Sunday, July 27, 2008

North Carolina

I have loved the mountains of North Carolina since 1959 when I first went to summer camp at Green Cove in Tuxedo on Lake Summit. After long days on the red clay tennis courts and biscuit-eating contests at dinner, I enjoyed evening programs like campfire, a beautiful and peaceful time for singing and friends and readings. When I became a counselor, I loved the nights after my cabin fell asleep when I played bridge in the Lodge or "stole" goodies from the food locker (an official would somehow produce a key) and cooked them in the kitchen or lay on the canoe dock counting stars with the lapping Green River and night critters as companions. I will be heading to North Carolina to visit family and friends in Brevard and Asheville and am looking forward to seeing them and the mountains again. I'll collect snaps while I'm there, though I may not be able to publish till I return.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Old Friends

Today, I met two old friends for lunch at the Blue Chair -- Jane and Cecil Jones, my former major professor at Vanderbilt and his wife. They live in Nashville, where I visit them on occasion. They were here for a memorial service of the wife of a former colleague. They treated me and one of my colleagues, here today for a work session about freshman English, to lunch and some laughter. They are delightful people: Cecil a bit formal and actor-ish and Jane, warm and welcoming, whose favorite word is "Honey" directed at a person. They told us that their beloved cat of 20 years, Blanche, died just before Christmas, but almost immediately afterwards four feral strays took up with them. All four cats have been neutered and treated to required shots. Several have taken walk-throughs of the house, but none has decided to become a house cat.

Only Cecil and Jane would
have gone to the expense and trouble they have undertaken for these animals, and only Jane and Cecil would have done such a remarkable job of maintaining relationships with their former students over such a long time (in my case almost 43 years and counting).

Other than my siblings
and one childhood friend, they may well have known me longer than anyone else I know.

Friday, July 25, 2008


I had two pleasant surprises today, both involving Trink, who had a stroke almost two weeks ago.

First, Boo called to tell me about her visit with Trink yesterday in Nashville. Although she is paralyzed on the left side and must be reminded to swallow, Trink is "there": she has her sense of humor and quick mind. Her daughter has suggested that visits be limited for now,
so I am delaying seeing her.

Second, Trink's daughter Gabrielle spoke with me early this afternoon and suggested that I walk through the house once a week to make sure nothing is broken or otherwise amiss. When I went over, she also gave me these pots of basil. Yum.
Now I must figure out where to put them. After some research about deer and basil on the Internet, I have discovered this: some claim deer eat it and some claim they don't. I think I'll pot some on the deck and plant some in the front garden which, because of the mint, the deer have left alone -- for now. We shall see.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Summer Sun

My summer umbrella makes me happy whenever I walk in the kitchen and see it opened on the deck. Not only does it provide welcome shade between 10:30ish and 2ish, but it always provide cheerful color. It even casts a rainbow reflection upwards and splashes color on my bedroom ceiling. I am, apparently, easily entertained.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Deer on My Porch

I do not mind the presence of one deer: the one on my porch, made of cast concrete, painted, and left to weather in a garden art yard of a store on the outskirts of Scottsboro. Earlier this summer, I drove to Birmingham to celebrate Virginia's third birthday. Because I had no agenda, I took one of the long ways, turning after Stevenson onto 72 to the town where the nine famous black boys were falsely accused and tried and where today the unclaimed baggage store garners national attention. For me, Scottsboro has become a shopping mecca for concrete birds and gnomes and rabbits. When I saw a shoulder-high buck and his doe off the highway as I sped by, I took the first left, completed a U-eee, and drove straight back. Now when the deer nightly raid my garden for tasty morsels, another deer, a silent one without appetite, stares back. He is my welcome mat, and he always makes me smile.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Dump

Every Tuesday, a man under contract to the university picks up my garbage, which I keep hidden and stored at the end of my driveway. I pay a fee for this service. However, between pick-ups I can also drive to the dump and throw away my own stuff. I always do this with my cardboard -- broken-down shipping boxes and flattened box dinners and grocery packages. I should recycle everything, but my kitchen is so small that I can't find a way to save it.The dump is on University Avenue just up from Highway 41A. Last year, the university built a cell tower at the dump site, but Verizon challenged its placement, worried about the possibility of residual damaging chemicals in the soil. (A dump had apparently been there in years past.) Testing showed the site is clear, so we're all waiting for Verizon and other companies to put their equipment up. Maybe then residents, students, and visitors won't have to walk and drive around town looking for hot spots. I can't wait!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Indigo Bunting

This morning, I drove to the grocery store in Winchester via back roads. When I turned from Hawkins Cove Road onto Georgia Crossing, a blue-green jewel of a bird lifted from the road and zoomed into the corn field to my right: an indigo bunting, one of my favorite birds in the area.
Although they are not fond of bird feeders, one once alighted on my feeder just beyond the living room window and sat for quite a long time, apparently staring off into space.

The color is so brilliant that the first time I saw an indigo bunting, I thought I had imagined the bird. Now my eyes are more skillful and I see them often.

Any day that begins with an indigo bunting is certain to be a good day.

(The photo is from Weather Underground online.)

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Every summer, hibiscus blossoms the size of dinner plates flop mightily in front of Stirling's Coffee House. The manager, the chicken-loving owner of the disputed ornamentals (see an earlier blog entry about savesewaneechickens), has a green thumb without equal.
Even for someone who only rarely frequents a coffeehouse, a special trip is in order to marvel at the pink, red, and white showy blooms. For the first time in several weeks, we had a little rain today, so on my way to a reading by Richard Bausch, I stopped by just to see the flowers. The cliche says to stop and see the roses. If you're in my town, it should be stop and see the hibiscus.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cool Cat

Lucy is the only cat I've ever lived with who has self-control. On sunny days or overcast days, she loves to sit on the deck, with or without me. She has never tried to venture off the steps although when deck-lazing was new, she did go so far as the last step. This summer she has never even gone down one step. Instead, she finds a spot and perches -- sometimes under the black-eyed susie climbing plant where she stares at the birds in the woods, sometimes under the gravity-free chair where she can watch the goldfinches, and sometimes under whatever object provides shade.
She has taken to telling me when she wants to go out: she'll find me, cry-meow, and go to the kitchen. There, she waits for me to open the screen door. Often, I simply close it behind her, trusting her to enjoy herself.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fruit ABC

I spent some of the afternoon making a get-well card for my friend Trink, now in a nursing home in Nashville where she is receiving rehabilitation after her stroke last week. At 87, she is one of the liveliest people I know, so I know she is frustrated with her body now.

Here's the card, page by page. (Click the pictures for enlargements.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Attenti al Gatto

The plaque on my porch reads, "Attenti al Gatto," or beware the cat. Purchased in San Gimignano as a gift for me by my oldest brother in 2000, the plaque is a reminder of Florence, where the family celebrated the false millennium. I will always remember
  • the heavy pungency of hot bean soup, dry flakiness of pecorino romano, tearing crackle of crusted bread
  • the biting slap of wind
  • the smell of leather and glue inside Giulio Giannini e Figlio bookbinders and marblers across from the Pitti Palace
  • the lingering buttery film of hot chocolate
  • heavy wedges of pan forte, nutty and spicy and hard, the leftovers of which my sister-in-law and I fought to take home
  • thundering fireworks spewing from the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and from all up and down the Firenze valley
  • the dignified avenue of cypress at the Villa i Tatti
  • glorious art, everywhere glorious art, but especially on the plain walls at San Marco, where Fra Angelico's frescoes present theatrical silence forcing visitors to whisper and where my brother gave us a fascinating lecture (he's written a book about these frescoes) in the courtyard
  • the laughter of a family in love with Italy and each other

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Sewanee Writers' Conference

Yesterday, the annual writers' conference got underway with a reading by Jill McCorkle. Today, I heard Tim O'Brien, author of one my favorite novels of all time (The Things They Carried), give a craft lecture and Romulus Linney read from a two-character play. Tonight, I am returning to hear Mary Jo Salter read. Over a period of two weeks, every day brings readings and lectures by outstanding well-known writers and by younger writers, one of whom was a classmate in The School of Letters but is now earning an MFA at Johns Hopkins. He was the best writer in my poetry workshop two years ago, and he's still terrific.

Here's one of his poems:

Dusk Arrangement
by Hastings Hensel

"The eye is burning, forms are burning, eye-consciousness is burning"- The Buddha
"Some say in ice." -Frost

Everything is burning; the ends of our cigarettes,
the charcoal-colored robins, the freckled sunlight
splotched and split like eggshell on the lawn.
Burning: the flamed hush of western pinks,
voices like wildfires in the city's under-story-
lawn mowers, buzz saws, cars at the far edge
of the ear's periphery. Burning: the top halves
of other houses, fenced in for the eye, the birch shadows like twisting runes, the burning glow
of Bradford pears sparked early like suburban stars.

Or melting: the ice cubes in our drink like stars,
the shade by the clothesline, the heel-print moon
in the sand-colored sky. Melting: box fan clicking
in the window, sentence of cloud, the cold ring
on the cocktail napkin. Melting: sky of stillness,
birdsong, dog-bark, ceaseless thrum of traffic.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hummingbird Quidditch

Within minutes after I refreshed the hummingbird feeder late this afternoon, two birds started their hummingbird ballet. Watch them, and you'll know where J. K. Rowling got her idea for quidditch. They dart and dive and peck at each other. Even when perched on the feeder, the hummer will sip and look up and about, sip and look up and about, like some nervous high school student cheating and thinking he's getting away with it. It's the hummingbird chirp I most like and the whir of their wings (beating at something like 80 times a second) as the zip past my nose, oblivious to my presence. No wonder they need so much sugar water.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Porch Woes

My front porch shows the wear and tear that come with birds and squirrels and other critters. Despite my better judgment, in the first week I moved here, I hung a bird feeder from the arbor above the porch so my cat and I could enjoy the view. I have loved watching the birds. Their variety has been delightful: woodpeckers, flickers, gold and house finches, bluebirds, tufted titmice, wrens, chickadees, and even indigo buntings. But . . . they have worn the rails below the feeder, as have the nightly visitors, especially the raccoons. Now it's time to power wash, sand, and repaint. (I'm pleased to have found a young woman painter with two young children to feed.) I could avoid part of the problem in the future if I were to move the feeder, but then I'd also remove the pleasures of winged things that have often lifted my days.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Easter 1952 or 1953

Until she died when I was 16, my mother made all my clothes (except bathing suits and, as I needed them, underwear beyond little girl frilly panties). She even ordered Harris tweed from Scotland to make my first real winter coat. She took me to fabric stores to shop for patterns and fabrics; she asked me to select yarns for sweaters.

I think her favorite dress-making came at Easter when she made a new dress and Daddy took a picture of the two of us posing in the yard. (Based on the outward thrust of my chin, I think this must have been 1952 or 1953, prior to the effects of orthodonture.) Here we are on Memory Lane in front of her rock garden, which she planned, planted, and maintained. In the bed to her right, in a spot hidden by the tree, she killed a copperhead with a hoe while I watched from a bed of day lillies just below the cross-tie steps in front of us. In that same bed she planted the galax Calla sent from camp in the fall.

Now the photograph is framed with the newspaper clipping on which Mother wrote, "first attempt." I don't know when it appeared, but I assume it must have been in The Birmingham News on a Mother's Day prior to her wedding to my father. Not only did my mother make clothes, but she also made occasional poems, of the sentimental and the humorous kinds. Read the poem, and you will see that Mother followed a tradition set by grandmother, whom we called "Dear."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Saturday Market

Every Saturday during the summer (except when it rains), I join others who sell homegrown vegetables or fruits or flowers and bake homemade goodies and sell my scones at the market. We set up on Highway 41A downtown, in an old railroad bed. (The train, when it ran, was affectionately called "the goat track." Behind the set-up spot starts the Mountain Goat Trail for walkers and bikers.)

The afternoon or night before, I make the scone dough and store it in the refrigerator. Late yesterday afternoon, I made four kinds: ginger, currant, cranberry-orange, and chocolate. Then I get up at 6 AM and bake, so that the scones are still warm when I take them to market.I have regular customers -- like Ann, who prefers Ginger; June, who mostly buys cranberry-orange; Tam, who bikes up to 40 miles a day and saves some carbs for me, who buys ginger and currant; and Bill and Susan, from New Orleans but owners of a summer house in Monteagle Assembly and whose younger daughter I taught at McGehee's, who always buy lots of any flavor. Some people don't buy scones, but always stop to chat, like Georgie and Lynne, who returned the terrific Fourth of July dog to the shelter. (Someone still needs to adopt him.) Sometimes I learn sad news at the market: today I heard that a colleague from The School of Letters has been diagnosed with a terminal disorder: corticobasal degeneration. Essentially, her brain is shutting down. Sometimes , we chat about a friend who is ill: Trink had a stroke earlier this week and is still in the hospital in Chattanooga. Sometimes we celebrate successes: Ann's daughter was here earlier and is out of her neck contraption from last year's surgery. In any case, the community is strong and supportive.Scone sales don't amount to much more than the cost of supplies, but I enjoy having a reason to get up early on the weekend, and I enjoy chatting with the folks who come to the market. They used to call me "the scone lady," but now most know me by name. I guess I have become a member of the community.

Friday, July 11, 2008


In late May, my friend Florence, a master gardener along with her husband, gave me some pansies for my deck. I planted them, and they're still flowering, weakly but producing nevertheless. When something else started pushing up in one pot, I almost pulled it, thinking it was a weed. Happily, I didn't because when Florence visited in June, she exclaimed, "A sunflower!"

So I have waited.
And now it's blooming. There were two long stems, but a big storm toppled the other one a couple of weeks ago. As a result, I staked this one. It's a happy accident.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New Shoes!

I used to care about fashion.

That is, until melanoma surgery (a wide excision) left an unattractive indentation below
my knee. Until my back began to deteriorate at 26 and only continued to get worse until I had surgery 23 years later. Until I developed bone spurs, stress fractures, and permanent plantar fasciitis, relieved somewhat by another surgery. Until my skinny body (my mother used to make eat three slices of white bread every Saturday throughout childhood because she said, "The wind will blow you away") became a middle-aged one.

Now comfort and ease rule: FLAX linen clothing for work, jeans and pajama pants at home, and Haflinger clogs. I buy one pair, wear them out, and buy another. My third pair arrived today. Hooray! Here's the old and new picture.
Even without the tag, it's obvious which is which, yes? You gotta love online ordering and UPS delivery!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sewanee Nightlife

Four years ago, I was sitting on the living room couch, reading, with the windows open to a cool October evening. I kept hearing a little noise on my porch, a snuffling as if Ewoks were visiting and comparing notes. I glanced out the window and saw nothing.

I sat; I read.

I heard the Ewok burble ( again and looked again. Still nothing but darkness. However, I started hearing the shuffle of spent
birdseed. After a third set of noises, I turned off the living room lights, went to the front door, got down on all fours, gently opened the door, and peered toward the noise. Three sets of raccoon eyes stared at me. Babies! I thought and was pleased.

Boy was that a mistake.
Once they find you, they and their descendants keep coming back for more. I am in a continuous battle with them for sovereignty of my bird feeders, front and back. Last night, one kept returning to the porch despite my scary noises. And this morning when I opened the deck door, I wasn't altogether surprised to find another finch feeder missing from the in-ground pole. This makes four that have gone the way of woods, having been bitten through and dragged off by the crafty creatures.

So, here's the lesson I've learned the hard way. The masked bandit I loved at the zoo as a child is a pest, as are Bambi and all of her kin. Living among wild things requires . . . patience . . . or a trap!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Words, Words, Words

The truth is, I love them. Whether they're someone else's or my own, I love words, and today is set aside for them.
First, I want to read my classmates' critiques of the essay I workshopped in Creative Nonfiction (a Sewanee School of Letters class) yesterday. The oral comments were helpful, especially those given by the instructor, John Jeremiah Sullivan. Based on what I heard, I've already spent about two-and-a-half hours this morning revising "The Second Time." Now I need to read.

Second, I will read and respond to the essays by two classmates scheduled for workshop Thursday.

And third, I am desperate to return to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, a beautiful ("Time thickened like wet cement") novel I started Sunday. I am torn between slowing down to savor (I don't want to finish the 562-page book too quickly) and speeding up to drown in the story, characters, and language. This is a good problem to have -- the compulsion to read in the mind even when the words aren't visible.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wordling My Reading

Today, I have no snapshot of my own because my image is on the web at Wordle ( Follow that link and you'll see a word cloud of my pleasure reading over the last year and a half.

On July 3, The New York Times blog called "Paper Cuts" mentioned a new Internet toy ( called Wordle. Here's a Wordle cloud of all of Moby Dick, "featuring," as the Times says, " the seventy-five words that appear most frequently."
Be careful! Wordle is addictive!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Booking It

Today was reserved for rest and relaxation as I needed recovery from last night's harrowing drive back from Bell Buckle through blinding rain and hail after a foiled attempt to see The Tennessee Shakespeare Festival's first production (A Midsummer Night's Dream) at Webb. The play was canceled, and we headed out Highway 82, which was blocked by a fallen tree. That meant the long way home, and while I didn't have to drive (my SOL friend Jan did), I was still frightened out of my wits. So. Today has been easy. Some Wimbledon, some NYTimes, some pleasure reading, some bookbinding.
I laid out, printed, cut, folded, covered, and tied 10 miniature matchbox books: Sunday Fat Cats. While these are fun to make, I don't much like the box insert. I can't cover it because the paper would make it too thick to slide inside the top. I can't remake the insert because I don't have paper of the right weight. Bother. We shall see if the teens here for the Young Writers' Conference are interested in making small purchases at Shenanigans.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Greens from the Garden

Every Saturday morning I sell homemade scones at the local green market. This morning I sold thirty chocolate, cranberry/orange, and currant scones. Afterwards, I visited my friends F&F. Faye has been suffering for a month with a bulging disc, so I thought some fresh blueberry scones and a short visit might cheer her up. I was right. While we chatted, Francis picked fresh greens from his garden: lettuces, arugula, and basil.

Here's what I celebrate today: two dogs who belong to neighbors but have made their home at F&F's; sun-warm greens, sweet and bitter and aromatic, that make a symphony with black olives, red pepper, cucumber, feta cheese, carrot, ground pepper, and oil and vinegar; hummingbirds zapping each other at the feeder; and old friends.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Fourth

Somewhere in Florida, Virginia celebrates her third birthday on the Fourth. Here we celebrate with all kinds of activities, my favorite of which is the dog show. It began with an adopt-me-dog that later won one round. He was better behaved than most pampered pooches.
Among the costume contestants were a bumblebee and bumbledog (third place) and an American girl and her American dog (first place).

During the smallest dog contest, one of the local clowns argued that her dogs on the skewer were the tiniest. Nevertheless, a miniature chihuahua won.
When the Mistress of Ceremonies asked for jokes from the audience, a small boy who announced he is from "Winn-en-chester" told this one: "Why does the puppy hide from his mother? [pause] Because he's already been spotted! [pause] Get it? He's already spotted!!!" He won first prize.

My friend Trink is cool under the shade of a tree as we both admire this little girl pushing her tiny dog.

Walking home, I couldn't resist these signs next to the Justice and Peace booth.

With this entry I have broken my one photograph rule. I resisted the parade, cat show, dunking booth, barbecue pits, party-goers, fireworks, . . . .

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Their Lucky Day

These three little mutts made the news yesterday and stole my friend Jill's heart. The community email listed four puppies and one mama dog had been found. A student is seeing to the mama and one puppy, having enclosed them in a campus garden behind deer fencing. These three, however, were left to fend for themselves until Jill and her husband took them. They are now comfortably housed in their garden and have been treated by the local house-calls vet.
Living in a community that advertises runaway and tossed-away dogs, old Macs free to the first-taker, chicken controversies (, citizens' health challenges, and the like is a refreshing change for a person raised in the city.

I am reminded that every dog has its day. Let's just hope some big-hearted folks at tomorrow's annual dog show will give these dogs their hearts.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Senior Day

Because I must make bring-along dishes to July 4 parties, I drove to the Decherd Kroger, packed with silver-haired folks.

When I ran into a friend and asked what explained this phenomenon, she said, "It's Senior Day! Each first Wednesday of the month."

"Sign me up!" I cheered.

I got an extra 10% off, making the lovely berries (already discounted to $5 for any two kinds) even sweeter when I got home and ate some drowned in heavy cream.

Sometimes old people earn lovely and unexpected perks. I celebrate them.


It's a good day when an orange and yellow butterfly lights on a pot of yellow and orange marigolds at the moment I look up from reading and when that butterfly doesn't fly off before I can go inside, find the camera, come back, and snap several pictures. Later my neighbor calls my name through the living room window and invites me for a drink and then dinner with a companionable group composed of the neighbor and her magazine editor husband and their children, her cousin, a college soccer coach neighbor and his New Orleans-native wife and children, a gentleman studying to become an Episcopal priest, and the college vice-chancellor's wife and her grandson. What delicious company.