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Summer Writing Prompts:

May 19, 2019

I hear people claim they are “given” a word of the year, a word or idea that keeps catching their attention until they decide it’s more than coincidence. In the last month, especially, I’ve had my attention turned to the importance of story, telling our own, listening to those of others. Since this is already a soapbox issue for me, I want to dig a little deeper.

I want to take the time to write down family stories I’ve heard, making sure they don’t disappear. Coming from a storytelling family, I have a treasure trove from which to draw. I also have been reminded that sometimes while we are digging back through our ancestral stories, we forget to record or share the stories we know best–our own.

In the telling, too, I want to look for meaning and significance, for common threads and recurring themes. For now, I am not so concerned with creating some seamless narrative of my life or anyone else’s. Instead, I’m making the narrative equivalent of quilt squares. Some will be responses to photographs and artifacts; others must rely on the telling.

Beginning Prompts:

What stories are associated with items of clothing?

What are your best and worst memories associated with food and meals, with cooking?

What are the faith and baptism stories, your and those of others?

What songs dredge up clear memories? Which are happy? Which make you sad or nostalgic?

How did you experience music in your childhood home? in your adult home?

What conveniences that we now take for granted were once novelties? For example, do you remember life without central air conditioning, color television?

What telephone memories do you have in the days before everyone had a mobile phone that went everywhere?

How did you learn to drive?

What stories of flat tires, speeding tickets, fender benders and parallel parking do you recall?


The Other New Year

August 14, 2018

I’ve neglected this site in recent months, spending timer on my book blog, Discriminating Reader, but a week from today a new semester begins. I’ll be teaching three sections of composition at Lipscomb University, my alma mater. Right now I’m in the throes of syllabus preparation, reinventing and tweaking.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen all those back-to-school pictures, the front porch shots with the new backpacks and school clothes. Now I’m seeing posts from friends whose children are heading off to college, many for the first time. I remember how bittersweet the experience was–and how happy my own children were to be off to college.

I’ve always said I wouldn’t go back to high school for any amount of money, but I’d go back to college any day.  As Jose Antonio Bowen reminds readers (teachers) in his book Teaching Naked, we are the ones who liked school so much we have stayed on. Oddly, it’s not the academic part of college that is most engrained in my memory. Sure, I remember that debits are on the window side. (Thanks, Doc Swang). But since I’m an accounting major who now teaches English, maybe back then I was just learning how to learn and how to be independent–how to “adult.”

I’m still having to learn.  For example, I have the hardest time just spacing once after a period when I type. I wasn’t around when that rule was changed. I’m also having to adapt all the time. I’m learning to pick my battles. I’m learning humility. No, my class may not be a priority for many of my students. It’s my job to make it as engaging as possible.

I always tell my students that for me, there are two times a year I make New Year’s Resolutions–January and August. As I hope my students are doing right now, I’m setting goals, promising to use my time well, to learn to balance my time and resources. I’m going through my six dozen teacher bags and sorting binder clips, paper clips, white board markers, and index cards. I’m looking at my past lesson plans and trying to evaluate their success.

I actual look forward to having a schedule again. I love my summers, but by this time of the year, I find myself floundering, fiddling around, practicing my best procrastination strategies. In seven days, though, I’ll meet three sections of college freshmen. I’ll make my best effort to learn their names quickly and to use their time well too. I’m also flipping through pictures of students from past semesters, offering up prayers for them too.


February 7, 2018

Today I drove my daughter to the doctor to confirm what she suspected already: she has the flu. We tell everybody we moved to Nashville to be closer to our grandchildren, which is true, but being close to our daughter and son-in-law means so much too. I’m sure she could have gotten another ride today–or could have driven herself, as miserable as she feels–but I’m glad to be here for days like this too.

In our conversation, we brought up what we’d both thought about already: Nineteen years ago, we got a call in our home in North Carolina from Vanderbilt Hospital. I’m always thankful for the thoughtful wording of the woman who called:  “Your daughter Laura wanted us to call and tell you she’s been in an automobile accident.” Those words, despite the bad news, reassured us that she was alive, awake, aware of who she was and who loved her.

Only later did we learn that she had been unconscious when the ambulance arrived and didn’t have any identification. Her billfold had fallen as she left her dorm, headed to a choral program. Laura was in her freshman year of college, just back from Atlanta with friends, and was on her way to sing.  The car in front of her jerked out of the way of an oncoming van in their lane, giving Laura no time to react. The driver, apparently driving under the influence, was coming down the wrong side of a straight stretch of road in daylight when he hit her.  Her car, a Volvo, was unrecognizable. Every side was hit.  But the car did just what it was supposed to do, what those cars are known for, and while she had a broken arm and broken bones in her feet, she was alive.

She was taken to the Vanderbilt Trauma Center, where she spent the night, before being released the next day. My mother got a ride there with my brother-in-law, since she was much closer than we were, but I learned later that she got one look at Laura, passed out, and was put in a room to be examined. (We already knew she has what’s sometimes called “white coat syndrome,” passing out at the sight of blood or injury.) My college roommate Susan and her husband had arrived first, after I called them to get some answers for us. They had trouble finding her. Since they didn’t know who she was at first, she was admitted under the alias El Paso El Paso.

Because the call had come so late at night and we hadn’t known for a while how serious the wreck had been, I waited until the first rays of dawn to head west on I-40. I made the six hour trip in five. When I got to the hospital, Laura looked pitiful. She was hurting all over. She had shards of glass in her hair–and even in her ears. Thanks to the air bag, she didn’t have a single cut on her face. When I got there, Laura also had a throng of her friends in the waiting area.

I was surprised when she was released that day. Her dad, unable to wait for word, had caught a plane to Nashville too. We took her to Susan and Steve’s house, bathed her, and set about to help her start healing. I expected to be needed there for awhile, but she wanted to be back in the dorm quickly. When we rode over to see how she could manage, her friends surrounded her and showed her how each one had skills to help her. They found clothes she could wear over her sling. One friends, a nursing student, promised to be sure she followed doctor’s orders. The girls even strategized how to wash Laura’s long curly hair for her. When I headed back to North Carolina, I knew she’d be in good hands.

Nineteen years have passed, and while she still has some problems with her knees and feet, she’s whole. Justice moved a little slower with the driver. It took two years (and a lawyer) to learn that the Blood Alcohol Test had been filed without anyone checking it. While we weren’t able to get all the information about him, apparently, this was not his first drunk driving accident. He was out on parole for manslaughter; we suspect it was vehicular manslaughter. Laura was the lucky one.

Those college friends have remained close. They get together for girl trips, but they also meet every year or so with their husbands and children. When they came to Nashville, we were happy to swap houses so they’d have room for them all here. They are my reminder of how important it is to have a circle of real friends, of how important it is to form that same kind of circle for my friends.

Paved with Good Intentions.

January 24, 2018

This spot has been a place for my varied interests beyond the reading I report at my Discriminating Reader site. I had to laugh when I realized I had posted last (year) about New Year’s Resolutions. And then I just stopped. I was reminded of a conversation about baby books over Christmas. My sister told us that in her brother-in-law’s baby book, the only thing AT ALL was these words: “Felt sharp pain.” He is the third child.

Sometimes this blog has been a place I’ve facilitated some online writing workshops with friends. This year I’m going to share my activities that extend beyond my reading–and that leaves plenty. Since my interests extend to writing, music, arts and crafts, I will show up regularly to share. I already have plenty of plans in the works–David Rawlings at the Ryman tomorrow, The Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase (in Lenoir, NC) in March, Merlefest in April, and Swannanoa Gathering Old Time Music and Dance Week in July. Meanwhile, I’m auditing a printmaking class at Lipscomb and have big plans–unfinished projects included.

I hope I’m not just speaking into a vacuum. I want to know what others are doing as well. This time I plan to post more than once a year!


Taking 2017 one month at a time

January 7, 2017


I’m one of those odd birds who like to make New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, since most of my life has been tied to the school calendar, I make them in January and again in August–two fresh starts. This year have decided to work on themes month by month, but since I only answer to myself, I give me plenty of wiggle room.

Right now I have calendars on the brain, probably because I spent about 6-8 hours in one spot last night into this morning working on the calendar I like to create for my mom every year.  She has a January birthday, so I have to hope she knows the important dates before then, since I do well to get the calendar started before the new year.

I like a real calendar. I may use the app on my phone sporadically, but I’ve kept a little paper purse calendar since at least 1974 (until they quit offering them, it was the Hallmark freebie available by the register). They provide a nice record of my life–the important little trivia that makes it up.

I also keep a wall calendar, usually in my laundry room near the kitchen. Not only do I record appointments and upcoming dates, but I keep a record of what has happened. Even more vital, this is where I record the books I read all year long. It’s a lovely kind of ritual for me to keep up with what I finish. At the end of the year, I record them all in a book I’ve had forever. Now I also post my list to my Discriminating Reader blog, ideally drawing some book lists from other avid readers in response. My annual calendars are also invaluable when I put together my scrapbook/photo album of each year. When did we do that? Oh, it’s on the calendar!

Knowing my fondness for calendars, my son John tries to pick out the most unusual calendar for me each year. He’s given me Nuns Having Fun, Suicidal Rabbits, and Horses Doing Yoga, for instance. This year, I think I one-upped him with the “suitable for framing” Political Mashup Calendar for 2017:  Lenin and McCartney, LBJ-Z, Yo-Yo Mao.

The challenge with the family calendar is getting a good representation of all the families. If I could just fill it with my immediate family (i.e., the grandkids), the task would be much simpler, but with five sisters and their extended families, I find it more fun and fair to try to represent all of them.

The calendar concept, sometimes even the title, is “This Time Last Year.” The January calendar (in theory) will have pictures from last January. Some months are easier. Two of my nieces married–in August and November–so photos abounded. We moved to Nashville in February, so I had a shot of the “sold sign” in the snow and the moving van.

The first order of business is to note all the family birthdays, anniversaries, and upcoming events. We have a high school graduation and a wedding in 2017. We have two new nephews-in-law to add to the birthday rotation, along with a bride-to-be who should be part of the family by the time her birthday rolls around. I include the ages (sometimes the years) for these dates, since it’s hard to keep up with everyone.

This year, my personal resolution is to have the rest of the family sharing photos month-by-month, so I can be creating 2018 as I go. I already see that snow pictures might be great for January. I can solicit shots for Easter, Halloween, first of school, all the usuals, and then we can fill in with the best all-round shots of the year.

Once I get this calendar issue under way, I can start typing up my syllabus for classes that start Monday–and that means another calendar!

Pursuing passions in September

September 6, 2016

The year is flying by, and I am especially eager to dig back into The Happiness Project. While Gretchen Rubin encourages readers to pursue our passions, I’m ready to take her up on the challenge. This month, I plan to participate in an online writing project with my Cuz Sandy and author Melanie Faith.  I’m also working on learning some murder ballads for an upcoming Halloween project. It’s also time to get more serious about submitting poetry more regularly.

For me, the biggest challenge is using my time well so that my good intentions don’t go skipping down that primrose path (Oh yes, I went to a performance of Macbeth Friday.) I encourage you to read along to see what suggestions Rubin makes to do more than think about what we want to do–and to do it.

Happiness Project Online Bookclub: Gratitude

August 19, 2016

One of the biggest challenges for me is just to “be still and know. . . .” I fight the lie that multi-tasking is a virtue, but I stay pumped up on my own adrenaline rush that’s part of my nature.  One bit of self-discipline I am employing is paying attention to the natural world–giving my full attention.  Since my dear late friend Sam used to tease me about looking down all the time for four-lear clovers (I have a completely useless gift of seeing them at any distance and speed), I’ve made a conscious point to spend more time looking up.

Last week during the meteor shower, I took pillows and a blanket out on the desk and just watched (and counted, of course). Even with the city lights around, I saw at least 25 “falling stars.” It is hard to explain why just lying there is a challenge for me.  I had to fight the urge to get my Playaway audiobook.  Instead, I just looked and listened and reveled in the vast universe.

This week on Wednesday, I ended up at a table of folks discussing gratitude. Some of the others’ comments motivated me first to acknowledge and second to share my gratitude. One newcomer to Nashville shares her gratitude through letters to friends “back home” and she revealed that she had witnessed her mother-in-law’s lifelong practice of keeping a gratitude journal, even when hospitalized at ninety.

One of my sweet friends back in North Carolina regularly shares her own awareness of her blessings.  In her presence, I always benefited from her positivity. I’m happy that she continues to dole it out across the miles.

That old song “Count Your Blessings (Name Them One by One)” should be my mantra. Remind myself. Share with others. Be thankful.