Monday, April 30, 2012

"The Geography of Consolation" by Alexis Paige

Alexis Paige, who attended the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop last September and blew us all away with her talent, has published one of the best essays I've read in a long time. Get a cup of coffee and hold onto your seats for this one:

"The Geography of Consolation" in the May/June issue of Ragazine.

This is how you do it.

This is how you write creative nonfiction.

So if you want a short course in the genre, or if you want to be inspired, moved, awed, or humbled, read this essay. I had all sorts of responses to it, but I have to admit that my overriding thought on her essay was, "I wish I could write like this."

Friday, April 27, 2012

Circling Faith gets 5 Star Review on Amazon!

Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (editors Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed, University of Alabama Press) just got a 5 star review on Amazon:

"A Polite White Background."

If you read this anthology, which contains my essay, "Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow," please do a reader review on Amazon, Powells, Goodreads, or elsewhere, to help promote this wonderful anthology. As Colorado poet and writer, Karen Douglass, said in her review:

"Sixteen essays and one interview (with Alice Walker), all fresh and forceful, so well crafted and full that I often forgot I was reading with a dual purpose--to say something useful to potential readers as well as to read for my own pleasure and education. Oh, the education!"

After doing a reading from my essay at the Boulder Writers Workshop in Boulder, Colorado last Saturday, BWW member, Karen Douglass, messaged me to say that the work was "way beyond Southern" and had a universal message.

Circling Faith is available in many independent bookstores now, as well as Amazon and other online stores.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Q & A with Jennifer Paddock, author of The Weight of Memory

I met Jennifer Paddock during the Fairhope Writers Colony Retreat in Fairhope, Alabama, last June. She was one of several local authors that Sonny Brewer brought in to talk shop with me and the other “colonists.” But I had already read Jennifer’s first two novels before I ever met her—A Secret Word and Point Clear. I was drawn to her voice, her characters, and the stories she wove through those characters’ lives. I was also drawn to the setting—the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Florida—where I’ve spent many vacations over the years. (You can read about my time with Jennifer in Fairhope and her first two novels here.)

So I was excited to learn that the characters I came to care about in her first two books would continue their journeys in a third novel—The Weight of Memory.  I just finished reading an advance reader’s copy and Jennifer has agreed to a short Pen & Palette Q & A:

P&P:  Hi, Jennifer. Thanks for agreeing to “chat” with us today. I’m so excited about the release of your third novel. My first question is this—did you know you were going to write three books about Chandler, Sarah and Leigh when you wrote A Secret Word?

Jennifer: I did.  Chandler, Sarah, and Leigh had become very real to me, and I missed them.  I like the idea of checking in on them every five years or so.  I didn't know that Walker from Point Clear would be a major character.  That was a nice surprise.

P&P:  Are the characters in your novels based on friends and acquaintances—especially the three girls and Trey and Walker? I couldn’t help wonder if Chandler was based on your own life in some ways, since she was a tennis instructor.

Jennifer: They are, and they aren't.  I almost always start from something real and then let fiction take over.  I am most like Chandler, but my family life, especially when I was growing up, is like Sarah's, and my often feeling like an outsider is like Leigh.  

P&P:  Sarah’s father, “C.H.” has such an abusive attitude towards women’s bodies and eating. My mother was like this, so I was especially sensitive when I read that part. Do you think this is a common problem in the South? Did you experience this personally?

Jennifer: I do think it's a common problem. I teach tennis to a lot of young girls, and they are all overly concerned about their weight. They shouldn't be. They're perfect. I did not have this experience in my family, which is good, but I developed some bad habits--my addiction to Coke is one. My father gave it to me in my baby bottle with a little crushed ice--I loved it!

P&P:  Did Leigh’s Cherokee heritage in the book come from something or someone in your own life, or just your imagination?

Jennifer: It came from a friend of mind who was searching for her birth mother and found out she was Cherokee. I went to visit the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, which is close to my hometown of Fort Smith, Arkansas. It was an inspiring, mystical experience.

P&P:  Who are your favorite authors or role models/mentors for your writing, and why?

Jennifer:  My favorite writer is Susan Minot, for the beauty of her language.  It's spare, poetic, and very visual.  I also love Anthony Doerr, especially Memory Wall, which is definitely my favorite long short story.  It's hard to beat the honesty of Raymond Carver.  I love Brad Watson, Ann Hood, Michelle Richmond, Michael Knight, William Gay, Jay McInerney, J.D. Salinger, Richard Yates, Grace Paley, Richard Bausch, Tobias Wolff, and so many more.

P&P: What’s next? Will there be another sequel?

Maybe. I don't want it to be my next book. I've been reading the wonderful novel The Art of Fielding, which is about baseball and so much more, and I'd like to write a tennis novel--a shorter Infinite Jest (which I still need to read!).

Thanks so much for taking time to “chat” with us today, Jennifer.  The Weight of Memory is available for purchase now from MacAdam/Cage. You can friend Jennifer on Facebook to learn about readings and events.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Welcome, Gabrielle Sophia Davis!

My third granddaughter, and first child of my daughter, Beth and her husband, Kevin, was born at 5:15 p.m. on Monday, April 23. 8 lbs, 20.5 inches and beautiful! I was blessed to be involved in the entire process of labor and delivery with Beth and Kevin... an experience I will never forget. I've never been prouder of my daughter. Enjoy the pictures! "SuSu" is off to the hospital to visit Gabby and her parents!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Boulder Writers Workshop Literary Salon

I met Lori DeBoer (right) on Facebook about a year ago. Lori is the founder and director of the Boulder Writers Workshop (BWW), as well as an author, writing coach and editor. Last summer she invited me to lead a writing workshop for the North Denver Metro group of the BWW when I was in Denver visiting kids and grandkids. It was fun meeting such an enthusiastic group of emerging writers.

Saturday I was again her guest, this time at the BWW’s monthly Literary Salon. Lori asked me to share a bit about my writing and publishing journey, and to read from my essay, “Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow,” which is included in the anthology, Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. I was welcomed by a wonderful group of about eighteen men and women writers from the Boulder area.

I haven’t seen Circling Faith in any of the bookstores I’ve visited in Denver or Boulder, but that’s not surprising since it’s about Southern women and spirituality. Growing up in Mississippi and then living for the past 24 years in Tennessee, I’ve always been around religious people. But Colorado is a different environment.

Having just recently read a report in the April issue of 5280—The Denver Magazine—on “What Do We Believe? Religion & Spirituality on the Front Range,” I opened my comments by sharing an excerpt from the article:

Religion is on the wane in Americaat least that’s the most recent wisdom…. Religious affiliation—across nearly all faiths—is down. Americans aren’t going to church or synagogue or prayer services like they once did. And our belief in God is diminishing as baby boomers die and the millennials come of age.

“But these polls may be overlooking a crucial phenomenon: Although participation in organized religion is declining, religiosity and spirituality may not be on the same downward trend. After examining the national research and thinking about life on the Front Range—an area that juxtaposes the Christian stronghold of Colorado Springs with cosmically in-tune Boulder—we began to wonder how the people at our lofty elevations really feel about a higher power.”

So, I was about to give my first public reading of my essay from Circling Faith to a group of people in “cosmically in-tune Boulder.” I wasn’t sure how it would be received, so I used a common denominator to bridge the gap before I began reading. I knew that Lori has lined up my friend, Dinty Moore, to do an “online conversation” with the professional members of the BWW on May 22, so next I read an excerpt from his latest book, The Mindful Writer, as an introduction to my essay:

“There was a book I wrote once—actually I wrote it twice….I put four years of my writing life into that book, churned out about 1,200 pages between the two versions—and the book never saw the light of day, except for a very small portion, an excerpt that I eventually published a an eight-page essay.”

And that’s pretty much what happened with my essay in Circling Faith. I wrote two complete book-length memoirs between 2007 and 2010, and then decided not to publish either of them. And all that has appeared in print from those two books is a ten-page essay in this anthology.

As I read the essay, and then entertained questions for about an hour afterwards, I relaxed into this new role. We discussed everything from how to form a writing critique group to finding a literary agent to the importance of building a platform for nonfiction books. This wonderful group of emerging writers includes poets, fiction writers, memoirists, and one “transformative” writer—Carolyn Rose Hart who has just self-published a book that will be out next month and also contributed a chapter to a new anthology, Pebbles in the Pond: Changing the World One Person at a Time.  Signing a copy of Circling Faith for one of the workshop members—Karen Douglass (above) was a new and humbling experience.

It was fun to meet another Southerner in the group, Ken Matthews, who moved to the Boulder area from Decatur, Georgia just a few months ago. We enjoyed discovering our shared favorite books and authors, including our mutual friend, Joshilyn Jackson.

After the workshop, I enjoyed a two-hour lunch on the patio of Zolo Grill with Carolyn and another workshop member, Melissa Snyder. It was 75 degrees and sunny with a slight breeze—a perfect day. After we said our goodbyes, I explored the Pearl Street pedestrian mall, especially the Boulder Bookstore, where I picked up a copy of the 2012 Guide to Literary Agents. My visit to Boulder ended with a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafĂ© next to the bookstore while people-watching and researching the GLA and circling the names of agents I plan to query for representation for my novel when I’m finished with revisions. There were thousands of tulips in bloom along the mall, creating a wonderland of color and adding to the beauty of the day.

Thanks again to Lori and all the members of the Boulder Writers Workshop for such a lovely day!

Friday, April 20, 2012

A VOICE for the Homeless

I’ve been in Denver for almost three weeks now, and one thing I’ve been struck by (compared to Memphis) is the different voice the homeless seem to have here. Living in midtown Memphis for almost 24 years has offered me many opportunities to serve the homeless, including the ones who have knocked on our doors over the years. And when you walk around downtown Memphis, the dozens of homeless people ramble around, waiting in lines for shelters and soup kitchens to open, begging for alms, aimlessly, for the most part.

So, the first day I walked around downtown Denver, I was approached by a fairly nicely dressed man who introduced himself and began to tell me his story. An ex-Marine down on his luck, etc. Another day another nicely dressed man walked along beside me in Larimer Square, surrounded by chic restaurants, bars and shops, and clearly articulated his plight.

I know that these people could be lying and making a lot of money pan-handling, but that’s not my problem—that’s between them and God. I always give a little something to anyone who asks, because no one really knows how hard their life is, and a little grace and compassion can go a long way.

One day last week I was walking on the 16th Street pedestrian mall, when I noticed a man holding some newspapers in his hands—with the front page face out—so everyone could see he was selling them. I approached and asked what the paper was.

“It’s the Voice,” he said, quietly.

I bought one ($2) and took it with me to a nearby Starbucks. When I opened the paper up, I found a profile of Steve Sloboda, one of The Voice’s street vendors, inside. His story of caregiving for his dying mother, working to get his commercial truck driver’s license, and now working four days a week delivering food to local Denver grocery stores while continuing to be a vendor for The Voice is inspiring. (That's Steve, in the photo above.)

The issue of The Voice I purchased also had a great story about an exhibit at MoMa (Museum of Modern Art) I can’t wait to see when I got to New York in a few weeks

: “Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream.” A group of the nation’s best architects, urban planners, ecologists, engineers and landscape designers were asked to come up with ideas for reimagining the way towns might look in the future. When my daughter was in graduate school in architecture at the University of Tennessee, I remember her sharing similar ideas with me… and specifically ideas for eliminating homelessness in the U.S.

As I look out from my 21st-floor condo balcony at this beautiful city with the gorgeous mountains in the background, I’m so thankful for my “home away from home” as well as my lovely home back in Memphis, and I admire folks like Steve Slobota who are working hard to find a home of their own. Kudos to The Voice and others who are helping them.

I'd love to hear about what's happening in your city to help the homeless, or your visions on a larger scale if you have them. Please leave a comment here or on my link on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Aesthetic Ghosts

"Every man needs aesthetic ghosts in order to live. I have pursued them, sought them, hunted them down. I have experienced many forms of anxiety, many forms of hell. I have known fear and terrible solitude, the false friendship of tranquilizers and drugs, the prison of depression and mental homes. I emerged from all that one day, dazzled but sober. … I did not choose this fatal lineage, yet it is what allowed me to rise up in the heaven of artistic creation, frequent what Rimbaud called “the makers of fire,” find myself, and understand that the most important encounter in life is the encounter with one’s self."

Those are the words of Yves Saint Laurent, the iconic fashion designer whose collection I toured yesterday at the Denver Art Museum. The exhibit took my breath away—its beauty is unparalleled in the world of high fashion, although Saint Laurent said "it’s not about fashion, but about style." I get that. But it saddened me to learn of the darkness that dominated most of his life. The older I get, the more I understand that creating art doesn’t necessarily bring happiness, but for some people it’s just what we have to do.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cherry Bomb: The Journey Continues

Two years after I drafted the first chapter of my novel, Cherry Bomb, I’m excited to say that this morning I put my 56,587-word manuscript in the mail to a freelance editor in Oxford, Mississippi to get some expert help polishing the words I’ve labored over so intensely. Here’s a summary of the journey so far:

March of 2010: Made the decision to write a novel, and blogged about in “A Novel Idea” at the Southern Authors’ Blog, A Good Blog is Hard to Find.”

Spring of 2010: Submitted early chapters to my fellow writers in the Yoknapatawpha Writers Group (which began in 2007) and received good feedback.

May of 2010: Asked for input from readers in my post, “A Call for Names,” at the Southern Author’s Blog, A Good Blog is Hard to Find, and named the protagonist “Mare.”

June of 2010: Revised those chapters as I continued to draft more, and submitted early chapters to the Yoknapatawpha (YOK) Summer Writer’s Workshop in Oxford, Mississippi. With input from workshop participants and faculty, I added a prologue and continued writing.

November of 2010: Spent a month working on the novel in Seagrove Beach, Florida, with a detour to Oxford, where I co-hosted the 2010 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference with Neil White and Kathy Rhodes.

May of 2011: Entered the prologue and first two chapters in the Novel Excerpt division of the Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition in New Orleans, and made the short list! (One of the faculty members at the YOK Summer Writers Workshop, Neal Walsh, won that competition.)

June of 2011: Submitted another chapter to the YOK Writers Workshop in Oxford. Continued to revise with help from the feedback I received there. Gave a reading (the prologue and part of chapter one) at Page & Palette Books in Fairhope, Alabama, during the first Fairhope Writers’ Colony Retreat, hosted by Sonny Brewer. Got feed back from Fairhope writers—Sonny Brewer, Suzanne Hudson and Joe Formichella.

September of 2011: DETOUR... took some time to host the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Writing Workshop, where I met literary agent and intellectual rights attorney, John D. Mason, who gave me good advice on fictionalizing historical figures.

November of 2011: Another month of writing at Seagrove Beach… where I almost finished the novel.

(DETOUR: Sold our house in December, 2011, and packed and moved in January, 2012.)

April of 2012: FINISHED the first draft and umpteenth revision, added an epilogue, more revisions, and mailed the manuscript to my freelance editor TODAY.

So, you might be asking, “what’s with all the detours to be involved with Creative Nonfiction if you’re writing a novel?

Glad you asked. I’ve been writing seriously since 2006, and my ten published pieces are all essays—Creative Nonfiction. At first I thought I was writing those essays just to build a “platform”—to have something to show to agents when I started looking for representation for a book. But then I fell in love with the genre, so I know more essays are forthcoming.

I also penned two full-length memoirs between 2007 and 2010, before I decided to try to write a novel. I just couldn’t make peace with the idea of going public with some of the stuff in those memoirs, but maybe one day I’ll feel differently.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the recap of Cherry Bomb’s journey so far. Stay tuned…. lots more work to go before she makes it out of the starting gate!

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Practice of Forgetting

I met Robert Leleux in January of 2010 at the 2010 Pulpwood Queens’ Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas. Along with the Pulpwood Queens’ fearless leader, Kathy Patrick, Robert was MC for the weekend, filled with dozens of amazing authors and several hundred members of Pulpwood Queens book clubs nationwide. I was struck by Robert’s warm and compassion when I met him, as well as his humor and joy. And now I understand more about what’s behind this “Beautiful Boy.”

The Living End: A Memoir of Forgetting and Forgiving is Robert’s latest book, and it’s even more powerful than his first. Or maybe it struck me that way because the subject matter hit so close to home—it’s about the broken relationship between his mother and his grandmother, and how Alzheimer’s (his grandmother’s) healed the breach. If you read my blog regularly, you know that this is also true in my relationship with my 84-year-old mother, who also has Alzheimer’s. And yes, I’ve written a dozen or more essays about Mother’s decline (one of them, The Glasses,” is published in Volume 2, Issue 2 of the Southern Women’s Review) but after reading Robert’s exquisite memoir, I realize he has said everything I want to say, and he has said it brilliantly.

It doesn’t hurt that his mother and grandmother are a bit more, well, colorful, than mine. When Robert hadn’t seen his grandmother for ten years due to her abandonment of his mother, he called her (JoAnn) in a time of crisis, and here’s what she said:

“Well, hasn’t your life just gone from quail eggs on toast to shit on a shovel?”

That’s just a sneak preview of how colorful JoAnn is. And Robert’s mother? When he describes the dissolution of his family life, he said:

“This dissolution included Mother taking to drink. (We’re Irish.) And it also included Mother shaving her head, and then Krazy Gluing plastic hair to her bald scalp.”

And she’s not the one with Alzheimer’s!

Later in the book, when Robert convinced his mother to meet with his grandmother for the first time in almost forty years, he describes their initial meeting this way:

“It was as though her light was refracted through Alzheimer’s, blazing through the cracks of her infirmity. That night, JoAnn might have forgotten the information of her life, her biographical data, but she seemed to remember who she was. From her thronelike chair, she aimed all her star quality, all her twinkling, undulating charm, directly at my mother. She beamed and petted and doted upon her daughter, my mother, who seemed flustered and ruffled, thrown off balance by her mother’s courtship.”

I remember clearly the turning point with my own mother in this regard. I was visiting her in the nursing home a couple of years ago and she kept complimenting everything about me—my hair, my clothes, everything I did. She kept telling everyone around us at the nursing home, “This is my daughter. Isn’t she beautiful? She’s the best daughter in the world!” Coming from someone who only told me I was fat or my hair was wrong for most of my life, this was at first a bit off-putting. But once I got used to it, it was redemptive. She even complimented the coloring book pages we did together on one of my visits!

Robert describes this same phenomenon as he talks about his grandmother and mother’s relationship later in the progression of his grandmother’s Alzheimer’s:

“Now that my grandmother had, in a sense, disappeared, she was fully present to my mother for perhaps the first time in their relationship. Now that she was all but unreachable, she was finally available."

I won’t give away the store by continuing to quote all my favorite parts of the memoir (which is really just about every page) but I will share Robert’s explanation of the title:

“I’ve always been a person to whom ‘forgive and forget’ has seemed absurdly unworkable…. since witnessing my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s, I’ve begun to wonder whether a small reversal wouldn’t better suit humanity. Maybe it would be more practical if forgetting preceded forgiving. Maybe happiness would be more easily achieved if we all made a practice of forgetting.”

A practice of forgetting. I’m going to work on that in my own relationships with people when I have a hard time forgiving. And if I follow in my mother grandmother's footsteps and end up with Alzheimer's one day, I hope that I will at least by then be able to forget the things I haven't been able to forgive!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: The Girl With the Red Heart Balloon

The famous graffiti artist, Banksy, is known for many things, but my favorite theme of his is his "Girl With the Red Heart Balloon." There's a good explanation about the Girl With the Red Heart Balloon here. The way the girl's feet (and sometimes lower body and legs) disappear at the bottom of the drawing was part of the inspiration for some of Mare's graffiti hits in my novel-in-progress, Cherry Bomb:

She had practiced her technique on a fence outside an abandoned warehouse, being sure she could get it right--especially the part where the girl's body gradually disappears just beneath her heart, the way she had been disappearing all of her life. The image of the man towering over the girl was easy. Was it hate or hope that guided her hand as she deftly moved the aerosol can across the wall, telling the story that had kept her trapped inside her own fear all these years?

Monday, April 9, 2012

My Bookshelf: The Mindful Writer... and Reader

A quick glance at what I'm reading right now:

In hardback:

The Mindful Writer by Dinty Moore. I walked to The Tattered Cover Bookstore here in downtown Denver last week and bought this wonderful little book and have almost finished it. Dinty does a wonderful job of pulling together quotes from writers and artists and then reflecting on them and how their wisdom relates to what he's learned from his Buddhist experience, but even moreso from his experience as a writer, an editor, and a teacher. Using the "Four Noble Truths" concept, he comes up with "Four Noble Truths for Writers" as the four sections of the book. Each one is so full of insight that I want to savor each page slowly, but instead I find myself turning the pages, wanting more. I know this is counter to the whole idea of mindfulness and being in the moment, so I'm trying to slow down and ingest and apply the wisdom of these pages to my life, and especially to my writing.

On my Kindle:

Robert Leleux's latest memoir, The Living End: A Memoir of Forgetting and Forgiving is a great read to couple with Dinty's book, because Robert is so mindful in his writing. I met Robert a couple of years ago when he was the guest MC for the Pulpwood Queens' Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas. The Living End is about how Alzheimer's changed the relationship between his grandmother and his mother, who were estranged for years until the disease caused his grandmother to forget why she didn't want to have anything to do with her own daughter, Robert's mother. It's about that and so much more, and I can relate to it on many levels.

Also in hardback:

Of course I'm continuing my journey through Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, which contains my essay, "Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow." The anthology just got an excellent review, here at the Alabama Writer's Forum. It's available at lots of independent bookstores now, and I'm hoping to participate in some readings/signings beginning in May, so stay tuned.

When I visited The Tattered Cover Bookstore last week, in addition to Dinty's The Mindful Writer, I picked up a few more titles and hope to dive into them soon:

The Writer's Home Companion (1987) in paperback

Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankle (1959) also in paperback, which I read about ten years ago and want to read again

Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth (also in paperback)

And one more in hardback:

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham. Cunningham's book, The Hours, provided lots of inspiration for my current novel-in-progress, and Specimen Days provides another look at interweaving the lives of three main characters from disparate places and times. Where he used Virginia Woolf to tie the characters' lives together in The Hours, he uses Walt Whitman as the connecting thread in Specimen Days. Saint Mary of Egypt, a fourth century prostitute-turned-saint, plays that role in my novel, Cherry Bomb.

I'm trying to wrap up my novel-in-progress while feeding my soul (it's Holy Week for Orthodox Christians) and continuing to learn about writing from those who do it so well. My plate is full with all that and exploring Denver and hanging out with my children and grandchildren. I'm beginning to learn my way around, and to appreciate the beauty of this place, which is so "other than" the South, where I've spent the first six decades of my life. I can see how the South has shaped so much of who I am and how it informs my writing, especially my fiction, just as my spiritual journey has shaped much of my nonfiction writing, like my essay in Circling Faith. I am thankful to be where I am in my life right now, spiritually and geographically. And I'm also thankful for these mindful writers who also paving the way for me.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Special Friday for the East and the West

Today is Good Friday for Western Christians, who are coming to the end of their Holy Week commemorations and preparing to celebrate Easter this Sunday. And here in the West, everyone from churches to grocery stores are gearing up for this sacred tradition. I was saddened by a grocery store ad I’ve seen several times this week, though, which says that Easter is “all about the ham.” No mention of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ at all.

For Orthodox Christians throughout the world, the forty days of Great Lent come to an end tonight with Vespers for Lazarus Saturday. Here’s a wonderful description of the meaning behind this weekend’s events:

“Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday”

And I love this artwork and story about Lazarus from South East Cyprus.

This year Eastern Easter, known as Pascha, is one week later than Western Easter. It varies every year. If you’re curious about why, here’s an article that explains why Pascha is a moveable feast.

I’m missing my home parish, St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis, as Holy Week approaches, and especially with the loss of a wonderful man, Paul Parham, who passed away this week. Paul was loved not only at St. John, but also at St. Jude Children’s Hospital, where he was Director of Communications for ALSAC-St. Jude, and later worked as a volunteer after his retirement. Paul also volunteered at St. John as business manager for fifteen years. I was church secretary for two of those years and always looked forward to Tuesdays, when Paul was in the office with me. His funeral will be held at St. John tomorrow, on Lazarus Saturday, which is a preview of the celebration of the Resurrection, which will happen at Pascha. May his memory be eternal.

And of course Sunday is Palm Sunday for Orthodox Christians. My reflections on Palm Sunday from 2011 are here: “The Tinderbox.” That’s my husband holding the palm branches, and Father Troy Mashburn, our pastor, holding the Gospel Book, at the end of the procession for Palm Sunday, also known as The Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem.

So, whether you’re commemorating Good Friday and headed towards Easter on Sunday, or participating in the events of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday this weekend, I hope it will be a blessed time for all of you. I’m about to check out the schedule of Holy Week services at St. Catherine Greek Orthodox Church here in Denver, and I hope to participate some... depending on when my third granddaughter decides to make her appearance. She’s got two shots at being an Easter baby with these two feast days being only a week apart this year and her official due date being April 14. I can’t wait to meet her! Have a great weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Denver Bucket List

So, I’m in Denver for a month, and reading the touristy magazines in my condo and talking with my Denver kids about what the city has to offer has made me want to create my own personal “Denver Bucket List” so I won’t miss anything I’d really like to see and do while I’m here. I’ve already done a couple of things on the list, but I’ll include them here anyway, because that’s how I am with lists. Yep, I’m one of those people who makes “to-do” lists and puts things I’ve already done on the list with a satisfying check mark beside each of them as I approach my day or week or month. I do love check marks, and it makes me feel like I’ve got a jump on the day.

So, the things I most want to do while I’m in Denver are:

1. Spend time with my children and grandchildren. That’s really why I’m here, and I’m loving being with my two young granddaughters, Grace and Anna, ages 2 ½ and 1 ½, (my son, Jason’s girls) and eagerly awaiting the birth of my third granddaughter, my daughter, Beth’s, first. Lovely visits with each of them on Sunday and Monday have gotten the month off to a great start.

2. Ride the light rail. I love public transportation in big cities, and I can catch the light rail just a couple of blocks from my condo downtown, and less than twenty minutes later I’m less than a block from my daughter’s apartment. Enjoyed my first ride on Monday.

3. Drive by myself and learn my way around Denver. I got a start on this on Monday, when I borrowed my daughter’s car and drove back downtown to my condo. No problem! Today I plan to drive out to Arvada to visit my son’s family. Between the map I printed off and the GPS in my daughter’s car, I think I’ll be okay.

3. Enjoy the pedestrian joys of downtown Denver, including the 16th Street Mall, just a block from my condo. There’s a free shuttle that runs the length of 16th Street, which is a mile long, so if I get to one end and I’m too tired to walk back, that’s always an option. One area I want to visit along the mall is called Writer Square.

4. Visit The Tattered Cover, Denver’s oldest and most famous bookstore. They’ve got three locations now, but I’m going to hang out at the one on 16th Street. Check out this video of their new espresso book print-on-demand machine. And look what I found on their website: Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality.

5. Visit St. Catherine Greek Orthodox Church, either for a Holy Week service or possibly even Pascha.

6. Visit some of the sites in the Golden Triangle Museum District which includes museums, art galleries, the public library, shops, restaurants, and historic homes.

7. Hang out at Larimer Square, and especially see the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the Denver Art Museum.

8. Shop at the Ikea store. I love their catalogue, but I’ve never been to one of their stores. I hear it’s an all-day affair! Beth and I plan to go there tomorrow.

9. Finish my novel-in-progress, Cherry Bomb: A Novel. Yesterday I finished drafting the final chapter, but now I plan to add an epilogue. One more read-through with revisions, then I'll mail the manuscript to my freelance editor back in Oxford (Mississippi).

I’m sure there are more Denver area things I’d like to do some day, but if I make it through even half of this initial “bucket list” this month, I’ll be doing good. Especially since I’m mainly here to be with family… and finish my novel. On a future visit maybe I’ll get to watch Peyton play for the Broncos! When I got here on Sunday, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a blue Broncos T-shirt with Manning's name and number on it! It seems fitting, since I was in school with Archie at Ole Miss back in the day, and then Peyton played at UT where two of my kids went to school, and now he's in Denver with both of them. Go, Broncos!

So glad the snow has stopped and it's sunny and will be 60 degrees here in Denver today! Bucket List, here I come....

Monday, April 2, 2012

Isn't Airport Security Fun?

Yesterday I had an exciting time going through security at the Memphis airport. Not sure why I was chosen to be the star, but here’s what happened.

After I took off my shoes and took my computer out of its bag and loaded everything onto the conveyor belt, I walked over in front of the screening machine and a security agent said, “Ma’am, would you feel comfortable removing your hat?”

“Oh, of course! I forgot I was wearing it.” So I put the hat in a bin and sent it through the machine and walked back in front of the screening machine.

Same security agent said, “Ma’am, would you be comfortable removing your jewelry?”

“Well, I wore all leather and pearls today, nothing will set the machine off, so I don’t see why I need to remove it all.”

Security agent looked at the other agent and they both nodded.

“Okay, ma’am, then you’ll have to have the full body pat down.”

Whatever. I stood in the machine with both hands above my head like a criminal, then stepped through the other side where a (female) security agent patted me down… all over my arms, legs, hips, and between my breasts. Nothing really offensive, and hey, I’m happy to help keep terrorists off my plane. But then another agent nodded at this one and said, “Be sure and swab her hands.”

“Swab my hands?” I asked, a bit miffed at this point.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What’s that for?”

“To check for chemicals on your hands.”


“Because you required the pat down.”

I noticed the woman in front of me had a pat-down, too, but they skipped the hand swab on her.

I guess I must have looked special enough to get the star treatment.

As a Delta Priority Gold Member, I was first on the list for an upgrade to First Class on the flight to Denver, but all the First Class seats were taken. So, the stewardess approached me before take-off and told me I would receive a free cocktail during the flight.

“Oh, thank you!” The star treatment continued… and later in the flight a different stewardess showed up at my seat with a second complimentary gin and tonic, although I hadn’t asked for it.

Maybe that was my reward for being such a good girl back in security.

Gotta’ love Delta.