Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zorba: the Wandering Bakery

I love entrepreneurs. My dad has owned his own business for years, and I’ve always admired him for having the courage and ambition to pursue his dreams. Now he does what he loves, and it has inspired me to want to do the same.

Therefore, when I learned that my good friend, Elvira Papajianne Garnett, started up her own business during a time in her life when many are retiring to Florida, I was so very proud of her. I used to sit in Elvira's dining room every week and partake in all of the wonderful Greek pastries she made. Now folks in the DC area get to do the same!
Baklava Pieces In Plate

The Wandering Zorba bakes all of the scrumptious Greek deserts you would expect ,such as baklava and kourabiedes, as well as savory delights like spanakopita and cheese pies. Elvira started the traveling bakery with her son, and they started out selling at local farmer’s markets and catering to local businesses. Now, they've attracted the interests of cooking and farming celebrities the Beekman boys who have featured The Wandering Zorba on their website.

Previously Elvira’s goodies were only available in the cozy confines of her kitchen, but now she can be found wandering to places such as Annandale Farmer’s Market, Del Rey Farmer’s Market, and West End Farmer’s Market in the D.C. area.

If you want to view some of her mouth-watering yummies, check out her website.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Youth

I am worried. In the eight years I’ve taught high school, I’ve watched a steady decline in the hearts and minds of young people. The youth of today—our future leaders and creators—is on a downward spiral morally, educationally, and spiritually. I find it frightening.

Just the other day, a female student in my English 9 Honors class boldly proclaimed that she does not believe marriage is intended to be for more than about twenty years. “It’s unnatural!” she announced. “People aren’t supposed to stay together that long.” It saddened me that at an age where girls often have romantic visions of marriage, they are already hardened and jaded.

Commonly I witness the desensitization and inappropriate reactions to violence. Students sometimes laugh at violent depictions in literature or movies when they should be horrified and shocked. They show little regard for anyone else’s feelings, and they often feel entitled rather than privileged. Addiction to cell phones and video gaming is rampant—so much so that most students cannot be without their phones for more than a few seconds. Many of my “regular” students refuse to do homework, read in-class books, or write as much as a paragraph.

I spy some hope in certain kids—ones who have been given a moral compass and display a sense of right and wrong, but there are others who already evidence sociopathic tendencies, and at fourteen years of age, display an existentialist world view.

I can only hope there will be a backlash at some point. The laziness and apathy I see on a daily basis will only increase if we continue to coddle kids rather than making them accountable. Kids need more responsibility, not less. Otherwise, I fear for future of our country at large.


But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. –2 Timothy 3: 2-5

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for Xanax

I have a fear of flying. Although I love everything building up to the point of lift-off—going to the airport, grabbing a coffee in the lobby while I’m waiting, watching people hurry around pulling their carry-on luggage as I wonder where they’re going—but as soon as the engines fire up and we catapult down the runway, I experience acute symptoms of anxiety. I have to force myself to breathe deeply to prevent hyperventilation, I sweat, and I feel an overwhelming sense of impending doom. Usually once we’re in the air at cruising altitude, I settle down a little, but if there is any kind of turbulence, all bets are off.

A few years ago when I was flying to Australia, I decided to visit the doctor’s office before flying, and they prescribed me Xanax. “Take a half a pill before you fly, and if you need another half later in the flight, take that too.” Half of a Xanax did absolutely nothing. Within the hour, I had taken a whole pill. A few hours later, I took another half. By the time I finally got to sleep on the plane that night, I had taken two and a half of those suckers.  I guess I have a pretty solid metabolism and/or medication tolerance. I will say that once I awoke after sleeping eight hours, I did feel pretty calm.

I don’t take Xanax for flights anymore. Now I just take Ambien. I might as well just sleep and not experience anxiety over whether or not I will have anxiety.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Weird

1. involving or suggesting the supernatural; unearthly or uncanny: a weird sound; weird lights.
2. fantastic; bizarre: a weird getup.
3. Archaic. concerned with or controlling fate or destiny.

I would describe myself as a little weird, as I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drummer. My mother might affectionately call me “creative”—but she has also been known to call me a “weirdo” from time to time, especially in my fondness for all things scary or spooky.
 Old Doll

When I was a kid (between the ages of 8-12), I used to set up “haunted houses” in our basement. I don’t know where this predilection came from, or why I got such a kick out of it, but I went all out with these basement boo-fests. I created an entrance through the stairway, where visitors had to ride down the steps on an inflatable raft. (Obviously this was before we became such a litigious society). I used a sound effect album which played throughout “the ride” complete with ghost moans, creature groans, bat squeals, and cat squalls. Suitcases became gravestones, behind which I rigged sheets attached to fishing line that could be strategically pulled so that a ghost-like presence rose from behind them. Spongy packing material was filled with water and covered over with rubber spiders and snakes so that when the unsuspecting person stepped onto the “swamp”, water oozed into their shoes (my mother wasn’t too happy with that surprise).

The weirder part of all of this is that I didn’t necessarily conduct these explorations at Halloween—more likely they were summer projects—and all of my friends and family were subjected to the outcome.

I know we’re all a little bizarre in some way or another. Although I no longer create spooky rooms in my house (I’m sure you will be relieved to know) and I have conformed to life in many ways, I like to think a little weirdness still remains in my day to day life.
"...but my dove, my perfect one, is unique, the only daughter of her mother, the favorite of the one who bore her. --Song of Songs 6:9

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Vineyards and Greyhounds

What do vineyards and greyhounds have in common? 

Every summer, select Virginia Vineyards open their doors to the gentle and mannerly greys for Grapehounds—a wonderful pairing for those who love greyhounds and wine. This year the event takes place May 9-11 with the Friday night festivities beginning at Northgate Vineyards near Purcellville, Va.

Last year was my first year attending this event, and I was amazed how we were ushered straight inside the winery with dogs in tow, where we set up dog beds just under our high-top table and enjoyed high quality wine while eating catered barbeque. We met greyhound owners traveling from New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina, and on that Saturday, we met vendors who had traveled even further.

Every year, six vineyards participate and the cost of admission covers entrance and free tastings at all the wineries. A percentage of the cost benefits the greyhound rescue of your choice.  On Saturday and Sunday, the grounds of Quattro Goombas Winery in Purcellville will be filled with vendors selling all sorts of greyhound paraphernalia and food.

Even if you don’t own a greyhound (and if you don’t—why not?), you can still come out and enjoy the day (or days) of dogs, food, and wine. Cheers!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Underrated Authors

I guess it really is true that many authors don’t get recognition until after they’re dead. Emily Bronte, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe—all writers and poets who were not recognized until years after their deaths.

One of my favorite authors is Richard Yates. Yates died in 1992 leaving behind an impressive array of novels including Revolutionary Road (made into a movie starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio in 2007). Most of his plots are domestic dramas addressing marital difficulties, infidelities, and miscommunications. With devastating and powerful honesty, Yates writes of ordinary people with common problems using compelling characters and realistic dialogue. Often the characters are lonely and misguided, desperately seeking some way to make their lives work while caught in a quagmire of self-inflicted pain or unfortunate circumstances of fate.

It is unusual for me to read a book more than once, but I read Revolutionary Road once a year in an attempt to absorb Yates’s intelligent writing style. I believe Revolutionary Road is his best work; however, Young Hearts Crying, The Easter Parade, and Liars in Love are similar in scope and style and certainly worth reading.
Front CoverFront CoverFront CoverFront Cover

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Travel

Last night a friend told me she’s thinking of moving to Australia. Since I spent a good deal of my time thinking about and planning to expatriate myself between 1995 and 2002, I sympathized with her struggle.
I started traveling in 1994 when I first visited the UK. I had always been an Anglophile and loved all things English, but once I actually visited, I made it my goal to live there. Initially I got a student work visa to stay in the country and work for six months.  When that expired, I returned to the U.S. and applied for an internship, taking me back to England for another six months. After that, I traveled to Australia on three separate occasions, once with a work visa and two other times in the hopes of living there. In 2002, I returned home for good.
My husband traveled with me to England and Scotland this past summer, and it was wonderful to show him my “old stomping ground” and all the sights I had fallen in love with when I lived there. Just this past weekend, he asked me where I wanted to go next. “I want to go back to England and Scotland,” I told him.  He was surprised that I didn’t want to go somewhere new—somewhere I’d never been, and it made me realize something about the way I travel. In the past, I traveled to look for a place to live; nowadays, I travel to recreate feelings I once experienced. My ties to England are strong, and if I could buy a summer home there and return every year, I would do so. I’m not someone that needs to see new places all the time; instead, I would prefer to travel to the familiar—to places where I once experienced strong emotions and lifelong attachments. I guess I'm just a sentimental sojourner.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Storytelling

I really don’t like poetry. I know that statement will seem blasphemous to my literary friends, but when I read poetry, I often feel the words on the page are too contrived or forced. But I suspect my real reason for not liking poetry is that there’s no story.  (Before the protests begin, I do realize that this doesn’t pertain to the narrative or epic poem).
Good stories that are original, complex, and riveting comprise my reading of choice. Of course the material should be well-written, employing the standards of writing expected in quality literature, but ultimately I’m looking to that intricate, moderately paced plot line to move and twist and carry me along into a sea of enchantment, intrigue, or suspense.
I appreciate all forms of storytelling and narrative including short stories, novels, memoirs, and plays. Specifically, some of my favorites in each of these categories are listed below:

 Short story: “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant; “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates

Novel: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier; Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

Memoir: The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls; This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff

Play: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams; Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Rest

Worry, worry, worry. Some days I feel like the Mad Hatter rushing around with my head full of all the things I need to do. As the publication date for my novel approaches, I’ve been feeling a fair bit of anxiety. I worry whether anyone will read the book; I worry about marketing tactics and book and blog tours; I worry about following this novel with another one that’s even better. And on and on.

Yesterday, the Lord reminded me to REST in Him. If this book is truly to glorify Him, then I needn’t worry about all of these things; instead, I should leave all worries at His feet. He alone knows who needs to read this book, and He will get it into their hands. Resting in Him is about putting aside my own selfish desires and allowing the Lord to work. Often times, my fear stands in the way of God’s blessings in my life.
Bridlington Beach 3

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. –Matthew 11:28

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Quarrels

Miss Linton regarded her sister-in-law with indignation.
            “For shame! For shame!” she repeated angrily. “You are worse than twenty foes, you poisonous fiend!”
“Ah! You won’t believe me, then?” said Catherine. “You think I speak from wicked selfishness?”
“I’m certain you do,” retorted Isabella, “and I shudder at you!”
“Good!” cried the other. “Try for yourself if that be your spirit; I have done, and yield the argument to your saucy insolence.”
--from Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I love to read about a good fight. A sound battle of the wits or wills is always intriguing and often important to the conflict of any novel. The one I have included above from Wuthering Heights takes place between Catherine Earnshaw Linton and her sister-in-law, Isabella Linton. And of course—the argument is over a man (Heathcliff). Isabella, her understanding of Heathcliff’s character completely skewed by girlish infatuation, goes up against the much stronger and tougher Catherine. Catherine knows Heathcliff all too well having tried to “love him” herself. She knows he is incapable of making Isabella happy, but her motives for discouraging her sister-in-law’s affection stem not just from an attempt to spare Isabella, but also because her own heart is not disentangled from Heathcliff’s.

In my own writing, I get very excited about constructing a good quarrel. There is something compelling about characters struggling to get their own way, to understand one another, or to verbally punish another character.

In real life, however, there is nothing I hate worse. I will avoid argumentation at all costs, even if it means I lose out on something important to me. It’s funny how the characters we create take on attributes or traits we are afraid to exhibit in our own lives.  

So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives.—Genesis 13:8

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Passage of Time

Recently I re-read Bridget Jones’s Diary. I first read this book in 1997 when I was twenty-five years old. (Incidentally, now the newest Bridget Jones book is out addressing Bridget’s life in her fifties!) It was a strange thing to read this book again at the age of forty-two, as it reminded me of how quickly time passes. When I first read Bridget Jones, I had just returned from living in England the first time, and I was very depressed. I’d wanted to stay there, marry someone English, and live happily ever after. My quest for this elusive husband severely distracted me, threw me off-course from my Christian walk, and wasted many valuable years when I could have been serving God as a single person.
I didn’t marry until I was thirty-four, and I now look back on my wedding day in disbelief. Was that really seven and a half years ago? Time has flown by again. I realize that one day very soon I will be looking down the path I’ve traveled unable to believe that I’m sixty-five, and where has the time gone?
These thoughts about time passing make me cognizant of my own mortality and the inevitable. During my short visit here on earth, I don’t want to waste time that could be spent serving God in whatever way he desires. I don’t want to look back regretting squandered opportunities from my forties as I do from my twenties. The passage of time keeps me in check when I find myself striving to hurry it along for my own purposes.

Old Fashioned Clock

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die...
 Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account.

--Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2, 15 (NIV)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Obsession

When I think of the word obsession, I think of a stalker lurking in the shadows watching the unsuspecting victim’s every move, or of a misguided romance in which one or more of the parties is so fixated on the other they can’t function in the day-to-day. I've had many “obsessions” in my life, writing being one of them. Recently I have rekindled one of my old fixations from childhood.

When I was in the 4th grade, my grandmother told me about a show starting up in the afternoons after General Hospital. These half-hour episodes were black and white reruns of a 1966 soap opera called Dark Shadows. “You’ll love it,” she told me. “It’s really spooky. It has a vampire in it.” Dark Shadows was a popular soap opera that ran from 1966 until 1971.  Once it went off the air, follow-up movies, companion books, and Dark Shadows reunion conventions continued to fuel people’s obsession over the show. Even today, Dark Shadows continues to have a cult following (I actually “follow” the show on Twitter).

The first time I watched Dark Shadows, I was hooked. There was something about the creepy atmosphere of Collingwood Manor set on the coast of Maine, and the mysterious yet gentlemanly character of Barnabas Collins that kept me tuning in every afternoon at 4:00. I even wrote my own episodes to the show, complete with the narration of Victoria Winters at the beginning. I don’t remember when ABC stopped airing the reruns, but by the time I was in 5th grade, I moved on to some other obsession.

Two years ago, I discovered that Netflix had most of the 1,225 episodes, and I’ve been watching them ever since. At the end of one of the episodes last night, Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played Maggie Evans (one of Barnabas Collins’s first victims), was interviewed about her time in the show. Now in her seventies, Scott spoke about obsessed fans approaching her to reveal the fangs they’d had professionally bonded to their teeth; others legally changed their name to one of the Dark Shadows characters. She was somewhat perplexed and amazed that the show could inspire such obsessive behavior.
I think my “obsession” with this show now is because it reminds me of my childhood, and more specifically my grandmother who passed away two years ago. The episodes were filmed on live television, so you’ll see the occasional microphone or the edge of filming equipment, or hear someone on the set cough. It’s also extremely melodramatic, but it’s strangely addictive and compelling. It was not at all hard for me to re-obsess over this old obsession.
Online journal for Dark Shadows:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Nashville

I have never been to Nashville. “But you’re from Tennessee!” People often say to me. “How can you not have been to Nashville?” Nashville is really nowhere near the Tri-Cities area where I grew up (The Tri-Cities is located in the Northeastern corner of the state, Nashville is located north central). Oh, once when I was very young (around three years old), I went with my family, but I remember next to nothing, so it doesn’t count.

My husband and I are planning a trip there this summer, and I’m really excited to see the land of country music (as I’m a huge country music fan). I’m also a big fan of the show Nashville, which I know is a glorified soap opera, but the characters are colorful, flawed, and tortured in their quest for fame, and the plotlines are intriguing and fast-paced.

My novel (Song from the Ashes) is not set in Nashville per se, but Ella Casey (one of the main characters) returns from Nashville after ten years of pursuing her dream to make it as a country music singer. In her eyes, Nashville is the Mecca for all aspiring artists in this genre—to find themselves on the stage of the Grand Old Opry is the pinnacle of success. But Nashville also symbolizes her downfall, as it is the town where she loses her heart (and her money) to a shady (and married) music producer. Although she struggles with the desire to return to Nashville throughout the book, the reader never actually “sees” the Nashville landscape.
Nashville Views

I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing Nashville this summer, and perhaps the next novel will afford a more detailed glimpse into this historically-rich and colorful setting.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Mutt: Remembering Tessa

When I was a little girl I had asthma. I was allergic to dogs, cats, horses—everything I loved, really. We had to give away my cockapoo, Bogie, and a regimen of shots, pills, and medicine began. My mother read somewhere that Chihuahuas were hypoallergenic, and not too long afterwards we got a little brindle Chihuahua named Putt. This began a long line of Chihuahuas in my family, and to this day, my mother and stepdad have kept with this breed.

My dad’s side of the family careened through a whole host of breeds, as well: Dobermans, German shepherds, Irish setters, and pugs. Now, I have two purebreds (a greyhound and an Italian greyhound, albeit both were rescued), but the best dog I ever had was a little mutt named Tessa.

Tessa (originally named “Duchess” but I chose to rename her after Tess of Tess of the D’Urbervilles) came to me through a rescue in Locust Grove, Virginia. She had been found at a dumpster site, (whether she was “dumped” or simply wandered there looking for food is unknown) and taken to an animal shelter. The rescue pulled her from the high-kill shelter and put her into a foster home, and several weeks later I drove to Fredericksburg, Virginia to pick her up.

Tessa didn’t show a lot of interest in me at first, and she cried all the way back to Centreville, where I lived at the time. Once home, however, and much to mine and my roommate’s surprise, she jumped right up onto the couch like she had always lived with us. That night she snuggled up to me in bed, and we were fast friends forever after (even after finding out the next day she had both fleas and worms).

Despite her nefarious past, Tessa was a happy-go-lucky girl. She loved every person she came across, although she could be a little scrapper when it came to other dogs. A natural-born scout and hunter, she used to tear across our yard in pursuit of squirrels. She was extremely attached to me, and nearly panicked if I took her into an unfamiliar place and she couldn’t see me. I never worried about her running off, as she kept me in her sight at all times.

As far as we could tell, she was a mixture between a dachshund, beagle, terrier, and Chihuahua. When she was approximately four years old, she was diagnosed with IVDD (in vertebral disk disease), a common dachshund malady which makes them much more susceptible to ruptured disks. Tessa underwent back surgery and all sorts of therapy and lived many more years. What took our little girl was not IVDD, but lymphoma. Last year her energy declined and her eating stopped. I could tell her glands were swollen, and I feared the diagnosis they eventually gave us. The cancer had already spread, and we chose not to put a twelve-year-old (at least) dog through chemotherapy. We treated with steroids for a while, and she did improve and lived relatively comfortably for two more months. We lost her in November, just a day after the birthdate I had given her eleven years prior.   

Tessa will always be special to me (my heart-dog) as we shared so many years together—just the two of us. She was compassionate, adoring, and intensely loyal and there is a terrible hole in our lives now as we continue to mourn her loss.

Mutts rule.

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Landon Kingsley

When I was in my twenties and nursing a broken heart from a terrible break-up, my dad said something to me that I never forgot. “Men always think something better might come along—they’re always looking around the next corner thinking—‘maybe I’ll find Farrah Fawcett there.’” At the time, my dad’s 1970’s reference sent me and my stepmother into peals of laughter, but it also stayed with me for many years after that. It was this comment that actually inspired Landon Kingsley, the main character of my novel, Song from the Ashes (coming out August 1st!).

Landon, a thirty-seven year old defense attorney, is an intensely private person. He doesn’t like for people to glimpse his imperfections, and he hides them by maintaining high walls around his ordered world. Living in the small town of Kingsport, Tennessee affords easy opportunity for everyone to know his business, but Landon’s careful manipulation of his social, family, and religious life allows him to sustain the veneer of self-control and righteousness.  

Under the surface, however, Landon is teeming with doubts. Engaged to the young and beautiful April May, he is also drawn to April’s cousin, the older and more exciting Ella Casey. Landon feels that God is calling him to marry April, but he cannot stay away from Ella. At the same he agonizes over the love triangle, Landon attempts to come to terms with his past (his biological father’s abandonment, a college cheating scandal, a promiscuous dating life).

Landon is an inherently flawed character, which is what made him so much fun to create. He smokes cigarettes, but feels guilty enough to hide his vice. Even after committing his life to April, he finds he desperately wants to be with Ella. His infatuation with Ella Casey becomes a catalyst for everything in his life that is unsatisfactory and discontentment grows in his heart.

Humans in general are rarely content with what they have; usually, we’re looking for that next best thing whether it’s more beauty, money, status, or excitement. Because I see this glaring flaw in myself, I find struggling characters interesting to read and write about.

“Is it—in this world—vulgar to ask for more? To entreat a little wildness, a dark place or two in the soul?”—Katherine Mansfield

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. –Phillipians 4:11-13



Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Kingsport: Memories from Childhood

Sometimes I think of my hometown, remembering the happiest years of my childhood, and I want to cry. These are specific, time-encapsulated vignettes never to be reproduced or repeated, and remembering makes me nostalgic for that time and place and the senses I experienced therein.

The memories of Kingsport, Tennessee that return to me again and again are mostly ones involving family and friends and summer. During the summer months I practically lived at my grandparents’ house—swimming in the pool until my fingers shriveled and my stomach growled with hunger. My cousin and I would watch my grandparents’ balcony for the signal from my grandmother—a double-armed wave—meaning it was time to come in and eat lunch. Summer also meant boating with my dad and step-mom on Boone Lake. When I was very small, my dad would put me on the front of his water skis and hold onto me as we skimmed across the water. All kinds of dangerous? Yes, but it’s one of my best memories, and I was never hurt.  

I rode horses with my mom several times a week, and on Saturdays we stopped by 7-11 for a king-sized bar of Hershey’s chocolate and a Coke—that was our breakfast. Staying at the barn all day meant mucking stalls, grooming horses, and riding until we were hot and hungry and sick of flies. Afterwards, we stopped by McDonald’s for cheeseburgers and happy meals.

Kingsport’s annual summer Fun Fest brought two weeks of daily activities in the town. My cousin and I participated in scavenger hunts, watched balloon races, and attended concerts at the high school stadium. Unfortunately, that usually signaled the end of the summer and a return to school, but that also meant seeing friends and shopping at Parks Belk’s and Millers for new clothes, and Kmart and Roses for school supplies.   

I visit Kingsport several times a year now, as my family still lives there. There is sentimentality to the visits, as I realize that those sweet memories are just that—memories. Many things are the same, but so much has changed in the thirty years since I moved away. Sometimes I walk the dogs down to the pool where I used to swim with my cousin and friends; my maternal grandparents are dead, but I can still envision my grandmother standing on her balcony waving her arms. It makes me smile, but it also makes me yearn for that time and place when everything seemed so perfect in the world.
Reelfoot Lake In Tennessee 5

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Jilted Lovers in Literature

C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know we’re not alone.”

This pertains to any part of life in which we like to know other people have experienced our pain, disappointment, and joys. In my case, I love reading about a good old-fashioned jilting. I can relate to heartbreak, as I’ve had plenty of it in my life time, and there’s something exhilarating about experiencing a character’s woe and devastation and thinking, “Oh you poor thing—I know exactly how you feel.”

One of my favorite jilted lovers in literature is Marianne from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Marianne is a character in love with the idea of romantic love. Her innocence and youthful naiveté creates a perfect opportunity for the disappointment of heartbreak. I warrant many relate all too well with Marianne as she realizes that Mr. Willoughby doesn’t love her enough to forego his family’s fortune, and clutch at their own hearts (at least figuratively) during the dramatic scene at the London ball when Mr. Willoughby politely, but coldly, rebuffs her advances. Oh yes—I’ve been there too many times to recount…in fact, I have the T-shirt, the sweatshirt, and the matching socks.

Ophelia is a tragic heroine who is played as a pawn by her lover and her family. Her innocent love for Hamlet is completely overshadowed by the Danish Court’s quest for self-preservation and revenge. Opelia is utterly confused by Hamlet’s cold and crazy behavior toward her (even though he probably really loves her), but his violent rejection coupled with her father’s murder, is more than she can withstand, and she drowns herself in the river. Ophelia’s suicide may seem extreme, but the recent real-life suicide of The Bachelor contestant Gia Allemande is not far from this literary figure's fate.

Finally, a modern example: Bridget Jones of Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding is perpetually jilted by numerous men. Bridget weathers boyfriends dumping her with much more humor and aplomb than Marianne or Ophelia (she never results to madness or suicide), even so, her pain and despair is palpable. Daniel Cleave’s abominable behavior (including dumping Bridget for an American “stick-insect”) is sadly common these days amongst lovers in general.  Unfortunately, so is Bridget’s overall plight of trying to find a man to marry her. As of late, I see more and more women in their thirties and forties who have given up on finding love.
I’m very grateful to the Good Lord above for my wonderful husband, and that I’m no longer—in the words of Bridget Jones—a singleton; however, I have not forgotten the pain, anguish, longing, and disappointment of those days when heartache and heartbreak were common. I continue to read stories about the jilted and the lonely, and I appreciate the blessing of marriage and companionship.

--But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.Psalm 10:13-15

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for Italian Greyhounds

So…it’s still national greyhound adoption month, and I’m still finding ways to incorporate these beautiful dogs into my blogs.

Greyhounds in their standard form are usually between 50 to 80 pounds, but the smaller, more energetic version of the racer is the Italian Greyhound. We happen to have one of those, too. Her name is Trinity.

Trinity came to us after the death of our dachshund-beagle mix, Tessa, who died tragically at the hands of doggie lymphoma. We applied for a sighthound through Sighthound Underground (SHUG), an organization rescuing hounds from as far away as Qatar and as close as Virginia. Everything from abused and neglected street dogs in foreign countries to domestic puppy mill survivors are saved under the protective wing of SHUG. We got the call on Friday evening, and after seeing pictures and videos of little Trinity, we decided to pick her up the following weekend (if she would have us).

Italian Greyhounds are as different from traditional greys as feta cheese from tofu. They kind of look the same, but smaller, and their energy level is more like a retired racer on Red Bull. These little guys party until the sun goes down, but once they’re spent, they crash out—and they would most like to do that in your arms or in your lap. They are very affectionate, and their desire to stick to your side has earned them the nickname of “Velcro dogs.” They are in no way couch potatoes, but they are happy to be your couch (or bed) companion at the end of day, when they curl up like a cat and sleep with amazing soundness.

"Iggies" (as we like to call them in the sighthound community) are sweet, gentle, playful, and incredibly intelligent. They look fragile, but they are actually little athletes.

Great things come in small greyhound packages, too!  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for Hometowns

I lived in Kingsport, Tennessee until I was thirteen when my mother, step-father, and I moved to Northern Virginia. Now my entire family lives there again, and I’m the only one who lives in “Yankee land” as my father likes to call it.

My novel, Song from the Ashes, is set in my hometown. I did this for several reasons. Like Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence upon which my novel is based, the main characters are plagued by gossip and scrutiny. This is not to say that my hometown is a hotbed of gossip, but small towns breed a certain amount of talk and speculation. The idea that everyone knows everyone’s business is still very true in Kingsport neighborhoods. Also, there remains a very strong presence of faith. Church Circle is a round-about upon which four or five churches of all different denominations sit. (And just behind that and down adjacent streets, there are many more churches). Finally, Kingsport is a town with a mixture of all socio-economic levels, beautiful sceneries (mountains and lakes nearby), and within easy-driving distance of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Around 51,500 people call Kingsport home, and it’s not hard to see why. Kingsport retains a friendliness and warmth common in small towns several decades ago. Distinctly southern and proud of it, people still greet one another on the streets, and it is not at all unusual for someone to live their entire life in Kingsport or retire and move back.

 For me and many others, Kingsport is the perfect place to call home.
Smokies 5

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for Greyhounds in Literature

In keeping with greyhound adoption month, I thought I'd take a moment and share some of the greyhound's more illustrious affiliations: art and literature.

Dating back thousands of years, greyhounds have been widely used in paintings and literature. Many paintings from the Renaissance depict greyhounds as companions alongside royalty and nobility. Originally, these gentle dogs were used by hunters to flush out quarry, and their natural speed, agility, and love of the chase eventually evolved into the competition and racing we see today.

Mentions of greyhounds in literature date back to the Bible. And supposedly they are the first dogs to be mentioned in literature.

Homer's epic poetry mentions greyhounds (hounds) in several books of The Odyssey:

"'This hound,' answered Eumaeus, 'belonged to him who has died in a
far country. If he were what he was when Ulysses left for Troy, he
would soon show you what he could do. There was not a wild beast in
the forest that could get away from him when he was once on its
'" (Homer, The Odyssey Book XVII)

Ovid also gave a nod to the greyhound in Metamorphosis:

"But with herself she kindly did confer,
What gifts the Goddess had bestow'd on her;
The fleetest grey-hound, with this lovely dart,
And I of both have wonders to impart." (Lelaps and Procris)

Finally, Chaucer wrote of the greyhound in The Canterbury Tales:

"Greyhounds he hadde as swifte as fowel in flight;
Of prikyng and of huntyng for the hare
Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare."

Obviously there are numerous mentions of greyhounds in various forms of literature, and these are just a few. It's really no wonder that artists and writers mused on and imagined the greyhound. With their docile and mild nature, graceful and lean physique, and swift and agile athletic abilities, the greyhounds are standout dogs. And in my humble opinion, one of God's greatest creations.

Monday, April 7, 2014

F is for Fish and Chips

When I think of the food I ate as a little kid growing up in Northeastern Tennessee, I think of fried chicken, fried okra, fried fish—even hamburgers fried up in the pan. I know that my mother fixed plenty of healthy items, and I remember a lot of vegetables passing the top of the table, but what stands out in my memory is anything battered and sizzling in the pan. Therefore, it’s really no surprise that one of my favorite dishes today is fish and chips.

When my husband and I traveled in England this summer, I ate this dish almost daily. Every pub we visited I ordered some rendition of the fare. I ate gourmet versions of it—lightly battered fish served on a bed of greens sitting beside hand-cut shoestring fries, as well as the traditional—two pieces of heavily beer-battered cod sitting atop big chunky fries. I ate it with malt vinegar and with ketchup. I simply couldn’t get enough of it!

Yesterday my dad and I drove out to Upperville, Virginia (a tiny little town near Middleburg) in which the only real attraction is a fabulous old English-style tavern called The Hunter’s Head. In and of itself, the tavern is an enjoyable experience, simply for the authentic décor and the friendly service. But the fish and chips! Wow! This dish tasted as close to authentic English fish and chips as anything I've previously enjoyed—light and crispy battered cod (and plenty of it!), and perfectly salted, hand-cut fries with just a hint of the remaining potato skins. Obviously I’m still thinking about it and basking in the glow of that great meal this morning as I write.
To all of those who wish to remind me how unhealthy the dish—I know, I know. But I like to think that my southern upbringing and childhood diet of fried everything gave me a constitution that can withstand it.

Fried Fish And Chips

Saturday, April 5, 2014

E is for Ella


Ella Casey is the foil and the third angle of the love triangle in my novel Song From the Ashes.
Ella makes decidedly unwise choices, and the current state of her love life evidences this. A failed Nashville singer, she returns to her hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee amidst a firestorm of gossip and speculation. Everyone knows that Ella’s parents footed the bill for her ten year quest for stardom, and even worse, everyone knows about her affair with a married music producer. 

But for all of Ella’s faults, her intentions are good. She genuinely loves her family and friends, and she genuinely wants to do the right thing. She never intended to be a chronic home-wrecker, and the fact that things never work out right in her love life equals frustration and feelings of defeat.  

Ella was a fun character to create. She’s not pure as the driven snow, nor is she wicked , but she is a tortured character striving for something that never quite unfolds.  I like characters in books whose lives don’t necessarily “work out” the way they hope. Maybe that’s because it’s the nature of life in general.
Song From the Ashes will be released in August 2014 from eLectio Publishing.

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. - Romans 8:19-21

Friday, April 4, 2014

D is for Dog Dreams

Twitching legs, flicking tongues, flapping ears….an occasional yip or growl. There is something extraordinarily entertaining about watching a dog in the throes of a dream.

“What do dogs dream about?” my husband asked me last night as we watched our little Italian greyhound’s paws madly paddling the air. My husband thinks I’m an expert on dogs—ha!—and since I’m not, I went to a trusted source of information: the internet.
Zzzz #2

It’s a good question, and since many people ask it, there is a wealth of information on the web, and there are a great many articles posted online. In Psychology Today’s 2010 article entitled “Do Dogs Dream?", Dr. Stanley Coren confirms that the resounding answer is yes! “During sleep the brain wave patterns of dogs are similar to that of people, and go through the same stages of electrical activity observed in humans, all of which is consistent with the idea that dogs are dreaming.”

The tell-tale signs of a dog dreaming are nearly identical to a human: irregular breathing, eyes roll back and move, and scientists believe that they may dream about something they have seen or done that day. So a dog could be dreaming about chasing a rabbit, swimming in the lake, running after a ball. It’s pretty fascinating when you think about it, and it suggests that dog’s brains are significant and complex. Although I believe animals are instinctual and not logical, and their thoughts may be much more simplistic than ours, this does not diminish the fact that a dog is a sensate, intelligent, and soul-possessing creature that has a lot more going on in their heads than we think. Just because they cannot communicate via speech, does not mean that they don’t have thoughts, feelings, and dreams.

Coren, Stanley. Psychology Today. 28 October 2010: Web. 4 April 2014.

God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.Genesis 1:24-26


Thursday, April 3, 2014

C is for Chase: Life with a Greyhound

In January of 2012, our beloved cat, Sam, died from a cancerous tumor in his nasal cavity. My husband and I were literally devastated. We had endured several miscarriages back to back, and the loss of one of our fur babies seemed too much to bear.

At that time, we had another furbaby, Tessa, a dachshund-beagle mix that had been my constant companion for almost a decade. Tessa liked having Sam around for company, and we knew she would need a buddy. That May, we attended the Pet Fiesta in Reston, Virginia, and one of the vendors was Greyt Expectations--a retired racer rescue.

The following month, we found ourselves at Greyt Expectations' adopt-a-thon in Lusby, Maryland, where a white and brindle-spotted greyhound named Starz Megabucks leaned against my husband. He had just been returned by his original adopters that weekend when they encountered financial difficulties and had to return him. We heard his story and saw his sweet, soulful face, and it was all over.  "Megabucks"--now known as Chase--came home with us that day.

You may have heard that retired racing greyhounds are couch potatoes, and for the most part that's true, but we got the one greyhound mixed with a border collie (I'm kidding, of course, but the energy level isn't much of an exaggeration). The first week we had him, he wanted to go somewhere and do something every second. I couldn't sit down without him whining in my face. I walked him and walked him and walked him, only to bring him inside and find he wanted to go for another walk. I couldn't get anything done! He followed me from room to room, constantly standing right beside me staring at me as though he needed/wanted something. He woke at 4 a.m. (and sometimes even earlier) pacing our bedroom, whining. I let him out and fed him at crazy hours. I was exhausted! I felt like I had a toddler in the house.

Chase settled in after a few weeks and we established a schedule for him, and he seems to crave that, as he does not like to deviate from set routines. He is much more of a couch potato these days, but he still loves his walks and his early morning wake-up calls (usually at 5 a.m. now), but we usually get up at that time, too.

In his day, Chase ran 74 races and won 8 of them (his record also boasted an impressive array of second and third places). We had the pleasure of viewing some of his old racing videos, and we felt a surge of pride watching him outmaneuver all the other dogs on the track, coming up from the back suddenly to shoot across the finish line. Viewing these videos, my husband and I glimpsed the feeling of proud parents who watch their kids win a soccer or lacrosse match, or score the winning goal in a football game. And in many ways, having Chase is like having another person in the house, as he often seems to know what we're saying. Chase is intuitive, perceptive, and intensely sensitive. He has brought us immense joy and has filled a void in our lives left by miscarriages and disappointment.

 April is national greyhound adoption month, and I cannot recommend these dogs highly enough as companion animals. They are mellow, clean, and extremely sweet-natured. Many are good with kids, cats, and small animals. They love to run, but they also love to recline, and more than anything, they love having their family around them.

To see one of Chase's races from 2011, click on the link below. Chase was #2 Starz Megabucks.