Monday, March 28, 2011


My father sent me one of those chain emails with a subject line that reads "Handbook 2011." I'd like to retitle it "Handbook for Life."

It reminds me of some of my other favorite "handbooks":

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum

and of course Baz Lurhmann's Sunscreen song:

A boy in college wrote his own version, especially for me, and I still pull it out from time to time, so I'll always remember.

Here's some of my favorite instructions from the email Handbook:

Live with the 3 E's - Energy, Enthusiasm and Empathy.
Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
Forgive everyone for everything.
What other people think of you is none of your business.
Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.

What are some of your favorite pieces of life advice? Where do they come from?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Many moons ago when I went to social work school, we were taught that no emotion is bad. If you feel depressed, it's just one feeling. It's normal. And it will pass.

But what if it doesn't pass?

In today's pharmaceutical-happy world, prescriptions are handed out like Dum-Dums at the bank drive-thru. Some folks actually need the medication. Most, I would argue, do not.

My wip is, in part, about a girl trying to help jerk her grandmother out of a depression. And it's got me thinking about home remedies and other creative ways to deal with the downs in life that inevitably follow the ups.

For me, there are two things that work:

1. Service to others

Depression really is a self-absorbed condition. It's exacerbated by this woe-is-me, let-me-wallow kind of attitude. And the quickest way to release oneself from that egocentrism is to focus on someone else: volunteer for something, sign up to help in the church nursery, make a casserole and deliver it to someone recovering from surgery. As soon as your focus shifts from yourself to someone else, you start to feel better.

2. Get crafty

This doesn't have to be all quilts and crochet and scrapbooking, although those work great for me. Any kind of creative, DIY projects will work. The key is to DO something. Here's some out-of-the-box ideas from Popular Mechanics. And hey, March is National Craft Month! So go to Hobby Lobby. Try something new.

Right now I am working on quilt 4 of my 2011 Quilt a Month challenge. (see above pic) I wouldn't be nearly so far along if my friend Pat hadn't cut so many squares for me. (All my quilts have at least a little Pat in them!) And you can expect to see some of this self-help philosophy in my wip. There will be no prescriptions, that's for sure. I'm excited to see what happens!

Friday, March 18, 2011


Last night we watched a Mark Twain documentary on Netflix (Have I mentioned how we adore Neflix? Documentaries! Independents! Foreign Films! Seriously, it's almost overwhelming.)

Samuel L. Clemens was quite a guy. And for all his adventures, he endured a great deal of heartbreak too. And lost fortunes. And he hated the lecture circuit! Who knew? But he loved his custom-made home in Hartford, Connecticut. (Totally on the to-do list! Harriet Beecher Stowe's home is in Hartford, too. And Caragh O'Brien, who is just plain WONDERFUL as a writer and friend invited me. Yay!) For all his writings that mocked the wealthy, he certainly enjoyed a certain lifestyle. It's almost like he had a split personality: there was Samuel, and there was Mark Twain. No matter which hat he was wearing, he was completely fascinating.

Of course me being me, I was most interested in the heartbreak. Probably the most tragic time for him was the death of his oldest daughter Susy. She died in 1896 at the age of 24 while he was off on the international year-long lecture tour to earn enough money to pay off his debts.

Samuel (I think it was Samuel and NOT Mark Twain) had these words engraved on her tombstone:

Warm summer sun,
shine kindly here,
Warm southern wind,
blow softly here,
Green sod above,
lie light, lie light,
Good night, dear heart,
Good night, good night.

For many years those words were attributed to Mark Twain. Actually they were borrowed from a poem written by Robert Richardson entitled "Annette" that was published in 1893, three years before Twain’s daughter died.

While writing his autobiography, Twain said that he could not remember the author’s name, and apparently he was uncertain of the exact wording of the poem. But as soon as he learned of "Annette" he added the author’s name to the tombstone without changing the verse, although it was slightly incorrect.

Richardson’s original words are as follows:

Warm summer sun, shine friendly here
Warm western wind, blow kindly here;
Green sod above, rest light, rest light,
Good-night, Annette! Sweetheart, good-night!

Twain's daughter Susy was his favorite, according to the documentary. Maybe because she was also a writer and wrote adoringly of her father. I'm a sucker for father-daughter stories, and I have been known to write adoringly of my writer-father, so this spoke to me.

If you'd like to know more about Mark Twain -- and Samuel -- crank up the Netflix! Good stuff. Happy Poetry Friday. Roundup is at Andromeda's!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


We humans are a generous, compassionate species. That quality is never more evident than when natural disaster strikes -- I mean, who doesn't want to help the people in Japan? So many countries have offered aid. We all know such tragedy could have just as easily been on our shores, destroying our families, our lives.

And then there are those humans like Amy C. Collins and her mother Sharon Griffitts who came to my presentation this past weekend at Florence-Lauderdale Library in Florence, AL. They know I love quilts and art, so they offered me this gorgeous Faith Ringgold print:
Amy and Sharon welcomed me into their happy, yellow, art-filled home where they had enjoyed the print for a number of years, and they asked if I'd like to give it a new home.

Of course, I said YES. So we loaded it up, and I brought it home.

This kind of giving touches me so deeply because it's so personal and so unexpected. That's the kind of giver I want to be. And isn't that the point, anyway? Isn't that why we work to earn extra money, so we can give it away?

I've been thinking lately about what cause I want to embrace (or create). Which means I've been thinking about the things that matter most to me: love, children, family, books, striving. I want to be on Secret Millionaire someday, or create a scholarship for writers or a book prize or writing contest for kids. Only I don't want it to be some generic something, some plain check sent through the mail. I want it to mean more than that.

And I want to give in other ways too. Like the way my friend Pat Weaver does. Whenever she goes to the fabric store, she gets fabric for me too. Then she sends it to me, and it's a Christmas morning moment. She sends us home with cinnamon bread and bandannas for the puppy and little glass blue elephants, because she knows we like things that catch the light. It's such a special way to love someone-- to give.

So, THANK YOU, all you wonderful givers out there. I want to be just like you.

Friday, March 11, 2011


When I first started dating Paul, oh about twenty-one years ago, I was immediately smitten. But I had seen a little bit of the underside of the world by that time and kept waiting for the moment when he would reveal to me some big secret, some something that would mark him as less perfect than I imagined him to be. I spun all sorts of scenarios in my mind, and the one my psyche seemed most attached to was that either he was married, or that he had some kids out there somewhere that I would be asked to love.

As it turns out, there was no wife or kids. He really was perfect. And even if there had been kids out there, he still would have been perfect. But it probably would have been more challenging to mesh our lives.

Twenty-one years later I am still fascinated by this role of stepparent, and how it can play out in a million different ways, depending on personality and circumstances and other factors. In my mind, I love those imaginary children beyond belief, because they are his. But who's to say? I haven't walked in those shoes.

Which I guess is why I was continually moved to tears when I read Rick Bragg's latest book THE PRINCE OF FROGTOWN.

Here's the description on the back cover: "Inspired by Rick Bragg's love for his stepson, THE PRINCE OF FROGTOWN also chronicles his own journey into fatherhood, as he learns to avoid the pitfalls of his forebearers. With candor, insight, and tremendous humor, Bragg seamlessly weaves these luminous narrative threads together and delivers an unforgettable rumination about fathers and sons."

I love this. LOVE it. This book makes me want to write. This book reminds me of all the reasons we MUST write. And all those section called "The Boy"? I have listened to them again and again. And then I bought the book in print so I could read them again and again. Check it out.

And for Poetry Friday, I'd like to share a poem about a stepmother from my latest collection THE COLOR OF LOST ROOMS. Don't forget to visit Liz in Ink for Roundup!

Anne Moynet Audubon, Long Before Birds of America

This boy would dart off before dawn,
climb trees, examine eggs, take out
his little pencil and draw the birds in flight.

When I’d meet him at the arbor with tea
and cookies, he’d share the bounty
of pockets: egg shells, nests of curling

leaves, feathers of every color. So what
if his cheeks stayed smudged and he rarely
made it in time for supper? For those

of you who’ll say, he was not yours,
I ask you: Does the Earth not belong
to the sky? Does the shore not love

the ocean, even as it crashes upon it?
Does the bluebird not sit on the nest,
even if the egg is speckled instead of pale?

- Irene Latham

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Actually, I took this picture last Wednesday. It's a Bradford pear tree, and those of you who live in the south know these trees are very popular for landscape design. At least the were when we built this house over a dozen years ago.

Since Wednesday it's rained, and the blossoms have started to fall off as green shoots move in, and the sky has turned to cold steel. But wasn't it gorgeous??

The reasons I'm posting this pic now, on Sunday, because it's how I felt yesterday (Saturday) when I spent the day in Chattanooga with my sister Lynn.

I have written here before how Lynn is the best give I ever got. It's still true. Seriously, I don't know what I would do without her sweet smile and irreverence and patient ear.

Yesterday, over lunch at Tony's, and before shopping at the North Shore, I unleashed the Crazy Lady who lives in my head... that one battling with story ideas and direction and characters that don't want to stay in their places.

Now you writers know how you cannot dump your madness on just anyone. It's so very personal, and it's such a raw place, with many acres of swampland called Doubt. There's also the Confusion Mountains and the I Want it NOW Ocean. And my sister Lynn is a fortress, a bunker, a Swiss Family Treehouse.

Because she is NOT a writer, I'm not sure she will ever know how many times she's saved my life. All I can do is keep saying THANK YOU.

So, thanks, sweet sister. And the Italian Cream Cake was delicious too.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


You know how great it is when a dear friend writes a book that you absolutely adore?

Lindsey Leavitt's SEAN GRISWOLD'S HEAD is one of those book for me. And it releases TODAY. Y'all don't want to miss this book. Mainly because the love interest (whom I secretly call SS for Sweet Sean...maybe because I not-so-secretly call Lindsey LL. And her #3 daughter LLL. Yes, this is how creative I am.) is The Boy every girl should be lucky enough to meet. And obsess over. And eventually marry.

I've got my Sean. And my goal as a mom is for my three sons to be Seans as well. (Here they are with me as we celebrated my birthday this past weekend.) Can you just feel my heart bursting with maternal pride? Yep, you mothers of wee ones. You still burst when they get taller than you.

So, meet Sean Griswold, LL's latest creation. And check out Lindsey's blog for insider information on why she chose to write about MS and a bike ride and a boy who rose in a bike ride for MS.

See, too, her account of our Sunday visit to Margaret Mitchell's house in Atlanta. And enjoy this adorable pic of Lindsey posing on the interior staircase. (We tried a pic with a cardboard cut-out of us with teeny tiny Vivian Leigh all decked out in the red velvet dress... alas, that one did not turn out.)

Happy March, everyone!