesting. But maybe I should read deeper before judging.

There was also a nice order of samples from the Simpson and Vail tea company. They all smelled delicious, but Blue Moon was the most unique. The catalog says this tea has a “fresh from the garden” taste that is blend of black pepper and the taste of berry. Now DH does not like spice, and he is no fan of black pepper at all, but I had to try it. So this afternoon when the risk of wakefulness from caffeine was not a real threat since we will surely be housebound for napping tomorrow as well, I brewed up this new Blue Moon. DH said it was good—but that evaluation might have been sweetened by the cookie that broke the boredom as well! The tea did have a slight peppery feel and warmed your insides nicely. Always hard for me to switch loyalty from my true favorites of Cinnamon black and Irish Breakfast, but this Blue Moon has a nice jolt of difference for just such days as this. I like the name too.

So if I am awake in to the wee hours of morning later, it will just be more time to continue enjoying this burst of Winter 2010 on the first day spring!  Now where did I leave those knitting needles?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Soup Season

A couple of weeks ago, we had a lovely warm day. The sun beat down, warmed our skin and hearts. The sky was totally free of clouds and spring looked like it was trying to arrive. Then winter returned like one of Cinderella’s nasty step-sisters spreading ashy looking skies from horizon to horizon. Now today I heard that snow might be possible for Saturday, the first official day of spring. After a long winter, snow on the first day of spring and cold temperatures for Easter the next week is going to make us all feel like we were left at home while everyone else went to the ball! Where is our fairy godmother that could bring the sun?

I thought I was finished with soup season. I have made soups, beans, cassoulets, and hearty breads. I have brewed up numerous pots of dark hot tea, and a few have been accompanied by cookies. If spring weather, the farmer’s market with yellows and green leaves of early eating, and healthy walking outdoors don’t arrive soon, I won’t be able move my thighs off the recliner and out the front door. Yet today, I bought more lean beef chunks, winter vegetables, and dried beans for what I hope is one last big soup pot that will mark the end of soup season 2010.

I love reading cook books and occasionally have to weed out my shelves because like with any book collection, one can't keep them all! One of my favorites is a children’s cookbook I bumped into at the independent bookstore at St. Charles, Missouri. (I also love independent book stores!) Blue Moon Soup, written by Gary Goss and illustrated by Jane Dyer, is designed for adults and children to use for cooking together. The directions are simple, the names playful, and the directions easy to follow. While simple, the recipes are delicious and produce a worthy meal. One of my favorite soups is the Full Moon Soup with kidney beans, tomatoes, and kale. I had never cooked kale before, but this made a unique and tasty soup!

Soup can be time consuming when making your own chicken or beef broth, then peeling, slicing and dicing your own vegetables. But once you have put in a morning’s worth of work, you can have soup for several meals. This frees up writing time on the following days thanks to the microwave and a box of crackers! A good writer can plot a story while chopping and have it filed away in her head for putting into the computer later. Just be careful with what genre stirs in your head though. A murder mystery can be dangerous to plot with a sharp clever in your hands; better outline some sensual and fulfilling love story or plan an amusing poem while at the cutting board. Save revenge and conspiracy for when your fingers are actually on the keyboard!

Right now I have to go sweat some onions and garlic to get my soup pot going since today the weather is cold with a light drizzle—definitely still soup season. Hum, I wonder if anyone has written an Ode to Potatoes?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Family Circle Writing Contest

I remember when most magazines carried short fiction, and this included Family Circle and Woman's Day, the "grocery store magazines". Although I entered the Family Circle Fiction 2009 Contest, I didn't win a thing. However, they have just started yet another contest for 2010. Since it doesn't close until September 2010, there is plenty of time to consider an entry; they even allow two entries per person. Here is the info or check out the site at

2010 Family Circle Fiction Contest Rules
Contest begins March 1, 2010 and ends September 8, 2010. Entries must be postmarked on or before September 8, 2010 and received by September 15, 2010. Entries will not be acknowledged or returned. Sponsor: Meredith Corporation, 1716 Locust St., Des Moines, Iowa. Sponsor assumes no responsibility for illegible, lost, late, misdirected, incomplete, or stolen entries or mail.

ENTRY: Submit an original (written by entrant), fiction short story of no more than 2,500 words, typed on 8-1/2x11paper. Entries must be unpublished and may not have won any prize or award. Include your name, address, daytime telephone number and e-mail address (optional) on each page and send to: Family Circle Fiction Contest, c/o Family Circle Magazine, 375 Lexington Avenue, Ninth Floor, New York, NY 10017.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

April is waiting in the wings, and that means National Poetry Month is approaching. I have loved this poetry month for a long time, and while teaching, I looked forward to introducing my students to the fun of poems. Oh, we had text books and such, but during April we just played with words. One year when the local grocery store still used brown paper bags, I asked for a stack of them. I took the bags to school and had each seventh grade student put their original poem on the blank side, decorate the poem, and sign it. I returned the decorated sacks to the store where clerks used them. Shoppers took home a poem with their groceries, and we got a lot of good comments back about the project. Another year we did the same kind of project on post cards and just mailed them out to names in the phone book spreading the joy of poems around Jasper County. Alas, along came MAP and there was no time left for such creative endeavors!

Do you visit There are many good poetry sites, but this is one of my favorites. You can find famous poems, contemporary poets, buy books, support poetry. This site also will send you a poem a day right to your mailbox during April. Sign up; it’s fun. The web site also promotes a program called Poem in Your Pocket and this year Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 29th.

Another favorite site is If you love poems of the Midwest and of the prairie, you will find some here. I am not as familiar with Missouri poets, but there is a list of nice sites at that is worth checking out. I am going to be checking the list soon.

One of my own poems has been accepted by the St. Charles Community College (Missouri) literary journal. It will come out in an April issue. This will be the most perfect way for me to celebrate April Poetry Month!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bylines Writer's Desk Calendar Features Will Rogers

When fellow blogger Donna Volkenannt invited Snowflake Publisher Sylvia Forbes to visit her blog, I was interested because I had heard of the Bylines Writer’s Desk Calendar, but I had never seen one. So when there was a drawing for a 2010 copy, I threw my name in the contest and won!

The Bylines Writer’s Desk Calendar has many special attributes for writers besides being a mere appointment calendar. There are spaces to mark events and deadlines of course, but there are also features like a submission record, a list of literary festivals, a record of writer’s birthdays, and page for a year’s writing goals. Each week a different author is showcased by a short essay on her writing habits or tastes. Like a string on my finger, this handy calendar keeps the idea of writing in front of me daily.

One of my favorite features is the cover which presents the desk of a famous writer. This year’s cover displays the working desk of Will Rogers. Inside are pictures of the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore, Oklahoma which was like a trip home for me. How many times have I run up those steps to see movies, memorabilia, and books there as a child! My great-grandmother lived in Claremore, and we visited often. Family rumors say that when my great-grandfather was a very young man he worked on the Rogers ranch, at that time Will’s parents’ place. A picture of Will and his dog hung in my great-grandmother’s dining room until the day she died.

Thanks to Donna and Sylvia, I am enjoying a great Bylines Writer’s Calendar this year.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Missouri Author

The Toters Book Club’s book choice for April is Bootheel Man by Morley Swingle who is a Missouri prosecuting attorney. The story is a mystery with theft, murder, and intrigue wrapped around a backdrop of history about the Mound Builders. The setting is Cape Girardeau, Missouri with visits to the Cahokia Mound Builders site in Illinois, the Wickliffe site in Kentucky and the Osage Indian Reservation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Swingle has written a tight story and managed to educate readers about Osage history. While most of the story is contemporary, Swingle interrupts his tale temporarily to spin another yarn set in about 1100 AD along the banks of the Mississippi where the Mound Builders lived. Then he manages to ties the two eras together nicely.

We have driven by Wickliffe Mound Builder site on the Kentucky side several times in route to other destinations. We always planned to stop but either thought we would catch it on the way back, or it was too late at night when we passed. A few years ago friends did take us to the Cahokia Mounds a few short miles across the river from St. Louis. What a fantastic experience it was to see how the original people lived in that area during prehistoric times. To think mounds the size of the Great Pyramids were built one basket of dirt at a time!

Osage history has intruded on my own story during my lifetime. I grew up only a few miles from the first Osage Mission of the Catholic Church in Kansas. The Black Robes came to St. Paul, Kansas because an Osage chief, educated in St. Louis himself, wanted the priests to come and teach the Osage people to read, write, do handwork, and learn about God. In my teens, my first love was an Osage/Peoria boy. Then when I moved to Carthage, town history claimed this area was a site for ending the Osage Wars, which was really the Osage just being pushed out of Missouri and into Kansas. Later they were pushed to Oklahoma where the useless land they were given ended up sitting over oil wells!

Missouri readers will appreciate Swingle’s local references. Names like Perryville, Jackson, St. Genevieve, Kingshighway, and Crystal City to name a few. Interesting trivia like how the Missouri Bootheel got its name dot the pages. (Shaped like a heel on a boot, this area should have been plotted in the state of Arkansas, but a wealthy land owner did not want to live outside Missouri!)The story opens with an attempted suicide off the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, a real beauty that spans the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau.

I am sure the book club will have a lot of discussion about Bootheel Man, and in April they might even decide to find other titles by Morley Swingle. It was nice to read and enjoy such an entertaining and informative Missouri author.

Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge at Night, photo by Morgan Mundell

Friday, March 5, 2010

Look at This!

Just look at this! Recognize it? That is a bright and cloudless sky that I have not seen for months. The local weatherman says that this has been coldest winter here since 1979 so it is not just my own complaint that winter has been long and hard.

Today the sun came out and burned the few morning clouds away. The temperature rose quickly. DH and I went to order a few things for a bathroom remodel planned for spring. I am glad we did as the home improvement stores were like a sleeping bear, coming to life slowly with lumbering people wanting to look at windows, shingles, and paint chips. We will be happy to know our stuff is on the way while others are beginning the looking process.

After a late lunch, I went out on the deck and the sun beat down on my chair next to the wall. I was warm head to toe for the first time since October. I looked up and there was the sky, a beautiful indigo swished at the edges by a cornflower blue shade; the sky looked as fresh as scribbles done with blues from a Crayon box. The maple trees were loaded with buds that will someday be obnoxious seeds helicoptering down to my deck. However, I ignored that fact and just enjoyed seeing all those fat buds, tinged with a chestnut hue, swelling before breaking into tiny leaves.

Recently I read Sara Wheeler’s definitive biography of Denys Finch Hatton. When describing his lover, writer Karen Blixen’s (Isak Dinesen) life in Ngong, Kenya, Wheeler wrote, “Writers have to stand up and live before they can sit down and write.” Ah, today’s sitting in the first sunshine of a new spring was really living!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Clacking Needles, Turning Pages

March came in like a bawling lamb, as it is still cold but the sun shines a little each day. Actually, yesterday was quite sunny, and today promises a sun-filled sky. The nights are chilly though. After two hours of furance heating, my desk top is still just now reaching 68 degrees from starting at 64! But I can handle that if the sun shines!

Usually by now, my knitting needles are put away for winter. This year’s projects were numerous cowls made in several different yarns. A few were made in Lion Brand’s new yarn, Amazing, a variegated wool. I am not fond of using wool, but this one was quite nice, and I will have to admit very warm to wear this last cold winter! I plan to make more. In fact, I have a closet full of yarn, but I am not getting things done this year for some reason. Too much reading and writing instead…not enough hours in the day, even cold days!

I am wondering, are any readers involved in making prayer shawls or knitting for charities? There are so many good causes that take donations of knitted hats, shawls, cancer caps, baby blankets, gloves for soldiers in service, and hats for workers in fishing fleets. Please tell me about your knitted or crocheted projects for service organizations.

DH has made me several shawl pins which I love. Nice on winter shawls, they also work well on these open weave spring scarves. He has sold a few pins, although it is hard for me to part with any that are my favorites. He has made them in oak, cherry, walnut, and hedge taken from the family farm. This winter’s Lion Brand catalog showed a new design of shawl pin that I got him to try. With a matching “latch”, I think it turned out well.

But there will be no knitting today as it is Toter (Terrific Old Teachers Enjoy Reading) Book Club day. We will discuss Livability, a collection of short stories by Jon Raymond. It was a pleasant but not outstanding read. We will also begin the process of choosing next year’s book list. There are so many books, and we are always frustrated that we can only handle one title a month!