Monday, August 29, 2016

Time Flies

by Fran McNabb

The dog days of summer are upon us. No, let me rephrase that. The dog days of summer have been with us for a couple of months. This has been a very hot summer. My husband and I sit out in the afternoon and evenings to enjoy the harbor activity or to enjoy the company of neighbors. This summer we’ve spent more and more afternoon inside in air conditioning.

Maybe the weather is hotter this year, or maybe we’re just getting older and the heat affects us more. The second explanation is probably the correct one. We are getting older and as we go from one year to the next, it seems the summers are hotter and the days are flying faster than they did in the years past.

My mom used to say that as we age, the years go faster. I never paid much attention to that—until now.

We had the privilege of having our five-year-old grandson at the beginning of the summer. His birthday is the last day of August which makes all the others in his class older than he is. One day out of the blue he looked at me with a sad-sack face. “McMama, I’ll never be six.” I started to tell him he was being silly, but then, I realized that for him time isn’t passing as fast as it is for me. Getting to be six is the biggest worry his little mind has right now, and to him, the three months ahead were endless.

Yes, time flies as we get older. We clutter our minds with family matters, financial worries, career problems and on and on and on. As I look back at a simpler time in our lives—when our greatest worry was as simple as a birthday—I realize that youth and simplicity was a state of bliss.

That six-year-old birthday party was celebrated early this year, and at the party I heard the little
fellow tell a friend, “I’m not six yet.” I didn’t say anything though I wanted to say that his real birthday would be here before he knew it, and before he could blink an eye he’d be an adult celebrating graduations, births, and anniversaries with his own family. I hope these future celebrations will be as anticipated and as wonderful as his “real six-year-old birthday.”

Yes, time does seem to fly, but I hope as adults we can still feel the innocent excitement we once felt in childhood.

FRAN MCNABB and her husband have two sons and two grandsons and have enjoyed watching these young men experience life as they mature. She writes sweet romances and loves including children in her books. Visit her at or at

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

My Mother's Many Teaching Moments

Although my mother left school at the age of 16, without a high school diploma, she never stopped teaching the many lessons that life had taught her from losing her father when she was two years old, losing her mother when she was 13 and being a young mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother.

She was an enthusiastic reader of any and all books, from Shakespearean plays to the novels of Elswyth Thane (of which I have recently acquired four that she loaned to me when I was 14). She also read the Readers' Digest and especially "Laughter is the Best Medicine." 

Despite the loss of one of her seven children in a sad accident during World War II and outliving her beloved husband by forty years, she considered her life blessed. In the final ten years of her life, she succumbed to dementia but absolutely never lost her sense of humor and cheerful attitude. 

Although during the short period of transition, when she realized that something was going wrong, she had moments of fear and uncertainty, she came through as the happy, blessed and loving woman she had always strived to be. 

Virginia Verge Verrill was fearless. During the Second World War, she followed my father around the country, with sometimes five children in the car, to be with him at his many postings as a training officer. She recounted those adventures to me throughout my childhood and for her 90th birthday, I published them privately for my family and all her grandchildren. They are now available in an ebook, Following the Troops: Life for an Army Wife, 1941-1945. 

My mother was dyslectic and often had trouble pronouncing words such a "Pacific Ocean" (Specific to her) and "Oahu" (Wahaho to Mom). She could read anything but she couldn't write words such as okra (orke). But that didn't stop her from becoming the President of the Parent-Teachers Association for all the years that my younger sister and I were in elementary school. Neither did that stop her from being a leader in her church and helping to establish the Hamilton Church homeless center.

She also had a mild case of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) - a condition that affects me and my youngest son as well. Although we laughed about her "I planted tomatoes" moments, I finally understood the condition when my son was diagnosed with the more serious ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). I'm inclined to veer from one topic to another as this illustrates: 
And then.... You see how easy it is to wander!

Back on track now: my mother was a great one for repeating the tried and true adages that turn your life around when it needs it most. For instance, one that I hold dear and remind myself often: "To thine own self be true." 

But then...

Enjoy the final days of summer. I'll get back to work once I've finished myself!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Primal Fears

By Karen McCullough

A couple of months ago, my daughter and her three small boys visited from Indiana, staying with us for a couple of weeks. After the novelty of a new set of toys wore off, we looked around for things to do. Fortunately we live in a small city that has a lot of entertainment options for children. We took them to the local children’s museum, to the public library for story hour and to the park down the street.

Two daughters and three sons watching the giant turtles.
Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the tiger

One of the most successful trips was to the local science center/zoo. The weather co-operated with a warm, sunny day, and the kids had a blast watching monkeys swing from ropes attached to various parts of their habitat, seeing the meerkats as they scampered up and down logs and sandpiles, and viewing some spectacular and impressive birds.

Only one odd incident seemed out of place in the trip. We were walking along the zoo path, approaching the tiger enclosure. One enormous cat prowled gracefully along the edge of the inner fence. He’s a magnificent beast and unquestionably an alpha predator. Even with the double fence I felt a frisson of unease walking past him.

My three-year-old grandson, holding my hand as we ambled by, felt more than that. He let out a sudden shriek, grabbed both my legs, and yelled, “Don’t let the tiger eat me.”

I picked him up and assured him that we – myself, his mother, and his aunt – would not allow the tiger to get near him. He calmed down after that and never said another thing about it, even when we walked back past the tiger compound to return to the main building.

Later I thought more about his reaction. My daughter’s family doesn’t have a television in their house, though the children do watch a few carefully selected programs and movies online.  They read, or have read to them, a lot of books, probably a dozen or more a day. But those are childrens’ books.  How did he recognize the tiger as a fearsome predator that—had he come across it in the wild—might in fact have eaten him?

Admittedly he’s only three and the tiger is much bigger than he is. Its teeth are impressively huge. But the way he reacted seemed to be from something deeper and probably much more primitive than conscious comparison of his size with the tiger’s or even the tiger’s teeth. I suspect it’s the same instinct that makes most of us afraid of snakes and spiders, something baked in our brains from thousands of years of human experience

As a grandmother, I want to protect my grandkids from all the dangers they face. As a writer, though, I want to be able to tap into some of those primal feelings. If I can make the reader that afraid, or just as deeply sad, intensely relieved, or joyously happy, I’ve done my job. There aren’t many books that have brought me to that level, so I know it’s a hard thing to accomplish. But for a writer, it’s a goal worth striving for.

Friday, August 5, 2016

An (Empty) Place of One's Own

This year, my blogs have been all about “place”. Mom caves, son caves, writer caves, workspaces, etc.

This year, it seems I’ve had to tweak my work space a dozen times. I’ve worked from the dining room table, from my office, from bed, a cafĂ©, and most recently, I’ve been struggling to carve out an office niche that works for me in our antique shop.

One thing this business of selling “stuff” has done for me is to instill an appreciation of stuff… and an almost greater appreciation for an absence of stuff.

Yes, sometimes I feel a little bit like a character in a Dickens novel, surrounded by the stuff of others, stuff that is transient, just visiting, stuff piled so high, if it toppled it might kill me, but stuff for which I am the temporary steward, the guardian of its history, the caretaker of “stuff” that someone else found to be interesting enough to collect and amass around them.

Don’t get me wrong. I can sure find pleasure in stuff. (More cow bell, anyone?) I have my own clutter, tchotchkes, bric-a-brac, but it sure makes me appreciate wide open spaces.

Owning an antique shop, nay, a 7,500 sq. ft. antique mini-mall, has forced me to confront my love of stuff. If something comes in, something else has to go out. A place for everything and everything in its place, and most recently, I have found the greatest pleasure in empty spaces.

(DH and I spent our 23rd anniversary on the Poropotank River where we saw dolphins! The best things aren't found in a shop... and can't be kept in a drawer.)

Sure, we need some of that stuff, but don’t be afraid to get rid of some of that stuff too. Don't overlook the sheer pleasure of opening a drawer and finding the pair of scissors that you used to have to root for. 

Sofie Couch writes sweet romantic comedy and her upcoming series will definitely feature an antique shop owner.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Cinderella, Sort Of...

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

I went to a ball last month. A real ball. I’ve been to proms, and dances, and parties, but never to a genuine ball. It was an exhilarating experience!

The Husband is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I could be a Daughter of Confederate Veterans (and if there hadn’t been a disastrous courthouse fire in Tennessee in the 1880s I could be a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, too!) but having attended meetings of both organizations decided that the Sons was much more fun. Happily, they welcome wives, so it works out well all the way around.

This year the 121st Reunion of the SCV was right here in our home town, so of course we went. There were all kinds of great lectures and workshops and things dear to an historian’s heart. Not being an official member I couldn’t attend the business meetings, though The Husband was an official delegate, so I spent my time shopping. The vendors’ room had everything from coasters to books to complete costumes. I saw a hoopskirted day dress and bonnet that were beautiful but which sent my VISA into screaming hysterics. I contented myself with buying a Confederate Rose t-shirt and a handful of books.

We had made one mistake. Though we had made our reservations for the Reunion as soon as tickets were available The Husband didn’t get around to buying meal tickets until it was too late and they were all gone. We weren’t happy about this, as some of the best lectures were given at the luncheons.

And of course there was the ball. Then somehow my Fairy Godmother must have worked her magic since a dear friend of ours who had bought tickets had problems with his upcoming move to another state, so he gave us his tickets to the ball.

Okay – a fancy evening party, my ruthlessly modern mind said. I wore a nice cocktail outfit of sparkly blouse and jacket and swirly palazzo pants, with my diamond earrings and hair ornament. The Husband wore a nice suit and tie. Believe me, once we got there we looked like the poor relations.

Most of the men were there in dashing and braid-laden uniforms from various regiments; the rest wore tuxedos, but all of them paled next to the women. There were a few there in full fig modern evening gowns, but the majority wore period-correct ante-bellum ball gowns. The hotel where the Reunion was held is a very nice one, but it is new, which means that the lobby is on the small side. On the other hand, I don’t know of many hotels with a lobby big enough to hold such a plethora of spreading skirts. Most of the hoops were so big that if one woman wanted to shake hands with another they couldn’t get close enough even to touch fingertips! There were curls and flowers and jewels and fans (well, I can’t say anything about fans since I always carry one in my purse for purely practical reasons) and lace mittens and… You get the idea. A lot of the men also wore swords, which sometimes made navigating this crowded lobby most interesting.

Once in the banquet room I was struck that the tables were almost uncomfortably close to one another, yet there was a very wide space between them down the middle of the room and two more against each outer wall. We were served a nice banquet meal (a couple of steps above the traditional rubber chicken, but nothing to rate a high number of stars). We had landed at a table with two very charming couples, all wearing costumes – including a handsome young man who should be gracing romance novel covers (sigh) – and enjoyed talking with them very much.

Then as the tables were being cleared the pageantry began, and I do mean pageantry! Flags. Sword arches. Presentations. Singing of Southern songs. Even debutantes in white escorted down the center aisle - all wearing hoops, of course. It was as exciting a thing as I have ever witnessed. Then, after the last debutante had been presented, they played a beautiful dance tune that would have been played at a real ante-bellum party so the girls could do a turn with their presenters – father, uncle, one grandfather, family friend, etc. One of my most astonishing images of this evening is people in apparently authentic ante-bellum costumes rushing about taking pictures with their phones!

Of course, I didn’t have my phone – it wouldn’t fit in my favorite evening bag – so since The Husband was taking his I didn’t worry. At least not until I saw his pictures, which were all of uniforms and the military devices thereon. He hadn’t gotten one picture of the dresses or any of the non-military pageantry. Humph!

The last ‘official’ exercise of the evening before it turned into a simple social gathering was the Grand March. To the rousing strains of “Dixie” a line of individual couples walked down the broad center aisle, going in alternate directions at the head of the room, then back around down the outside aisles to rejoin and promenade the main aisle again, this time four people across. The last circuit was eight people across, which was about two people too many for the space, but by then everyone was having so much fun and laughing so hard it didn’t make any difference. Then the ball was over and this Cinderella had to morph back into a plain old writer. For now.

We’ve already made our reservations – hotel and Reunion – for next year in Memphis, meal and ball tickets most definitely included. The Husband is looking into having a Confederate Navy Officer’s uniform made and, yes, I have been sneaking surreptitious glances at hoopskirts.