Saturday, December 28, 2019


As we start into this new 2020 year and dust off the leftover crumbs of the 2019 past, I'm taking with me a little reminder-to-self of the importance of character, not only in my daily interactions with others, but in my recording of history. How I write my books shows as much about my character as that of the person I'm writing about.
Last week I made a delightful Christmas visit to my mother's cousin, Lorraine. She is ninety-two years old and still the lively, active subject of our book about her, Called to the Mountains.
In the midst of our little two-person celebration, she dragged out a photograph she found while scrounging through her many stacks of photographs. "Could you help me figure out what it says on the banner?" 

A history mystery! A challenge.
She brought out a magnifying glass and we at least were able to decipher the date, 1928. Despite all efforts, we were unable to go further. "Who are these people?" I asked. They appeared to be college aged, all dressed similarly in Sunday best. Or maybe graduation best. She had no idea, not even an inkling of where she got the picture.

"Could I take this with me and I'll scan it and work with it? Maybe then we will figure it out." Oh, the joys of modern technology when a puzzle is upon me!
Between the zooming in and the color clarity manipulation, the results revealed enough for me to call Lorraine and announce the words I found on the banner: Character is the Cornerstone of Success 1928. Wow. The past speaks! Lorraine might be ninety-two years old, but her thirst for knowledge has not dimmed. She wanted to know more, and so did I.

I searched the internet to see who originated that saying, as it sounded like an adage worth claiming to me. The only direct quote I found with those exact words was on a fortune cookie, and that doesn't match the 1928 roaring twenties of this picture! 

Next I went to the reverse image search engine called Tin Eye that I have used several times when I needed to locate the origins of photos I wanted to use in my books. 
Struck out there. 

I'd like to say I found more information, but I didn't. The trail is cold for the time being, but maybe, just maybe, I will hit a clue somewhere down the 2020 vision line and discover more about it.

Meanwhile I can only look at the individuals in this picture and wonder how life turned out for them. They would be over a hundred years old if any of them survived into this new century. This was 1928, when the world was on the cusp of a Great Depression. Did any of them succumb to their own depression and jump off a bridge to end it all just one year after posing for this photograph? Who among them were killed in the Second World War? Who had children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren walking beside us now? Which ones took that Character is...banner to heart and made such a tremendous success of themselves that we could write glowing reports about them today?

The people in this picture were frozen in time under a banner heralding the key to success. Their life was still a promise of yet to come days. The question I can't help but ask, when we take our own character is photograph on January 1, 2020, what will people in ninety years wonder about us? 

Catch of the day,


Saturday, November 23, 2019

Art Appreciation for Dreary Days

Gray Novembers. Dreary Days. Gloomy. It's rainy outside, can you tell by my choice of words? So here I am inside an art gallery waiting for art lovers to brave the elements and appear at the door. Meanwhile I'm alone with only Alexa keeping me company.

Except for these critters.

Who could be lonely with my friends for today: a papier mache dragon and octopus by artist Carole King. Doesn't the dragon face just beg for attention...and company?

Today I'm surrounded by art. Tapestries. Jewelry. Wood sculptures. Wire sculptures. Glassworks. Textiles. Pottery. Watercolors. Acrylics. Charcoal. The minds who created them aren't here. They are home creating more. But I'm here with the beauty, perfect pick-me-ups to chase away the gloom.

Fortunately for me, the artist guild I belong to here at the gallery looks at writing and publishing as an art and have included me in their line-up. To think, my humble books surrounded by all this beauty. Here's the Christmas display for my books:

Check out those glasswork trout by Jim Burchett with my fly fishing book. How perfect the match of book and art. Yvonne Miller designs the gallery's presentations and she's the one who connected the two. She claims she's not an artist, but I disagree. She has the eye for fitting pieces of an art puzzle exactly in the right spot. Being surrounded by creative people is my joy of being a part of this whole society of artisans. I feed off them. Their art speaks to me in the silence of a dreary Saturday at the gallery.

Are you surrounded by art? You need to give it a try.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, November 2, 2019

Leather Britches

Time was, back in the day, a floundering newly-wed bride could go to a granny to find directions on how to cook a meal. My mother-in-law was one of those go-to people. She didn't write her recipes. She just did them, and we daughter-in-laws watched and gleaned from her.

Now that I'm the granny...well...please, daughter-in-law, don't watch. I have no special skill to pass along that can't be found in the granny replacement called the internet. Look there.

So if Rebecca Boone, wife of frontiersman Daniel, planned to cook leather britches, she did so because she knew from her mother, who learned from her mother.

I have no such luck. Cooking something such as leather britches is a lost art, gone with the death of the last pioneer wife who toiled over a wood powered cookstove...would be gone, that is, if it were not for Granny Internet.
Once upon a day, there appeared at a club meeting I attended, a man with a bag of what he claimed to be "leather britches." Believe me, the leather britches in that bag did have the appearance of dried leather from whence the name is derived. These weren't strung together in the usual way, but glomped into a plastic grocery bag. Ha. A juxtaposition of modern and pioneer.

I had heard about leather britches, maybe even seen them hanging in pioneer replica museums. I read Laura Ingles Wilder with my fourth graders, and we learned they were green beans that had been strung on a thread in a homesteading way of preserving food for later use. Except that in the Ingles house, as in all pioneer homes, the granny taught not only how to string them, but also how to cook them. And there was my problem. How does one cook these, I asked the man. Alas. He had no granny to tell him either.

I resorted to the modern go-to search engine and voila, Smoky Mountain Living had the answer to How to Cook Leather Britches. The process is long (bless those pioneer women's hearts) and requires a watchful eye, so I set aside a long stay-at-home morning and commenced the grand experiment. I collected the appropriate ingredients, washed the beans, and started the cooking process using bullion cubes rather than the fatback of my mountaineer ancestors.
 They boiled. And boiled. And boiled.
 Until finally...finally...three hours later, I had reconstituted green beans with a most unique flavor.
Okay, so I followed the directions and added the full teaspoon of salt, and realized too late I should have nixed the salt in favor of seasoning already in the bullion cube. Easy fix. I pulled out a boil-in-bag of rice and conveniently (thank you modern life) neutralized some of the salty flavor. I'm glad I experimented, but I don't plan to do it again. Ever.

I can sort of imagine how Rebecca Boone survived without google in her life. I did, once upon a precomputer time. But a little deeper now, my food for thought question is, what are modern grannies good for if google has taken over that role?

Ha! I know the answer to that every time I text my granddaughters or hear a whistle on my cell that a new instagram photo has arrived from one of them. I may not be able to counsel them on leather britches preparations, but I am there for them in a way Rebecca could never in a million years have imagined, and I don't have to spend hours upon hours stirring a pot over a wood stove.

Ain't modern life grand!

Catch of the day,


Saturday, October 26, 2019

Appreciating A Super Author

Few authors reach what I consider "super" status, but when they do, let me say, they deserve the royal treatment. As in a parade. As in a reception. As in a television interview in front of two hundred plus adoring fans. As in what happened in Hudson, North Carolina last weekend.
Jan Karon.

If you've never been to Mitford in your mind, then you don't know Jan Karon. If you have been to Mitford through reading her cozy novels, then you know her. You also know where she comes from. Here. Small town western North Carolina. Foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In her writing, she created a humble little village like I would find around where I live, populated with all kinds of fictional, but very real, friends of mine. Yes. I will claim them as friends and well known acquaintances, because the books in her Mitford series ooze with delightful characters that I feel like I know personally. I've met these people in my daily wanderings. 

Sort of. That's what great writers do, construct a setting so real you feel a part of it.

Last weekend, I discovered I'm not the only fan of hers. She has enough readers to deserve a parade in her honor.
Enough to mob her so those of us in the back can barely see.
To earn the key to the city from the mayor.
To be interviewed in front of the standing room only crowd by Carl White, executive producer and host of the award winning television show, Life in the Carolinas.
I attended it all. The parade. The brunch. The afternoon tea the next day with the live taping of the show and visits from some of her characters straight from the pages of her imagination.

And one more thing. I joined fellow readers in marveling at the delicious orange marmalade cake mentioned often in the series that had been made special for us attendees. Yum.

What a super weekend! What a way to celebrate an author!

Catch of the day,

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Outlanders R Us

Being an author has opened my life a wide variety of unanticipated experiences. One was yesterday at Leatherwood, a mountain resort here in western North Carolina. There's just something about being around passionate book lovers, in this case the Diana Gabaldon Outlander series set first in Scotland, and later in North Carolina. Here was my view: 
These kilted soldiers were in the process of returning to their encampment. A bagpipe's drone in the background sucked me back in time, much like the main character of these beloved books.
My tent was closer to the simple beauty of the flute.
And then later that of the harp.
None of my books cross paths with the time travel Scottish Highlander coming to America story of the Outlander series, but I did have books to offer, and these festival attendees were avid readers, after all. To those I met from Florida and Texas and Canada and Scotland (yes there were some who traveled across the Atlantic to this place in time specifically for the Fraser's Ridge Homecoming event), everything about the Appalachians was a draw. Reading for the love of adventure no matter where is the most remarkable phenomena ever! 

Catch of the day,


PS Check out the website for Fraser's Ridge Homecoming. You might have missed it this year, but next year's date has already been announced.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Centuries Apart

Doing school visits is a true joy. This past week the joy multiplied when the school visit was at a reconstructed village called Whippoorwill Academy. I was there for Daniel Boone Day and the children were there to learn about living back in his time.

"Would you talk with the children about your books?" the director asked me last month.

Issue. None of my books are the least bit related to any mention of Daniel Boone.

"Sure, I'll do it."

And I did. Full costume and all. Log cabin and all.
Just how I pulled it off is a story in itself. I'm a former teacher and I knew I could make anything connect to ole' Dan'l Boone if I stretched it.

I just happened to have multiple copies of my Back on Earth book about Apollo Eleven. Before I passed them out to the children we compared Daniel Boone and Neil Armstrong, their character traits. Ding, ding, ding. And it worked!
We (mostly they) discussed how the two were similar and how they were different. These men might have made their footprints centuries apart, but they were both from a special breed of men who couldn't keep things as they were.

After one presentation, a parent chaperone came up to me and told he knew the man who opened the hatch when the capsule landed in the ocean, the first to greet the astronauts from their historic voyage. Because of restrictions and legal Naval agreements, this man could only say he was there and could give no details...ever. Would I ever love to sit at his feet and hear the real story! Imagine the courage to be the one who performed that small, but vital task.

Here's to explorers of the past who made our country what it is today. And to the children I met last week who one day might be the explorers who land on Mars!

Catch of the day,


Saturday, September 14, 2019

Revisiting History

A summer Sunday drive a few weeks ago found my husband and me on a back, back, way back mountain road in Madison County, North Carolina. We weren't alone. Riding shotgun (literally, only it was a pistol) was the coauthor of one of my books, Jasper Reese. We had attended the yearly Spring Creek School reunion and were on the way home, or so I figured. "I sure would love to see my old homeplace one more time," this nearly ninety year old hinted. Off we went with his navigating, down an isolated road off state road NC #209 in western North Carolina.

Bluff Mountain Road. It's on the cover of our book, Back in the Time. Take a look at the picture of the road set back in the forties.
That's twelve year old Jasper in his homemade wagon
driving on the Bluff Mountain Road
Jasper described it as a major thoroughfare. Look at it nearly seventy years later:

Still a major thoroughfare, can't you tell! If you stay on it far enough, you'll intersect with the Appalachian Trail and then go on to the backwoods of eastern Tennessee. But to get to Jasper's homeplace, we had to turn off this road onto a much minor thoroughfare that had grass and foot high weeds growing between the ruts. That minor.
Jasper navigating
My thoughts as we inched along? "We could fall off the side of this mountain and no one would ever find us. They wouldn't even know where to begin looking!"

Best part of this side trip was his joy at seeing his old house (even better than my joy when we emerged from the wilderness back onto the major thoroughfare). The driveway was above the house, and he pointed out spots where he carried water from the spring, and where his family fled the night of the 1940 flood, and where he worked the fields that were now overgrown with tall pine trees. His memories were triggered and they flowed joyfully, like pent up children on the last day of school. Celebrating. Free. 

Sad, however, that in the front yard was a "For Sale" sign. Not the sign. His reaction. His mood turned to melancholy as we drove away. "If only I was twenty years younger. I'd buy that on the spot."

Catch of the day,


Saturday, September 7, 2019

Corn Meal and Clogging

Just in case you think the life of an author is glamorous, let me send you a little reality check. My husband and I had a booth selling my books last weekend at the Happy Valley Fiddler's Convention here in western North Carolina, the setting, at least a chapter or two, in four of my nonfictions.

We've done it before, under a tent on the main drag. This year was different. We were assigned the cow barn. Sounds dreadful, right? Well, they did clear the mess enough to dump a layer of sawdust for us to stand in. And. Since we were on a hill overlooking the festival, we had a panoramic view accompanied by the most lively music ever created. And. We had electricity, which means we had a fan to stir the brutal sweltering August heat. And. We had visitors aplenty seeking a reprieve from their personal baking. We loved it!
My husband is in the center, next to me,
watching the action on the opposite side of the barn.
On the other long side of the barn, there was cement, scraped clean with no sawdust, a perfect location for the dance hall. Remember, this was a fiddler's convention, so the dance style matched the music. Clogging. First however, came the corn meal, which I'm sure the mice have enjoyed ever since we left. Soft shoe and tap dancing can get treacherous even on the wooden frames designed specifically for dancing. To lessen the dancers' slipping and sliding and landing on the bum, a layer of corn meal is sprinkled on the surface for traction.

The teacher stood on his own platform in front of the dancers, instructing them step by step, and slide by slide, and kick by kick.

When dancing wasn't happening, this was the staging area for performers. I felt like we had private shows! And on the knoll just above us was a grave. Not just any grave stuck out in the middle of the cow pasture. The grave of Laura Foster.
In case you can't read the words on the tombstone:
Laura Foster
Murdered in May 1865
Tom Dula hanged for crime
If you've ever sung the chorus to "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley," then you have met Laura Foster, Tom's victim for which he was hanged. Yes. It's a true story, read the tombstone in case you wonder. My friend, award winning author, Charlotte Barnes, the one I'm talking to in the inside the barn picture above, first wrote a well researched nonfiction about the Tom Dooley scandal, and then the based-on-truth novel that just came out, told from the point of view of the reporter who covered the trial. I bought a copy from her and I've read the first two chapters. I'm hooked!

I'm also hooked on history and heritage. It's why I write what I do. And it's why I spent Labor Day weekend in a cow barn.

Catch of the day,


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A New Look at Old History

Years ago, YEARS ago in a previous century, I sort of published my first book. I use the qualifier "sort of" because it was published in the business office of Broyhill Industries here in Lenoir, North Carolina and I sort of was the leader of the pack of historians who tackled a tremendous feat. The church I attend was celebrating a bi-centennial and members wanted its history compiled into a book. I jumped at the chance. This was in the pre-computer era, so every drop of research depended on old newspaper articles, church records, and family lore. We (as in several of us) came up with a manuscript that we were satisfied with and typed and published after hours at the work space of a secretary at the Broyhill furniture giant's main office. Each of the twelve of us chose a typewriter, and off we went, typing and printing copies of what we came up with.
Now that new methods of research are available, computer access to archives in other words, we (as in several of us) have come up with a plan. Re-research. Find new information. Redo the book. After an article in last week's local newspaper telling of our plans, the editorial cartoon person gave us a special treat.
Is that cool or what!

That would be my energizer bunny of a friend, Diana, working her magic to fill in the gaps from the previous book. (And, I must admit, correcting the mistakes we made in our original version.) She's peeling back the layers and finding all sorts of facts that will make the updated book not only more correct, but also rich with details. This history of Littlejohn church is a fascinating read that covers Revolutionary times with overmountain men camping on the church lawn on their way to the Battle of King's Mountain, Yankee invaders riding past on Easter morning while members quickly hide their valuables, including the mules, rebuilding the facility to change from two entry doors (one for women, one for men), and takes the reader up to a fourth century (1700's, 1800's, 1900's and 2000's) with moments of faith in between. What a story it is!

I can't wait for you to read it.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Difference an A Makes

The current trend in American education is STEM, an emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It's an excellent concept, but a bit lacking.

There's no A.


Children being surrounded by pure STEM activities and thought will miss out on what gives life its STEAM, its reason and purpose. After mankind discovered the basic technology of fire, he was then able to invent cave drawings to express himself in the darkness of the underground. Since then, mankind has taken a giant leap to great literature beyond those characters on the wall. Both are heartfelt attempts at communicating thoughts, and therein lines my concern. Leaders of tomorrow must be able to communicate, and that's where the A comes in.

I've had this thought ever since the pendulum swung towards all things scientific. I felt like I was the only person on earth ringing the alarm bell amidst the clanging, until I watched a program on CSpan during the Apollo Eleven anniversary week. The topic was spacesuit design and featured a panel of experts who devoted their lives to the ever evolving suits astronauts wear.
This group had recreated the Apollo spacesuit for the anniversary and was eager to share their findings and comparisons with current suits. One of the panelists, Dava Newman a professor of Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT, described her passion for suit design. What interested me most, however, was her other passion, empowering the next generation of scientists through STEM, only she suggested adding the A for Arts, and a D at the end for Design. 

Yes, people, let's get STEAMD up about nurturing a whole individual who is exposed to disciplines across the spectrum. Interpreting all the technologies mankind can develop means nothing without an understanding of history and psychology and literature, or without an appreciation of the fine arts to express emotions and thoughts. 

Time to swing back the pendulum.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, August 3, 2019

More Moon Magic

This Apollo celebration just never ends!! Today a friend of mine gave me a 3-D pop-up card featuring the Eagle lunar module.
How cool is that!
Look at the details up close:
Even the tiny footprints are included.
I added a frame around the cover of the card
to show the whiteness of the moon a little better.
The plan is for me to take the card to book events and wow everyone when I open it.

One thing I won't take with me is the bag of Fiftieth Anniversary Oreo cookies I finally got my hands on. They will be long gone in a few days.

Talk about a way to celebrate! How about imprinted moon-related pictures on each cookie? How about glow in the dark stickers on the back? 
I enlarged this photo so you could see the astronaut on the cookie.
There's a rocket on the cookie that is open and a crescent moon on the other.
Take these cookies with a glass of Tang to wash them down, and I've got the perfect Apollo snack. Too bad massive celebrations like these only come every fifty years.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, July 27, 2019

One Giant Leap

I'm doing a book signing today at an indie bookstore in downtown Lenoir, North Carolina, Tybrisa Books, and to garner a bit of interest, I offered a free copy of my Back on Earth: When Men First Landed on the Moon to the first person who tells me the secret password. When I was selecting the word, I wanted one that meant a lot to me. At first I thought of "one small step," but that seemed too used. Instead I went for "Giant Leap."
My own giant leap
The past few weeks have been giant whirlwinds for me, mostly connected to the Apollo Eleven moon landing. A feature article about my book was on the front page...FRONT PAGE!!!...of the Hickory Daily Record. I also made presentations to several groups. Unfortunately I missed the parade and fun and fireworks at the nearby Rhodhiss community where a textile mill produced the material for the flag that is still there on the moon. What a celebration they had! Their one small step of the process was important to the  American people and they earned those bragging rights.

Instead I was celebrating "Apollo at the Ball Park" in Atlanta, Georgia. Interesting thing about that, major league baseball had their own textile connections to Apollo Eleven's success, and they also bragged. I took these pictures at the Atlanta/Washington ball game on July 20, the very day of the anniversary of the moon landing.
I've been amazed at the contributions I've found of ordinary people fifty some years ago going about their daily work that ended up making history. I've also been amazed at the stories individuals told about where they were at the exact moment Neil Armstrong made his one small step statement.
We might not have been doing such giant leaps as a first major league home run, but we did have our own stories that we shared with this new generation. That was the whole purpose behind my writing this book. Have you shared your story? Have you listened to others as they shared their stories?

Catch of the day,


PS: I've been seeing rustlings about the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock coming now and people's stories about that. I have none to tell except that I heard about it, but I probably couldn't write a children's picture book about that anyway.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Eagle Has Landed!

Those words, "The Eagle has landed," sends a chill up my spine even fifty years later. We knew back then how monumental this accomplishment was, and that feeling of pure pride has not diminished in the time since.

Wow! Just Wow! Men walked on the moon. Imagine that! We couldn't, not really. No nonbelievers will shake my faith. Not then, not now.
All week long I've watched programs about this event. I've read articles. I've learned so much that I could have put in the picture book. Or not. There is only so much room in a book designed to keep a young child's attention span from wandering. I think I reached that limit with what I chose to include.

I could have told the story about the textile mill near here that wove the material that was used for the flag on the moon. I interviewed the Rhodhiss town clerk so I could share the story with the fourth graders I met when I made author visits this spring. The town is having a huge celebration this evening to commemorate their small part in this grand step for mankind.

I learned from an article in Parade Magazine that because astronauts were in a high risk occupation, they could not purchase life insurance at a decent rate. Each of these three astronauts signed several cards in the case that anything happened and they could not return, their wives could sell the autographs for a tidy sum that would support them for years to come. Didn't happen, but just in case!

So much of a deal has been made this week of Apollo Eleven, that everyone might be on overload. I hope people from my generation have shared their own personal stories with today's children. That was the purpose behind my book, after all. For us to tell about those of us Back on Earth When Men First Landed on the Moon. It's on kindle, so it's not too late to share the wisdom.
In Friday's local newspaper, a tribute column by Brent Tomberlin included interesting facts about Apollo Eleven I had never heard before. One touched my heart. Someone placed a card on President John Kennedy's grave while the men were walking on the moon. It read "Mr. President, the Eagle has landed."


Just Wow to this whole week.

Catch of the day,


Friday, July 19, 2019

Dedicated to...

I've not had a problem with deciding the dedication of my books, Lessons Learned to the children and teachers who were connected to the school, and When Christmas Feels Like Home, to children who move, since main character Eduardo, had moved to a new country and a new life. Those decisions were no brainers. My other book dedications were to the individuals I wrote about. Again, no brainers. Those dedications were made before I wrote the first word.

Then I came to the dedication of my moon book, Back on Earth: When Men First Landed on the Moon. Who should receive the honor? The three Apollo Eleven astronauts? No, they've had plenty of accolades. What about NASA? No, although these workers were essential, they didn't match I wanted to get across to the reader.

I mulled proper names and common nouns over and over. Who am I really honoring in this picture book? The title suggests those of us back on earth, those of us in front of the television set biting our fingernails and squeezing our mother's hands. Those of us cheering. I wondered what were they thinking when they clapped.
What about those of us on the sidewalks looking into storefront television displays? I wondered why they took time to stop by the window and look in.
And then it hit me. What I really wanted to honor was those people back on earth who were awed about the whole concept of putting a man on the moon, those who sat on a bench and wondered what was going to happen, those who let their imaginations soar along with the Columbia.
But that was then. I wanted to include more. I wanted to pay homage to those children (and grownups) who wonder about what is next. Could a child reading my book become the grownup who one day walks on Mars? 

I wondered.

In the end, I dedicated this sliver of a picture book finding its place in the great cosmos, to cover past, present and future, all wrapped into one phrase. I lift my wine glass to you who wonder about space and about life. I honor your drive and your passion.

Dedicated to those who wonder.

Catch of the day,