The Dust Bowl

IMG_1041What does this luscious cake photo have to do with the devastating period in American history know as the Dust Bowl?  Nothing, and that’s the point.

If you want to get a kid interested in history, introduce them to a subject they can really chow down on…like the Dust Bowl.  What child can’t wrap their imagination around:

  • Adults who did dumb things and ruined millions of acres of the most fertile lane on earth.
  • The idea of living in a one-room “soddie” with all your family, stuck half in the earth and topped by the very grass that could have saved your life, dust seeping in at every crack and crevice.
  • Ma going out to the barn in a dust storm so bad that Pa can’t see her after she closes the kitchen door. Pa not finding Ma till spring…where she blew away and finally came to rest up against a barbed wire fence a mile away, now nestled among the tumbleweeds.

 And kids think history is boring?  My beloved Chapter III book club just read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.  Winner of a National Book Award, this story of those who trekked West in good faith, only to become embroiled in a Titanic-sized effort to survive, is riveting.  If I wrote a book for kids on this subject, I would call it Death by Dust.  Some families left; others stayed.  Imagine kids going to school in a cloud of dust, wet handkerchiefs tied over their faces to try to avoid “dust pneumonia,” which many children did die of eventually.

And the cake?  Well, of all the cookbook and recipe research that I have done over the years, when I Googled “What did they eat during the Dust Bowl?” I pretty much came up with…nothing.  I know they had to eat something?  Maybe a stray potato, some beans?  Dust soup?  I think this cake would have lived in my imagination as what I sacrificed for the errors of my ways.  Or, perhaps, what I hoped to chow down on in my future, should I liveto tell the tale.

Also worthy:  Ken Burn’s outstanding PBS series on the Dust Bowl; watch it with a kid.  Have some cake.

The Desk

Desk Blog ImageI’ve been a writer since before I was born.  A writer is all about her desk.  My first desk was a small, kneehole, four-drawer black desk.  If I still owned it, I’d hang it on the wall and just look at it.  It had been painted red, green and black over the years, as nicks and gouges clearly showed.  It was the kind of desk a school kid from the 1950s might have done their homework on.  It’s hard for me to imagine that I once corralled a typewriter, reams of yellow paper, a dictionary and all the other accoutrements of a writer on that measly pad of real estate.  Mostly I remember writing on it, including my first book—at night, many nights; many, many nights.

The kitchen table has often served as my desk.  I have fond memories of my small children banging away on pots and pans while I banged away on my first manual typewriter.

Over the years I graduated to swankier desks:  a thick glass slab atop chrome sawhorse legs…a slick candy-apple red desk with oak legs…and a lovely tobacco-leaf carved quarter-moon desk perched beneath an iron gazebo dangling lavender wisteria in a room overlooking downtown Savannah.

I’ve had other “desks” over the years:  the hoods of cars and trucks, my lap in bed, the floor of many a motel room when on the road doing research, and now, with my ultra-light Mac Book Air, the crook of my arm serves as a desk just fine.

When I travel, and visit literary historic sites, I always pay attention to the desks:  Carl Sandburg’s orange crate desk at Connemara in Morganton, North Carolina.  (Located in the boiler room, he often bottle- fed his wife’s prize-winning baby goats while he wrote.)  Thomas Wolfe was so tall he preferred to slap his typewriter on top of the refrigerator to write.  He often wrote “nekkid,” much to the consternation (or amusement) of his neighbors, since he cared not for curtains.

Since moving to Palmetto Bluff, the island in my light-filled laundry room has served as my desk.  I think I bought this house because of this thick slab of dark beech wood reclaimed from an Ohio barn.  It is glazed slick as glass and gleams with the clean slate look of possibilities.  Somehow, I could just imagine myself really cranking out the words there amidst the canned goods and cameras…the swish-swash of the washer and kalumph-kalumph of the dryer…the flicker of cell phones and iPads charging.  I enjoy being able to see what’s going on outside while I’m trapped inside writing, to wave to a neighbor, keep an eye out for Bob to fetch our red “Ladybug” golf cart so we can go to lunch.

I can always tell when I am “about to write.”  I do a desk check.  Today, I moved my yellow Parson’s table so I could sit facing the fireplace to write.  It just felt right.  The right desk at the right time in the right place makes all the difference to a writer.  All the difference in the world.

Tiny Books

TinyBooksImageHere are my tiny books—earrings gift from daughter, Michele; I wear them on special occasions, especially to school visits and autographings.

The Tiny Book Show!

If you love all things miniature (well, uh, many things?), here’s a fun one—a traveling caravan of 300 miniature handmade books, collected in a vintage 1965 covered wagon trailer called MAUDE (Mobile Art Unit Designed for Everyone.)

Books are 1-3-inches square, crafted by all kinds of folks from around the world on a wide array of topics. This red/white/blue trailer is basically a Tiny Book Musuem and will made 40 stops around America late spring and summer. They are even hosting tiny book workshops! Visit the site to learn a lot more.

If you love Lilliputian, this should be your cup of tiny tea!

Behind Every Great Woman

Behnd Every Great WomanMy good fellow author friend, Carolyn Wood [Maximizing Your Cruise Experience] sent me this image. While I am not a man-basher (too many fine men in my life for that), there’s nothing like being in a room full of entrepreneurial women—say at a writing conference or Chamber of Commerce event. The “vibe” is visceral; the can do/will do energy can knock your sox off.

Of course, behind every great woman is often also a mother, husband, good friend, mentor, role model, banker (if she’s lucky!) or other person, plus Lady Luck, and most certainly, the Good Lord. Nonetheless, most women are innately great, undauntable, and remarkable.

My grandmother was. She’d often take my sister and I walking through downtown Atlanta at night to her switchboard operator job at the Dinkler Hotel. In her hand she carried a large (one side taped) razor blade. Fortunately, no one ever accosted us—fortunately for THEM!

I just love looking at certain women on the news, mostly women who are the heads of nations. Or will be, like Malala Yousafzai. You know who she is. Or Alyssa Carson. You may not know her, but she’s 13 and already been tapped by NASA to be an astronaut, probably to go to Mars.

A very long time ago, when I went bankrupt due to circumstances beyond my control, my husband said, “Well, I guess you are out of business.”

“I have no money,” I said, “or office, or equipment, or vehicle, or employees, but my brain is not out of business, nor my arms or legs or fingers. My clients don’t know I’m broke.”

“Fingers?” he said.

I waggled them at him. “To write with.” And so I did. I kept writing and putting out books, shipping, and billing. That was a no-brainer. And soon, I had made my first million.

Yeah, behind every great woman is indeed herself. If you don’t believe me, just turn around…and look in the mirror.

Lady Lowcountry

LL CoverI’ve been fortunate to garner many accolades over the years for my writing, speaking, and such, but recently being deemed a Lowcountry Lady sort of hit the spot!

It’s nice to be considered a lady in this era of media filled with so much non-ladylike activity. And to be a lady of the Lowcountry (my favorite place in the world) just feels like it harks back to an era where I might be wearing a white lace dress, pretty hat, and sipping tea and nibbling cookies. Well, those days are long gone, however…

 

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Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace Image IIThis lovely yacht harks from the golden age of the Golden Age, when the ultra-wealthy purchased Southern plantations the size of small states and built gorgeous “cottages” the size of French chateaus.  They knew how to live the good life, a life that did not last, alas, due to the Civil War.

However, this nautical relic has survived for more than 100 years, and with a new major face lift from the inside out, she may thrive for another 100?  The Grace fetches us from a landing on the May River, usually at sunset, to take us on a ride into the past.  Not literally, of course, but with a glass of wine and the breeze in your bonnet (of course I wear a bonnet!), it sure seems so.

If you’re a parent or teacher, grandma or anything close to that for a child, print this out or show them on your computer screen.  Tell them that the Grace is on a journey.  Perhaps to the depths in a hurricane!  (Only in fiction, folks!)  Maybe to a sandbar awash in prehistoric megalodon teeth, shed from the monster sharks that once roamed these water?  Or is it the Golden Age of Piracy?  Perhaps Blackbeard is about to attack!  And, your young readers/writers can always imagine a 1940s soiree of the rich and famous of the day?

It’s not hard to get kids to unleash their mighty imaginations!  Just give them a photograph, and a hint or two, and turn them loose.  Ah!  There’s the fiercest pirate of them all stomping ashore, right now!  Uh, no, that’s just Papa wanting his lunch.  Oh, well, I can write about anything.

Lucky Day

Lucky Day - Apple PanThis year is the 100th anniversary of the establishment of America’s National Park System!  I’ve been to a lot of national parks in all kinds of seasons.  Being an indoor/sit down writer, being outdoors in the fresh air and moving about gives me an appetite.  I was trying to think of my favorite (so far) park-related recipe.  It is the dish I never got to try!  During a winter’s day Revolutionary War encampment at Moore’s Creek National Military Park in North Carolina, I watched a woman bake an apple pan dowdy in a large black iron skillet.  As it bubbled over the campfire, my mouth watered.  I stuck around like a dog waiting on a hush puppy to be tossed, but she just kept saying it wasn’t done yet.  I think she meant that it was for the re-enactors, not the visitors.  Oh, well…I came home and made my own.  You can, too!  Make it with a kid or two and plan a trip to your favorite, or a new to you, national park this year.  I think I’ll pick one where they might be making, hmm…Brunswick Stew!

Boy, Howdy Apple Pan Dowdy

This is a simple recipe, easy for kids to help prepare.

If you have a wood-burning fireplace or a fire pit, and an iron skillet, you can give cooking it that way a try.  (Be safe!)  Or, use a baking dish and the oven. 

While any apples will work, sticking with the Revolutionary War theme, I prefer Northern Spys!  Wash them, core, peel if you wish, and cut into wedges.  4-5 large apples are plenty; about 4 cups.  Arrange the apples in your skillet or pan.  Cover them with ½ cup of apple cider; you can use an envelope of the apple cider mix.

In a small bowl, mix ½ teaspoon cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg with 1 cup of brown sugar.  Sprinkle over the apples.  Dot with ¼ cup of butter.

Make a homemade biscuit dough, or used canned biscuits, or frozen biscuits thawed.  Place them over the top of the apples until covered.  Bake at 350 degrees in an oven for about 30 minutes, or until the apples are tender.  For the skillet over a fire, well, just like in Revolutionary War days, you had to experiment, guess, and watch out for fire from kids and husbands who, like me that day at the military park, want some NOW!

Shortcut:  I think it works well to take your apple mixture and just go ahead and cook it on the stove in a boiler until the apples are tender.  Transfer them to your pan of choice and then add the biscuits.  This keeps the apples from being hard and/or the biscuits being overcooked.  Also, the hot, bubbling apples absorb the bottom of the biscuits to create a sort of sweet, delicious goo!  Bake until biscuits are done.  You can brush butter on the the hot biscuits and sprinkle with brown sugar.

Take a taste, don’t burn your tongue, and shout, “Boy, howdy, this is mighty good apple pandowdy!”

Old Sheldon Church

old Sheldon Church Blog

Old Sheldon Church is located 20 minutes off I-95 in South Carolina on highway 21 between Beaufort and Yemassee, at the crossroads of Awe and Wonder.

Take a ride…come around a curve…see something beautiful you did not know was there:  that was my experience with Old Sheldon Church.  These lovely ruins are the remains of Prince William’s Parish.  The church was built between 1745 and 1755, eventually burned twice, once by the British during the Revolution, then by our southern nemesis with a match—General Sherman, during the Civil War.

Today, the beautiful ruins’ red brick pillars and outside walls gleam in the sun.  The serene setting is popular for outdoor weddings and lobster lunches in the grass.  Kids enjoy operating the still-working hand-operated water pump.  It’s a great place for hide and seek, too.

I write history all the time for kids, but do a kid a favor and take them on a ride…come around a curve…show them something so beautiful that they will beg you to stop, bombard you with questions, and ponder the past as a still-living thing.

Bring some graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate.  After all, Sherman might have left a match behind.

The Storybook Shoppe

StorybookshoppeIs it just me, or are there indeed fewer and fewer places to shop for lovely books for children? Well, how would you like to shop here? Not only is The Storybook Shoppe a fairytale of a name, don’t you think, but the brave new owner is Sally Sue—now don’t you want to buy your kids’ books from her? I do!

This store is located in Old Town Bluffton. It is small, intimate, charming and packed with good reads for children of all ages. Since I count myself as a child, this means me! And, of course, all my grandkids.

Once upon a time (hmm, that sounds like a great opening for a book, doesn’t it?!), there were independent bookstores galore with amazing children’s sections. Almost every town had a school supply or teacher store. And, way back, department stores had striking children’s book departments. Today, not so much.

There’s just something special about a children’s bookstore. It smells so good and clean—not like the dank and dusty books, san dust jackets, you find in some libraries. It’s almost always bright and sunny, or is that just the glow from those amazing covers? And it’s friendly. They call a person selling you a book you will love “hand-selling,” but I think that’s a misnomer; it should be “heart-selling.”

So visit Sally Sue, bring a kid, take your time, browse, sit on the step and read a chapter, let the kid sprawl beneath the table and be transported into the land of bunny rabbits or space creatures. Take home a stack of books; after all, it’s almost hammock-reading time. Donate a book to a school. Give the gift of books, if only to counter tv and technology.

Inhale deeply; one day you may wish to recall the scent of sensibility—a bookstore devoted to children’s literature.

Support Sally Sue, she needs us, brave entrepreneur. And savor the opportunity to revisit books from your past, as well as to introduce these blocky stacks of pages with covers to a kid, who may go, “Wow! I love this thing, never saw one before—what is it?”

You’ll probably find me there, somewhere under the table or on the top step, reading. You’ll probably have to call my name two or three times before I tear myself away and look up.

LibraryThing

Library Thing ImageI don’t follow or get many blogs myself, so if you read mine, well thank you very much!

If you love books, I can recommend LibraryThing.

It comes out monthly and is funky enough to be intriguing.

This month they recommended a Book Challenge:  reading 100 books this year?  Or whatever number you choose.  Other ideas included:

  • CAT: Pick a category (subject?) of books to read for a year…or maybe a geographic-based group of books…or books from random Dewey-based categories, so really, whatever kind of reading challenge you want to create!
  • ROOT: Read Our Own Tomes. This is where you challenge yourself to read all the books you own that you have not read!  This is up my alley:  so easy to order from amazon at midnight, so hard to find time to read them all!

There’s a lot more to LibraryThing, and it’s very readeractive and participatory, if you wish to.  Free books to review, too.  Explore on your own at librarything.com.  According to their website, they have almost 2 million followers, plus you can catalog your own library of books online…for me that would be a challenge, indeed!

Somehow, you gotta love a blog that includes a pix of an open book where the pages are somehow folded into a heart-shape!  Since I don’t have that pix, here’s another heart for you, from Paris, goes on my tree at Christmas…sits on my desk all year.

April is Drop Everything and Read Month

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