Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sweet Home

Some days, I miss Alabama, for family and for food.

In summer, food means fresh peas and beans -- purple hulls, black-eyes, field peas, crowders, lady peas, cream peas, butter beans, limas, fordhooks. Collard, mustard and turnip greens and corn -- especially silver queen or honey and cream. And tomatoes (Tennessee homegrown tomatoes are tasty, but they're just not the same)
, okra, and blackberries. And . . . . peaches.

Oh, the joy of
Chilton County peaches, like these.

My niece brought four as a gift on Saturday, and what a gift. We ate one while they were here. I shared another with friends yesterday.

Today, as a special treat, I are the remaining two slathered with cream for breakfast. Every bite, every bit, I savored -- the slip of flavor swimming with tart sweetness, the orange-red-maroon strings, the darkened nipple around the pit, the gooey goodness collected at the bottom of the
bowl. I ate every morsel and licked every droplet.

Thank you, Jen, for your thoughtfulness and you, Chilton County, for supplying the best peaches I have ever eaten.

Monday, June 29, 2009

An Old Friend and a New One

On an unseasonably cool day, scrambled eggs with onion, cheese, and tomato served enchilada style with homemade salsa, good coffee and cream, a rainbow-striped umbrella, and an old friend and a new one -- these compromise the recipe for a lovely lunch. Eugenie, a former student of mine from 30+ years ago in New Orleans, and Bob (her new husband) traded their porch in the Monteagle Assembly for my deck for an hour or so this afternoon.

The rewards of slow living are many, today's visitors among them.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Family Weekend

A family weekend leafs in green and blooms joy.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Years ago, a New Orleans friend gave me this little beaded lady from Africa.

Instead of using her as a key chain, I keep her under my computer screen, from which she stares up at me even now while I write this slim post. Her bug-eyed white bead eyes and mouth, her iridescent beaded torso, her fat black bead feet -- all make me smile, no matter what I'm working on.

She's my little gris-gris, my joyful totem.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Another drought.

After a drenching and stormy winter and spring, drought again visits us, leaving the ground sere, the animals desperate.

I have placed ready-made baths, three of them, around the back yard, including one on the deck. This afternoon, I watched as birds and squirrels waited their turns to slake their thirsts.

The squirrels are pests, but they have needs, too, and sometimes I feel compelled to meet them.

It's the least I can do.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Conversation Circle

(Disclaimer: I am cheating: this should have been posted yesterday. I am backdating it.)

My neighbors are extending their garden to include a beautiful new conversation circle. (I blogged about one of the stones the other day, when they were still stacked.) It is a beautiful design, created by a gifted and hard-working landscaper named Curt.

He chose the stones for their size and shape and color, matching them up in the stone yard, and then drove them long-distance to their new home. Then he and his brother prepared the earth, leveled it, poured and packed pebbles, laid the stones out, checked the design, and then secured them in place

I do not envy my neighbors: I thank them for their generosity. I enjoy their stones, and their conversation, and their wise choice of landscaper.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

And the View from Here

For reasons I can't pretend to understand, Lucy perches atop the landing every day, especially in summer.

She rises from bed (mine) to snack a bit and groom. Then she lounges on the landing, her head toward steps, blocking entrance to the bathroom.

She is mistress of all she surveys.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Some birthdays are definitely worth noting, my friend's for instance.

Today, the birds and the bees and the flowers join all who know
Florence in wishing her health and happiness. May others give her as much joy as she lavishes on all who know her.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The 1950s in Fruit

My entryway is a sort of modified mudroom, complete with a built-in storage bench, atop of which is my small set of fruit pillows (strawberry, pear, pineapple, watermelong, and eggplant -- the misfit). I don't think about them consciously, but I see them every time I enter as do my visitors.

Today, however, I am thinking of them -- because an acquaintance from years back asked me about them through Facebook. She remembered something I had forgotten: the pillows dressed the set for Painting Churches, which I directed more than 20 years ago.

When I look at the pillows, I see my mother. I remember and admire her flair for sewing and her love of whimsy. She made these 1950s home accents from a pattern, probably McCall's or Butterick. (Those were her favorite pattern makers, and I loved thumbing through their pages while she chose fabrics.) She embroidered seeds on the watermelon slice, appliqued the triangles on the pineapple, and stuffed and hand shaped the stems and leaves.

It's a strange and wonderful thing that the same object can stir such different memories and associations, and it's lovely that Caroline's question stirred me.
Because Caroline asked about them, I touched these pillows and felt as if I were touching my mother's hands, something I have not done since I was 16, soon before she died.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Go Inside a Stone

Poet Charles Simic wrote "Stone":

Go inside a stone.
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger's tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle.
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it

And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill --
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.

Were I to enter this stone, I would whirl and eddy, soft silt loosening and lifting, shadowed by water gliders skipping above rippling circles of leaf and sky, mindless in a dream of wet weightlessness, content with my swirling sable swoops.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Stuff and Nonsense

Stuff and nonsense: that's what these are. But they're my stuff and nonsense, and I am thrilled.

My friend Arlyn showed me a book she and her husband made online, showcasing their art. She said, "You get two for the price of one!" She said, "Why don't you make one?"

So I did,

and the books arrived today.

They make my photographs look great.

They make me smile!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

An Old Friend

On her way to New Orleans to spend her sabbatical year with one of her daughters, an old friend and former colleague paid me a welcome overnight visit. Pizza, conversation, Facebook, wedding photographs, life stories -- we shared them all the way old girlfriends do.

Thanks, Cindy!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Welcome to Tennessee

Drive up along I-59 from Georgia into Tennessee and this bit of practical whimsy will welcome you at the Tiftonia Rest Stop. On one side you may sit for a moment while you study your brochure or map. On the other a turtle and fish beckon children to "swim" with them among the pebbles.

Public art has gotten a bad reputation lately, perhaps because some of it is inaccessible to most of the public. This art installation, however, is accessible to everyone. Indeed, every time I stop here on my way to Chattanooga, someone is photographing or climbing on the sculpture.

Thanks to Sherri Warner Hunter of Bell Buckle for welcoming all to Tennessee!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bountiful Garden

My friend Ronn keeps a bountiful garden at Sewanee's Community Gardens. He grows so much good food -- greens, lettuce, beans, tomatoes, raspberries, blueberries, squash, potatoes, among other delights -- that he and his wife Jill sometimes share the harvest with me.

Ronn has a green thumb, for his garden and for his friends. Last night, he quietly told me that my photographs are really good. (The blueberries in a recent post are his.) He commended "my eye."

Like his vegetables, I felt myself grow a little under the thumb of his genuine kindness.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Little Liza Jane

Liza is a dog who knows how to pacify herself: a stuffed elephant or a sandal, a bit of someone's shirt or a sock -- anything she hold in her mouth calms her.

Today, she apparently went missing from her owner and her brother (whose russet paws are visible at the edge of this photograph). While they were on a walk, she disappeared into woods for a good 10 minutes or so. When she found her family and they walked home, she was exhausted. By the time I came to visit, she was lying down, holding her sock in her mouth for comfort.

Little Liza Jane is a sweet and clever dog. She knows what humans know: under stress, a little oral sedative can be a good thing.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Birds and cats may be natural enemies, but today they demonstrated the same animal drive to protect.

Late this afternoon, five house finch pairs gorged themselves noisily at the feeder. The males fought over the seed and the females, especially two of them who carried on a spectacular fight, flying upwards in a battling spiral till one surrendered. Momentarily. A third male, meanwhile, fed his mate (or was he courting her?) on the post above the feeder or on the perch of the feeder itself.

On the left are the courting or mated female and male, preparing to feed her.

After the noisy quintet flew off, I walked to the post office. Next door, a mother cat watched her four kittens -- a marmalade, two reverse calicos

and one solid black -- frisked about on a front porch, weaving in and out of the rails and into the bushes. When they chased each other toward the upstairs steps, she casually turned from the water bowl, walked toward them, and flopped down in the sun, keeping one ear turned in their direction.

It's been a day for marveling at the strength of the instinct to nurture and protect. Like people, enemies share much more in common than they do differences.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Color of Blueberries

A lovely article in Newsweek reminded me of a favorite crayon color, burnt Siena, so named for the city that glows in afternoon sun, as if the very air thickens and shimmers with gold.

A sojourn in Ronn's community garden, made me see blueberry anew. Think blueberry and the mind's eye sees blue, dusty and deepening with ripeness toward purple. But blue isn't the only color. Include lime, rose, amber, blush, aqua, celadon, mauve, pink. The colors glow like Japanese lanterns, bursting with icy tartness tempered by warm sweetness.

Siena reminded me of a color I love, and Ronn's blueberries made me fall in love with a color palette for the first time.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Quick Visit

Happy small children carry and offer weedy flowers like rare jewels, create special drawings of things they love, make comments like "Oh art!" or "Pickie me up" with joyful abandon, and radiate love with the heat that pours naturally through their bodies.

I love these children and their mother (and their father who could not come).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Night Visitor

Tonight's backdoor visitor reminded me of a poem I love.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This one, I mean--

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

hot to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

(My friend Jill has identified this bug as a katydid nymph. When I first saw the little fellow, I thought katydid! I'm glad to know I was right.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Niceties of Punctuation

Today, a friend asked that I read a draft of an article he was writing about why writing matters. I noticed that he was using the unspaced em dash (think the length of three hyphens) to separate a break in thought, while I typically use the spaced en dash (think two hyphens) and spaces on either side for the same purpose.

We then launched into an email discussion of correctness. A quick search turned up fascinating material pointing to an ongoing controversy suggesting there is no one answer. Chicago Manual of Style says one must use the unspaced em dash;
Cambridge University Press endorses the spaced en dash. To see the difference, go here.

Punctuation delights me for its nuances, peculiarities, and power to inflame conviction. To my friend, I still say spaced en!

Monday, June 8, 2009

More Than a Welcome Mat

My friend Trink enjoys two great gifts: humor and love. She epitomizes the old saw of having never met a stranger.

I stopped by this afternoon for an unannounced visit, and even before I entered the house, I stopped to enjoy her most recent creation. As a result of her stroke, she could not have arranged this tableau with her own hands, but I know her directing eye saw the arrangement through to completion. (The red wagon, by the way, was until a year ago in frequent use. She hauled groceries, garden clippings and plants, paint supplies, logs and kindling.)

Trink's visitors greet the musician, lost in thought and interior music before taking the steps. What a way to say, "A woman with a score of humor and love lives here. Come on in and join the orchestra."

Thank you, Trink, for the invitation and for the harmonious conducting.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Fried Shrimp on Toast

At 17, I visited a New Orleans friend and received an education in good food. Her mother was a terrific native gourmand and gourmet. In her tiny, old fashioned kitchen, she made delicious meals, which, years later as her neighbor, I frequently shared. Whenever she tried something new, she'd call and ask me to dinner, saying, "John will eat anything and not know if it's good."

During that visit, Mrs Little took my friend and me to dinner one evening without her husband and ten-year-old daughter. We went to her favorite restaurant, and it instantly became one of my all-time favorite restaurants: Casamento's.

photo found online at http://z.about.com/d/neworleans/1/0/1/-/-/-/casamentos1.jpg

If you don't know Casamento's, look at its website (http://www.casamentosrestaurant.com/main/main.html) or watch a video I happened to see the other day when channel-flipping (http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/chefs/channel/0,1000011,FOOD_32077_8957,00.html). All you need to know is that it's tiny, tiled, no frills, delicious, and closed all summer.

That evening, I watched in wonder and admiration as Mrs Little consumed oyster stew, a dozen oysters on the half shell, and fried oysters, announcing each one as the ultimate in the preparation of the slimy delicacy. I love the fried soft-shell crab on toast and the fried shrimp po-boy.

Just writing about Casamento's makes my mouth water and my whole body miss the sticky humidity of an evening on Magazine near Louisiana and my heart miss Mrs Little and my friend, both of whom are gone but live still in my memory.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Lazy Afternoon

A lazy early afternoon on the deck with The New Yorker, a glass of iced mint tea, a cat, and things that scurry and fly.

I dare you to say waste of three hours.

Friday, June 5, 2009


The hydrangea spreads its flower-laden limbs much too far out over my walkway, yet I cannot bring myself to trim them. Blossoms shimmer like tiny dollops of Brocato's spumoni ice cream, violet joining the green, cream, and pink.

I love this bush and the tiny flowers that bloom all
summer long into the fall, and I'm not alone.

In ten minutes, I counted one tiny red bug and 12 assorted spiders. Each rested, snuggled in a comfy spot, still damp after light rain, decorating leaf, limb, bloom with motley pattern, surprising color, and spindly legs.

One day, I'll have to trim the limbs, but this isn't that day.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


My niece recently took this photo of her daughter.

Celebrate the pure joy in her face.

Celebrate the image of her mother in her face.

I do both, and I love both, and the joy.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Swiss Pantry

In Belvidere (home to wonderful artists Susan and Tom Church), The Swiss Pantry, a Mennonite institution that appears on the Tennessee Backroads site), offers bulk foods, fresh bakery bread, wonderful pies (fried and otherwise), and other delicacies that tempt folks from the wider neighborhood.

I have sampled candied ginger (which adds sophisticated flavor to my scones), pumpkin butter, Jerusalem artichoke pickle (not quite as good as my deceased Aunt Bertha's), whoopie pies, fried coconut pies, wild rice and multi-bean soup, a luncheon sub, and other products, many from Amish companies. I have also attended one of the special events -- a barbecue complete with free donuts for dessert.

Even though the Swiss Pantry is a 40-mile roundtrip drive from Sewanee (and sometimes, as happened today, does not have what I want), I enjoy the journey through rolling countryside dotted with nurseries.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pine Sap

Thin cones
grow downward
from the long-leaf pine,
weep sap
in oily globes.