February Photo A Day: Where You Ate Lunch

I’m grateful for today’s challenge because I was drowning in files and paperwork and bills. Not only was I paying bills, but I’m separating all of 2012’s nonessential paperwork from the stuff I need for my taxes. I’m hoping by the end of this week, I’ll have everything to the accountant. Taxes are a little more complicated for joint filers when one is self-employed. I organize most things quarterly, but there will always be stuff I can do only after year’s end.

Anyway, I’d probably have forgotten all about lunch, except that I knew it was today’s challenge. So I forced myself to take a break for a BLT (Everybody say it with me: Mmmmm, bacon.), fresh pineapple and grapes, a glass of water, and a mug of green tea–all at my own dining room table. Now it’s back to work for me!

Prompt from FMS Photo A Day.

February Photo A Day: Something You Smelled

Coffee! Before I did my errands this morning, I allowed myself the rarest of treats: breakfast at Baby Barnaby’s. Perfect grits, and that orange juice is freshly squeezed in their groovy machine right before your eyes. Other than at the table of family or good friends, the only breakfast I love equally is in New Orleans at the Clover Grill. For me, it’s a much shorter drive to Baby Barnaby’s.

Prompt from FMS Photo A Day.

Legacy Writing 365:357

The first Christmas after I graduated from college, living in my own house, gainfully employed and married to my first husband, also gainfully employed, I thought it was time to be a grown up and have people over to my house for a change. Judging from my pictures and Mother’s from that day, I’m not sure exactly what hostessing meant to me, beyond providing a table (and my extra chairs being lawn chairs).

Looking at the table, I may have opened the cranberry sauce and put it in that dish, which is mine, and the china, crystal, and tumblers are mine, but there’s no way I ever baked that turkey, and those serving dishes are not mine, so I’m thinking whatever vegetables were in them were brought by my mother. That’s Mother, Daddy, me, Terri, Daniel, and First Husband sitting around the table. David’s taking the photo. I see Daddy already put some dressing on his plate before we could get the photos taken. My sister is looking down on us from her graduation picture behind Terri. I recognize some of the books on the shelf: Summer of ’42, Jaws, Valley of the Dolls, The Thorn Birds. That must have been my popular fiction shelf. The literary stuff is elsewhere. I also spy Mr. Santa Claus–that was the year he and Mrs. Claus were given to me by Lynne’s sister.

I think I made the mashed potatoes–which Daniel has already spooned onto his plate. Like grandfather, like grandson. But once again, judging by the serving dishes, Mother made macaroni and cheese, ambrosia, gravy, and the dressing. Yep, I really labored over preparing that meal, didn’t I?

My first Christmas tree as a true grown-up. Up on a table so Hamlet and Brutus wouldn’t pull off any ornaments. I still put those same candy canes on my trees now. Where are the presents? No idea. Probably on top of the piano to keep the dogs out. It does seem as if I might have made a little more effort to cover up that tree stand, doesn’t it? I LOVE that little TV in the corner. Even if I’m not actually thirty-five, at least you can see that we already had TV when I was twenty-two. AND IT WAS COLOR, so hush. Still have that painting that’s on the wall. Still have that basket that’s under the table. It used to have magazines in it. Now it’s the wastebasket in the guest room.

By comparison, in a house the next town over, here’s Lynne’s Christmas tree. With actual presents under the tree, the way it should be.

Legacy Writing 365:327, 328, and 329

Here are pictures from my ‘tween years on of many Thanksgivings that include lots of family and friends. These pictures don’t really need words to show why every year teaches me again how much I have to be grateful for. This is what Thanksgiving means to me: being together for a few hours with people we care for, reaching out to those who need to be included, sharing what is abundant in our lives–whether that is food, time, or love–with our neighbors.

I hope all of you find good and safe ways to celebrate the Thanksgiving holidays, and that we can all offer our best to one another, in stores and airports, at work and at play, on roads, in front of TVs, at tables, and online.

Taking a break: I’ll be back for sure by time to post Button Sunday!

State of The Compound

We are enjoying a “cold” front–and I realize cold is relative, but 56 degrees is a welcome relief in Houston. Except my flowers looked sad about it this morning. If they survived summer, they need to plant up and endure this, too.

It’s the perfect weather to break out the iron skillets. So, this:

Homemade chili and cornbread. Add our tossed salads, and Tom, Tim, and I will be fixed to gather ’round the TV and watch “The Young and the Restless” on Tivo tonight. It’s just like a heartwarming scene from “Little House on the Prairie,” isn’t it?

You know what else it’s a perfect night for? For Tom to come home from work with THESE for me!

I’d forgotten that Stevie Nicks put out a new CD last year until Greg reminded me of it. And today, he also helped me remember that she had a song on it inspired by Twilight. I love Stevie.

Meanwhile, if you don’t know why the soundtrack from Breaking Dawn Part 2 has me all worked up, just scroll to the bottom of my blog to remind yourself what Tim laughingly told me to upload many months ago. Indeed, it has made me giggle every single day that I’ve seen it there–even days when I didn’t much feel like laughing. For future generations who may stumble onto this blog by accident, because my countdown widget will be gone, here’s a screen cap:

This year, only Lindsey, my Vampartner in Crime, is willing to go with me to the first night of the new and final (?) movie. But LUCKY FOR US, they are starting showings at ten PM Thursday instead of the usual midnight, giving us a better chance of seeing ‘tweens and teens sparkle on.

Then it’ll all be over and I have to be a grownup human again. Or build a new world in a novel of my own…

Legacy Writing 365:307

There’s nothing all that noteworthy about this photo Mother took of Debby and me one morning as we sat at the table after breakfast. It’s one of many mornings we spent like that, the three of us. Sometimes a roommate or friend would be there. Sometimes Terri; maybe a grandchild or four. What makes it special is that regardless of the times there might have been mother/daughter friction–of the normal variety–there was never any doubt that we got each other. No matter what, we ended up laughing about something. That still happens inside the family, even with our parents gone.

I know this was taken in my apartment because of the glass end table in the corner and that I’m sitting in my rocking chair. Plus some of the plates on the table are from my old Tupperware picnic set. I think that white blob behind Debby is her dog Spanky. I know it’s Mother taking the picture not just because the photo is with her other Kodak shots, but because her omnipresent cigarette case is on the table.

Still, there are some mysteries. The chair Debby’s sitting in looks like one belonging to Mother’s dining room furniture, but I don’t remember ever having those chairs (I have two now that I took after she died). I also don’t know who this table belonged to. It didn’t come with Tom and me to Texas, because we had to borrow one from Lynne and Craig for a couple of years until I acquired the one I have now (it once belonged to Steve R; his parents urged me to take it after he died). I must have borrowed this table from someone, but I’m drawing a blank.

Also, I wonder why my walls were so bare? Now those walls would be covered with art.

Finally, I can’t figure out why there’s a glass of milk next to my plate and a glass of Coke next to Debby. That’s the reverse of what we’d have drunk at breakfast (I still don’t drink milk, but I no longer drink Coke. I drink water and coffee–and sometimes hot tea–healthier, right?). Maybe we were already up and about to clear the table when Mother made us sit back down so she could take the picture. I guess she, too, liked remembering that a not-that-noteworthy morning could still be something special.

Button Sunday

Some way overdue thank-yous here. First, to my buddy Rob E in St. Louis, who sent me a scarf with a bold print for possible doll fashion along with bottle caps for my paintings. The scarf is already packed away with my fabric, but it sat on the desk next to me for a couple of days before I really scrutinized it, and then I started laughing because I was reminded of Diane Wiest’s character in the movie The Birdcage as she puzzled over a provocative design on some dinnerware. The scarf depicted people doing all kinds of naughty things, so the fabric must surely be used for some future fashion event. Thanks, Rob.

Another friend, writer Jeffrey Ricker, has temporarily relocated to Canada to pursue his MFA. But he sent me a couple of St. Louis mementos to add to my collection:

Pressed pennies from the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Thank you very much, Jeff! And the dog card makes me happy, too.

It’s funny how old and dear friends come back into our lives when we need them most, and such is the case with a good friend from my high school and college years, Jim S. I won’t embarrass him by describing how much our ongoing conversations mean to me. Recently, he sent the most wonderful package of goodies to Tom and me: these clever steeping tea mugs, along with some tea blends, and honey from BACK HOME to sweeten our tea.

The honey is from a beekeeper in a rural area where I lived many years ago, though I don’t think Jim knew that. Check out the tea products and blends from The Tea Spot. If there’s not a retail supplier near you, you can also order from them online. Saturday morning provided the perfect chilly weather for Tom and me to enjoy the Bolder Breakfast blend of Black Tea, Pu’erh, and Chocolate. It was divine and went well with our brunch of eggs, grits, bacon, biscuits (with more honey!), and grapes.

By the way, from The Tea Spot: Our full leaf teas include organic and Fair-Trade Certified™ estate teas and signature blends. Committed to giving as we grow, 10% of each sale is donated in-kind to cancer wellness and community programs. A gift with heart from one of the best hearts I know; thank you, Jim!

Our friend, writer and blogger Josh Helmin, was in Houston last week and came by The Compound to have dinner with us. He and Tim graciously agreed to pose for a Reading Is Hot photo holding two new novels by other author friends of ours.

Josh is holding Greg Herren’s Timothy. Greg sent me a copy before anyone else could buy it, and I was honored to read that he dedicated the novel to me because of our shared love–as teenagers and beyond–of romantic suspense writers like Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, the incomparable Mary Stewart, and Daphne du Maurier. Tim’s holding Famous Author Rob Byrnes’s third in his hilarious caper series featuring Grant Lambert and Chase LaMarca and their entire gang of misfits, Strange Bedfellows.

To bring this full circle, I received a photo from Rob E who reminded me that reading is also sensible WHEN it’s hot, as this was what he was enjoying in the middle of the Midwest’s recent drought.

Y’all know how I love writers, and I want to share Indiegogo projects from a couple of my writer friends.

Author, webmaster, and columnist Linda Gentile founded Markeroni in 2003. Markeroni is the oldest website that helps people find and record historical markers and landmarks. Markeroni is a history resource with more than 150,000 landmarks in their database and 31,000 with a Catalog entry. Markeroni is in need of an upgrade, so Linda’s raising funds at this Indiegogo site. If a few people contribute even a modest amount, this resource can be updated and made more accessible to the public. If you can’t contribute, you might become a Markeroni member, or share the link on your Facebook and Twitter sites. Linda and all the Markeroni volunteers are a fun and passionate group, so thanks for any support you can give them between now and October 31.

Another Indiegogo project with funding that will close on October 31 is Michael Thomas Ford’s prospective novel Lily. Here’s how Lily begins:

On the morning of her thirteenth birthday, Lily kissed her father and knew that he would be dead by nightfall. The image of his death dropped into her mind suddenly and without warning. As her lips touched his she saw behind the thin skin of her closed eyes his face, pale and wet, rising up from the waves surrounded by caressing fingers of sea grass, and she screamed.

Mike is an award-winning novelist who’s written more than fifty books for both young readers and adults, in genres ranging from humor to horror, literary fiction to nonfiction. He’s one of my favorite writers, so I really want to see Lily happen. It’s a bold new endeavor that won’t happen without funding; you can read more about what you’ll receive at the different levels of giving at the Indiegogo site. Again, if you can’t give, please share the link on your social networking sites.

Thanks on behalf of Linda and Mike.

Legacy Writing 365:262

Years ago, my mother repeated an urban legend about newlyweds. The husband and wife were in the kitchen putting together a meal when he asked, “Why do you always cut an end off the roast before you cook it?”

She thought for a minute and said, “I don’t know. My mother always did it.”

This prompted a call to her mother and the same question.

“I have no idea,” she said. “My mother always did it, so I did it, too.”

Of course, it was time to call Grandma, who laughed and said, “I don’t know why you do it, but a large family called for a large roast. My pan was too small for it to lay flat, so I cut the roast into two pieces.”

We cackled over that story because we knew that even if it was fabricated, there was a kernel of truth in it. There are probably countless things we do without knowing why–we’re just emulating our role models.

Of all the houses my family lived in, and all the holidays we celebrated together, there is one tradition that I still keep. For some reason, before we sit down at a full table with friends and family for any celebration, I feel compelled to take a photo of the table. Sometimes there are people in the photo; sometimes not. But I’m pretty sure there’s not a turkey that ever hit the table (or a ham that hit the floor, Guinness) that didn’t get its Kodak moment. My mother always said she wanted to “make memories” for us, but I also think that a child who’d known poverty and a newlywed who’d known hunger probably came to see a full table as a victory and something to celebrate in and of itself.

This is probably Thanksgiving in Georgia when I was seven; I’m taking my cue from there being only four plates on the table, so possibly my father was in Korea. That china is long gone–Debby knows where!–but I still have some of the crystal stemware you can see on the china cabinet (and of course, still have the china cabinet in my own dining room). The menu: turkey and cornbread dressing, peas and potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, corn, turnip greens, cranberry sauce, pecan pie (I am not a pie eater), and what looks like carrot cake or some kind of spice cake–which I do NOT eat and never would again after throwing up school cafeteria spice cake in first grade.

Edit: My brother David recognized the dining room in this photo as different from the one above. Same table and chairs, but not the same state and city–and I’d have been much younger in that second photo than when the top one was taken. My parents are getting ready for a Christmas party. The table is arranged so that people can move around it getting cookies and egg nog which Daddy is ladling into a cup for the picture. Beyond him is the living room with the tree and presents and the ALL IMPORTANT TV (at least to my siblings, if you recall this post). I’m fine with those cookies and fruit, but that appears to be a coconut cake, Debby’s favorite, at the far end of the table.

There it is: photographic proof that my favorite dessert in the world, chocolate cake, or at least yellow cake with chocolate frosting, is NOWHERE to be seen on two different important holidays. Nobody needs to be telling me the baby was “the favorite” anymore.

Still, the baby will continue to take photos of our repasts “just like Mother” did, because I like making memories with the people I love, too. There will be chocolate cake.

Legacy Writing 365:234

Today I had a hankering for a deviled egg.

I have a plastic container to keep or transport deviled eggs, but as anyone knows, a Southern belle has at least one and preferably several deviled egg plates, and this is mine. I love the rooster and the sunflower, but here is its quirk: there are slots for nine eggs. I don’t know how y’all make deviled eggs, but I cut my boiled eggs in half, scoop out the yolk, mix it with stuff, and fill the egg hollows with that stuff. At the risk of sounding mathy, you can’t add egg halves and come up with nine. I’ve decided this means the person who prepares the deviled eggs must, therefore, eat the extra one. This also works if you need a poison tester, because I connect deviled eggs to stuff like picnics and families, and you know both of those can be treacherous.

Daddy at a picnic–who brought those Pepsis? We’re a Coke family!

The process of deviling the eggs led me to think about two kinds of picnics: planned and spontaneous. My earliest impressions of picnics are the ones we took while we traveled during my childhood. Interstates were rare–we were more likely to take state highways and old backroads to get anywhere. We were also not yet a fast food nation. So trips meant either stopping at wonderful diners and cafes in small towns or–because we didn’t really have the budget for eating out that way–my mother packed sandwiches, fruit, chips, and drinks. When the back seat started sounding cranky, my parents knew it was time to find a shady roadside picnic area, pull over, and stuff food in us. The place might have been left to chance, but not the fixings, because everybody had to have the right things to eat (this one doesn’t like mustard, that one won’t eat Fritos, the other one hasn’t tasted much beyond peanut butter in two years, etc.).

A friend at a church picnic.

Somewhat irrelevant aside: One time I was watching an episode of Mad Men (set in the early Sixties, if you don’t know), and the Draper family was having a picnic in an idyllic spot–green grass, shade trees, nothing but the sounds of nature and the kids being kids. Don finished his beer and rocked my world by tossing the can as far as he could throw it. Then when it was time to go, Betty told the kids to get their things, stood up, shook the blanket free of plates, cups, napkins, and food remnants, and they all got in the car and drove off, leaving a pile of debris behind. I GASPED. I would just like to say that my family did not behave in a way that would make the Keep America Beautiful Indian shed a tear. We properly disposed of our trash before moving on.

Mother at a family reunion.

I think anytime children are involved, a picnic requires planning, and I used to be a champion planner myself, so I understand the compulsion. However, as I aged, I began to see how overplanning takes all the joy out of an event–both for the planner and everyone else. Because there will always be things you can’t prepare for, and I’m not talking about only nuisances like ants, mosquitoes, drunks, and rain. The world will not end if a picnic does not go exactly as planned–well, unless it’s taken over by zombies, but that hasn’t happened to me yet, so I disregard it. Consequently, I’m more in favor of the spontaneous picnic.

A garage picnic with friends from high school and college.

One such occasion began on a spring night when Lynne and I had a discussion about fried chicken. She said Craig didn’t really like fried chicken, and I said it was probably because he’d never had mine. (Y’all know Lynne is a fantastic cook, right, and taught me a lot of what I know? But never let it be said an Aries will miss an opportunity to be a little cocky.) So we decided to have a cook-off. We each separately spent a late night frying chicken and packed some other random foods. Early the next morning, we loaded Craig’s van, then the two of them, Tom, and I rode toward the Hill Country looking for the perfect picnic spot.

Aunt Lola (Headless! Maybe there were zombies?) and Uncle Gerald at a family picnic.

This is Texas, and they really mean it when they say if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes. A couple of hours later we were unloading the van in a bucolic setting with wildflowers and singing birds. And without warning, the temperature dropped about thirty degrees. Fortunately, Craig had some work coveralls in his van, so Lynne and I put those on, and we managed to stuff our food past blue lips with shivering hands. Crazily, that memory is one of my favorite picnics ever. And I can’t say it’s because Craig liked my chicken best–he did!–but it turned out that Tom and I liked Lynne’s best, so it all evened out. But we laughed ourselves stupid, rode home in the cozy van, and probably played cards all night with some good cussin’ and cold chicken.

Daniel making a face about his steak that should have alerted us he’d one day be a vegetarian.

Recently, Lynne asked me if Jess was with us on that picnic, and I remembered that he wasn’t. I’m not sure where he was–he might have been on spring break in Alabama with his great-aunts–but I knew for sure if he’d been with us, he’d have had the sense to get out of the cold.

Six Things

  1. The last time I went to the post office, I had a package from Rob, also known as The Smiling Bagel. I call him St. Louis’s goodwill ambassador, because his blog always makes me want to visit that city. He sent me some bottle caps for my ongoing art series. I haven’t painted in a while. Maybe this is the nudge I needed. It wasn’t until I photographed the bottle caps and uploaded the picture that I became aware of….
  2. A tiny wrapped package of pressed pennies from the St. Louis Zoo featuring a train, a hippo, a peacock, and a butterfly. See what I mean about how he promotes his home city? He remembered that I like to collect pressed pennies from tourist attractions, and now I have four new ones. Thank you so much, Rob–for the bottle caps and the pressed pennies!
  3. In going through some old pictures, I found this photo of my mother’s desk. I think Laura and Jess got that desk. The four paintings on the top are four of my One Word Art paintings that she once picked out for either her birthday or Christmas. They were the four that spoke to her, she said. Rather than reclaiming them, I believe I sent them with a box of stuff to Daniel. I’d forgotten them until I saw this photo. I believe they are, left to right, “Trust,” “Surrender,” “Plant,” and “Learn.”
  4. I’m reading Karl Soehnlein’s novel Robin and Ruby. I wanted to photograph one of Barnaby’s bigger-than-your-head salads to show you how enormous it is. I usually get a dinner, the next day’s lunch, and maybe a third small salad out of one of these. The salad is excellent, but their ranch dressing is THE BEST. It’s great for dipping fries in, too.
  5. When Jim was here, one afternoon we went to the Menil Collection and the Cy Twombly Gallery. I have to go back to the Menil soon. The next day, we hit up the Museum of Fine Arts, the Lawndale Art Center, and Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. The last is where Jim got me into trouble when he posed for me–it was like the dozenth photo I’d taken, but only when Jim got all goofy were we told, “You can’t take photos of the art here!” Oops. I’d like to say I feel remorse, but I don’t (and I didn’t use a flash). I do recommend that particular exhibit: INTERSTITIAL SPACES: JULIA BARELLO & BEVERLY PENN. It’s there until September 1.
  6. I finally persuaded myself to download Instagram to my iPhone. That’s my first photo: Pixie and Penny all bored, watching out the window for something exciting like a squirrel to appear. I don’t know how much I’ll use Instagram–I have two other photo apps on my phone that I never use. I need to feel the heft of a camera in my hands. But at least now I can look at other people’s Instagram galleries, and some of their pictures are beautiful and creative.

I was not compensated by any businesses, artists, or products mentioned in this post other than sales of my own art work.