life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Friday, December 27, 2013

Why Two Spaces After a Period Isn't Wrong

(or, The Lies Typographers Tell About History)

The above link is to an excellent, very well-researched and thorough treatise on the subject that I highly recommend. Since it's rather lengthy I won't elaborate, just get over there and read it - if you are a writer, editor, publisher, or otherwise earn your bread in the industry, you really need to get your facts straight no matter which camp you decide to belong to.

You're quite welcome. 

[Image credit: crucialbiitch at deviantart]

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Recipe: Cassoulet Provençal

Cassoulet Provençal  (French Country-Style White Bean Soup)
French provincial cooking is typically savory and slow-roasted in a medium oven, with the distinctive flavors of olive oil, fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, parsley, tarragon), piquant spices such as clove and mace, and a good dash of garlic.

To make the Soup:
Start with the base of white beans, adding liquid broth, then when softened add browned meat(s), season with garlic, parsley, and clove, and cook for several hours until flavors meld. Chop “les trois soeures” (three sisters – celery, onion and carrots) and add with chopped red or green sweet pepper.  Finish cooking and serve topped with croutons and parmesan cheese.

1 lb. dry white beans (Great Northern, Cannelini, Navy, etc.) 
4 – 6 c water (to cover)
Soak, then cook overnight until beans are soft in dutch oven or crock pot.
Brown 6 whole mild sausages (I use a free-range chicken/beef blend from Jones Farm in Winston-Salem) in 1 tbsp olive oil. Chop sausages, then add to soup. Reserve pan drippings.
1 pint vegetable or beef broth
1 tsp garlic
2 tsp parsley
1 tsp ground cloves
Cook 30 minutes or so.
1 whole carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 small red sweet pepper, chopped
Cook several hours until flavors are well developed and blended.

In reserved pan drippings (from cooking sausage), add 2 ¼ c. water, ¾ c. brown whole-grain rice and ¼ cup wild rice. Cover & bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook 50 minutes until liquid is absorbed. [Alternative to rice: 2 ½ c. dry whole wheat or whole-grain bread crumbs or croutons, browned in 1 tbsp butter]
Add rice [or breadcrumbs] to soup, cook at least 45 minutes more.  Serve warm with dry brown bread or crackers. Top with grated Parmesan Cheese.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Murder and Forgiveness

For now we see in a mirror dimly
but then we will see face to face [1Cor 13.12]
[Image credit:]
It has been a little over nineteen years since two sweet innocents sank into the bottom of a man-made lake in South Carolina, sent there by the woman who carried them in her womb. Susan Smith's story changed us all, mothers and fathers and families alike. None of us were unaffected, and yet, looking back, it is perhaps time we saw the lake as a mirror, and recognize our own reflection within it.

As a society, although individually we may strive toward good, we are none of us innocents. We should acknowledge, as Beverly Russell did, that there is a seed of capability to do great evil within us all. We owe this woman forgiveness, and until we do this we can not move on toward reconciliation, and we will not be able to realize our great responsibility to our children to ensure they grow up in a safe, loving world, full of possibilities.

When the word first came out that this mother had done the unthinkable, I remember being in the grocery store with my then 7-year old daughter and my son who was about the age of the youngest Smith child. Strangers who passed by my shopping cart reached out toward him, fastened safely in his little seat, to touch his head and to grasp my hand, wrapped protectively around him. "Take care of that child," some would whisper. "I can tell you are a good mama," others would say. I saw friends of mine from church, also young mothers, and we reached instinctively toward one another, asking, "How are you? Do you need anything? Is everything all right? You know you can call me," our eyes searching deeply within each other's, trying desperately to re-validate the safety net of community that had been rended and torn by the news.

We all knew that sometimes we are only a breath of time away from losing it ourselves, and we needed to know that we could stop it from happening if we could only remember we are there for each other, to help shoulder the load.

Before Susan Smith's trial and the facts and analysis that would come out of it showing she was a desperate, troubled individual with a past that some of us could not fathom or relate to - we young mothers knew. Only the grace of something greater than ourselves up to that point had saved some of us from recklessly destroying our greatest and most precious gifts, that of our children and ourselves. For some horrible reason, that grace had failed a young mother, allowing her to send her children, her flesh, her blood, to a watery tomb. And I think that our shock and horror allowed us to separate ourselves after a time from this recognition, in order to move on and to be better parents.

This had to happen. But it is time now to take the next step, and forgive her for her actions. To recognize as a society that we had some hand in this undertaking, and to heal and to move forward toward ensuring that infanticide does not have to happen, that we recognize the warning signs and stop this evil, desperate act from taking place ever again.


We know better now, how ill and wretched this young woman was. We know, and we must recognize, that she was manifesting the symptoms of the classic murderer of her own children. At that time only trained specialists knew and were capable of seeing in; indeed it is what helped them to guide Susan Smith into confessing her great horrible deed.

Driving alone at dusk [Image credit:]
But we all should know now. It's been nearly twenty years. Surely we can recognize that she was at the apogee of human error and selfish grasping for attention, love, and acceptance for who she was and what she was at the time: a lonely, depressed woman whose inner child grieved for the father she had lost, and who could not, for whatever reason, accept that now she was a mother, with limited options.

It's sad, but true. As her life gained complexity, her future seemed to dim, and the possibilities voiced in the letter written by the lover who rejected her probably seemed like a carrot too far from reach. She lashed out, angrily, at what seemed to have slipped away while she was busy attending to her greatest accomplishment: motherhood. She was confused, and oh so empty, and her fear allowed her to believe that emptiness was permanent.

We have all felt like this, at some time or another. Fortunately, most of us have resources and loved ones who help us see the folly of that belief, and can show us the good and lovely opportunities and choices for good in our lives, so that the fear and loneliness and rejection do not last.

Susan Smith did not.


Why, when she looked around, did she only see a situation that further estranged her from her best self? Why did she want to end her life, and that of her children? And what, if anything, could have been done to stop it?

I will reflect further on this as time allows. For now, I want to just think about this rationally, given the facts as we know them. I'll write more as soon as I can.


Update on the 20-year mark of this event in The State newspaper

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Review: Gingham Mountain

Gingham Mountain
Gingham Mountain by Mary Connealy

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I honestly want to know how drivel like this makes it past an editor.

At the beginning you meet Grant, who is likeable enough, and the premise of a bachelor raising orphans in early 20th century Texas is just odd enough to work. However, that is the best I can say about this book. Even if you can manage to ignore the anachronistic language (I honestly can't), there is nothing else about this story that is plausible or even interesting. Hannah is an idiot and completely ridiculous, and it's really, really hard to ignore her lack of judgment or powers of observation (there aren't any). Even the way Grant and the children interact is completely out of the realm of reality given the time period. There are too many language foibles and awkwardly out-of-place sentences. I made it about 50 pages in and had enough.

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Cathead Biscuits

Bryson City Cathead Biscuits (original recipe)
  • 2 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/3 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 5 tbsp. lard
  • 1 c. buttermilk

  • Sift and mix dry ingredients then blend with lard. Add buttermilk. For each biscuit, pinch off a portion of dough about the shape of a large egg and pat out with your hands. Bake in a 350 degree oven in wood stove about 10 minutes. In a modern electric or gas stove, bake at 475 to 500 degrees.

    This recipe is found on page 115 in the chapter entitled, "Biscuits," in the book Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, and Scuppernong Wine, by Joseph E. Dabney (Cumberland House, Nashville, TN 1998).

    I've made a few adjustments over the years, starting with the substitution of shortening for lard. I do not adjust the amount and have good results. I choose a quality unbleached all-purpose flour such as King Arthur or Hodgsons Mill Organic. Also, when I do not have buttermilk, I substitute 1 c. whole milk plus 1 tbsp. plain yogurt. The texture of the biscuits is fluffy and light, and they brown nicely in a hot oven - however, I've found that generally the temperature does not need to be more than 450.

    Serve warm with jam, honey, or just good butter. This recipe is also suitable to use for dumplings.

    Saturday, November 23, 2013

    Review: Turtle Moon

    Turtle Moon
    Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    About halfway through this book I wrote the following: "One of my gauges for a great read is one that continually sends me back to a work in progress to do an inspired creativity dump that seems to come out of nowhere. It's like the story dials into my subconscious and tells me things I didn't know I knew. This is one of those books. It's quirky, human, and all-too-real. The characters are alternately loveable and maddening, just like most folk I know."

    I really didn't want this book to end, but at the same time, it was time to leave the story, and further words might have become maudlin or mundane. That is not to say I understand every character's motivation, or that the book ended happily. You'll have to find that out for yourself. Still, I'd love to read a sequel set maybe twenty or thirty further years in the future, to see if the boy and the baby ever meet again as adults, and what happens then.

    And now, it's back to my own writing, because - as I said in so many words - there are things tumbling out of every creative port of my psyche, that must be set down.

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    Saturday, November 16, 2013

    Review: Blue Camellia

    Blue CamelliaBlue Camellia by Frances Parkinson Keyes
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Amazing work, a story so skillfully crafted that its social anachronisms seem charming and quite forgiveable in the context of their time. Powerful and based loosely on historical facts, the story of a woman who found her own way in life and carved a niche for herself that, instead of rejecting family and society, carefully selected the finest yields and stoutest promise, enfolded a heart full of love and wisdom with the best portions of her heritage and fortune to triumph over her personal nightmarish tragedy and make a life well lived.

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    Sunday, October 20, 2013

    Review: The Color of Lightning

    The Color of Lightning
    The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles

    My rating: 2 of 5 stars

    THIS BOOK SHOULD COME WITH A HUGE TRIGGER WARNING. Truth to tell, I didn't make it very far into this book. Much as I adore Ms Jiles' work, I felt shocked and dismayed at how little prepared I was for the sickening violence that began only a few pages into the story. If I had wanted to read an accurate portrayal of the horrors faced by some early settlers, I would have picked up a clearly-marked non-fiction historical narrative. That the story wheels so suddenly from the interpersonal struggles of the characters as they adjust to a new life to a terrifyingly descriptive, jaw-dropping scene that sadly is all too real without warning is just too triggering for a reader with PTSD, or for those who simply do not have the stomach for this kind of violence. It may be exactly what some readers like, but not me, thanks.

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    Monday, July 08, 2013

    Review: The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti

    The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti
    The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti by Annie Vanderbilt

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved, loved, loved this book. Superbly written, with an authentic voice and the twists and turns that are the hallmark of a life truly lived. Looking for more by this fantastic author.

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    Thursday, June 20, 2013

    Review: Garden Styles by Kathleen S Dickason

    Garden StylesGarden Styles by Kathleen S Dickason
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Beautifully illustrated book with many creative ideas, this is more than just a book with which to relax and dream about your next garden project. It's a definitive guide to choosing plants and arranging them for viability in your landscape. Contains reference tables on hundreds of landscape plants with complete descriptions and suggestions for using them to their best advantage. Profuse colorful illustrations of many types of gardens show the range of selected plants during all stages of growth, from young gardens through established mature ones. One of my favorite garden reference and inspiration books.

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    Wednesday, May 01, 2013

    Review: The Gift of a Home

    The Gift of a Home
    The Gift of a Home by Beverley Nichols

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    I loved this book, and will go searching for more by this author. It's like a neighborly walk with a favorite uncle, except said uncle has an aversion to neighbors. A perfectly charming read, with interesting characters and gardening anecdotes that will have you giggling into your cup of Earl Grey. Highly recommended.

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